The Centrality of the Margins: Brokering Borders and Borderlands in the age of Trump and Brexit

US/Mexico (San Diego/Tijuana) Border, 2007. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

This blog post is written by Dr Sharri Plonski (SOAS) and Dr Patrick Meehan (SOAS).

Borders are never far from the news these days, with a relentless media focus on Donald Trump’s new America and Theresa May’s ‘Hard Brexit’. Trump’s Mexico Wall epitomises this border neurosis and symbolises a wider trend towards protectionism that seeks to thwart the flow of people (into the country) and of capital, jobs and control over industries (out of the country). The UK’s Brexit campaign was animated by similar anxieties; nostalgia for a “Great(er) Britain” and a desire to regain control over the flow of people and trade across its borders.

In both cases, one can discern a paradoxical harking back to a time of ‘empire’: a time when the sovereignty of Western nation-states was anchored in the imagined distance and separateness of the Oriental East and Global South. The frontiers to be conquered and exploited were contained at the edges of space, while the borders of (white) colonial and imperial nations were kept safe and secure from encroachment by colonised (brown and black) peoples.

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Why Global Efforts to Address Climate Change Through Forest Conservation are Failing

Photo credit: UNFCCC

This blog post is written by Adeniyi Asiyanbi, Senior Teaching Fellow in the Development Studies Department at SOAS. He researches the intersection of environment and development.

Beneath the euphoria of recent progress in international climate change negotiations in Paris and Marrakech lies the reality that schemes to curb carbon emissions through forest conservation are failing. From the Brazilian Amazon rainforests to the Congo Basin forests, these schemes have not addressed climate change, stemmed deforestation, or improved the livelihoods of forest communities.

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation plus sustainable forest management (or REDD+) is a major global initiative to address climate change. Touted as a means to ‘cheaply’ reduce carbon emissions and drive green growth for both developed countries and developing countries alike, REDD+ aims to reduce global carbon emissions by transferring cash incentives (through grants, credits, and ultimately through the sale of carbon offsets) from developed to developing countries in order to help reduce deforestation in the latter.  Global expectations of the scheme are high. The coordinator of the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility declared: it is hoped that REDD+ will “transform rural landscapes, conserve forests, make a difference in climate change trajectories and, most importantly, bring prosperity to the rural poor”. Continue reading

Book Review of Jason Moore’s Capitalism in the Web of Life by Henry Bernstein

Cover image of Jason Moore's book Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital

Henry Bernstein is Emeritus Professor of Development Studies in the Department of Development Studies at SOAS and Adjunct Professor in the College of Humanities and Development, China Agricultural University, Beijing (e-mail: hb4@soas.ac.uk). 

This post is part of the Journal of Agrarian Change blog, hosted on the Development Studies at SOAS blog. It is a summary of the talk given by the author as part of the Agrarian Change Seminar Series.

Capitalism in the Web of Life. Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital, by Jason W. Moore. London and New York: Verso, 2015. Pp.316 + xi. £19.99 (pb). ISBN 978-1-78168-902-8

This book has been keenly awaited by those who have followed Jason Moore’s sequence of extraordinary articles over the last 15 years or so, some of which have appeared in the Journal of Agrarian Change.

Moore’s book is not an easy read. This is not because it is not clearly written, which it is (though a few passages still elude me), but because of the massive challenges the author has set himself, and therefore his readers. While a follower of his work over the years, it has taken me some time to separate and outline the five main ingredients of the book, and in a fashion that inevitably omits much of interest and provocation. It seemed to be a good use of my effort in assembling (and trying to connect) those main ingredients to share them with others as a kind of guide to engaging with this book which is evidently one step, albeit a very big one, in what is a continuing (monumental) work in progress. It leaves me with many issues and questions which will continue to stimulate and exercise me, several of which I indicate briefly here. Continue reading

The Global Crisis and the Disintegration of Neoliberalism

Donald Trump supporter at a rally in Phoenix, Arizona, June 2016. Courtesy Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

Donald Trump supporter at a rally in Phoenix, Arizona, June 2016. Courtesy Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

Alfredo Saad Filho is Professor of Political Economy at the SOAS Department of Development Studies. His research interests include the political economy of neoliberalism, industrial policy, alternative macroeconomic policies, and the labour theory of value and its applications.

