Social movements, socio-spatial practices and the autonomy project in contemporary Latin America
The concept of autonomy - ‘living according to one’s own laws’ - has been discussed by philosophers since the 18th century, from Kant to contemporary liberals (who overemphasise its individual dimension). Especially in the philosophical work of Cornelius Castoriadis autonomy was understood as an alternative both to representative ‘democracies’ and Marxist ‘socialism’ (by virtue of the conservative and authoritarian dimension of the latter). Castoriadis understood much better than the liberals the interdependence of the two aspects which autonomy embraces: individual autonomy, that is the capacity of a particular individual to make choices in freedom, and collective autonomy, or the conscious and explicitly free self-rule of a particular society, as based on concrete institutional and material guarantees of equal chances of participation in socially relevant decision-making processes.
While adopting Castoriadis’ interpretation of the autonomy project as a major source of politico-philosophical and ethical inspiration, I have also argued in several works that it is necessary to see that, despite its European roots, in the context of globalisation and in the framework of a strongly ‘westernised’ world, this project is no longer a monopoly of the ‘West’ (in a strict sense) or of ‘western’ social movements. It is interesting to see that autonomy is a word which is often used by several social movements in Latin America, particularly by the piqueteros in Argentina and the zapatistas in Mexico. It is surely not accidental that some intellectuals linked to the zapatistas and piqueteros (or to the sem-teto [squatters] movement in Brazil) have cultivated a dialogue with Cornelius Castoriadis’ work. How have these social movements tried to implement the autonomy project under very heterogeneous particular circumstances - from rural Chiapas to the periphery of Buenos Aires to some squatters’ settlements in Rio de Janeiro? To which extent can we understand this kind of ‘adaptation’/‘translation’ of the politics of autonomy and horizontality by social movements outside Europe as a symptom of the vitality of the autonomy project?
Marcelo Lopes de Souza