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Learning That Many Alternative
Possibilities Exist

(With or Without the Intermediary Organization)

Roberto Flores
Los Angeles, California


Associative Network Theory (ANT) (Chalmers et al., 1997; Chalmers, 2000; Warren, 2000) postulates that there exist possible productive linkages between non-governmental, quasi-government agencies, as intermediary agents, on the one hand and popular organizations on the other, coalescing in a joint effort to reintegrate popular participation and obtain representation in a government’s decision making processes. Chalmers’ (1997) stated intent in the presentation of Associative Network Theory is that he felt there existed useful linkages between those attempting to enhance and develop democracy and what associative networks can offer, as he puts it, “in the search for progressive alternatives to neoliberalism at sub-national, national, and transnational levels” (P.v.). Even though Associative Network Theory is based on empirical data collected mainly from Latin American countries, Chalmers et al. (1997) proposes ANT as generalizable to the United States, as well as, to other countries with liberal democracies (2000).

The above question probes at the possibility of linkages between associative networks and anti-globalization learning networks. Interestingly, the same deterioration of democratic representation structures observed by associative network theorist and cited as reasons for the appearance of associative networks, seems to have also spawned in Latin America what Escobar and Alvarez (1992) referred to as the “New Social Movement.” According to Escobar, significant sectors of the New Social Movement (Escobar, 2000) have now transformed into a movement which since 1994 has evolved and is embodied in what today is generally called the anti-globalization social movement (AGSM) (Escobar, 2000) or the alter-globalization movement of movements (Haddad, 2003).
(1)(2) Because of the common history, of what we will see, are now two diverse parallel movements, ANT is helpful in understanding both, the associative networks and the AGSM. ANT is also useful in examining the potential linkages between the two. In the following, I will compare, contrast and relate the two.

According to Chalmers et al. (1997) associative networks, as a phenomenon, appear in the early 1990’s, at a time when Latin American governments, although less able to reform due to austerity programs, had, nevertheless overcome military governments. Chalmers et al. (1997) suggest that the associative network appearance reflects, in part, the willingness of an elite liberal-progressive sector to continue the democratization process by providing the legal and extra legal structures for the reintegration of popular movements into the government decision making processes. Chalmers et al. (1997) noted that in several Latin American countries, since the late 1980s, there developed a new type of association. This type of association represented a paradigmatic shift in the nature of social networks and emerged from the failure and collapse of previous representative forms. Chalmers et al. (1997) account for the shift through a historization of the existence of popular movements’ quest for integration that includes an initial period (1930-1960) where the popular masses did have channels through which their struggle and demands could be recognized, heard and represented. This is followed by a period (1960-1990) during which these channels of representation completely collapsed. The last period (1990s) is one during which Chalmers et al. (1997) identifies the new type of social networks as associative networks.

Chalmers et al. (1997) seem to approach the question of “what has been learned” primarily from what the system has learned and accomplished in its attempt to reestablish representation for popular demands. ANT suggests that one of the principal objectives of associative networks is restoring and recuperating, through structures of representation and reform, the legitimacy in the state’s economic and political system (Chalmers et al., 1997)
(3) Associative Networks Theory is important because it reveals the possibility of new types of alliances, accessibility and communication with sections and elements connected to political power interested in reform.

Power and Reform

The ANT traces and highlights a contrasting evolution of what Escobar (2000) calls the anti-globalization networks. Although Escobar (2002) confirms my observations concerning the dearth of theoretical frameworks to explain the nature of AGSM networks, he does point out some differences are immediately observable. One difference brought out by Escobar (2000) concerns the view of power and reform. Until the anti-globalization social movement, the thick of social movements conceptualized their quest as either reform within the capitalist system or for a complete replacement with a different system such as a socialist system (Wallerstein, 2002). In either case the social movements existed in an attempt to realign their relationship with power at the top. “Power” is ubiquitously perceived to be located at the top, in the state structures and apparatus by reformers as well as socialists (Esteva, 1998, Escobar, 2000). Social networks for reform and social networks for the institution of socialism, although opposite in many respects, both nevertheless agreed that power was located at the top and therefore competed in terms of the manner to approach the acquisition of state power but, more importantly, competed for state power or control of the state apparatus (Wallerstein,2002).