The certainties that used to hold neoliberalism together are melting into the air: the common sense of the age has degenerated into clichés. Tried and tested policies such as privatisation, marketisation and trade liberalisation have lost traction, and established political systems are haemorrhaging legitimacy. Even the steadiest political hands have lost their grip on the levers of power, which, themselves, lack effectiveness. The economic turmoil in global neoliberalism is morphing into a wholesale political crisis: the beast is sick, and it might be fatal.

A dysfunctional economic system

Neoliberalism has created unprecedentedly favourable conditions for capital accumulation worldwide since the early 1980s. The ensuing growth process supported a steep concentration of power, income and wealth, in which unparalleled prosperity for certain groups (often identified as financial or other elites or oligarchs, the top 1%, or the top 0.01%) coexist with severe poverty and exclusion.

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What Does Trump Mean for Sub-Saharan Africa?

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Michael Jennings is a Head of Department and Senior Lecturer in the SOAS Department of Development Studies. His research interests include the politics and history of development processes in sub-Saharan Africa; governance, civil society, non-governmental organisations and faith-based organisations; and social aspects of health in Africa.

On the scale of some of the things that emerged from the mouth of now US president-elect Donald Trump on the campaign scale, allegedly calling the Kenyan athletics team ‘frauds’*, and mispronouncing Tanzania, hardly counts as anything serious at all. We have few clues as to what Trump thinks of the region, and how he intends his administration to engage with its countries and leaders. But are there any indications, even at this stage, of what a Trump presidency might mean for sub-Saharan Africa and development?

It was probably inevitable that Africa would feature less prominently no matter who replaced Obama. Although Hillary Clinton, through her role as Secretary of State, and the work of the Clinton Foundation in Africa, certainly has closer ties and a more detailed understanding of the region.

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India’s Land Question

Cybercity IT Park in Pune, India. Photo: Wikipedia

Cybercity IT Park in Pune, India. Photo: Wikipedia

Michael Levien is an Assistant Professor at the Johns Hopkins University. His research focuses on India and seeks to advance a nascent sociology of dispossession. He teaches on international development, agrarian change, dispossession, and social theory.

This post is part of the Journal of Agrarian Change blog, hosted on the Development Studies at SOAS blog. It is a summary of the talk given by the author as part of the Agrarian Change Seminar Series, October 19, 2016.

While the Indian state dispossessed millions of farmers for dams and public sector infrastructure during the period of state-led development (c. 1947 to 1991), land dispossession has become unprecedentedly contentious during India’s neoliberal period. These new farmer protests, unlike the smaller number of anti-dam movements of the 1980s, have actually stopped major investments, made “land grabs” an electorally salient issue, and forced changes to India’s eminent domain law. At the centre of these protests have been privately developed Special Economic Zones (SEZs), for which India’s state governments began dispossessing rural land in the early 2000s. In this talk, based on my book-in-progress, I drew on nineteen months of ethnographic, archival and interview research focused on villages dispossessed for one of North India’s largest SEZs to address three major questions: what do SEZs tell us about how land dispossession has changed with the shift from state-led development to neoliberalism in India? What are the consequences of this change for dispossessed farmers? And what are the implications of this change for our understanding of India’s land wars? Continue reading

Systems in Flux: Constitution-making, Patronage and Post-war Politics in Nepal and Sri Lanka

Recent demonstrations in Jaffna by the Tamil People's Council.

Recent demonstrations in Jaffna by the Tamil People’s Council.

Jonathan Goodhand is Professor Conflict and Development Studies at the SOAS Department of Development Studies. His research focuses on the political economy of conflict, war to peace transitions and increasingly on the role of borderlands, with a particular focus on South and Central Asia.

