Activists play a significant role in ensuring that power is appropriately used and justice is attained for those who are unfortunate in the society. For a long time, activism has focused on establishing substantive changes in the policy and practice of industries and governments (Matemba, 2011). Activists can operate in different ways such as through art like literature music and performance, the contribution of funds, workshops, and even protesting. Usually, the people in power misuse the authority that has been given to them by not serving the people the way that they are supposed. There are many instances of injustice practices within the society that are often overlooked by leaders or even committed by the people who are in power (Ilcan and Anita 2013). Due to the differences in opinion between those in power, the public, and activists, this paper takes an in-depth analysis of the different factors surrounding activists and activism when fighting for justice and how power affects the efforts made by activists.
Activism is a significant entity in the society since it acts to ensure that the needs of naïve citizens are addressed. Usually, the naïve citizens believe that official policies fail to realize that the people and institutions that are in power operate by service the special elite interests which are only made up by a minority group at the expense of the less powerful minorities and the general welfare of the society (Graham, 2017). This insinuates that the general public consider the people in power to be the ones denying them justice through the unfair service that they offer. Therefore, it is appropriate to note that issues of justice and power are a great concern to public engagement. It is only through public engagement that issues of power and justice can be addressed while positive values and principles can be attained. Public engagement on the other hand often takes the role of activism particularly in sectors where policy fails to implement necessary change (de Saille, 2015).
The issues of power and justice play a critical role in shaping leadership and general order in societies. The notion of participatory governance is currently being embraced by many societies across the world. Through the integration of participatory governance, there has been an increase in the number and impact of activism especially through the many forums whereby citizens, public officials, and service users express their opinions regarding the different issues affecting the society. Barnes (2008) describes the different forums through which public engagement is practiced as emotional spaces. The author notes that these spaces are the ones that are used to negotiate, construct, and transport identities. Justice and power have become two controversial issues especially within the contemporary society where the notion of empowerment has been fostered through government and public activism.
In his article, Barnes (2008) tries to explore the things that happen to the people who try to operate in different areas such as social movement activists and activists within officially sponsored deliberate forums. Moreover, he examines the kind of spaces that might be relevant in incorporating the emotional dimension of the experiences of the individuals who are subject to social policies and the ones trying to pass their messages while drawing inspiration from personal experience.
Matters pertaining to activism takes many forms. The common types of activists within contemporary society comprise judicial and citizen activism, environmental activism, science and social activism among others. While examining the different types of activism, Barnes (2008) describes a woman’s experience whereby the woman noted about the unfavorable nature of citizen’s jury experience, particularly during public meetings. According to her, people did not have the opportunity to interact with members of the jury while it’s only the jury who are allowed to pose questions. It was an unjust thing since most of the juries only posed questions because that was their job. Moreover, after posing the questions, there were no follow-up activities and the woman did not understand why the questions were asked or the answers she provided were of any significance to the jurors. From this, it is apparent that formal activism still has challenges especially in terms of how it is conducted and implemented. A consequence of improper activism is that power is misused while justice fails to be achieved even in the case where there is proper public engagement.
Unlike formal activism, informal activism seems to be more effective since there is a clear understanding of the issues in question. A major feature of public meetings or rather engagements is the presence of angry people who express their views without proper order, however, they are more effective since they are understood more and thus it becomes easy for aid to be provided. Therefore, it is appropriate to assert that public engagements are more effective compared to the citizens’ jury during activism. In this aspect, it can be noted that public engagement has more power in attaining justice compared to the citizens’ jury (Klobassa, 2017).
Another example of activism in an effort to use activism power to attain justice is the case surrounding the dynamics of psychiatric survivor participation within a legislation subcommittee commissioned with the duty of implementing proposals for community mental services. This case was explored by Barnes (2008) and one of the findings is that officials in the activism process were frustrated by the emotional and angry contribution from the service users. Usually, many people have emotional attachment when advocating for social issues. In his study, Barnes gives an example of a young woman who began crying as she narrated her experience. This emotional input prompted the officials to act first because failure on their side could have detrimental and even fatal effects on the lady in question. Even though the approach employed by the service users was extremely confrontational, it worked since the need was satisfied. From the officials’ perspective, this approach is considered bad manners and a breach of decorum since the service users at times use public hearings to express the pain that they experience in their lives. However, a challenge with activism is that following the appropriate channels and methods often fails to work. Due to this reason, people often prefer going to the extreme ends to have the challenges being faced in the society addressed (Pradeep, 2015).
