Co-organised by the Critical Global Politics Cluster and the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in the Arts and Languages (CIDRAL).
Professor V. Spike Peterson took part in an ‘in conversation’ event with Dr Aoileann Ní Mhurchú that eschewed the traditional lecture format, instead creating a more informal and relaxed atmosphere that encouraged a dialogue between Professor Peterson and the audience. Organised around three key themes, the conversation explored Professor Peterson’s journey into academia, the state of the academy upon her arrival, and how her work has developed over time.
Professor Peterson discussed coming of age in the 1960s in the United States, and a growing awareness of political issues and social inequalities. Referencing the Kent State shootings in 1970, systemic racism and civil rights struggles, and protests against nuclear weapons and US involvement in Vietnam, Professor Peterson described her own political awakening and increasing activism.
Enjoying the Drive
Professor Peterson spent most of the 1970s learning about the world through personal experience: travelling as an overland backpacker, stopping when necessary to work, noting cross-cultural differences, stark inequalities and a tremendous vibrancy of people and cultures. In addition to travels in Asia and Europe, she spent five years journeying around Africa, sometimes by sharing a car but often hitch hiking on her own. For Professor Peterson, these experiences encouraged thinking about how power operates to construct ‘difference’ and how crossing borders–territorially, culturally and intellectually–is often difficult but inherently interesting and always instructive. She noted that these insights continually inform her research, which seeks to understand how inequalities and their harms are historically constructed, become normalized, and might productively be transformed.
Living Out Loud/Paying Back
On her return to the United States, Professor Peterson entered the International Relations (IR) doctoral programme at American University in Washington, DC. She expressed an enduring frustration with the mainstream of the discipline, and chose to focus on epistemological debates in social theory, especially critiques of science and ‘power’ that feminist and postcolonial scholars were generating. Feminist attempts to historicize inequalities and, in particular, to offer a genealogy of patriarchal relations, informed Professor Peterson’s doctoral research and provided the inspiration for her thesis.
Despite IR’s focus on the state, Professor Peterson identified a problematic lack of research into early archaic states. Disregard of this turning point, which featured large-scale sedentary populations and hierarchical divisions of labour, authority and entitlement, was argued by Professor Peterson to problematically ‘miss’ the significance of early political centralization (state formation) for the invention of writing and—through the regulation of marriage, property and membership claims–the institutionalization and normalization of patriarchal, resource-based and insider vs. outsider inequalities. Professor Peterson’s feminist genealogy of early state making not only proved to be an enduring research interest but also drew attention to the under-acknowledged power of writing: in particular, to codify ‘for the first time’ (and through an exclusively elite male lens) social categories and ideological legitimations that continue to inform western philosophy and political theory. As part of continuing research, Professor Peterson emphasised the importance and necessity of critical, cross-disciplinary and intersectional theorizing.
Professor Peterson also discussed her recent work featuring ‘intimacy’—in the broadest possible sense—as productive for exploring intellectual and political questions. Professor Peterson explained how her engagement with IR is fundamentally about trying to shift Disciplinary IR from its positivist, masculinist and imperialist tendencies, and insisting on more historical, critical and complex analyses of power. This includes taking ‘the personal’ seriously: that race, gender, sexuality, etc., are constitutive of international politics. Feminist, queer, and postcolonial works have cleared space for this argument in recent decades (particularly the re-emergence of critiques of imperialism in light of current events). Professor Peterson discussed how ‘the intimate’ may enable productive conceptualizations and inquiries less constrained by conventional IR dichotomies, especially those that categorically divide public from private, political from personal, and reason from emotion.
Finally, Professor Peterson ended by reflecting on ‘what we can do’ to challenge systems of inequality, given that we are both enabled and constrained by our specific circumstances. She urged us to recognise those constraints, while also advocating that we take responsibility for the choices we make, and ask ourselves – how does this affect the world we live in?
‘Intimate Geopolitics’, a two day workshop organised by Aoileann Ní Mhurchú and Elena Barabantseva, brought together researchers from a wide array of disciplines to explore the links between ‘the intimate’ and ‘geopolitics’. Comprising three panels and a roundtable, the workshop also hosted Visiting Leverhulme Professor V. Spike Peterson as the keynote speaker.
Professor V. Spike Peterson – Intimacy, Geopolitics, and the State
Professor Spike Peterson spoke on the topic of ‘The Love of Marriage’, examining how marriage has worked to shape racial politics and global inequalities. Focusing mainly on the practice of marriage within North Western contexts, Professor Peterson argued that marriage matters for international politics, and that state power has operated through the love and affection many people feel for marriage as a social practice and legal institution. Beginning with an analysis of European ‘evolution of man’ narratives, Professor Peterson explored the ways in which heterosexual, monogamous coupling has been presented as natural and necessary for human evolution and social order. With the development of early archaic states, processes of political centralization formally codified ‘marriage’ as a patriarchal, heterosexual institution effectively ‘constituting’ sex as an asymmetric binary of male-female bodies and gendered divisions. The regulation of sexual relations and the creation of heteropatriarchal households facilitated centralized state control, as well as promoting group allegiance and establishing (inheritable) claims to property and citizenship. The development of writing was central to this process, allowing these categories, practices and rules to become ‘normalized’ by institutional sedimentation.
