Scales of Inequality
Items, January, 2017
In an essay entitled “What is Inequality?” for the US Social Sciences Research Council’s flagship journal, Items, I explore the history of a simple yet stubbornly resistant question that it pays to ask again and again: “Where is inequality?” In doing so, I argue that separating out analysis of “within-country” inequality and inequality between nations obscures how they shape and reinforce each other. Framing deep poverty as a problem of “international development,” rather than of one of global inequality, limits our analyses and prevents us from looking in the right places for the solutions. It’s a similar argument, of course, to the one I set out in The Political Origins of Inequality.
Humanity 8 (1): 207-226
Gunnar Myrdal was one of the earliest and most vocal advocates of the need for international redistribution, or what he termed “welfare world”. As Myrdal himself pointed out the western welfare state was itself often a barrier to such redistribution internationally. Myrdal eventually came to see the western, and specifically swedish welfare state as a model for more generous flows of international aid, but this on primarily humanitarian grounds. The political lessons of the social democratic model which lay behind this evocation of international ethics thus fell away in order to make room for a more politically-realistic argument in the liberal (American) world Myrdal liked above all to address himself to. In so doing Myrdal, to some extent despite himself, came to represent the wider shift in international development ethics under way from the 1970s: away from questions of structural reform and economic redistribution and towards the minimalist yet universal guarantees of a basic minimum of subsistence, from welfare world to global poverty in other words.
Just Global Health
Development & Change 47 (4): 712-733
Some 40 years ago, the public health philosopher Dan Beauchamp suggested that ‘public health should be a way of doing justice’. The argument put forward in this essay is that global health should be a way of doing global justice, by ameliorating the health inequalities that exclude many millions of people globally from enjoying a healthy life and from the benefits of a fuller inclusion in modern society. The essay develops this argument in three stages. First, it sets out some points of intersection between the politics of (global) health and competing ideas of justice. It offers a very basic typology of global health policy and practice that divides it into ‘market‐justice’ and ‘social‐justice’ models, and shows why it is the market‐justice model that at present dominates. Second, the essay explores how mainstream ‘market‐justice’ approaches to global health deal with the problem of health inequality rather weakly, and it is suggested that there are both historical and geographical reasons for this. Third, three ‘social‐justice’ approaches to global health are explored that better take those historical and geographical conditions into account. In conclusion the essay offers some thoughts on the political uses of theories of justice.
Genealogies of Liberal Violence
Society & Space 33 (4): 626-641
What is the relationship between liberal state violence and the contemporary liberal will-to-care? In this paper I address this age old concern by exploring what is sometimes referred to as ‘humanitarian war’. I try to map out the historical convergence of contemporary human rights norms with military intervention in the post-Cold War context to suggest that, far from representing a limit upon state violence in the present, human rights in fact move us closer to the ‘emancipation’ of state violence as an instrument of liberal police power. Further I take up the question of the law as it structures and shapes this emergent form of state violence more directly. Focusing on the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), I suggest that the form of power that is made possible by military humanitarian interventions, and in doctrines such as R2P in particular, is an international variant of what Michel Foucault termed the power of the ‘police’. I suggest that thinking about this power as a form of distributional authority may be helpful in holding to account both liberal interventionism and its underlying will-to-order in favour of an international politics of care.
Humanitarianism and Urban Violence
Environment & Urbanisation 26 (2): 427-442
We now live in a world in which the majority of the world’s population reside in cities; by 2050 fully 68 % of the world’s population will be living in urban environments. How does this challenge the traditional premise of humanitarian operations, which have for long been focused on disaster relief and refugee management in predominantly rural settings? Along with my colleague, Ole Jacob Sending, this paper reflects on the relatively recent turn to the city by humanitarians to problematize both “urban violence” and the nature of humanitarianism itself. What does it mean to “humanitarianize” urban violence? What is the value-added that humanitarians might bring to these settings? And in what ways are their actions changing the nature of the problem itself? Drawing upon a wide range of literature that sets the local structures of violence in light of wider national and international processes, we analyze the “humanitarianization” of urban violence as a cross-scalar governmental assemblage that is likely to play an increasingly important role in cities in the global South in the future.
