Dissent within the global political economy: four frustrations, and some alternatives

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  • 1 Cardiff University, UK
  • | 2 University of Birmingham, UK
  • | 3 University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, USA
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While there has been a turn towards incorporating examples of dissent, resistance and alternatives in the Global Political Economy literature, this article claims that there is still a considerable absence of analysis of dissent in and against the global political economy. The authors identify four frustrations (which can be easily turned into suggestions). First, that resistance, dissent and alternatives, continue to be marginal to most attempts at understanding the global political economy. Second, when resistance and dissent are considered, often they are presented as discrete episodes of ‘protest’. The third ‘frustration’ points towards the types of questions the literature tends to ask of instances of resistance: why resist, and with what effect? This directly connects with the fourth frustration: effect is often seen narrowly, simply as ‘impact’. The discussion of these frustrations concludes that dissent and resistance are ultimately central to the configurations of actors, institutions, ideas and their power relations that constitute the global political economy, and our understandings of it.

Abstract

While there has been a turn towards incorporating examples of dissent, resistance and alternatives in the Global Political Economy literature, this article claims that there is still a considerable absence of analysis of dissent in and against the global political economy. The authors identify four frustrations (which can be easily turned into suggestions). First, that resistance, dissent and alternatives, continue to be marginal to most attempts at understanding the global political economy. Second, when resistance and dissent are considered, often they are presented as discrete episodes of ‘protest’. The third ‘frustration’ points towards the types of questions the literature tends to ask of instances of resistance: why resist, and with what effect? This directly connects with the fourth frustration: effect is often seen narrowly, simply as ‘impact’. The discussion of these frustrations concludes that dissent and resistance are ultimately central to the configurations of actors, institutions, ideas and their power relations that constitute the global political economy, and our understandings of it.

Key messages

  • Dissent is central to the constitution of power relations in the global political economy.

  • Global Political Economy scholarship needs to develop emancipatory engagements with our global socio-economic context.

  • The effect of dissent cannot be reduced to the capacity to influence public policy.

In some ways the study of dissent in, and alternatives to, the global political economy has gained considerable ground in recent years. The work emerging from academic spaces explicitly focusing on the intersection between global capitalism and a range of forms of resistance has been welcome. This is perhaps most obviously the case in terms of scholarship associated with the annual Alternative Futures and Popular Protest conference in Manchester, originally organised by the late Colin Barker, and with the move by the Critical Political Economy Research Network (CPERN) to place resistance and disruption at the centre of their calls for papers (Bruff, this issue). These developments have led to an expansion of scholarship focusing on a range of forms of resistance within, and alternatives to, the global political economy (see for instance Barker et al, 2013; Cox and Nilsen, 2014; Engelhardt and Moore, 2017; Bailey et al, 2018). At the same time, a number of sources of dissatisfaction, or commonly voiced frustrations regarding the question of how we study dissent within the global political economy, remain. In this article, we consider some of the problems associated with the study of both dissent and socio-economic alternatives across the (critical) political economy literature. In doing so, we summarise what we consider to be four key frustrations that are routinely expressed by different contributors to these debates. Having set out these ‘four frustrations’, we suggest four elements of a different, and potentially more satisfactory, approach.

Four frustrations in studying dissent and the global political economy

Across the political economy literature a number of frustrations have been voiced over recent years regarding the way in which dissent, agency and the potential for alternatives within the global political economy (especially, alternatives to capitalism), have been studied within the contemporary literature. As we shall see, these frustrations have focused on the difficulties associated with studying the scope for contingency and agency, while recognising the constraining effect of the pressures that arise within the contemporary global political economy. Put simply, it has been, and remains, difficult to study dissent, resistance and socio-economic alternatives in a way that avoids sidelining considerations of the global political economy (and the constraints that it generates), despite the fact that those instances of agency are necessarily situated within the global political economy. Existing accounts, especially within social movement studies, have tended to distance themselves from the study of capitalism as a central condition that shapes the way in which social movements develop. Yet, as Caruso and Cini (2020) highlight, ‘it is no longer possible to look at these processes [of social movement development] without anchoring them on the structural transformations shaping capitalism’, and this itself requires ‘studying the internal mechanisms of motion of capitalism itself’ (2020: 1007–08). Conversely, studies of the global political economy have tended to spotlight the constraints generated by the global political economy, but in a way which risks obscuring the capacity for, and actuality of, instances of agency, contingency, dissent and socio-economic alternatives. See, for instance, Cammack’s (2022) account of how the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Bank have secured and maintained ‘the hegemony of capital over labour through the management and transformation of social relations, on a global scale’, and in doing so have acted to ‘promote the subjection of labour to the disciplines of capital’ (2020: 14–15). While it is, no doubt, the case that institutions seeking to govern global capitalism do so in a way which seeks to discipline labour; focusing only on that disciplining process obviously risks painting a picture of an overwhelming subordination of labour, leaving little scope through which to consider (what remains of) the agency of labour itself.

In sum, we can find within the literature plenty of consideration of dissent, and plenty of consideration of the constraints generated by the global political economy, but much less work that produces a satisfactory consideration of dissent and/in the global political economy. It is this absence which we highlight in the present article, and which we argue we need to do more to work towards addressing, as part of our collective scholarly endeavours. In doing so, we begin by delineating what we view as ‘four frustrations’ that are commonly articulated (although not always at the same time and in the same way), but which arguably underpin the dissatisfaction that is often expressed when considering how dissent is considered from the perspective of Global Political Economy.

