Members and guests of the AAG’s Development Geographies Specialty Group (DGSG) will meet on Thursday, February 23, from 5PM until 8PM in midtown Manhattan for the 2012 DGSG Pre-Conference. Click here for the event poster. Drawing from their own research, 7 presenters will each deliver a 7-minute Policy Plea, followed by open discussion in plenary session. We are reaching out to local non-academic audiences and hope to attract a diverse crowd of scholars and practitioners. There is no conference fee and all are welcome; registered members of the Development Geographies Specialty Group will receive an on-site $10 discount toward their food bill. RSVP is requested by Monday, February 20. Please send a brief message with your name and affiliation to dgsgpreconference(at)gmail.com to confirm your attendance.
DW interview on QDDR: no blueprint for other countries
DW Deutsche Welle (the “German BBC”) recently interviewed me on the State Department’s First Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR). Professor James Davis at St. Gallen University, Switzerland and I were asked to comment on whether the mainstreaming of development policy into diplomacy is an approach that other countries should consider as well. What a neat opportunity to share my “concern about the QDDR as a blueprint [since] ‘we know from scores of failures in development policy in the past 30 years that blueprint approaches have never really worked. What have worked are localized approaches. […] Ultimately what distinguished [many] European countries in the global development arena, namely the independence of development policy from foreign policy, is going to be washed out.'” The critical point is that this would likely hamper aid effectiveness provided that the ultimate goal really is to alleviate suffering as opposed to championing particularistic policy agendas. Read the complete article here.
New OECD Report: “Do No Harm: International Support for Statebuilding”
Despite the best of intentions, donors can inadvertently undermine statebuilding processes. When the resources they deliver or the reforms they advocate weaken rather than strengthen the state’s decision- and policy-making functions, their efforts can do more harm than good. Donors can also do harm by creating a brain drain away from state organizations. When aid is delivered in a way that actually acts as a disincentive to states to consolidate their own revenue base, this can retard the development of the state’s own capacity.
How can donors ensure they do no harm? How can they be sure they intervene constructively in fragile situations? Co-authored by Professors James Putzel, Daniel Esser and a team at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Do No Harm is a new OECD report that provides practical guidance based on the results of research undertaken on behalf of the OECD DAC International Network on Conflict and Fragility (INCAF). It is based on comparative case studies of six countries (Afghanistan, Bolivia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nepal, Rwanda and Sierra Leone) and a comprehensive literature review. It addresses how the interventions of OECD countries may risk undermining positive statebuilding processes, and makes recommendations as to how this may be avoided in the future.
Politicophobia: How the UN Fails Afghanistan
In a parliamentary democracy with a president at the executive helm, it is one of the former’s most critical prerogatives to review, approve or potentially reject the latter’s cabinet. This is the procedure followed in the U.S. and many other countries in the world. Even the otherwise weak European Parliament in Strasbourg retains the right to vote on cabinet positions. So when the same mechanism was written into the new constitution for Afghanistan, it was conceptually justifiable and indeed, international best practice.
But not if one asks the United Nations. Because the core of democracy, the peaceful settlement of conflicting interests, is way too messy a process for the well-meaning world body. “I think most of us were surprised at how many ministers were not approved by the parliament,” UN head of mission Kai Eide told journalists in Kabul after 70 percent of President Karzai’s nominees had been rejected by the 200 or so delegates. Eide considered this outcome a “setback and it’s a distraction [as it] prolongs the situation without a functioning government, which has lasted since summer. […] It’s particularly worrying in a country in conflict, where you have so many challenges and need to focus attention on urgent reform programmes.”
The UN’s preference for shallow political reforms could not be put more succinctly. “Democracy” (or whatever local politics is officially labeled in a given setting) must not interfere with the real work of “urgent reform programmes.” Development in Afghanistan is thus reinvented as an apolitical enterprise which needs to be protected from political interests expressed by elected representatives of the people. Maybe the UN is embracing a quirky kind of realism: if we cannot even organize free and fair elections, then why worry about the people who get elected? But quite possibly, its position is indicative of something else: that the organization has now completely lost its compass in the country.
In the heyday of Afghanistan’s short-lived recovery, Brynen (2005: 246) warned that it would “be ludicrous, however, if Afghanistan were held to a level of apolitical economic planning that would be alien to most donor countries or UN member states.” But already then, Heffron (2004: 65) could point to the irony of coalitions between “local recidivist forces […] with apolitical, neoliberal” outsiders creating a Central Asian outpost of Home Depots and halal McDonald’s and conveniently forgetting about centuries of tribal conflicts. It seems that the United Nations under Kai Eide’s troubled leadership is still buying into this logic.
