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Theme Presentation

The research themes have been selected in view of their potential to promote counter-hegemonic globalization in the next decades. The following five themes have been selected (no order of precedence):

The research in the countries included in this Project will be developed in the ambit of these themes.

Participatory Democracy ^
Alongside the hegemonic model of democracy (liberal, representative democracy), other, subaltern models of democracy have always coexisted, no matter how marginalized or discredited. We live in paradoxical times: at the very moment of its most convincing triumphs across the globe, liberal democracy becomes less and less credible and convincing not only in the 'new frontier' countries but also in the countries where it has its deepest roots. The twin crises of representation and participation are the most visible symptoms of such deficit of credibility and, in the last instance, of legitimacy. On the other hand, local, regional, and national communities in different parts of the world are undertaking democratic experiments and initiatives, based on alternative models of democracy, in which the tension between capitalism and democracy comes alive anew and becomes a positive energy behind new, more comprehensive and more just social contracts, no matter how locally circumscribed they may be. In some countries, particularly in Africa, traditional forms of authority and government are being revisited to explore the possibility of their internal transformation and articulation with other forms of democratic rule.

Alternative Production Systems ^
Discussions about counter-hegemonic globalization tend to focus on social, political, and cultural initiatives, only rarely focusing on the economic ones, that is, on local/global initiatives consisting in non-capitalist production and distribution of goods and services, whether in rural or urban settings: cooperatives, mutualities, credit systems, farming of invaded land by landless peasants, water systems, fishing communities, ecological logging, etc. These initiatives are those in which local/global linkages are most difficult to establish, if for no other reason because they confront more directly the logic of global capitalism behind hegemonic globalization, not only at the level of production but also at the level of distribution. They often times survive by finding ways of accommodating to at least some hegemonic impositions.

Another important facet of alternative production systems is that they are never exclusively economic in nature. They mobilize social and cultural resources that make inter-thematic linkages a necessary condition of their success.

A market economy is of course possible and, within limits, even desirable. On the contrary, a market society is impossible and, if possible, would be morally repugnant, and indeed ungovernable. Nothing short of market fascism. Alternative production systems are one possible response to market fascism.

Emancipatory Multiculturalism, Justices, and Citizenships ^
The crisis of western modernity has shown that the failure of progressive projects concerning the improvement of the life chances and life conditions of subordinate groups both inside and outside the western world was in part due to lack of cultural legitimacy. This applies even to human rights movements since the universality of human rights cannot be taken for granted. The idea of human dignity can be formulated in different "languages". Rather than being suppressed in the name of postulated universalisms, such differences must be mutually intelligible through translation and diatopical hermeneutics.

Since modern nation-building was accomplished more often than not by smashing the cultural and national identity of minorities (and sometimes even majorities), the recognition of multiculturalism and of multinationhood carries with itself the aspiration to self-determination. The case of the indigenous peoples is paramount in this project. Even though all cultures are relative, relativism is wrong as a philosophical stance. It is therefore imperative to develop (transcultural?) criteria to distinguish emancipatory from retrogressive forms of multiculturalism or self-determination.

The aspiration for multiculturalism and self-determination often takes the social form of a struggle for justice and citizenship. It involves the claims for alternative forms of law and justice and for new regimes of citizenship. The plurality of legal orders, which has become more visible with the crisis of the nation-state, carries with itself, either implicitly or explicitly, the idea of multiple citizenships coexisting in the same geopolitical field and, often, the idea of the existence of first, second, and third class citizens. However, non-state legal orders may also be the embryo of non-state public spheres and the institutional base for self-determination, as in the case of indigenous justice. This project will concentrate on forms of justice - community, informal, local, popular justice - that are part and parcel of struggles or initiatives pertaining to any of the other three themes. For instance, community or popular justice as an integral component of participatory democracy initiatives; indigenous justice as an integral component of self-determination or the conservation of biodiverstiy.

Biodiversity, Rival Knowledges and Intellectual Property Rights ^
Due to the advancement of the last decades in the life sciences, biotechnology and microelectronics, biodiversity has become one of the most precious and looked after 'natural resources'. For biotechnology and pharmaceutical firms, biodiversity appears increasingly at the core of the most spectacular and thus profitable product developments in the years ahead. By and large, biodiversity occurs mainly in the so-called Third World and predominantly in territories historically owned or long occupied by indigenous peoples. While technologically advanced countries seek to extend intellectual property rights and patent law to biodiversity - there have already been attempts to patent human gene sequences - some peripheral countries, indigenous peoples groups and NGOs on their behalf are seeking to guarantee the conservation and reproduction of biodiversity by granting special protection status to the territories, ways of life, and traditional knowledges of indigenous and peasant communities. It is increasingly evident that the new cleavages between the North and the South will be centered around the question of access to biodiversity on a global scale.

Though all themes included in the project raise an epistemological issue, to the extent that they claim the validity of knowledges that have been discarded by hegemonic scientific knowledge, biodiversity is probably the topic in which the clash between rival knowledges is more evident and eventually more unequal and violent.

New Labor Internationalism ^
As is well-known, labor internationalism was one of the most blatantly unfulfilled predictions of the Communist Manifesto. Capital globalized itself, not the labor movement. The labor movement organized itself at the national level and, at least in the core countries, became increasingly dependent upon the Welfare State. It is true that in our century international links and organizations have kept alive the idea of labor internationalism but they became prey to the cold war and their fate followed the fate of the cold war.

In the post-cold-war period and as a response to the more aggressive bouts of hegemonic globalization, new as yet very precarious forms of labor internationalism have emerged: the debate on labor standards; exchanges, agreements or even institutional congregation among labor unions of different countries integrating the same economic regional bloc (NAFTA, European Union, Mercosul); articulation among struggles, claims, and demands of the different labor unions representing the workers working for the same multinational corporation in different countries, etc.

Even more frontally than alternative-production systems, the new labor internationalism confronts the logic of global capitalism on its own privileged ground: market economy. The success of the new labor internationalism is dependent upon the "extra-economic" linkages it will be able to build with the social initiatives and movements within the ambit of any of the other themes dealt with in this project.

None of these thematic initiatives taken separately will succeed in bringing about counter-hegemonic globalization. To be successful their emancipatory concerns must undergo translation and networking, expanding in evermore socially hybrid but politically focused movements. In a nutshell what is at stake in political terms at the beginning of the century is the reinvention of the state and of civil society in such a way that social fascism will vanish as a possible future. This is to be accomplished through the proliferation of local/global public spheres in which nation-states are important partners but not exclusive dispensers of either legitimacy or hegemony.

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Centro de Estudos Sociais MacArthur Foundation
Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian