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Can the Commonwealth Fill the Gap?


I recently attended a conference at Clare College, Cambridge, organised by The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, considering the role of the Commonwealth in 2019 – its challenges and opportunities. The Commonwealth still struggles to an extent to articulate its role and significance in international relations. One session, which included myself as a presenter, had the title “A Less Valuable Connection? The Commonwealth in the post-Brexit era”. The session had the objective of considering whether the Commonwealth as an institution, and via its member states, can fill the gap (or at least partially fill the gap), which will be created by Brexit (in whatever form that takes). My focus was primarily on the Caribbean – both sovereign and non-sovereign countries – to assess briefly the direct and indirect impacts of Brexit; before going onto consider how the Commonwealth can perhaps help mitigate the consequences we are likely to see.

I would like to use the rest of this blog to provide an overview of my presentation and what role, if any, the Commonwealth can play going forward. Let us start with the impacts, and likely impacts, of Brexit on the Caribbean. The most significant consequences will be seen for the Overseas Territories of the UK – such as the British Virgin Islands (BVI) – who will likely lose free access to the EU single market; tens of millions of euros in EU bilateral and regional aid; free movement across the EU or at least the restriction of that benefit; and the shutting down of important avenues of dialogue with the European Commission. So far the UK government has provided very little clarity about what comes next. A commitment has been made to make good any shortfall in EU funding up to the end of 2020, but nothing more than that. As a consequence, there are concerns that trade will be hit and funding will be less and possibly based on a competitive bidding process; at present EU aid is allocated through negotiation and dialogue.

Brexit has also implications for the independent Anglophone Caribbean – in two key respects. First, there is little detail about what a future trading relationship might look like between the UK and the Caribbean, once the UK extracts itself from the Cotonou Agreement and the associated Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) that links Caribbean countries with the EU. In the short-term there will likely be uncertainty and disruption; then perhaps adoption of an EPA – equivalent deal in relation to tariffs, standards and regulations. Beyond that, who knows? But could the Caribbean get a better deal from the UK than they presently have with the EU? If Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson’s aim of a UK military base in somewhere like Montserrat or Guyana comes to pass, then perhaps the region can ask for concessions from the UK. Second, there are the continuing relations between the Caribbean and the EU (without the UK). The renegotiation of the Cotonou Agreement has just begun, but there are challenges for the region – now fewer natural allies in the EU; less money as the UK contributed 15 percent to the key European Development Fund; and suggestions that the Anglo-Caribbean could be linked more formally to Cuba or with Latin America more generally. Thus their long-held particularism is potentially under threat.

So what role post-Brexit for the Commonwealth? Let’s begin first with Commonwealth states, and especially those within the Caribbean. There are some interesting developments here, which suggest that the Anglophone, Francophone, Hispanic and Dutch states and territories are working more closely together. For example, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), made up primarily of Anglophone states, is considering associate membership for the Dutch and French territories. The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), a small sub-grouping of Anglophone countries, made Martinique (a French territory) an associate member in 2015. Today, relations are being strengthened more generally between the OECS, the French territories and France in areas such as illegal immigration and people smuggling, narcotics and interdiction, and relaxing the rules for the movement of people. Further, CARIFORUM (CARICOM & the Dominican Republic) has recently accepted the BVI as an associate member. So across the Caribbean, Commonwealth member states are linking up with overseas territories, providing a deeper level of cooperation across the region, whilst also trying to develop innovative ways of engaging with the EU and its member states.

Finally what of the Commonwealth as an international organisation? At the moment the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons is undertaking an inquiry into the UK Overseas Territories. I looked through the large number of oral and written pieces of evidence that have been given to see how often the Commonwealth is mentioned. It is only a handful. At present it is clear that the Commonwealth, which has a membership of sovereign states only, is not seen as a key interlocutor for the overseas territories. However, there is a desire to change this. But how? There are certainly informal ways that the Commonwealth has and can further develop that role, via for example the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and using its good offices, in tandem with member states, to assist with constitutional reform – a big issue for the overseas territories at the moment. Could for example, New Zealand with its self-governing states of the Cook Islands and Niue show the way for greater local autonomy in the UK territories?

But perhaps more importantly is whether a more formal relationship can be established between the UK overseas territories and the Commonwealth. At the moment there is no such relationship, but this has been discussed for many years. In 2012, for example, the Foreign Affairs Committee undertook an inquiry into “The Role and Future of the Commonwealth”. Some who gave evidence suggested that the Commonwealth should be more accommodating towards the territories, while others said that would breach the core requirement of membership – sovereignty, and that member states would be concerned about the broader and more informal role of the UK government via the territories in Commonwealth affairs.

But I think the Caribbean is showing the way and appreciating the benefits of deeper formal cooperation around climate change and sustainable management of the natural environment, education, health, and tourism, and not being so concerned about the issue of sovereignty (although it does rear its head from time to time). If it is thought that associate membership is a step too far for the Commonwealth, then perhaps the organisation should look at how the EU manages its overseas countries and territories. They are associated with, but not associate members of, the EU – through something called the Overseas Association Decision. There are discreet arrangements and mechanisms for the territories, but where appropriate they can link in with common EU rules and practices. So the Commonwealth should consider this option to bring together and more closely align the territories of the UK, New Zealand and Australia with itself. Brexit will cause a rupture, but the Commonwealth has a role to play, and with some imagination and boldness can enhance its role further in helping to support the UK overseas territories and the Anglophone Caribbean in the more difficult years to come.






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J’accuse! The Case for Pre-modernism, or, the Rural-urban Divide


Emile Zola’s now world-famous letter to the President of the French Republic, dated 13 January 1898, “J’Accuse!” (complete text of the letter in English translation here), set the stage for correcting a grave miscarriage of justice carried out by the French military and the secular French state against an innocent Jewish military officer, Alfred Dreyfus.  The degree of corruption that Zola identified in his letter occurred not in pre-Revolutionary France as a mobilizing force for the (secular) revolution.  Rather, it occurred in late-19th century France, a hundred years after the Revolution, at the height of modernism, secularism, and centralized state authority.

