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Political Struggle to Political Sting: A Theory of Democratic Disillusionment

Abstract

Why do residents in new democracies become disillusioned with democracy, despite significant improvements in the development of liberal-democratic institutions, the extension of political rights and freedoms, and peaceful turnovers of power? This article advances a theory of democratic disillusionment, which is based on the concept of political sting: feelings of betrayal, insult, and disrespect among ordinary citizens stemming from a government’s failure to protect and provide for its population. In new democracies, political sting motivates and propels collective action and provides a basis for future claims for social justice. Building from the redistribution-versus-recognition debate between Nancy Fraser, Axel Honneth, and their critics, this article extends that analysis to include conditions in the political realm—in particular, problems of political accountability. The article illustrates its theoretical claims through references to South Africa’s recent history of democratization.

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Notes

  1. Justice Malala, “As the poor lose hope, anarchy looms,” The Times (South Africa), August 27, 2012.

  2. Lydia Polgreen, “Mine Strike Mayhem Stuns South Africa as Police Open Fire,” New York Times, August 16, 2012.

  3. Xiaobo Lu, ed., Promise and Problems of Old and New Democracies: Essays from Political Science Quarterly (New York: The Academy of Political Science, 2000).

  4. Chinmaya R. Gharekhan, “Is Arab Spring Wishful Thinking?” The Hindu, June 22, 2011; Rashidi Khalid, “The Arab Spring,” The Nation, March 3, 2011; Harlan Ullman, “Somber Warning from the Arab Spring,” UPI.com, May 25, 2011.

  5. Laura Tedesco, Democracy in Argentina: Hope and Disillusion (New York: Routledge, 1999); Linda S. Stevenson, “Fragmented Feminisms and Disillusion with Democracy: Social Movement Downswings, Inadequate Institutions, and Alliances under Construction in Latin America,” Latin American Research Review 42:3 (2007): 205–221; “Kenyans and the Economy: Disillusionment Despite Improved Performance,” Afrobarometer Briefing Paper No. 30 (January 2006).

  6. Nancy Fraser and Axel Honneth, Redistribution or Recognition? A Philosophical Exchange (London: Verso, 2003).

  7. Samuel P. Huntington, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991).

  8. Amy Guttman, ed., Multiculturalism and “The Politics of Recognition” (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992); Axel Honneth, The Struggle for Recognition: The Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts (Boston, MA: MIT Press, 1996); Nancy Fraser, Justice Interruptus: Critical Reflections on the “Postsocialist”Condition (New York: Routledge, 1997); Seyla Benhabib, The Claims of Culture (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002); Honneth and Fraser, Redistribution or Recognition?

  9. Charles Taylor, “The Politics of Recognition,” 25–73 in Guttman, Multiculturalism.; Honneth, The Struggle for Recognition; Patchen Markell, Bound by Recognition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003); Linda Alcoff, “Fraser on Redistribution, Recognition, and Identity,” European Journal of Political Theory 6 (2007): 255–65.

  10. Fraser, Justice Interruptus; James Bohman, “Beyond Distributive Justice and Struggles for Recognition: Freedom, Democracy, and Critical Theory,” The European Journal for Political Theory 6 (2007): 267–76.

  11. Fraser and Honneth, Redistribution or Recognition?

  12. Bohman, James, “Beyond Distributive”; Leonard C, Feldman, “Redistribution, Recognition, and the State: The Irreducibly Political Dimension of Injustice,” Political Theory 30 (2002): 411; Nikolas Kompridis, “Struggling Over the Meaning of Recognition: A Matter of Identity, Justice or Freedom?” European Journal of Political Theory 6 (2007): 277–89; Forst Rainer, “First Things First: Redistribution, Recognition and Justification,” The European Journal for Political Theory 6:3 (2007): 297; Martha Nussbaum, Women and Development: The Capabilities Approach (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom (New York: Anchor Books, 1999).

  13. Bohman, “Beyond Distributive Justice,” 270.

  14. Nancy Fraser, “Injustice at Intersecting Scales: On ‘Social Exclusion’ and the ‘Global Poor,’” European Journal of Social Theory 13 (2010): 366.

  15. Nancy Fraser, “Abnormal Justice,” Critical Inquiry 34 (Spring 2008): 396.

  16. Iris Marion Young, Inclusion and Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

  17. Feldman, “Redistribution, Recognition, and the State,” 411.

  18. Lydia Polgreen, “Rage by miners point to shift in South Africa,” New York Times, August 31, 2012.

  19. I thank an anonymous reviewer for drawing my attention to this point.

  20. Adam Przeworski, Susan C. Stokes, and Bernard Manin, Democracy, Accountability, and Representation (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

  21. Staffan I. Lindberg, “Accountability: The Core Concept and Its Subtypes,” Africa Power & Politics Working Paper No. 1, April 2009.

