What if the template for the Greek crisis would be Yugoslavia?

There are many historical parallels being conjured since the Greek referendum was announced and looking for ‘historical’ lessons is as usual a favourite pastime of media comments. But one historical case has as far as I can see not been mentioned at all: the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) in the 1980s. Clearly, the narrative that the wars in former Yugoslavia were all about ethnic-nationalist hatred still overshadows any political economy analysis. Yet, a closer look at Yugoslavia in its last hours reveals many disquieting parallels to the mess Europe and Greece are in today as the bloody wars of the 1990s were, in fact, triggered by the debt crisis of the FRY in the 1980s.

Like Greece the FRY had been piling up international debt that had been given mainly for geostrategic and ideological reasons and although the political and economic system had become highly dysfunctional, leaving the federal and some (not all!) republican institutions without far lower revenues than their expenses required (for all sorts of reasons that I cannot discuss here but which are well discussed in the very fine edited volume of Nabojsa Popov, or in the analyses of Susan Woodward here and here).

Like for Greece today, creditors at the time (the IMF, the US and the European Communities) became highly intransigent and nasty, requesting neoliberal restructuring and building up more and more pressure to oust the ‘socialist’ governments. And just like in Europe now, all sides fell back into nationalist-aggressive macho rhetoric’s to defend their position. The questions who or what had caused the Yugoslav debt, which republic had to repay just how much and who had to bear the brunt of the burden of restructuring were the key problems to be solved in the Federalist institutions of Yugoslavia; the response, however, was the rise of nationalist populists like Milosevic and Tudjman who, instead of proposing political programmes by which to rebuild one functioning welfare market economy in Yugoslavia, jumped around like a bunch of Kangaroo males sticking their tiny fists into each other faces.

The Yugoslav population was left out of the picture despite all sides claiming to represent ‘the people’. As David Dyker showed, concrete information on the debt burden and on the restructuring plans rarely reached the wider public; and if information did go out, it was clad in such a bureaucratic and technical language that it was perceived as insulting simply by the fact that it was incomprehensible. In last Sunday’s referendum, too, the technical aspects of the question were entirely irrelevant to the debate over the referendum, which became the stage of a highly ideologized confrontation between anti- and pro-neoliberal policies as well as anti- and pro-Europeans. The two cleavages are not congruent and also do not match up well with more classical socialist-conservative divides – again, like in former Yugoslavia where the divisions within the FRY did not follow simple patterns of liberal reformists vs. communists, federalists vs. nationalists or between those who argued for debt relief vs. those who aggressively used the debt question for their nationalist-populist agendas. In the end, the nationalist rethoric crushed all other voices, at gunpoint when needed, so that the multiplicity of voices and interests that these multiple cleavages reflected did not transform into a pluralist democratic debate but into nasty chauvinist warfare.

In the case of Yugoslavia the populists won over the real political debate on the rebuilding of Yugoslavia’s economy and political institutions. They then did exactly what macho nationalists have always done, they made war. In the Manichean logic of populist Kangaroo fighting there is no other way to keep in power. The nationalist boxing suited well the ‘international community’ whose harsh debt repayment conditions had thrown the FRY’s leadership into those ring fights in the first place. The initial question on the table, namely how to reform a failing economy in order to save guard high levels of social justice, i.e. the quarrel between welfare market economies and neoliberal policies, was brushed away by the ethnic-nationalistic bickering over whose great-grandfather had killed whose great-grandfather two or more generations ago or whether strong, concentrated black coffee is to be called ‘Croatian’, ‘Bosnian’ or ‘Serb’ coffee. No need to rethink neoliberalism, it was all ancient ethnic hatred.

Unless last Sunday’s ‘No’ is taken as invitation to think collectively about a common solution to Greece’s debt – and debt relief certainly seems as the solution which makes political and economic sense – and unless all sides drive back the nationalist populist rhetoric of the past weeks the risk is that the parallel with former Yugoslavia becomes ever more real. Varoufakis’ resignation and the toning down of aggressive breast banging it will bring, is a clear Greek step in the latter sense. Now it’s the EU’s turn…

 

Globalization buzzwords

Scopus has this really nice analysis tool with which one can quickly get an idea how fancy some buzzwords really are. Out of curiosity I looked up ‘cosmopolitanism’ and its generic ‘cosmopolit*’ as well as ‘civil society’, ‘global civil society’ and ‘global governance’. Interestingly, global governance and civil society as well as cosmopolitanism seem to follow each other. Their high time seems to be over as their use has been falling since 2012. Maybe the sobering experience of the 2008 crash and crisis, after the popping globalization champagne of the 2000’s?

buzzwords

Why the South is not in the East, some reflections on postcolonial studies at the recent International Studies Association annual convention in New Orleans

With this post I want to start reflecting on other topics than peace and conflict research strictly speaking. To the extent that my research has turned away from conflict research and (hopefully) will turn away from peace research for some time after I have finished this */&%$”***book I’ll use the blog as notepad for other reflections on IR and global studies. 