Without the Dreyfus Affair, which Zola brought to light with his letter, Theodore Herzl might not have had his political conversion experience in which he lost faith in the promises of the European secular Enlightenment and decided that Jews must have a national home of their own to defend their interests everywhere.  The Dreyfus Affair was some combination of beginning-point and turning-point for Herzl, as with many Jewish Europeans at the time.

Political corruption, then, for small favors or nodes of power that seem consequential at the time may end with results in world historical shifts that the small (and large) instigators would never anticipate, nor likely desire.  It is unlikely that the anti-Semites who wrongfully imprisoned Alfred Dreyfus on charges of treason would have favored the establishment of a Jewish state.  At the risk of being too cheeky, although not, I think, heretical, the Dreyfus-Zola-Herzl-Israel chain of (at least in retrospect) path-dependent events is some of the best evidence I have ever heard for the existence of God – and that S/He has an awesome sense of humor.

Enter several of my great intellectual heroes, including James Scott, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Clifford Geertz, Benedict Anderson, Ernest Gellner, Timothy Mitchell, E.P. Thompson, Eric Hobsbawm, and Mircea Eliade.  Putting them together suggests a story for the late-modern era (approx. mid-1700s to present) that looks something like the following:

Modernist bureaucrats and technocrats, acting upon their [almost certainly woefully flawed] understandings of contemporary science decide to raze the center of cities like Paris, or to flatten villages altogether.  They replace said cities, towns, and neighborhoods with quarters built upon grids that will require no local knowledge to navigate.  Local practices – social, political, economic, and otherwise – are violently, non-violently, and through intimidation crushed and banned in efforts to “homogenize” the populations into something that bureaucrats and technocrats can understand as one people or nation.  The state takes over lands that had supported many peoples, who are thus evicted and made homeless.  It takes over agriculture, or, it works in tandem with a few capital holders to institute mono-cropping on said lands, which results in forest death in old growth forests in parts of Europe.

According to Emile Durkheim, God, Grandfather and Grandmother are replaced with the [centralized] State in effort to maintain social solidarity based upon a social unit too small to have any chance of success at ever achieving social solidarity (e.g., the nuclear family).  The state is suddenly fascinated with collecting all manner of intimate minutiae about its citizens and its landscape, including family practices and home addresses for whatever eventualities might arise in terms of the state’s need to know (Enter, the state as voyeur.)

The “thick description” and “local knowledge” necessary to navigate (what Scott calls to “make legible”) pre-modern towns, villages, cities, agricultural works, and social relations (e.g., privacy) is replaced with the great impersonal (centralized and benevolent) State.  In reality, ethnographic variation, social solidarity, and the local knowledge needed to navigate it all are replaced with anomie for many and suicide for some (in increasing numbers at the time).  For others, new enforced land laws eventually result in mass migration to urban centers, and the demotion of agricultural peasants – who freely directed their own personal schedules and largely engaged in self-rule at the local level – to urban factory workers (e.g., prior to approximately the early 20th century, paid slave labor), often with no political franchise.

The replacement of God with secular authority is a significant part of the picture, as seen in important fictional works from the period, such as The Brothers KaramazovThe grounding, stabilizing, and (emphasis on self-) self-disciplining effect of experiencing the Divine for most people is crushed (at least in public expression) and discredited as a sort of heresy against modernism in what has long-since come to be known as modernization theory.

Closer to home, (sub-)urban cultural norms – which many officials and academics alike appear to approach as necessarily hegemonic, or which, at the least, go unquestioned as naturally hegemonic – are contrasted with that great enemy, Country Music, in as much as it appears to (and does) represent a sort of cultural and political opposition to the cultural hegemony of the Center.  In the U.S., by my observation, said self-appointed (cultural) hegemonic Center is dispersed geographically but is represented primarily by people whose families came from the Eastern Seaboard at least as recently as the 1950s and 1960s.

(Sub-)urban politics vis à vis rural peoples today smack of the worst of 19th century technocratic efforts to quash difference.  Difference and diversity exist within ethnic groups, not only across them. I suggest the rural/urban as our great and typically unquestioned divide in significant parts of the West today.  With it come our own religious-secular tensions, or what I am calling premodernism (e.g., an evoking of tradition in religion and social practices) in contrast to and in conflict with both modernization and postmodernization.  The latter two, when it comes to these questions, are very much the same in orientation: secular, top-down, authoritarian, and disappointingly non-self-reflective.





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J’accuse! The Case for Traditional Capitalism


Max Weber brilliantly demonstrated the impact of religion and culture on politics, and even on world-scale institutions, at the beginning of the 20th century in his famous work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. A single religious idea, a theological principle, through a causal chain that Weber eloquently demonstrates, led to the establishment of modern, rationalized capitalism. Modern, rationalized capitalism, for Weber, was a particular form of capitalism to be distinguished from what he calls “traditional capitalism”. Modern, rationalized capitalism was characterized, for Weber, by an emphasis on constant production linked with worldly asceticism. Worldly asceticism, likewise, was made up of various factors, including: frugality, wealth accumulation, and various forms of (especially economic) self-abnegation. The (economic) self-abnegation implied abnegation of one’s family as well, as applied by a “responsible” adult (assumed to be a father in those cultural contexts). And, all of this, from the single religious – theological – notion of “the Calling”, as understood by John Calvin, and as mediated into cultural systems through the interpretations of specific communities in Europe and North America.

How does the causal chain work for Weber? Basically, like this:

The Protestant Ethic Causal Chain (causal schema is original to Patricia Sohn)

 

It short: it is okay, and even religiously positive, to accumulate as much wealth as you can as long as you self-abnegate. Just do not spend it (on yourself, your spouse, or your children) and you will be fine.

I am in no way advocating this position. In fact, I think that it is completely backward, morally, ethically, and – probably, in terms of God’s Grace!

