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Q and A with Naila Kabeer on Renegotiating Patriarchy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 11/06/2024 - 8:47pm in

In this interview with Anna D’Alton (LSE Review of Books), Naila Kabeer discusses her new book, Renegotiating Patriarchy: Gender, Agency and the Bangladesh Paradoxforthcoming from LSE Press in September. The book examines positive social change in Bangladesh over the past 50 years, in particular the factors that enabled significant and rapid gains for women in areas like health, education and employment within a deeply patriarchal society.

LSE Festival Power and Politics 2024

Join Naila Kabeer, Monica Ali, Phillip Hensher and Sarah Worthington for an event, Power and Storytelling on Saturday 15 June as part of LSE Festival.

Renegotiating Patriarchy: Gender, Agency and the Bangladesh Paradox. Naila Kabeer. LSE Press. 2024.

Bangaldesh Paradox naila kabeer book coverWhat is the “Bangladesh paradox”?

Bangladesh has been described as a new nation but an ancient land. For much of its history, Bangladesh was colonised by foreign powers, first by Hindu and Buddhist rulers from other parts of India, then by the Moghuls, followed by the British. When the British left in 1947, what is now Bangladesh was incorporated into Pakistan but occupied the status of a quasi-colony. It fought a war of liberation before finally becoming independent in 1971.

The long history of colonial extraction meant that Bangladesh embarked on independence as one of the poorest countries in the world. It had extremely high fertility rates which made it one of the  most densely populated countries in the world. It had a largely illiterate population that eked out a living in subsistence agriculture. It also had a very patriarchal culture, one it shared with the northern plains of India, that gave rise to very strong son preference and a tradition of discrimination against daughters. The high fertility rates in the country were partly due to the pressure on women to have enough children to ensure a minimum number of sons, pressure which resulted in very high rates of maternal mortality. Bangladeshi women were described by a Population Crisis Committee report from the 1980s as “poor, powerless and pregnant”, with the lowest status among women from the 99 countries covered by the report.

Bangladesh was regarded by the donor community at the time [of independence in 1971] as an “international basket case”[] Yet by the 1980s, fertility rates began declining at a speed that set a record in demographic history.

Bangladesh was regarded by the donor community at the time as an “international basket case”, a country would need foreign aid into the foreseeable future if it was to survive, let alone thrive. Yet by the 1980s, fertility rates began declining at a speed that set a record in demographic history, there were striking improvements in health and nutrition and educational levels began to rise. What stood out about these changes is the disproportionate gains made by women and the resulting decline in gender inequality.  So the term “Bangladesh paradox” is used as shorthand to describe the remarkable progress that the country made in spite of high levels of poverty and poor levels of governance.

There is one other element to the paradox that is less widely remarked on that interests me. The improvements observed in gender equality came at a time when the country had begun experiencing a steady rise in a very orthodox version of Islam, one imported from the Middle East and antithetical to many of the gains women had made.

Q: What aspects of the Bangladesh paradox does your book, Renegotiating Patriarchy address?

There have been many explanations of the Bangladesh paradox, but they tend to focus on the role of powerful actors such as the state, the donors and the non-governmental sector. They all have a part to play, but at the heart of the story I tell in this book is what I believe to be the main driving force behind the changes we associate with the paradox: the ideas, values and motivations of ordinary people. This hidden story of change takes as its starting point the evidence emerging in the literature that there had been a significant decline in son preference and a move towards more egalitarian preferences, with many parents satisfied with only having daughters. This was in sharp contrast to India where parents were seeking to reconcile their desire for fewer children with the practice of female-selective abortion to ensure that their children were only, or mainly sons.

At the heart of the story I tell in this book is what I believe to be the main driving force behind the changes we associate with the paradox: the ideas, values and motivations of ordinary people.

Clearly there had been some kind of shift in the structures of patriarchy in Bangladesh: girls were now more likely to survive the early years of life than boys (the norm in much of the world); they were more likely to be enrolled in primary and secondary school than boys and their labour force participation rates had been rising consistently, overtaking those of India and Pakistan.

My book sets out to find out what led ordinary people make the changes in their lives which coalesced into the Bangladesh paradox. And because there was evidence accumulating in various studies that women had played an important role in making these changes happen, I was particularly interested in this aspect of the story. Given Bangladesh’s patriarchal traditions, I wanted to know what motivated women to seek change and how they were able to bring it about when the changes they sought seemed to go against the grain of these traditions.

Q: What was your methodological approach and how did you arrive at it? 

The book is interdisciplinary in its approach and pluralist in its methodology. As I noted earlier, there have been many “big picture” stories about the Bangladesh paradox. What has been missing are the multitude of “small picture” stories from ordinary men and women. A great deal of the book is made up of these stories, gathered from my own research and from research that others have carried out. By examining the experiences and motivations related by different generations of women and men over successive periods of time, I was able to trace the unfolding of the Bangladesh paradox through the shifts in attitudes that they reported, the actions they took in response to survival imperatives and the changes in their aspirations as new possibilities came into view.

These narratives form the core of my analysis, but I draw on a range of other sources of information as well. I go back into the history of Bangladesh to understand the more tolerant version of Islam that had flourished in the country, an amalgam of the various religions that had co-existed in the region and that may have been a factor in allowing women to make the gains they did. I draw on secondary literature to understand the evolution of the country’s policy and legal architecture, piecing together the story of the economic changes that allowed the country to transcend its past poverty. These constitute the structural context within which individuals and groups were able to exercise certain forms of agency but not others, which allowed women to “renegotiate” the more oppressive aspects of patriarchy rather than to overthrow it.

Individuals and groups were able to exercise certain forms of agency but not others, which allowed women to ‘renegotiate’ the more oppressive aspects of patriarchy rather than to overthrow it.

In addition, woven into my account of the qualitative explanations that men and women gave for their behaviour are statistical findings that helped me to distinguish between the explanations that embodied the experiences of the few, perhaps those who were ahead of their time or lagging behind, and those of the many whose experiences were widespread enough to shape the larger statistical trends.

Q: A central research question in the book is around the decline for son preference among families and communities in Bangladesh. What were the reasons for son preference?  

Bangladesh is a part of a larger region that Deniz Kandiyoti refers to as “the belt of classic patriarchy” stretching from North Africa across the Middle east and the northern plains of the South Asian sub-continent, including Bangladesh. These countries may have very different histories, different religions, different economic trajectories, but they share certain features of their gender and kinship relations in common. They are characterised by patrilineal descent so that the family name and property pass through the male line. There are strict restrictions on women’s mobility outside the home so they are confined to reproductive and home-based activities, dependent on male breadwinners for most of their lives.  Daughters are married off early and leave the parental home to be absorbed into their husband’s lineage. Sons, on the other hand, carry on the family line, inherit its property, engage in productive work and look after their parents as they get older. Not surprisingly, these societies are characterised by a strong preference for sons, with lower levels of female education and labour force relative to male and, in contrast to the rest of the world, higher levels of female mortality, particularly in the younger age groups.

A woman in Bangladesh wearing an orange sari holds a tool and looks off camera with trees behind herA woman in Subarnachar, Noakhali, Bangladesh. Photo © Jannatul Mawa.

Q: In your research, you discovered that there was a decline in son preference in the past forty or fifty years. What were some of the reasons for that decline? 

My interest in son preference goes back to 1980 when I was doing my PhD at LSE and researching the reasons for high fertility in Bangladesh. I spent a year doing field work in a village in Bangladesh where it became clear to me that women had a particularly strong preference for sons over daughters, both to assure their status in their husband’s family and because sons represented security in old age. After my PhD, I joined the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex and continued to do research in South Asia. I was aware of the various studies from Bangladesh documenting, among other things, increasing gender equality in survival rates, health, nutrition and education. To find out why this was happening, I went back to the village in which I had conducted my PhD field work.