  22. Julia Paley, “Accountable Democracy: Citizens’ Impact on Public Decision Making in Postdictatorship Chile,” American Ethnologist 31: 4 (2004): 497–513.

  23. Fraser, Justice Interruptus, 36.

  24. Ibid.

  25. Nancy Fraser, “Reframing Justice in a Globalizing World,” New Left Review 36 (Nov/Dec 2005): 69–88.

  26. James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990), 4.

  27. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance, 8.

  28. Ibid., 7.

  29. Kareem Fahim, “Slap to a Man’s Pride Set Off Tumult in Tunisia,” New York Times, January 21, 2011.

  30. Roger Cohen, “A Republic Called Tahrir,” New York Times, February 6, 2011.

  31. Thomas McCarthy. “Book Review,” Ethics (January 2005): 401.

  32. Honneth, in Redistribution or Recognition, 125.

  33. Ibid., 133.

  34. Jean-Philippe Deranty, “Jacques Rancière’s Contribution to the Ethics of Recognition,” Political Theory 31 (February 2003): 136–56.

  35. Judith Shklar, “Obligation, Loyalty, Exile,” Political Theory 21 (May 1993): 190.

  36. Ian Shapiro, Democratic Justice (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999), 32.

  37. Shklar, “Obligation, Loyalty, Exile.”

  38. Samuel P. Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1968).

  39. Steven Friedman, “Getting Better Than ‘World Class’: The Challenge of Governing Postapartheid South Africa,” Social Research 72 (Fall 2005): 757–84.

  40. Richard Ballard, Adam Habib, and Imraan Valodia, Voices of Protest: Social Movements in Post-Apartheid South Africa (Durban, South Africa: University of Kwazulu Natal Press, 2006).

  41. Ashwin Desai, We are the Poors: Community Struggles in Post-Apartheid South Africa (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2002).

  42. Desai, We are the Poors, 7.

  43. Ibid., 8.

  44. Michael Schmidt, “Highway to Hell,” The Star, August 18, 2007.

  45. Sebastiana Etzo, “‘The Unfinished Business of Democratization’: Struggles for Service and Accountability in South African Cities,” Democratization 17 (June 2010): 564–86.

  46. Saths Cooper, “Political Violence in South Africa: The Role of Youth,” Issue: A Journal of Opinion 22.2 (1994): 27–29; Mzwanele Mayekiso, Township Politics: Civic Struggles for a New South Africa (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1996).

  47. Hein Marais, South Africa Limits to Change: The Political Economy of Transition (London: Zed Books, 1998).

  48. Ivor Chipkin, “The South African Nation,” Transformation: Critical Perspectives on Southern Africa 51 (2003): 25–47.

  49. Ran Greenstein, “Civil Society, Social Movements, and Power in South Africa,” University of Witwatersrand Seminar 22 (2003).

  50. Kimberly Lanegran, “South Africa’s Civic Association Movement: ANC’s Ally or Society’s “Watchdog”? Shifting Social Movement-Political Party Relations,” African Studies Review 38 (September 1995): 101–126; Jeremy Seekings, “After Apartheid: Civic Organisations in the ‘New’ South Africa,” in From Comrades to Citizens: The South African Civics Movement & the Transition to Democracy, ed. Glenn Adler (New York: Palgrave Publishers, 2000); Elke K. Zuern, “Fighting for Democracy: Popular Organizations and Postapartheid Government in South Africa,” African Studies Review 45 (April 2002): 85.

  51. ANC.org.za., accessed on March 1, 2012.

  52. Sandra Liebenberg, “Needs, Rights and Transformation: Adjudicating Social Rights in South Africa,” Stell Law Review 17 (2006): 5–36.

  53. Aletta Norval, “Thinking Identities: Against a Theory of Identity,” in The Politics of Difference: Ethnic Premises in a World of Power, ed. Edwin N. Wilmsen and Patrick McAllister (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).

  54. Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act.

  55. South African Institute of Race Relations.

  56. Statistics South Africa, Nov 2012: http://www.statssa.gov.za/keyindicators/keyindicators.asp, accessed on December 1, 2012.

  57. Judith Streak and Carlene van der Westhuizen, “Fitting the Pieces Together: A Composite View of Government’s Strategy to Assist the Unemployed in South Africa 1994–2004,” Institute for Democracy in South Africa (2004).

  58. Avert.org. , accessed on December 1, 2012. This has also led to serious problems in life-expectancy rates in the country: There has been a huge decrease in life expectancy, from 56 years in 2000 to 51 in 2006 (Statistics South Africa). The life expectancy in 2010 was 52 (World Bank).

  59. Ashwin Desai and Richard Pithouse, “‘But We Were Thousands’: Dispossession, Resistance, Repossession, and Repression in Mandela Park,” Journal of Asian and African Studies 39 (2004): 239–69; Marais, Limits of Change; Patrick Bond, Elite Transition: From Apartheid to Neoliberalism in South Africa (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996).