Escobar (2002) points out that this conception of power located solely or mainly at the top also coincides with Castells’ model of flows of space (the spatial structures set up by flows of information, symbols, capital, etc.) and the space of places (1996, pp. 415-429). “The former is composed of nodes and hubs hierarchically organized according to the importance of the function they perform for the network as a whole, and is characterized by a simultaneous articulation of elites and disorganization of the masses (“elites are cosmopolitan, people are local,” p. 415), (Escobar, 2000).” Castells solution to these distancing sectors of humanity is that of building bridges so that the spaces of place can hook into the spaces of information and power flows.

Castells (1996, cited in Escobar, 2000) explicitly says that if one is not part of the flow of information that is created and controlled by Dominant Actor Networks (DAN) (that control and produce the flows of information, culture etc.) one will perish. Castells (1996 cited in Escobar) suggest that only through bridges connecting the spaces of place to the dominant flow will they be able to survive. Escobar (2000) points out that Castells says little to theoretically explain the nature of anti-globalization popular networks and their apparent ability to generate their own power flows. Escobar (2000) further points out, that the AGSM networks generate power through an autonomous yet interdependent coalescing of resources at the bottom or at the spaces of place. Contrary to Castells’ theory, and to ANT, today’s AGSM networks locate power at the bottom and have, as a goal, the development of a movement that does not necessarily rely on Dominant Actors Network (DAN) flows (Escobar, 2000, Castells, 1996). Castells’ (1996) network theory is in agreement with Chalmers’ Associative Network Theory because they both fail to account for alternative conceptualizations of power and that they both call for alliances or bridges between the elite and the popular mass organizations to disseminate power (Escobar, 2000).

Alliances for Autonomy and Participatory Democracy
vs. Alliances for Representative Democracy

The aim and method of the anti-globalization movement of movements seems to be one that seeks (with the exception of an extremely small ultra-left sector) to work with resourceful networks but from a position of independent strength that can only be developed through consistent self-reliance (Subcomandante Marcos, 2004a,b,c,d,e; Escobar 2000).

The growing view (Chalmers et al., 1997) of the state as either unwilling or unable to legitimately represent the diverse interest of the people prompts states and government to respond by creating ties with popular networks through extra-but connected governmental entities. ANT views reform policy produced by associative networks as an attempt to reverse the distancing trend and deter the further independizing of popular organizations. Ironically, the independent stance of AGSM (Escobar 2000) grassroots movements exists in recognition of governmental illegitimacy. It also exists in horizontal structures in recognition of equality. As suggested by Schugurenski (2003), participatory democracy is self-perpetuating, partly because its potent resonance incites government to generate preemptively new forms and reforms for representation that in turn reinforce independent participatory democratic practices.

Similarly, Escobar (2000) suggests that power flows created by independent AGSM networks that do not primarily depend on influential intermediaries, calls for the creation of a new type of alliance. In a sense, the flows of power created by AGSM networks de-center the traditional indispensable role of intermediary organizations of professionals and relegate them to complementary and supportive roles.

Sonia Alvarez (2000) argues for a re-conceptualization of social movements as expansive networks that produce what she refers to as a “heterogeneous and polycentric discursive fields of action which extend well beyond a distinct set of civil society organizations” (p. 7) cited in Escobar, (2000). Subcomandante Marcos (2003b; 2004), Esteva, (1989), Escobar, (2000) suggest that this field of action can also be thought of as a field of power into which AGSM can imbricate intermediary groups (as in the case of the Bolivarian Circles and Venezuela Hugo Chavez) as supportive actors.

Local Autonomy vs. Associated Extensions

Chalmer’s (2000) ANT can be applied to local situations so that the relationship between intermediary groups and actors in the flow of “power” and the popular movements can be contrasted and related to possible linkages with governmental and extra-governmental actants and local participatory democratic bases (Schugurenski, 2003).

