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EADI ISS Conference 2021 | COVID-19: solidarity as counter-narrative to crisis capitalism

The absence of serious measures to protect citizens from the COVID-19 virus in countries such as India and Brazil, as well as vaccine grabbing by countries in the Global North, have created much avoidable suffering, mainly, but not only, in the Global South. Nearly a year and a half after the outbreak of the pandemic, hope for transformative change rests mainly on the countless practices of solidarity by local communities worldwide. It therefore comes as no surprise that all speakers at the opening plenary of the EADI ISS #Solidarity2021 conference were torn between pessimism and hope when taking stock of solidarity in times of COVID-19.

Solidarity for survival

Brazil and more recently India are two countries on opposite sides of the world that felt the effects of the pandemic most acutely in the last months. In both these countries, the failure to implement adequate measures has led to a skyrocketing number of infections and related deaths. In the face of such adversity, communities have banded together to try to survive.

Sreerekha Sathi from the ISS, who discussed how the pandemic was navigated in India, and Patricia Maria E. Mendonça from the University of São Paulo, who brought in perspectives from Brazil, pointed to the many encouraging solidarity practices among local communities in both countries. “What we see in Brazil are people connecting to each other, helping each other without expecting anything from the government,” stated Mendonça. In India, on the other hand, Sathi recounted how “we sacrificed many lives, mostly from marginalised sections of society such ad Dalits and migrants”. But solidarity could be witnessed among ordinary people.

Indian leadership, as Sathi put it, can well be compared with that of Trump and Bolsonaro, who “followed a similar response to COVID in many ways, framing it as a flu and promoting unscientific and ineffective treatments”. In India, the system failed particularly during the second wave, when people in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh were even struggling to bury those who had lost their lives to the virus and its mismanagement.

Mendonça connected the situation in Brazil to the broader Latin American history of extreme inequality and shrinking civic space:

“The legacy of extreme inequality is a mark of the continent, and these inequalities are now rising, as Latin America largely depends on the informal economy, which is most effected by the pandemic. And so, we see inequality in access to health, education and food”.

She and her colleagues explored initiatives in urban peripheries in São Paulo and other Brazilian cities, where communities “not only found ways to increase mutual support and to channel donations to those who needed them the most, but also to fight fake news, which is a big issue in Brazil”.

Sharing vaccines will impact global development

To build more global solidarity, Sathi sees the wide and equal distribution of vaccines as a central element, stressing that access to vaccines in countries with large populations such as India and Brazil will have a tremendous impact on global development. And the other way round, “we in our countries need to figure out how to make our democracies work in a better way, and then globally, to look for more solidarity in vaccine and other resource sharing”.

Sowing seeds of hope…

Although it might seem cynical at the first sight to view the pandemic as a catalyst for positive change, there are also good reasons for cautious hope. According to Danny Sriskandarajah, CEO of Oxfam Great Britain, the pandemic has the potential to set the seeds for transformative systemic change:

“Many of us have been spending decades saying, we are all in this together, we have common threats and challenges, and are one humanity who needs to build on solidarity. In some ways, there has been nothing in our collective history that comes close to this pandemic in making us feel we are all in this together.

To have solidarity, you need to have some sense of community or proximity, some sense of familiarity, and the optimist in me thinks that this is the moment for our generation to build back very differently on this basis. Wherever you look, there are really worrying signs, but there are also seeds of something really transformative that could look very differently in years to come, and I do think historians will look back at this era of humanity and judge us by whether we grabbed the opportunity to do things radically differently”.

…or amplifying differences?

Melissa Leach, Director of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) (University of Sussex)  held a different view. Leach admitted that the conditions for the cautious hope she had expressed in a paper almost a year ago on ‘How and why COVID-19 requires us to rethink development’ have now changed:

“On the contrary, instead of people-to-people sharing, we see COVID amplifying differences and inequalities across place, across race, across gender and class. Some people have thrived. Others have faced worsening health and other intersecting precarities. We see COVID exposing these long-term forms of structural violence as cracks in the systems we all depend on. While doing little to mend them, we see it giving reign to authoritarian politics and backlashes from the UK to Uganda, Brazil, India.

And instead of human-nature solidarities, we are seeing a whole range of new climate and biodiversity deals, which are emphasising national, market-based targets and mechanisms. We are actually exporting responsibility for restoring ecosystems or offsetting the degradation via the market to others, often undermining indigenous and local solidarities with nature”.