 

The International Studies Association’s annual convention, which just came to close last Saturday in New Orleans, is probably the largest academic international relations conference, in terms of people but also in terms of topics and approaches. Thanks to the great work of the programme chairs Pinar Bilgin and L.H.M. Ling this year’s conference was an extra-ordinary showcase for alternative approaches, notably postcolonial, queer or gender studies and other critical and alternative ways of thinking about world politics. Many of this was new to me and it was really exciting to be able to explore so many different ways of thinking about world politics and global society. And yet, a lot of puzzling impressions, too…. And one of them was the question why the farthest east postcolonial studies get is India. The sinosphere (Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Korea, Mongolia) are apparently not part of the postcolonial world; only one paper out of more than 260, which deal with China referred explicitly to postcolonial thought. Singapore or Malaysia are also absent from postcolonial studies maps. And Japan, anyway, is entirely absent from the agenda as if it would have always been the high-tech, American vassal state that is only interesting for liberal IPE or Asian realist conflict analysis and not one major example of orientalist thought and colonial warfare (on the receiving and sending side). Indonesia and Thailand might be more often subject of postcolonial analysis but at this conference such were equally conspicuously absent. Why?

It is strange that postcolonial IR should neglect an entire region of the world, which was just as much object of brutal, exploitative and estranging colonial practices, although in highly variable forms and in which a huge number of inequalities, racisms and structural exploitations continue to be reproduced. Why is it that this region should be excluded from the questions that postcolonial studies have so successfully formulated for India, Middle Eastern and African countries and societies. This is particularly striking as literature studies, area studies or historians like A. Dirlik have extensively used Orientalist analyses to expose 19th and 20th century writings about East Asia. One just has to think of the ways Ruth Benedict’s ‘The Chrysanthemum and The Sword’ or the film (and book) ‘The Geisha’ have been torn apart by postcolonial scholarship (and media). The big absence of postcolonial analyses of East Asia at ISA is something particular to international relations and global studies, not to social sciences and humanities in general.

I don’t think this is a coincidence but intimately linked to the fact that East Asia simply does not fit very well the economic narratives that underfeed postcolonial studies. The economic success of East Asian countries, particularly of Japan but also of Korea, Singapore and China (and to a lesser extent of Malaysia), rattles too uncomfortably on the socio-economic ontology of postcolonial studies. An essential argument of postcolonial studies is that orientalism is the cultural manifestation of the South’s material exploitation and oppression. Sometimes this is explicitly linked to (neo)Marxist readings of imperialism or colonialism but more often than not the assumption remains implicit that the world is marked by a fundamental bipolarity of the capitalist modernity of the West and the exploited, colonized ‘otherness’ of the South. In fact, the economic narrative looms large behind post-colonial ventures into IR but it is rarely explicitly discussed. The economic success of East Asian countries and their strong developmental states are therefore hard to explain from a postcolonial point of view and attract only attention as examples of model students of the West or for what remains in poverty and exploitation (a lot). The economic history of East Asia is at once a refutation of the provincialism assumption, apparently confirming rather classical (neo)Marxist assumptions of globalization (see Robinson or Harvey), and of the resistance assumption, i.e. that integration into world processes will go through upheavals of resistance. These difficulties of inscribing East Asia past forty years into a postcolonial frame are additionally compounded by the historical complexity with which the East Asian ‘subaltern’ has created and continues to create ‘subalterity’ in Asia and around the world.

Yet, the narrative that East Asia has become simply another manifestation of the ‘West’ appears too simplistic to me and somehow profoundly contradictory to cultural studies’ interests in the orientalisation of East Asian societies and cultures. It would be an interesting exercise of reflectivist scholarship if the lack of postcolonial studies of East Asia’s politics and economics were to be explained in a postcolonial framework.

 

And now once again, all together now: what is terrorism and who becomes a terrorist?

The recent killing of the editorial team of Charlie Hebdo and of four French Jews in Paris has again brought the debate back over what terrorism is and who becomes a terrorist. The questions are, obviously, not new and it might be seen as a sign of a vibrant social science debate that they have not been satisfactorily answered (see for instance this interesting row of articles in the Journal of Social Philosophy). In the meanwhile, the space for ideologization and politicization of these questions from all sides remains open with the troubling consequences we can already see in France, from increased securitization and surveillance to mounting racism.

There is an intuitive understanding of ‘terror’ as arbitrary and gratuitous violence that aims at spreading fear and insecurity among a population. However, with this in mind drone attacks are, quite obviously, as much terrorism as the killing of cartoonists and supermarket costumers (a good discussion how the terms ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorist’ are politically constructed and disputed in the case of US-Israel-Palestine relations can be found here). The question what terrorism is and who the terrorists are goes deeper because it touches the much more fundamentally political question of legitimate uses and users of violence; hence, any intuitive answer will be unsatisfactory.

Debating the question becomes all the more complex in an age of transnational violence. In the 1970s and 1980s when left-wing extremists killed politicians and industrial leaders in Westeuropean states, they did so within a neatly circumscribed political field with a so-called military-industrial state complex on the one hand and a so-called revolutionary cell on the other. The question of what terrorism is became subsumed in the question whether the Red Army Fraction’s (in Germany) killings were politics or not (and the imprisoned RAF members treated as political prisoners or as common murderers). Although in theory the RAF’s members appealed to an abstract idea of world revolution, the RAF’s act were not committed in the name of some far-away imagined community but self-assumed in their own interest as revolutionaries within Germany; the aim was to kick off a revolution in Germany first not in any other part of the world.

