chapter  2
40 Pages

Caught in the headlights of “culture” and neoliberalism: Public space as a vision for democracy and “development from below” in the Global South

Democratization in non-western contexts has become the focal point of “development” in recent years, where increasing globalization has unquestionably played a significant role in the diffusion of democratic ideas. The relationship between democracy and globalization is so apparent that the international pressures for democratization must be considered in any discussion of democratic development. This is not to say that the domestic factors of democratization can be ignored, and indeed scholars such as Rita Abrahamsen (2000: 8) maintain that “the neglect of the interplay of the internal and the external severely impoverishes contemporary explanations of democratization.” Accordingly, I follow Abrahamsen’s advice and analyze both the internal and external factors that shape the process of democratization in non-western societies. In doing so, I organize the discussion in this chapter around the two pillars that both those who accept and those who reject the universality of democracy repeatedly refer to, namely culture and economics. Far from being opposed to democracy as many scholars have argued, an analysis of culture reveals it to be inconsequential to democracy, allowing us to move beyond the notion of “Asian values” and its ideological, although euphemized, counterpart “illiberal democracy.” I address the economic focus of democratization specifically in terms of its liberalization as being the primary focus of “development” as currently conceived through the neoliberal paradigm of “good governance.”