‘Vaccine apartheid’, ‘regressive’ solidarity, and crisis capitalism

On top of this comes the new ‘vaccine apartheid’ and something she calls ‘regressive’ solidarity, which Guy Standing has described as “the virulent global solidarity of the rentiers, the plutocracy, and globalised finance”.On the other hand, the pandemic has not only seen ‘crisis capitalism’ at work, as described by Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, and – as a counterpart – the many practices of solidarity as just described, but also according to Leach “an unprecedented moment of reflection and imagination about alternative futures, and in a way this very conference session is an example of that”. But, she wondered, “Can these local solidarities from the margin globalise? Can we see progressive global solidarity building from the bottom up that can challenge the regressive solidarities of crisis capitalism?”

Moving past stereotypes

Sathi argued that the pandemic has also taught us some lessons on rethinking the usual North-South clichés. For example, while people in so-called ‘developed’ countries such as the US were hoarding sanitiser and toilet paper, people in ‘developing’ countries were setting up community kitchens from scratch. She also mentioned that in the early stages of the pandemic, when the Indian state of Kerala provided better virus protection that the US, for example, citizens from the Global North who wanted to extend their visa there suddenly found themselves in the same situation as people of colour usually do in countries of the Global North.

A return to normal – but one that we cannot accept

The seeds of transformative change may be visible to some, and in some places, but they need to be sown before it’s too late and we return to the world of inequality and suffering we lived in before the pandemic emerged. It’s up to us to find these seeds and to help them sprout and grow.

 Sriskandarajah in his concluding remarks hit home:

“When left unchecked, the pandemic will simply reinforce almost all of that which we worried about pre-pandemic, whether that’s climate vandalism, vulgar levels of economic accumulation and inequality, deepening of gender inequities and injustices in our societies, and so on.

But I can also see, like in any system change, the little threads you would like to pull at, the sort of peripheral solidarity or disruptive solidarities that could undo the whole system. If I had a wish list of what I would like to see in 10 or 20 years’ time, that list would include things like social protection for every human being, a fundamental rethink on how we frame growth, and a reframing all those measures we have been using and abusing in the recent decades”.

Opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the ISS or members of the Bliss team.

About the author:

Christiane Kliemann Communications European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes (EADI)

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EADI/ISS Series | Limits to learning: when climate action contributes to social conflict

By Dirk Jan Koch and Marloes Verholt

REDD+, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, has been one of the holy grails of international efforts to combat climate change for the past 10 years: over 10 billion dollars have been pledged to this cause by donor countries. Although REDD+ aims to reduce deforestation rates while increasing the welfare of landowners, research has shown that it also negatively impacts indigenous communities and has contributed to conflict. While hard work has been done to improve REDD+ programs, there are serious unintended effects of this much needed climate change action program. We wondered if organizations will do something about these unintended effects and would like to stimulate debate on that. We found that there are limits to what they learn: some unintended effects are likely to persist.

The REDD+ programmes, developed by the United Nations, use a payment for environmental services (PES) approach to support developing countries in creating more sustainable land use models. The idea behind this is that landowners move away from traditional land use methods that deplete forests and hence exhaust their capacity to absorb CO2. In turn, they receive monetary and other incentives that make up for loss of income and enable them to work towards more sustainable land use.

However, a disturbing number of “unintended consequences” results from these programmes. Such consequences do not necessarily relate to the initial goals of the programme: it can for example achieve great results in forest preservation and poverty alleviation; yet be only accessible to those who officially own the land. Thereby it excludes the poor residents for whom the programme was initially intended. Importantly, because these effects fall outside the scope of the programmes, they are not always taken into consideration when it comes to measuring impact.

In the past years, researchers found such effects on both the forest preservation and social impact fronts. Now, determining that some bear the brunt of well-intended efforts to tackle climate change is one thing. The next question, however, is crucial: will implementers be able to learn from their mistakes? Are the unintended consequences that have been seen in the past years avoidable, and does REDD+ hence have the potential to be for instance truly inclusive and conflict-sensitive?

Will programme implementers learn from their mistakes?

The answer is, as always: it depends. Reasons for not learning from unintended effects are partly technical: for example, the difficulty to measure the actual deforestation rates or the forests that are “saved” as a direct result from the project (the so-called displacement effect). With better measurement techniques, experts expect that these issues can be overcome in the near future.

However, the unintended consequences of REDD+ that are social in nature are a completely different ball game. These include for example the discrimination of indigenous peoples and their ancestral ways of living and working the land; the exclusion of many rural poor because they do not have official land titles; the exclusion of women for the same reason; or the rising of social tensions in communities, or between communities and authorities.