This is different to the current attacks. Here, there is also a very abstract idea of a Muslim community in the background and which, by definition, includes French Muslims, but importantly there is the very concrete objective of destabilising Western military policies in far away countries. The strategic target of the attacks was, if the communique of the Yemenite Al Qaida is to be believed, actually not in Paris but in Syria, Afghanistan, Mali, Tchad and other ‘holy lands’. The killers did not aim at changing French politics in France. Yet, the killers were French as French can be, apparently not particularly religious themselves and rather socialized in the petty criminal and drug dealing milieus of France’s marginal zones; they were neither Palestinians nor Libyans who have to deal daily with the terror of Israeli or French bombings.

With RAF killings, the answer one gave to the question what terrorism was (murder or a political act) automatically included the answer to the question what a terrorist was (a murderer or an insurgent against social injustice). Now, this has become more complex. One could for instance acknowledge that some armed groups are resistance movements to occupation (as many do for Hamas in Gaza) and acknowledge their legitimacy to use violence.

However, it is then difficult to see what French marginalized, disenfranchised youth has to do with it. In order to make this argument, one needs to create a connection between Gaza or Syria and Corèze (where the Kouachi brothers apparently grew up). This is what a number of texts circulating on the internet actually try to do by postulating a general oppression of all Muslims, in France and in Iraq alike, but the link remains unconvincing per se. There are many marginalized, disenfranchised and frustrated youth in France; yet, not all of them are Muslims and not all Muslims are marginalized and disenfranchised. As Olivier Roy points out correctly the very idea of a Muslim ‘community’ in France is factitious. It might well be that it was one objective of these attacks to create such communitarian antagonism, exactly because it does not exist in the facts of French society.

It is more promising to separate the motivations of the killers from the motivations of the killing. The debate over who becomes a terrorist is often represented as opposing the hypothesis of individual mindsets to the hypothesis of strategic, well-calculating political networks. Yet, there is no reason other than the observers’ own ideological goggles not to assume that both can be true. One can perfectly well see the three young men as mere tools of a larger, transnationally calculating strategy of violent confrontation, and as subjects who act out their own individual social and, eventually mental, troubles within their very own realm. Young men and women have to  be socialized into networks of violence (as summarized here) and these structures of socialization are, indeed, ‘homemade’. (I find it noticeable for instance that the Kouachi brothers staged their attack like a headshooting video game which is much more symptomatic of French youth culture and not in the Hamas or Chechen style of a suicide bombing.)

If, indeed, both were true then the political responses, too, have to be kept separate. ‘Standing the ground in Syria’ as the French President took his mouth full the other day or bombing Yemen will not stop the French marginalized zones of society to produce young men and women who are willing to let their lives to kill others; and starting (finally) to work seriously on the issues of daily racist prejudice, of rampant exclusion and marginalization, of urban decay and (most important of all in my eyes) educational misery might not have much effect on Palestinian statehood or peace in Syria. Yet, the realization that one has maybe very little to do with the other would, very importantly, open space for a democratic debate whether the state’s money should to go into more bombs on far-away places or is better spent on education, culture and employment, in France’s marginalized zones in particular but in the entire country in general.

So far for politics…but on the research side of things, separating the individual terrorist from the greater question of transnational terrorism paradoxically requires an inter-disciplinary approach. Academically, the question of the terrorist’s mindset has been kept at arm’s length by political science research out of fear that any investigation into the subjective experience of terrorism (and the corresponding debates about deviance or not) would delegitimate the assessment of its economic, social and political causes. If one argues that the oppression of Palestinians in Gaza is causally the same as the oppression of ‘muslims’ in France and that therefore the three killers of last Wednesday have acted out of the identitary humiliation that Muslims apparently feel all over the world, then, of course, any psychological or socio-psychological explanation of terrorism is inacceptable. On the other hand, if one argues that terrorists are purely the product of dysfunctional socialisation processes, examples of delinquance rather than politics, or simply psychopats, then any further investigation into the causal connections with wider world politics is inacceptable. In both cases, the reaction would be to fend off inter-disciplinary approaches out of ideological fears or egoistic fencing off of research claims.

If, however, one accepts that there is a missing link between individual mindsets (which still then need to be more clearly defined) and greater globalised schemes of oppression (which then still would need better explanation than simply ‘oppression’ or ‘imperialism’), then social sciences working on the individual and micro-cosmen of terrorists (psychology, socio-psychology, anthropology, sociology) need to be integrated with those social sciences who work on the dynamics and pitfalls of globalisation (international relations, comparative politics, international political economy).

That is easier said than done. Apart from a host of practical problems (the competitive nature of funding that incites in-disciplinary research or simply the physical non-dialogue between the disciplines), there is a row of serious epistemological and ontological questions that need to be cleared. Obviously, there is the agent-structure problem and, if one thinks in terms of linear causality, the what/who causes what/who? Yet, this could be solved with an approach that disposes of linear causality and accepts the relational assumption that socialization is a two-way (or even multi-way) process, in which agents continously participate, by their very lives, in the reproduction of structures, which, in turn, condition the individual’s agency. Yet, the greater problem is that these dynamics of reproduction-socialization-reproduction are not linear and direct, and maybe not even coherent. In the end, the question which structures produce which kinds of agency and vice-versa can be only answered empirically, and that is probably the most frustrating part for all those who want social science to produce ready-made answers immediately when disaster strikes.