During the rise of the modern state and European production of racialized nationalism, explicitly ‘white,’ monogamous, Christian marriage arrangements were encouraged or imposed in colonial territories, and sexual and familial relationships that did not conform to the Western ideal of marriage were seen as inferior, improper, and uncivilised. Marriage therefore also helped to ideologically legitimise colonial power and European society, helping to foster racial ideologies and North/South inequalities. Professor Peterson also examined the growth of ideological narratives of marriage in the West as being a ‘love match’, arguing that this disturbs traditional understandings of marriage which were very much a family affair. European disdain for ‘arranged’ marriages thus not only ignores the history of marriage in the West, but also works to stigmatize marriage practices and familial arrangements in other countries and cultures.
Professor Peterson ended by reflecting on the way marriage matters in the current ‘migration crises’, arguing that inequalities between nation today are so stark that one’s citizenship is the single best predictor of an individual’s life prospects. Birthright citizenship (born on the soil or of a citizen parent) entails marriage arrangements, so that the institution of marriage matters for determining one’s citizenship, one’s life prospects, and whether migration (to improve prospects) is available as a strategy.
Panel One: (Queering) Geopolitics, the state, and the everyday
Jon Binnie’s presentation ‘Theorising the Space between Intimate and Queer Geopolitics’ explored how the concept of ‘intimacy’ could function as a hinge, bringing together feminist and queer geographies and thus providing us as a space in which we can question the kinds of intimacy we feel comfortable talking about. Drawing on Claire Hemmings’ work, Binnie explored the notion of intimacy as a metaphor for sex, arguing that in the creation of the label of ‘the intimate’ we enable discussion around certain intimacies whilst continuing to render others invisible.
Joe Painter’s work ‘Imagining the Inside-Out State’ considered how the state and state institutions are imagined forms, produced by socio-technical practices that tend to rely upon an inside/outside, interior/exterior distinction. Painter suggested an alternate way to imagine the state is in the form of a Klein bottle, allowing us to see how the institutions we commonly consider to be neatly contained within the state are in fact deeply intertwined in that which we consider to be exterior to the state. He argued that paying attention to the heterogeneity of the state not only draws attention to the fragility of the state as an institution, but also to how the intimate and everyday processes are entangled in state geographies.
Elena Barabantseva’s ‘(Infra)structures of Marriage Migration: Navigating the Material/Emotional Nexus of Governing the Intimate in China’ examined the Chinese state’s regulation and monitoring of familial and intimate relations. Situating her research at the border between China and Russia, Barabantseva focused on the Chinese state narratives of Russian women marrying Chinese men, drawing attention to the material and emotional forces which shape international migration and socio-political processes. This not only brought to light the extent to which history is entangled in the present (with a long tradition of mythologizing Chinese-Russian marriages) but also the prominence of racially informed discourses and anxieties about the ‘lack’ of Chinese women in the contemporary Chinese state.
Panel Two: Language, Home and Securing Community
Reiko Shindo’s research into ‘Community as a Place of Homely Bliss?: Speech, Languages, and Community’ explored the real and intense emotional attachments people have to a Hobbesian notion of states (as a place of protection and safety), and how this affective way of ‘reaching’ towards the state entails difficult contradictions for people to navigate. Utilising works of fiction, Shindo explored how the interaction between different languages within states positions community as a place of conflict and struggle, rather than homely bliss. For the subjects in Shindo’s research, language gave migrants both a tool for entry into a community, whilst also representing an ambiguous desire for deviance. ‘Foreignness’ thus can be seen as something that cannot be fully translated, and works to draw attention to the possibility of irreconcilable differences within a community and how these are experienced.
Anne-Marie Fortier’s presentation ‘On (Not) Speaking like a State: Broken English and the Intimacies of Policy’ questioned practices of speaking/hearing like a state. Drawing from fieldwork on citizenisation policies in Britain (i.e. requirements – language and other – expected of immigrants seeking permanent resident status or citizenship), Fortier considered the linguistic intimacies of those who are unable to, or refuse to, speak and hear like states. The use of broken English by migrants points to a potential Other ownership of the English language, and the often violent denial of linguistic ownership is also a denial of citizenship. Hearing like a state highlights how individuals are conscripted into the securitization of the nation, sometimes reluctantly (in the case of, for example, civil servants conducting English language proficiency exams), and sometimes enthusiastically (such as those who choose to attack foreign language speakers).
Thomas Tyerman’s work, entitled ‘Everyday Segregation and ‘Humanitarian’ Eviction: the Intimate Violence of the Calais Border’ examined the ways in which humanitarian language was integral to the state segregation and eviction of migrants. As well as a traditional security response to the Calais Jungle which revolves around the erection of ‘hard’ borders, a ‘humanitarian’ response has also emerged. This humanitarian response implies a particular politics of sight, which positions some humans as ‘forgotten’. Tyerman argued this problem of sight was not about not seeing and forgetting the humanity of refugees, but rather a more basic problem of not caring about the refugee Other’s humanity, a problem exacerbated by an apolitical deployment of ‘compassion’. Humanitarianism thus came to be linked to an idea of ‘firmness’, becoming mutually complementary to deterrence and the maintenance of border security.