The UN’s naive notion of a secular Afghan civil society that balances and checks the power of an internationally propped-up narco-state has completed yet another spin. Not only does politics in Afghanistan have to be free from religious influences; it also needs to be free from politicians. Politicophobia is coming full circle. Once again, we need to rely on Afghans themselves to offer sensible interpretations of the political dynamics. “This outcome was a wake-up call,” said Shukria Barakzai, a parliament member from Kabul. “It means the [parliament members] are thinking differently, and they want real change in the governance of the country.”
The challenge will be to achieve this change despite the UN’s presence.
Brynen, Rex (2005), Donor Assistance: Lessons from Palestine for Afghanistan, in: Junne, Gerd and Willemijn Verkoren (eds.), Postconflict development: meeting new challenges, Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, pp. 223-248.
Heffron, John M. (2004), Between reconstruction and restoration: three historical case studies, in: Montgomery, John D. and Dennis A. Rondinelli (eds.), Beyond reconstruction in Afghanistan: lessons from development experience, New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 53-74.
Gary Gaile Development Geographies Pre-Conference in DC
The Development Geographies Specialty Group of the AAG is delighted to present the “Gary Gaile Development Geographies Pre-Conference” in Washington, DC, a one-day event in April 2010 which is themed around innovative policies and approaches emerging at the interface of research and practice.
Merging debate around cutting edge research and acute practical challenges, the format and scope facilitate lively discussion and cross currents between academia and the policy world. Our keynote speaker is Dr. Robin Mearns, Lead Social Development Specialist at the World Bank.
The conference, co-chaired by Prof. Brent McCusker (West Virginia University) and Prof. Daniel Esser (American University, DC), is dedicated to the late Gary Gaile who was very active in translating academic practice into real world action and who co-founded the specialty group.
Please access the Call for Papers here. The deadline for all abstracts is February 15, 2010.
The pre-conference will be held on Tuesday, April 13th, 2010 at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center’s suburban campus, just one mile from Washington, DC in Chevy Chase, Maryland (www.4hcenter.org; 7100 Connecticut Avenue, phone: (301) 961-2801). The Center is conveniently located near bus lines for quick transportation between the pre-conference and other AAG conference venues. Free on-site parking is available as well.
New Essay in Ethics & International Affairs
Is more money for global health always good news? No, I am arguing in this lead essay in Ethics & International Affairs (Carnegie Council). Many of the problems that plague decision-making in global health assistance lie not in the global South but in the North, where the monetary flows originate and where most policies are conceived.
If we want to avoid the same strategic backlash that hit us after pouring billions into foreign aid without knowing much, if anything, about its effectiveness, we need to ask critical questions about how financial resources for global health are being spent and whether or not these patterns are the most effective.
It turns out that common depictions of ‘limited capacities’ in developing regions are only one factor in explaining suboptimal allocation. Conversely, organizational incentives, interorganizational dynamics and the sweet talk of global partnerships account have been looked at much less. I contend that they are the key aspects in need of investigation if we seek to understand the political economy of global health today.
The Astronomy of Aid: Stars and Starlets in International Development
All universes have their stars. It is therefore not surprising that International Development, as its own little universe, has produced both stars and starlets.
In the following, I classify and characterize some of the most prominent and luminous celestial bodies. They can be seen almost every day and night in the sky projected onto us by global media, and many of them have become experts in using this space to shower us with their radiation, whether we like it or not.
Old Stars (some burnt out, but many still shining)
We all know their names. This does not mean that we have actually read their books (although we tend to cite them regularly). They have clustered in different spheres of the universe and thus formed its cornerstones. They have been where many of us will never go. We owe them for their discoveries as well as their failures.
Solar Systems (created to produce light, but often only glimmering)
Commonly institutionalized, they are constellations of stars and other matter. They determine the orbits of Starlets. It is common for them to form cosmic alliances with Very Bright Stars for mutual increases in universal legitimacy.