Organizations which implement REDD+, such as the World Bank and the Green Climate Fund, are aware of these unintended consequences and have put measures in place to anticipate and regulate them. These “social and environmental safeguards” should prevent discrimination as a result from the programmes. Moreover, grievance redress and dispute settlement mechanisms are in place to serve justice to those who have been harmed or disadvantaged regardless.

Despite these systems and regulations, World Bank and GCF employees explain that they are struggling with managing these unintended consequences, and that it is difficult to satisfy everyone’s needs while still achieving results on the deforestation front. The dilemma they face is clear: the more time, effort and money is spent to anticipate all possible unintended consequences, the less money and time is left to use for the implement the climate change programming, and time is ticking.

Ideological limits to learning

Donors who fund the programmes appear sometimes more concerned by just increasing disbursement rates, to show they are active in the fight against climate change, than fully taking note and acting on the collateral social damage. With more pressure from civil society, donors and organizations are likely to also take more of the social factors on board, for example through the safeguard system. However, there appears to be one major blind spot, on which little learning is taking place.

To our surprise, the most encountered unintended effects are the so-called motivational crowding out effects. Time and again, it was found that, while people were initially quite concerned about the forest and finding ways to preserve it, their intrinsic motivation to do so declined when monetary rewards were offered. The neo-liberal model of putting a price on everything might work on the short run, but appears to contribute to an erosion of conservation values in the long run. So, taking stock of collateral damage, this might be one of the most unexpected ones we encountered. And unfortunately, it goes against the very ideological basis of the PES approach. Currently, we also found little action by organizations and donors to deal with this unintended effect. An ideological limit to learning appears to be in place here.

Yet, we are still hoping that climate justice can be achieved. That green objectives can be combined with social justice objectives. We invite you to share your abstracts with us for the panel we are organizing at the EADI conference in 2020. The deadline is on December 15. If you would like to read more background information on this topic, you are welcome to consult our working paper.

This article is part of a series launched by the EADI (European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes) and the ISS in preparation for the 2020 EADI/ISS General Conference “Solidarity, Peace and Social Justice”. It was also published on the EADI blog.

Image Credit: Peg Hunter

About the authors:

pasfoto DJ Koch

Dirk-Jan Koch is Professor (special appointment) in International Trade and Development Cooperation at the Radboud University in Nijmegen, and Chief Science Officer of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His latest publications include Is it time to ‘decolonise’ the fungibility debate? (2019, Third World Quarterly, with Zunera Rana) and Exaggerating unintended effects? Competing narratives on the impact of conflict minerals regulation (2018, Resources Policy, with Sara Kinsbergen).Pasfoto.jpg


Marloes Verholt is researcher at the Radboud University Nijmegen. She researches the unintended effects of international climate policy. With a background in conflict analysis and human rights work, she views the climate change debate through these lenses.


EADI/ISS Series | Solidarity for People Displaced by Large-Scale Investment Projects

By Kei Otsuki and Griet Steel

Since the 1980s, international organizations and financiers have created sophisticated  guidelines on involuntary resettlement procedures. They have relied on public consultation to build consent in order to establish resettlement projects as an effective, common, and sustainable solution to displacement. But the focus on pre-resettlement consultations has largely neglected the importance of follow-up processes when resettled people start facing difficulties to live their everyday life. How can we, development researchers and practitioners, engage with the long-term effects of resettlement and its potential pathways towards sustainable development?

“VIVER É DIFICIL (Living is difficult)” reads the slogan on a water tank set up next to a typical concrete resettlement house in Mozambique (Photo). A plastic water pipe connects the water tank to a gutter, placed under the corrugated zinc roof, designed to facilitate the harvest of rainwater. In this semi-arid part of Africa, however, rain is increasingly scarce. “God stopped the rain”, says the owner of this house, David, who also wrote the slogan on his water tank.

The difficulties David is facing are, however, not only caused by the lack of rain. He is one of the resettlers who were displaced from the Limpopo National Park in south-western Mozambique in 2013. These people had agreed to be displaced and resettled on the promise that they would have a better and modern life in the resettlement village built for them. The Park administration, sponsored by the German Development Bank and the South African Peace Park Foundation, had claimed that it needed to invest in wildlife-based ecotourism without human presence for the greater sustainable and economic development in the region.

Living in the National Park, David has had his own hut and independent huts for his two wives and their children. In the resettlement village outside the Park, his household of more than 10 members crams into one small concrete house with only two rooms. What’s more, the Park administration had promised to donate water pumps to the resettles to irrigate their new collective farm. However, since the pumps were delivered at the village leader’s house 5 years ago, they never got connected.