Let me make a case for Traditional Capitalism. According to Weber, traditional capitalism was that capitalism more characteristic of Catholic societies in Europe in which one worked to maintain one’s chosen standard of living, where one was most comfortable. Rather than striving constantly to accumulate surplus wealth – more than one would need or be allowed, in terms of forceful social pressures, to spend – traditional capitalism involved striving for some periods, and spending long periods in quality time with one’s spouse, children, and extended family. It was also, typically, tied with large extended family units such that the striving to maintain the standard of living of one’s family was not a burden carried by only one or two people (in what Durkheim calls the “conjugal” or nuclear family), but, likely by several dozen people or more.

“Traditionalism”, that term maligned and beleaguered by modernization theory, begins to look a lot like “post-materialist values” when laid out in some of its everyday details. If one wanted to increase one’s standard of living in that period, one was free to head on to the Silk Route and be on the road for some years in order to do so. But if the open road was not appealing, having time for weekday lunch with the family, chess and tea in the afternoons does not sound so terrible. In fact, it reminds me of sheshbesh and sahlab on the Red Sea, or anywhere in North Africa. Keeping up with the painting on the walls and window sills can wait for a few years here and there in exchange for such freedom. It is all about priorities and accepting imperfection in some areas in exchange for freedom and quality of life.

Both freedom and quality of life defined are differently by different peoples. For modernists in the U.S., they seem to be defined, most often, in terms of having excess capital to spend.  For much of the world – and I am thinking here of Africa, the Middle East, parts of Asia, parts of the Caribbean and Latin America as well (e.g., much of the world) – both freedom and quality of life may be defined more in terms of Time. That is, the freedom to set one’s own schedule, the freedom to spend quality time with one’s family, the freedom to have time to cook delicious meals, all of these are more substantive freedoms for some people than are the “freedoms” offered by cold, hard cash.

Post-materialist values suggest that we choose “quality of life” over dollars, at least in relation to increasing numbers of issues. Quality of life is precisely one of the prime goals of Traditionalism, and of traditional capitalism, in as much as it was intended to uphold one’s freedoms to decent housing, enough food, and enough time to enjoy both of those and family.  It is worth noting that traditional societies rarely demonstrate the same distorted and, even, at times, pathological social behaviors among families that are epidemic within societies characterized by modern, rationalized capitalism.

We are getting somewhere in choosing post-materialist values over modern, rationalized capitalism. We are coming closer to Traditionalism and to some of the wisdom of parts of the Old World, which tended to maintain a focus on quality over quantity, and which did not posit meaningless (and, at times, cruel) abnegation of the self and the family in service of an existence better defined by Scrooge than by any positive models of this worldly existence as striving for something holding paradise as its prototype.

The greatest difference that I have observed, as a political ethnographer, between Old World Orthodoxy (across religions) and modern New World secularism is that the former continues to strive to make this worldly existence into something modeled on paradise in small ways and large on a daily basis; whereas, the latter has resolved that this world is meant to be hellish, brutish, etc., and moves forward full-force to make that happen in practice on a daily basis.

I offer, instead, Traditionalism, or pre-modernism, which looks an awful lot like post-materialist values, as a viable way for religious and non-religious people alike to strive for the former rather than the latter.





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Using Technology in Small Group Teaching


Throughout my six years of small group teaching experience I have regularly used power point and you-tube as visual aids and the basis of learning activities. However, last semester, following the lead of colleagues working on active learning in the Dept. of Politics at the University of Sheffield, I adopted Turning Point and Padlet in my Second Year Undergraduate Contemporary US Foreign Policy seminars. Turning Point is a form of audience response software that enables you to poll students through an interactive power point presentation. Students respond using the free smart phone app, and the results are displayed on screen. Padlet is a virtual bulletin board – easily embedded in your online learning environment – to which your students can post content. Think of it like them jotting down their responses on post it notes, and you collecting these in to display for the class. Both Turning Point and Padlet are free for students to access, and they don’t have to create an account of their own, although you as the instructor will need one. My institution has a Turning Point licence, and I made use of the free version of Padlet which allows for 12 padlets.

Firstly, when employing technology or any learning activity it is important to ensure that it serves your learning objectives. Do not get distracted by the bells and whistles or possibilities of the technology, remember instead that it is a means to an end. In the context of my seminars they were a means to facilitate focused peer reflection and discussion. Secondly, you need to carefully think through the structure of your lesson plan and whereabouts you will use the technology and for how long. I tended to use Turning Point to ask 2-3 multiple choice questions at the start of each seminar as a warm up activity, before putting students into pairs to discuss their responses and the results of the room. Including discussion this took 10-15 mins of a 50-minute session. Padlet was used for students to record and present their responses to the group task, and so unlike Turning Point, was bolted onto an existing activity.

I had initially considered Turning Point only worthwhile in a large group lecture setting or for running a revision quiz. However, it has proved both popular and effective for engaging in students in small group settings of 12-20 students. Firstly, it enables students – particularly those lacking confidence – to genuinely express themselves. Polling is anonymous at the click of a button, so they aren’t put on the spot in front of their peers, and until the results are displayed nobody knows which way the room will vote which mitigates against group think. As such, Turning Point can provide a “safe” way to gauge all knowledge and opinions and can help the more reticent contribute. Secondly, it provides a structured moment of reflection in response to a direct question – they must respond and pick a position or response. The outcome be that their own individual response and the results of the room, then serves as guide to future discussion. I tended to follow up with discussion of the results in pairs, but it could also be used to identify what students want or need to discuss more about a seminar topic.

The benefits of Padlet are in my view the same irrespective of whether it is a seminar of 20 students of a workshop with 90. It focuses student group discussions because they must first agree and then type up a concise response to the exercise – they can’t just “talk”, they have to “do”. Each group’s output can then be drawn on with ease in a plenary discussion, because everyone can see them onscreen and learn from what each other have “done”. Indeed, the padlet page of responses is a ready-made revision resource for students to look back on – you can export the produced padlet as a pdf or image, thus saving the students work before you reset (wipe) the padlet for the next session.