My interest in son preference goes back to 1980 when I was doing my PhD at LSE and researching the reasons for high fertility in Bangladesh.

What I found makes up the concluding sections of the book where I also touch on why a similar shift in son preference had not been happening in India. The full answer on the reasons for this shift, detailed in the book, are complicated and tangled up with the overall story of the Bangladesh paradox. The short answer revolves around changing intergenerational relationships and the belief on the part of parents that sons had become more focused on their own wives and children to the neglect of their parents, that daughters-in-law were not as subservient as they used to be and that daughters are now not only regarded as more loyal to their parents than sons. They are perceived as being more concerned about their welfare, but also, with the rise in their income-earning opportunities, in a better position to help them materially. It was mothers who were often at the forefront of this revaluation of daughters.

Q: You deal with the rise in women’s labour force participation in your book. What was its significance?  

It has been very significant. There is an interesting contrast here between Bangladesh and India. India has one of the highest per capita growth rates in the world but its female labour force participation has been declining steadily and is now among the lowest in South Asia. In fact, the jobless nature of India’s growth has seen high levels of unemployment among men as well. Although Bangladesh’s growth rates are also high, it remains far poorer than India.  However, it has had a more labour-intensive pattern of growth and generated opportunities that have benefited women as well as men. Its microfinance programmes have allowed women to take up income-generating activities that could be carried out within or near the home. Its export-oriented garment sector had a largely female labour force. Community-based services, including those provided by NGOs, hire large numbers of women. In Bangladesh, women’s ability to make a direct contribution to household income has been an important factor in enhancing their voice and agency within their households, has made daughters appear less of a burden to their families and has given women the motivation to resist the efforts of Islamist forces to curtail their opportunities.

Women’s ability to make a direct contribution to household income has been an important factor in enhancing their voice and agency within their households

Q: Do you think that the positive social changes, including the progress on gender equality that the paradox describes will be sustained in the future? 

It’s hard to say. I feel somewhat pessimistic but not just in relation to Bangladesh. The whole world seems to have become darker – it is more unequal, there are more wars, more natural disasters, more financial crises and, of course, accelerating climate change. And the same market fundamentalism that impededes our ability to put things to right in the rest of the world is also holding it up in Bangladesh.

We have seen inequality rising in Bangladesh over the last decades. Whereas in the early years after independence, it was possible to make important gains on the health front with low-cost vertical programmes, we now need broad-based health services so that everyone can be assured of decent care when they need it. Quantity in educational provision has been achieved at the expense of quality, and quality has been undermined by compromising on a secular curriculum in deference to Islamist forces. We have had multiparty democracy since 1990 and mainly civilian rule, but when the same party has been in power since 2009, we know it is not a very healthy democracy. Meanwhile, the rise of an intolerant Islamic orthodoxy has continued and may have been given fresh oxygen by what is happening to Palestinian people in Gaza today. I am not sure whether the pace of social progress we saw in the past will be sustained in the future. But who knows? Bangladesh has defied the odds before; it may do so again.

Note: This interview gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Main image credit: A woman in Subarnachar, Noakhali, Bangladesh. Photo © Jannatul Mawa.

 

Lessons from Regional Responses to Security, Health and Environmental Challenges in Latin America – review

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/05/2024 - 8:47pm in

Lessons from Regional Responses to Security, Health and Environmental Challenges in Latin America explores these three areas in terms of governance challenges post-COVID-19. Editor Ivo Ganchev brings together diverse regional perspectives that critically analyse US influence in the region, regional versus national approaches and alternative tools for governance. While its contemporary focus may risk obsolescence, the book is a valuable resource for understanding and addressing current challenges in Latin America, writes Tainá Siman.

Lessons from Regional Responses to Security, Health and Environmental Challenges in Latin America. Ivo Ganchev (ed.). Vernon Press. 2024. 

Lessons from regional responses book coverThis volume edited by Ivo Ganchev presents an assessment on the current challenges for governance in Latin America in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, considering three under-researched topics in Latin America: security, health and environment. These three topics were not selected randomly, but on the basis of the results of a survey among 78 political scientists asking which themes lacked further research in the Latin American context. In a compelling introduction dividing scholarship on regionalism in Latin America into three different groups – optimists, sceptics and innovators – Ganchev sets out the volume’s aim of reflecting on appropriate governance tools to regionally address common challenges in the protection of borders (security), lives (health) and land (environment) (iv).

The choice to address these issues at regional versus national levels is the core point discussed in most of the chapters. Why should countries opt to solve problems by cooperating with regional organisations? Or why should they opt for dealing with them at the national level? These reflections address why these paths were chosen and why they failed or succeeded, span the three broad topics almost equally (security has four and health and governance have each three chapters).

Why should countries opt to solve problems by cooperating with regional organisations? Or why should they opt for dealing with them at the national level?

Considering the context of Post-Hegemonic Regionalism, signifying weakened US hegemony in Latin America, Ganchev’s opening chapter examines coups and coup attempts from a security perspective. Coups and coup attempts are a recurring theme throughout Latin American academic literature, even under the framing of democracy clauses. Democracy clauses are tools that foresee sanctions or suspension of members that have experienced coups or democracy breaches. This topic is usually taken under the discussion of regional politics or appropriateness in institutional design, so framing it as a security issue is innovative. A significant aspect of this perspective deals with relations to the United States (US) and Organization of American States (OAS) responses (or lack thereof). Each coup and coup attempt is scrutinised to determine whether it served US interests to intervene, considering the potential outcomes (success or failure of coup attempts), as well as the US interest in activating or not regional organisations.

In the section of chapters focusing on health, Ruvalbaca (Chapter Six) presents a significant reflection of how the COVID-19 crisis impacted the power of Latin American countries in the international arena. Alongside analysing internal political and economic dynamics, Ruvalbaca discusses how each country’s response to COVID-19 impacted its international overall power performance along three dimensions: material, immaterial and semi-material. The chapter gives an interesting account of how some countries experienced economic crises but performed relatively well in dealing with the pandemic (Costa Rica and Cuba), others performed well economically while (not) dealing well with the pandemic (Ecuador). However, it lacked a clear categorisation that would allow measurement of how greatly the pandemic contributed (or not) to the gain or loss of relative power at the global level.

Ruvalbaca discusses how each country’s response to COVID-19 impacted its international overall power performance along three dimensions: material, immaterial and semi-material.

Situated within the volume’s dedicated third section on the environment, Chapter Ten by Combs and Buganza reflects about Mesoamerican regional constructions concerning the environment. They provide insight into the beginnings of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor as a non-institutionalised initiative, describing how its development progressed, in an interesting twist, to being incorporated as part of a regional organisation. A series of accomplishments, such as its decades-long further institutionalisation, as well as challenges, such as lack of financial resources for funding, enable a reflection on the level of structuring, formalisation and effectiveness of environmental transnational policies.

Two important characteristics makes this book stand out. The first is that the chapters do not merely cover regional organisations, though they are well-discussed, being the most common arena to debate regional issues. Other chapters highlight transnational solutions (Villa, Braga, Alaya in Chapter Three) international funds (Gomis in Chaper Four), and transgovernmental networks (TGNs) (Segovia, Mugica, Chapter Five). It makes us reflect, as the title suggest, that when we talk about “regional responses” we should think broadly about what format these solutions will take and the best approach to each specific challenge. It presents a broader sample of tools for regional governance instead of the common solution of regional organisations.

when we talk about ‘regional responses’ we should think broadly about what format these solutions will take and the best approach to each specific challenge.