Humanitarianism as Liberal Diagnostic
Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 39 (3): 418-431
What is humanitarian reason? Images of catastrophe and the suffering of distant others form an important part of the contemporary western imagination. Such images trace the geography of an uneven world at the same time as they assert the moral and political horizons of liberal forms of care towards it. Drawing upon Foucault's notion of political rationality, I revisit the emergence of this distinctively liberal moral geography to show how a modern form of ‘humanitarian reason’ (Fassin 2011) developed in concert with the rise of capitalism and the liberal state. In particular, I explore the processes that, during the course of the long 19th century, invoked both a market‐driven moral economy and a state‐driven political morality within humanitarian endeavour. The final part of the paper then applies these reflections on humanitarianism's past to its much‐debated present. I move away from what is sometimes a rather binary focus on humanitarianism as a problem of Western intervention in other spaces to draw attention instead to its strategic function as a ‘liberal diagnostic’: a recursive moral practice that helps constitute a liberal politics as much as it projects that politics onto other people and places. I sketch out the implications of this by examining some of the ways that contemporary humanitarianism fulfils this role with respect to issues of global order and capital accumulation.
An Incorporating Geopolitics
Geopolitics 18 (1): 198-224
With Europe’s borders seeing greater refugee flows than in many decades the question of how borders are managed has become of th utmost importance. nowhere is this more true than at the Southern ‘maritime’ border between the EU and North Africa. To examine this border regime, I undertook research on the history of the European Border Agency, Frontex. The work of such agencies is often understood as part of a wider rubric of security or even economic imperative. Rejecting both approaches I focus instead on the underlying geopolitical rationalities that guide Frontex operations. These reflections set up the further argument of the paper: that what Frontex itself sheds light upon is a novel geopolitics of the border, what can be thought of as an ‘incorporating geopolitics’. Through investigation of the policies and practices of Frontex, I posit the idea that such an incorporating geopolitics is today replacing the much-discussed paradox of contemporary border regimes – the trade-off between free trade and tightened security – with a more fundamental contradiction: because the more that the work of bordering gets out of control, the more it undermines the societies that borders purport to protect.
Our Humanitarian Present
Society & Space 31 (4): 753-760
Humanitarianism has become such a central feature of international politics over recent decades we are in danger of taking it for granted. It is timely, then, that over the past year what will surely number among this field’s defining monographs have also been produced. Empire of Humanity, by the American political scientist Michael Barnett, offers what historian Bertrand Taithe describes as “the political history against which every other account of humanitarianism will have to be measured”. In Humanitarian Reason the French medical anthropologist Didier Fassin offers, by contrast, a Foucault-inspired account of the form of power/knowledge which lies concealed within humanitarianism’s will to care. And in The Least Of All Possible Evils, the Israeli architect and social scientist Eyal Weizman turns the houses of both reason and morality against themselves to explore the violence that is too regularly, and too knowingly, unleashed in the name of saving lives.
Security or Development?
Security Dialogue 42 (1): 97-104
What is a nexus? And why does this one - the security-development nexus - matter? In this response to an essay by Maria Stern and Joakim Öjendal (2010) I develop an alternative ‘mapping’ of the development–security nexus in order to explore one or two alternative avenues their productive approach might be taken in. Their piece reveals (and develop) what Chandler (2007) has elsewhere argued: that the nexus is in effect a hollow signifier capable of carrying any number of meanings, and that this capacity is maintained through its (paradoxically) attaining the veneer of a stable and uncontested notion. Such dissection is an undoubtedly important task, from which follows what Foucault would call both critical and effective possibilities (Dean, 1994). Such a mapping as Stern and Öjendal offer is a more critical approach than earlier, more user-focused attempts to ‘map the landscape of the development and security agenda in order that it might be navigated better’ (Waddell, 2006: 531). But, in its focus on primarily the discursive realm, it still says relatively little about the underlying cartographies of power that inform such mappings and that help determine what effects those readings have. Moreover, it treats the act of conceptual ‘mapping’ as one primar- ily of uncovering the presence of different points of view occurring within the same epistemic space of the ‘nexus’ so as to reveal their inconsistencies, and it is my contention that a critical map- ping can go further than this. Indeed, it may well need to. As it stands, Stern and Öjendal’s approach to mapping the nexus may actually (and unintentionally) reinforce the way that the nexus serves the interests of power.
