Collective Actions in the Cities of the World: A Radical Perspective

Wing Shing Tang,
Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong

This year, the School calls for a new “collective action” in cities nowadays, and it is the objective of this paper to elaborate this theme from a radical perspective for a number of reasons. First, according to Mancur Olson’s The Logic of Collective Action, rational, self-interested individuals will not act to achieve their common or group interests unless there is coercion or the number of individuals in a group is quite small. This understanding is extremely limited, as it has emphasised solely on rational actions, while it could never challenge the structural forces that have produced the prevailing inequalities and injustice so widespread around us. There is then an urgent need to supplement this discussion with concepts like activisms and social movements. Second, even if we have done so, there is usually a bias towards Anglophone concepts and theories. It is common in the literature to dub every activism or social movement around the world as the jasmine revolution in Tunisia or the lotus in Egypt: according to this view, it is all about democratisation of late-coming countries, to be modelled on their more advanced counterparts. This bias has revealed vividly the underlying power relations in knowledge production. In the first School of the Souths, we came to the conclusion that this biased understanding was unacceptable. The North-South dualism is, however, unnecessary; it merely prohibits us from understanding ourselves better. We instead need to develop concepts based on the concrete structural forces of the concerned countries while not forgetting about those of the more advanced counterparts. The two are in constant interaction with each other. To further elaborate this complexity leads us to the third point: a spatial perspective. The construction of relationship, which is so central to activisms and social movements, hinges on spatial strategies and tactics to mobilise and gain power. Land, terrains, places, networks, territories and regions are made and re-made as part of the process of social and political struggles. During these processes, narratives and imaginaries are also invoked, or even invented, to facilitate the spatial deployment. The exact strategy and tactic, among a repertoire of them, deployed by a particular activism or social movment for a particular issue is dependent on the historical and spatial moments. For instance, the struggles of favelados in cities in Brazil are very different from the movements behind tongfang (sub-divided flats) in Hong Kong. It is then important for us not to employ one analytical methodology or concept to decipher all these spatial strategies and tactics. A tempo-spatial analysis is always the basic approach to success. Finally, as a summary, this paper would suggest one spatial approach of activisms and social movements that tries to meet the above requirements.