Transnational Political Echolocation: An Emancipatory Strategy for Excluded Social Groups

By Gomez-Quintero, Juan David; Marcuello-ServOs, Chaime | Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, May 2012 | Go to article overview
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Transnational Political Echolocation: An Emancipatory Strategy for Excluded Social Groups


Gomez-Quintero, Juan David, Marcuello-ServOs, Chaime, Alternatives: Global, Local, Political


Abstract

This article analyses a particular case of interactions between "Southern" and "Northern" nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). It considers a sample of Colombian social movements and organizations concerned with victims of Colombian armed conflicts as well as some Spanish NGOs working in Colombia. Specifically, it considers relationships, communication processes, and organizational patterns, and identifies an emergent practice of "transnational political echolocation" understood in terms of mobilizing and grievance strategies within a transnational arena shaped by information and communication technologies.

Keywords

Colombia, political echolocation, transnational network, emancipation, development aid

Introduction

This article builds on critical research traditions that have arisen in recent years, questioning international development policies and foreign aid strategies. Following Boaventura de Souza Santos, some of this questioning, which has become characteristic of movements concerned with postdevelopment, postfeminism, and postcolonialism, among others, can be categorized as oppositional postmodernism. (1) Here we especially seek to engage with oppositional postmodernism's proposal to reinvent the emancipation of social groups that have been excluded and forgotten by the deployment of various ideological systems arising from Western modernity, including capitalism, scientism, individualism, and rationalism. We are also interested in various proposals made by oppositional postmodernism to create a novel strategy for carrying out such an ambitious project by building on the transnationalization of local struggles both for socially excluded groups and for the social organizations that support them. We recognize in this attempt to reinvent emancipation some aspects of what is often called the premodern, including traditional forms of economy, the value of nonscientific knowledge, communitarianism, and links to the land and to place.

In the last twenty years or so, some emergent groups--new social movements, networks and global platforms, and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)--have adhered to versions of these objectives. They have gradually created transnational networks that act as a medium for working through and with socially excluded groups; in this article, we use the term excluded to refer to groups and individuals who suffer, in different ways and degrees, the violation of individual, social, economic, and cultural rights. Transnational networks promote emancipation when they support the initiatives and processes undertaken by the affected subjects themselves by multiplying their effects and strengthening the social and political influence to prevent or redress violated rights.

Here, we explore transnational political activism (2) in the context of case study material from Colombia and Spain. These connections are only partially explored in some of the English language literature. Our first step is to review some of the positions encompassed by the term oppositional postmodernism. Our second step is to put forward evidence for a new concept, transnational political echolocation, which we use to outline a preliminary systematic framework, which we are still developing. This concept goes beyond the idea of the "boomerang pattern" and other significant points raised by Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink in their book Activists beyond Borders. (3) We use it to refer to a new communication strategy, civic action, and solidarity generated by emergent agents in a transnational space and the renovation of social emancipation.

We take the term echolocation from zoology, where it designates the guidance systems of cetaceans and chiropterans (bats, for example) which, by emitting sounds and picking them up after they bounce off objects and obstacles, manage to navigate and move around without colliding. We use this term metaphorically and attribute to it a political status to the extent that excluded groups emit appeals, statements, reports, or complaints to ensure the mobilization of social actors in such a way as to bring pressure to bear to transform the initial situation causing the action.

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