On Žižek on WikiLeaks
Antipode 44 (1): 1-4
How does truth speak to power? In a recent (2011) account of WikiLeaks, written in the London Review of Books, Slavoj Zizek argues that predominant portrayals of WikiLeaks – from left and right respectively –have presented it either too straightforwardly as an act against secretive governments and organizations in support of the freedom of information, or too pejoratively as a terrorist attack on stable international relations. Both views are wrong, he says. The latter is wrong because it falls back on Leo Strauss’s elitist view of democracy: that those in power should rule, aware of the actual state of things while feeding the people fables to maintain their ignorance and accord. The former is also flawed, because the real struggle is within WikiLeaks itself: between “the radical act of publishing secret state documents and the way this act has been reinscribed into the hegemonic ideologico-political field by, among others, WikiLeaks itself”. The problem here isn’t so much a question of corporate collusion, he says (referring to the five papers granted exclusive deals to publish the documents) but because it means that Wikileaks must also play the role of manager of secrets – “a ‘good’ secret group attacking a ‘bad’ one”; it presents a framing of power at the top being held accountable by those who ‘take the power back’ at the bottom. If we settle for such a framing of Wikileaks, then the one thing that goes unchallenged, Zizek says, is power (or the dominant form of power) itself.
Writing the Land
Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 37 (3): 365-369
Peter Hulme’s ‘Writing on the land’ offers a critical literary account of the imagination of Cuba’s geography. Hulme’s particular focus is to account for how the geography of the nation – its landscapes, its territory and its people – has been represented and reworked in a variety of forms through metaphors relating to place. At the heart of this is recognition of the fact that, as Louis Pérez Jr puts it, metaphors ‘have consequences’: political as much as epistemic (Pérez 2008, 14; see also Kaplan 2003; Livingstone and Harrison 1981). Since, in recognising this, Hulme directs his attention to also understanding their tenor and resonance in different contexts, I will focus my reply upon two lines of thought that his paper suggests to me might be fruitful to develop. My comments relate first to what we might think of as the geopolitics of metaphor and second to the relationship between spatial metaphors and historical amnesia.
The Territorial Trap
Geopolitics 15 (4): 752-756
In this introductory essay to a special issue re-examining John Agnew’s concept of the “territorial trap” I summarise and review recent work by geographers and others on the history of territory and sovereignty. The idea of the territorial trap was first written about by Agnew in an article in the journal Review of International Political Economy in 1994. As stated there, Agnew developed the idea in order to draw attention to three assumptions common to a good deal of international relations and international political economy writing: first, that national spaces are fixed and secure territorial units of sovereign space; second, that domestic and foreign spaces are distinct and separable spheres; and, third, that the territo- rialised sovereign state is the appropriate container for society. Agnew did not then, nor in subsequent reiterations, suggest that territory, or the parceli- sation of land into territorial units, was unimportant. Rather, he argued that the way in which societies coalesce into national units of considerable ter- ritorial fixity was not inevitable and it should not form the only normative basis for our understanding of the relations between and within national states.
Life, Luck and the Human Condition
Annals of the Association of American Geographers 99 (3): 554-574
This was the essay, co-written with the brilliant Gerry Kearns, that introduced the notion of vital geography. As we wrote there: life has been problematized anew by recent social change and scientific innovation. There are important and little studied geographical dimensions to any such understanding of “the politics of life itself,” however. A geographical perspective involves, first, highlighting the spatial aspects of both states and capital, two rather neglected dimensions of vital politics. Elaborating the geographical constitution of vital politics entails further describing the related powers of knowledges and practices. Reflecting on the geographical dimensions of longevity and health leads directly to a recognition of the ethical implications of the geographical luck of birth and residence. Taking up this ethical challenge requires specifying at least six components of geographical justice: culpability, fairness, care, state failure, human rights, and solidarity with environmental and social justice.
Antipode 39 (4): 627-648
Does Guantanamo Bay really lie beyond the scope of international law? Or the many other sites that comprise that modern incarceral archipelago: the global rendition programme? The answer seems clear today but was far less apparent when I wrote this essay on Guantanamo and the (re)colonial present: and it was what I set to uncover. The US government has presented Guantánamo Bay to the world through the lens of “exceptional sovereignty”, I wrote then. This argument holds that international law does not apply at Guantanamo because while America has “complete authority” over the base “ultimate sovereignty” rests with Cuba. Many accounts rightly critical of the abuses of power taking place at Guantanamo similarly understand it as something wholly abnormal—a literal “non‐place”. But in falling back on this argument both the American position and many of its critics have tended to “black box” what is taking place within the camp. In this paper I suggest that we ditch any sort of critique that says Guantanamo is somehow outside of the law and instead replace this line of argument with a critical history of the deployment of a particular sort of Executive power there. From this perspective, Guantanamo is better understood as a rather more normal part of the current imperial moment and connected up in various ways to American imaginations and materialisations of power. As a way of exploring some of these connections in greater detail, I examine the construction of Guantanamo as a particular sort of social space by drawing upon the accounts of those who have been there: former guards, detainees and their defence lawyers.