The second positive feature is the wide range of regions and sub-regions in Latin America that are addressed. such as the Andes (Chapter Three), the Caribbean (Chapters Four, Núñes in Chapter Seven and Borzona in Chapter Eight), Mexico (Chapter Ten) and South America in relation to Continental America (Chapter One). The final chapter also has a recommendation of exercises on policy transfer between regions, arguing that it would be useful to have a mechanism similar to the Escazú Agreement into African countries (Mballa, Chapter 11). Having authors with diverse backgrounds and coming from a diversity of regions also gives some freshness on how the issues are framed. Considering external factors impacting the region, such as the Ukraine and Russia war, China and NATO (Konolvalova and Jeifets, Chapter Two) and Africa (Chapter 11) give us some ideas of how wider issues interfere with regional Latin-American challenges.

In times of post-hegemonic regionalism, it shows that the US still shapes regional architecture, whether to interfere as an actor, or to cause ruptures or disagreements between countries in regional initiatives.

Something that’s present in most of the chapters is the influence of the US in Latin American regional affairs. In this sense, what stands out is the US’s contribution to these challenges. In times of post-hegemonic regionalism, it shows that the US still shapes regional architecture, whether to interfere as an actor, or to cause ruptures or disagreements between countries in regional initiatives. Even in cases where chapters don’t explicitly discuss ties between Latin American states and the US, the analysis of intra-regional intergovernmental relations still shows how these relationships were affected was still very highly connected with the government’s alignment or non-alignments with the US.

If there is a con to this book is that, since its framing has a highly contemporary component to it, its lessons may become outdated relatively soon. However, it serves as a diagnostic collection, highlighting what has proven effective and areas in need of improvement. Ultimately, its relevance will only diminish if we fully move past these problematics, and diagnosing these problematics is the initial step to overcome them. Another issue is that the volume lacks a conclusion which would have been a useful means of drawing together discussion points and themes across the chapters and looking ahead to the future of the region. That said, the volume examines a diverse range of pressing issues across Latin America from the COVID-19 pandemic onwards, and will be worthwhile reading for anyone interested in Latin America, regionalism (in terms of international institutions) or in one of its three specific agendas (security, health and environment).

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Image credits: Banco Mundial América Latina y el Caribe on Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED

Q and A with Sumi Madhok on Vernacular Rights Cultures

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 18/04/2024 - 7:49pm in

In this interview with Anna D’Alton (LSE Review of Books), Sumi Madhok speaks about her latest book, Vernacular Rights Cultures which subverts prevailing frameworks around human rights by exploring how subaltern groups mobilise for justice through particular political imaginaries, conceptual vocabularies and gendered political struggles.

Read a review of the book for LSE Review of Books here.

Vernacular Rights Cultures: The Politics of Origins, Human Rights and Gendered Struggles for Justice. Sumi Madhok. Cambridge University Press. 2024 (paperback); 2021 (hardback).

book cover of Vernacular Rights Cultures by Sumi MadhokQ: In Vernacular Rights Cultures, you critique the Eurocentred discourse around rights and identify the “politics of origins” as an important aspect of this. What is the “politics of origins” and why do you push against it?

The politics of origins is the key framework around which global human rights is organised. It is a racialised and binary global human rights discourse, which stipulates that human rights originate in, belong to, travel from and operate for the West. This politics of origins is a shared discourse; shared by not only celebrants and detractors of human rights but also by critical and progressive scholarship on human rights. Significantly, it organises the global human rights discourse into a series of binary distinctions, the key ones being between West/non-West, universalism vs cultural particularism and “Asian values” vs “Western political and civil human rights”. An important way in which these binaries constantly appear is by asking the question, are rights are Western? This question is relentlessly rehearsed, by both celebrants and detractors of human rights, ie, both by those who claim human rights are given to the rest of the world by the “West”, as well as by those who use the originary argument to refuse it, saying that human rights have no cultural or political traction in contexts outside the “West” because they are not part of ”non-western” cultural values.

One of the things the book does is to sidestep the politics of origins and the binary formulations that foreground rights conversations across scholarly, practitioner and policymaking contexts.

One of the things the book does is to sidestep the politics of origins and the binary formulations that foreground rights conversations across scholarly, practitioner and policymaking contexts. Two things to note here: firstly, the politics of origins is not without consequences. In the hands of the detractors, and particularly authoritarian nation states, it places a handy argument to delegitimise democratic protest, politics and questioning of excessive state power on the basis that human rights are illegitimate, alien and foreign and therefore with little cultural traction and legitimacy. In critical/progressive scholarship on human rights, on the other hand, this originary story shores up the “West” as the sole epistemic subject of human rights, although this time via critique and through displaying wilful ignorance and historical unknowing of rights struggles in most of the world. Therefore, for instance, you could be the most radical theorist of human rights and yet, you wouldn’t be under any obligation to display any knowledge, let alone theorise, about rights politics outside the Euro-North Atlantic world.

Secondly, participants in rights politics in “most of the world” don’t think of their worldmaking projects and rights struggles as universalist or not universalist or particularist. One of the things they’re asking for is for their struggles and worldmaking projects to be considered part of the universal and for these to be heard and to matter epistemically – that’s a big part of the struggle. However, this aspiration is often thwarted by the refusal to think outside of the politics of origins, resulting in an almost unmoveable impasse in global human rights. A key intervention of the book is to shift this stasis and move rights thinking out of this impasse.

Conceptual diversity is part of my broader project on anti-imperial epistemic justice.

Q: Why do you emphasise conceptual diversity as a “key intellectual project of vernacular rights cultures” (177)?

Conceptual diversity is part of my broader project on anti-imperial epistemic justice. The book is a key constituent of this project. Conceptual diversity is important in order to theorise and conceptually capture the stakes and struggles of rights politics in most of the world. We urgently need conceptual scholarship from most of the world, one that illuminates the critical conceptual vocabularies and the political imaginaries of rights politics taking place in different parts of the world. This is crucial because when people do think about rights struggles in most of the world, that work is mostly embedded in Eurocentric frameworks and tends to be either not only overly descriptive but also converts “the other and elsewhere” into “case studies” of global human rights, as though these have no epistemic authority of their own.

Q: Why do you foreground haq, a transregional vernacular of rights prevalent in South Asia, over a universalist idea of human rights?

Haq is a fantastically cosmopolitan concept. The word is first sighted in classical Hebrew and in Semitic languages like Aramaic and Mandaean. It then comes into pre-Islamic poetry and into the Quran. Over the centuries, it travels extensively to become the principal. word for a right across East Africa, North Africa, the Middle East, Iran, Turkey, South Asia. It comes into South Asia though Persian, which was a state language of undivided India and Pakistan before partition by the British Empire. The word has been used by people across two continents, and in my own tracking, in at least eight different languages to speak about their entitlements and rights. This begs the question: what is the conceptual nature of haq? What kinds of things is it being used to articulate and demand as a rights claim, and what is (or isn’t) it able to accommodate? Who are the subjects of haq? What sorts of rights politics does it animate? In what ways does rights politics for haq expand existing human rights politics, scholarship and theoretical frameworks? For instance, paying attention to conceptual languages of haq shows that it not only sutures the politics of rights to the politics of justice but also grounds rights in alternative justificatory premises and conceptual meanings. In other words, the rights politics in most of the world, appears as the politics of structural justice. It is therefore, not the civilisational, racialised, minimalist, depoliticised, humanitarian politics of moralism and despair. Rather, it is one that is located within political struggles for freedom, rights and justice, and underpinned by a conception of justice as non-exploitational and structural.

The word [haq] has been used by people across two continents, and in my own tracking, in at least eight different languages to speak about their entitlements and rights.

Q: Establishing a “feminist historical ontology” underpins your methodology. What does this involve and what is gained from taking this theoretical perspective?