Utilizing ANT, one can argue that the instituting of neighborhood councils by the Los Angeles City Council, were in response to a growing distancing from the people (and the people from it) (Chalmers el al., 1997). It can also be argued that neighborhood councils have been enacted proactively or perhaps preemptively (which seems to be in vogue) to stop the disintegration and loss of governmental legitimacy. Similarly, it can be argued, that the intent of neighborhood councils is to reintegrate what the council language calls “stakeholders” (the business orientation and language is extremely important) back into the system. A study of neighborhood councils could reveal the extent to which associative types of relationships can enhance local democracy. It can also reveal whether, and to what extent associative network linkages can be made with participatory democratic forces and base projects, whose aim is local control. With just a glance into City Charter creating neighborhood council as a legal entity, one notices that the role of the neighborhood council is circumscribed to that of “advisory.” The alter-globalization ethos is one of participatory democracy, self-determination, community control (Schugurenski, 2004) and the development of democratic structures that would allow this. (Escobar, 2000; Subcomandante Marcos, 2004). A cursory glimpse into this particular case seems to indicate that the neighborhood council associated mechanism would not be a primary linkage of participatory democratic community base, but may be influenced by its discursive field of action (Alvarez, 2000).

There are many simultaneous flows of information occurring that address the lack of representation. One is made up of associative networks that result from an attempt by liberal government to correct itself by decentralization, or dispersion of power and bringing in the masses into the competition of ideas (Chalmers el al., 1997). The other flow of power is generated by a more recent AGSM networks based on the conviction of global equality and solidarity and sustained by internal interdependence and external independence.

Liberal Theory, Cognitive focus and Individuality vs.
Critical Theory, Collective and Cultural Politics of Difference

Chalmers (Chalmers el al., 1997) distinguishes Associative Network theory from a more sociologically based Issue Network Theory (INT) by pointing out that the Associative Network idea comes from a different starting point --while Keck and Sikkink (1997), emphasize the personal relationships and shared commitment to ideas within issues networks, Chalmers et al. emphasize the question of representation or their relationship to the state (1997 p. 566).

Escobar (2000) and Chalmers et al. (1997) suggests that both theoretical models (the sociologically based issue networks (Keck and Sikkink, 1997) and the relatively new variant Associative Network are very similar and they both fall short of describing and explaining the AGSMs in that ANT and INT are based “on the belief that individuals can make a difference” (Keck and Sikkink 1997: 2 cited in Escobar) --and therefore these theories are firmly founded within liberal theory. Escobar (2000) also sees them as adopting a practice of framing that is more cognitive (and based on individual consciousness) than cultural, thus underestimating the cultural politics dimension of theoretical framing. Escobar (2000) concludes that these theories are limited in terms of their understanding AGSMs in that AGSMs “have a more collective, cultural-political character, a more radical set of demands, and a style of action that goes beyond issue campaigns and policy reforms,” (p.5)

Can there be linkages? Meshwork or Network?

Associative Network Theory nevertheless underscores elements that are also of importance for AGSMs networks in some (perhaps many) cases, such as the “centrality” of NGOs and INGOs, struggles around particular policies, and the role of resources and shared interests in building alliances (Escobar, 2000). Escobar points out that while it may be possible to say that advocacy networks are at times important to AGSMs, they are in no way limited to them neither in their goals nor in their form of operation. Sonia Alvarez (2000) suggests a possible linkage whose quality will depend and be driven by the relative strength of their discursive fields of action.

If the alter-globalization field of discursive action (Alvarez, 2000) is greater it could result in, for instance, over two hundred city councils passing resolutions against the Patriot Act and against the war in Iraq. On a larger scale, Alvarez’ (2000) re-conceptualization of social movements could explain the Zapatistas mesh, that involves dozens of NGOs and INGO’s relating not only as mutual exchangers of ideas and knowledges but part of creating a mesh so powerful that it has served as a transnational incubator protecting and expanding spaces where the application of the Zapatista Theory of Autonomy is not only being implemented but constructed. It could also result in growing potential created by the power of independent Bolivarian circles meshes that have put and have reinstated and kept (through this years referendum) Hugo Chavez in the Venezuelan presidency. Prominent in the curriculum of popular pedagogy and participatory democratic learning is how to build independence and to build alliances and solidarity without giving up any independence but on the contrary strengthening it (Schugurenski, 2003).

In summary, the Associated Network Theory seems to be based on several stated and unstated assumptions:

1. The goal of an associated network is representative democracy and therefore reform of the state (Chalmers el al. 1997)
2. Without a channel or connections to flows of power and information -- representative democracy is impossible (Chalmers el al., 2000; Castells, 1997).
3. Without associated network forms of struggle and organization that can act as the bridges or connections between popular movement and flows of power, reform of the state is impossible (Chalmers el al., 2000).
4. Popular movements cannot by themselves create the flows of power and information necessary to drive the direction of policy change and the reestablishment of effective representative channels (Chalmers el al., 1997;2000).
5. There is no realistic altermodernity alternative possibility -- the only alternative is the reconstruction of the welfare state through the re-establishment of representative democracy.

