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(en) The Commoner* #8 - Convergence of Commons: Process Geographies of People's Global Action by Paul Routledge1 II. (2/2)

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sat, 20 Dec 2003 22:26:00 +0100 (CET)

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The multi-scalar politics of PGA
The sustainability of a sense of collective identity
when in a spatially extensive network such as
PGA is based upon gatherings in particular places
(e.g. the regional and international conferences,
see below). In addition, the routes of the PGA
caravans focus around those places where there
are social movement struggles occurring.
Caravans attempt to create a multi-scalar politics
of solidarity through communication and support
actions within particular countries between activists
from those and other countries involved in different
struggles.ix For example, the Latin American
caravan in 2001 comprised activists from struggles
in Europe, South Asia, Southeast Asia, North
America, Australia and New Zealand. They left
from the PGA conference in Bolivia and visited
peasant and indigenous movements in Peru,
Ecuador, and Colombia. Such an initiative required
massive coordination by the various local based
groups who were organising the specific elements
(e.g. meetings and rallies) of the caravans'
activities. In the aftermath, regional strategy
meetings of those groups who were involved have been
organised to plan for future protests and
Places have been used strategically to
sustain networks such as PGA. For example,
specific symbolic sites have been chosen for the
location of the PGA international conferences.
The PGA conferences in Bangalore and
Cochabamba were chosen partly because they had been
the sites of successful resistance by popular mass
movements against transnational corporations
pursuing a neoliberal agenda and an assault upon
communities' commons. In the case of
Bangalore, Monsanto and Cargill had both faced
successful opposition to their attempts to
introduce GM cotton-seeds and field trials in the
Indian state of Karnataka, by the Karnataka State
Farmer's Union ­ the host of the PGA conference.
In Cochabamba, Bechtel Corporation faced
successful opposition to their attempts to privatise
the city's water supply by a popular coalition of
students, business people, labour unions, and
peasant movements. This included the Six
Federations of the Tropics (coca farmers) who
jointly hosted the PGA conference with the National
Federation of Domestic Workers.
These conferences have differential impacts
upon the struggles that occur in those places
where they are organised. When movements act
as hosts for PGA international or regional
conferences, their struggles are given a certain
amount of national and international projection
(e.g. through the media) as a result. Moreover, the
grassroots members of a movement can
receive a boost in morale when activists from
around the world visit, and articulate support for,
their struggles. For example, at the PGA
conference in Cochabamba, conference delegates
visited the coca-growing region of Chapare to show
solidarity to peasant farmers. These farmers are
resisting the Bolivian government's participation in
a United States government initiative called
Plan Dignidad (Plan Dignity) which calls for the
eradication of Bolivia's coca-crop, and hence coca-
growing peasant livelihoods (Interviews,
Cochabamba 2001). However, such projection of
struggles may not always have positive effects.
For example, following the solidarity rallies in
Chapare, there was increased state repression of
coca-farmers once the conference had ended
and the international delegates departed.x

In addition to organising conferences and
caravans, PGA has also participated in broader
networks of struggle, exemplified by transnational
collective rituals, wherein geographic scales of
protest become mutually constitutive.
Transnational collective rituals make take the form of
globalised local actions that are political initiatives
that take place in different locations across the
globe in support of particular localised struggles,
or against particular targets. These can occur
simultaneously or at different times. For example,
the PGA `speaking tour' of Colombian activists
entailed a series of workshops and seminars in
various European countries (e.g. Scotland,