Be sure to practice before rolling out in the classroom, I had my fair share of technical missteps. Experiment! Turning Point can run true/false or multiple-choice questions and be used to generate word-clouds; you can repoll students and then compare results to see if their views have changed; for padlet you can ask them to input text or images. When using any new technology with students, remember that it’s important to give clear instructions as to how to use it and take a moment to explain why you are using it. Time management is an important factor here, don’t rush students through questions and ensure there is enough time in the session to discuss the results of polling and padlet work and so realise its full potential. Finally, consider equity – do enough students have a smartphone for you to use this technology as standard and if not if your dept can provide tablets for the session?





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Brexit Endgame: The 2019 UK Election


After nearly four years of wailing and gnashing of teeth, Britain has made up its mind. We’re leaving the EU. At 22.00 on Wednesday 12th December 2019, the BBC/Sky/ITV exit poll opened the final chapter in Britain’s Brexit saga. A crushing majority for Boris Johnson’s Conservative and Unionist Party has redrawn the political map. Constituencies which have been Labour for decades have turned Conservative. The Brexit Party failed to gain a single seat but upset the voting balance. In my home city of Sunderland, had the Brexit Party not stood then a constituency which has been Labour since the First World War would have turned Tory. The Liberal Democrats not only failed to rally the remains of Remain, they actually lost a seat – awkwardly, the seat of their leader Jo Swinson. Following John Bercow to the House of Commons exit are high-profile Remainers Anna Soubry, Chuka Umunna, and Dennis Skinner – who lost his Labour constituency of 49 years to a Tory. Despite climate concerns being a big campaign issue the Greens have failed to achieve anything resembling a breakthrough. Meanwhile in Scotland, a huge surge for the SNP means that 2020 will be dominated by an existential struggle not over the future of Britain in the European Union, but the future of the 350-year old British union itself. British politics used to be boring. Not any more.

The immediate question is, “why?” There isn’t a single answer, and at the headquarters of Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and even the Conservatives, heated debates on this question are now taking place. But one answer is that this wasn’t so much a vote of confidence in Boris Johnson, it was a vote of no confidence against Jeremy Corbyn.

The signs have long been there. In 2015 Corbyn faced a vote of no confidence by his own party, and lost. His response was to do nothing. In 2017 Corbyn entered a general election, and lost to the robotic Theresa May. His response was to do nothing. In 2019 Corbyn faced a national vote in the European elections, and lost (even losing his own constituency’s seat in the European Parliament, and on his birthday as well). He responded by doing nothing. Two by-elections showed a collapse of support for the Labour Party, and his response was to do nothing. Now, Jeremy Corbyn has led the Labour Party to its worst defeat since 1935. His response, for now, is to do nothing. Not even resign. This, coupled with Brexit, explains last night’s election result.

Much has been said about the December 2019 election being a Brexit election. And undeniably, Brexit was a major factor. But despite a great deal of discussion and tentative polls about Remainers now having a bigger majority than Leavers (and the former head of YouGov’s disturbing rhetoric in January 2019 about “Crossover Day”, whereupon enough Leave voters had died that a second referendum should be held to return a Remain result), there was not a surge in support for Remain options. The answer to this is Brexhaustion and the clarity (or lack thereof) of party leaders’ positions on the biggest peacetime political issue the British have faced since the stirrings of revolution in 1832.

Under Boris Johnson, the Conservatives advocated an “Oven-Ready Brexit”; not so much a gourmet a la carte Brexit option but a lukewarm, reheated version of what Theresa May had offered four times before. This was not a Remain option, but neither was it a crash-out Hard Brexit option. Jo Swinson’s Liberal Democrats evolved from calling for a second referendum to simply offering to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit. Nigel Farage’s position of immediately leaving the EU under WTO rules was, at best, vaguely phrased. Jeremy Corbyn’s position has long confused people, until entering the election campaign with a promise of negotiating a magical, perfect deal with an irritated and impatient European Union in record time, holding a Leave/Remain second referendum, but not actually taking a side himself and leaving open the bizarre possibility of him negotiating a deal and then campaigning against his own deal. Anna Soubry’s Independent Group for Change, which was stillborn to begin with, has become as politically relevant as UKIP or the novelty candidates Lord Buckethead, Count Binface, or Mr Fish Finger. Nigel Farage, now turning into the British equivalent of one of the USA’s “perennial candidates” who won’t go away, became an irrelevance as Boris took the limelight as the lead figure for Leave, gifting the Brexit Party a net total of zero seats in Parliament despite their success in the European Parliament earlier this year.

Forced to choose between the Conservative, LibDem, Brexit Party, and Labour options (the SNP’s proposal being irrelevant for most British voters incapable of voting SNP), Johnson’s seems to have been the least unpleasant option on the menu. Swinson’s proposal to ignore more than half of the electorate and cancel the whole process has failed spectacularly, reflecting widespread concern in Britain over the last few months that this Liberal Democrat proposal was neither liberal, nor democratic. The Lib Dems failed to rally the remains of Remain, possibly because the British people are simply exhausted by Brexit and want it to end – one way or the other. And Corbyn’s plan to be an “honest broker” favouring neither Remain nor Leave has backfired worse than anyone anticipated.

The nation has been glued to opinion polls throughout the campaign, anxiously and excitedly watching as the Lib Dem and Brexit Party vote share collapsed, while the Conservatives and Labour raced upwards. But hopes or fears of Corbyn achieving the same as in 2017 – of eating into the Conservative majority just enough to cause a hung parliament – failed to materialise. 2019 is not 2017. The Conservatives are no longer led by a reluctant Remainer and mediocre politician, but by an admittedly charismatic leader and enthusiastic Leaver. The Brexit Party became irrelevant once their far bigger rival came under Leave leadership. The Lib Dems’ policy was clearly unpopular with many Remainers uncomfortable at the idea of just cancelling the biggest democratic decision in British history, regardless of their own views. But while the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, and Brexit Party all clearly stated their Brexit positions and evolved them, Labour did not. The Brexit option offered by Jeremy Corbyn remained more or less the same as his position during the 2016 EU Membership Referendum campaign itself – vague and unclear to everyone.

