The quest for Transnational Civic Mobilization

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The quest for Transnational Civic Mobilization

  • October 29, 2020
  • By Admin: Osman
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By Abdulkadir Osman Farah, PhD

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Civic mobilization is the outcome of complex social encounters and connections. With converging or diverging utterances, exchanges of meanings and ideas, people often balance their wish for material and moral gains. Initially such engagements remain intense and idealistic. Gradually, people moderate their priorities in respecting and even accepting existing opposing claims. But before reaching this point, such complex social actions and purposes generate the empowerment and the inclusion of certain groups. Motivated by the emergence of relative power asymmetry, as well as the resources mobilized by the first group, the presumably excluded group then responds by resisting existing or potentially emerging social platforms. People also engage civic mobilization because they support vulnerable constituents and their struggles for justice and inclusion in the society. Under such conditions, people collectively, not just deal with accessing material resources, but also promote ethical responsibilities and moral concerns. Such expression of horizontal solidarity then triggers other social agents and institutions to either support or alternatively oppose such demands of civic mobilization.

Potentially, representatives of the corporate (the upper part of the private sector) as well as members of the governing elites, often pursuing instrumental politics, might prefer restricting or categorically opposing tendencies of civic insistence. However, if people manage to jointly overcome existing structural and ethical limitations, civic mobilization could then lead to a more stable and cohesive society. This will in return provide long-term solutions in preventing the powerful excluding and suppressing the lesser fortunate constituents. For the privileged such civic shift entails compromise in status and entitlements. For the lesser powerful the move includes the moderation and adjustment of original demands.

Civic mobilization emerges from a dialectical socio-political processes of meaning-making as well as social activities leading to successive societal alignments or re-alignments. This is often sustained by recurring discursive exchanges and legitimation exchanges in the society. The word “civic” implies individual and group duties in community and public responsibilities in rationalizing, accommodating and moderating social practices, particularly in their public discourse. In this regard, civic activity requires cautious and concerned listening, respecting and recognizing people’s capabilities and willingness in understanding and contributing to the common well-being of the community as well as to the wider society. Initial civic mobilizations, for instance, occur when social groups get together in initiating and pursuing concrete socio-political demands and purposes. Often, but not always, activists, leaders and organizers, departing from the community’s and their constituent’s basic concerns, initiate and formulate such civic ideals and proposals. Depending on the contexts and the conditions under which people prevail, such platforms enable people accessing equal opportunities. Eventually, with such concerted civic mobilization, people might establish viable organizations and institutions.  

Often people who are involved in civic mobilization share certain trajectories than others exclusively engaged; in the private and the public sectors, extremist groups and other related constellations. The latter groups normally prefer organizing through less civic and transparent democratic methods or channels. Civic social groups often place themselves in intermediate socio-political positions in balancing individual demands for recognition and welfare with formal requirements proposed by organizations and institutions. Similarly, such groups also mediate between diverse social groups at the national, international and transnational levels. Under such horizontally balancing, and gradually reforming processes, therefore, the activities of civic groups represent not just a linear unidimensional process but also continuing multilevel social processes of adjustment requiring active participation and subsequent implementation. The most significant in civic mobilization is the moral interaction, recognition and cooperation with others. In this regard, issues of equality and inclusion are not specific to individuals and groups but remain integral to the general social cohesion and even well-being of the society.





Conception of civic mobilization

For Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba, a civic political and social culture process requires the majority of the citizens in a particular society recognizing and accepting the prevailing mainstream democratic order in the society, particularly the legitimacy and the authority of state institutions[i]. While simultaneously collaborating with the state authorities they approved, citizens also generally should at least believe and engage in non-coercive civic participation and mobilization. Critics have, however, dismissed such state-centric proposition by questioning and considering the uncritical acceptance of presumably impersonal bureaucratic authorities as basically un-civic[ii].

At least two main factors generate civic mobilization. Firstly, people in search of a better socio-political security. From early on people recognize certain weaknesses and inabilities in achieving intended goals singlehandedly. Then most people gradually accept certain dependence on diverse external encounters and connections. In most situations, people need each other in achieving almost anything. On one hand, this obvious natural dependence creates certain happiness and substantial achievements in helping people overcoming numerous circumstantial challenges. On the other, such important social connections in one’s life can also occasionally constitute a barrier- particularly when people in prospect look to the hierarchical side of their relationships. People might feel insecure and lesser equal compared to those they feel exercising power over them- or are somehow in front of them economically, socially, politically and culturally. Certainly, there exist opportunities to overcome such obstacles in one’s own terms- but in general people identify and relate with equals, meaning people with similar or closer social conditions. From such basic relationships and concerns, dynamics of social interactions emerge, take form and eventually move people to additional stages of social mobilization.