Panel Three: Bodies, Borders and Messy Ontologies
Aoileann Ní Mhurchú’s presentation ‘Inhabiting the Border and Alien space: Exploring the Global Intimate across Citizenship and Migration’ explored how intimacy allows us to see the rhythms that resonate across familiar binaries in international politics – exclusion/inclusion, rootedness/flow, etc. Drawing on fieldwork conducted with a multicultural women’s network in the North of England, Ní Mhurchú argued that migrant women’s lives foreground the connections between formal processes of migration and informal ones, suggesting a dual logic of both/and as well as neither/nor. In particular, the marriages of migrant women which often open new, desirable subject positions whilst simultaneously operating at a loss to others suggests a new understanding or borders as something that are inhabited, rather than cleanly moved across.
Joe Turner’s work ‘Domesticating ‘Unruly Households’: The (re)emergence of the (Un)developable subject in the UK’s Troubled Families Programme’ argued that not only is social policy in the UK gendered and classed, but also highly racialised and sexualised. Turner situated the TFP in a wider history of colonial governance, seeing it as part of a broader context of British attempts to domesticate ‘unruly’ households into the heteronormative international order. Families which do not conform to white, Western, heterosexual arrangements are thus opened up for intervention, with racialised and sexualised fears about ‘chaotic’ lifestyles being reproduced in the bodies of children. The persistence of colonial anxieties in the social work policy point to the ways in which imperial logics of control are at work in the British state’s regulation of intimacy.
Megan Daigle’s research, entitled ‘“This is how we travel”: The Geopolitics of Sex in a Closed System’ explores how pleasure is bound up in questions of power. Drawing upon relationships between Cuban local and foreign tourists to foreground the relationships between romance, love, sex, the intimate and the international, Daigle’s work asked what it means to connect across a border that is profoundly ideological. Here, bodies become a space not only where state repression is exercised (particularly in misogynistic and racialised ways), but also as providing various means of crossing/transgressing borders through sexual and romantic relationships with foreigners.
Michelle Obeid’s ‘‘In the shadow of ISIS’: Critical Subjectivities at a Disrupted Border-Space in Lebanon’ examined the fluctuating spatiality of borders, as well as politics and subjectivities. Focusing upon border relations in the town of Arsal, a border-town in northeastern Lebanon, Obeid argued that the consequences of a huge population influx from Syria and the increasing militarisation of the border can be productively thought through in terms of ‘entrapment’ and ‘moving backwards in time’, where subjects feared a profound transformation of the self in the light of (or, ‘in the shadow of’) Da’esh incursions.
Led by Will Schroeder and Rachel Pain, the roundtable brought together key themes from the workshop. Will Schroeder led a consideration of intimacy as knowledge creation, as a method, and as an embrace of ideas. Here intimacy not only prompts us to think of concepts such as cadence, violence, affect, entrapment, etc. but also asks us to think about the extent to which we as researchers offer our participants a chance to become intimate with us. Intimacy was discussed as a mutually transformative process, although the question of its transformative potential was also challenged by a new set of concerns. Rachel Pain, most notably, asked on whose work we deploy when attempting to think through the intimate, drawing attention to the whiteness and maleness of key theorists and highlighting the lack of indigenous, black, and postcolonial theorists. She also pointed to the importance of thinking about violence within intimacy, referencing her own work on intimate war (domestic violence). Intimacy was also considered as working to obscure certain voices as much as it drew in others, forcing us to consider how we can be intimate with voices we do not want to hear (and the extent to which we are all already complicit in this).
‘Privilege: The Secret Weapon of Right-Handed Scissors’ – V. Spike Peterson, 28.10.2016
As part of the Pankhurst lecture series, which aims to honour and continue Manchester’s radical political history, the University of Manchester was delighted to host Visiting Leverhulme Professor V. Spike Peterson on the subject of privilege.
What is privilege?
While most of the world are right-handed people, approximately 10% are left-handed. For left-handed people, the world is often physically more complex to navigate. School desks are built for right-handed people. The numeric keypad on computer keyboards is on the right hand side. Even ballpoint pens work better for right-handed people. And if you’re right-handed, you are rarely confronted with difficulties that left-handed people face. In fact, you probably aren’t even aware of them.
As Professor Peterson showed at the very beginning of the lecture, privilege need not be a difficult concept to understand. Professor Peterson began with a simple story. On a visit to her sister’s house to complete a craft project for a family birthday, Professor Peterson picked up a pair of her sister’s scissors. They were crafted to fit comfortably into her sister’s dominant hand – the left one. In Professor Peterson’s right hand, they twisted uncomfortably. Straight lines were impossible. Feelings of frustration followed quickly – why didn’t she have any normal scissors in the house?
Professor Peterson used this story to illustrate the ways in which those of us with privilege rarely have to think about the difficulties faced by those who are oppressed. Right-handed scissors (defined as the norm, and left-handed scissors as the exception) illustrate not only the ways in which our own privileges are often invisible to us, but how quickly we can become angry when forced to confront them.
So what is privilege in the first place? Professor Peterson defined privilege as unearned advantages that are socially conferred on individuals associated with a particular social category (e.g., class, gender, race). You cannot opt out of these privileges: they are bestowed upon privileged groups by social systems, which in turn tend to be produced by our everyday actions (no matter how unconscious or unwilling this may be). Privilege is marked by four key features: the dominance of privileged groups in leadership positions; a tendency to be obsessed with control; their interests and issues are centred in culture, media and arts; and others are expected to identify with the privileged group (for example, the assumption that everyone is heterosexual).