Resistance, dissent and alternatives as marginal to our understanding of the global political economy

Perhaps the most often, and consistent, frustration voiced by those seeking to understand the role of dissent and resistance in the global political economy, is the paucity with which this question is considered within the literature. Indeed, despite it being a longstanding frustration, with multiple efforts to re-establish resistance and alternatives as central themes in the (global) political economy literature, nevertheless the claim that resistance needs to be more centrally focused tends to reappear. In 1997, for instance, Barry Gills declared a ‘sense that something was still missing’ from critical works on globalisation, and that this required an attempt ‘to reclaim the terrain of the political, sometimes lost in the first phase of the globalisation debate, and indeed to make concrete strategies and concepts of “resistance” central to our analyses of ‘globalisation’’ (1997: 11). In 2018, two of the present authors took a similar view, more than 20 years later, that still it was the case that ‘instances of disruption or resistance are routinely disregarded, typically on the grounds that they are too weak to challenge existing power relations’ (Bailey et al, 2018: 2).

Perhaps central to this frustration is the sense that the global political economy is conceptualised as an entity comprising processes such as production, distribution and exchange, and the reproduction of the (unequal) relations that constitute these (arguably) core elements of political economy. While dissent features throughout the political economy literature, at times this appears as an afterthought or appendage,1 to turn to once we have completed our analysis of the more ‘serious’ elements of the global political economy (production, corporations, the state, finance, trade, globalisation and so on). To caricature: first we study the emergence and consolidation of neoliberal global capitalism, financialisation, global trade and competition, imperialism, global value chains, exploitation, impoverishment, gendered and racialised forms of expropriation and extraction, and the ideas and ideologies that sustain each of these inequalities; then, to reassure ourselves that all is not lost, we study the (sometimes meagre) instances of resistance that we see around us, in order to find some glimmer of hope. For one illustrative example, in which the hope expressed is especially meagre, see Herman Mark Schwartz’s conclusion to his (excellent, it should be noted) textbook, States versus Markets:

The slice of elites making decisions in Washington, Beijing, and Frankfurt is pursuing policies whose first-order consequences will likely worsen things for the bottom 80 per cent. The mass social movements that produced the Depression-era reaction against markets were polyvalent. They, and the elites channelling their discontent, did not uniformly choose one path over the other, with horrible global consequences. People seem to have forgotten the lessons from those years. Let’s hope that Great Depression 3.0 is not the result.

(Schwartz, 2019: 343–4)

Resistance, dissent and alternatives as discrete episodes of ‘protest’

The second consistent frustration we see across the literature grappling with the question of resistance, and alternatives, in the global political economy is the tendency for these to be reduced to discrete episodes of ‘protest’. As such, much of the focus on social movements, and other forms of dissent, is frequently removed from, or conceptualised as distinct from, the broader relations that constitute the global political economy. This, what we might consider to be a neo-pluralist approach to resistance, has a tendency to reduce acts of protest, resistance and dissent to the demands of citizens, sometimes acting in social movements, underpinned by particular grievances and in pursuit of particular policy outcomes (for an account of the critique of pluralism, see Dunleavy, 1977; for a more recent example of pluralist approaches to protest, see Kriesi et al, 2020). This (prevailing) way of conceptualising resistance and dissent within the literature, however, introduces a number of assumptions and/or omissions which have tended to prompt frustration. Perhaps central to this is the (‘chaotic’) abstraction produced by such a conceptualisation – agents of dissent are abstracted from their socio-economic relations and instead considered mere individuals or citizens, thereby dissociating them from their broader positions within the political economy, from their inter-relationships to each other (especially class relations), and from the power relations and subjectivities that are associated with each of these. As Haunss and Zajak (2020) put it, ‘From the pluralist perspective that started to dominate social movement research from the 1970s in the US, and also later in Europe, social movements are not linked to societal cleavages but seen as the expressions of grievances of actors, actor coalitions, or populations’ (2020: 2). In brief, conceptualising dissent as ‘protest’, conducted by citizens, precludes us from considering the political economy, and related power and labour relations, from which those acts and subjects emerge.

Questions of interest: why resist, and with what effect?

A third commonly voiced frustration regarding the existing scholarship on resistance and dissent is the focus (only) on two key questions: Why did particular acts of resistance take place? And with what effect? Research outside of these two key questions are thus (either implicitly or explicitly) rendered irrelevant and not worth our attention. This partly reflects the histories through which disciplines have developed. Social movement studies, for instance, has its roots in the field of comparative politics, and particularly the seminal works of Charles Tilly (see especially Tilly, 1978). This means it inherits a set of methodological assumptions which focus on causality, perceiving its task as seeking ‘to identify its recurrent causal mechanisms, the ways they combine, in what sequences they recur, and why different combinations and sequences, starting from different initial conditions, produce varying effects on the large scale’ (McAdam et al, 2001: 13). It is only when considered in this way that we are able to answer these kinds of questions – ‘why, and with what effect?’ – that we find a movement worthy of our research effort: under what conditions and why do people mobilise in concrete ways? And with what effect? This is useful for understanding how social movements appear, why they choose certain organisational strategies over others and how the relationship between their ways of organising and the way in which their issues are framed in their political action have different impacts on their success. Indeed, the empirical richness of the social movements literature is hard to dispute. Neo-pluralist studies of social movements have been particularly productive in terms of developing and disseminating case studies, providing us with a huge amount of historically relevant detail. It has also contributed to a variety of research methods that can be used for social movement research (Klandermans and Staggenborg, 2002). But, reducing the study of social movements to two central questions – why, and with what effect? – amounts to a restricted understanding of what we hope to learn in studying instances and episodes of dissent within the global political economy, and our appreciation of the importance of dissent within the global political economy.

The purpose of studying resistance, dissent and social alternatives is not only to identify when and why they happen and the impact that they have; a more critical approach seeks rather to explore with participants and dissenting agents, how they make sense of the world that they are engaging with, and reflecting upon, and how (and in what way) such efforts amount to an attempt to supersede and change that world. How, in other words, do collective acts of dissent produce a new reality? Put simply, Global Political Economy scholarship needs to be able to inform meaningful and purposive engagement with our global socio-economic context. This cannot be done through an ahistorical consideration that poses only the questions: ‘why, and with what effect?’. Instead, we need also to consider how we (both those within, and those outside of, the university) can respond to the fact that: ‘the point is to change it’.

