Outcomes of Post-15M Urban Movements and Local Governance in Spain

IBF Researchers: Miguel A. Martínez

Research related to social movements has paid little attention to urban movements and their long-term consequences. The proposed research project will fill this gap by focusing on how municipal governments respond to the demands of urban movements. In particular, it will distinguish between institutional and non-institutional outcomes and between intended and unintended outcomes to assess which are more effective and consistent with the social and political objectives of such movements. Furthermore, it will determine the extent to which local governments comprising former urban activists are able to meet the goals of such movements.

Spain provides an exceptional setting for fulfilling the aims of this project. The mobilisations that took place in Spain beginning in May 2011, known as the 15M or Indignados movement, were internationally relevant and closely connected to other Occupy-like movements. The proposed project will assess the performance of various new municipal governments in Spanish cities to determine 1) how the institutional co-optation of former activists has contributed to fulfilling the goals of urban movements and 2) which of the institutional and non-institutional outcomes of urban movements have been most effective and persistent under the new local governance relations. The research design of the project will thus involve careful examination of the outcomes of urban movements during the cycle of mobilisations opened up by the 15M movement, four years before and two years after the municipal elections of May 2015 and in cities with different electoral results and governance arrangements. The project will hypothesise that urban movements were more successful where municipal governments shifted away from bi-partisan domination towards new electoral platforms with substantial activist input due to the continuing pressure of active movements. Therefore it will focus on four cities where the local government experienced such a shift in addition to examine two more cities that act as ‘control cases.’ The main information to be gathered will stem from interviews and documents. Afterwards, critical discourse analysis will be applied.

Long-term impact
The proposed research project will attempt to explain the outcomes of urban movements in relation to local governance. In particular, it will examine how municipal governments respond to the demands of urban movements. In doing so, it will assess the performance of different municipal governments both with and without former activists among their elected representatives. Moreover, it will analyse the trajectory of urban movements from a long-term perspective and according to the specific political contexts in which they evolve.
The proposed project will make three original contributions.
1) It will focus on four specific urban movements (housing activism, community gardens and the defence of public health and education services) within the umbrella, influence and trajectory of the 15M movement since 2011.
2) It will go beyond the description of urban movements to assess their social and political outcomes in terms of their achievements and failures by distinguishing their institutional and non-institutional dimensions and their intended and unintended effects.
3) It will explain how and why the performance and governance arrangements of municipal governments after May 2015 were more or less beneficial for the demands of urban movements.

From a scientific standpoint, this project will be the first to examine hypotheses related to the institutional and non-institutional outcomes of urban movements within the context of economic crises and wider mobilisations. Spain provides an exemplary case for illuminating these processes and will thus make an important contribution to the urban movement research field. In particular, by focusing on different types of movement outcomes (institutional and non-institutional, intended and unintended, etc.) and explanatory contexts, this project will bridge the disciplines of urban sociology, political sociology and social movement studies. From a socio-political perspective, this study may help social organisations and political authorities to consider the interplay between urban activism and local policies. Knowledge of citizen participation may make municipal governments more responsive and accountable. Urban activists and non-governmental organisations may use the findings of the project as either a basis for their negotiations with municipal authorities or as indicators for planning their own projects and campaigns.

1) To determine whether the institutional co-optation of former activists as municipal representatives contributes to fulfilling the goals of four urban movements (housing, gardening, health and education) in a particular context (six Spanish cities from 2011 to 2019).

2) To explain why local government performance and municipal-level governance arrangements help urban movements to reach their goals.

3) To determine the types and scope of effective movement outcomes produced from May 2011 to May 2019.

4) To examine the similarities and differences between the observed cities and movements and test competing explanations for the movement outcomes.

Funding: GRF project 11612016 (Hong Kong) and Fundación Betiko (Spain).

Panel held at the ECPR General Conference in Oslo (Norway), Sept. 2017.
Panel held at the RC21 Conference in Leeds (UK), Sept. 2017.
Article published: (2018) Bitter wins or a long-distance race? Social and political outcomes of the Spanish housing movement. Housing Studies DOI 10.1080/02673037.2018.1447094