Professor Peterson then addressed some of the common misconceptions that continually come up in conversations about privilege, namely;
Importantly, Professor Peterson drew attention to the fact that we are encouraged to be blind to privilege by the people who stand to benefit from them. Systems of privilege are also supported by individualistic ideologies which blame the person for their problems, rather than structural barriers which disadvantage them; and by practices of comparing upwards (eg. ‘I can’t be privileged – because he’s richer than me!’), rather than noticing how much harder conditions are for those ‘below’ us.
How do systems of privilege operate?
Professor Peterson used Allan Johnson’s work on paths of least resistance to argue that power operates through the path of least resistance (eg. what you’re supposed to do in order to simply ‘go along’ and feel you belong). Often, all that is required for us to uphold systems of oppression is to acquiesce to what is normal – to follow expectations, even when laughing at a racist joke actually perpetuates racism. In this way, we all participate in systems of oppression, often without even realising it. While we can’t choose to live outside of social systems, we can choose how we interact with them. As such, we need to learn to recognise privilege when we see it, in order to begin to resist it.
What can I do?
Professor Peterson highlighted four simple ways in which we can begin to interrogate and dismantle these systems of privilege and oppression.
See also ‘Power, Privilege, and Difference’, by Allan G. Johnson. McGraw-Hill Education, 2005.
The Critical Global Politics (CGP) Cluster in conjunction with the Global Political Economy (GPE) Cluster were delighted to host ‘Getting Intimate to Rethink International Relations’, a workshop organised around Visiting Leverhulme Professor V. Spike Peterson’s pioneering work on intimacy. Comprising two panels and a roundtable, at this workshop six presenters spoke on how particular pieces of Professor Peterson’s work had influenced, challenged and provoked their own research and/or thinking as to how we understand International Politics [a full list of the works engaged with in this event is available at the end of this post].
What does the intimate mean?
Following a series of provocative panel discussions, several key themes emerged: firstly, concerning the nature of the intimate itself. Anyone familiar with International Politics as a discipline will understand the tendency for buzzwords to emerge, become popularised, and then discarded. An almost exhausting series of ‘turns’ within the discipline has left us with a plethora of analytical fads once fetishized, believed to be identifying a minute and new phenomena, that have now fallen out of fashion and been discarded. Is the intimate doomed to become another buzzword? In trying to answer this question, the difficulty of defining ‘the intimate’ (and indeed, the politics of seeking such a definition) came to light.
Discussions focused on the ways in which the intimate allows us to subvert the dichotomy between the personal and the political. By focusing on the intimate, we are able to avoid some of the oppositions we often come across in theorizing. Unlike the local, the intimate is not set against the global; and it does not stand in dichotomy to the political as the personal so often does. Using the intimate as an analytical tool does not mean these oppositions are never invoked; but it was suggested that the intimate, by not immediately conjuring up them up, gives us some breathing and thinking space to consider the ways in which the international is infused with the intimate.
The difficulty of then defining the intimate came to light, as did the desirability of doing so. The intimate was highlighted as a useful way to ameliorate the danger of slipping into a neoliberal focus on the individual subject and ignoring structural and collective issues. As a potential reframing of ‘the personal is political’, there were however concerns that a focus on the intimate may run the risk of depoliticizing the personal. In response to this, the intimate arose not as a focus and fetishisation of the individual, but rather as a way to examine the relationships between people and things. Rather than a set field of study, the intimate was suggested to perform a more deconstructive manoeuvre, interrupting oppositional understandings of IR and pushing us to examine the ways in which people call each other, and things, into existence. Indeed, the fluid and contextual nature of the intimate, while making strict definition difficult, was precisely what allowed such challenging and disruptive enquiry.
Affect and affective things
Focusing on the intimate as relationships broadened the scope of political enquiry, as things as well as people began to become visible. Borders, 4x4s, documents, stories, families and debt all emerged as items in relation with the theorist and others. Not only did the intimate make things visible in these complex webs of relation, but it also drew attention to the affective power of things, and their ability to act and interact with us. Panel discussions highlighted how these affective relationships with things inevitably complicate the political picture, making visible a variety of power dynamics that we cannot otherwise see. For example, Dr McLeod discussed how inhabiting the same institutional space as the writers of the annual Secretary-General Report on Women, Peace and Security indicators during field research in New York provoked difficult questions as to how to judge the annual reports, once the complex relationships multiple actors had to the document were brought to light. Professor McGinty’s attention to the interior space of the 4×4 brought to light a simultaneous formalization and informalization of war economies, making visible the gendered logics structuring peacekeeping spaces as well as the flexible and innovative resistance from rebel forces in re-appropriating vehicles. Dr Roberts explored the question of affective economies of debt, and reflected upon the question of how financial institutions and actors have mobilized affect in order to create an intimate tie between individuals and their debt. This brought the intimate work that constitutes the social aspect of financial relationships into view.