Very Bright Stars (bathing in their own radiance)
They were born as small stars but, through both celestial coincidence and deliberate repositioning in Solar Systems, have ascended into the center of the universe. They are, so they claim, deeply committed to increasing its overall lumen, ideally however as a result of their own light. They do not tolerate any stars that shine in a different spectrum and oscillate frantically if another star dares to throw a partial shade on their shiny surface. They are known for shortening other rising stars’ lifespans, sometimes through Solar-Systemic interventions. They are also the most important creators of supernovas, although Very Bright Stars only claim credit for the light and not for the subsequent explosion.
Transuniversal Stars (born in other universes)
Often born in universes of lighter matter, they already were stars before entering ours. They did not force themselves into it; many of them were pulled in by Very Bright Stars. They usually don’t really understand which spectrum of light is shone upon them, let alone which kind of light they themselves should emit. They are just happy to be part of the whole thing and to increase their overall radiance. Some of them even like it so much that they adopt little bits of Star Dust from the darker parts of the universe.
Battle Stars (solid matter, but often outshone)
They are the true stars, and they know it. The galactic problem is that they are regularly outshone by Very Bright Stars, although the latter are made of much lighter matter. In response, Battle Stars send out occasional rays of brilliant light, powerful enough to damage Brighter Stars’ surface substantially. Everyone in the universe lucky enough to notice this radiation cherishes these truly inspirational moments. But life is not fair, and neither is the universe; solar systems as inert constructs don’t switch central stars lightly.
Starlets of Emission (always on mission)
They make up a sizable group of celestial bodies in the universe of International Development. They travel great distances but almost always orbit within one of the major Solar Systems. Their allegiance causes habitual alliances with some of the Very Bright Stars, although few Starlets actually understand this spectrum of light. They simply enjoy the resplendence, also because it makes them look brighter as well. On their journeys, Starlets emit a lot of rays onto Star Dust, the vast majority of which deflagrate prior to impact.
Starlets of All Trades (try to shine in no matter what matter)
Somewhat overlapping with Starlets of Emission, Starlets of All Trades are true chameleons. No matter what corner of the universe they are being sent to, they will always try to shower light. Never mind they’ve never been there before and never heard anything about the idiosyncrasies of Star Dust specific to a particular section of the universe – they are relentlessly propagating the vision of a brighter universe, whether they believe in it or not.
Falling Stars (make a wish!)
Some of them used to be Star Dust, others Starlets of Emission. In either case, their visibility is short-lived. More by chance than planning, they stumble upon a trajectory that one other star has traveled on before (or at least no one seems to remember), and then they focus all their energy on shining for a brief moment of fame. Many of them understand that their radiance is enhanced further if they rise and fall in the vicinity of one of the Very Bright Stars, although the latter tend to accelerate their death out of fear that too much attention could be attracted by these momentary phenomena.
Star Dust (mostly invisible)
They are everywhere, but no one sees them. They are the ones who should be shone upon by the light emitted by all stars, large and small. Yet in the orbits and constellations of universal politics, they have little to no influence on trajectories and clusters. A few of them manage to shine for a moment (as Falling Stars), but usually it is their patience and their unwavering will to survive that makes them hang in there. Without them, though, there would be no universe.
… and, of course, Black Holes (where did all the aid go?)
They are immersed in Star Dust, but no one knows where exactly they are located. However, cursory evidence points to a mutual attraction between them and Very Bright Stars and Solar Systems.
Development as Fiction: The Failure of the MDGs
David Lewis, Dennis Rodgers and Michael Woolcock have recently proposed that works of fiction may be just as valid and useful sources of knowledge than official reports and academic papers: “Not only are certain works of fiction ‘better’ than academic or policy research in representing central issues relating to development, but they also frequently reach a wider audience and are therefore more influential.” This proposition is noteworthy, for several reasons.
Michael Woolcock used to hold a senior position in the World Bank’s Research Department. The Bank is probably the last major development agency where one would expect researchers to devote their attention to War and Peace or A Fine Balance rather than presumably ‘objective’ statistical data sets. That a former senior staff member is furthering a much wider epistemological notion of development indicates that the narrow claims of ‘objective truths’ that have dominated policy-making during most of the past decades are being challenged at last. It almost makes one reminisce about the events following Joe Stiglitz’s departure from the Bank…
Reaching out to authors of fictional works also offers an important opportunity to include alternative representations of truth, fabricated in the so-called ‘recipient countries’. Lamentations in the northern hemisphere about the ‘limited capacity’ for serious social science research in developing regions – whether justified or overstated – are thus met with accounts of hardship and progress that are conceived outside of the umbrella of well-meaning northern agencies’ data collection drives.