Notwithstanding that AGSM networks recognize the above, the AGSM networks nevertheless have a different set of goals and assumptions.

1. AGSM networks aim to create a new world based on participatory democracy. At the local level it is to create and develop autonomy as a micro-form of an ever increasing participatory democratic macro (Escobar, 2000; Esteva, 2001; Schugurenski, 2003; Subcomandante Marcos, Sept 19, 2004a,b,c,d, and e; Haddad (2003).
2. Participatory democracy can generate the flows of power necessary to create a new world with or without the association with reform-minded non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) and service organizations, agencies and actors or direct links to government (Escobar, 2000; Esteva, 2001; Schugurenski, 2003; Subcomandante Marcos, Sept 19, 2004 a, b, c, d, and e; Haddad, 2003). There seems to be a growing number of NGO’s and money sources that are willing to work with autonomy based projects.
3. Reform can be helpful and supportive but it is not essential for participatory democracy (Escobar, 2000; Esteva, 2001; Schugurenski, 2003; Subcomandante Marcos, Sept 19, 2004 a, b, c, d, and e; Haddad, 2003)
4. Temporary and partial reform through representative democracy is better served and generated by the de facto examples of creation of participatory democracy through independent actions of what the people can do than by direct efforts to reform (Subcomandante Marcos, 2000 a, b, c, d, e, f).

These two different types of networks with different goals can and do interact but under certain conditions. These circumstances include negotiations that will either result in adapting the agenda and goals of the intermediary reform-minded organization (Chalmers el al., 1997) or in democratic participatory intermediary organization becoming part of the meshwork of the AGSM.

Subcomandante Marcos considers some of the following conditions for fruitful linkages:

1. For academics and intellectuals they are asked that they not impose general theories on the particular situation (Escobar, 2000, Subcomandante Marcos, 2003, 2004f).
2. NGOs need to agree that the goal is that of participatory democracy: decision of what gets done, how it gets done and for what the purpose is, belongs to the people of the local area
3. Although intermediaries need the popular movements for their goal of government reformation and the popular movements need them for participatory projects, in this situation NGO’s make their policy and reform goal as secondary (Subcomandante Marcos, 2003, 2004f).
4. The relationship is one based on equality and respect and the goal is to share knowledge and responsibilities while respecting differences and respecting the autonomy of the local: that is, the locals have the understood “last say” on all affecting them (Escobar, 2000, Subcomandante Marcos, 2003, 2004f).
5. The goal is to further autonomy and to overcome dependencies, including dependencies on intermediaries (Escobar, 2000, Subcomandante Marcos, 2003, 2004f).


Associated Network Theory suggests that popular movements by themselves cannot reform the current system for the reestablishment of representative democracy. This seems to have been accepted by AGSM learning networks as well (Chalmers et al. (1987; 2000 and Subcomandante Marcos 2004 a, b, c, d, & e). However, as Chalmers et al. (1997) pointed out there is evidence to suggest that a growing number of popular movements and actors have come to the conclusion that permanent reform is in any case impossible. The goal of AGSM is not primarily that of reforming the current system but of creating a new system (Esteva, 1998; 2001) and AGSM are independently poised and willing to go with or without the intermediary organization (Escobar, 2000).

How do AGSMs treat the question of learning?

