“Collective action” in the cities of the world. A view from the Souths

Paolo Perulli,

University of Piemonte Orientale and FEEM, Italy

In the world cities of today, a new “collective action” is taking place. From Hong Kong to Santiago de Chile, conflict is the key word; powers are challenged; reforms are demanded. In India, conflicts over the ethnic and religious minorities’ rights are ongoing. In Africa, conflicts over ethnicity, religion, land, resource allocation, governance, poverty and migration are widespread.

To grasp the collective action of cities in the Souths of the world, the old rational choice theory based on olsonian assumptions should be recognized as wrong. A new theory based on the needs and capabilities to express collective protest is wanted. It depends on both structural and contingent factors. It involves the critique of basic concepts like development, progress and democracy.

A new normative framework for the cities of the world could be the outcome of the conflictual processes outlined here. A new lexicon would be created around terms like: economic, social, ethnic and environmental justice, autonomy, capabilities, rights. The search for ‘universal’ principles of Justice or the necessarily ‘pluralistic’ logics and ‘relativistic’ ethics of identity are part of the dilemmas.

Is Justice universal? Are the same parameters to be adopted in the North and the Souths of the world?

Sustainable development is the key. It is based on parameters-like the United Nations SDGs-which fail to address the existing difference between the North and the Souths, the dominant and the excluded, and the need for a new synthesis. The global interest to “save the Planet” cannot avoid the enormously different, conflicting points of view of developed and developing communities. Together they stand, together they fall.