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SP12 - Twenty-First Century Countermovements and New Rhythms of Capitalist Development

Convened by Geoff Goodwin (University of Leeds, UK) and Jacinto Cuvi (Universite Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium)

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If neoliberal capitalism is collapsing, why are countermovements so weak, fragmented, and fragile? After the market reforms of the 80s and 90s, backlash took various forms. A pink tide of leftist leaders came to power in Latin America following a wave of social protests. In the MiddleEast, the Arab Spring shook the political economy of post-structural adjustment autocratic regimes. In France the yellow vests unsettled the business-friendly administration of President Macron. More recently, soaring food prices have sparked social unrest across the world.

It is tempting to interpret these developments—along with the election of far-right populists in the U.S., Brazil, or the Philippines—as countermovements: society’s reaction to the commodification of essential resources, including nature and labor. Polanyi explained the rise of socialism and fascism during the interwar years in these terms. But why, then, do contemporary movements seem so ineffective at reversing the broader dynamics of market expansion? What mechanisms absent from Polanyi’s classic work explain the course of countermovements in the twenty-first century? Building on recent literature that has explored contemporary countermovements (e.g., Goodwin, 2018; Aulenbacher, Bärnthaler, and Novy, 2019; Rayner and Morales Rivera, 2020; Zayed, 2021; Sandbrook, 2022; Vail 2022) this panel will seek to assess the potential of the countermovement as a conceptual tool to make sense of the current crisis. Participants will explore both the underlying politics, including mechanisms and strategies that defuse countermovements, and alternative scenarios of social involution such as anomy, exodus, and violence. We welcome paper and presentation proposals on contemporary countermovements at different scales as well as state and non-state efforts to contain or repress countermovement activity. Case studies do not need to use a Polanyian lens, but authors should be open to discuss their implications from a countermovement perspective. Critical contributions are welcome.