7. Civil Society in Asia reconsidered: Rights, Governmentality and Inclusion of the Disadvantaged

Convenors:  Alexander Horstmann and Peter B. Andersen, Dept. of Cross-Cultural and Regional  Studies, University of Copenhagen, and Amit Prakash, JNU, New Delhi

Since about the 1980 new rights regimes and new opportunities of alliances of local actors with transnational activism have gained terrain in the area of collective rights for ethnic, indigenous and gendered groups, whereas vulnerable rural, ethnic and religious groups mostly have been left out of this new allocation of rights. 

These rights regimes have been carried through international NGOs as well as formalised globalisation and liberalisation leading national states to let international and local NGOs take over part of the governmental functions among rural and disadvantaged populations. In many instances political and social activists have got more space for their activities through these changes in the organisation of society, on the other hand it has in many cases led to increased levels of violence which makes the lives of rights activists vulnerable for political assassinations. The neoliberal de-politicisation of government to NGOs also leads to new considerations of what actors or institutions are legitimised to represent disadvantaged groups in the public sphere and especially in relation to international donors.

The panel uses the term “governmentality” to encourage contributors to explore the changing dynamics of governance as new rights regimes consisting of international NGO’s, humanitarian organizations and religious networks also intervention in and exercise their own modes of government and alternative normative orders. A key concept used here is the idea of sovereignty and how local actors aim for the power to define rights claims, rights areas and establish areas of local sovereignty that they have to defend not only against local militias or repressive states but have to negotiate with movements that exercise a symbolic violence by monopolizing claims to represent them. Suffering, while real, often enough becomes a branding that is used to mobilize funding from international support networks. Local sovereignty implies a critique of the universal human rights agenda that has no translation in the local context where rights issues are tightly connected to livelihood issues. Livelihoods and sustainable life ways and social support networks come under pressure by development being backed by the military, leaving little breath to disadvantaged groups who lose their land and freedom.

In Asia this has led increasing sectors of the disadvantaged population to mobilize and fight against exclusion by hierarchical social systems, authoritarian states and neo-liberal orders. The panel addresses how different regimes of rights create specific responses within marginalised groups. Contributors are encouraged to look at ways of mobilizing social support on multiple levels and to explore manifold ways of resisting what is perceived as assault on people’s livelihoods.

In this regard it is also highly relevant to consider how far regimes of rights lead to integration of the marginalised groups in the larger populations or to further marginalisation. These questions may be addressed in a comparative perspective, as marginalised populations across transnational boundaries also organise themselves in relation to the civil society. While most of the research concentrates so far on country studies, the panel specially invites submissions that will allow for comparisons either through actual comparisons within the paper or through analysis which allow for alliances of local and transnational networks.

 We invite papers on

  • The organisation of protest movements
  • The integration of the state with NGOs
  • NGOs and Community based Organizations and movements working in the management of marginalised or indigenous groups
  • Government allowances for traditional forms of organisation in ethnic or indigenous groups
  • How far civil society organisations lead to higher levels of integration with the state or to insolation from the larger society
  • How far faith-based organizations and missionary networks participate in the representation of rights and humanitarian assistance
  • How local marginalised, ethnic, indigenous or religious associations adapt to changing international conceptions of rights