Labour’s mistake was to frame the December 2019 election around domestic issues. Twelve years after the Global Financial Crisis and ten years after the start of state austerity, Britain is in a shockingly poor condition. Unemployment, growing child poverty, the spread of zero-hours contracts, public services from hospitals to bus routes to police stations being financially eviscerated, intense housing pressure, skyrocketing levels of personal debt – all of these are real, and urgent, and Labour was right to draw attention to them. But Labour was wrong to believe that these were more important to the British people than Brexit.

For the last three (now, nearly four) years, Brexit has colonised British consciousness to the point of complete saturation. Since the beginning of David Cameron’s referendum campaign in 2016, “Brexit” has been a word which the British people have been unable to avoid on a daily basis. Love them or loathe them, Swinson, Farage, Johnson, and Sturgeon at least had a clear position on an issue which has not simply dominated British politics, but has been the entirety of British politics, since 2016. Corbyn’s attempt to focus on domestic issues while treating Brexit as a footnote, was misguided. He wasn’t helped by the poisonous atmosphere of British politics and the polarisation of the British population into warring camps who see the other as not merely different, but evil. He wasn’t helped by his unclear promises on a second Scottish independence referendum, nor by his commitment to scrapping Britain’s nuclear deterrent, nor by his past associations with groups whose commitment to peace and cooperation is, to say the least, highly questionable. He wasn’t helped by a manifesto which promised too much and which was offered by a man whose complete inability to deal with the foul anti-Semitism scandal in Labour gave a widespread impression that if Corbyn can’t manage his own party, he can’t manage an entire country. And he certainly wasn’t helped by a broad perception that the Labour Party (even before he took control) has come to represent the London middle class, rather than the British working class. But as 2017 demonstrated, Corbyn at least had the ability to muddle through these issues, and in the 2019 campaign his past associations with terrorist groups, or his position on Trident nuclear submarines, was barely mentioned compared to 2017. What felled him in December 2019 was a public lack of trust in him and his Brexit position, and a public desperation for Brexit to end, one way or the other.

Britain is now approaching the Brexit endgame. Corbyn will linger on for a while longer, until he steps down in favour of another radical socialist who will lead a remnant of the Labour Party in opposition against a huge Conservative government more preoccupied with the SNP than the Labour MPs sitting across from them. The leaderless Liberal Democrats will wander in the wilderness until reforming as a party dedicated to rejoining the European Union. Nigel Farage will follow Tony Blair into the lucrative job of an after-dinner speaker. In the meantime, Boris Johnson will deliver Brexit. But potentially, a Brexit which is not as harsh as many Remainers feared.

With such a huge majority, and with his rivals and opponents trounced, Boris is not in the same position as Theresa May – trapped by hardline Eurosceptics in the ERG and held to ransom by Arlene Foster’s DUP. 2020 will be dominated by a race against the clock to negotiate a trade deal with Brussels, and the looming war of words between a significantly strengthened case for Scottish independence versus a significantly strengthened case for One Nation Conservatism. But Boris can now comfortably ignore demands for a Hard Brexit and deliver a softer version which will disappoint everyone. But perhaps everyone being disappointed is preferable to half the country being furious. In his speech on the morning of Friday 13th December, Boris acknowledged that much of his vote, like the 2016 Brexit vote, came from the vast and mysterious land beyond London, called “Britain”, whose people are tired of being ignored, tired of being left behind, and eager for remedies to a broken economy and a broken political system. Brexit is coming, and nothing can stop it now. But maybe, just maybe, a majority government aware of the need to placate four angry nations, and aware of the need to strike a good deal with the EU to prevent the further polarisation of the country after January 31st 2020, can do what the British do best, and half-heartedly muddle through.





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Working with and Supporting Teaching Assistants


Throughout the course of my Masters’ and PhD, I was Teaching Assistant across five undergraduate modules. Now in my capacity as a Module Leader I recognise and try to act on my responsibility to support and develop the Teaching Assistants (TA) on my modules in the following ways. Often, initial contact occurs the week immediately before teaching begins and can be focused on the practical details of module structure and administration. But as important as these are, I suggest it’s also worthwhile to find out what teaching experience your TA(s) have (both in general and of your particular module or topic) and to understand why they are teaching.

My point here is that the support needs of someone teaching for the first time will be different from someone with extensive experience, but conversely, a more experienced TA is more likely to be in the final stages of their PhD with all the pressures that this entails. In terms of why they are teaching, gaining experience and/or supplementing their income may impact on how much support they are interested in, or additional work they are willing to undertake – such as an Higher Education Academy Fellowship. Having gained some context, your TA probably needs, wants or would appreciate the following:

Remember that whilst you may be the face of your module, you TA will probably be your students’ main point of contact through their seminars, office hours and assessment feedback. As such, make sure they know what key messages you want them to get across in Week 1 regarding module format, content and assessment. Beyond the specifics of the first seminar, depending on their experience they may also appreciate practical classroom tips for overcoming silences or exercise ideas such as icebreakers. The British International Studies Association Post Grad Network teaching blog is a good resource here as is Teaching Politics & International Relations by Gorman et al (2012). Other top TA tips include: suggesting they apply for an inspection copy of the core textbook; ensuring they have access to any online learning environments and other dept. resources; advising them on handling student emails and how to use their office hours.

See if you can get a copy of the TA role descriptor and check whether your dept. pays TAs prep time.  If not, then you as the module leader are expected to provide lesson plans regardless of whether you are taking seminars yourself. Even if they are paid, chances are (as we all know from experience) teaching prep will take up more time than TAs are paid for. So, if you can, support them by providing in advance and explaining your lesson plan and any reading notes or class room activities. But don’t just hit send. Ensure they know how much latitude they have to develop or depart from your plans, or whether you expect them delivered as written. What you consider to be a comprehensive plan may be incomprehensible to them, so check their understanding where possible.