‘Impact’ as a narrow conception of effect

Finally, in seeking to understand the effect of resistance, dissent and social alternatives, there is a tendency to focus disproportionately on ‘impact’, itself considered narrowly in terms of being an impact upon public policy. Certainly, the ability of social forces to build sufficient leverage to influence political institutions is an important subject of study (see for instance Bailey, 2015). But it is also an excessively narrow conception of the effect that dissent can have. As laid out in Wright’s seminal work (2010), pursuing policy reforms is only one strategic approach to societal transformation, whereas building ‘interstitial’ alternatives and engaging in ‘ruptural’ resistance are paths that only tangentially include elements of public policy change, if at all. Given the inherent lack of democratic accountability and transparency of state apparatuses due to built-in strategic selectivities (Jessop, 2002), many forms of social contestation deliberately refrain from targeting the state outright and focus instead on facilitating cultural change, building community self-reliance and prefiguring alternative economies and institutions. Thus, the effect of dissent, resistance and social alternatives cannot be reduced to only the capacity to influence public policy without losing sight of this wide array of social struggles and alternatives.

Moreover, even disregarding a narrow focus on direct institutional influence, ‘impact’ is not the only phenomenon of importance when considering the effect(iveness) of contestation. For instance, in considering the development of social alternatives, there is a tendency to (over-)focus on the prospect for transformation (in the immediate sense). This in part explains the fixation on ‘scalability’ of prefigurative experiments (Moore et al, 2015), something which disregards the strategic agency and (more diffuse and indirect) challenge to socio-economic power relations posed by social alternatives. As such, this creates a false equivalence between radically transformative initiatives and the dominant capitalist economy, as if these exist as mutually exclusive options, in which either social alternatives are scaled up and overturn capitalist social relations, or otherwise have failed to produce any meaningful ‘impact’. Instead, a critical perspective needs to ask not only how social alternatives can replace dominant practices, but also interrogate the many ways in which they can subvert and indirectly shape the underlying social relations, norms and values that inform these practices in the first place.

Four suggestions: foregrounding dissent in the global political economy

In an attempt to advance an approach to the study of dissent within and against the global political economy, we advance below four elements of a different approach, that foregrounds dissent, and in a more satisfactory way, within and against the global political economy.

Dissent as central to (our understanding of) the global political economy

Perhaps central, in terms of ensuring that dissent is considered within and against the global political economy is the need to foreground dissent in our study of the global political economy. This would allow us to accurately reflect the social relations we seek to understand, and to change. But seeking to foreground dissent also raises the question of how we do so. In particular, we need to acknowledge that dissent is constitutive of the global political economy. Indeed, if we accept that competition is the driving force of global capitalism (Shaikh, 2016), both historically and in the present, then we can enhance our understanding of competition if we conceptualise it as competition (at least in part) over the need to manage the disruptive consequences of dissent. Put simply, firms compete over ways in which to limit the obstructive opposition posed by both their employees, and by the social and ecological environments within which they operate, in their efforts to produce commodities at a greater level of productivity, and thereby to sell those commodities at a lower price and/or greater rate of profitability than their competitors. This requires both efforts to limit dissent, and to diminish its impact. Further, while direct efforts are made, especially by firms and states, to silence dissent, more structural efforts are also made so that the disruptive consequences of dissent are impeded. By way of illustration, anti-trade union laws seek to prevent strike action (thereby silencing a dissenting workforce), whereas automation seeks to reduce the potential for strikes to have a disruptive effect, even if they do occur, and thereby impedes the capacity for dissent to be disruptive. While both types of responses to dissent are commonplace, the latter tends to result in more fundamental structural changes to the global political economy. Indeed, it is arguably this latter type of structural reorganisation and dynamism that is inherent to global capitalism (and therefore our global political economy), driven by the threat of (different types of) disruptive dissent. As Tronti (2019) put it, capitalism ‘needs the offensive weapon of the working-class struggle to be pointed in threat against it’ (2019: 207, emphasis added). It is in this sense that dissent is central to (and constitutive of) the dynamics of the global political economy, necessitating our understanding of dissent in order to be able to understand the development of the global political economy.

Recognising resistance, dissent and alternatives as part of the global political economy

Instead of viewing the global political economy as separate to, or simply the target of, resistance, dissent and alternatives, we should conceptualise and explicate dissent as an emergent part of Global Political Economy that constitutes, shapes and disrupts it. Rather than consider social movements, for instance, as an object of interest in themselves, we should move beyond the object of study (social movements) to consider how they relate to (and constitute) broader processes within the global political economy, such as capitalist accumulation and the role of the state.

Likewise, in considering socio-economic alternatives as they form within (and against) the contemporary global political economy, such as those found in the ‘solidarity economy’, we should be clear that these are not separate from and different to the global political economy. Indeed, various European countries recognise the solidarity economy as the basis of their third sector, and large national networks connect and represent thousands of solidarity economy initiatives (Solidarity4All, 2015; RIES, 2020; REAS, 2022). France appointed a ‘Social and Solidarity Economy’ Minister and in Italy we see regional legal frameworks (Nardi, 2016) and municipal ‘solidarity economy districts’ in support of it (RIES, 2021). Institutional recognition has also been achieved across Latin America, such as in the form of state contracts for ‘worker-recuperated enterprises’ in Argentina (Vieta, 2010) or the introduction of ‘food sovereignty’ into law in Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela (Borras et al, 2015). These alternatives are part of the global political economy.

