Academic journal article Social Justice

"All the World's a Stage": The Bhopal Movement's Transnational Organizing Strategies at the 2012 Olympic Games

Academic journal article Social Justice

"All the World's a Stage": The Bhopal Movement's Transnational Organizing Strategies at the 2012 Olympic Games

Article excerpt

A SOCIAL MOVEMENT WAS FORGED IN THE CRUCIBLE OF STORAGE TANK 610 THE evening of December 2, 1984. Recent attempts to analyze the nearly 30-year-old movement point both to its international reach (Zavestoski 2009) and its particularism (Scandrett and Mukherjee 2011). According to Zavestoski (2009, 384), "the Bhopal disaster illustrates that when absentee multinational corporations contaminate communities, and support of state political or judicial elites is not forthcoming, social movements are compelled to work transnationally to find ways to have their grievances addressed." Zavestoski's analysis focuses on the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB), a coalition currently composed of five Bhopal-based groups: Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationary Karmachari Sangh, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha, Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha, Children Against Dow Carbide, and the Bhopal Group for Information and Action.

Zavestoski (2009) maintains that movements targeting toxic contamination or other forms of pollution linked to the practices of multinational corporations are obliged to engage in transnational forms of social movement organizing: "When the activities of multinational corporations transform material conditions of existence, whether through the spread of chemical hazards or otherwise, civil society responses take aim at a multinational target that necessitates transnational organizing" (ibid., 402). His analysis, however, is not simply about the necessity for movements with multinational targets to mobilize transnationally; more importantly, "the Bhopal movement illustrates how a domestic movement that transnationalizes balances the local and the global over its lifespan" (ibid.). Given that the ICJB, despite being the primary force behind the movement's international efforts, is by no means the lone representative of survivors of the Bhopal disaster, further analysis of the ways in which the ICJB balances its efforts with the needs of locally oriented groups in Bhopal is needed.

This is precisely the contribution of Scandrett and Mukherjee (2011, 196), who aim to expand Zavestoski's analysis by pointing out that "the ICJB coalition of Bhopal-based groups and their international supporters represent only part of the Bhopal gas survivors' movement, which is divided between three or four rival campaigning groups." The local divisions in the movement, Scandrett and Mukherjee argue, although reflecting contentious historical and ideological disagreements, are not a source of weakness:

In the Bhopal survivors' movement, different abstractions have led to divisions and opportunities for emancipatory gendered praxis have been missed. However, the divergent abstractions has [sic] extended the reach and longevity of the movement with the opportunities for a broad, if unstable alliance across multiple sectors of struggle. (Ibid., 207)

For Scandrett and Mukherjee, conflict within the movement arises from the privileging of contrasting abstractions rooted in each faction's "militant particularist praxis." "There is strength in the diversity of abstractions," the authors maintain, "which enables the struggle to be fought on multiple fronts, with combinations of alliances which would be scarcely possible in a unified movement" (ibid., 196). Whereas Zavestoski draws the distinction between locally and globally focused organizations within the movement, and focuses on the struggle of one organization---the ICJB--to balance its efforts between meeting local needs and seeking justice internationally, Scandrett and Mukherjee splice the movement in terms of the abstractions motivating different organizing approaches: environmental justice, class struggle, and gender order.

In this article, we first bridge the work of Zavestoski and Scandrett and Mukherjee by drawing on the concept of "politicized collective illness identity." Then we provide a brief overview of the forms of transnational organizing employed by the Bhopal movement throughout its history as a prelude to our analysis of the movement's utilization of the 2012 Olympic Games in London as a protest stage when Dow Chemical Company was announced as a worldwide Olympic sponsor. …

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