Considering these drawbacks, you would not expect that, before the resettlement took place, David and his fellow community members had actively participated in public consultations with the resettlement officers from the Park administration and local governmental officials for almost a decade. They had discussed and built consent on housing, irrigation, and water pumps. Yet, after their resettlement was completed and new life started, new situations unfolded and the new living conditions remained difficult.

Internalising Follow-Up Processes

This is not unique to the particular case of David’s resettlement village. Since the 1980s, international organizations and financiers – development banks, in particular – have created sophisticated involuntary resettlement guidelines, and relied on public consultation to build consent in order to establish resettlement projects as an effective, common, and sustainable solution to displacement. But, as David’s case exemplifies, the focus on pre-resettlement consultations has largely neglected the importance of follow-up processes when resettled people start facing difficulties to live their everyday life.

As debates on mining-induced displacement and resettlement show, the core of the problem lies in the externalization of the cost of displacement and resettlement. Displacement and resettlement are treated as side effects with limited budgets allocated for compensation. It is vital instead to envision how resettlement projects could be firmly internalized in the core business of investment projects. Projects should allocate substantial financial and human resources for following-up on the resettlements’ sustainable development.

How can we, as development researchers and practitioners, engage with the long-term effects of resettlement?

At the upcoming EADI-ISS International Conference, we propose a panel in which colleagues working on different cases of displacement and resettlement can share their insights and perspectives about the processes through which resettlement projects evolve, develop and perhaps create chains of displacement effects and grievances over time. These unfolding realities in post-resettlement contexts cannot be fully planned and agreed upon in consultations. For example, in David’s case, the resettlers are in constant negotiations with their host community to negotiate land for cultivation or sharing basic infrastructure such as water boreholes. Yet, we know little about effects of such unfolding interactions for the overall sense of justice and sustainability.

At the same time, there might be cases that positively shape cooperation and solidarity through post-resettlement interactions. In any case, one question remains: How can we, development researchers and practitioners, engage with the long-term effects of resettlement and its potential pathways towards sustainable development?

The understanding of solidarity is vital – in these contested frontiers of displacement and resettlement in both rural and urban areas. We thus call for papers that delve deeper into the lived experiences of resettled populations, such as David’s, to deepen our understanding of what solidarity means in different cases of displacement and resettlement. In addition, we are interested in discussing methodological issues pertaining to our responsibilities of doing research on such contentious issues.

This article is part of a series launched by the EADI (European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes) and the ISS in preparation for the 2020 EADI/ISS General Conference “Solidarity, Peace and Social Justice”. It was also published on the EADI blog.

About the authors:

Kei pasfoto.jpg

Kei Otsuki  is a sociologist/geographer specialized in sustainable development in Latin America (esp. Brazil) and Africa (esp. Ghana, Mozambique) as well as in Japan. She holds a PhD in development sociology from Wageningen University and MSc and BA degrees from the University of Tokyo. Her research interests center on equitable and sustainable development, environmental justice, and remaking of communities and geopolitics, especially regarding investment-induced displacement and resettlement on resource frontiers.Griet-640x427.jpg

Griet Steel is an assistant professor in International Development Studies at the Department of Human Geography and Planning. She is an anthropologist by training and has been involved in several international research projects addressing the interplay between gender, technology, land and mobility and the broader challenges of sustainable urban development.


EADI/ISS Series | Rethinking inequalities, growth limits and social injustice

By Rogelio Madrueño Aguilar, José María Larrú and David Castells-Quintana

Inequality is above all a multidimensional problem. Yet, the key question is whether it is possible to reduce inequality and to what extent. Recent evidence suggests that the growing divide between rich and poor threatens to destabilize democracies, undermines states’ economies and fuels a variety of injustices, either economically, socially, politically or ecologically. Despite certain variations, this holds true not only for rich economies, but also for low and middle income countries.

Inequality is above all a multidimensional problem. It is by all means a complex issue that requires global solutions in accordance with the challenges imposed by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As stated in this agenda “the achievement of inclusive and sustainable economic growth […] will only be possible if wealth is shared and income inequality is addressed”.

Yet, the key question is whether it is possible to reduce inequality and to what extent. Recent evidence suggests that the growing divide between rich and poor threatens to destabilize democracies, undermines states’ economies and fuels a variety of injustices, either economically, socially, politically or ecologically. Despite certain variations, this holds true not only for rich economies, but also for low and middle income countries.

When looking a little more closely at the ongoing popular upheavals, protests and street disturbances in different countries, they have something in common: the dissatisfaction of people, mostly youths, with the uneven distribution of opportunities, limited social mobility and issues of environmental sustainability in their societies, to name only a few. After 2008, all these reasons have triggered a wave of global protest in a growing number of countries, such as Chile, Haiti, Ecuador, Spain, etc.