Finally, paying attention to the intimate brought questions about complicity to the fore. As a mode of relation, the intimate reaches across numerous divides to push us to ask how we are all implicated not only in each other, but in sustaining and enabling patterns of violence. For example, Thomas Tyerman’s research linked intimacy with borders to take an understanding of borders as a practice that is performed by someone, at someone – but also rely on a history of racial and colonial violence, which we are all implicated in. Dr Barabantseva’s work similarly showed how something as intimate as the family can be destabilizing or supportive to state governance, exploring how the changing structure of the ‘legitimate’ Chinese family works to reproduce and sustain (inter)national configurations of power. This focus on how everyday relationships are complicit in larger power structures was also present in Dr Masters’ presentation, which explored the power of stories to be intimate and personal while simultaneously telling a tale about geopolitics. Our stories are our own, and they are not our own – they are highly individual narratives which, at the same time, are the stories of many people. Conceptualizing the intimate as a type of relation therefore not only disrupts certain normalised ways of doing and thinking, but pushes us to consider our own place in both the rupture and suture of these relationships and consider the (international) power dynamics we both support and threaten in our everyday lives and most innocuous actions.
Professor V Spike Peterson’s work that was featured in panel discussions:
‘Gendering Insecurities, Informalization and ‘War Economies’ (2016), in W. Harcourt (ed.), Palgrave Handbook on Gender and Development: Critical Engagements in Feminist Theory and Practice. Hampshire (UK): Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 441-462.
‘Towards queering the globally intimate’ (2016), Political Geography [online], DOI: 10.1016/j.polgeo.2016.01.001
‘Family Matters: How Queering the Intimate Queers the International’ (2014), International Studies Review, 16 (4), pp. 604-608.
‘Rewriting (Global) Political Economy as Reproductive, Productive and Virtual (Foucauldian) Economies’ (2002), International Feminist Journal of Politics, 4 (1), pp. 1-30.
‘Rereading Public and Private: The Dichotomy that is Not One’ (2000), SAIS Review, 20 (2), pp. 11-29.
The Critical Global Politics Cluster is delighted to be hosting Professor V. Spike Peterson at the University of Manchester as a Leverhulme Visiting Professor, between the 1st of July and the 22nd of December 2016.
Professor Peterson’s pioneering work on intimacy and Queer International Relations marks a significant contribution to the cluster’s Intimate Geopolitics project, a developing research network which explores geopolitical security and governance in relation to the intimacy and subjectivity of the everyday. Professor Peterson will give several lectures, seminars and workshops during her time at The University of Manchester, providing a focal point for research into the globally intimate. Further details of these academic and public and events can be found under the new Intimate Geopolitics section of the website, including registration details and further information on Professor Peterson’s work and the Leverhulme Professorship.
By Susannah O’Sullivan
On Friday 24th June Britain saw a close to months of toxic campaigning on both sides of the referendum campaign as a majority of voters sanctioned an exit from the European Union. In many ways this vote is seen as historical and as changing the landscape of politics in Britain, and in Europe, beyond recognition. We saw the Prime Minister resign at breakfast time, and before lunch were taking in the prospect of a dismembered United Kingdom without Scotland and perhaps even Northern Ireland, and there are very real concerns about the prospects of the Northern Ireland peace process after Brexit. Images filed under ‘doom’ not seen since the economic crash in 2007-8 were trotted out across the media: traders looking despondent, and graphs showing prices, shares, the value of the pound rocketing downwards. The knives were out in the Labour Party as some saw the prospect of both the Tory Party and the British state falling apart as a good opportunity to claim a scalp of their own kin by calling for a vote of no confidence in Corbyn.
On the face of it, then, there are many reasons to be anxious about the future outside of the EU. The main legacy of the referendum campaign seems to be the atmosphere of malignant toxicity that has descended like a cloud over the country. The campaign has seen fear pitted against hate, as the two sides squabbled over how best to limit immigration and how much the pound or house prices would lose value in the event of a British exit. In many ways politics as usual, then, but with the volume turned up. The saddest thing for me is how much this politics of hate and fear clearly resonates with much of the British population. The campaign to leave the EU has tapped into levels of anger and frustration felt across the land that have clearly exceeded expectations of a complacent, liberal, metropolitan establishment. The country is divided beyond belief between an educated, liberal middle class in the diverse cities of Bristol, Manchester and London, and an unskilled, under-educated and under-paid majority in a country where social mobility has stalled, the post-industrial economy has failed many, and neoliberal flexibility has, predictably, favoured business over labour.
Faced with these socio-economic divisions, how is it possible to rally around a huge intergovernmental institution that pedals the same neoliberal solutions that have left so many people in Britain behind? Any campaign in this climate that even hints of the negative impact of immigration is bound to gain popular support. The Leave campaign’s empty slogans of ‘taking back control’, echoing Trump’s ‘make America great again’ succeed in filling a void left by the evacuation of meaningful, visionary politics, and so are easily latched onto by many. If we’re surprised by the vote to leave the EU, it shows how out of touch we are with the grim popular mood in our country.
It matters that the hateful and xenophobic tone of the campaign resonated with so many British people. It doesn’t matter so much, however, that Britain will leave the EU, and here’s why. There is a lot to be learned from the realisation that so many people in Britain are seething in anger at the neoliberal establishment. That widespread feeling of rejection from a globalised neoliberalism symbolises a yearning for something different, something more equal, and something more positive. Why are people so pissed off? Because there aren’t enough good quality jobs in deprived areas, because inequality is rising, because businesses keep wages low and regulations light, because the supply of public services is under threat, because the welfare state is under threat, because the competitiveness of the economy means nothing to ordinary people who just want to work. These are all good reasons to be angry. That anger can be channelled into demands for a different society, one with better public services and better conditions for workers.