Fishermen playing with fire

I’ve written this blog just when I came back from a trip to Vietnam in June but only found time to publish it now. In June, the confrontation with China was certainly the number one topic people wanted to talk about with us foreigners living in China. We were up in the mountains, near the Chinese border where the Chinese had made their incursion in 1979 in their unsuccessful attempt to punish the Vietnamese for their invastion of Cambodia. The memories of this war are well alive; many peasants we talked to had witnessed or even fought the Chinese marching down the valley through empty villages. The Chinese quickly became caught up in guerilla skermishes and were no match for the war trained Northeners. Apparently Chinese veterans have often complained that the PLA soldiers had not even been told that they were in Vietnam when they were attacked by villagers old and young, men and women. Whether this is true or not, in any case, the Chinese withdrew quickly and made this episode one more non-told stories of the past. Many students of mine had never heard of the Chinese war in Vietnam. Only recently there is little more  knowledge and, obviously, due to the current tensions between the two countries.

Yet, what is most interesting in the recent clashes is that they most often involve non-military groups, namely fishermen. Only today, the New York Times’s sinosphere blog reports that China detained seven Vietnamese fishermen. The clashes are happening around an oil rig that the Chinese have set up in the disputed waters of the Paracels Islands. In May, a Chinese vessel rammed a Vietnamese fishing boat. The video capture of the ramming incident is playing all day long on Vietnamese TV screens now. What is happening in the South China Sea looks like a civilian, econonomic enterprise that is attacked by civilian fishermen boats and defended by other civilian boats. No military clash — apparently. Yet, both sides have been training and equipping their civilians, their fishermen and fishery coast guards, militarily. Fishermen are also at the forefront of China’s disputes with Japan and the Philippines (here’s an interesting map of all disputes). They clearly are not in the area by pure coincidence and it can be doubted that they are fishing.

Why this use of fishermen in these disputes?

Two interpretations, one optimistic and one pessimistic, are advanced, often tacitly, in the little analysis that has been done on the matter. In one interpretation the use of fishermen can be understood almost as a good sign: China and its neighbour are only engaging in a provocative teasing game but wish to avoid military escalation and confrontation — a lot of smoke but no fire as one author says. This is typical realist explanation that sees war still as a means to achieve political goals, in this case the control of the natural resources in the South and North China sea bed. The skirmishes of the past months serve the establishment of negotiation positions and it now ‘only’ needs sensible proposals for the various countries to come together and work out a peaceful settlement.

On the other hand, one can think that the aim of the provocative game is first and foremost the ignition of nationalism within the respective states. Fishermen, or civilians more generally, are more easily depicted as victims of unfair aggression. National solidarity will flair up more easily than if the anyway rather unpopular governments in China and Vietnam send in their anyway rather unpopular military. If this is the strategy, indeed, then it is, from what we saw in Vietnam, working quite fine. Nationalist feelings are flying high. And the presence of these militarising civilians on the war propaganda scene contrasts starkly with the complete absence and silencing of pacifist non-state actors in China and Vietnam.

Both interpretations are weak, however. The use of civilians in this conflict has never been systematically investigated. In the usual deafness of IR and foreign policy analysis for non-governmental and non-statist forces, the fishermen are seen, if ever considered in their own right, as tools in the hands of their governments. Yet, it remains to be explained why fishermen would prefer being rammed and shot at instead of doing what they are supposed to be doing, namely pulling fish out of the waters. If the fishermen would be seen and analysed as agents in their own right, the story might look very different from the above interpretations. What stakes do the fishermen have in a conflict over the disputed waters? What stakes do they have with their governments? What expertise, knowledge, skills do they bring into the security policy of their country? Who are those fishermen in the first place? How is their relationship to the government articulated? How dependent or independent are they from the government and military?

These questions are important if one wants to understand whether they are simple tools of the military and government which can be simply called off or sent there and here. If they are, the more optimistic interpretation might be justified as the provocation game might be under control. However, it is unlikely that the fishermen are fully dependent and commandable instruments of their masters. Rather, they might well the agents provocateurs, and not victisms at all, of these conflicts. They might be much more authors of the conflict, of its interpretation, of the strategy to choose and the tactics to employ than a statist perspective allows to see. Consequently, the prospects for a peaceful resolution of the South China Sea conflict are much slimmer than the realist interpretation avows.

If the fishermen participate actively in the securitization of the South China sea situation, it further remains to be seen how and why the governments on all sides interact with these discourses. Again, a simple author-receiver model of policy is highly inappropriate. The common assumption that the Chinese or Vietnamese governments need nationalism as a placebo for popularity is certainly highly attractive given the high levels of dissatisfaction and disentchantment of the population. Yet, why and how the nationalist propaganda translates securitization moves by civilian actors, or more generally, how these interactions in the end work out has not been analysed in this case. In the case an analysis will concede a more important space to the securitziation moves by non-state actors like the fishermen, the question of conflict resolution will have to be asked anew. The current paradigm of conflict resolution most often evolves around the idea that power and identity struggles in Asia most necessarily will develop into territorial conflicts and conflicts over material, non-divisible resources. The model, obviously, being Europe of the 19th and 20th century. Yet, if the South China Sea dispute is a large securitization discourse that is powered by fairly different and other motives — social, political, economic — it might neither trail towards territorial conquest nor negotiated resolution mechanism. It might simply continue as long as the social, political or economic conditions, that made the securitization game possible in the first place, continue to exist.

So, there remains still a lot to do in order to understand the mechanisms of this conflict and its risks of escalating into full-scale war, its chances of peaceful resolution or its simmering on forever. What a red  herring!

