Continuity and change in social contestation

6 September 2021

SPERI Doctoral Researchers Network

A new series of blogs by members of SPERI’s Doctoral Researcher Network will explore how different types and forms of social contestation are shaping the global economy.

How is social contestation – driven by social movement coalitions, consumer organising, activists and trade unions – shaping (or not shaping, but maybe should) political, economic and social outcomes in the contemporary global economy? 

Over the next five days a new series of blogs written by members of SPERI’s Doctoral Researcher Network who come from a range of disciplinary backgrounds will explore this question. The authors have devised contributions that explore how different types and forms of social contestation play and could play roles in determining how political and economic power is reworked and resisted in the workplace, market and international arenas.

The contributions highlight the diversity of issues around which people are mobilising and the forms that contestation is taking, demonstrating both continuity and change. In an unstable and unpredictable global economic system, marked by inequalities, political repression, crisis and upheaval, the series will shed light on how people make space to make their voices heard in both well-established and novel ways – and what the prospects and limitations of this may be for social change.

Kicking off the series tomorrow, Charline Sempéré recounts a recent and successful labour strike and social campaign led by twenty Parisian low-wage workers and their trade union against a French multinational hospitality company. Against defeatist tales of the demise of trade unionism, the blog highlights, using the example of the Ibis Batignolles hotel workers, the continuous relevance of trade unions militancy and actions to empower worker’s voices across distanced supply chains and in efficiently addressing issues of labour abuses.

On Wednesday, Remi Edwards and Frank Maracchione’s blog will underline the role of a global coalition of human rights activists in fighting forced and child labour in the cotton sector in Uzbekistan. While recognising the many successes of the synergy between activists, NGOs, and firms in driving change, the authors raise questions about the contemporary situation in the Uzbek cotton sector with regard to the role of the state, sweeping privatisation and lack of freedom of organisation for cotton farmers and rural communities that may lead to continued poverty and poor working conditions.

On Thursday, Freda Forrest’s blog will explore novel types of social contestation among Hong Kong citizens to express their political opinions under the current very repressive atmosphere. Without freedom of speech, the right to protest, and freedom of publications, the blog looks at how citizens are changing their way to spend money to express their disagreement with the government and to show support to like-minded people and businesses.

Finally, finishing the series on Friday, Georgette Fernandez Laris’ blog will examine some of the ways in which new forms of digital payments and fintech solutions can indirectly shape our purchasing behaviours and use of money, sometimes without our full awareness. The piece argues that potentially negative implications should be contested by social actors to make user voices heard and suggests that for many of us the very instruments we use to manage our finances still seem to be black boxes we blindly place our trust in. Despite scarce public mobilisation around fintech, resulting from a lack of public understanding, Georgette suggests we should question and contest fintech products to ensure they best assist personal finance needs without negative implications for users.

Tomorrow: Part One of the new series on ‘The continuing role of trade unions in facilitating workplace change’ by Charline Sempéré