The book refuses methodological nationalism and statism and the “great men” stories that it champions, not least, because more than ever, there is a need for scholarly accounts of rights and human rights to move outside of methodological nationalism in order to document and theorise rights politics that can form solidaristic coalitions for rights and justice across the globe, while also being able to hold nation states to account. At the same time, the book is also invested in giving an epistemic account of the critical conceptual vocabularies of rights politics that are used in contemporary subaltern movements. However, the question that arises is how does one do this? In order to give an epistemic accounting of this politics of rights, I’ve had to both devise a theoretical framework for their study, which I call vernacular rights cultures, as well as a methodological device, which I call a feminist historical ontology. Rather than looking at human rights or rights politics in different nation states or privileging state actors in global fora, I tracked the way the word haq appears in subaltern movements across different geographical areas, focusing on South Asia, specifically central eastern Pakistan, and north-western India. Vernacular rights cultures are not authentic or pure hermetically sealed sites in the Global South. These rights cultures are co-produced through and invoked within multiple, diverse and conflictual encounters with developmentalism, extractivism, dispossession, militarism, statism, legal constitutionalism, and activism; therefore, it is at the intersection of these and not as some freestanding “authentic” abstraction, that haq as a contemporary idea operates.

Rights cultures are co-produced through and invoked within multiple, diverse and conflictual encounters with developmentalism, extractivism, dispossession, militarism, statism, legal constitutionalism, and activism

Feminist historical ontology has two constitutive parts:  it brings together historical ontologies with a feminist critical reflexive politics of location. The first borrows from the philosopher Ian Hacking and his work on historical ontology, which tracks how concepts come into being and acquire traction at particular historical points. Concepts enable us to describe and visualise the world, and result in what Hacking calls “making up people”. In my ethnographies of rights mobilisations, I tracked the work that haq was doing in “making up people”. Haq not only signifies political subjectivities and worldmaking imaginaries but also brings into being a particular relation to the self. It’s important to note that critical conceptual vocabularies of rights are not simply formalistic or technical literal terms, but that they produce political imaginaries and set in motion processes of subjectification, which have very particular consequences on the ground.

Haq, too, is a gendered concept; it brings into being gendered subjects of rights and puts in place a gendered set of political possibilities, futurities and actions.

Like all phenomena, concepts are gendered. Haq, too, is a gendered concept; it brings into being gendered subjects of rights and puts in place a gendered set of political possibilities, futurities and actions. In order to be able to foreground the gendered nature of concepts, historical ontology, therefore, requires a supplementation with a critical reflexive feminist politics of location that draws on feminist anti-imperial, postcolonial, anti-colonial, decolonial and critical race scholarship in order to reflect existing hierarchically and oppressively arranged site-specific gendered power relations on the one hand, and Eurocentred knowledge production on the other. Accordingly, feminist historical ontologies (of rights in this case) are methodological devices that produce an orientation towards generating conceptual accounts of rights encounters in the world that are responsive to a critical reflexive politics of location, to gendered power relations and struggles, to political imaginaries of subaltern struggle and worldmaking, and to the coming into being of gendered subjects of rights.

Note: This interview gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

 

Experiences of Menstruation from the Global South and North – review

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 12/04/2024 - 8:05pm in

In Experiences of Menstruation from the Global South and North, Kay Standing, Sara Parker and Stefanie Lotter compile multidisciplinary perspectives examining experiences of and education around menstruation in different parts of the world. Spanning academic research, activism and poetry, this thought-provoking volume advocates for inclusive approaches that encompass the diverse geographical, social, cultural, gender- and age-related subjectivities of menstruators worldwide, writes Udita Bose.

Experiences of Menstruation from the Global South and North: Towards a Visualised, Inclusive, and Applied Menstruation Studies. Kay Standing, Sara Parker and Stefanie Lotter (eds.). Oxford University Press. 2024.

Red book cover Experiences of Menstruation from the Global South and North Towards a Visualised, Inclusive, and Applied Menstruation StudiesAs Bobel writes in the foreword to Experiences of Menstruation from the Global South and North, “Menstruation is simultaneously everywhere and nowhere” (xvii). The book attempts to create dialogues between the Global North and Global South, recognising that menstrual experiences are a global issue, but the stigma, shame, and secrecy surrounding menstruation, make it difficult to address the various problems associated with menstruation.

The book criticises how discourse about menstruation in the Global South is characterised by the development approach produced by the Global North.

The book criticises how discourse about menstruation in the Global South is characterised by the development approach produced by the Global North. In the introduction, Lotter et al argue that development approaches adopted in the Global South focusing on “alleviating poverty and working towards gender equality and improvement of living conditions” (10) have reinforced stigma associated with menstruation. This occurs because such development approaches centre the supply and demand of menstrual products, which, according to Garikipati in Chapter Seven, promotes the concealment of menstruation through the use of menstrual products (105). Lotter et a argue that a decolonial approach will help to acknowledge that countries in the Global South have made “trailblazing developments” (11) in destigmatising menstruation and tackling period poverty: Kenya ended the taxation of menstrual products long before Canada, in 2004 (11). The editors thus call for the Global North to learn from the Global South and promote a collaborative global approach when discussing menstrual experiences.

The book identifies how a lack of scientific knowledge and information about menstruation exacerbates the stigmatising of sociocultural experiences associated with it

The collaborative approach is evident in how the chapters in the collection have been organised and linked. For instance, the book identifies how a lack of scientific knowledge and information about menstruation exacerbates the stigmatising of sociocultural experiences associated with it, in the Global North and the Global South. King (Chapter Three) discusses at length how “physiology textbooks” recommended for medical students in the UK do not explain that even though menstruation is a prerequisite for conception and pregnancy, they do not inevitably follow from menstruation (24). Such emphasis on the alleged “purpose” of the menstruating body obscures the reality of the experience for women and girls. The pain, discomfort and blood loss that regularly accompany menstruation is minimised, hindering girls’ and women’s ability to respond to and understand their own bodies. This resonates with Amini’s research in Iran (Chapter 12). Amini demonstrates how most girls in Iran respond to menarche thinking that they have either lost their virginity or have a bad illness (165). These chapters show how the experience of the biological process of menstruation is conditioned by the cultural meaning it gains in a context.

Research [in Nepal] found that intersecting factors like caste, religious ideologies and ethnicity determine whether a teacher can discuss menstruation in school.

Amini’s research connects to that of Parker et al (Chapter Four) which, based in Nepal, reiterates the importance of imparting knowledge about menstruation and placing it in its sociocultural context. Their research found that intersecting factors like caste, religious ideologies and ethnicity determine whether a teacher can discuss menstruation in school. In this chapter and in the research project Dignity Without Danger – a research project launched in 2021 by Subedi and Parker developing and gathering educational resources on menstruation in Nepal (2021) – research participants noted that they were left to study the topic of menstruation on their own (38). The contextualisation of menstrual knowledge also frames the work by Garikipati (Chapter Seven) who focuses her research on menstrual products in the Indian context (103). Along with criticising the profit-driven global market, she emphasises the need to focus on sustainable development. Garikipati advocates for solutions that are tailored appropriately to the individual context (105).

The discussions on contextualising knowledge production about menstruation by researchers in diverse sociocultural and physical contexts underline the need for inclusivity. Inclusion is discussed in relation to several dimensions of menstrual knowledge production. Various researchers have captured menstrual experiences in the everyday context of the workplace (Fry et al, Chapter Eight), the school (Parker et al, Chapter Four; King, Chapter Three), the community (Garikipati, chapter Seven; Quint, Chapter Five; Macleod, Chapter 13) and the home (Amini, Chapter 12). In every setting, it is the menstruating body whose agency takes centre stage. This is enabled through the diverse and creative research methods employed by the researchers to explore menstrual experiences. For instance, Macleod (Chapter 13) had menstruating girls shoot films to narrate their menstrual experiences and held informal sessions in the schools in Gombe and Buwenge  in Uganda to watch the films (190).  This resonates with Lessie’s (Chapter Two) multi-sectoral approach to addressing menstruation and menstrual health. As Letsie underscores, the right to information and the right to health are basic human rights. Menstrual health is therefore a human rights issue, and its inclusion in health and development policies and programmes should be prioritised.