Protestantism, liberalism, peace

Reading up and down political theory and asking myself how this could be related to peacebuilding (in order to write that very chapter of my book) I was more and more puzzled by the relationship between Protestantism, liberalism and peace. Yes, this must be a HUGE area and yet, I searched google scholar and the usual databases up and down, to find very, very little if not anything at all on this topic. So using once again the blog as notepad and virtual ‘fridge’ to keep ideas fresh for later use….here we go, some reflections on Protestantism, liberalism and peace:

Since Max Weber we have an idea of how Protestantism and liberalism are ideologically linked. Historically, the history of Great Britain and the US show clear linkages between political ideas of toleration, civil society freedom and light state control over individuals as ways out of religious conflict arising from the spread of protestant and reformist churches.

On the other hand, there seems to general consensus that current peacebuilding efforts are to be labelled ‘liberal’. Some hold them to be too liberal, other not liberal enough (see David Chandler’s recent analysis) yet that political liberalism is the driving ideology underlying contemporary peacebuilding seems in little doubt.

However, nowhere has the link been made between Protestantism, liberalism and ideas of peace as advocated by the so-called ‘international community’ (of which we know, of course, that it isn’t really a community but as shorthand for the couple of powerful states and international organisations who orchestrate contemporary peacebuilding it will do).

This is so despite a renewed interest in dissecting our understanding of ‘peace’. Oliver Richmond in particular has devoted parts of his work to the question ‘what is peace’ yet similar to others he has ended up with a list of attributes to be attached to the notion ‘peace’: there is now not only the liberal peace, but also the victor’s peace (realist interpretation of peace), peace as social justice (apparently the Marxist version) and a post-structuralist understanding of peace. Richmond’s classification reflects largely the traditional English School interpretation of IR theory as ‘Hobbesian’, ‘Kantian and ‘Marxist’, or realist, liberal and Marxist and to this classical mix he adds a pinch of Foucault.

There is also hybrid peace, which is not defined in terms of political ideology or understanding of IR theory but rather a very rough category, any kind of peace effort that includes local actors. And then there is Michael Barnett’s proposition of a republican peace as alternative to the liberal peace which is, again, ideologically ill defined but preoccupied with the type of institutions that should be built in peacebuilding efforts.

What is common to all these interpretations and proposals of peace is that they see themselves as secular proposals. The rift between secular social science peace research and religious motivated peace research is rather obvious in the publication behaviour of the authors. On the one hand, there are the Yoders and Lederachs who publish monographs and in theological or philosophical journals. On the other hand are the secular peace researchers who prefer social science journals and, cautiously aim at integrating the larger IR debates by publishing in traditional IR outlets like Review of International Studies or International Organization. Quite interestingly and contrary to Yoder, Lederach makes very little of his religious background in his writings and seeks to impress a secular audience as much as he aims at reformulating basic principles of mennonite thought on peace. He resembles in this Ralph Niebuhr who argued for a secular peace philosophy in order to counter the reality of international politics that could not be captured with pacifist ideas alone.

Yet, this secularisation of peace research has rather obscured its religious legacy and continuities (older IR research has in fact more openly discussed the links between religious views and views of the international system, for instance Hedley Bull’s discussion of Martin Wight but somehow this has been lost in the more recent debates). Instead of critically analysing those religious roots, most of peace research continues to transmit values and ideas, which are based in Christian, and for large parts, protestant morality and ethics. The secularization of peace research might even have reinforced the tacit, subconscious and ‘normal’ essence of these values up to a point that it might appear extremely strange to even ask the question whether our, i.e. Western, white, European or Christian (or monotheist) ideas of peace are in any way culturally particular. This would not be blog post but a scholarly book if I had good, evidenced and fully argued answers to that question. Yet, I can throw in some arguments about striking parallels between protestantism, liberalism and certain visions of peace that can be typically found in Western (understood LARGE) discourses.

First there is this idea of ‘improvement’. Now, there can be a huge theological debate over the degree to which different protestant denominations argue about the scope of individual improvement but it is certainlynot entirely wrong to assert that the key ideas of protestantism are that men (and women) are born as individuals with one life in which they have to strive to move as far away as possible from the sinful, unreasonable and unrational child they are towards a person that can justify, morally and in terms of his or her beliefs, to have been selected by God. (I should maybe simply copy-paste Max Weber’s caveat as to the sociologists view on religion being forcebly superficial and rought as compared to the hairsplitting intracacies of the theologists’ views…in any case this here is meant to be a very rough sketch not yet a full theological, sociological discussion…apologies hence for very rough renderings of protestantism).

‘Improvement’ includes the idea of progress and perfectability of men. Much of Max Weber’s essay on protestantism and the spirit of capitalism aims at showing just how much these ideas of perfectability and improvement have been ideological motors of enrichment, invention and technological progress that have marked the capitalist age. But the idea of a capacity of improvement as key characteristic of societies and states can be found also in the early writing of liberals such as Mill and in later ideas of modernisation and development like in almost caricatural form of Rostow’s stages of development. Although critical theory and post-colonial thought have severely undermined the confidence of the modernist discourse, the idea of ‘improvement’ remains a central tenent of most development and also peacebuilding discourses.

