Insurgencies, Citizenship, & Planning Part 3: Transnational outcomes

Partnerships in Insurgency

Partnerships in Insurgency?


“The Tempest”

This is no Ode to Shakespeare, who’s writing I do not find fascinating, save for the use of such words that I have found a great liking for. I seem to be fascinated with insurgent planning, and that probably stems from this new-found realization that a sentiment as tumultuous as insurgency can find legitimacy in a field like planning.

My scholarship in the field has been roughly 3 months in duration, so I’m a foetus. So far I’ve discovered that the general sentiment for planning practitioners is one of structure, order, and foresight. Sure, theorists have written about theories beyond rational planning- incremental planning, communicative action planning, transactive planning, advocacy planning, and even radical planning and insurgent planning. And there are plenty of planning case studies that illustrate that planning practitioners have played the roles of mediator between multiple interest groups, advocate for underrepresented minorities, and educators informing the various interest groups about the issues that both concern them and don’t so that they can understand the overall situation.

I would say it is important to ‘regularize’ such participation-heavy forms of planning so that this sentiment is more pervasive in the field. But that was a sentiment I already carried with me when I entered urban planning. It’s the idea of legitimizing a tempestuous relationship that I find very appealing. Hence the desire to nibble on insurgent planning a little longer than other ideologies.

This post takes my previous talk on radicalism and insurgent planning, and attempts to understand how insurgent movements can find its way into planning. And why it may be essential to do so.


“Spaces of Insurgent Citizenship”

Without abandoning the “modernists’ activist commitments…[towards] the construction of the state”, Holston suggested taking the evolving collective/polity’s evolving values into consideration using the “spaces of insurgent citizenship”. In a way he fuses the ‘activist’ sentiment of modernist planners with the postmodern focus on the heterogeneous citizenry/collective/polity to legitimize insurgent planning.

But how can these “spaces of insurgent citizenship” be used? And why must it be done?


Equity, Resource Access, & Insurgency

The Gramscian “rise of civil society” found its way into the agendas of commercial and government agencies, development NGOs, and multilateral institutions like the World Bank. The Occupy movement seems to be one example in recent history where people took to the streets to actively and vehemently protest inequalities in income distribution, but most insurgent or radical efforts to change the status quo (especially in the Global South) sprung up as a response to unscrupulous tactics to establish public access to public resources (Life and Debt, Tambien La Lluvia).

The need for equitable access to public resources legitimized many an insurgent movement. Also, inequity gained gravitas particularly after the realization of the (resource) limits to growth. The commoditization of natural resources by the World Bank in their quest for “green neoliberalism” in their dealings with the Global South merges the issues of governance and civil society particularly as it relates to resource access in the context of the global economy and transnational planning.

“People do not simply agree or consent, or fully stand with or against universal notions of progress, development, and modernization. They do not build up the scientific case for a tropical forest highway or pour concrete for a mega dam without some reflection, reservation, or fight. If we always assume its success or failure without first looking at how hegemony gets constituted, we lose all sense of why they do not. We lose the ability to discern where the political openings are, the sites and spaces where dominant structures get constituted, how people try to subvert them, and from where the alternatives arise. It is only within the specific interstices of hegemony’s production that we can observe concrete organic struggles over power.” (Goldman 2009)

There are two important lessons from Goldman’s words. One is the lack of mass public agreement with universal ideologies. And the other is the reference to the political openings within hegemonic ideologies (like capitalism, neoliberalism) that provide breathing space for citizens to voice their grievances, and perhaps their alternatives. If ‘development’ is to be achieved, and if equity is to be achieved, there must be a process of incorporating these voices of the public into plans.

Planning theory has acknowledged the relatively greater importance of local scale planning to achieve equity goals, and how active public participation is imperative for that. Planners must go beyond municipal politics and ground planning into actual social movements/struggles for social identity and/or rights.

Thus far, two things have been explained: one, the motivation for resource access prompted many an insurgent movement in the countries of the Global South, and two, the dynamic social structure of any collective makes it important to legitimize active citizen participation that can take the form of an insurgency.

Now for examples of radical, insurgent movements for public access to resources that occurred within the countries of the Global South, and also examples of those that crossed boundaries.


CASE 1: Bolivian water wars

An example of incorporating insurgency in planning is with the case of water privatization in Cochabamba, Bolivia. In a series of protests for a lengthy period of time, involving injuries and an unfortunate teenage fatality, the residents of the town ousted the multinational giant Bechtel from the region, succeeding at preventing water privatization that was costing them far more than they could earn. Kohl and Farthing (2008) talked about the prescriptions of decentralization in policy that were happening in Bolivia, “spaces” that were used by the marginalized citizens to gather momentum for their movement, while also “creating new expectations of the state”. In a way, grassroots movements become self-assured in challenging municipal authorities, so new leadership gets the opportunity to thrive. Movements sometimes mobilize to the point where consequences occur at a national scale, and the “new leadership” might find a way into the political machinery, perhaps at the scale of municipal governance.


CASE 2: Cape Town and Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaigns

The Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign, aimed at fighting evictions and the associated issue of access to electricity, health and water, sprung up in post-apartheid South Africa. The campaign inspired the Chicago AEC and the Take Back the Land campaign in Miami. In writing about the implications that this campaign had for planning, Faranak Miraftab and Shana Wills (2003) referred to the withdrawal of state responsibility for provision of public services resulting in an increased participation of non-governmental entities, be it private firms or NGOs or civil society organizations. As mentioned previously, this decentralization was inherent in the case of Cochabamba as well. If the state expected to withdraw from these responsibilities for reasons of efficiency or otherwise, then there had to be an alternative. The options were that of municipal responsibility or privatization, and the latter was rejected vociferously by citizens. With the Western Cape AEC as well, citizens were claiming rights to what they had helped build in the pre-Apartheid period. In this sense, there were parallels between the two cases. Both movements employed the decentralization policy prescriptions and the resulting state withdrawal from service provision to fuel their logic of stepping in and making their own arrangements. And this was particularly necessary when the alternative stripped them of their rights to basic services and public resources.


There are differences between the two cases. In the case of Bolivia, a thriving multinational corporation and its plans to privatize access to water were propelled out of the country despite the attempts of the national government to curb the insurgency. In the second case, a struggle for rights to a home and basic public services in post-apartheid South Africa inspired two massive anti-eviction campaigns in the US. Both examples show how different the outcomes of transnational planning can be. And yet both also show how insurgent participation can, and should, be incorporated into planning.


One thought on “Insurgencies, Citizenship, & Planning Part 3: Transnational outcomes

  1. Pingback: Insurgencies, Citizenship, & Planning Part 2: Planning literature | Transnational Planning

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