The literature reveals that the AGSM networks are in themselves an ongoing education project (Haddad, 2003; Subcomandante Marcos, 2004 a, b, c, d, e; Indymedia, 2004, Escobar, 2000). Many of the participants in demonstrations, protests, sit-ins, local community projects, approach their participation from a learning and innovative perspective. Recent Zapatista literature, is replete with ethnographies (Subcomandante Marcos 2004 a, b, c, d and f) of how this particular AGSM views learning and how it views the centrality to learning how to exist autonomously and learning how to dialogue. The literature, as reflective exercises, emphasizes the essentialness of learning how to learn (Szeman, 2002). Included in the literature are admonishments and caveats that reveal consciousness of the dangers involved in not looking at the existence of the anti-globalization movement as a continuous learning process (Parenti, 2004, Escobar, 2000). Part of this struggle to learn is dealing with a resistant anti-intellectual culture perhaps cultivated by mistrust for the academy, a disdain for polemic and rhetorical unnecessary sectarian divisions and by a resultant worship of “action,” particularly present in the United States (Parenti, 2004, Findlay 2002 in Szeman, 2002). (4) Parenti argues that within the U.S. Anti-globalization Social Movement networks there exists both a potent propensity towards learning to the extent of building theoretical structures of knowledge through dialogue at the local and global level, as well as, an ardent aversion to reflection, long term planning and theory development. (5)

Escobar (2000) points out that the AGSM’s potential for not only learning but for developing theoretical knowledge is phenomenal. According to Escobar (2000) the ultimate goal of AGSMs is “re-conceiving and reconstructing the world from the perspective of manifold place-based cultural, ecological, and economic practices of difference.” But Escobar (2000) and the AGSM networks (Marcos, 2003; Bellinger, 2003) recognize that this is only possible if the movement of movements learn their way to that point.

Mexican sociologist, Pablo Gonzalez Casanova (2000), points out that learning is central to the AGSM process. For example the proposals of the Zapatistas, who are widely considered as a major catalyst (Escobar, 2000) in the development of the AGSM, do not only include a new use of electronic media but personal communication (Casanova, 2003). Casanova brings out that the collective dialogue practiced by Zapatistas combines space of reflection, creation, and action of small groups with mass actions and with dialogical discourse (2003). In addition, Casanova (2003) points out that the Zapatistas transmit their project with a different way of reasoning, feeling and expressing that is through a mixed medium of literary genres and pedagogical arts.

“They use a combination of an integral dialogical phenomenon, one of thinking-feeling-acting that has always existed. The search for the universal in the particular, of unity in diversity, brings together lessons from previous revolutionary, reformist and liberatory experiences, while it links old and new utopias closer to a practical alternative, and more willing to understand it own contradictions and ways of overcoming them” (
no page listed can be accessed at

Theoretical and empirical research indicates that AGSM networks give vital importance to learning and consciousness that their very growth and existence depends on it (Subcomandante Marcos 2004 a, b, c, d, & f). AGSM perceive learning not only as a means toward other modernities but view learning as the expression of other modernities in development (Escobar, 2000; Subcomandante Marcos, 2004; Gonzalez Casanova, 2003; Szeman, 2002). Escobar’s (2000) is prophetic in his questioning of an AGSM network trend that he now observes but whose future he cannot predict; “will the movements that started to gain visibility in the mid 1990s run the same fate of previous movements or, on the contrary, will they result in meaningful opportunities for the sustained construction of imaginaries for alternative modernities and perhaps even non-Eurocentric modes of analysis and social life? Lara Jaramanus, arguing for rigorous reflection and an interviewee featured in Parenti’s article (2004) put it simply: “what can be done to prevent hippie to yuppie?”
(6)The answer to that difficult question will depend in great part on the character these social movements adopt and on the extent to which they might be able to generate their own “sustainable” structures for the production of knowledge (Escobar, 2000 p.1).”(7) Some of these new ways of thinking are outlined in a series of articles in a special issue of The Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies (2002) as well as from other participants such as those that are attempting to capture the social role and significance of the World Social Forum and AGSM projects such as the Zapatistas.

Imre Szeman (2002), who agrees with Escobar on the importance of independent and sustainable learning structures, emphasizes the task of the AGSM to learn how to learn, suggesting learning how to learn differently from what he calls the “neoliberal pedagogy of globalization (p.4).” Szeman (2002) points out that an overarching common principle of unity is the AGSM of movements is their antagonism (Laclau and Moffette, 1973) to the pedagogy of globalization that is disseminated through the mainstream media, education, and the culture industry. Szeman (2002) points out that equally galvanizing is the common endeavor to construct new and alternative foundational sites of learning that might enable a broad, collective response to media and education monopolies. Szeman (2002) includes protests as one of these new sites of learning that have directed their antagonisms. Escobar (2000) identifies these antagonisms as commodification, bureaucratization, and massification of social life, in addition to the reconstitution of power structures at all levels -- from information and labor to culture and knowledge -- by global capital).