England, Spain, Germany), in cooperation with
many non-PGA political groups, in support of the
activists' social movement, the Process of Black
Communities, and its struggle for self-
determination in Colombia.
Alternatively, transnational collective
rituals may take the form of localised global actions
that are political initiatives whereby different
social movements and resistance groups coordinate
around a particular issue or event in a particular
place. For example, PGA has been partly
responsible for putting out the calls for, organising,
and participating in, the recent global days of
action that have occurred in response to the
meetings being held by the G8, WTO, IMF and
World Bank.
During the global days of action, the
particular places of protest ­ Seattle (against the
WTO in 1999), Prague (against the World Bank
and IMF in 2000), and Genoa (against the G8 in
2001) - became the primary sites of resistance for
many different movements for certain moments
in time. As such these places become (different)
articulated moments in the activity of grassroots
globalisation networks where opposition to
neoliberalism as wel as alternative visions are
articulated. The global days of action in Seattle,
Prague, etc. were the most visible face of
grassroots globalisation, symbolically representing
the struggles of millions of people around the
world who were also resisting neoliberal
globalization and the commodification of their
commons/lifeworlds. The symbolic force that the
protests in such places have generated has
contributed to further mobilisations and the
creation of common ground amongst activists.
Each global day of action protest serves to inspire the
mobilisation of dissent at the next, wherever it is
Despite the success of such convergences
not least in the rejoining of the concerns of
the politics of identity and redistribution -
significant differences remain in the type of specific
alternatives to neoliberal capitalism articulated by
global Northern and global Southern
movements. Northern activists articulate
alternatives that are conditioned by their embeddedness
within ­ and alienation from ­ an already
industrialised capitalist society. The fundamental
concerns of Southern activists are with the
defence of livelihoods and of communal access to
resources threatened by commodification, state
take-overs, and private appropriation (e.g. by
national or transnational corporations). Their
alternatives are rooted, in part, in some of the local
practices being undermined by neoliberal
globalisation (Glassman 2002).
Because of this, the PGA hallmarks make a
specific call for the articulation of diverse,
locally specific alternatives to global capitalism.
Within the context of the universalisms of global
ambition, the intention is to mobilise the militant
particularisms of participant movements in
solidarity and coordination with others, for
example via the Global Sustainable Campaigns.
This isbecause, in part, representatives of social
movement struggles within PGA have acknowledged
that resistance networks had been far more
effective at organizing at regional and national
scales than they had been at the international scale.
Geographical dilemmas arise in the attempt
to prosecute multi-scalar politics because
activists tend to be more closely linked to the
local, national or regional movements in which
their struggles are embedded than to international
networks. This is compounded by restrictions on
finances, Internet resources, and the ability to
travel internationally etc. Moreover, much of the
energy of movements is taken up with local
struggles for survival. For example, in Bangladesh,
the struggles of the Bangladesh Krishok Federation
are focused upon the rights of landless people
and their main struggle is not against neoliberal
globalisation as such but for basic land rights.
Hence the militant particularisms of participant
movements may vitiate against full ongoing
engagement with the global ambitions of a
grassroots globalisation network. Having said this,
movements may still be able to conduct occasional
solidarity actions in their localities (e.g.
globalised local actions) on behalf of broader
international networks.

