Questions about social movements

Received: April 27, 2018

Acceptance: January 6, 2019

Movimientos sociales del México contemporáneo

Luis Rigoberto Gallardo (coord.), 2017 University of Guadalajara, Guadalajara, 291 pp.

This book points out that among the serious problems we suffer are the destruction of the social fabric and environmental destruction. It focuses on movements against destructive dynamics. Collective efforts, their contexts, conflicts, organization and objectives are investigated. Attention is drawn to the fact that there is a great epistemological diversity to analyze social movements: there are various actors, with different objectives, incited by responses to injustices and grievances, and ultimately trying to transform the current, excluding and depoliticizing system. It delves into the network organization. Alternative constructions are investigated. In addition to a general introduction that explains the meaning of the book and its organization, it contains seven chapters.

Paulina Martínez writes the first chapter in which she reviews the main theoretical approaches used to study social movements. It describes the hegemonic theories, explores their possibilities and also their limits. Remember Smelser's functionalist emphasis; the psychological theory of frustration-aggression, showing that movements are not necessarily triggered by aggressions; explore resource mobilization with Tarrow; and with Touraine and Melucci he delves into actionalism and the symbolic aspect of movements. He also gives an account with Wallerstein of the antisystemic movements. It distinguishes the types of collective action and its cultural load. It makes a critique of Eurocentrism, and is inscribed in the need to present alternative theoretical developments such as those centered on the search for autonomy. It draws attention to the importance of subjective configuration, of the dimension of historicity, of locating actions in time and space. It emphasizes the socio-political orientations shown by the movements. After making an extensive review, it culminates with its own definition, according to which a social movement is an intersubjective space, imbued with historicity in which subjects oriented by common objectives converge in the context of an antagonism. Identities, meanings and actions are constructed that are directed to dispute specific aspects of social origin and introduce the possibility of alternative arrangements. Although he warns that one must be cautious and not see the phenomena as enclosed in a definition, since any definition does not resist the modifications that the same movements achieve over time. I was surprised in his extensive review that he did not emphasize Castells' contributions in terms of the information society and the importance of the network. Its definition covers the main movements of the 20th century, but does not delve into the changes that have emerged in the 21st century. However, Castells is cited in other chapters of the publication.

The coordinator is in charge of the second chapter in which he investigates Mexican social movements for the five-year period 2011-2016. It draws attention to the denunciation and resistance to the criminal economy and the drug state. Discuss the concepts you use in your analysis. The Mexican economy is battered and linked to crime; there is a criminal capitalism that generates violence. The State is intertwined with the drug traffickers. It examines the reports of national and international human rights organizations. With this context as a backdrop, he investigates the most relevant movements in the chosen period. The voice of these movements stands out because it is paradigmatic when visualizing the grievances that the majority of the population suffers. Delve into the movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity. He entered the self-defense movement in Michoacán. It raises a counterpoint based on the experience of the indigenous community of Cherán. It touches the movement of the National Coordinator of Education Workers. He also examines the Ayotzinapa movement. It resorts to the Tourenian conceptualization of identity, opposition and social change. It addresses the specifics of each of the movements studied. It shows that these are movements of citizens who have been victims of criminal and state violence. The main actors of these movements, indigenous people, students and education workers, have also had the solidarity of other social sectors. The opponent is the same capitalist social order with the faces of the State and the drug trafficker. He finds that new forms of organization have been created and that new communication techniques are used.