Although Escobar (2002) points out that as part of their struggle, AGSMs produce important flows of information and knowledge that often times amount to “veritable theoretico-political frameworks for local and regional world making, the defense of local worlds/places, and the progressive transformation of DANs and other forms of globality” (p. 15). One of the better known of these is the Zapatista’s theory of autonomy. Other examples include the People’s Global Action’s (PGA) conceptualization of global capitalism, to which a number of social movements could be said to have contributed (PGA 2000; PGA manifesto) (Escobar, 2000 p.15).

According to Escobar (2000), some of these forms of knowledge relate to questions of which way to go and what is to be done, others discuss and illuminate with continuing deconstructive analysis of the nature of domination, still others relate to the defense and re-construction of local and regional worlds. One interesting side effect of the knowledge producing networks observed by Escobar (2000), is that the outside “academic” is then tempted to argue that this form of knowledge, however, produced by the meshworks should be an important part of the (academics’) own theorizing and research agendas. Escobar (2000) warns that “it is no longer the case that it is the role of some to produce knowledge (academics, intellectuals) and the division of labor of others to apply (social movements) (p. 17).” According to Escobar, these boundaries are quickly disappearing as the academic hierarchy is also affected by powerful horizontal participatory democratic movements of observing participants that are becoming recognized knowledge producers and as intellectuals are called upon to engage more and more in activism as participant observers. Subcomandante Marcos emphasizes the struggle with academicians to recognize organic theorization of the particular as legitimate and to respectfully not impose their generalizations (2003).

How is Learning defined by Theory and Networks?

Perhaps, one of the most cited persons in anti-globalization literature concerning learning is Paulo Freire and most are in reference to conscientizacion. For consciousness raising, AGSM networks are building an impressive library of educational documentaries and books and videos (Szeman, 2002) as tools for dialogue and the exploration of approaches and solutions. Elements within the AGSM movement also defined learning as mind control and behavior control, as did the youth and participants cited by both Parenti (2004) and Szeman, (2002). Learning is also mentioned as developing the potential to challenge the prevailing truth (Uprising KPFK Radio), that truth put out by the mainstream media (Szeman, 2002). Historian Howard Zinn’s (1968) perspective which is also highly regarded in the AGSM, suggests we have learned to behave in a manner that is obedient and what is necessary to be learned is to be a civil disobedient. Rosemary Henessey (cited in Szeman, 2002, p.6) talks about learning being a “permanent plantón -- an ongoing organized and educating force…” Parenti (2004) refers to learning as reflection that allows hidden and unconscious lesson to become conscious. Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatistas define learning as a process of reflection-feeling-plan/action-reflection as they pay honor to strong felt intuitive indigenous cultural notions of what is right and wrong in their situation. In their situation learning to be fully indigenous is important (2004f).

There seems to be some commonalities. Learning is a relational and collective, gradual increase in understanding that can at some point change your life, your perspective and behavior. Learning is learning to defend land, culture and in a local but simultaneously global struggles of meshworks such as the Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN) of Colombia, the Movimento Sem Terra (MST) of Brazil, the Bolivarian circles of Venezuela, the Piqueteros and Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo of Argentina as well as the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico. Within the AGSM learning is a powerful tool, that Escobar (2000) says will determine whether the AGSM will become sustainable or not.

On a practice level learning is being defined in critical pedagogical terms such as learning to exist as different, learning to resist and challenge, learning to practice direct democracy through networking, learning to create another world, learning that many alternative possibilities exists. New language is now being produced by the networks to talk about and understand this new type of network and informal approach to learning (Escobar, 2000).

On a theoretical level Escobar (2000) is referring to network learning as a process of developing a whole anti-system (Wallerstein, 2002) pro-humanity way of acquiring and producing the information needed to create a counter flow to one that flows from the un-natural and forceful submerging of reality existing despite corporate globalized control of space (Mitchel, 2002). A reality that exists (perhaps in distorted form) parallel to the virtual reality created by globalized capital or flows of space (Castells, 1997). Giving emphasis to theory development, Escobar (2000) defines learning as knowledge building and the building of knowledge structures (2000).