These things aren’t just given out by the establishment, however, they have to be fought for and won. They aren’t necessarily guaranteed by the EU, and they aren’t always protected by it. And they don’t necessarily have a link with immigration. Here’s the hard part of the struggle, though, in rhetorical terms. Is there a link between levels of immigration, funding to public services, and wages? To be honest, I don’t know. No-one really knows, because the economy is so complicated that no-one really understands it even if they pretend to. This University of Oxford Migration Observatory report on the fiscal impact of migration stated that “the existing estimates of the fiscal impact of immigration in the UK are limited because of a lack of data and accurate information about a wide range of important factors.” These factors include migrants’ characteristics, impact on the labour market, and length of stay. There is too much uncertainty in these factors to measure impact with any certainty. The report also points out that different research institutions come up with different estimates of the impact of migration – the Institute for Public Policy Research varies between a slight negative and slight positive impact. Migration Watch, which campaigns against immigration, shows a negative impact. The LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance states that “there is still no evidence of an overall negative impact of immigration on jobs, wages, housing or the crowding out of public services. Any negative impacts on wages of less skilled groups are small.”
The only thing that matters is that there is a link in people’s minds, if not in reality. The message that public services and jobs are under threat because of immigration is easy to convey and understand. The message that maybe immigration has a negative impact, maybe it has a positive impact, but it depends on many factors and varies year to year, isn’t. Uncertainty doesn’t go down too well in politics even if it is the most accurate reflection of a complicated truth.
So what else is there to be positive about? Well, since we can’t be clear about unknown unknowns, then let’s focus on what we do know. There is a clear atmosphere of anger in the UK that has centred in a material sense on competition in public services and the job market that can be harnessed and channelled into a campaign against neoliberalism and against austerity. That anger can be transformed into a vision of a kinder, gentler economy that protects workers’ rights, and guarantees proper funding for public services, including affordable housing, and including a fully free and public NHS. As pointed out in this blog last year, and by myself elsewhere, what people in Britain need is a politics of hope, to show what can be achieved if we come together and strive for it.
The silver lining in the sea of gloom that seems to have engulfed us in the past days and weeks is that this alternative vision is possible, and people are already fighting for it. Unions are fighting austerity in secondary, further and higher education and there is a huge campaign to save the NHS from the government onslaught. The message that money ‘sent to Brussels’ could now be used to fund the NHS has been revealed as a vicious lie, and the prospect of further privatisation is celebrated by some in the Out camp. Which leads me to why leaving the EU doesn’t matter. What matters are austerity, and jobs, and worker protections, and public services. What matter is affordable housing and fighting property developers cashing in on gentrification. What matters is solidarity with refugees and the continuing challenge to racism or xenophobia in public debate and in our streets. To protect the things we care about from continuing neoliberalism we have to stand up and struggle for them, EU or no EU. If the referendum showed anything it was that we need to come together and try and understand each other across social, national and class divides, now more than ever.
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by Susannah O’Sullivan
Who most deserves our help today Mr. Cameron? Perhaps it is the migrants knocking at our door in Calais, desperate for a break after a long and arduous trip across Europe. No, they can have more police dogs. In Cameron’s eyes the problem there this summer was a confluence of events that led to many seizing the opportunity to escape squalid camps and cross into the UK, not the existence of destitute people a stone’s throw away from our country. They’ve been there for years (see Reinisch 2015), but Cameron and the political class continue to turn a blind eye until they try and enter the UK ‘illegally’, in the process disrupting, horror upon horror, British holidaymakers. Clearly those camped at Calais are not those we are trying to help with our bombs.
Perhaps these bombs are for the Syrian refugees who we have seen making the terrible journey into Europe, fleeing the bloody Scylla and Charybdis of Assad and IS, and running the gauntlet of traffickers, police brutality, internment camps and racism in a Europe that cares so much we wield our fences with pride. Except that history shows that aerial bombing tend to create more refugees, fleeing now our violence as well as their violence (see Whitman 2012 on Kosovo). According to the UNHCR there are now over 7 million internally displaced people within Syria, and over 4 million refugees from the conflict in total, mainly in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. That is many millions of people who are already in desperate need, for whom it is probably too late to be helped by our bombs, if this is the intention. As a highly developed country perhaps we should extend greater assistance, refuge and hospitality to these victims of the conflict. Cameron’s plan to increase our refugee intake specifically from Syria to 20,000 over the next five years only looks like a generous change in policy because the previous resettlement programme offered by the UK government was so woefully, pitifully inadequate. The numbers accepted from Syria to date barely made it over 200 (on top of usual asylum intake). To remind you, that is from a total of over 4 million. The headline figure of 20,000 does represent an increase in our hospitality from a low base. However, to put that in context, Lebanon is currently hosting over 1 million refugees from neighbouring Syria, or about a quarter of their total population. 20,000 over five years barely makes a dent in this figure. It would appear that Mr Cameron and his bombs are not so concerned about refugees from the Syrian conflict.