Consequently, prefigurative projects and the solidarity economy cannot fully escape capitalist market imperatives or subvert traditional power relations, something which also creates challenges and raises significant questions regarding the transformative momentum of alternatives (Monticelli, 2021). Experiences of the large worker cooperative Mondragon in Spain highlight how scaling up non-capitalist projects can reproduce social hierarchies, such as between cooperative members and waged labourers (Gritzas and Kavoulakos, 2016). While state support can help overcome some of these challenges, it also creates new dependencies and competitive pressures, potentially driving activists to sacrifice autonomy and pursue organisational efficiency through centralisation (Kioupkiolis, 2017). Moreover, there is a growing tendency of neoliberal governments to appropriate concepts such as ‘resilience’ and rely on volunteer labour to shoulder the burden of a welfare system eroded by austerity (McCabe et al, 2020).

In sum, different forms of dissent and resistance in, and socio-economic alternatives to, the global political economy need to be recognised as being part of what we consider to be the global political economy, albeit situated in a contradictory way, both empowered and constrained by the structural situation within which those acts of dissent are located (Las Heras, 2019). Only by considering it in this way are we able to gain a better understanding of the constraints and opportunities facing dissenting agents, and the pressures and constitutive elements that comprise the contemporary global political economy.

Resistance, dissent and alternatives as a broad range of activities, processes and social relations

Rather than understand resistance, dissent and alternatives as discrete, and disparate, protest events (only), we need instead to develop a much broader concept. This may include protest, but also includes contestation within the workplace, social movements mobilising around issues that are not directly related to the ‘standard’ focus of political economy, more ‘subterranean’ forms of resistance, and the attempts to create new ‘prefigurative’ social relations.

In terms of our study of the global political economy, perhaps the most common focus when it comes to dissent is contestation within the workplace, and especially the formal role of organised labour as one of the three major ‘voices’ within the political economy (capital, organised labour and the state) (see for instance Cox, 1987). But dissent does not only exist as a source of (potential) disruption within the workplace. Since the 2007–08 global economic crisis, commentators have routinely noted a heightening of a range of forms of dissent, much of which is often not immediately related to processes of production, distribution or exchange. The ‘Arab Spring’, the 15-M movement, Occupy, the Gezi Park protests, the Yellow Vest movement, the democracy protests in Catalonia and Hong Kong, Black Lives Matter, Fridays for Futures, the uprising in Chile, the Indian farmers’ revolt, the Nigerian #EndSars protests, #MeToo, Rojava, and the truckers’ blockades of Toronto, are just a sample of the most high-profile instances of the wave of dissent that has constituted the ‘recovery’ of post-2008 global capitalism (Della Porta, 2015; Della Porta and Portos, 2020). While these instances of dissent are not always immediately reactions to the global political economy, nevertheless they are deeply inter-linked with, explicitly articulate grievances about and reflect the subjectivities and potentialities for association that are emergent from, tendencies that are deeply rooted in the global political economy. Neoliberal public policy (and its consequences), austerity, ecological degradation, precarity, the absence of the means of social reproduction, racialised forms of inequality and domination, the rise of authoritarian neoliberalism and the absence of more institutionalised forms of collective association (most obviously, organised labour) across many sectors of the global economy, can all be clearly traced back to processes that are central to recent developments in the global political economy, and at the same time directly feed into the expressions of dissent we witness (Bailey et al, 2021).

Likewise, dissent does not only have a relevance to the global political economy when it appears on ‘the streets’. Dissent generates new political subjects, with the capacity to form new electoral constituencies. The electoral successes of Syriza and Podemos, and the election of Gabriel Boric as the President of Chile, each illustrate some of the more obvious ways that dissent can translate directly into new programmes of political economy promoted within the state (Ribera-Almandoz et al, 2021). Parties and political actors without direct links to protest movements, on both the left and the right of the political spectrum, also respond to waves of dissent as they generate new ideas about the global political economy and new (most recently, populist) electoral competitors that unsettle the political status quo (Worth, 2019; Albertazzi and Vampa, 2021).

Dissent also cannot be restricted to instances of protest and resistance only. It also includes concrete socio-economic alternatives and prefigurative experiments. The ‘solidarity economy’ encompasses perhaps the most prevalent of these in the present. After experiencing both the pandemic-induced disruption of economic supply chains and social reproduction systems and the intensification of climate emergencies, we are currently witnessing a surge of community initiatives prefiguring sustainable and solidarity-based alternatives. Many of these efforts re-occur repeatedly in the face of crises. Mutual aid networks satisfy people’s essential needs without relying on charity (Spade, 2020), associations and cooperatives facilitate the ‘commoning’ of food provision, shelter and care work (Cabot, 2016; Broumas, 2018; Rossi et al, 2021), and political campaigns aim to prevent the commodification of foundational reliance systems, such as water (Moore, 2022). These initiatives add to a growing and diverse solidarity economy of non-capitalist enterprises characterised by collective ownership, horizontal decision-making, non-alienated labour relations and the decommodified provision of goods and services (Laville, 2010). Despite their heterogeneity, they form a collective ‘infrastructure of dissent’ in support of movements that aim to create radical utopias and challenge the power of capital and state (Sears, 2014). They offer important contributions for overcoming the division between ‘interstitial’ and ‘symbiotic’ approaches (Wright, 2010) in favour of more holistic ‘dual power’ strategies (Broumas, 2018) that simultaneously politicise everyday life and seek macro-level counterhegemonic transformation (Roussos, 2019).

Resistance, dissent and alternatives of interest both in terms of ‘impact’ but much wider still

Finally, in place of the classic questions – ‘why, and with what effect?’ – we embrace a much more comprehensive rationale for studying resistance and alternatives, themselves (as we have argued) integral to the global political economy. This is a rationale that recognises the qualitative enrichment that comes about through reflection of, and with, dissenting actors, as part of a wider effort through which to facilitate the search for emancipation and enhanced human flourishing, and the imagining and creation of an alternative global political economy.

