Space of opposition: activism and deliberation in post-apartheid environmental politics

Barnett, Clive and Scott, Dianne (2007). Space of opposition: activism and deliberation in post-apartheid environmental politics. Environment and Planning A, 39(11) pp. 2612–2631.



Drawing on recent political theory that examines the relationship between inclusive deliberation and oppositional activism in processes of democratisation, we develop a case study of environmental justice mobilisation in post-apartheid South Africa. We focus on the emergence of a network of social movement organisations embedded in particular localities in the city of Durban, connected into national and transnational campaigns, and centred on grievances around industrial air pollution. We analyse how the geographies of uneven industrial and urban development in Durban combine with sedimented place-based histories of activism to make particular locations spaces of democratic contention, in which the scope and operation of formal democratic procedures are challenged and transformed. We examine the range of strategic engagements adopted by social movement organisations in pursuing their objectives, looking in particular at the dynamic interaction between inclusion in deliberative forums and more adversarial, activist strategies of legal challenge and dramaturgical protest. We identify the key organisational features of groups involved in this environmental justice network, which both enable and constrain particular patterns of democratic engagement with the state and capital. We also identify a disjuncture between the interpretative frames of different actors involved in participatory policy making. These factors help to explain the difficulties faced by social movement organisations in opening up the space for legitimate nonparliamentary opposition in a political culture shaped by norms of conciliation and consensus.

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