Who are these bombs really for then? For the victims of the Paris terror attacks on 13th November? Perhaps their memory will be served best by contributing our bombs, so loving and yet ruthless and so precise to only kill IS terrorists and not ordinary people already living under IS occupation. A rejoinder to Islamic State and a reminder that recalcitrant terrorist groups will be bombed into submission by mighty Europe, confident of our values, our justice and our righteousness. So confident are we that it will avenge their memory that we will bomb all others who violently disagree, until they change their minds.
What evidence is there that bombing makes us safer from terrorism? History would indicate that aerial bombardment of terrorist or militant groups rarely leads to a victory. More than 20 years after the Taliban emerged from mujahedeen groups (who themselves emerged in resistance to foreign occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviets in the 1980s), parts of Afghanistan remain under threat of Taliban attacks. Successive bombing, occupation, imprisonment and counter-insurgency have not appeared to help. If the Taliban does recede into the memories of a long and terrible conflict there, newer and even more brutal enemies appear to be taking hold. Long since headline news, Afghanistan now appears far enough way to not constitute a threat to European security, and our interest will fizzle out in the slow death of hopes for a democratic future. Like in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq showed us that intervention and occupation tend to solve some problems while at the same time bringing new more intractable difficulties that resemble our darkest nightmares. The occupation failed to eradicate Al-Qaida in Iraq. Although Al-Qaida were not in Iraq when the war started. Anyway, they certainly were by the time it came to an official end in 2010. Who even cares? In the intervention game, memories are exceedingly short. Never mind, at least Saddam Hussein and Colonel Gaddafi are gone… Move on to the latest enemy.
What comes next then, Mr. Cameron? Where will our bombing lead us in Syria? Time and again history has shown that no light will emerge from the destruction of characters that we create as unique evil. Our post-Cold War adventures have been full of bogeymen, representing the newest incantation of the devil personified. African warlords and crackpot dictators have been felled by the mighty in a crude pantomime of interventionary justice, but the problem is that if you insist on seeing the world in such dichotomous terms, there will always be a new evil to replace the last. This way of thinking has led us further into deals with lesser devils in the quest to destroy the true bad men. This time a shaky relationship of convenience with President Bashar al Assad, butcher of Damascus the younger, will apparently destroy the enemy du jour, Islamic State.
The question of who we are helping and how has not been addressed by Mr Cameron. Even if we do help the situation on the ground evolve in a favourable way, then what next? What will happen afterwards with the implicit alliances we enter into when we commit violence to an ongoing conflict? What will Syria look like without an Islamic State and what will be our role in contributing to a peaceful resolution?
Who is Mr Cameron helping then, with these bombs over Syria? Like all humanitarian action, or in this case a commitment of crude violence from a distance in the guise of a humanitarian action, this is about ourselves. As Gregory (2006: 5) notes, the imaginative geographies of intervention work not only “by categorizing enemies in particular ways and legitimizing military actions against ‘them’– but also to produce the public itself: ‘us’.” These bombs are about you, Mr Cameron, and they’re about me, and about us. In the construction of national identity, and the performance of heroic humanitarianism, we’re all implicated. We’re used as a rhetorical device in which all manner of counter-terrorism actions are justified with reference to national security, and, by implication, the preservation of our lives. This bombing of Syria is no different – we bomb them and we save ourselves in the process. At the same time as helping some vague others, as long as they stay far, far away from our borders and don’t even think about getting to Europe.
Gregory (2006: 1) quotes Gertrude Bell on the inhumanity of aerial bombing: “It’s an amazingly relentless and terrible thing, war from the air.” This was in reference to the UK’s bombing of Iraq in the 1924. Ninety-nine years later and we’re still bombing Iraq in an intervention that slipped through Parliament last summer to little fanfare. And what has it achieved, our century of intervention in the Middle East? How many deaths from the air before we accept that our bombs aren’t the caring silver bullets they are spoken as? As Abboud points out this week, the intervention debate is a self-reinforcing distraction that makes us feel like we’re doing something while all the time reading off the same tired script we’ve relied on for a century. He argues that “there is such an obsession with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL] and an irrational fear of Syrian refugees in the West that encourages us to ignore the very real suffering of Syrians who have to live while spectacular and exceptional violence surrounds them.” In amongst the bluster about Labour party discipline, hand-wringing over the threat brought by Syrian refugees and agonising about the seeming inevitability of making a pact with Russia and Assad, the views, voices and interests of Syrians continue to be ignored. If our leaders insist on coopting our identity through perilous and expensive violence then its time to reject their false resolve and embrace an outspoken and self-critical pacifism.
Gregory, D. (2006) ‘”In another timezone, the bombs fall unsafely…” Targets, civilians and late modern war’, The Arab World Geographer, 9(2): 88-111.
Reinisch, J. (2015) ‘”Forever Temporary”: Migrants in Calais, Then and Now’, The Political Quarterly, 86(4): 515-522.
Susannah O’Sullivan is a Lecturer in International Relations at The University of Chester
I attended a conference over the weekend in which Cynthia Enloe gave an excellent account of the purpose and uses of concepts in critical theory. Enloe contends that when people identify patterns within seemingly random and singular behaviours and practices, the invention of concepts can help us name and understand the politics underlying such phenomena. Concepts, in this respect, help us to render visible the norms and practices that link seemingly disparate incidents and events together. In turn, making these norms and practices visible presents the opportunity to challenge them. In other words, we are no longer challenging singular issues, but the broader politics that makes these singular events possible and often acceptable.
