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When citizen politics becomes uncivil: Between popular protest, civil society and governance in Jamaica

This thesis focuses on the problem of incivility within the domains of citizen politics and civil society by exploring the proclivity for popular protest in Jamaica and the intersections between popular citizen protest, civil society and governance in this context. It scrutinizes the tenor of contemporary civilian politics and assesses the consequent impact on the quality of civil society more broadly. The thesis challenges the assumption within accepted definitions of civil society that civic participation is always positive. It does so by examining the manner in which citizens engage collectively to defend their interests and make claims upon the state, as well as the extent to which this model of political participation serves the agenda and promise of civil society. Through an in-depth, country-specific, empirical case study, the thesis examines micro social processes of power at community level to raise questions about who should be represented in civil society and how the voices of the marginalized are to be heard. In this regard, it explores the role of social inequality, feelings of social injustice and political exclusion as contributory factors in the existing tenor of citizen politics in Jamaica. It also examines the challenges facing the contemporary state and the impact of violent protests on state engagement, public action and political performance. The study analyses the lived experiences, observations and perspectives of a wide cross section of Jamaican citizens, gleaned from face-to-face interviews, focus group discussions, as well as a range of secondary material, including audio-visual data, to illuminate this process of struggle and underscore the factors which drive violent protests in this political context. The thesis concludes that maximum disruption, including violence, has not only become the basis of civil protest in Jamaica, but that the varied and contradictory responses of the state bureaucracy and political actors (Members of Parliament, activists, other political iii officials), as well as the mass media, have directly contributed to the style and tenor of protest politics in Jamaica. This state of affairs reduces popular citizen participation over genuine concerns to mob-style incivility and undermines civil society as a source of positive and responsible citizenship. The growing political importance of grassroots-based citizen participation and community building within the context of a global imperative to forge 'democracy from below' lends theoretical and normative credence to emerging concerns about the current character of popular citizen mobilizations and protest. This study thus establishes the basis for a presumption in favour of civility, civil discourse and civil action as fundamental to the construction of civil society. In doing so, it extends current scholarly understandings of civil society to Third World contexts, with a specific emphasis on Jamaica.
Type of thesis
Johnson, H. N. (2007). When citizen politics becomes uncivil: Between popular protest, civil society and governance in Jamaica (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/2535
The University of Waikato
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