As Cox and Nilsen put it, movements are ‘structures of knowledge production’ (Cox and Nilsen, 2014), and, as such, they are specifically located moments and experiences where activists engage in praxis, understood as the unity of theory and action. Such a focus on praxis offers a conceptual, and practical, emphasis through which to understand human agency and our capacity to disrupt, resist and prefigure structural attempts to dominate us. To our lament, the halls of academia have become increasingly constrained in terms of their willingness to enable the production of knowledge that is relevant for social change. In a corresponding trend, many social movements have stepped up and produced knowledge that challenges the status quo, outside the traditional spaces where knowledge is produced, such as universities. But also, producing relevant and open-source knowledge. This includes, for instance, the Precarias a la Deriva, Strike Debt, The Debt Resistors’ Manual, the work of the PAH and the growing move to conduct a range of workers’ inquiries. Some of those movements, Precarias a la Deriva and workers’ inquiries movements, appear out of necessity to produce knowledge that helps conceptualise the collective experience of exploitation in the global political economy. Here the aim is not (only) to ask, ‘why, and with what effect?’, but rather to generate a qualitatively rich understanding of the conditions of existence within which inequalities are formed, and in which dissent is made possible, through which shared understandings can be produced in common, and through which we can each come to understand and change the worlds in which we exist. The Platform of People Affected by Mortgages (PAH) or Strike Debt, on the other hand, have developed what we may call ‘open-source’ knowledge, where legal documents and advice are shared freely for people who find themselves in need of legal counsel and support but do not have the means to navigate the complex world of financial contracts. By doing so, they place ‘exclusive’ knowledge, traditionally held by lawyers or financial advisors, in the hands of anybody with a printer and paper.

Our understanding of ‘effect’ needs, therefore, to go much further than ‘impact’. The effects of dissent are ever-present and often highly visible; but at other times they are diffuse and beneath the surface. In both instances, however, they are worthy of our study. Indeed, much of the operation of the global political economy rests upon a silencing or rendering invisible of instances of, and the capacity for, dissent. The push to regularise production, through the introduction of Taylorism and Fordism in the early 20th century, was driven by the need to limit the capacity for workers’ dissent (Braverman, 1974). The more recent construction of global value chains has served to disempower workers through the fragmentation of production, making dissent more difficult to perform effectively (although also arguably creating opportunities to target weak links in the chain) (Selwyn, 2019). Today, digitalisation and the movement towards platform capitalism are driven by efforts to ensure that the need to compete is felt at the individual level (and therefore the willingness and capacity to perform dissent is limited) (Moore, 2019). This social disciplining is subsequently sold back to society as a social good (Shibata, 2020). Even when dissent is (temporarily) contained, moreover, in its absence it retains a causal property by virtue of the fact that it might, at some point, reappear (Bailey, 2015). These ‘hidden’ consequences of (the potential for) dissent are equally important to our understanding than the more direct and visible forms of ‘impact’ that tend more often to be the focus of our attention.

Similarly, rather than judge transformative alternatives in terms of capitalist notions of performance and effectiveness, instead we can turn to alternative criteria, such as social value creation, community well-being, democratic decision-making, social equality and ecological sustainability (Dash, 2016; Zaimakis, 2018). As scholars, we seek to identify ways to holistically assess these qualities and reflect upon what activists and policy makers can do to enhance them. We also critically interrogate questions of scale without either fixating only on the scalability of alternatives, nor falling into the ‘local trap’ of disregarding such questions in favour of an unreflexive localism or escapism (Russell, 2019). To that end, we advocate a nuanced and multidimensional conception of scaling that not only captures the operational growth and institutionalisation of alternatives (‘scaling up’), but also their diffusion across territories and sectors (‘scaling out’) and their ability to politicise communities and build local capacities (‘scaling deep’) (Moore et al, 2015).

Ultimately, transforming the capitalist system requires more than the sum of individual non-capitalist, or extra-capitalist, enterprises (on which, see Bailey, 2019). We therefore study not only the capacity of transformative projects to subvert capitalist modes of (re)production, but also their contribution to challenging social power relations and enacting political change at any scale (Ribera-Almandoz and Clua-Losada, 2021). We thus view alternatives, such as the solidarity economy, as being deeply embedded in social struggles around class, identity and ecology, both as subjects in their own right and by making up the socio-economic infrastructure that helps empower social movement agency. Consequently, in our study of these alternatives, we examine not only their social composition, material dimensions, political identities and practical tactics but also, crucially, their involvement in wider social movement alliances and the overarching strategies they pursue.

Conclusion

As the instability of global capitalism becomes ever more apparent, and as we witness intensifying signs of ecological collapse, economic exhaustion, political bankruptcy and social conflict and destruction, so too do we continue to see new popular struggles expressing dissent alongside (and informing) the growth of movements seeking new and different socio-economic alternatives. To fulfil their transformative promises these movements must overcome a mountain of structural and strategic challenges, and Critical Political Economy scholarship is well-placed to support them. Dissent, and the way it is managed (or not) is central to the configurations of actors, institutions and ideas that form our global political economy, and our understanding of it. More study (with the agents) of this dissent that constitutes our global political economy, and the opportunities for change it generates, is needed. This, we argue, needs a different approach, in which we understand, conceptualise and contribute to, dissent within the global political economy, as part of our efforts to foment change, towards a different global political economy.

Note

1

In some cases, there is no focus at all on resistance as a distinct topic in the study of Global Political Economy (see for instance Vivares, 2020).

Author biographies

Bernd Bonfert is a research associate at the Wales Institute for Social and Economic Research and Data at Cardiff University. His work revolves around social movements in the foundational economy, in particular food activist networks. He is an associate editor of the Global Political Economy journal.