Most acute however, the notion of development as fiction is an eye-opener for how the development industry itself produces works of fiction. Yet in contrast to the works discussed by Lewis and colleagues, this type of fabled story-telling cannot be expected to do the global development enterprise any good: I am talking about the Millennium Development Goals.
“Let’s face it – it’s over,” baits Bill Easterly amid the launch of the most recent MDG “progress” report. Most targets won’t be met by the Goals’ own deadline of 2015. Indeed, the MDGs were doomed to fail. Their reliance on smallest common denominators, their eclipse of far more contentious employment and labor issues, the frantic yet ill-conceived ‘localization agenda’ and the almost religious reluctance among its major organizational proponents to engage in realistic political analyses lie at the heart of this failure.
Tragically then, Jeff Barnes gets it right when he comments that rather than embarking on serious rethinking, the UN and the army of smaller organizations that hinge on the MDG bloodline are unlikely to reconsider what they’ve been doing (wrong). Much rather, more millions will be spent to generate renewed momentum to the global workshop trail, multi-stakeholder conferences and glossy handouts perpetuating the derisory depiction of socioeconomic development as a win-win scenario.
The creation of development-related fiction thus enters a new stage as the spaces of production and reception of fictitious accounts have been reversed. As much as we are fortunate to welcome fiction into the realm of valid knowledge, we must remain alert to detect and disclose the kind of fiction that originates in the offices of those too invested in the current aid architecture to admit its failure.
The Divine End of Demonic Neoliberalism
“Charity in truth is a force that builds community.”
The Pope has spoken. His latest Encyclical Letter ‘Caritas in Veritate‘ (“of the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI to the Bishops, Priests and Deacons, Men and Women Religious, the Lay Faithful, and All People of Good Will on Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth”) is a scorching tally of the type of
economic growth [that] has been and continues to be weighed down by malfunctions and dramatic problems, highlighted even further by the current crisis [and embodied in the] technical forces in play, the global interrelations, the damaging effects on the real economy of badly managed and largely speculative financial dealing, large-scale migration of peoples [and] excessive zeal for protecting knowledge through an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property, especially in the field of health care (paras. 21, 22).
The Letter does not stop there; it also offers far-reaching advice on how global as well as local structures of competition and cooperation need to be adjusted so that “distributive justice and social justice for the market economy” (para. 35) are guaranteed and human development everywhere becomes a real possibility.
It is in the interests of the market to promote emancipation, but in order to do so effectively, it cannot rely only on itself, because it is not able to produce by itself something that lies outside its competence. It must draw its moral energies from other subjects that are capable of generating them (ibid.).
The exclusively binary model of market-plus-state is corrosive of society, while economic forms based on solidarity, which find their natural home in civil society without being restricted to it, build up society. Today’s international economic scene, marked by grave deviations and failures, requires a profoundly new way of understanding business enterprise […] (paras. 39, 40).
Thus acknowledging limitations as well as failures of both markets and state entities amid the dynamics of economic globalization (para. 24), the Letter’s central proposition is a resounding call to strengthen social fabrics and protecting such micro-level initiatives through a fundamental “reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth.” (para. 67)
Progressive Catholics usually hold their breadth when the Vatican issues a new statement of worldly affairs. Too often since the Second Vatican Council has it defended positions on matters as personal as birth control, marriage or sexual orientation that seem anachronistic at best. Aid workers in the reproductive health field have rightly pointed fingers at the Catholic doctrine, which stands in sharp contradiction with the realities on the ground. Even where some of its demands, such as the rejection of condom use as a means to prevent the spread of HIV, are in fact partially supported by empirical evidence, the crudeness of Papal language and content has often served to alienate rather than unite.
Yet this most recent manifesto is made of different stuff, at least where it sketches its philosophical foundation for human development. It is based on the simple yet powerful argument that social networks are not held together by markets. Markets can maximize efficiency, but they cannot maximize societal coherence. What is needed for the latter is truthful charity or, put differently, a conception of society that rests on social rather than economic ideals.
