Dissertation Abstracts

Gandhian Democratisation: An Account against Political Colonisation

Author: Cristiano Gianolla, cgianolla@gmail.com
Department: Centre for Social Studies
University: University of Coimbra, Portugal
Supervisor: Boaventura de Sousa Santos
Year of completion: 2017
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Political-colonialism , party-movement , Gandhian democratisation , Epistemologies of the South
Areas of Research: Political Sociology , Comparative Sociology , Social Movements, Collective Action and Social Change


This study challenges realist practices and perspectives of liberal democratic regimes questioning categories such as people, representation, elite and populism. It analyses the relationship of liberalism and democracy and the ‘crisis of political liberalism’ emerging as a root-condition of forms of oppression and exclusion that mainstream democratic theory condemns without being able to tackle. This research questions the understanding of the liberal democratic canon for being a system of ‘political-colonialism’, which consists of a structural fractioning of society between few representatives and many represented where the latter have very limited political power with respect to the former. This study examines the historical, philosophical, social and political grain of political-colonialism and investigates the alternative proposed by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Gandhi’s civilisational proposal tackles political-colonialism and provides a participatory, decentralised and duty-based paradigm founded on the holistic vision of society. Gandhi’s alternative to hegemonic power and the structural separation between the representatives and the represented fosters the relational condition of politics combining wealth, ethics, passion and spirituality. While the consolidation of an alternative general theory of democratisation, that is able to contend with political-colonialism, seems impossible and undesirable, a number of socio-political activists, movements and organisations are providing portions of innovation that are making it relevant to investigate democratisation. The epistemologies of the South – as elaborated on by Boaventura de Sousa Santos – are a set of theoretical and methodological inquiries that search, valorise and translate the fragmented ‘emergences’ that are struggling against political-colonialism. By mobilising the epistemologies of the South this study critically engages with the intellectual and political struggles to democratise democracy and assesses and compares their achievements and failures. The empirical work of this study critically focuses on ‘party-movements’ – political forces emerging from civil society and participating in representative politics. Their discourses symbolise critical stances against political-colonialism. Additionally, they present practices for the engagement of society in participatory processes dialoguing with the representative framework. The ethnographic evidence (gathered in a total of eleven months) was collected with two party-movements, the Indian Aam Aadmi Party (AAP – Party of the Common Person) and the Italian Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S – 5 Star Movement). Qualitative data were collected through a reflexive methodology and the analysis focuses on six categories: people, leadership-structure, ethical wave, participation, horizontality-inclusion and political line. The ‘Gandhian democratisation’ elaborated on here is only one, partial possibility out of the many (even mutually contradictory) possibilities that emerge form Gandhi’s rich and multifaceted inheritance. It is an analytical prospective categorisation that is applied to the comparison. While Gandhi propounded a comprehensive, metaphysically founded, socio-political structural alternative to political-colonialism, the AAP and the M5S controversially attempt to engage with the existing system to democratise it. Besides the fact that the M5S makes no direct structural reference to Gandhi’s theory, it shares much of its democratisation discourse with the AAP. The richness of the thesis arises from the South-North translation proportionated by the epistemologies of the South between Gandhi’s civilisational alternative and the fragments of innovation emerging from the experimental political discourse of party-movements.

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