The contested social relations within PGA

The PGA network comprises a diversity of
movement participants, and subsequently a diversity of
organisational philosophies, ideologies, goals, and
cultural beliefs. As I have argued above, the
unifying values that hold this network together are
its collective visions - the PGA hallmarks and
organisational principles. However, the cohesion
of the network depends on the quality and
durability of facilitation and interaction between its
constituent participants, as well as their ability to
devote time and energy towards the network while
also being involved in their own local/national
Concerning the processes of interaction,
while their web-site is translated into seven
languages, PGA uses the languages of English and
Spanish in the majority of its Internet
communications. For example, e-mail
communications within PGA Asia that form part of its
networking strategies are in English - a language
that is neither spoken nor understood by the
majority of peasant farmers who comprise the
mass base of movements who participate in the
network. Moreover, the proceedings of PGA
international conferences are also conducted in
Spanish and English. Those who could not readily
communicate in the dominant languages form
small translation clusters in their own languages.
This is a practical requirement given the many
different languages spoken in the PGA
convergence. However, those activists who are bilingual (in
Spanish and English) have certain advantages at
the meetings and workshops of the conference,
concerning following and responding to the
nuances of debates, and the intricate ebb and flow of
discussions.xi In addition, translation into certain
common languages raises the possibility of
homogenizing different movements' experiences,
and the effacement of important culturally-
specific differences. Resistance networks can
provide alternative channels of communication,
whereby particular voices that are suppressed in
their own society may find articulation in
international networks that can project and amplify
their concerns. However, within PGA these
remain selective - some voices are still heard at
the expense of others.
There is a terrain of unequal power relations
at work within PGA, both between
participants in the network, and within the
movements that constitute the networks. The place-
specific hopes and dreams of marginalised folk are
not necessarily realized in the collective visions
of a network. For, while the PGA hallmarks reject
all forms of domination, some continue within
the convergence. For example, unequal gender
relations persist within several of the peasant
movements that participate in PGA. The
leadership of such movements continues to be dominated
by men, and patriarchal attitudes and actions
paticularisms that masquerade as universal -
persist within the functioning and organization of
the movements. In addition, unequal gender
relations often characterize the communities from
which social movements draw their membership
(Interviews, Bangalore, India, 1999 and
Cochabamba, Bolivia, 2001).
Moreover, global media such as the Internet,
create gatekeepers, and codes of access
and interpretation, that may easily restrict the
articulation and circulation of minority voices ­ e.g.
of women and indigenous peoples - through this
technology. For example, gender and gender `place-
based' experiences are difficult to represent in the
cyber-bound discourse against neoliberalism
(Belausteguigoitia 1998).
Such powers to dominate are thus entangled
with those of resistance within these
movements. As a result, networks such as PGA
are spaces of resistance/domination (Sharp et al
2000). In recognition of this continuing problem,
gender workshops are organised in all of the PGA
regional and international conferences. Such
workshops provide spaces in which gender
inequalities within participant movements and
within the network can be discussed and worked
There are also other questions of power
within the dynamics of the networks, some
associated with cultural differences between PGA
participants. In part, these have resulted from a
clash between attempts to establish what Harvey
(1996) would term a universal politics within the
decision-making processes of the network and the
militant particularisms of some of its
participants. For example, in the PGA conference
in Cochabamba, many Latin American
delegates felt that meetings were control ed from a
`European' perspective, which was obsessed
with particular forms of `process' and `consensus'.
Some delegates felt that such `universal'
procedures were used to discriminate or silence
debate, and control the discussion space.
Quechua delegates commented that in indigenous
meetings participants would often repeat issues
constantly, while in international meetings, where
there was much participation by `Northern'
activists, repetitions by speakers were frequently
As noted earlier concerning processes of
interaction, a discursive power is at work as
certain processes of political interaction and
communication that are used in European autonomist
and direct action communities ­ such as consensus
­ have been grafted onto PGA's international
conferences in an attempt to establish perceived
egalitarian discussion procedures applicable to
all. However, such paticularisms that are deployed
as universalisms have vitiated against the
smooth workings of the network precisely because
they have transcended important place-specific
affinities. Indeed, such attempts at universalism
can create a homogenous activist environment
that elides important issues of diversity
(Subbuswamy and Patel 2001).
The different ideologies, agendas, and
strategic and tactical practices articulated within
grassroots globalisation networks may also cause
contestation, for example, concerning the use of
violent and nonviolent methods of struggle in
different contexts (see Benjamin 2000). Indeed,
these differences and their attendant problems are
similar to those that exist within particular
participant movements, since all forms and scales
of political organising involve contestation and
negotiation. However, grassroots globalisation
networks maintain less everyday interactions
between participants, and greater diversity of
contesting views and issues, than specific social
movements. In response to this, PGA has argued
for a diversity of tactics, and has kept the
wording of its hallmarks deliberately general so
that different movements may interpret terms like
direct action in their own ways according to the
place- and political-specificity of their struggles.
From the analysis of the process geographies
of PGA ­ as one example of a grassroots
globalisation network - I want to propose that,
rather than constituting a `non-place' of resistance
to neoliberal capitalism as Hardt and Negri (2000)
argue, such networks can be conceived of as
`convergence spaces' that facilitate the forging of
an associational politics that constitutes a
diverse, contested coalition of place-specific
social movements. These coalitions prosecute conflict
on a variety of multi-scalar terrains that include
both material places and virtual spaces. I propose
the notion of convergence space as a conceptual
tool by which to understand and critique
grassroots globalisation networks.