  60. Quoted in David Blair, “Mbeki Lashes Out as Tutu Attacks ANC ‘Favouritism,’” Telegraph News, November 27, 2004.

  61. Ashwin Desai, We are the Poors.

  62. Nigel Gibson, “The Limits of Black Political Empowerment; Fanon, Marx, ‘the Poors’ and the ‘New Reality of the Nation’ in South Africa,” Theoria 52:107 (August 2005): 89–118; Gerhard Mare, “Race, Democracy and Opposition in South African Politics: As Other a Way as Possible,” in Opposition and Democracy in South Africa, ed. Roger Southall (London: Frank Cass, 2001).

  63. The information in the following section is drawn from an unpublished manuscript by the author entitled “Voice of the Nonexistent Opposition: Service Delivery Protests in South Africa.” This paper provides a protest-event analysis of 33 protests that took place in 2007 and contends that ordinary people took to the streets and demanded basic services because of the way in which South African democracy evolved into a dominant-party system over the thirteen years that followed the fall of Apartheid.

  64. Peter Alexander, “Rebellion of the Poor: South Africa’s Service Delivery Protests—A Preliminary Analysis,” Review of African Political Economy 37 (2010): 25–40.

  65. S. Booysen, “With the Ballot and the Brick: The Politics of Attaining Service Delivery,” Progress in Development Studies 7 (2007): 21–32.

  66. Peter Alexander, “A Massive Rebellion of the Poor,” Mail & Guardian, April 13, 2012.

  67. Quoted in Isaac Mangena, “Fury at Post-Apartheid Neglect,” South African Press Association, July 20, 2007.

  68. Quoted in Ido Lekota, “Flames in Khutsong,” The Sowetan, 25 May 2007.

  69. Quoted in Sipho Masombuka, “Fuming Residents Want to Leave Municipality,” The Sowetan, May 2, 2007.

  70. Quoted in “Residents in Services Protest,” The Sowetan, June 15, 2007.

  71. Quoted in Beauregard Tromp, “Kliptown Protests Claim One Life,” The Star, September 4, 2007.

  72. Quoted in Ido Lekota, “Flames in Khutsong,” The Sowetan, May 25, 2007.

  73. Quoted in Elisha Molefe, “Delivery in Ruins,” The Sowetan, March 1, 2007.

  74. Quoted in Hanti Otto, “Council Offices in Mamelodi Set Alight,” Pretoria News, May 21, 2007.

  75. Quoted in Mfundekelwa Mkhulisi, “Bakkie Kills Protester,” The Sowetan, September 4, 2007.

  76. Quoted in Dan Fuphe, “Tired of Empty Promises,” The Sowetan, July 18, 2007.

  77. One of the most influential scholars in this debate is Harold Wolpe, who once argued that apartheid was not simply a continuation of segregation. While many scholars suggested that Apartheid would decline with the continuance of capitalism and market relations, Wolpe claimed that South African capitalism developed not separately from racial domination, but through the political domination which gave South African capitalism a unique and distinctly racial character. In other words, the separation between race and class is not easily distinguishable. His theory is called the “cheap labour-power thesis.” See: Harold Wolpe, “Capitalism and Cheap Labor Power in South Africa: From Segregation to Apartheid,” Economy and Society 1 (1972): 425–56.

  78. Gillian Hart, “Changing Stakes of Articulation: Political Stakes in South Africa Today,” Review of African Political Economy 34 (2007): 85–101.

  79. Mare, “Race, Democracy and Opposition in South African Politics,” 85.

  80. Yasmine Saleh and Tom Pfeiffer, “Egypt’s New Presidents Faces Burden of Expectation,” Reuters, July 2, 2012.

  81. Juan J. Linz and Alfred Stepan, Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996); Guillermo O’Donnell and Philippe C. Schmitter, Transitions from Authoritarian Rule, Vol. 4: Tentative Conclusions about Uncertain Democracies (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986); Adam Przeworski, Democracy and the Market (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991). For a good discussion of the democratic transition in South Africa, see Courtney Jung and Ian Shapiro “South Africa’s Negotiated Transition: Democracy, Opposition, and the New Constitutional Order,” Politics and Society 23 (1995): 269–308.

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The author thanks S.M. Amadae, Kathleen Klaus, Leigh Payne, Will Reno, Michael Schatzberg, Howard Schweber, John Zumbrunnen, three anonymous reviewers, and the editor of Polity for their helpful comments on this manuscript and thoughtful suggestions on various aspects of the study. I received valuable feedback from participants in the graduate seminar “Politics of Collective Action,” the UW-Madison Political Philosophy Colloquium, and co-panelists at the 2009 Midwest Political Science Association annual meeting.

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Paller, J. Political Struggle to Political Sting: A Theory of Democratic Disillusionment. Polity 45, 580–603 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1057/pol.2013.21

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Keywords

  • political accountability
  • political sting
  • Nancy Fraser
  • Axel Honneth
  • South Africa
  • political protests