It can be found in the language of any agency report one wishes to consult: every report will talk in progressive terms and assert that things are moving forward (never backward, you mind), that progress was achieved here or there, growth ignited here, take-offs orchestrated there. The paradigm of progress also sharply shapes policy oriented social science research, notably in the forms of scales on which societies can move up or down: the Freedom House scale, the failing states scale, the civil society scale etc. Improvement is indeed the key justification of any post-conflict reconstruction effort, what counts is that the lives of people become better and if they haven’t done so despite all efforts then this is because XX (insert: international community, the UN, the USA or any other culprit) has not tried hard enough.

Having to try hard, having to work hard, having to overcome obstacles is again another very protestant trait of peacebuilding. Again, the core distinction of protestant belief to Catholic bellief is that even though man has not chosen her destiny, it is still man who has to work hard to fulfill her fate. It is every individual who has to overcome the imperfections of the real life and who has to do so urgently, given that we only have this one life for that. Max Weber pointed out that it is this idea that the course of humanity can be changed and that destiny can be actively filled was at the origin of any political concept of social engineering (although Weber did not call it that way), i.e. of the idea that a community can be organised in a way that every single person can be set to improve.

The thought that men who are born miserable are luckier because they have more opportunities to prove how hard they are believing in God and to prove how hard they work to overcome the obstacles of fulfilling their destiny is only a psychological perversion for those who do not believe in the individual and determinate selection of God’s children. In the mindset of protestant beliefs it is entirely reasonable that having more proves of true belief to deliver is a clear indicator of being more selected.

It might be that the continuation of peacebuilding and development, despite their multiple and variously discussed and analysed failures, is due to this same perserverance. If peacebuilding or development assistance has failed up to now then this only shows how much it is necessary to continue. If Sysiphos would have been protestant he might have been happy.

Individuals who do not succeed in fulfilling their destiny have, in most protestant thought at least, mainly themselves to blame. They are probably not pious enough, not hard working enough, victim of deadly sins, seductions and temptations, not well integrated in the community of believers and distracted, or…simply not selected. The peacebuilding discourses about ‘spoilers’ or ‘trauma’ bear similarities in that they pathologize the societies in question for not achieving peace. If societies cannot find peace despite various efforts of conflict resolution, then it must be that they are caught in erronous beliefs (e.g. ethnic nationalism), that they are victims of seduction and temptation (e.g. warlords), that they are, temporarily at least, incapable of doing things right (e.g. traumatized) etc.

A final parallel between protestantism, liberalism and peace that comes to my mind is the tension of international law and interventionism which reflects not only the ambigious relationship between society and state in liberal ideology but also the ambigious relationship between individual, community and god in protestant movements. On the one hand is the sovereign individual communicating directly and personally with God, and on the other hand is the community surveilling the individual that this communication takes place in due form. On the one hand is the autonomous civil society minding its own business, and on the other hand is the state providing the legal protective space for the civil society to mind its own, and nobody else’s business, e.g. as seen in legalizing and enforcing private property. On the one hand is the sovereign state and the autonomous society, and on the other hand is the responsibility to protect norm (or however any interention norm had been called in the past) to oversee that the principles of international law may only be applied to ‘decent people’ as John Rawls called democratic and non-democratic, yet liberal states.

These are a couple of, admittedly very rough parallels between Protestantism, liberalism and peace yet they appear to me promising inroads into a genealogy of peace, as it is understood in contemporary peacebuilding. Comments, and especially corrections on my views on Protestantism, most welcome!

 

 

Finally a full stop to the (in)famous greed vs. grievance debate: Lars-Erik Cederman, Kristian Skrede Gleditsch and Halvard Buhaug (2013) Inequality, Grievances, and Civil War, New York: Cambridge UP.

This book will hopefully set an end to the deeply fatigued and flawed debate about Paul Collier’s  and Anke Hoeffler’s claim that grievances do not matter for the outbreak of violent conflicts. Its epistemology is the same as Collier and Hoeffler’s, that is the book is situated in the behaviouralist research paradigm. It therefore can hardly be brushed away as ‘non-scientific’ as it uses exactly those scientising tools that are now so popular in the Journal of Peace Research. We have categories, variables (dependent and independent, of course), causal mechanisms and datasets with a lot of numbers, a nicely constructed research design and pretty proofs of hypotheses (including some francy graphs which are most useful for teaching) . And grievances matter. Full stop. Yeah.

Yet… this book also has everything that makes behaviouralist research so boring: a  lack of critical and reflexive discussion of categories, terms and notions; a superficial, opportunistic and partial reading of sociological, historical and anthropological literature; a couple of sweeping claims which would be almost funny if they weren’t so ideologized western-centric — for instance the claim: “In the new era of national self-determination and popular sovereignty that followed after the American and French revolutions in the late eighteenth century, it become increasingly difficult and costly to conquer territory, let alone to control it against the will of the local population” (pos. 986 in my kindle version) – to say the least, this is a very unusual way of describing the century of empire and colonialism….

And of course the study suffers from the greatest weakness of behaviouralist research, namely findings which are absolutely unsurprising for everyone who knows from zillions of case studies and historical literature that ‘civil wars are not a stupid thing’ as Cramer said so nicely in his book.

What do we learn from this study? If there are objective inequalities in a society and if there are ethno-national cleavages along which these inequalities run, if these inequalities are aptly exploited by the state, for instance by consistently maintaining discriminating and excluding policies, and if the groups can be mobilised through discoursive frames that pitch ethnic groups against each other or against the state, we have a situation with salient grievances. In such a situation there is an increased likelihood of armed and violent conflict. Bam!  What a truly revolutionary insight.