Teresa Isabel Marroquín ventures into the incidents of the new social movements in the democratization process in Mexico. It refers to the thesis of political change. It privileges the conceptualization of the new social movements, among which it places that of the Chiapas Zapatistas, and the movement promoted by Javier Sicilia. Inquires about the democratization of the Mexican political system. It detects that the movements have had an impact on democratization, since by questioning an authoritarian regime, they promote political liberalization that has had repercussions on alternations. But he also argues that the movements retreated and did not play a key role in these alternations. It highlights that in Mexican society there is a negative perception regarding the prevailing politics. It considers that there was no proper democratic transition. Although it calibrates the discussions of those who point out that it is a slow process, while others denounce an authoritarian regression. It has in mind the democratic transitions that took place in Portugal, Greece and Spain in the 1970s, those that occurred in Latin America in the 1980s, and what happened in Eastern Europe. It notes that it is difficult to categorize a democratizing process in Mexico. It refers to Castells' proposals regarding the indignados movement, and to those of Zibechi regarding the autonomy of the movements and their cultural implications. He argues that the important thing about movements is that they arise, that they exist, and warns of the danger of trying to pigeonhole them from a conventional perspective of success or failure, since their relevance lies in the raising of demands and in the alternatives that are opening up. Both the Zapatista movement and the Peace with Justice and Dignity movement have deeply questioned the Mexican State. He also alludes to the Ayotzinapa movement and emphasizes that its development must be seen. Its persistence has led it to be an important movement for truth and justice.

Emmanuel Rojas focuses on the conflictive construction of a we in contemporary Mexican movements supported by a review of academic writings. It draws attention to the conflictive relationship within the movements, and points out that the movements are forms of collective action with disruptive practices. Emphasize the transformation of emotion into action. It focuses on the identity of a we in opposition to adversaries. It states that this we is a construction that is not previously given. It points out the importance of the irruption of the Zapatista movement that put the importance of the indigenous movement on stage. It also touches the movements against the increase in violence, and among them that of Ayotzinapa. The I am 132 places it as a movement against imposition. All these movements call for profound changes. He argues that the "we" can be constructed in the face of new subjective referents that challenge the participants, and highlights that this implies another opponent against whom they fight. Outside the feminist movement, she does not see the internal difficulties of the movements being analyzed. He is convinced that the points of dispute within the movements have not been studied in depth. He considers that there is a lack of a research proposal about the conflictive in the constitution of the we-subject of movements.

Guillermo Ortiz analyzes the case of the Yo Soy 132 movement in Guadalajara in 2012. He wonders if it can be conceptualized as a new social movement. Emphasizes that he bet on democracy. Despite the fact that it went through a phase of organizational retraction due to repression, it glimpsed reactivation capacities. It begins a chronicle from hemerography and focuses on reflections of five participating actors. It is striking that a middle class youth sector with access to higher education opposed the political elites. He points out that it was a student movement that expanded in open opposition to the PRI and Televisa at the juncture of the 2012 presidential campaign. It was a very critical movement that attracted sympathy. He spoke out against the control of mass media that distorted the democratic process. Pointing out an authoritarian course, he opposed this. He highlighted as a defect that he has not become an interlocutor of the State. On the other hand, there are those who see in this precisely one of their contributions. Remember that defeats and failures are never final in movements, as they have an impact on the historical memory of society. This author undertakes a conceptual review. It presents two tables in which it systematizes various constituent elements of social movements. It points to the contributions of the movements in democratic dynamics.

Margarita Robertson studies rural normalistas as a political subject in resistance and in constant renewal. The author ventures into theoretical concepts that help her understand the collective actor of rural normals in Mexico. It reflects that it is a political subject that has demands around normal schools, but does not stop there, but transcends towards solidarity with a wide range of social struggles. It gives an account of the Federation of Socialist Peasant Students of Mexico that they have maintained their ideology and struggles that are adapting to the changes of each era, that they have been developing critical thinking and defending their achievements as workers and students and that broaden the field of action towards other types of social struggles. It shows how it is a collective project that has been built by subjects in intense and permanent interaction. It maintains that it is not possible to understand them outside the perspective of the class struggle. The author undertakes a painstaking and careful reconstruction of 80 years of those struggles from socialist education to the neoliberal stage. Despite internal conflicts and a diversity of currents, a coherent movement has been maintained in the defense of schools, boarding schools, and their ways of teaching. The imprint that this movement leaves on its participants is deep and tenacious. They have become a highly relevant trench against neoliberal spoils.