Secondly people could also mobilize in achieving not just material and security gains but also aesthetic and moral gains. Under such conditions people often relate generously to others. The quest for beauty remains a distinctive aspect in which most humans appreciate and aspire towards. Such quest includes cultural performances forestalling and overcoming existing or potential fear and vulnerabilities. Demonstrating beauty towards others and been generous together with those with the least opportunity has been persistent part of the historic and the current social human development. Most people want to access power but they are mostly happy in social equality. Even when people seek power their ultimate aim and motivation could be the prevention of inequality, in specifically avoiding personal and group subordination to others.

In discussing the essence of civic solidarity, Brunkhosrt differentiates civic mobilization emerging from religious solidarities and that of complex civic associational forms originating from ideas of Greco-Roman civic solidarities. Brunkhosrt suggests that mobilizing sympathetic civic solidarities, though necessary and beneficial, are not enough. If people aim at moving beyond the installation of “Gemeinschaft”- meaning close community ties, civic mobilization has to be grounded in what he refers to as “Rechtsgenossenschaft”- a form of civic transnational legal protecting mechanisms[iii]. De Tocqueville considered civic mobilization as an expression of social capital necessary for sustaining democratic coexistence in the society[iv]. Such inclusive social improvements then increase public political and civic participation. For De Tocqueville collective solidarity through civic mobilization ensures normative restraint in the society – and can therefore restrict abusive hegemonic authorities- while generating trust and social capital in the society. Durkheim proposes, if the contrary of civic association occurs, in the form of pertinent excluding social mechanisms, then such society will foster general social immobility, producing social malaise and eventually widespread public instability[v]. Therefore, civic mobilization whether addressed to reducing hierarchy and hegemonic social practices or whether aimed at nourishing civic solidarity will have major transformative socio-political consequences. Civic mobilization also reflects continuing identity transformation in the society from an emphasis on identities of national citizenship towards the projection of transnational forms of commonalities and solidarities[vi]. Mary Kaldor argues that historically people involved in transnational civic mobilizations, apart from scrutinizing hegemonic national and international governance, have also for centuries facilitated and made possible diverse historic revolutions -including transformations that led to the collapse of the Soviet block and the end of the cold war[vii]. Under civic mobilizations, the civil society tries to overcome the constraints of authorities and through infrastructures of dissent develop social and political alternatives. This eventually produces at least three interdependent forms of solidarities: autonomous, civic and institutional in dealing with transnational mobilization in support, for instance, for vulnerable communities such migrants and refugees[viii].

The history of transnational civic mobilization

Historically, civic mobilization and solidarity was conceptualized; as a process departing from kinship traditional socio-political solidarity to modern sophisticated forms of associations[i]; a socio-political process emerging from socio-cultural differentiation and appropriation[ii]; the socio-political outcome of class consciousness and struggle[iii].

In promoting social cohesion and solidarity, historically traditional societies sustained myths and moral values. In such societies, people remained geographically close to each other and might frequently interact in person, often knowing each other and potentially speaking common language as well as socializing in similar or closer cultures. In contrast, modern societies insist on materialistic, scientific and technological developments as sources for development. Consequently, modern societies stress on diversified division of labour and hyper-organizations often focusing on the rational bureaucratic organization of the society. In modern and post-modern societies, people simultaneously relate to complex social groups, particularly in urban environments. Given the advance in transportation and communication people could access and thereby mobilize resources across time and space. Paradoxically, though modern societies have gained substantial material well-being, such transformations had also generated diverse forms of social anomie and occasional social pathology.     

Despite such transformative periods, the core essence of why people mobilize remains also the same. People still pursue in achieving better security in life combined with certain aesthetics and moral qualities as they did for thousands of years ago. In other words, the means of civic mobilization might have changed overtime but the main purpose of civic mobilization in pursuing dignity and integrity remains almost the same. People still want to prevent fear and poverty for themselves and for the people they associate with. At the same time, they also want to assist people suffering from deficiencies and exclusions. Obviously, people might differ in age, history, social upbringing and other relevant conditions- influencing on whether they will consider participating and contributing to civic mobilization activities.