The book encompasses menstruating bodies at different stages of life, be it menarche or menopause

The book encompasses menstruating bodies at different stages of life, be it menarche or menopause (Weiss et al, Chapter 10), and menstruating bodies that are disabled (Basnet et al, Chapter Nine). The concluding pages of the book discuss the future prospects of research on menstruation. In doing so, Standing et al highlight the need for more research on “menstruators at margins” (230), for example, menstruators in prisons and detention centres, in humanitarian settings, sex workers, and those with disabilities. Thomson’s (Chapter 11) poem calls for normalising menstruation irrespective of gender and menopause irrespective of age, describing voluntary menopause at a young age to convert from being a female to a male (“because when I was a little girl, I knew I wasn’t…I just thank God that me and my Mother’s menopause didn’t align” 156-157). The poem echoes Lotter et al’s observation in the introduction that “not all women have periods and not all people who menstruate are women” (7). More than seeing menstruation through a lens of gender, it needs to be seen as “an issue of equity and justice” (7).

In this way, the book thus comes full circle in attempting to locate the menstruating body at the epicentre of the school and integrate all other sectors of society (family, community, policy development) into the production of knowledge on menstruation. The amplification of the need for inclusivity is particularly valuable, recognising the differences between menstrual experiences in the Global North and the Global South and challenging the gender binary, as captured in Thomson’s poetry. It is a thought-provoking volume which exposes the reader to the geographical, social, cultural, gender- and age-related subjectivities in which menstruation is experienced, examined through a variety of epistemological approaches. The book thus sets the ball rolling for further advancement of knowledge production around menstrual experiences in all their diversity.

Note: This post gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Image credit: PINGO’s Forum on Flickr.

The Gilded Cage: Technology, Development, and State Capitalism in China – review

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/03/2024 - 9:00pm in

In The Gilded Cage: Technology, Development, and State Capitalism in China, Ya-Wen Lei explores how China has reshaped its economy and society in recent decades, from the era of Chen Yun to the leadership of Xi Jinping. Lei’s meticulous analysis illuminates how China’s blend of marketisation and authoritarianism has engendered a unique techno-developmental capitalism, writes George Hong Jiang.

The Gilded Cage: Technology, Development, and State Capitalism in China. Ya-Wen Lei. Princeton University Press. 2023.

Twenty years ago, people inside and outside China were wondering whether the country would eventually capitulate to dominant capitalist and democratic models. American politicians such as Bill Clinton were enthusiastically looking forward to the future integration of China into globalisation. When this happened, millions of ordinary people would get rich and become the middle class through fast-growing international trade and domestic labour-intensive industries. However, this judgment quickly proved ill-made. China has simultaneously emulated the US in high-tech industries but also become an unparalleled authoritarian state which polices its citizens through intellectual technology and high-tech instruments. How has it achieved this, and what are the effects of this? Lei tries to untangle these questions in her book, The Gilded Cage: Technology, Development, and State Capitalism in China.

The author was inspired by the “birdcage economy” of Chen Yun when choosing the title of the book.[…] Statist control is the cage, and private economies, like captive birds, are only allowed to fly within the cage.

The author was inspired by the “birdcage economy” of Chen Yun when choosing the title of the book (5). Building the planned economy in the early 1950s and supporting economic reforms in the 1980s, Chen Yun was one of the most important architects of economic systems in communist China. While he was a proponent of giving more space to private economies, Chen Yun staunchly believed in the efficacy of governmental regulations. Statist control is the cage, and private economies, like captive birds, are only allowed to fly within the cage. Chen Yun was particularly cautious about liberalist reforms, such as deregulation of finance and fiscal decentralisation, and distinctly opposed to privatisation. After he died in 1995, Deng Xiaoping and his disciples, including Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, carried out deregulation bravely until the late 2000s. But the ideal of Chen Yun’s “birdcage economy” is never abandoned by communists who fear losing control over the society.

The 2008 financial crisis started China’s big turn of macroeconomic policies. In order to stimulate the deflated economy, the government reacted fast and invested enormous capital into a few key strategic industries, including bio-manufacturing industry and aircraft and electronic manufacturing. Ling & Naughton (2016) believe that this action signalled the watershed of China’s economic orientation. The government’s budget poured into these industries, and bureaucratic units responsible for supervision and regulation turned to interventionist policies. The trend was further strengthened after Xi Jinping, who believes that the combination of the free market economy and Leninist political principles is the best blueprint for China, ascended to the presidency in 2012.

New leadership since the 2010s wants to emulate western high-end development rather than provide low-end, cheap and labour-intensive products for the West.

The ambition to develop high-tech industries runs in tandem with the unique political system of China. Economic growth has helped sustain political legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since the 1980s. Since socialism was smeared by the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and its disastrous economic consequences, economic growth has been identified as the most important source of political legitimacy. Economic performance has become the indicator of bureaucratic promotion, which has fused China’s politics and economies together. This political organisational mechanism makes it easier for leaders to push through any desired change and it is on this that China’s turn to techno-development (Chapter Three) is precisely based. New leadership since the 2010s wants to emulate western high-end development rather than provide low-end, cheap and labour-intensive products for the West.

Still, a key question must be answered: why are Chinese bureaucrats who care primarily about social stability and political monopoly willing to replace human labour with robots, which tends to reduce employment in the short run? In Chapter Five, the author traces the process of robotisation in firms which previously rely on cheap labour, including Foxconn. While the benefits of robotisation might be obvious to entrepreneurs aspiring to reduce costs by any means, potential instability could cause trouble for communist bureaucrats. The answer lies in the possibility that technological upgrades will lead to an enlarging economy capable of digesting more workers than it kicks out. However, it results in a dilemma: if the growth rate slows down, the appetite for mechanisation and robotisation could stir social tensions.

Seeing the chance to surpass the West in the development of high-tech industries, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is more than willing to strengthen control over public spheres and civil society and increase investment in the sector to achieve this.

Seeing the chance to surpass the West in the development of high-tech industries, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is more than willing to strengthen control over public spheres and civil society and increase investment in the sector to achieve this. As the author puts it, “the Chinese state is an unwavering believer in intellectual technology and instrumental power and employs both to enhance governance and the economy” (9). It is highly possible that with the help of an authoritarian regime and its will to develop technological capability, the dismal future that Max Weber once predicted – ie, the “iron cage of bureaucracy” in which depersonalised and ossified instrumental rationality will dominate every sphere in the society – will come sooner in China than in the West.

Economic growth is mainly driven by high-tech industries that private and state-owned capital foster, both of which must be under the control of the government, with the unified aim of rejuvenating the Chinese nation.

Karl Marx argued that productive power, including technological conditions, determines relations of production. This idea is being justified in China. A mix between marketised economies and authoritarian rule, which is penetrated by high-tech instruments, facilitate the rise of techno-developmental capitalism, as the author proposes in Chapter Nine. On the one hand, large tech companies in China have hatched one of the biggest markets in the world. On the other hand, tech professionals’ increasing demand for institutional (if not political) reforms (Chapter Eight) renders bureaucrats gradually more concerned about their social influence. For instance, Jack Ma, the boss of Alibaba, attacked the state-owned financial system and instantly got punished by the authority. China is developing a new variant of capitalism: economic growth is mainly driven by high-tech industries that private and state-owned capital foster, both of which must be under the control of the government, with the unified aim of rejuvenating the Chinese nation.