Now, to be fair, within the paradigm of behaviouralist research this book reformulats these insights most astutely and takes refreshingly new approaches to number crunching. It is, hence,  able to set an end to the (in)famous debate over greed vs. grievances by showing that economic fortunes of populations are closely interrelated with their political standing and that this in turn shapes their preparedness for violent politics. It allows for a multi-layered and hence somewhat more complex reconstruction of pathways to rebellion than those that this kind of research had produced before where mountains or oil where identified as causing violent politics. It reintroduces politics into the equation and it tries at least to account for processual developments and change. The latter tentative is inherently limited and restricted by the rigidity of quantitative models – there is simply a point where a category has to be fixed and a time span has to be defined consistently across many cases.

The research also has a take on a couple of questions, which this type of research had, up to now, rarely asked. It formulates ideas and hypotheses about the role of emotions, hence departing from the debilitating rigidity of the rational actor model. Indeed, the authors identify emotions as being the essential ‘jigsaw puzzle piece’ that connects objective grievances with the mobilisation of groups through discursive frames.

It also, and this is really something quite unusual for this kind of research, attempts to conceptualize conflicts as relational process. The authors conceptualize conflict process as conditioned by social relations first by taking into account group dynamics. This goes together with their emphasis on emotions and the consecutive departure from methodological individualism. Here, individuals and potential rebels behave in certain ways because they are members of groups, because others are important: their sympathy, their gaze and their feelings, good or bad.

Second, they conceptualize conflict processes as relational as they formulate a ping-pong of action and reaction between the adversary groups, or between the adversary group and the state or what the authors call “the interactive logic of claims and counterclaims issued by challengers and incumbents” (pos. 1352). The study makes extremely good use of social movements literature and this section in particular relies heavily on Jeff Goodwin’s “No other way out”. Yet, their relational thinking also finds its inherent limitation through the behaviouralist research design in which processes have to be linear and progressive to be measurable in order to avoid endogeity problems or reverse causation.

And so in the end, the study’s analysis does not go much beyond the already existing qualitative literature on grievances and violent conflict. Its central piece, the new data set of ‘Ethnic Power Relations’ offers a tool for bringing about the behaviouralist, measured proofs of what much of the qualitative case studies have already argued before (notably those quoted by the authors like Wood’s case study of El Salvador or Jeff Goodwin’s comparative case studies) and it is, surely, an achievement in itself. The dataset is certainly helpful for studies on power-sharing mechanisms and can serve well for practitioners interested in conflict prevention. It is a fine example of applied science in social science and conflict research.

Yet, in terms of understanding the how and why of conflicts the study still leaves many more questions open than it answers. First, the conflicts identified by the authors are only a small section of all armed conflicts the world has witnessed in the past decades. Notably, a large number of those conflicts which have shocked the world public most like the war in Sierra Leone or Liberia, the conflict in Somalia, large parts of the conflicts in the Congo are not considered. They obviously fit the overall framework as the authors’ focus on ethno-national groups is determined by the fact that they only have data for these groups but not by their framework.

Second, the framework is too general and unspecific to provide insights into the concrete why and how. Where do those elites come from who frame inequalities as grievances? How are these frames transmitted? How does the interaction with other groups interfere with these framing processes? Are framers, mobilizers and fighters a homogenous group or do internal divisions exist and what effect does this have, for instance on radicalization or, on the contrary, pacification? What is the role of layered and clustered identities and how do they affect mobilisation processes? These are just a couple of questions that remain unanswered by this book.

Third, the book suffers like most of this literature from its definitory focus on government-rebel group conflicts. In many social conflicts, the target of the rebellious group is not forcibly the state or the government (the RUF being a case in point as their interest in capturing the state seems to have been relatively low, see Peters).  Nation-state borders and official governments might also be simply irrelevant (blatant cases of non-existing governments like in Somalia for instance) or their involvement might be hardly recognisable in conflicts. Indeed, as Duffield pointed out some time ago in his book “Global Governance and New Wars”, many current conflicts might be better understood as conflicts over different forms of political organisation and community than those traditionally understandable with the nation-state goggles on.

In sum, the book makes an important contribution to the debate within the behaviouralist paradigm as it uses behaviouralist tools to demonstrate some of the conflict processes that have already been well analysed in the qualitative literature. It does not go beyond this as the behaviouralist paradigm does not allow delving into deep with the messy, contradictory, spiralling and irremediably non-linear social processes of conflict. Yet, as hopefully final word on the question whether the importance of grievances can be measured and therefore ‘count’, it has a brilliant place to take. It also reveals a long row of questions that still seek answers but which are unlikely to find them in this kind of quantitative analysis.

Oh, and it certainly desserves a brownie point for being one of the rare studies of this kind which locates the causes of the Croatian war, among others, in the discriminatory policies of the Tudjman regime and the Kraijna Serbs’ reaction to these, and not firstly in Serbian ‘barbarism’.

 

 

 

 

 

The violence of non-violence

The  50th anniversary of the March on Washington has passed last year — incidentally I am writing  a paper on Dr. Martin Luther King as icon of the West for a conference. Reading through all that has been published on ‘the speech‘ I was baffled again about the great discrepancy that exists in the pompous celebrations of Dr. King and his ‘I have a dream’ speech and the realities of black lifes and movements in the US (and around the world for that matter). Birkbeck College had Angela Davis as guest in October and in her public lecture she lays out precisely which parts of the civil rights movement of the 1960s is remembered and which has been cast away, forgotten and denied (the podcast of the lecture can be found here).