Civic mobilization is far from a new phenomenon. It might have started in ancient premodern times where people organized some form of civic solidarities as farmers or religious groups as well as members of kinship groups resisting or collaborating with each other in confrontations with immediate and distant rivals. The argument that some of the first civic spheres might have emerged in Greece have potentially some validity. From written records one could see that citizens in Greek cities exercised some form of civic citizenships based on dialogue and mutual respect in collectively discussing and addressing certain societal issues[iv]. Such process did not however prevail under Roman and other subsequent dominant colonial empires- where authoritarian regimes oppressed and persecuted attempts of civic mobilization. Other narratives suggest that expanded form of socio-political civic sphere re-alignment emerged during the English civil war in which certain elites created alternative platforms that could supplement- and if needed resist the dominant Royal court. Though this was mainly an inter-elite fragmentation and negotiation, it will take additional centuries before Europeans saw progressive civic platforms as well as international and transnational solidarities. The French revolution could be accredited as one of the major historic breakthrough for civic mobilization resting on ideas of the separation of the three major powers in the society- earlier formulated by academic elites such as Montesquieu and others, but gradually captured by and through the enthusiastic mobilized public imagination[v].

Danish transnational civic mobilization

The Danish society followed somewhat similar western European trajectories of transformation from a traditional agrarian society to a modern democratic society. Among the Danes, while some might have insisted on intense transformation and modernization of the society, others called for traditional consolidation and conservativism. Meanwhile, other groups preferred to combine tradition with moderation and gradual responsibility in preventing serious deficiencies in the society. Historical evidences show that migration and civic mobilization was diverse and complex in Denmark:

…Denmark (together with Sweden and Norway) of the 17th and 18th centuries ­ developed into multilingual, multireligious, and multiethnic empires. Underlying this policy was a mercantilist notion. Emigration was considered as a loss, even forbidden; ­ immigration of people with capital or skills was encouraged. The authorities followed an active recruitment policy. To persuade people to move, migrants were rewarded fairly well and most career migrants entered society at the upper rungs of the social scale. This competition for skill took place among all European states…

In the 17th and 18th centuries geographic or ethnic origin did not play a decisive role in Scandinavia for a person’s position in society. During the great power period in the 17th century, seventeen languages were spoken in the Swedish realm. At Riddarhuset , the assembly of aristocrats, German and Dutch were spoken along with Swedish. Language was primarily a practical means for communication, not an identity marker. German was the language of command in the Danish army until 1772– 3. In the cosmopolitan upper class in both countries, Germans were the dominant element, whereas the most outstanding ministers in Denmark came from various German states.

Due to, for instance, their civic consciousness and activities as well as professionalism and link to  the Danish Royal court, migrants with Dutch background and other religious minorities in Denmark,  in long periods, transnationally preserved their ethnic and religious identities:

Dutch at Amager outside Copenhagen. The Dutch were peasants, originally brought in 1521 to secure homeland food specialties to the Dutch-born queen. The community kept itself more than 300 years, with a measure of internal self-­ governance. In 1759 the first marriage outside the group took place; Dutch was used in sermons until 1811 and spoken well into the 19th century; customary practices and dress lasted even longer[i].

Though we are in a different historical and socio-political context, such historical dialectics prevails in Denmark to this day. The relatively recent arrivals of migrants from distant regions in Asia and Africa, have also introduced new dimensions and demands of inclusion into the society. This often departs from the migrant communities’ own terms with attempts of balancing the past with the present and tradition with moderation. Unlike earlier migrants that mainly discretely dealt with Royal counts with their close associates, current transnational Danish communities can mobilize, link and interact with diverse actors within and beyond Denmark.   

Danes remain integrated into the western civilization. People in this Scandinavian country experienced somewhat similar processes of civic social organization. In this regard, there are two mobility related cases to recall here. Both in pre-modern and modern times, the dynamics of migration from abroad to the country and within the country had substantial influence in civic mobilization. In addition, the relatively committed social activists and the associations they created, had significant impact on subsequent Danish social transformations as well as the formation of diverse forms of civic mobilizations. Danish cooperatives, for instance, contributed significantly to the formation of politically and economically productive civic norms and structures in the society[ii]. Such grass root movements particularly utilized creative methods of educational guidelines and community-based teachings through the establishment of educational and pedagogical institutions. These were designed for educating and promoting egalitarian and enlightenment principles among citizens. Danish civic leaders, such as the Danish charismatic leader Grundtvig and other contemporaries, often aimed at achieving two main goals. The first was through “revitalized” social and cultural movements, helping ordinary Danes in overcoming feelings of defeat [iii]. Historically Danes experienced multiple recurring wars and oppressions. Denmark was originally a larger country that through wars and conquest expanded to other countries and societies in Europe. Subsequent successive defeats, however, made the Danes more uncertain and vulnerable. In this regard, civic activists and associates helped in reorganizing the society through civic means and commonalities. The activists stressed such approaches by enabling the public to overcome the lack of self-confidence. They proposed the education of the wider public, particularly the need for knowledge on civic empowerment and collaboration. Such efforts strengthened horizontal relationships in making the Danish society more inclusive and self-reassuring. Such civic mobilization survived, more or less, in post-modern times. Danish civic movements were also part of transnational movements. Obviously, the Danes remained connected to the outside world through trade and other social, cultural and economic transactions.