Drawing from the two examples provided, it is apparent that the first example lacks emotional attachment, particularly on the jurors’ side in their questioning and interest in the subject under discussion. This insinuates that the jurors are advocating for the things that they do not care so much about. In the second example, the issues are presented with a strong emotional attachment to an extent that it rules most of the things that are being deliberated according to the agenda of the committee thus resulting in bad manners on the side of the participants. It can thus be deduced that emotionality is associated with the mechanisms of examining the authenticity of both the technique and motivations of the people involved in the public activism process. However, the judgment of the role of emotions in public engagements is subject to debate since it is clear that it plays a role in getting the attention of the authorities to act on the issues being deliberated.
Drawing from the social-cultural theory, the mechanisms in which actors draw meaning out of their own experiences and norms are important and effective compared to scenarios where actors draw inspiration from rational choice theory. Majority of the theorists who support the incorporation of emotions in public engagement draw their arguments from cultural and structural positions. There is a wide body of knowledge that has investigated the importance of social networks and their impact on individual decisions to get involved in activism and the importance of networks in sustaining social movements (Matemba, 2011). Cultural theorists rejecting the rational choice theories note that networks are a representation of the context in which interactions between people produce both cognitive and affective schemas that can link people to collective action. Therefore, when examining the issues of justice and power in relation to public engagements, it is also important to examine the nature of the social relationships of the public which becomes engaged in action both in structural terms and at the micro-level. According to Kemper (2001), structural relationships of power and status can be employed in illustrating the occurrence of emotions which range from anger, resentment, hope, and fear. These structural relationships of power can also be employed in explaining why social movements are started, why they gain power, and how they are able to sustain certain levels of support.
de Saille (2015) notes that policymakers perceive social movement actors such as activists as individuals who are not anti-scientific and a major threat to the national economic progress. Due to the noted challenge brought about by social movement actors, governments have imposed a high level of control that makes it challenging for social movements to have their issues implemented. In their study, Welsh and Wynne (2013) assert that there is a paradox in policy approaches particularly when it comes to public engagement in techno-scientific issues. Their study shows that the policy efforts to incorporate the public in meaningful dialogue have been accompanied by simultaneous anxiety regarding the public which is perceived to be untrustworthy. de Saille (2015) adds that regardless of the general shift to more reciprocal models of power and governance the responses provided to public resistance by the policymakers on different social issues are still grounded upon the deficit model. Usually, protestors are identified as ignorant and irrational individuals even if their arguments are meaningful and subjects that will bring about positive change. Due to this, public engagement events are always created to supply technical information so that people can make better and informed decisions. However, this is not feasible in cases whereby there are no meaningful opportunities for the public to intervene in policies. Often, policies are pre-determined by the consultation of more powerful stakeholders within the agendas of societal and economic growth. Nowotny (2014) provides an argument on the subject asserting that engagement has been characterized as a performance whereby a deficit of scientific legitimacy is addressed by beseeching a particular political imaginary that considers the public as the beneficiary of the science. From these researchers, it is apparent that public engagement is not effectively and appropriately conducted. As a result, justice is rarely practiced and attained through public engagement deliberations due to misuse of power by those in authority and individuals who are categorized as powerful stakeholders. There is a possibility that public engagement could have been more productive and effective if the public had trust on the people who are in authority. However, the lack of trust among the citizens towards those in power is what makes the public to apply forceful engagement when presenting their issues that affect the society (Cifor et al. 2018).
Summing up, activism plays a critical role in ensuring that power is properly used to attain justice for the less unfortunate and the less powerful in the society. During a public engagement, justice and power are the key factors that affect the progress of discussions on issues being faced in the society. The analysis has clearly shown that there are contradictions in different policy approaches especially in matters pertaining to public engagement. Therefore, the lack of justice and fairness in public engagement is a clear indication of how power is being misused thus making public engagement have less impact on societal changes. However, through the integration of different forms of activism, there is evidence showing that different public engagement forums and strategies have made it possible for public opinions to be aired and proposals implemented. Barnes’s study has clearly illustrated how emotion can be used as an effective tool in ensuring that power is appropriately used and justice attained. On the other hand, de Saille has explained the reason for having an unruly public and how the deficit model contributes to activism during public engagements.
List of References
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Nowotny, Helga. “Engaging with the political imaginaries of science: Near misses and future targets.” Public Understanding of Science 23, no. 1 (2014): 16-20.
Welsh, Ian, and Brian Wynne. “Science, scientism and imaginaries of publics in the UK: Passive objects, incipient threats.” Science as Culture 22, no. 4 (2013): 540-566.
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