Techno-developmental capitalism is not the result of contingency, but path-dependent outcome, the direct result of China’s polities.

The author includes an excellent range of relevant materials into the book, spanning academic literature and personal interviews with private entrepreneurs and IT practitioners. Lei also bravely applies the term “instrumental rationality” in relation to China’s socioeconomic reality. In so doing she identifies the Janus-faced nature of China’s technological development, whereby the society enjoys higher productivity but becomes more rigid and occluded due to the omnipotent techno-bureaucracy. Nonetheless, the book could have been improved if Lei could take China’s political-economic structure into account when explaining the motivation to develop high-tech industries. While Lei focuses on the era after the 2000s, the rise of techno-developmental capitalism is deeply rooted in the persistent logic of the CCP since the late 1970s. In other words, techno-developmental capitalism is not the result of contingency, but a path-dependent outcome, the direct result of China’s polity. In spite of this lack of fully examined historical dimensions, Lei presents a good guidebook for China’s holistic development, not just within the last two decades but also in the decades to come.

Note: This post gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Image credit: B.Zhou on Shutterstock.

Industrial Policy in Turkey: Rise, Retreat and Return – review

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 18/03/2024 - 11:03pm in

In Industrial Policy in Turkey: Rise, Retreat and ReturnMina Toksoz, Mustafa Kutlay and William Hale analyse Turkey’s industrial policy over the past century, highlighting the interplay of global paradigms, macroeconomic stability and domestic institutional contexts. The book offers a timely analyses of industrial policy’s past and possible future trajectories, though it stops short of interrogating exactly how cultural, social, political and economic factors shape state-business relations and bureaucracy, writes M Kerem Coban.

Industrial Policy in Turkey: Rise, Retreat and Return. Edinburgh University Press. 2023. 

Industrial Policy in Turkey book coverIs industrial policy back? The Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS and Science Act, or the 2016 UK industrial policy are only two contemporary examples. These policies seek to address value chain bottlenecks, as well as the question of how to “take back control” in manufacturing and key sectors, along with concerns about gaining or sustaining economic edge and autonomy

In this context, the Turkish experience is illustrative for making sense of the trajectory of industrial policy in a major developing country. Mina Toksoz, Mustafa Kutlay and William Hale examine the evolution of industrial policy in Turkey. They present an accessible, detailed account of the trajectory and evolution of the policy since the establishment of the Republic, which argues that we had better study “the conditions under which state intervention works, rather than whether the state should intervene in the economy” (26, emphasis in original).

[The authors] suggest that effective industrial policy is the outcome of the interaction between global development policy paradigms, macroeconomic (in)stability, and the domestic institutional context.

The book is divided into five chapters. Chapter One discusses the political economy of industrial policy and sets out an analytical framework. The authors assert that analyses should go beyond dichotomies (eg, horizontal vs. vertical policies; export-led vs. import-substituting industrialisation) and that a broader understanding requires identifying the factors and conditions of effective industrial policy. They suggest that effective industrial policy is the outcome of the interaction between global development policy paradigms, macroeconomic (in)stability, and the domestic institutional context. Global development policy paradigms evolved from étatism of the 1930s, import-substituting industrialisation in the 1960s and the 1970s, neoliberalism of the 1980s, and the return of industrial policy after the 2008 Financial Crisis. Macroeconomic (in)stability drives (un)certainty regarding economic policies and instruments and the trajectory of economy, which, in turn, regulates investment decisions. Finally, the domestic institutional context concerns how state-society, or state-business, relations are structured, whether the state capacity is sufficient to resolve conflicts, discipline and coordinate actor behaviour, and whether bureaucracy has capabilities to formulate and implement policies. Figure 1 seeks to summarise the main argument of the book.

Industrial Policy in Turkey Figure 1Figure 1: Flow chart summarising the book’s main argument. Source: M Kerem Coban.

Chapter Two focuses on the longue durée between 1923 and 1980. From the ashes of incessant wars that ruined the already unsophisticated infrastructure and demographic challenge, the new Republic had to build a new nation. Yet the rise of the state interventionist era in the 1930s drove policymakers towards the first industrialisation plan and the opening of many industrial sites across the country. When the Democrat Party assumed power, the interventionist, planning-based industrial policy was scrutinised for liberalisation that even included state-owned enterprises to be released to set up their own prices (73).

At the same time, business was encouraged to invest. For example, the fruits of these included Otosan or BOSSA (75). Between 1960 and 1980, the authors underline the second planning period with the establishment of the State Planning Organisation (SPO). SPO boosted bureaucratic and planning capacity and capabilities for disciplined, systematic industrial policy during the era of import-substitution.

Between 1980 and 2000 […] Turkey shifted to export-led growth and liberalised trade and financial flows. These shifts had profound implications for bureaucracy

The third chapter examines demoted industrial policy between 1980 and 2000 when Turkey shifted to export-led growth and liberalised trade and financial flows. These shifts had profound implications for bureaucracy: SPO was sidelined, parallel bureaucratic networks of Ozal were implanted with the opening of new offices or agencies. Consequently, the role of state became less coherent, as political uncertainty driven by unstable coalitions eroded the market-shaping role of the state. The financial sector did not help industrial policy, since banks were dominantly financing chronic budget deficits during a period of high inflation (111). What is more, business, including Islamic conservative SMEs in Anatolia, reduced or ignored investments in manufacturing given the clientelist state-business relations that incentivised construction, real-estate development (115), emphasis in original). Finally, the external conditions were not disciplinary: accession to the Customs Union with the European Union and the World Trade Organization ruled out export support and import restricting measures, among other trade regulatory instruments.

The fourth chapter claims that industrial policy retreated between 2001 and 2009. The first years of this period was marked by political instability and a local systemic banking crisis and its resolution, and Justice and Development Party (AKP in Turkish) assumed power. During this period, industrial policy was dominated by institutionalisation of the regulatory state and  the privatisation of state-owned enterprises, the establishment of autonomous regulatory agencies and are structured banking sector. While the regulatory capacity of the state increased, privatisation and the regulation of the market were highly politicised. For example, “a major cycle of gas privatisation saw ‘politically connected persons’ winning fifteen out of nineteen metropolitan centres and serving 76 percent of the population” (161). In such a politically compromised setting, which was accompanied by the institutionalisation of the capital inflow-dependent credit-led growth model that prioritised “rent-thick” sectors, industrial policy could not flourish.

While the regulatory capacity of the state increased, privatisation and the regulation of the market were highly politicised.

The fifth chapter locates the policy within the global ideational and political economic context that marks the return of industrial policy in various forms. In line with policy documents such as the 11th Development Plan, horizontal measures, private and public R&D spending on high-tech initiatives, electric vehicle manufacturing attempt, and most notably the advancements in defence sector have constituted the revival of industrial policy. At the same time, the authors point to several challenges such as eroded academic research and quality and a lack of investment in ICT skills. Additionally, R&D subsidies or other industrial policy measures require thorough performance criteria and measurement to discipline actor behaviour and regulate the incentive structures.

Industrial Policy in Turkey is a timely contribution to the current debate. Its historical account and analysis of current policies, instruments, and the potential trajectory of industrial policy are its main strengths. Still, there are several caveats. First, the book’s framework is not systematic, which causes some confusion. For example, the book does not demonstrate a convincing link between the role and impact of autonomous agencies on industrial policy. Second, the book leaves the reader with more questions than answers, one of which relates to the effect of bureaucratic fragmentation in shaping industrial policy. Another is around the implications of state-business for bureaucracy, and consequently, industrial policy.

The book leaves the reader with more questions than answers, one of which relates to the effect of bureaucratic fragmentation in shaping industrial policy.