This is an important distinction. There can be no doubt that almost all human societies nowadays are constructed around the primacy of economic production. But this orientation must not be confounded with an idealization of capitalism, epitomized in the economic frenzies of the recent past. “The conviction that man is self-sufficient and can successfully eliminate the evil present in history by his own action alone has led him to confuse happiness and salvation with immanent forms of material prosperity and social action.” (para. 34) On the contrary, it is the social sphere that needs to govern the economic: “The dignity of the individual and the demands of justice require, particularly today, that economic choices do not cause disparities in wealth to increase in an excessive and morally unacceptable manner.” (para. 32)
What is missing, in other words, is a network of economic institutions capable of guaranteeing regular access to sufficient food and water for nutritional needs, and also capable of addressing the primary needs and necessities ensuing from genuine food crises, whether due to natural causes or political irresponsibility, nationally and internationally (para. 27).
Development-related ‘charity’ needs to be mindful of the rules and limitations set by the overarching momentum of globalized economic exchanges and work with them rather than against them (cf. paras. 42, 66). At the same time, this explicitly includes a partial redefinition of institutional frameworks: “The current crisis obliges us to re-plan our journey, to set ourselves new rules and to discover new forms of commitment, to build on positive experiences and to reject negative ones.” (para. 21) This is not a task for developing countries alone. “International aid has often been diverted from its proper ends, through irresponsible actions both within the chain of donors and within that of the beneficiaries” (para. 22), and “international organizations might question the actual effectiveness of their bureaucratic and administrative machinery, which is often excessively costly.” (para. 47) Reform is therefore necessary among all actors (cf. para. 27).
Moreover, “[t]he earthly city is promoted not merely by relationships of rights and duties, but to an even greater and more fundamental extent by relationships of gratuitousness, mercy and communion.” (para. 6) A notion of rights-based justice alone is therefore insufficient to create and strengthen social fabrics (cf. para. 43). This renders recent shifts in development policy towards a rights-based agenda which has tended to overemphasize economic rights (and, in the case of UNDP, even added institutionally elusive ‘business rights’) while downplaying the centrality of social rights questionable. In the same vein, charity is not the safety net for economic neoliberalism, and human development is not a coy answer to stagnating economic growth. On the contrary, ‘charity in truth’ is a morally justified paradigm that needs to shape economic transactions rather than being determined by them.
Efforts are needed — and it is essential to say this — not only to create “ethical” sectors or segments of the economy or the world of finance, but to ensure that the whole economy — the whole of finance — is ethical, not merely by virtue of an external label, but by its respect for requirements intrinsic to its very nature (para. 45).
Another important consideration is the common good. […] The more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbors, the more effectively we love them. Every Christian is called to practice this charity, in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields in the pólis. This is the institutional path — we might also call it the political path — of charity, no less excellent and effective than the kind of charity which encounters the neighbor directly, outside the institutional mediation of the pólis (para. 7).
Based on such moral grounding, the activity of human development is thus inherently political: “As well as cultivating differentiated forms of business activity on the global plane, we must also promote a dispersed political authority, effective on different levels.” (para. 41) The apolitical depiction of ‘charity’ during the past decade, furthered by imperfect organizational mandates, powerful vested interests and toothless public figureheads is futile. Practicing charity means engaging in politics, whether micro- or macro-politics, in order to Pope Paul IV’s postulation to further “the consolidation of democratic regimes capable of ensuring freedom and peace.” (para. 21)
Economic life undoubtedly requires contracts, in order to regulate relations of exchange between goods of equivalent value. But it also needs just laws and forms of redistribution governed by politics, and what is more, it needs works redolent of the spirit of gift. The economy in the global era seems to privilege the former logic, that of contractual exchange, but directly or indirectly it also demonstrates its need for the other two: political logic, and the logic of the unconditional gift (para. 37).
Idealizing technical progress, or contemplating the utopia of a return to humanity’s original natural state, are two contrasting ways of detaching progress from its moral evaluation and hence from our responsibility. […] The Church had good reason to be concerned about the capacity of a purely technological society to set realistic goals and to make good use of the instruments at its disposal. Profit is useful if it serves as a means towards an end that provides a sense both of how to produce it and how to make good use of it. Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty (paras. 14, 21).
This rejection of profit as the ultimate objective of human societies is precisely a reiteration of the conceptualization of human development as a broader agenda. Rather bizarre, the latter has co-evolved with an increasingly boundless type of global capitalism, and its conceptual teeth have proven blunt amid the force of profit. It has been a feel-good doctrine that, much like the anthroposophical approaches that have gained prominence in post-industrial societies, has managed to mobilize a global following which has endorsed its rosy vision in the most uncritical fashion conceivable.