Okay, how many academics have attended an International Relations (IR) conference to be confronted by the following scene? In a panel’s question and answer session an academic (usually white and male) uses the pretence of asking a question to demonstrate their vast intellect by chiding, patronising and belittling one or more of the presenters and their work. Yes? You’ve witnessed this? Well I have too, and so has every single one of my peers and colleagues I have broached the topic with. So we have this widespread phenomenon that most IR scholars are aware of, but we haven’t really given it a name or made any concentrated effort to make it visible and challenge it.
Today I would like to suggest that we name this phenomenon Acadicking. I say Acadicking because whenever a scholar engages in such behaviour I feel as if they have dropped their trousers, taken out their penis, waved it around and show everyone just how big and strong it is and, of course, to emasculate the smaller less confident penises on the panel and in the room at large. Now obviously we are not talking about physical penises, but intellectual phalluses. So naturally female academics can partake in Acadicking (it is, however, far rarer). In turn, Acadicks generally see their role as scholars in masculine terms: academia is about competition, it’s always a battle of ideas (not an exchange) that necessitates demolishing the opponent and their ideas, and anyone who feels uncomfortable with this simply isn’t cut out for IR’s cutthroat world. As one of my friends was not so subtly advised during their PhD, ‘man-up’ or you won’t last as an IR scholar.
Confession time, for a brief time in my younger and more vulnerable years I skirted far too close to Acadicking. There are good reasons for this. Acadicks are generally seen as successful scholars of a certain standing and notoriety. They often rise to the upper echelons of their institutions, publish widely and are flush with accolades. IR as a discipline, in other words, rewards Acadickish behaviour and attitudes. So for young scholars looking to be noticed and make a name for themselves, Acadicking appears to be a promising pathway. In this sense, although Acadicks represent a minority of the IR community, their visibility in public spaces like conferences creates the perception that Acadicking is normal and an excellent tool for forging a successful career in IR.
This leads us toward the second aspect of Enloe’s schema, how do we challenge Acadicking? One of the primary difficulties in challenging Acadicking is that protagonists believe that they are the ones doing academic debate properly. Because what we are discussing revolves around ideals of what constitutes legitimate debate, any challenge to Acadicking can lead to claims of trying to police IR and narrow its scope. As such, challenging Acadicking requires posing a direct question to Acadicks. Namely, what do you think this form of debate adds to our discipline? In my eyes critical debate necessitates interest. I engage with your work because it interests me. I may not agree with what you are saying, but I am interested in hearing how you respond to the issues I raise. You, in turn, are hopefully interested in the implications of my criticisms and our exchange of knowledge is productive for both of us; we both come out of the exchange enriched. I do not see this in Acadicking. Acadicks are interested in the initial argument only in so far as it gives them a springboard to speak. They are far more interested in the demonstration of their own superior intellect, and in validating their own pre-given position. This, of course, is highly problematic for critical theory because it acts as a reification of the idea that academic work is concerned with delivering the right answers. In other words, Acadicking is intimately related to the ideals of traditional problem solving theory in IR; I belittle you to illustrate your wrongness and, thereby, reify my rightness.
While my preferred mode of challenge would be to hand paddles to every participant and audience member with the words ‘Stop Acadicking’ embossed upon them, this is probably a pie in the sky fantasy. Instead, I would suggest the more modest method of responding to Acadicking with the question of, ‘why do you think this is a productive way to exchange in debate?’ ‘What benefits do you see emerging from this combative approach?’ Obviously it is difficult to challenge more subtle forms of Acadicking, for instance, the classic way in which certain academics speak to their peers and contemporaries as if they were offering advice to a naïve undergraduate student who didn’t quite understand how to do the whole IR thing. But this questioning begins to openly confront Acadicks with their own behaviour. To question the purpose and value of this form of scholarship, and ultimately to tease out the overarching implications of this for how such behaviour and practices has and continues to shape IR as a discipline.
On the 20th May, 2pm-3.30pm (Samuel Alexander A116), we are delighted to be hosting a seminar with Adi Kuntsman who will be talking about her new book entitled Digital Militarism – Israel’s Occupation in the Social Media Age (co-authored with Rebecca L. Stein):
Israel’s occupation has been transformed in the social media age. Over the last decade, military rule in the Palestinian territories grew more bloody and entrenched. In the same period, Israelis became some of the world’s most active social media users. In Israel today, violent politics are interwoven with global networking practices, protocols, and aesthetics. Israeli soldiers carry smartphones into the field of military operations, sharing mobile uploads in real-time. Official Israeli military spokesmen announce wars on Twitter. And civilians encounter state violence first on their newsfeeds and mobile screens.
Across the globe, the ordinary tools of social networking have become indispensable instruments of warfare and violent conflict. This book traces the rise of Israeli digital militarism in this global context—both the reach of social media into Israeli military theaters and the occupation’s impact on everyday Israeli social media culture. Today, social media functions as a crucial theater in which the Israeli military occupation is supported and sustained.
Adi Kuntsman is Lecturer in Information and Communications at Manchester Metropolitan University, and author of Figurations of Violence and Belonging: Queerness, Migranthood and Nationalism in Cyberspace and Beyond (2009).