Third, the trajectory of industrial policy cannot be considered independently from the shifts in growth models. Yet the fact these shifts occur because the country depends on hard currency earnings for capital accumulation and to finance consumption and investments: Turkey either relies on capital flows or export earnings, in addition to tourism and (un)recorded (illicit) flows. Pendulums between these channels imply that the country cannot design and implement disciplined, systematic industrial policy. Put differently, there are macroeconomic and financial structural impediments against generating hard currency earnings. Industrial policy is one of the remedies, however, the macroeconomic and structural transformative consequences of the latest episode of emphasis on industrial policy and the export-driven growth experiment in Turkey are yet to be seen.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the book tends to relegate a core problem of coordination, long-term policy design and implementation to “governance issues”. Deeper cultural, social, political and economic factors determine the clientelist state-business relations and their effect on bureaucracy and bureaucratic autonomy. Such deeper ties have been masked by instrumentalised “democratisation reforms” or higher economic growth rates in the previous years. In this context, is the more critical problem the purposefully immobilised or challenged infrastructural power to coordinate societal actors? If that is true, then should we make interdisciplinary attempts to identify this problem’s core determinants?

Note: This interview gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Image credit: Chongsiri Chaitongngam on Shutterstock.

People's Landscapes: Living in Landscapes

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 23/07/2019 - 7:01pm in

A roundtable discussion explore landscape as a space for living, considering the pressures on land from population growth and discussing questions of preservation vs. development. People's Landscapes: Beyond the Green and Pleasant Land is a lecture series convened by the University of Oxford's National Trust Partnership, which brings together experts and commentators from a range of institutions, professions and academic disciplines to explore people's engagement with and impact upon land and landscape in the past, present and future. The National Trust cares for 248,000 hectares of open space across England, Wales and Northern Ireland; landscapes which hold the voices and heritage of millions of people and track the dramatic social changes that occurred across our nations' past. In the year when Manchester remembers the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo massacre, the National Trust's 2019 People’s Landscapes programme is drawing out the stories of the places where people joined to challenge the social order and where they demonstrated the power of a group of people standing together in a shared place. Throughout this year the National Trust is asking people to look again, to see beyond the green and pleasant land, and to find the radical histories that lie, often hidden, beneath their feet. At the third event in the series, Living in Landscapes, panellists explore landscape as a space for living, considering the pressures on land from population growth, discussing questions of preservation vs. development, and asking: who should decide how we live in landscape?

Speakers: Alice Purkiss | National Trust Partnership Lead | University of Oxford (Welcome)

Lucy Footer| National Public Programme Producer| National Trust (Introduction)

Dr Ingrid Samuel| Historic Environment Director | National Trust (Chair)

Crispin Truman | Chief Executive | Campaign to Protect Rural England

Dave Lomax | Senior Associate | Waugh Thistleton Architects

Professor Caitlin Desilvey | Associate Professor of Cultural Geography | University of Exeter

Dr David Howard | Associate Professor in Sustainable Urban Development | University of Oxford

For more information about the People’s Landscapes Lecture Series and the National Trust Partnership at the University of Oxford please visit: www.torch.ox.ac.uk/national-trust-partnership

The Great Global Governmental-Philanthrocapitalist-Corporate Development Project

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 16/03/2016 - 10:49am in

Tags 

Blog, Development

Who cares what celebrities think?

On 1st December 2015, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan announced the intention to set up the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a limited liability company financed by infusions of shares from Facebook. A signatory of the ‘giving pledge’ (founded by Warren Buffet and Bill Gates) which encourages the super-wealthy to donate at least half of their wealth within their lifetime, Zuckerberg’s initiative represents another media-intense event in the rise of ‘philanthrocapitalism’. Philanthrocapitalism encompasses a set of overlaps, between super-wealthy individuals, political agents within global development organisations, some academics and scientists (but by no means a majority), and those celebrities who have committed themselves to some poverty- or welfare-related cause.

A prominent response to announcements like Zuckerberg’s or the media-prominent statements of Bill Gates or Bono is to debate the merits of their motives. Is he doing this for publicity reasons? Is this a way of avoiding tax? Or, conversely: isn’t Mark Zuckerberg nice? Good for him; we need more like him. This debate is rather limited and distracting because it falls into the trap that so much public discussion about celebrity does: an obsessional focus on the personalities of the celebrity.

In 2013, when teaching African Politics, I asked students for their response to the legal and ethical controversy surrounding Madonna’s attempts to adopt a Malawian child. I was expecting some thoughts or questions about the dubious legalities of her actions, the symbolism (even written into her name!) of the White Saviour that the public act provoked, or perhaps something about whether the act of ‘saving’ an individual has any relevance to Malawi’s pervasive poverty. Instead, students spontaneously started discussing the content of Madonna’s soul: ‘she means well…’; ‘she’s been doing this kind of thing for years so she must be serious’; ‘I hope she succeeds’ and so on.

This is what the phenomenon of celebrity is based in. A kind of emotional sovereignty in which the feelings of these individuals seem to have far broader social and political meaning. In some cases – most notably Bono – celebrity seems to entitle individuals to strive to ‘feel’ on the part of mass publics, to represent them emotionally. You might notice how effusive Bono always is about his feelings, even when doing so in ways that seem ostensibly modest or self-deprecating. He sometimes seems almost in pain in his efforts to broadcast his sentiments not only as heart-felt but also as a way to make great swathes of public opinion empathise. Once one is discussing the personality or the celebrity it does not matter if you wish to claim that they are being vainglorious or virtuous; you have already conceded the ground to the celebrity episteme: how can we judge the feelings of these people and thus make sense of a moral or political issue?

In this spirit, I want to say: forget you, Zuckerberg; I am not interested in you ‘as a person’ in the slightest. There is only one very obvious point to draw from the altruism of those on the spectrum of Bono, Madonna, Zuckerberg, Branson, Gates, Buffet and others: that they possess such massive amounts of wealth that they have it in their hands to influence the world in ways that now outweigh the agency of many states and even intergovernmental organisations. They vastly outweigh the collectivities and projects of labouring classes, civil society and social movements: those sources of democratic and progressive politics. In light of this, rather than concerning oneself with the moral motivations of philanthrocapitalists, we should rather address something more obvious and important: the broader structures of power that they create and the ways in which it influences how we understand mass poverty and development.

The corporate developmental Weltanschauung

The Foundations and Limited Liability Companies, wealthy donors, advisory groups of ‘experts’, and celebrity endorsers have constructed a global social project of philanthrocapitalism and they command a considerable amount of resource. The Gates Foundation has an annual spend in excess of that of the World Health Organisation. By virtue of their celebrity benefactors, they also have considerable influence over politicians, institutions, and broader publics. This influence is exercised through social events (private and public), connections to major international development campaigns, lobbying, and close connections to individual politicians. Philanthrocapitalism is also closely connected to a bundle of transnational corporations that have created ‘development projects’, given (small) amounts of money to ‘socially responsible’ activities and (less highly publicised on their glossy webpages) received public money from development budgets. Structurally, philanthrocapitalism looks as oligarchic and Putinesque as any Russian oil and property dynasty, or the military-industrial complex of the Cold War.

This oligarchy shares a broad vision of the meaning of development which can be summarised as follows.

  • Development is about the release of economic activities within free markets which promotes both growth and a reduction in poverty.
  • This process can be galvanised by ‘smart’ and ‘incentivised’ grant giving by privately-supported and managed foundations and companies. These organisations – contrasted with a supposed ‘bureaucratic’ intergovernmental institutionalism within the UN – use ‘business models’ to generate ‘value for money’ and ‘impact’.
  • Private business has the key – and up to recently neglected – role in promoting this kind of development.