Convergence space

A convergence space comprises a heterogeneous
affinity ­"a world made of many worlds"
(Marcos 2001: 10) - between various social
formations, such as social movements. By
participating in spaces of convergence, activists
from participant movements embody their
particular places of political, cultural, economic
and ecological experience with common and
`commons' concerns, which lead to expanded
spatiotemporal horizons of action (Reid and Taylor
2000). Such coalitions of different interests are
necessarily contingent and context dependent
(Mertes 2002).
The notion of a convergence space has
implications for political agency. It serves to
critique Harvey's (1996) call for a global ambition
of universal values that can transcend specific
movement's militant particularisms. Also, by being
deployed to understand specific grassroots
globalisation networks, the notion of convergence
space enables theoretical approaches to
networks (e.g. Dicken et al 2001) to be grounded
in the materiality of practical politics. Using the
empirical analysis of PGA as a guide, convergence
spaces can be conceived as having the
following characteristics:

1. Convergence spaces comprise diverse social
movements that articulate collective visions, to
generate sufficient common ground to generate a
politics of solidarity i.e. multi-scalar collective
action. These collective visions are representative
of a `prefigurative politics' (Graeber 2002),
prefiguring not a future ideal society, but a
participatory way of practising effective politics,
articulating the (albeit imperfect) ability of
heterogeneous movements to be able to work together
without any single organisation or ideology being in
a position of domination. Col ective visions
approximate the universal values that Harvey
(1996) discusses. Contrasting, but not necessarily
disabling, tensions exist between the articulation
of a universalist politics and the militant
particularisms of movements within the
functioning of convergence spaces. First, certain
universalisms can vitiate against the smooth
functioning of grassroots globalisation networks as
seen in the use of consensus political procedures
in PGA conferences.
Such universalisms may in fact be paticularisms
that are deployed as universal which create
homogenous activist environments that elide
important issues of diversity. Second, the immediacy
of place-based concerns ­ such as movements'
everyday struggles for survival under conditions of
limited resources ­ can mean that the global
ambitions articulated by grassroots globalisation
networks remain unrealised.

2. Convergence spaces facilitate uneven
processes of facilitation and interaction. The
diverse groups and movements that converge in such
spaces enact a practical politics consisting of at
least five processes: communication, information
sharing, solidarity, coordination, and resource
mobilization. These processes form moving,
overlapping circuits ­ enacted materially and virtually
- that constitute convergence spaces. Interactions
within virtual space act as a communicative and
coordinating thread that weaves different
place-based struggles together. These connections
are grounded in place- and face-to-face based
moments of articulation such as conferences and
global protests. However, owing to differential
access to (financial, temporal) resources and
network flows, differential material and discursive
power relations exist within and between
participant movements. As a result, processes of
facilitation and interaction tend to be uneven.

3. Convergence spaces facilitate multi-scalar
political action by participant movements. Social
movements engaged in grounded material
struggles, and articulating place-specific concerns, also
actively participate in forging a globalising network
of such struggles. Indeed, particular local-
based social movements may develop
transnational networks of support as an operational
strategy for the defence of their place(s) (Escobar
2001). Certain places may be of symbolic
importance in the collective rituals of the network,
for example as sites for international
conferences, or global days of action (Bosco
Rather than `grassrooting the space of flows'
(Castells 1999), convergence spaces
facilitate an intermingling of scales of political
action, where such scales become mutually
constitutive (Dicken et al 2001). For example,
grassroots globalisation networks prosecute
globalised local actions (political initiatives which
take place in different locations across the globe,
in support of a particular localized struggles) and
localised global actions (political initiatives
coordinated around a particular issue or event in a
particular place). These transnational collective
political rituals, exemplified by global days of
action, can enable the sustainability of activist and
movement identities, and practically and
symbolically articulate the common ground shared
by different placed-based social movements.
Moreover, in these actions places become `articulated
moments' (Massey 1994) in the enactment of
global networks. As a result of these types of action,
there are differential impacts on particular
place-based struggles, due in part to the extent to
which a particular struggle is projected onto the global
arena by virtue of its involvement in a globalising
network. However, certain scales of political
action may provide more appropriate means for
movements within convergence spaces to measure
their strength and take stock of their
opponents, than others. For example, many
movements in the global south see defence of local
spaces, and opposition to national governments
(pursuing neoliberal policies) as their most
appropriate scales of political action (Mertes
2002). As a result, geographical dilemmas arise in
the attempt to prosecute multi-scalar politics
compounded by the uneven character of processes
of interaction and facilitation.

