Lecture: Civil society and social movements in transforming Asia

Folks, I’m gonna mix things up a bit by sharing the first of a two-part audio recording…. of, lucky you, a lecture by yours truly, delivered just last night (!) on the theme of Civil Society and Social Movements in Transforming Asia. My decision to record the lecture was quasi-spontaneous; but yes, I reached for my phone at the beginning of class on a whim, pressed voice-memo, record, and presto – potential knowledge-transfer!


 (Warning: there is a 3 minute introduction that you may find amusing or boring!)

The  post-hoc rationale is as follows: I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about sharing my lectures in some format as part of some Massive Open Online Course (Or MOOC, a.k.a. the world’s most annoying abbreviation.)

Unfortunately or fortunately for you, I’m starting in week 10 of the semester…. so whatever poor desperate souls who are inclined to listen to my analysis of some of the reasons why the world is the way it is in relation to social movements in Asia, you’re not going to get the full class this time around. So I will leave it to you to do some research and find out what social movements are. I’m not gonna bother with posting readings either…. perhaps next semester.

Below, please find a course description and click here for a PDF of the lecture notes, which you may use to follow the lecture. Please refer to the course description below. To bring you up to speed, we spent several weeks unpacking various theories of politics in development contexts, reading, critiquing, and occasionally unceremoniously trashing famous scholars… examining, deconstructing (I’m never totally serious when I say deconstructing), exploring various concepts, such as institutions, civil society, etc.

In the previous week we discussed why labor movements have proven not to be (or at least not recently) a lasting political force. This week we’re moving on to talk about civil society, social movements, social movement organizations, and NGOs in the context of contemporary East Asia. Again this is the first hour of a two hour lecture. I will post next week’s lecture along with some additional comments next week. Is this a hopeless waste of time? You tell me. Or better yet, don’t. Actually, just kidding. I’d be happy to have any feedback. Perhaps this fall I will follow through on my threat to do a whole MOOC!

By the way, just because I’m lecturing doesn’t mean I presume to have all (or even all that many!) of the answers. More modestly I hope I bring some value to efforts to understand the issues hand. Cheers.


Core Course/ Masters of Social Sciences in Development Studies
City University of Hong Kong

Course themes and aims

This course concerns politics and political development in late industrializing countries. The course is particularly interested in the development of political institutions in the contemporary context and the tensions that emerge within these institutions and their organizational environments in the context of rapid social change. The course is especially concerned to probe the dynamics of social movements and other forms of unconventional politics that have developed in these countries in the context of diverse efforts to achieve more transparent and democratically accountable forms of governance. 

Across Asia, processes of industrialization and globalization have occasioned social disruptions on a grand scale. At a time when states are increasingly accountable to markets, people joined together in social movements and other non-conventional forms of politics have sought to influence development processes and outcomes in their own interests. In a context where no late-industrializing country in Asia has a political system demonstrably capable of managing these tensions, an understanding of significance and limitations of social movements and the politics of development is of great practical significance.

At the outset, it is important to address certain three basic questions.

  1. What are political institutions and why do they matter?
  2. What, if any, is the relationship between political development and development?
  3. And why are social movements in development contexts worthy of our attention?

The development of political institutions profoundly shapes developmental processes. Political institutions are significant because they dictate the precise relationship between politics and the economy and as such have major implications for the manner in which economic production and distribution occurs. While political institutions are designed to achieve stable governance and resolve conflicts, they often fail to do so.

There has always been awareness about the link between politics and development but their relationship has been the subject of considerable controversy. Some have tended to deny any inherent link between political development and economic development, emphasizing instead the importance of stable, effective governance.

In the contemporary context, however, such a perspective has come into question. The problem is not with stability, of course, but with hazards of non-transparency and un-accountability. In the face of these conditions, restricted political rights, and a world-encompassing market, people and communities across East Asia have increasingly resorted to unconventional political means to advance their political interests. Such unconventional politics take diverse forms; from petitioning in China to democracy struggles in Myanmar, from political tensions in Singapore to the explosion of internet politics across the region. We will examine these political dynamics and their practical and theoretical significance.