Taken together, this development framing is a radical departure from previous development practices. It contrasts strongly with what one might call the liberal intergovernmentalism development practice which emerged in the mid 1950s under the auspices of the United Nations and World Bank, coming to be supported by a raft of governments and development agencies. It reformulates development as best promoted by private foundations and businesses. It is garbed in an ideology that profit and ‘good’ development are mutually-supportive: ‘frictionless development’ in Bill Gates’s phrase. It also argues that change is best achieved through the dynamism of entrepreneurialism, and that the technologies and expertise of large transnational corporations are the key to ‘unleashing’ development. To be clear: this is not simply the oft-repeated argument that a country needs to attract foreign private investment in order to grow. It is rather that foreign companies and private foundations should run the development project itself.

Good examples of this shift can be found in East and Southern Africa agriculture. Under initiatives like AGRA and the related Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor (SAGC) in Tanzania, one can easily identify heavy corporate involvement in what is increasingly rather misleadingly labelled as ‘development aid’ and ‘development projects’, both of which tend to suggest ‘official’ or governmental projects and programmes.

The UK government’s development agency, DFID, supports the SAGC by providing co-financing projects run by Unilever, Diageo, SAB Miller, Monsanto, Syngenta, Du Pont, and Yara. These are large international companies involved in chemical inputs into agriculture and brewing (the latter being a major demand for grass crops). They exercise immense power in global ‘chains’ of commodity production through their scale, control of retail, branding, and control of high value technologies.

The vision of SAGC is to transform agriculture into large-scale commercial farms to supply inputs into global industries, and to re-make smallholder farmers into contracted producers of specifically-selected cash crops. In the process, these smallholders become more strongly locked into the purchase of chemical inputs, proprietorial seeds (rather than seeds from their own crops) and fertilisers (which might be designed to ‘fit’ with the seeds). Genetic modification is the perfect instantiation of the commodification of agriculture: replacing a seed crop on-farm with an ‘intellectual property right’ encapsulated in a seed. Within the AGRA programme the Gates Foundation is supporting efforts to disseminate genetically modified seeds through the African Agricultural Technology Foundation. Private money goes into a rolling show of workshops and events to proselytise the model of entrepreneurial farmer investing in new seeds. This ideological work is based on the belief that, in the words of the Director of Communications at DSM (an health and nutrition chemical company), ‘we care about people, planet, and profit. We believe we possess the capacity to help others solve the world’s greatest issues.’ This world vision is now entirely accepted throughout elite development circles, as one could see in all of the announcements that emanated from the UK government hosted and revealingly titled Nutrition for Growth: Beating Hunger through Business and Science in 2013.

One can easily find a raft of messianic statements about the potential of philanthropcapitalism, a queasy mixture of aspirational business-speak and ersatz hippie-discourse. This is a discourse of dreams, hope, new tomorrows, an end to poverty forever. It is the discourse of a TED talk soundbite. In one sense these statements are easily critiqued or satirised; in another, they are the building blocks for a dominating corporate development strategy. In an age of relentless and vacuous irony, perhaps the strongest ideologies are those most easily laughed at.

Neoliberalism and the dynamics of indirect and direct rule

Neoliberalism is a term based in a critique of governance that highlights how public authorities have based their policies and programmes on the promotion of liberal capitalism. The sense of the concept is that governments and other intergovernmental organisations increasingly try to conform to market logic and the promotion of transnational capitalism. That a shift of this nature has taken place over the last thirty years or so is now so obvious as to be unremarkable and politicians happily declare that this is what the ‘business’ of government is about: more market in the economy and within government.

But, there is a potential shift in the governance of development implied in the philanthrocapitalist model. Private foundations and companies promote transnational companies as the key agent in global development, and they directly fund projects devised and managed by those companies. So do major Western donor states. Those international companies that declare that they have a developmental mission have become increasing habituated to intervening in the livelihoods of the poor. These are the practices of corporate social responsibility and partnership between companies, aid donors, and foundations. Private foundations, companies and governments also put money into nationally-based advocates of the corporate development model: think tanks, research centres, universities.

The trend is away from the indirect rule of neoliberalism in which governments allocate aid and loans to promote market-friendly macroeconomic policy and programmes, and towards a set of practices within which private companies are directly involved in development. Governments are still responsible for the promotion of capitalist development, but it is increasingly the case that transnational capitalists are also directly responsible for capitalist development. There is in the present-day a combination of indirect (policy-based) and direct (‘philanthropic’ investment-based) neoliberal rule.

What’s the problem?

The Great Global Governmental-Philanthrocapitalist-Corporate Development Project exists and is growing. And, it is not modest. Celebrity donors, politicians, and spokespeople from the development industry – notably some economists who have become public intellectuals – all offer praise for the new model. They do so because the article of faith that underpins this venture capitalism to transform the poor is that development is win-win. It is not people before profits but people and profits. Corporations get into new markets, development agencies get financial leverage and ‘value for money’, and the poor get new opportunities to improve their livelihoods. To use the hackneyed cliché: doing good by doing well.

To entrust the fates of the world’s poorest to the world’s wealthiest seems – to put it mildly – naïve: like trusting the welfare of lambs to eagles. Here are some reasons why the win-win logic needs to be questioned.

  • In agriculture, corporately-owned technologies and production contracts where smallholders commit to supply crops to transnational agricultural traders introduce substantial risk and market exposure to farmers. The evidence that GM seeds improve productivity and livelihoods is weak. The model of agrarian transition that ‘solving malnutrition through business and science’ relies upon is as generalised and abstract as the most vulgar state-based villagisation or modernisation programme.
  • Corporations remain motivated by profit seeking and as such will aim to generate as much cheap produce or advantageous contracts for services provided as possible. Within the ‘partnership’ logic that pervades the philanthrocapitalist approach, there is little space for governments of poor countries to push companies beyond voluntary ‘social responsibility’ commitments which are weakly monitored and not connected to a strong process of accountability. Also, in spite of the pizzazz about risk taking and dynamism, large corporations are risk-averse, often commit very small proportions of revenue, and have no intrinsic commitment to a project because they are accountable to no-one but their shareholders, credit-rating agencies, and boards of directors.
  • The development model itself assumes that properly-integrated small-scale livelihoods can thrive and promote development. This ignores the plain fact that small-scale livelihoods are structurally vulnerable and unlikely to generate the kinds of economic growth that transform economies. The kinds of processes that create the possibility (but no more) of transformational development have historically been based in state intervention and the rise of new ‘national capitalists’. Both of these possibilities are anathema to the philanthrocapitalist project. They want their happy and globally-disciplined mini-entrepreneurs in the countryside buying their chemical ‘property right’ inputs and growing their cash crops for corporately-dominated commodity chains. The result is that poor communities are locked into a life of contracted production, microfinanced small-scale investments, and social projects that aim for healthy and appropriately skilled workers.
  • The Great Global Governmental-Philanthrocapitalist-Corporate Development Project is only accountable to whom it wishes, in the ways it wishes, and for as long as it wishes. It is entirely based in a kind of naïve and fatalistic trust that foundations and companies have the ‘vision’ to re-energise the global development project. Unlike governments or intergovernmental organisations, there is no public deliberation about development practice, not external auditing or review of the institutions of development, and no clearly-defined constituency that can clearly endorse or reject its activities. If profit margins fall, share prices dive-bomb, or property bubbles burst, philanthrocapitalists and companies can simply change their minds.

As this development model expands, the practice of development becomes indistinguishable from the strategising of large international companies who have some interest in agriculture, health, and nutrition. This is the meaning of neoliberal direct rule. To call this a new development model is not only to define away issues of redistribution, social justice, and economic transformation; it is also to assume that many of the woes created by indirect neoliberalism are best resolved by encouraging a more direct version of the same.

Woodside’s Collective Impact in Action

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 11/02/2015 - 8:19am in

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