Lucía Ibarra closes the book with an investigation on collective actions in the 10th district of Jalisco. A youth group that has promoted independent candidacies is being studied. It has been successful in the formation of an innovative network that has been promoting actions to open the inclusion and participation of young people dissatisfied with traditional politics. The text describes the collective actions taken. A new political representation was proposed and obtained in a context of renewal of a highly participatory democracy. The proposals are studied and their actions are contextualized, taking into account the specific characteristics of that electoral demarcation. The networks are visualized and the scope in terms of transparency and accountability is pointed out. These young people demonstrated that it is not necessary to belong to a political party to access public positions that go through electoral processes.

If one takes into account what Touraine pointed out years ago, it would be necessary to distinguish between social struggles and social movements. He was inclined to categorize as a social movement what implied a radical structural change. However, there are others who use the notion of social movement for any mass demonstration with social repercussions. In this sense, the fascist mass expressions would correspond to a specific type of social movement.1 On the other hand, there have been experiments in which, taking advantage of social discontent, movements have been induced and manipulated in favor of the interests of US geopolitics. We have been warned that elites have learned to manage the discomforts that they themselves produce (Renduelas, 2015). Given this, it should be taken into account that there is manipulation, but it is also necessary to know how to distinguish the manipulated from the spontaneous. The powers try to get their hands on the movements, but there are also loopholes to escape from the powers of all kinds. How to be able to discern what is a proper movement of the induced and even manipulated? One clue would be to detect demoelectric dynamics.2 If in reality freedom intervenes in its creation and becoming. If people freely discern, discuss, organize, decide, execute, review what has been done, correct mistakes; if there was autonomy and not heteronomy of any kind, if it was not others who sent. It will be necessary to visualize freedom, imagination, creation, and the innovative combination of elements. Another clue to analyze the movements is your performance. There is a use in the movements of similar elements, but that are constantly recreated. Another problem is found in the fact that freedom is not something univocal. Freedom is not a condemnation as Sartre sentenced it, but a continuous struggle to preserve the individual in the collective, since no one can be free in isolation. Gramsci warned that each trend filled it with its own content, and went so far as to highlight that it ran the risk of turning it into a disgraced concept when it was identified with the freedom of the market and the movement of goods (Fernández Buey, 2001). It should not be forgotten that capitalism is presumed to be the defender of freedom, but it is about the freedom of the few to oppress the many who think they are free. And the ultimate dynamics of capitalism has led to the worsening of new forms of slavery. Above all this happens as an expression of freedom. But it is evident that when universal health care is deprived, it is not that we are given the freedom to seek the private provider that we want, nor when only precarious and overexploited jobs are offered, even if we are responding to our own creativity. The system passes as free elections what is the imposition of its terrible domination. It is a huge deception that is actually depriving people of the choice to change the situation (Žižek, 2017). In any case, the struggle between freedom and subjection would always have to be calibrated. Freedom leads to decision, to the practice that produces a situation, an event, contextualized, that is not closed in itself, but is part of a process in which you have control.

Not a few publications count the theoretical tendencies to approach social movements, and distinguish the emphasis of what they call schools where they distinguish the European one with Touraine and Melucci at the forefront, with its ILO (organization, identity and dispute of the totality); They also refer to the United States, which uses the structure of opportunities, the mobilization of resources, and the interpretative frameworks of collective action. The Latin American tendencies cannot be seen with the news of phenomena such as the World Social Forum and the Chiapas Zapatismo. Attention is also drawn to contentious collective action and daily resistance, that set of contingent practices that challenge power through resistance. 3 In this dynamic are those who see alternative updates of social organization in social movements, which emphasize a discomfort in the face of the situation, and where it is highlighted that the important thing is to put the system in check. Attention is also drawn to the fact that it is not necessary to fall into visions that assign triumphs and failures to certain movements, but rather to calibrate the impact and the mark they leave on society and on future actions. The role of the movements in social reconstruction, in the solidarity and creativity that are fundamental in the movements, more than their concrete demands, is also pointed out. One more precaution is not to lose sight of the internal contradictions of the movements themselves. It should not be forgotten that, beyond the effusiveness of a massive demonstration, what is important is what happens in the houses of the participants one day later, since the impact of their decisions depends on their organization in daily life (Žižek, 2016).