Through an initial ethnographic sketching, Escobar (2000) makes an attempt to define some of the characteristics of knowledge production (learning) that is occurring in the AGSM network Proceso de Comunidades Negras, a network of about 140 local organizations active especially in the southern Pacific region of Colombia. Since the mid 1980’s the region has also been the object of conventional development plans and has experienced an increased pace of capitalist activities, such as the expansion of African palm plantations, industrial shrimp cultivation for export, gold mining, and increased timber extraction. Local groups have mobilized in response to the development projects.

This initial list of characteristics of learning is as follows:

1. It is conjunctural without being punctual -- it is cumulative and progressively refined.
2. It is developed “on the run,” so to speak; there is not much time to pause and think, although the internal discussion and debate never stop. But this means that there is no time to create the knowledge-production infrastructure that could have made it more lasting and durable.
3. It is pragmatic without being just utilitarian or functional to the struggle; theory is seen as crucial to the political strategy. It is geared towards the articulation of demands, but always with a sense of the long run goal, namely, the defense of the historical life project of the communities.
4. It is recursive to the extent that the same themes (territory, identity, cultural practices ...) are worked on and worked out at all levels, in different ways, from the local to the global. That is, they have a fractal recursivity.
5. It is “epistemologically dirty” -- that is, it grabs what it can and from whatever sources are at hand. It cares little or nothing about disciplines, and proceeds more through bricolage than through systematic theory building. There is, however, a knowledge build up that is not negligible.
6. It is profoundly interdisciplinary (by force or necessity), although particularly disciplinary forms of knowledge have been important (anthropology, geography, ecology, gender studies).
7. As far as non-movement knowledge producers is concerned, it confounds the disciplines although at times these disciplines retrench themselves into conservative positions and redraw disciplinary boundaries (e.g., conservation biology, anthropology in some cases).
8. This knowledge production definition is one that from initial inspection would have many commonalities with the learning process of other AGSM movements.

This description of knowledge production is a specific detailed description of the process occurring within the PCN meshwork. More ethnographies of learning such as the one in the Zapatista will perhaps reveal many similarities with AGSM of movements. Some of the similarities might include: learning and knowledge building is timely and popularly relevant; lessons are learned in the heat of struggle; theory is seen as critical to long term strategy and the short term articulation of the present demands; it is repetitive in terms of themes attached to long term goals; it does not follow any theory building method but is interdisciplinary and although borrows from disciplines, outside academicians gravitate towards disciplinary based and biased production.

What Function Does Learning Play in those Networks?

In a general way, it can be said that underlying all the meshworks are the “submerged networks” (a la Melucci, 1989 cited in Escobar, 2000) of meanings, frameworks, and practices of difference out of which the social movements themselves emerge. In this sense, learning within AGSM plays the role of a recovery facilitator, initiator, excavator of oppressed networks of meanings and frameworks, practices, and traditions and ultimately identities. Many of these one does not have to dig too far to see them in action. Gustavo Esteva (1998) mentions networks that operate in the commons, as in the barrio of Tepito, Mexico City, or in Watts barriehtto in Southern California. Esteva (1998) talks about how some of these submerged networks emerge only occasionally as they are summoned by human disaster and emergencies such as the 1983 Mexico City earthquake, where government either got in the way because they didn’t know what to do or totally neglected their ostensible positions of public servants. Actors within the AGSMs suggest that learning allows the development of the natural collective and therefore the real individual identity to evolve as an integral and natural part of that collective (Esteva, 1997; Escobar, 2000).

As already mentioned Escobar (2000) points out that the main assurance the fate of the AGSM is not illusory and temporary but sustainable, is that it be based on lessons learned, on the development of theoretical insight, although perhaps theory of place and situation. Wallerstein (2002) ponders that given the practices of difference that academicians should stop searching for the universal but should move profoundly in the universe of the particular.

Learning facilitates growth and insures the expansive possibilities of the networks. Network growth in turn, increases the influence of discursive fields of action (Alvarez, 1998) beyond the physical network -- impacting on discourse and how an issue is seen and treated. Internally to the network learning has articulation value and reason necessary for recruitment, retention and growth (Escobar, 2000; Szeman, 2002; Report, 1997).

The AGSM seems to agree with Wallerstein’s (1976) observation that the particularity and temporariness of an eternally changing world has led him to conclude that whatever structures of knowledge we create they contain within them the structures for change.

Published in In Motion Magazine December 3, 2006.

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