4. Convergence spaces are comprised of contested
social relations, because of the very different
militant particularisms that are articulated by
participant movements. For example different groups
articulate a variety of potential y conflicting goals
(concerning the forms of social change),
ideologies (e.g. concerning gender, class, and
ethnicity), and strategies (e.g. institutional [legal]
and extra-institutional [illegal] forms of protest).
While these contradictions may act as a nexus for
a more universal politics ­ as Harvey argues ­
problematic issues will continue to arise within
convergence spaces concerning unequal
discursive and material power relations that result from
the differential control of resources (Dicken et al
2001) and placing of actors within network flows
(Massey 1994). These in turn may give rise to
problems of representation, mobility, and cultural
difference, both between the social movements
that participate and between activists within
particular movements. The alliances forged
necessarily involve entangled power relations, where
relations of domination and resistance are
entwined, that create spaces of resistance/domination
(Sharp et al 2000).

Convergence of Commons

Convergence spaces function within a
penumbra of differences, conflicts, and
compromises. As negotiated spaces of multiplicity
and difference, they can be conceived as
dynamic systems, constructed out of a complexity
of interrelations and interactions across all
spatial scales (after Massey, 1994). Multiple
differences (and their attendant resonances and
tensions) can be empowering to those conducting
resistance, if the common ground shared by
activists is a global ambition capable of
challenging international institutions while also
empowering local/national struggles.

Harvey (1996) is correct that for movements
to work successfully together, they need to
develop a universalist politics capable of reaching
across space, without abandoning their militant
particularist base(s). Certainly, in articulating the
collective visions of its hallmarks and Global
Sustainable Campaigns, PGA has attempted to
create a common ground for transnational
solidarity. Moreover, by stressing the importance
of diversity and difference (e.g. regarding
movement tactics and local approaches to the
Global Sustainable Campaigns), PGA has also
sought to retain the miltitant particularisms of its
participant movements.
However, convergence spaces are also
spaces of contested social relations ­ not least
because of the persistence of place-specific
parochialisms (e.g. in the form of unequal relations
of power and gender) within participant movements.
As a result, certain universal values may serve
to reinscribe or mask inequalities between actors
within a network. However, this does not
necessarily mean that networks are unable to
function. Rather, as movement-specific hopes,
visions, problems, and inequalities converge, so
networks become entangled spaces of
resistance/domination, still able to articulate
opposition and alternatives to neoliberalism.
Grassroots globalisation networks are at
present, primarily defensive in character, as yet
unable to articulate a hegemonic strategy (Sader
2002). The `war on terror' that followed the
September 11th 2001 attacks on the World Trade
Towers and the Pentagon, served to initially
undermine some of the initial successes of
grassroots globalisation mobilizations, because it
captured public attention, and grassroots
globalisation networks were ill equipped to
respond to it.
However, following corporate corruption scandals
such as Enron, the economic crisis in Argentina
brought about by neoliberalism, and the
over-extension of US militarism, grassroots
networks are
beginning to regroup and reorganise (Bello 2002).
To be effective in their global ambitions,
attention needs to be paid to the internal
structures of the movements and groups that
participate in convergence spaces, and to their
placing within local realties. Attention must also
be paid to the effectiveness and character of
participant movement links to national
organisations, as wel to the dynamic, changing
character of their global connections, interactions and
relationships with other movements within the
Universal values are always embedded in, and
emergent from, the local and concrete (Reid and
Taylor 2000). For collective visions to be able to
incorporate diverse militant particularisms, they
need to embrace a politics of recognition that
identifies and defends only those differences that
can be coherently combined with social and
environmental justice (Fraser 1997). Only then will
the concerns of the commons aticulated by the
participants of convergence spaces enable a more
transcendent and universal politics to be
fashioned, that seeks to defend the integrity of the
communal resources of people's livelihood across
all spatial scales.


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