David J. Bailey is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and International Studies, University of Birmingham. His research focuses on alternative forms of dissent, and the way in which these are situated within, and act to disrupt, the global political economy. He is a co-author of Beyond Defeat and Austerity: Disrupting (the Critical Political Economy of) Neoliberal Europe, published in the Routledge/RIPE Series in Global Political Economy, and has recently published peer-reviewed articles in Capital and Class, Globalizations, and the British Journal of Political Science. He is currently the coordinator of the Critical Political Economy Research Network, and a member of the editorial board of the new journal Global Political Economy.

Mònica Clua-Losada is Professor of Global Political Economy at the Department of Political Science at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Her research focuses on the contestation, subversion and resistance of labour and other social movements to capitalist relations of domination. She is a co-author of Beyond Defeat and Austerity: Disrupting (the Critical Political Economy of) Neoliberal Europe, published in the Routledge/RIPE Series in Global Political Economy, and has recently published peer-reviewed articles in Policy Studies, Globalizations, and Comparative European Politics. She is the co-editor in chief of the new journal Global Political Economy.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Braverman, H. (1974) Labor and Monopoly Capitalism: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century, New York: Monthly Review Press.

  • Broumas, A. (2018) Commons’ movements and ‘progressive’ governments as dual power: the potential for social transformation in Europe, Capital and Class, 42(2): 22951. doi: 10.1177/0309816817692124

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cabot, H. (2016) ‘Contagious’ solidarity: reconfiguring care and citizenship in Greece’s social clinics, Social Anthropology, 24(2): 15266. doi: 10.1111/1469-8676.12297

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cammack, P. (2022) The Politics of Global Competitiveness, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Caruso, L. and Cini, L. (2020) Rethinking the link between structure and collective action. Capitalism, politics, and the theory of social movements, Critical Sociology, 46(7–8): 100523. doi: 10.1177/0896920520911434

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cox, L. and Nilsen, A.G. (2014) We Make Our Own History: Marxism and Social Movements in the Twilight of Neoliberalism, London: Pluto.

  • Cox, R.W. (1987) Production, Power and World Order: Social Forces in the Making of History, New York, Columbia University Press.

  • Dash, A. (2016) An epistemological reflection on social and solidarity economy, Forum for Social Economics, 45(1): 6187. doi: 10.1080/07360932.2014.995194

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Della Porta, D. (2015) Social Movements in Times of Austerity: Bringing Capitalism Back into Protest Analysis, Cambridge: Polity Press.

  • Della Porta, D. and Portos, M. (2020) Social movements in times of inequalities: struggling against austerity in Europe, Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, 53: 11626. doi: 10.1016/j.strueco.2020.01.011

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Dunleavy, P. (1977) Protest and quiescence in urban politics, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 1: 193218. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2427.1977.tb00709.x

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Engelhardt, A. and Moore, M. (2017) Moving beyond the toolbox: providing social movement studies with a materialist dialectical lens, Momentum Quarterly, 6(4): 27189.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gills, B. (1997) Editorial: ‘Globalisation’ and the ‘politics of resistance’, New Political Economy, 2(1): 1115. doi: 10.1080/13563469708406280

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gritzas, G. and Kavoulakos, K.I. (2016) Diverse economies and alternative spaces: an overview of approaches and practices, European Urban and Regional Studies, 23(4): 91734. doi: 10.1177/0969776415573778

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Haunss, S. and Zajak, S. (2020) Social stratification and social movements: an introduction, in S. Zajak and S. Haunss (eds) Social Stratification and Social Movements: Theoretical and Empirical Perspectives on an Ambivalent Relationship, London: Routledge, pp 17.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jessop, B. (2002) The Future of the Capitalist State, Cambridge: Polity Press.

  • Kioupkiolis, A. (2017) Movements post-hegemony: how contemporary collective action transforms hegemonic politics, Social Movement Studies, 17(1).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Klandermans, B. and Staggenborg, S. (eds) (2002) Methods of Social Movement Research, Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press.

  • Kriesi, H., Lorenzini, J., Wüest, B. and Hausermann, S. (eds) (2020) Contention in Times of Crisis: Recession and Political Protest in Thirty European Countries, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Las Heras, J. (2019) International political economy of labour and Gramsci’s methodology of the subaltern, The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 21(1): 22644. doi: 10.1177/1369148118785986

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Laville, J.L. (2010) The solidarity economy: an international movement, RCCS Annual Review, (2): 141.

  • McAdam, D., Tarrow, S. and Tilly, C. (2001) Dynamics of Contention, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • McCabe, A., Wilson, M. and Macmillan, R. (2020) Rapid research COVID-19: community resilience or resourcefulness?, Local Trust (May), https://localtrust.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/COVID-19.-Briefing-2-1-1.pdf.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Monticelli, L. (2021) On the necessity of prefigurative politics, Thesis Eleven, 167(1): 99118. doi: 10.1177/07255136211056992

  • Moore, P.V. (2019) The Quantified Self in Precarity? Work, Technology and What Counts, London: Routledge.

  • Moore, M. (2021) Liquid gold or the source of life? Understanding water commodification as a contradictory and contested political project, Globalizations, 19(5): 797813. doi: 10.1080/14747731.2021.2011586

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Moore, M.L., Riddell, D. and Vocisano, D. (2015) Scaling out, scaling up, scaling deep: strategies of non-profits in advancing systemic social innovation, Journal of Corporate Citizenship, 2015(58): 6784. doi: 10.9774/GLEAF.4700.2015.ju.00009

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nardi, J. (2016) Solidarity economy in Europe: an emerging movement with a common vision, https://base.socioeco.org/docs/solidarity-economy-in-europe-a-common-framework.pdf.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • REAS (2022) Somos https://reas.red/somos/.