In the movements we are not facing mechanical or pendular behaviors. We cannot lock them in constant cycles. There are pauses, there are expansions and contractions that do not respond to constant and fixed elements. More than law enforcement, transgressions of supposed regularities abound. Social energy sometimes bursts in, and at other times it seems erratic. Another warning that Zibechi gives us is that big changes start with small movements invisible to the media and analysts. Before massive actions erupt there are a lot of processes underground. They happen in people's everyday lives. But it draws attention to the fact that the true movements are those that modify the place of people in the world, when the fabrics of domination are torn. However, he also advises not to view this as a direct cause and effect relationship. It invites us to try to detect those silent insurrections, which are driven by community feminisms. He reproaches social scientists for wanting to describe and analyze the new paths that people are opening with concepts from the past (Zibechi, 2017).

In this sense, John Holloway is an enemy of the conceptualization of social movement, and warns that it has functions of domesticating anger. 4

As fears are spread to maintain the current order, one way out of this is by breaking the fears. The breaking of fears and growing anger can spark a movement. Although only anger is not enough, and it can even be harmful, nor are the other elements at stake: disconnecting from domination and looking for new creations. Anger can be used by the enemies of those below to direct them towards routes that will be detrimental to them, for example, electoral deception. Also the start of a movement is usually massive, but this euphoria tends to fade quickly. What remains is constant organizational work. Lately the movements have been creating spaces in which they are rehearsing cultures other than the hegemonic ones, and experiencing social relations of a new type. One characteristic of these movements is territorialization (communities that cultivate the land without pesticides, collectively, schools and self-managed health clinics in those territories, self-managed media, cultural centers, work cooperatives). It is a new world that is already being born. These movements are strategically important because they are training a large number of militants (Zibechi, 2017). Undoubtedly, powerful social achievements occur in common. But the advances are reversible. When the fight is for a specific objective, there is a rebound in participation. The movements have to devise new forms of participation and let creativity flow (Martínez, 2017).

Those who wanted to get away from capitalism from above, failed to get out of it and returned. Taking power to change society, it has been seen that it is not the way. The question is how to get out of capitalism from below, transforming society to end the dominant power. You have to learn to think slowly so as not to be devastated by urgency. We must gradually calibrate the challenges, dilemmas, problems, contradictions, but also the possibilities that open to certain options. In all these reflections, reading this book can encourage us to continue delving into the contributions of social movements.


Fernández Buey, Francisco (2001). Leyendo a Gramsci. Barcelona: Viejo topo.

Martínez, Javier. 11 de septiembre de 2017. “¿Cubren los movimientos sociales las necesidades de las personas?”, Rebelión. Recuperado de, consultado el 21 de diciembre de 2018.

Navarro, Isidro y Sergio Tamayo (coords.) (2017). Movimientos sociales en México en el siglo XXI. México: Red Mexicana de estudios de los movimientos sociales.

Ramírez, Miguel Ángel (coord.) (2016). Movimientos sociales en México. Apuntes teóricos y estudios de caso. México: UAM.

Renduelas, César (2015). Capitalismo canalla. Barcelona: Seix Barral.

Reynoso, Carlos Alonso y Jorge Alonso (2015). En busca de la libertad de los de abajo, la demoeleuthería. Guadalajara: Universidad de Guadalajara.

Rosenberg, Arthur (2009). El fascismo como movimiento de masas. España: Omegalfa.

Zibechi, Raúl. 10 de noviembre de 2017.“Insurrecciones silenciosas”. La Jornada. Recuperado de, consultado el 21 de diciembre de 2018.

___________(2017). “La revolución latinoamericana del siglo XXI”, en V.V. A.A. Revolución. Escuela de un sueño eterno. Buenos Aires: Negra Mala Testa.

Žižek, Slavoj (2017)  “El Capital ficticio y el retorno de la dominación personal” (Antonio J. Antón [trad.]). Minerva – Revista del círculo de bellas artes, 29, IV Época. Recuperado de, cconsultado el 21 de diciembre de 2018.

___________ (2016). Problemas en el paraíso. Barcelona: Anagrama.


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