How do transitions to democracy affect the shape and participation of social movements in the present? In their new book, Legacies and Memories in Movements: Justice and Democracy in Southern Europe
(Oxford University Press, 2018), Donatella della Porta
and her collaborators develop a comparative historical study of social movements in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece, tracing some of the characteristics of the last anti-austerity protests to the shape transitions to democracy took in each country. Transitions to democracy represent critical junctures that affect historical legacies and memories in different ways. Participated pacts
, where political elites play a major role and civil society is excluded from the negotiations, bring about closed and exclusive political opportunities. This leads movements to develop more radical repertoires, and erase or confront the memory of the transition in their framing. Conversely, eventful transitions, where civil society plays a leading role, produce political systems that are more open to social movements’ participation. This is reflected in more institutionally-active social movements who embrace the memory of the transition and use it as a legitimating frame.
The book puts into question the idealization of transitions led by political elites and provides a more nuanced analysis of the relations between the different actors that participate in these key historical episodes. Additionally, it provides a novel perspective on the impact that transitions have for the opportunities of political participation of society at large. This work will be of interest to political scientists, historians and sociologists alike and represents a major effort in bridging these disciplines under the umbrella of social movement studies.
Felipe G. Santos is a PhD candidate at the Central European University. His research is focused on how activists care for each other and how care practices within social movements mobilize and radicalize heavily aggrieved collectives.