Reclaiming the University of Aberdeen

December 6, 2016 § Leave a comment


Ok but WHY did the white men do this? Thoughts on Trump’s victory

November 10, 2016 § 2 Comments


By whitney waller (connect-the-dots) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

In this blogpost I take as my starting point Eric Kaufmann’s article “Trump and Brexit: why it’s again NOT the economy, stupid” (on the LSE British Politics and Policy blog). I think Eric has got some useful data but I am not convinced by the way he joins the dots and constructs his story of cause-and-effect. The story I would find more convincing would be to half-agree and half-disagree with him: I think he’s right to say it’s not class, but wrong to say it’s not the economy. I think he’s right to say that there is a values divide (“between those who prefer order and those who seek novelty” as Eric puts it), but he doesn’t convincingly explain the cause of the rise in ‘Right-Wing Authoritarianism’ (which he doesn’t link to white supremacy and misogyny, but should). His argument is that “rapid ethnic change [nationally or locally] leads to an increase in anti-immigration sentiment and populism.” This argument raise a new question: why?

He thinks the answer is that the rise in anti-immigration sentiment and populism is the response of those who can’t deal with rapid ethnic change – because of their values, which favour cultural continuity and order over novelty and diversity. I think there’s some truth in that, but I think that to suggest this is the whole explanation and that the economy has nothing to do with it – which is what Eric seems to do – is bizarre.

A quick look at the Daily Mail, Daily Express and Sun newspapers in the UK, or a quick listen to Trump’s speeches, suggests that anti-immigration sentiment is not simply “they’re not like us, our culture is being eroded”; instead, a really strong narrative stoking anti-immigration sentiment is “they are stealing our jobs and our taxes are going to give them houses and welfare benefits.” In other words, anti-immigration sentiment is closely tied to the economy. In the UK, this narrative goes further in order to target both the EU and human rights legislation: the immigrants are getting jobs and houses and benefits at the expense of natives because the EU’s human rights laws gives them preferential treatment over natives – so we need to get rid of the immigrants, the EU, and human rights legislation. In both the UK and the US, out-of-touch liberal elites are seen as favouring immigrants over natives.

At its core, this is not about Right-Wing Authoritarian voters feeling that rapid ethnic change threatens cultural continuity and order. Instead, it is about these voters coming to believe a narrative, promoted by right-wing populist voices in politics and the media, which sees rapid ethnic change as the cause of specific problems these voters face. Eric is right to say their decision about how to vote didn’t have “much to do with personal economic circumstances,” but only in the sense that rapid ethnic change is not, in fact, the real cause of the problems these voters face.

What he misses is that their decision about how to vote had everything to do with their perception of the cause of their personal economic circumstances. These voters feel as if the immigrants are the cause of the problems they face. They accept that narrative, and ignore data that suggests immigrants are not the cause. And crucially, the problems these people attribute to immigrants are economic problems. The narrative they find compelling and based their voting decision on is about clash of civilisations and competition, and yes, part of that competition is cultural, but a lot of it is economic: it’s about jobs, and who benefits from how the government spends tax revenues.

I think this narrative is factually incorrect insofar as the elites are not really favouring immigrants over natives; instead, I think the elites are favouring themselves over everyone else, and then turning the natives against the immigrants to prevent the natives and immigrants forming an effective coalition against the elites. Values matter insofar as they make divide-and-rule possible, by making it possible to construct immigrants, Muslims, and ‘nasty women’ as scapegoats for what elites are doing to non-elites. And this has been happening to an ever-increasing extent since the 1970s, hand-in-hand with increasingly precarious employment and living conditions for all non-elites. No non-elites like this very much, but non-elites respond to these conditions in different ways, depending on their values. Right-Wing Authoritarians respond by saying “Stop the world, I want to get off.” And more than anyone else, it is white men who say this. Why is that? I think Naomi Klein’s explanation works quite well:

Here is what we need to understand: a hell of a lot of people are in pain. Under neoliberal policies of deregulation, privatisation, austerity and corporate trade, their living standards have declined precipitously. They have lost jobs. They have lost pensions. They have lost much of the safety net that used to make these losses less frightening. They see a future for their kids even worse than their precarious present.

At the same time, they have witnessed the rise of the Davos class, a hyper-connected network of banking and tech billionaires, elected leaders who are awfully cosy with those interests, and Hollywood celebrities who make the whole thing seem unbearably glamorous. Success is a party to which they were not invited, and they know in their hearts that this rising wealth and power is somehow directly connected to their growing debts and powerlessness.

For the people who saw security and status as their birthright – and that means white men most of all – these losses are unbearable.