Let TAs know what expectations they should have of students in an ideal world, but also what are they are likely to encounter on the day in the room. In addition, what expectations do you have of your TA and what sort of support and contact can they expect from you as the module leader going forwards? Make sure that your intention of giving them autonomy, does not come across as benign neglect! How hands on or light touch do you plan to manage them, what sorts of student queries, emails or admin are they responsible and which will you handle? Generally, my position is that TAs are the main point of contact for our students in terms of seminar admin, content, the readings and assessment feedback, but questions regarding the lectures, module administration and structure should come to me.

Ensure TAs understand how assessment will be run i.e.: what advice and support they could/should be giving to students; what advice you as the module leader will be giving students; how marking, and moderation/second marking will be conducted; what the turnaround time is; and what your expectations are of their feedback in terms of length and format (summative and/or formative). Generally, I try to meet face to face with my TAs at least twice. First, immediately before teaching starts and the second time is during marking, especially if there is a team of TAs teaching and marking.

Last but by no means least, remind them their role as TA is to facilitate student learning through reflection and discussion – they are not expected to know everything about the topic. Providing reassurance can also mean (subject to your other commitments) offering to do peer observations and talking TAs through any mid semester informal feedback.






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Internet Democracy in ‘New’ India


This era in India earmarks the journey of globalisation that began formally in the wake of the LPG (Liberalisation Privatisation and Globalisation) Policy in 1991. This is controlled almost entirely by means of information technology. It was initiated first by Rajiv Gandhi as the Prime Minister. That initiative was, however, vehemently criticised by the Leftists. It does not actually explain if there is essentially any linkage between technology and richness. Alternatively speaking, it fails to identify if technological prosperity promotes or lessens poverty. Albeit a polemic issue, it has to be accepted that technology gives a poor person the opportunity to eclipse manual labour to a great extent and prosper better. Even Marx never suggested use of improvised and rudimentary articles. What he meant for was rather socialistic management of industrialisation instead of its abolition altogether.

Whatever the case, information technology entered the Indian economy gradually in the wake of the LPG (Liberalisation Privatisation Globalisation) Policy that was undertaken by the P. V. Narasimha Rao regime in India with the help of the then Finance minister and later Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh. This Policy ushered a new era to India. Apart from the economic changes, it was also due to the versatile uses of information technology. It justifies globalisation as an extent of capitalism particularly in the sense that this is an age of finance capitalism where the movement of values is in terms of invisibles. The national income is well generated, the national growth is well quantified and the national power is well articulated particularly in terms of trade and commerce except the lacunae in the mode of that change. In other words, jobs are plentiful but most of them are volatile. As a result, pressure on the public jobs is continuously high on rise. Therefore, the worries of unemployment haunt the youth. Yet, it being the age of true competition, it requires every individual to be excellent on his/her capability to contribute to the cause of globalism of growth. Information technology is indispensable equipment in this regard.

Internet does have so many tentacles, positive as well as negative. It gives people convenient medium of exchanging news of different locations across the globe itself. As a result, any unethical incident happening at one place gets spread very fast through internet, that is, by means of various Social Networking Sites (SNSs). In this way, the emotional outburst gets the opportunity to take place in the forms of movements. These are mostly new social movements which are basically anomic in nature and mobilise people who irrespective of socio-economic backgrounds take to march in manners of civil disobedience. Thus, in case of the Nirbhaya Incident and the Anna Hazare Movement, the civic movements across the country in general and in New Delhi in particular invited State to come to terms with them in such a way that they would yield more fuel to continue their protests. Therefore, it can be said that the role of the SNS(s) ranged from public corruption to harassments of women. The magnitude of these movements was so decisive that they promoted change in political power through the General Election to the Lower Chamber (Lok Sabha) of the Parliament of India in 2014. In this way, the role of internet highlighted its communication potentials to the tune of supposing Indian democracy with strong cybernetics, which is more of a viable merit of globalisation that helps democracy being limited not only to politics but to social and economic aspects, too, that veers round again to reflect upon political democracy.

Internet is also exploited by some people with perverted characteristics. This is one of the toughest challenges to the State to overcome. In order to bridle such obnoxious usage of internet, India made legislation of the Information Technology Act in 2000 with necessary amendments following the first enactment. In 2015, the Narendra Modi regime took a commendable initiative by issuing a notification to all Internet Service License Holders regarding blocking access to the pornographic sites. But in the face of protests, that mainly took place through the SNS(s), the government had to step back by proscribing the child pornography sites only. Only legislations and strict implementations thereof cannot ensure prosperity. The proper sense of responsibility of the common people has to be very honest and respectful towards the moral aspects of life.

In conclusion, in today’s India, information technology has given primacy to the citizens the opportunity to harness their personality out of self-assessing their conditions of living amidst the surrounding happenings. This is no more an item of refreshment rather an essential equipment to move at par with the government. The government(s) nowadays are oriented to be digital. E-governance becomes an important orientation in the public sector nowadays. While on the one hand, it aims at dissolving the minimum chances of corruption, on the other, it appears to be universally accessible. E-governance aims at upliftment of the poor for whom reduction in transport cost, time and labour to that effect becomes invisible primarily but very much significant at the roots. It also makes the governance reach the citizens continuously, without any regular interruption that was a usual thing in case of providing utility services manually. Thus, there is an opportunity of utilising a 24-hour-day in its entirety. In this age of globalisation, when the public sector becomes a serious competitor of the private ones, digitisation is also a basic item that equips the public sector in that way by right. Therefore, the internet has given privileges as well as challenges to India which is new in the sense of the economic and according socio-political transformations. Overcoming challenges should be an essential target not only on the part of the State itself but also its members, that is, the citizens, even the imminent citizens as this group of population is now well versed in using internet at will.