  • Ribera-Almandoz, O. and Clua-Losada, M. (2021) Health movements in the age of austerity: rescaling resistance in Spain and the United Kingdom, Critical Public Health, 31(2): 18292. doi: 10.1080/09581596.2020.1856333

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • RIES (2020) Progetti di economia solidale, www.economiasolidale.net/content/progetti-di-economia-solidale.

  • RIES (2021) Distretti di Economia Solidale (DES), www.economiasolidale.net/content/distretti-di-economia-solidale-des.

  • Rossi, A., Coscarello, M. and Biolghini, D. (2021) (Re)Commoning food and food systems. The contribution of social innovation from solidarity economy, Agriculture, 11(6): 54878. doi: 10.3390/agriculture11060548

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Roussos, K. (2019) Grassroots collective action within and beyond institutional and state solutions: the (re-)politicization of everyday life in crisis-ridden Greece, Social Movement Studies, 18(3): 26583. doi: 10.1080/14742837.2018.1562330

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Russell, B. (2019) Beyond the local trap: new municipalism and the rise of the fearless cities, Antipode, 51(3): 9891010. doi: 10.1111/anti.12520

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Schwartz, H.M. (2019) States Versus Markets: Understanding the Global Economy, London, Springer Nature.

  • Sears, A. (2014) The Next New Left. A History of the Future, Winnipeg: Fernwood.

  • Selwyn, B. (2019) Poverty chains and global capitalism, Competition & Change, 23(1): 7197.

  • Shaikh, A. (2016) Capitalism: Competition, Conflict, Crises, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Shibata, S. (2020) Gig work and the discourse of autonomy: fictitious freedom in Japan’s digital economy, New Political Economy, 25(4): 53551. doi: 10.1080/13563467.2019.1613351

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Solidarity4All (2015) Solidarity for all. Building hope against fear and devastation.

  • Spade, D. (2020) Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next), London/New York: Verso.

  • Tilly, C. (1978) From Mobilization to Revolution, London: Longman.

  • Tronti, M. (2019) Workers and Capital, D. Broder (trans) London: Verso.

  • Vieta, M. (2010) The social innovations of autogestión in Argentina’s worker-recuperated enterprises: Cooperatively reorganizing productive life in hard times, Labor Studies Journal, 35(3): 295321. doi: 10.1177/0160449X09337903

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Vivares, E. (ed) (2020) The Routledge Handbook of Global Political Economy: Conversations and Inquiries, London, Routledge.

  • Worth, O. (2019) Morbid Symptoms: The Global Rise of the Far-Right, London: Zed Books.

  • Wright, E.O. (2010) Envisioning Real Utopias, London: Verso.

  • Zaimakis, Y. (2018) Autonomy, degrowth and prefigurative politics: voices of solidarity economy activists amid economic crisis in Greece, Partecipazione e Conflitto, 11(1): 95120.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Albertazzi, D. and Vampa, D. (eds) (2021) Populism and New Patterns of Political Competition in Western Europe, London: Routledge.

  • Bailey, D.J. (2015) Resistance is futile? The impact of disruptive protest in the ‘silver age of permanent austerity’, Socio-Economic Review, 13(1): 532. doi: 10.1093/ser/mwu027

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    • Export Citation
  • Bailey, D.J. (2019) Extra-capitalist impulses in the midst of the crisis: perspectives and positions outside of capitalism, Globalizations, 16(4): 37185. doi: 10.1080/14747731.2018.1558816

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    • Export Citation
  • Bailey, D.J., Clua-Losada, M., Huke, N. and Ribera-Almandoz, O. (2018) Beyond Defeat and Austerity: Disrupting (The Critical Political Economy of) Neoliberal Europe, London: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bailey, D.J., Lewis, P.C. and Shibata, S. (2021) Contesting neoliberalism: mapping the terrain of social conflict, Capital & Class, doi: 10.1177/03098168211054802.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Barker, C., Cox, L., Krinsky, J. and Nilsen, A.G. (eds) (2013) Marxism and Social Movements, Leiden: Brill.

  • Borras, S.M., Franco, J.C. and Suárez, S.M. (2015) Land and food sovereignty, Third World Quarterly, 36(3): 60017. doi: 10.1080/01436597.2015.1029225

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Braverman, H. (1974) Labor and Monopoly Capitalism: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century, New York: Monthly Review Press.

  • Broumas, A. (2018) Commons’ movements and ‘progressive’ governments as dual power: the potential for social transformation in Europe, Capital and Class, 42(2): 22951. doi: 10.1177/0309816817692124

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cabot, H. (2016) ‘Contagious’ solidarity: reconfiguring care and citizenship in Greece’s social clinics, Social Anthropology, 24(2): 15266. doi: 10.1111/1469-8676.12297

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cammack, P. (2022) The Politics of Global Competitiveness, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Caruso, L. and Cini, L. (2020) Rethinking the link between structure and collective action. Capitalism, politics, and the theory of social movements, Critical Sociology, 46(7–8): 100523. doi: 10.1177/0896920520911434

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cox, L. and Nilsen, A.G. (2014) We Make Our Own History: Marxism and Social Movements in the Twilight of Neoliberalism, London: Pluto.

  • Cox, R.W. (1987) Production, Power and World Order: Social Forces in the Making of History, New York, Columbia University Press.

  • Dash, A. (2016) An epistemological reflection on social and solidarity economy, Forum for Social Economics, 45(1): 6187. doi: 10.1080/07360932.2014.995194

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Della Porta, D. (2015) Social Movements in Times of Austerity: Bringing Capitalism Back into Protest Analysis, Cambridge: Polity Press.