A common answer to the question why Martin Luther King has become so famous and not the Black Panthers or Malcolm X is that Dr. King used non-violent strategies. And non-violence is, of course, better than violence. I especially often heard that elogy of non-violence during my interviews with UN staff. None of those who said that were black. The two blacks I interviewed (from Haiti and Kenya) did not mention Martin Luther King nor non-violence.

The idea that Martin Luther King is “shining forth in the darkness of an age of nuclear weapons and genocide” as Chakrabarty and Carson write on their book cover superficially seems plausible to me as white, European, well-fed, well-educated and utterly middle-class woman. Yet, it is once again the common sense part of this answer that bothers me. Isn’t there a question that we social scientists have to ask about the relationship between revolutions, social change and violence? Where would be today if there hadn’t been violence in 1776 or 1789?

But this is a long question to answer and this blog is not quite the right place. But there is another tweek of the non-violence-is-good equation that bothers me and that is the simple fact that any non-violence strategy  needs brutal violence to be effective as social movement strategy. And it needs that violence to be known and seen everywhere. Sit-ins that are not washed away by water hoses and tear gas, demonstrations that are not battled down or leaders who are not martyrs are simply far less effective than if they had been met with equally peaceful ignorance.

Let’s take the March on Washington. Would it have attracted so many people and would it have been such huge event if there had not been for the hundreds and thousands of children and teenagers blasted off the street by high-pressure water hoses in Birmingham, Alabama, just a couple of weeks before? Wasn’t it a general principle of the civil rights movement that the non-violent protests had to be contrasted with the extreme violence of the state, the police, the army and more generally the white population and its KKK? The violence with which these protests were met was an absolutely essential part of the success of the movement!

Hence, the civil rights movement was not non-violent! This is not to say that the civil rights movement provoked purposefully violent responses, it rather aimed at exposing the brutality and violence that was already there. The site http://www.splcenter.org/civil-rights-memorial/civil-rights-martyrs provides a list with short biographies of people who were killed in the 14 years from 1954 to 1968 when King was murdered. This is a list of the people who were murdered as direct result of the civil rights movement. How many more have died from the consequences of ill treatment and torture, arbitrary imprisonment and inhumane working conditions? Impossible to know.

Yet, pointing to the violence that is necessary to make non-violence an effective social movement strategy reminds of the original antagonism that lay at the heart of the civil rights movement. The argument that non-violence is something inherently good, something laudable per se, becomes rather shale and meak when one starts to look at who is saying that about whom. A close look at the list on the website above speaks a clear language: the civil rights movement was non-violent for whites only. Well, not exactly, it was non-violent for those against whom the protests were directed and it was very violent for those who sought freedom, justice and equality – which they eventually achieved legally and constitutionally but which is still a far cry for large parts of the US. It is, maybe, the most remarkable aspect of the movement that the violence that was commonly and usually directed against blacks only now also killed whites like James Reeb or Viola Gregg Luzio.

Might it be that Dr. King’s non-violence was good because it spared me, the white, middle class woman? Wouldn’t I have good reasons to think differently about how the justice achieved (or not achieved) through non-violence if I had been subject to the violence that was necessary and corrolary to Dr. King’s strategy? The non-violence of the civil rights movement is a negative vision of peace and justice as it asks only for unjustice to stop but not for justice to be construed actively. Elizabeth Wood emphasizes how the guerilla struggle in El Salvador had created a pleasure of agency for the campensinos as it allowed them not only the dignity of ‘standing up against’ (which the civil rights movements certainly did, too) but also effectively, actively and vigorously fight for ‘their’ land and life.

Did non-violence give the same pleasure of agency? It certainly claimed to do so but did it? And if so, was that pleasure of agency enough to actively construct a more just world for blacks (or any ethnic minority in the US for that matter)? This is an important question to answer because if the answer is negative, then the only reason to believe in the moral superiority of non-violence is that it spared one part of the population of being killed — and not incidentally the one that was not non-violent. So, the questions is not only whether taking up violence might be a more ‘rational’ (in sense of efficient) and empowering option for those who are protesting and resisting but also if the morality of non-violence is not a rather hypocritical and, basically, extremely conservative morality.

 

 

Posting again

Well, the research leave is over since quite some time but bizarrely neither the book is finished nor have these blogposts written themselvs. Hm…..

So I decided to take up writing again. I can tell that it will not be as frequent as before and probably shorter pieces (or maybe not). But it will be again on my readings on peace and war in the world and this and that thought, idea and reflection. Just to repeat it again, this blog is not an academic paper repository. Some of what I write is polemical, yes. Some of it might be not well digested, yes. Some of it might be utterly indegistable, yes. That’s what blogs are for. They are a repository for ideas and arguments that might (or might not) become parts of more polished, sophisticated, weighted, balanced and I don’t know what papers. These blogs are my little fridge to keep these ideas fresh.

Research leave

I’m on research leave. Strange and increasingly seldom thing to happen to academics, and even stranger and rarer for academics in management positions… So, I’m hovering over my book manuscript (last printout burried somewhere in the pile of papers on the right) on The Peacebuilders. Now, this turns out to be a greater adventure than what I thought it would be. So the blog, too, is on leave now. The list of future entries gets longer though, so I’ll be back!