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A Rationale for Pluralism: The Rural, Remote Peasant


I spent the year I turned 10 living in total emersion in the remote, rural town of Jacmel, Haiti.  It was the Baby Doc era.  Ok, it was 1977.  On rare occasion, one would see a man with no hand; as children, we were told that was how the political system addressed minor criminal issues, such as theft.  It made Haiti stable and safe, although harsh if one crossed certain lines.  On an earlier trip, when I was 6, my brothers and I became lost, alone, in Port-au-Prince; people on the street took us by hand and walked us (a fair distance) back to our hotel.  Perhaps ironically, given our most common normative assumptions about the relationship between political regime and daily lived experience, Haiti was that safe and welcoming at the time.  There was a certain amount of fear of government and police, however, there was little if any fear of crime.

The people I knew were fiercely independent.  They were expressly libertarian, although they did not use that word to describe it.  Many children who came to my classes at school walked, sometimes hours by foot, from remote parts of the mountains to come to school every week-day morning and some Sundays.  (You think your grandfather had it bad, they actually did walk hours both ways up-hill!)  Albeit at 10 years old, when one is a child, one gets access to certain parts of both children’s and adults’ lives that parents are not allowed to see.  Such access included, say, the insides of thatched houses where children play together but foreign (and some local) adults are not invited.  What I saw were people who were poor – yes – but who preferred to live in a thatched house in the mountains and to grow their own vegetables than to come under the social and political control of city-slickers, for lack of a better word, or the state.

When I lived in Jacmel, it had no paved roads.  There was asphalt paving up to the town, and again as one left it, but not within it to any completed degree.  In the U.S., I would call it a village, although it did have its own police, open market, post office, and a few (private) schools.  Jacmel became famous some decades later for damage it sustained in a 2010 earthquake.  It was something of a cultural center, as well as a regional Mardi Gras (Haitians called it Carnival) celebration that was both fun and safe.  It did not, at that time, have the fancy beach boardwalk that it has now, although there was a simple, relatively narrow, cement boardwalk right in front of the public beach area where one could pick up fresh coconuts, fish just out of the water, and which was used to dry orange peels and other fruits for the French perfume industry.

Poverty makes many of us very uncomfortable in the West.  But, poverty is not a crime.  We can have streetlights without crushing all autonomy in social formations and cultural systems from rural country sides, be those in rural Haiti, or rural areas west of the Mississippi River.  The same holds true for villages and small towns, such as Jacmel.

When Samuel Popkin, then, tells us that the moral economy of the peasant village social system is a romanticized myth and that peasants are no more “moral” than anyone else, I left to wonder why that remains, so much, the debate.  While I would not claim a particular natural or normative morality to peasants at all, I think it is safe to say that people adhering to traditional capitalism all over the world, by definition, share in common a desire to keep it that way.  As Weber tells us, people adhering to traditional capitalism precisely do not strive to change their economic conditions or status in significant or systematic ways.  Said another way, economic or status change is not the center of their lives as it is with modern, rationalized capitalism at its worldly-asceticism roots.  Traditional capitalists strive for stasis, stability, and what we might now call the post-materialist time to enjoy it all with their families, themselves characterized by coherence, solidarity, and stability.

I do not paint an idyllic picture.  There are gains and losses with the two polar approaches.  There is also a broad spectrum in-between, for example, people living in towns or cities with still traditional lifestyles, or social formations in parts of Europe (in the remote Alps, parts of Southern Europe, above the Arctic Circle, or among Roma peoples); Asia & the Pacific Islands; Africa; Latin America; and even in the U.S. and Canada (in, say, Arizona or Utah, New Mexico, the Northwest Territories, Manitoba, or Alaska [the state of my birth]).  It includes farmers and villagers in Thailand, or in Kansas for that matter, using high-tech in otherwise remote locales.  The in-between also includes people visiting their still nomadic relatives (say, in Mongolia) while themselves resident in towns and cities.  While we have destroyed most of our formerly nomadic home on the range with enclosures, fortunately, Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan have not done so to the same extent and exhibit some of the same problems (social, economic, and ecological) where enclosure movements exist.

We do better to follow something closer to a Cyrus the Great in his pluralist support of and alliance with the Israelites; or, more recently, an Ottoman approach to difference and plurality, not only ethnic and religious but in terms of social formations and economic systems as well (e.g., urban, rural, nomadic, currency, barter, etc.).  That is to say, empires have been dealing with issues of pluralism for a very long time with clear winners and losers in terms of long-term policy success.  Policies that force people to choose between homogenization, fracture, or exclusion can win for a hundred years or so.  Such policies, however, tend to come with significant periods of unrest and warfare.  Pluralism (institutional, cultural, social, and economic) has a long history of winning for centuries at a time and of offering extended periods of peace.






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Women Acquitting Themselves Well


My grandfather was one of the vice presidents of J.P. Morgan Bank in the mid-20th century.  He was V.P. in charge of the Department of Statistics, which was, apparently, the unit at the time that made the bank’s investment decisions.  He never saw himself as one of the bank’s great leaders; he talked of himself, while I was growing up, more as a functionary despite the fact that he sat on the board of directors of the bank, as well as several other corporations and organizations on Wall Street. While I was adopted from a mixed-race context (Philippine was considered “Black” by many Americans at the time), I nonetheless grew up with my grandfather’s social context rather nearby, as he and my grandmother retired to be near us when I was young.  When I was seven or eight years old, he and my grandmother hired me, for the first time, to act as “hostess” at their annual open house on Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont, where I met some now very famous people.  I was paid $12 to greet everyone who came to the door, to take their coats, to put the coats in a guest room, and to direct guests to the living room or kitchen where hors d’oeuvres awaited them.  Once everyone was there, I was to help spell my grandmother in taking hors d’oeuvres around to everyone in their various parts of the house where they stood.  The jazz pianist who filled the living room with quite beautiful music stood out to me the most in the whole affair, as I was then, as now, highly motivated by music and was studying classical piano.

