Fall 2019 - IS 319 D500

Special Topics in Comparative World Politics, Culture and Society (4)

Africa: Social Movements Politics

Class Number: 7992

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    We 9:30 AM – 1:20 PM
    HCC 1425, Vancouver

  • Prerequisites:

    45 units.



Specific details of courses to be offered will be published prior to enrollment each term.


Over the past thirty years, the African continent has undergone a dramatic political and economic transformation. Dozens of countries became nominal democracies, and their economies were liberalized, even as Africa became increasingly integrated into the international economic system. Despite these developments, however, the broad swath of the population has relatively little influence over the narrow elites that have ruled since independence, and the privatization of the state has further entrenched existing inequalities. This course will examine how citizens across the continent have reacted to these changes through social movements and other forms of political contestation. We will study the ideology, social networks, and strategies of these movements, which range from non-violent student protests to NGO activism and armed mobilization.

We begin the semester with trying to conceptualize social movements. What are they, how do they differ from political parties, NGOs, armed insurgencies, and revolutions? Can these social movements serve to remedy what Claude Ake has termed “the democracy of alienation?” This first session will introduce the central questions of the course, drawing on theories of democracy and the state. The remainder of the first part of the course then tries to place social movements within their social and historical context. Beginning with the 1960s, when most of the Africa achieved independence, we trace political and economic developments on the continent.

During the second part of the course we step back and engage with some of the main theories of social movements, discussing their forces that give rise to them, as well as their internal dynamics and the impact that transformations of the digital age have had on mobilization.

Returning to the Africa, we will spend the remainder of the course engaging with contemporary social movements on the continent, discussing their origins, the large diversity––they range from peasant uprisings to student protests and armed insurrections––and the impact they have had. We look at three cross-cutting themes: the importance of gender and sexuality, religion, and ethnicity, and ask whether the utopias that motivated the movements of the 1960s have been replaced by concrete ideas of what an ideal future for the continent could look like. We end by asking what the world can learn from these movements and vice versa while discussing trends in international solidarity with the continent.


Students will finish the course with the following knowledge and skills:
• A broad understanding of major political and social trends in African politics since the 1960s
• A basic familiarity with major paradigms, concepts, and theories in the social scientific study of social movements.
• The ability to critically evaluate competing theories of and methodological approaches to popular mobilization


  • Class Participation 15%
  • Reading Responses (4 x 5%) 20%
  • Group Presentation 25%
  • Final Essay 40%


Students will be required to submit their written assignments to Turnitin.com in order to receive credit for the assignments and for the course.

The School for International Studies strictly enforces the University's policies regarding plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty. Information about these policies can be found at: http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/teaching.html.



Most of the readings are available online via the SFU library, either as chapters or as journal articles, or free online. Those that are not available at the library will be shared via email or our Canvas website. I have also assigned some films, all of which are available for viewing free online.

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html