  • Della Porta, D. and Portos, M. (2020) Social movements in times of inequalities: struggling against austerity in Europe, Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, 53: 11626. doi: 10.1016/j.strueco.2020.01.011

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Dunleavy, P. (1977) Protest and quiescence in urban politics, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 1: 193218. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2427.1977.tb00709.x

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Engelhardt, A. and Moore, M. (2017) Moving beyond the toolbox: providing social movement studies with a materialist dialectical lens, Momentum Quarterly, 6(4): 27189.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gills, B. (1997) Editorial: ‘Globalisation’ and the ‘politics of resistance’, New Political Economy, 2(1): 1115. doi: 10.1080/13563469708406280

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gritzas, G. and Kavoulakos, K.I. (2016) Diverse economies and alternative spaces: an overview of approaches and practices, European Urban and Regional Studies, 23(4): 91734. doi: 10.1177/0969776415573778

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Haunss, S. and Zajak, S. (2020) Social stratification and social movements: an introduction, in S. Zajak and S. Haunss (eds) Social Stratification and Social Movements: Theoretical and Empirical Perspectives on an Ambivalent Relationship, London: Routledge, pp 17.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jessop, B. (2002) The Future of the Capitalist State, Cambridge: Polity Press.

  • Kioupkiolis, A. (2017) Movements post-hegemony: how contemporary collective action transforms hegemonic politics, Social Movement Studies, 17(1).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Klandermans, B. and Staggenborg, S. (eds) (2002) Methods of Social Movement Research, Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press.

  • Kriesi, H., Lorenzini, J., Wüest, B. and Hausermann, S. (eds) (2020) Contention in Times of Crisis: Recession and Political Protest in Thirty European Countries, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Las Heras, J. (2019) International political economy of labour and Gramsci’s methodology of the subaltern, The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 21(1): 22644. doi: 10.1177/1369148118785986

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Laville, J.L. (2010) The solidarity economy: an international movement, RCCS Annual Review, (2): 141.

  • McAdam, D., Tarrow, S. and Tilly, C. (2001) Dynamics of Contention, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • McCabe, A., Wilson, M. and Macmillan, R. (2020) Rapid research COVID-19: community resilience or resourcefulness?, Local Trust (May), https://localtrust.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/COVID-19.-Briefing-2-1-1.pdf.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Monticelli, L. (2021) On the necessity of prefigurative politics, Thesis Eleven, 167(1): 99118. doi: 10.1177/07255136211056992

  • Moore, P.V. (2019) The Quantified Self in Precarity? Work, Technology and What Counts, London: Routledge.

  • Moore, M. (2021) Liquid gold or the source of life? Understanding water commodification as a contradictory and contested political project, Globalizations, 19(5): 797813. doi: 10.1080/14747731.2021.2011586

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Moore, M.L., Riddell, D. and Vocisano, D. (2015) Scaling out, scaling up, scaling deep: strategies of non-profits in advancing systemic social innovation, Journal of Corporate Citizenship, 2015(58): 6784. doi: 10.9774/GLEAF.4700.2015.ju.00009

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nardi, J. (2016) Solidarity economy in Europe: an emerging movement with a common vision, https://base.socioeco.org/docs/solidarity-economy-in-europe-a-common-framework.pdf.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • REAS (2022) Somos https://reas.red/somos/.

  • Ribera-Almandoz, O. and Clua-Losada, M. (2021) Health movements in the age of austerity: rescaling resistance in Spain and the United Kingdom, Critical Public Health, 31(2): 18292. doi: 10.1080/09581596.2020.1856333

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • RIES (2020) Progetti di economia solidale, www.economiasolidale.net/content/progetti-di-economia-solidale.

  • RIES (2021) Distretti di Economia Solidale (DES), www.economiasolidale.net/content/distretti-di-economia-solidale-des.

  • Rossi, A., Coscarello, M. and Biolghini, D. (2021) (Re)Commoning food and food systems. The contribution of social innovation from solidarity economy, Agriculture, 11(6): 54878. doi: 10.3390/agriculture11060548

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Roussos, K. (2019) Grassroots collective action within and beyond institutional and state solutions: the (re-)politicization of everyday life in crisis-ridden Greece, Social Movement Studies, 18(3): 26583. doi: 10.1080/14742837.2018.1562330

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Russell, B. (2019) Beyond the local trap: new municipalism and the rise of the fearless cities, Antipode, 51(3): 9891010. doi: 10.1111/anti.12520

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Schwartz, H.M. (2019) States Versus Markets: Understanding the Global Economy, London, Springer Nature.

  • Sears, A. (2014) The Next New Left. A History of the Future, Winnipeg: Fernwood.

  • Selwyn, B. (2019) Poverty chains and global capitalism, Competition & Change, 23(1): 7197.

  • Shaikh, A. (2016) Capitalism: Competition, Conflict, Crises, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Shibata, S. (2020) Gig work and the discourse of autonomy: fictitious freedom in Japan’s digital economy, New Political Economy, 25(4): 53551. doi: 10.1080/13563467.2019.1613351

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Solidarity4All (2015) Solidarity for all. Building hope against fear and devastation.

  • Spade, D. (2020) Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next), London/New York: Verso.

  • Tilly, C. (1978) From Mobilization to Revolution, London: Longman.

  • Tronti, M. (2019) Workers and Capital, D. Broder (trans) London: Verso.

  • Vieta, M. (2010) The social innovations of autogestión in Argentina’s worker-recuperated enterprises: Cooperatively reorganizing productive life in hard times, Labor Studies Journal, 35(3): 295321. doi: 10.1177/0160449X09337903

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Vivares, E. (ed) (2020) The Routledge Handbook of Global Political Economy: Conversations and Inquiries, London, Routledge.

  • Worth, O. (2019) Morbid Symptoms: The Global Rise of the Far-Right, London: Zed Books.

  • Wright, E.O. (2010) Envisioning Real Utopias, London: Verso.

  • Zaimakis, Y. (2018) Autonomy, degrowth and prefigurative politics: voices of solidarity economy activists amid economic crisis in Greece, Partecipazione e Conflitto, 11(1): 95120.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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