The Outcomes of the Movements: The Diffusion Network

In  Marco Giugni’s piece, he pointed out that the outcome of a movement should not only be understood as direct political outcome, but rather the long term cultural outcome should also be emphasized. I think this perspective is quite powerful as a response to comment on the success or failure of the movements. Beyond the judgement of the movement, I am particularly interested in some of the mechanisms of how the cultural outcome works as laid out by Giugni, and one of them is the “spillover” effect:

“Another cultural impact of the movement can be seen in the “spillover” effect on other movements and citizens across the globe. Surely, the upheavals in the Middle East have encouraged citizens in other part of the world, including the U.S., to take to the streets to show their discontent. But such connections among movements can also be seen in the longer run. In this sense, in fact, the Occupy Movement itself could well be seen as a long-term product of the global justice movement, which laid the seeds for what would occur more than a decade later when the circumstances became favorable for the emergence of this new wave of contention. More to the point, we can expect the Occupy Movement to leave a legacy that will bear its fruits in the future, opening up the democratic space for new waves of contention and citizens’ political participation.”

As this paragraph above is only from his blog post, in which he did not provide more analysis about why the Occupy Movement could be seen as the product of the global justice movement. Even though they both target at the inequalities of distribution, I think some aspects, such as their organizational linkage, their specific appeals, and their tactical diffusion, should also be examined before claims that link a later movement to a former movement are made. I remember in a lecture about Wukan Incident a question was asked to an investigative journalist about whether the activists in Wukan learnt their tactics of protest from their experiences as migrant workers in the cities and the strikes happen more in cities. Her answer was that she did not think there was enough evidence of linking these protests together. I think her opinion insists that “spillover” effect is convincing only when established mechanisms are found, for example, the same group of people striking or protesting in different episodes.

When I read this article, I cannot help thinking about how to make the “political vs cultural” outcome framework fit into my own “adversarial vs supportive” media strategy perspective. In the non-adversarial case, Wukan Incident, the activists have their specific practical appeals including replacing the corrupt village leaders, and transparent village leaders election. These practical claims are easier for them and the government to reach agreement, and thus achieve the political outcome in this respect. In fact, the success of Wukan inspired other villages having similar problems of land disputes to organize their own protests. I think Wukan strategy is non-adversarial also because their way of dealing with the diffusion of the actions. They consciously alienate the visitors from other villages because one of the sensitive boundary for the party to judge the movement to see if they formulate a network (串联). The other case in my work is Ai Weiwei’s human rights movement, which I frame as adversarial. Although the information of his movement is banned in domestic media, discursively his movement is quite successful. He cleverly draws from cultural symbols, artistic forms and languages to generate a discourse of democracy and himself is thought as an icon of human rights fighters. I wonder to what extent his actions and his admirers can be thought as “spillover” effect of previous democratic movement such as 1989 Tiananmen Movement. In fact activists striving for Tibetan freedom, exiles of 1989 movement students, Falun Gong practitioners, alienated by Chinese authority, automatically connect to each other. Therefore, in this respect I think in authoritarian countries, the non-adversarial strategy might include the control to limit the “spillover” effect, and in contrast with the adversarial movement, the compromise is the lessened possibility of long term democratic discourse.


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