Naomi Klein points the finger at the rise of the Davos class, and I think she is right to do so. What this means is that while Eric is right to say it’s not the working-class who voted for Trump, he is wrong to say it’s not the economy. It is the economy: it’s neoliberalism. Moreover, it is class, too: but rather than it being about the working-class, it’s about everyone outside the Davos class.

Criticism as solidarity

October 25, 2016 § Leave a comment

This comes from the guidelines for reviewers for Interface journal:

.1. Helpful criticism (criticism as solidarity)

Our job as reviewers and editors is generally in trying to help people who are making an effort in a direction that we share to some degree, to develop their ideas more clearly, with more insight and in ways that are more helpful to the movements we work with as researchers, theorists, writers etc. The most helpful comments are neither those which gloss over real problems in an article nor those which condemn without showing how things could be done better; they are those which identify difficulties, explain (gently) why they are difficulties, and suggest alternative approaches.

I wish more reviewers, editors, writers and people commenting on papers presented in seminars would keep this advice in mind. The fact that so many of them don’t reinforces my suspicion that in fact we don’t “share” “a direction”, even though there is often an implicit or explicit assumption that we do.

A note on provincialising the academy

September 2, 2016 § Leave a comment

Several years ago I wrote a blogpost that briefly discussed ‘Asia as Method’; today I read something that reminded me of this but put it in slightly different terms:

research on mobilities beyond the Global North is for the most part conducted by scholars born in or at least trained in the center—academic institutions in the Western world or heavily influenced by Western thought. Conversations on the geographies of mobility would be greatly enriched if they became more ” worlded ” in the way urban theory is now starting to be (McCann, Roy, and Ward 2013; Sheppard, Leitner, and Maringanti 2013; Sheppard et al. 2015). The result will be the coming into being of geographies of mobility that durably reconfigure familiar distributions of core and periphery, theory and empirics.

I read this on this webpage – where it was quoted more-or-less exactly as I have rendered it here – but in fact it comes from the following article:

page 251

On the webpage where I initially read this quote, there were links to other articles referring to the idea of provincialising particular fields of study. This seemed like a good alternative way of summarising the idea of Asia as Method.

Human resources for health: Concept note for a new reader

August 12, 2016 § Leave a comment

I find this quote useful:

It is now widely acknowledged that health workers’ roles and practices; their identities and motivation; their training, support and deployment are at the centre of successes and failures of health interventions and health system functioning. The past few years have seen a proliferation of research on these and others topics related to human resources for health (HRH), drawing from a range of disciplines such as public health, sociology, psychology, organizational and management sciences.

The idea for a reader emerged from the need for guidance on and examples of excellent HRH research, embracing how health workers are creative and dynamic agents best placed alongside patients, managers and policy-makers to address contemporary health system complexities.

This contemporary viewpoint underscores important shifts in the HRH field. Whereas HRH research traditionally focused on the medical professions, in today’s world there is increasing attention to a much more diverse set of HRH cadres, including nurses, auxiliary medical personnel, informal providers, front-line or community health workers, and home carers. In addition, while HRH policy previously focused on training, recruitment and deployment, recent concerns span issues related to migration, retention, dual practice, accountability, informal markets, gender bias and violence, as well as the need for HRH management and leadership in mixed and often poorly regulated health systems.

Stephen Marglin, research and politics, and Rethinking Economics

May 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

Thanks to Yuan Yang and the other folks at Rethinking Economics for sharing this 1980 article on Stephen Marglin on facebook just now. My favourite quote from the article is this:

After publishing several neoclassical tracts and receiving tenure in 1967, Marglin left again for India. While there, he fell in love with and later married a French woman raised in Morocco who sensitized him to the wealth of non-Western cultures. he explains. At the same time the student uprisings that brought Paris to a near-standstill in 1968 helped to dispel Marglin’s belief in the immutability of the capitalist order. Marglin returned to Harvard no longer believing that the liberal position made sense.

The extreme change in Marglin’s beliefs led some to believe that he had been a “closet Marxist” at the time he was a candidate for tenure. Malcolm Gillis, professor of Economics, attributes this charge to the fact that Marglin was making radical statements during the late ’60s, “a time of academic acrimony.” Marglin today acknowledges that if his present radicalism had then been evident in his work, the University would have probably refused to grant him tenure. Still he denies being a “closet anything. I believed in the separation of my work from my politics then. I don’t anymore,” he says. Having tenure however, made it easier for him to become a radical since he possessed a secure income as well as the “inner security that came from knowing I had made it in their world,” he adds.

Don’t publish your PhD with these guys…

March 26, 2014 § 2 Comments

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