The reality is different. The task of global governance is deeply political, and this begins at the lowest levels of society. “Globalization certainly requires authority, insofar as it poses the problem of a global common good that needs to be pursued. This authority, however, must be organized in a subsidiary and stratified way […].” (para. 57) This, then, is the truly progressive proposition put forward by Caritas in Veritate: even though all politics is local, it is the communal nature of humanity that can enable global change.
Such praise is not intended to absolve the Church as an organization. Spanning from the suppression of Jesuit colonies to the revocation of Liberation Theology across Latin America, its role in human development has been ambivalent, to say the least. This history reminds us that the Church, too, can err – just as any other human-governed institution (I recognize that this is a decidedly agnostic proposition).
Nevertheless, that Benedict XVI is now repositioning the social sphere as the core component of human development, defined in his Letter as “rescuing peoples, first and foremost, from hunger, deprivation, endemic diseases and illiteracy” (para. 21) is an important step amid the global crisis of capitalism (see also Abbott 2008). That he does so by emphasizing the political nature of necessary reforms is an even more welcome message. It is indeed the political nature of human development that links production and consumption at one place, in one country, with economic and social structures elsewhere, in both theory and practice. To deny this means to obfuscate the global mechanism of power. To embrace it means to open the door to a new, more genuinely social conception of human progress.
‘Let me tell you what to think’: Discourse and the Limits of Democracy
The German pollster agency TNS Emnid recently broke the news that the majority (57%) of East German respondents among the total 1,208 Germans in all 16 federal states asked about their views of the bygone German Democratic Republic (GDR) agreed with the statement that the GDR ‘had more positive than negative aspects’ and that although ‘there were some problems, one could live there rather well.’
8% of East Germans even agreed that ‘the GDR had predominantly positive aspects’ and that ‘one lived a happier and better life there than in reunified Germany.’ Thus almost two thirds of East Germans polled for this survey indicated mildly or strongly favorable views of what in official political language is commonly termed the ‘Unrechtsstaat’ (State of Injustice).
The reaction followed promptly. This “misty-eyed view” among East Germans of the GDR had to be countered with more effective public education and awareness campaigns, a member of the German federal cabinet argued, agreeing with a state-level minister who posited that the results demonstrated an “emotional anti-position to the present.”
This outrage at yet another indicator of a strong ‘Ostalgie‘ (nostalgia for the East) may not be surprising to those who have been following the persistent social and economic divisions between the ‘new’ and the ‘old Laender’. Yet to me it came as a strange reminder of a series of assertions that another prominent regime change was, in fact, justified.
Think Iraq. Former Foreign Secretary Rice is notorious for defending the second US-led invasion. Former President Bush never moved an inch from this position either. His deputy even bothered to air his unrelenting view of the matter after the administration that he co-led had already imploded amid the weight of botched political decision-making.
Another telling example of a discourse designed to mute alternative views comes straight from the European Union. Here, a machinery of well-heeled bureaucrats in Brussels promotes a vision of an intertwined and de-facto united Europe – never mind persistent public skepticism against a European Constitution in important EU member states such as France or The Netherlands. Fearing similar public rejection, German politicians cowardly opted for a closed parliamentary process rather than a referendum.
Why is it that in democratic systems, which supposedly encourage public participation and rule of a consensual majority, politicians see a need to claim sovereignty over interpretive airspace? Why do we so easily replace the complexities of individual realities and experiences with a monochromatic message of good or bad?
I have three preliminary thoughts to offer on this observation. While not answers to the questions posed above, they help me recognize the relevance of such discursive discrepancies for international politics more broadly.
First, I believe that they are strongly indicative of a class conflict that many have thought to be a thing of the past. Be it the economically excluded in East Germany, the target(ed) population in Iraq or those with a strong sense of national self-defense amid the recent history of European warfare, they are pitted against the more affluent movers and shakers of the global political economy.
We are also witnessing a case of media schizophrenia which is central to the processes of opinion formation in modern societies. The potential to discover and report complex realities clashes with an increasing demand for–and, as a result, supply of–simple ‘truths’. And finally, the development of such simple mechanisms as an inherent feature of our so-called ‘modern’ democracies does not bode well for the agenda of democracy promotion in areas of the world where, as we often choose to portray it, the public is excluded from policy-making. Far from it: the challenge posed by discursive hegemonies is as real right here as it may be ‘over there’.
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