Since WWII, civic mobilization in the west, and particularly in Denmark, changed character. Ideas of global aspirations and connections emerged. Human equality, economic progress and development were points in which civic groups mobilized around, not just within their native countries but also across different regions and localities. Eventually, following increased human migration and interdependence, some form of civic mobilities and diversity within the Danes society and beyond emerged. As time and space further shrank due to the intensification of transport and communication, the world gradually became a kind of a village. Subsequently, people organized across nations and regions- civic groups mobilizing and simultaneously linking to different parts of the world in multiple ways and under various structures. However, civic mobilization among the Danish society remains contradictory. On one hand diverse mobilizations address national issues in mainly aiming at power structures within the nation state. Simultaneously, competitive other civic mobilizations also deal with international or transnational aspects in for instance addressing the world within and beyond the Danish society.


Though the means, the purposes and the specific characteristics of civic mobilization differ, most people in the world seek dignity, freedom, security, prosperity and aesthetics. Civic mobilization still occurs within an asymmetric unequal power relationship- within and across societies. Those feeling marginalized or excluded get together in mobilizing towards how to eventually overcome difficulties through diverse forms of public discourses, protests, explanations and justifications. Processes of civic mobilization have therefore no end station- as long as power and social relationships in a given society remains hierarchical and unequal. Such asymmetric platforms often favour certain constituents while excluding others.Certainly, no obvious boundaries exist if and when civic constituents interact, mobilize and operate nationally, internationally and transnationally. The current world remains much more complex, connected and interdependent. Diverse competing and complementary civic groups and organizations often deal with the promotion of core issues of social justices often preventing the exclusion of vulnerable constituents. Historically, and more expressively also recently, migrants to and from Denmark insisted on transnational civic mobilization for the purpose of simultaneously achieving and sustaining a dignified life in relation to their adopted nation as well as to their nation of origin. 

[i] Bade, K. J., & Eijl, C. V. (2011). The encyclopedia of migration and minorities in Europe: From the 17th century to the present. Univerza v Ljubljani, Filozofska fakulteta.

[ii] Bruun, M. H. (2011). Egalitarianism and community in Danish housing cooperatives: proper forms of sharing and being together. Social Analysis, 55(2), 62-83.

[iii] Borish, S. (1998). NFS Grundtvig as Charismatic Prophet: an analysis of his life and work in the light of revitalization‐movement theory. Scandinavian journal of educational research, 42(3), 237-256.

[i] Durkheim, É. (2013). Durkheim: The division of labour in society. Macmillan International Higher Education.

[ii] Weber, M. (2002). The Protestant ethic and the” spirit” of capitalism and other writings. Penguin.

[iii] Marx, K. (2004). Capital: volume I. Penguin UK.

[iv] Dallmayr, F. (2007). In Search of the Good Life: A Pedogogy for Troubled Times. University Press of Kentucky.

[v] Sutherland, D. M. (2008). The French revolution and empire: The quest for a civic order. John Wiley & Sons.

[i] Almond, G. (1989). The Civic Culture Revisited/Ed. G. Almond, S. Verba.-Newbury Park: Sage Publications.

[ii] Bourdieu, P. (1998). The state nobility: Elite schools in the field of power. Stanford University Press.

[iii] Brunkhorst, H. (2005). Solidarity: from civic friendship to a global legal community. mit Press.

[iv] De Tocqueville, A. (2003). Democracy in america (Vol. 10). Regnery Publishing.

[v] Durkheim, E. (2013). Professional ethics and civic morals. Routledge.

[vi] Oommen, T. K. (1997). Introduction: Conceptualizing the linkage between citizenship and national identity. Citizenship and national identity: From colonialism to globalism, 13-51.

[vii] Kaldor, M. (2013). New and old wars: Organised violence in a global era. John Wiley & Sons.

[viii] Agustín, Ó. G., & Jørgensen, M. B. (2018). Solidarity and the’refugee Crisis’ in Europe. Springer.