Popular movements and democratisation

The general aim of the project has been to analyse emerging efforts at new popular oriented politics of democratisation as against conventional radical movements and elitist democracy building.

About the project

The project was initiated in 1987. There were two points of departure:

  • First, that previous research indicated that radical popular oriented politics in the Global South had suffered primarily from neglecting struggle for democracy, both against despotic state driven accumulation of capital and from being unable to offer an alternative to authoritarian politics more generally.
  • Second, that the international interest in civil society, human rights and democracy that had gained strength during the early 1980s was confined to the promotion of pacts among moderate elites, which would not just ‘get the prices but also the institutions right’.

The general aim of the Project is thus to analyse emerging efforts at new popular oriented politics of democratisation as against conventional radical movements and elitist democracy building. The ideal cases for critical studies of new popular politics of democratisation to be studied were Indonesia, the Philippines and the Indian state of Kerala (with some additional references to West Bengal). These were contexts that had a history of strong old radical movements in addition to pioneering new democratic initiatives that very few scholars and experts anyway thought would become important.


While the studies of movements in the Philippines and Kerala were concluded by the late 1990s roughly according plans, the full study of Indonesia was held back. This was because a preliminary case study report dated June 1996 anticipated the possible fall of the Suharto regime and radical democratic transformation. While updating the case studies in Kerala and the Philippines, priority was given therefore to intensive study and research–based contribution to the Indonesian process of democratisation. The current aim is now to conclude the substantially extended case study of popular oriented politics of democratisation in Indonesia and then analyse the general results from the three cases in historical, comparative and theoretical perspective. The final book is scheduled for 2016-2017.


The most important results are that although democracy did become a crucial issue in the struggle against primitive accumulation of capital, and although the popular oriented movements did contribute to ‘people power’ transformations in the Philippines, the overthrow of Suharto in Indonesia and the world renowned ‘people’s planning campaign’ in Kerala based on decentralisation, they have remained unable to form a powerful political block. Thus democratisation has been dominated instead by a liberal block against state and politics in favour of market and civil society combined with elitist institution building.


The project has been financed by the Swedish Agency for Research Cooperation with Developing Countries (SAREC) and the University of Uppsala, The University of Oslo and as part of related projects supported by NORAD and the Norwegian Embassy to Indonesia.


The major partners are related to the Centre for Third World Studies at the University of the Philippines, the Institute for Popular Democracy, Diliman, Quezon City, the Philippines, the Centre for Development Studies in Trivandrum, Kerala,  Universitas Kristen Satya Wacana, the Indonesian legal Aid Association (YLBHI) until 1999, the Institute for the Studies of Free Flow of Information (ISAI), The Indonesian Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (Demos) until 2005 and currently the Centre for Social South East Asian Studies and the Faculty for Social and Political Studies, University of Gadjah Mada, Indonesia,  the Centre for Socio Economic and Environmental Studies, Kochi, India, a nomber of Indian and Philippine colleagues and Prof. John Harriss, Simon Fraser University Vancouver. In Scandinavia, major co-operation is with Prof. Björn Beckman, University of Stockholm, Prof. Lars Rudebeck, University of Uppsala, and Prof. Kristian Stokke, University of Oslo.



Master- and PhD-students are invited to contribute to and benefit from the project.


Published Sep. 24, 2010 10:45 AM - Last modified Aug. 4, 2021 10:54 AM