Meanings and Expressions of Empowerment and Accountability (part of the A4EA programme)
Action for Empowerment and Accountability (A4EA) is an international research programme which explores how social and political action can contribute to empowerment and accountability in fragile, conflict, and violent settings, with a particular focus on Egypt, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nigeria and Pakistan.
The programme incorporates 15 international research projects, managed by its seven consortium partners, which have been organised under four themes:
- Meanings and Expressions
- Pathways to Accountability Bargains
- Women's Social and Political Action
- Role of External Actors
The Meanings and Expressions research theme is concerned with the meanings of empowerment and accountability from the point of view of the people’s experiences and perceptions, and this in turn means for collective action.
In a sense, we are ground truthing our concepts by exploring the lived perceptions and realities of those on the ground, this theme will link projects which use innovative methods to examine how citizens relate to institutions in daily life, explore the uses of popular culture as forms of expression, examine what is behind unruly and unpredictable ruptures of engagement, and explore religious meanings for women’s empowerment in Muslim majority contexts.
- Mariz Tadros, Institute of Development Studies (IDS)
- Marjoke Oosterom, Institute of Development Studies (IDS)
- Tade Aina, Partnership for African Social and Governance Research (PASGR)
There are four projects under this theme. Featured focus countries are in brackets, although some projects cover other countries too, including Bangladesh, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe.
1. Governance Diaries of the Poor (Pakistan and Mozambique)
We do not have much understanding of what empowerment and accountability mean to poor people through their lived experiences. In fact, in fragile and conflict-affected settings, especially in areas affected by violent conflict, we have little understandings of how ordinary people interact with formal public institutions or informal ones.
In situations of low trust, fear and violence, how do people navigate through relevant systems to meet their governance needs? Do people find these encounters empowering or disempowering? What are the micro sources of social and political action? How are these experiences shaped by history as well as the current socio-political context?
About the research project
Building on the methodology developed by Portfolios of the Poor, a financial fly-on-the-wall account of how poor people manage money, this project aims to understand the household’s experiences of governance, addressing the gap in knowledge about how people experience living and interacting with multiple authorities, and how they are able to make claims on them.
Instituto de Estudos Sociais e Económicos (IESE)
2. The politics of unruly ruptures (Egypt, Mozambique, Myanmar, Mozambique and Pakistan)
The early 21st century saw an unprecedented wave of episodes of contentious politics (Ortiz et al. 2013). Many were predictable protests about familiar issues of economic hardship and inequality, austerity policies, corruption and abuses of power, in settings where such struggles were the familiar pattern of social movements and state-citizen engagement (Barnett 2011). But others involved collectivities that lacked histories of such organization, in contexts where mass political events were rare or proscribed, using strategies that were startling or dramatic, sometimes violent, in so doing presenting a direct challenge to the political status quo (Shankland et al. 2011; Khanna 2012).
These unruly ruptures were not only unexpected, in some instances they developed into larger episodes of struggle that social movement theory and external observers did not or could not predict (Tadros 2012, 2014). These also tended to be moments in which power relations shifted, creating new opportunities for progressive and inclusive political change (Khanna 2012).
Opportunities for supporting such change were often missed, as these events were typically mis-read by external actors who were unfamiliar with the protestors and their concerns, alarmed by their methods, or framed by biased or detached media sources (Hossain and Scott-Villiers forthcoming).
About the research
This project investigates the repertoires of action and protests around fuel spikes, addressing the gap in knowledge about informal and spontaneous forms of social and political action, the conditions under which they emerge, and what they tell us about people’s ideas about legitimate governance. We will seek to discover the conditions under which these ‘unruly ruptures’ occur, to make sense of the grievances, and to understand why the groups lack alternative, more institutionalised forms of approach.
3. Accountability for women’s equality (Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan)
Local feminist mobilisation has long been recognized for its pivotal role in empowering women and holding state and non-state actors accountable (Tadros 2016, Sultan and Nazneen (2014, Weldon and Htun 2013, Cornwall 2012, Batliwala 2007, Baldez 2002.)
However, in many parts of the global south, feminist organizations and movements have come under assault for being elitist, western, “liberal” and “secular”.
About the research
This project will explore how the creation of binaries of "local", "authentic", "religious", and "embedded" versus "feminist", "elitist", "secularist", and "westernised" have influenced understandings of women’s empowerment and the nature of women’s accountability claims.
The initiative will contribute to understandings of women’s collective action in contexts where fragmented authority both inside and outside the state limit women’s rights in the name of preserving cultural and religious identity from external threats, particularly the West.
Centre for Civilians in Conflict
Collective for Social Science Research (CSSR)
Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)
University of Manouba
4. Alternative Expressions of Citizen Voice
Mozambique is a context of great economic and political unpredictability, weak state institutions, closing civil society space and internalised fear in the aftermath of the civil war and the repression of popular protests. While there are a number of artists who (in)directly engage in contestation, little is known about citizens’ views on these expressions and whether popular culture can be a vehicle for social and political commentary and for expressing discontent (beyond the artists themselves).
About the research
This project will seek to answer the following research questions:
- What notions of empowerment and accountability are expressed through popular culture?
- In what ways Mozambicans identify, engage and contest them?
- To what extent these cultural forms influence interactions among citizens and between them and state and non-state actors?
The project findings will contribute to improving our understanding of the distinction between empowerment and accountability as well as of the diverse constellations of collaboration and conflicts between various state and non-state actors.
Following an initial mapping exercise, the team decided to document three forms of popular culture:
- contentious and protest lyrics (from any genre)
- traditional song and dance (with a particular focus on Tufo because there is an emerging body of knowledge that has identified an element of social and political critique in its songs and dance and its empowering effects of its members
- videos of Samora Machel (Mozambique’s first president. Over the years, extracts from videos of his speeches, public appearances and visits to public institutions have been disseminated, most recently across social media)
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