Oliver Walton is a Lecturer in International Development at the University of Bath in the Department of Social and Policy Sciences. His research focuses on NGOs, civil society and peacebuilding, third party mediation and conflict prevention.

Sri Lanka and Nepal may have turned their backs on protracted and bloody conflicts, but the fault lines that fuelled these wars have not gone away. Instead they continually resurface and shape contentious politics in the two countries. The crucial challenge facing political elites now is that of constitutional reform. What is the basis of power sharing? To what extent should power and finance be decentralised? Where should new administrative boundaries be drawn?  How can minority rights be protected? And how can majority community buy-in be assured?

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Peace in Colombia – What is it good for?

Colombians march for the freedom of people kidnapped by the FARC and the ELN. Photo by Marco Suárez courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Colombians march for the freedom of people kidnapped by the FARC and the ELN. Photo by Marco Suárez courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Tobias Franz completed his PhD at SOAS on the political economy of local economic development and institutional change in Colombia and has taught in the SOAS Development Studies department. 

The joy of the international community and the mainstream press was overwhelming when, on August 24th, after 52 years (or 70, depending on the definition) of armed conflict the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) announced a final peace agreement. After four years of negotiation, and far-reaching deals on rural land reform, political representation for demobilised FARC members, illicit crop production, and victim recognition and reparation, the Colombian public will be asked to vote for or against the deal.

While a “Si” vote is the likely outcome of the referendum on October 2, implementation and enforcement of the agreements will be contested. Furthermore, as Colombia’s pro-landlord brand of neoliberal development has not been debated at the negotiation table in Havana, it remains questionable whether a negotiated peace deal will bring inclusive growth for the country’s rural poor.

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Who ‘Does’ Development?

A mother and child recover from malaria in a Government hospital in Burundi. Photo via Flickr courtesy: Maria Cierna, Slovak Republic/UNDP.

A mother and child recover from malaria in a Government hospital in Burundi. Photo via Flickr courtesy: Maria Cierna, Slovak Republic/UNDP.

Michael Jennings is a Head of Department and Senior Lecturer in the SOAS Department of Development Studies. His research interests include the politics and history of development processes in sub-Saharan Africa; governance, civil society, non-governmental organisations and faith-based organisations; and social aspects of health in Africa.

Where to start with the piece by new Minister for International Development, Priti Patel, in the Daily Mail? Her assertions that too often aid doesn’t get through to the people who need it most, whether because the EU has squandered it (Patel was a prominent Brexit campaigner) or because of corruption (evidence for the extent of which she was unable to provide for her appearance before a parliamentary committee)? Or claiming that the focus of UK aid is simultaneously the world’s poorest, to reduce the pressure for mass migration to Europe, and to ‘help build the UK’s trading partners of tomorrow’ (the latter two foci, critics might suggest, reflect the interests of the UK, not the world’s poorest)? Her priorities seem clear. In the accompanying interview, Patel makes it clear that the £12 billion aid budget needs to ‘deliver for our national interests’ (code for stopping immigration and linking development to national security).

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Notice – New Virtual Issue – ‘The Political Ecology of Agrarian Change’

S. C. Streams Black Diamond Mine, Pennsylvania, USA, 1946. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/NARA.

S. C. Streams Black Diamond Mine, Pennsylvania, USA, 1946. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/NARA.

This notice is part of the Journal of Agrarian Change blog, hosted on the Development Studies at SOAS blog. 

Journal of Agrarian Change, Virtual Issue, April 2016: The Political Ecology of Agrarian Change

Editor: Liam Campling

This virtual special issue collects work on the political ecology of agrarian change. Over the last 15 years, Journal of Agrarian Change has published dozens of articles on the ecology and environmental history of agrarian political economy. Notable among these is the 2010 special issue ‘Productive Forces in Capitalist Agriculture: Political Economy and Political Ecology’ (Vol.10, Issue 3), which is available for free online. Continue reading