In the course of this event, and several others that came in the years after it, my grandmother and grandfather trained me in a number of the rules of etiquette when greeting guests: things to say, things not to say, smile as much as possible, keep it positive, look people in the eye, and keep shoulders straight.  Somehow, with all of this, they did not need to press very much the need not to sneer or make random, strange facial expressions.  I knew, instinctively, to hold head high and avoid facial tics to the extent humanly possible. Because I began to learn these lessons at a ripe age, it was, needless to say, disappointing to me to see our country’s highest ranking woman official act with all the grace of a Hippopotamus at the State of the Union Address in February.  Perhaps ironically, pundits on the right have given Nancy Pelosi a pass on her atrocious facial tics, rolling her tongue across her teeth, shoving her hands into the President’s personal space, and hand gesticulations toward her women (apparent) compatriots during the speech.  It seems that no one ever taught her, with all of her millions, that statesman-like or stateswoman-like self-restraint and politesse is incumbent upon one sitting in that chair.

I cannot join pundits on right and left in giving her a pass.  Why?  Because, as a feminist, it is important to me that our women officials comport themselves with all the statesman-like and stateswoman-like etiquette required, still today, in order not to look like a buffoon on stage, in front of the camera, and before the world.  It reflects poorly on all women when our highest ranking woman official is unable to control her facial tics while sitting as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives during the State of the Union Address (and then stands and plays with papers and notes as though she were at an academic conference!).

As someone who was, in fact, required to read Emily Post’s 1922 Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home as a kid, I found Pelosi’s using her tongue to play with her teeth throughout the entirety of the State of the Union Address – as though it made her look cool and political and oppositional – to be appalling.  It read more adolescent than oppositional.  It was, frankly, an embarrassment.

So, while Emily Post’s 1922 edition may need updating for today’s world, many of the basic rules still stand, above all for a state event: stand up straight, sit quietly, and smile politely. Do not run your tongue across your teeth, sneer, smirk, or gesticulate wildly as though you are trying to be the center of attention at Woodstock or Summer Stock rather than standing as third in command of the United States intended to listen to the President give the State of the Union Address.  Speak when it is your turn.  Do not try to steal the stage when it is someone else’s turn to speak.  These are pretty basic rules.  Nor are they gendered rules.  Vice President Pence was a bastion of polite tranquility by comparison to the frenetic Pelosi sitting next to him.  (Honestly, it was such an insult to our national pride and honor that I have to say, I have a Chihuahua-Jack Russell with a very similar tic in regard to his tongue and his teeth.  I have been gently trying to teach it out of him, and he is not an officer of state.)

I should add that, while Emily Post was required reading for me, along with learning both  American and British etiquette for arranging table settings, I was also allowed to get dirty, play in mud puddles, and other normal wholesome American kid behaviors.  Technology and changing social norms accounted for, Emily Post still, apparently, has something to teach us about basic manners that some of us have not sufficiently internalized.

If you think I am being too harsh, consider:  Women are quite capable of statesman-like and stateswoman-like demeanor.  Excusing Pelosi does a disservice to women writ large.  Let us call it what it is instead of trying to hide it.  In so doing, we can avoid allowing the well-meaning and the not-so-well-meaning, in terms of women’s equality issues, to use Pelosi’s impish behavior as an excuse to say that women just do not have what it takes to be serious in politics.






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An ‘Expert’ Perspective on Brexit… Means Brexit


I have a confession to make: in the more than two years that we are now running this blog, Russell and I have actually never met in person! Russell has links with the Netherlands; and, even worse, I was in London twice during the last 5 months alone. But the closest that we came to meeting was during a recent episode of TRT World’s ‘Roundtable’ on Brexit, in which we both appeared – but in my case only via Skype. While Russell and I clearly need to work on our relationship, both of us appearing in the same programme also made me think about the role of experts in contemporary society. According to the Oxford online dictionary an expert is “A person who is very knowledgeable about or skilful in a particular area.” Experts have gained an important role in society. They, for instance, are a key source of information for EU institutions and other administrative and political bodies. And although Michael Gove (in)famously claimed that people “have had enough of experts”, those same experts are continuously asked to comment on contemporary developments – both Russell and I have regularly been asked to comment on Brexit in media at local, regional, national and international level.

Discussing the same topic during the same television programme creates an acute sense of awareness of your role as an expert. People expect us to say and write knowledgeable stuff, but maybe when it comes to Brexit we are also slowly running out of ammunition. Brexit is, of course, an unprecedented development. States and territories have left the EU and its predecessors before, or have left member-states and thus became non-members by default (Algeria became independent from France in 1962; Greenland, in 1985, and Saint Barthélemy, in 2012, withdrew to become so-called overseas countries and territories of the EU). And, let’s not forget, other countries decided to refrain from membership or withdrew their applications, such as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. Yet, his is the first time ever that a prominent member state is leaving the EU. Perhaps Brexit is not that much of a surprise given that Britain has always been an ‘awkward partner’, but it is difficult to predict what Brexit really means. Brexit means Brexit, right?

But what will Brexit actually look like and what will be its consequences? Even we ‘experts’ don’t know anymore. Consider the many options that are now on the table, some which many people had not expected at all. There’s the EU-UK deal with the (in)famous ‘backstop’, which currently doesn’t receive enough support from either parliament nor the people on the street. Theresa May’s Plan B seems to be Plan A turned on its back, with the EU not willing to budge. And then there’s the no-deal Brexit scenario, which all but a few hard Brexiteers – those are among the Brexiteers with a “special place in hell” – seem to want to avoid. Even a no-Brexit scenario, although not very likely, is not completely of the table, certainly since calls for a second referendum or a general election are still out there.

And then there’s the post-Brexit world. Even in a scenario where the EU and the UK agree to a deal after all, this is only the first step in setting up their future relationship. What will that relationship look like? And will the EU27 remain as unified as they currently are when having to negotiate a trade deal with the UK? We are charting new territory here. Experts answering these questions should perhaps say that we do not always know either. Mind you, I am not bored of Brexit and can surely speculate about it based on what I do know. But we should also not be afraid to admit that we don’t know everything.





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