In particular, there seems to be a lack of confidence in the political class and the institutional setting, and their capacity to reverse these negative trends. More importantly, there is a clear awareness that the concentration of market power and wealth in the hands of the rich with linkages to political power is a fundamental problem.

Institutional solutions versus social mobilization

The open question now is whether we should pave the way for reducing inequality through the normal functioning of institutions, or through different types of mobilization and social protest? In fact, we are indeed witnessing many cases which show a preference for the second option.

Again, the aim of fighting inequality faces a daunting challenge: the combination of rising inequalities within countries and an apparent inequality trap seems to be a vicious cycle that is difficult to break; especially in the light of prevalent inconsistencies in policy objectives and institutional implementation at the national and global level: on the one hand there are mechanisms in place that reinforce economic, political or social structures that lead to persisting inequality. On the other hand, efforts are being made to connect the fight against corruption, crime and tax evasion, which may lead to a reduction of social inequalities.

This lack of policy coherence is affecting economic growth and redistribution as two key conditions to reduce the gap between the richest and the poorest. It is not only that several regions experience weak growth in per capita income, but there has also been a strong opposition to the introduction of a capital gains tax for the wealthiest across countries, who have become even richer over the past decades. This, however, translates into an emerging pattern where inequality is strongly linked with less sustained growth. At the same time the goal of economic growth itself is increasingly being questioned. Particularly in countries of the global north there are serious doubts about its compatibility with ecological sustainability.

Persisting inequalities or paradigm shift?

For all of these reasons we find ourselves facing a tough situation in which class struggle settings are becoming more frequent and severe in many areas of the world. It seems that we are either moving towards a problem of persistent inequalities or standing on the threshold of a new paradigm shift.

Therefore, there is an urging need to examine and assess the different impacts that the spiral of inequality is causing around the world. While acknowledging that some inequalities might be socially fair to a certain extent, others claim asymmetric responses in order to favour socially disadvantaged groups such as women and children. Markets alone are unable to reach an economically efficient outcome or to create a level playing field for all members of society. This means moving ahead towards a balanced social agenda that takes into account the multidimensionality of inequalities as well as the historical, legal, social, economic, climatic and intergenerational perspective.

If you are you interested in discussing global inequalities, please, consider submitting to our seed panel “Rethinking inequalities in the era of growth limits and social injustice” at the EADI/ISS General Conference 2020.

Our panel aims to find new understandings to the notion of inequalities in order to enrich the contemporary development discourse and explore global cooperative solutions. This involves new ideas, dimensions and approaches, including critical voices from the global south.

This article is part of a series launched by the EADI (European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes) and the ISS in preparation for the 2020 EADI/ISS General Conference “Solidarity, Peace and Social Justice”. It was also published on the EADI blog.

Image Credit: Alicia Nijdam on Wikicommons

RMadrueñoAbout the authors:

Rogelio Madrueño Aguilar is Research Associate at the Ibero-America Institute for Economic Research, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, the Complutense Institute of International Studies, and the Spanish Network of Development Studies (REEDES).josemalarru.jpg

José María Larrú is Professor of Economics at the Universidad San Pablo CEU, Madrid.

foto_davidcastellsDavid Castells-Quintana is visiting professor in the Department of Applied Economics at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.


EADI/ISS Series | Why do we need Solidarity in Development Studies? by Kees Biekart

The next EADI Development Studies conference is about “Solidarity, Peace and Social Justice”. But what does solidarity actually mean in relation to development studies? Kees Biekart explores the term by looking at current global examples such as the Fridays for Future movement.

Let’s assume development essentially comes down to a process of social change. Or better, a wide range of connected processes of social change. We can think of female textile workers in Bangladesh trying to unionise, even though the employers try to prevent this. Or we can think of measures to deal with massive flooding in the Bangladeshi deltas, washing away many houses of these textile workers’ families. Or we can think of decisions by European teenagers willing to pay extra for fair trade labels in their fashion clothes made in Bangladesh. All these processes are in some way connected around the idea of solidarity. Social change cannot be generated by ourselves only, even though we can make individual choices. This is probably the core idea of solidarity.

There are at least two essential building blocks of solidarity: action and reciprocity. Any activist struggle will require some sort of solidarity in order to be able to realize social change at a larger scale. Greta Thunberg started her protest in August 2018 at the age of 15 just by herself, quitting her classes every Friday and sitting in front of the Swedish parliament, handing out leaflets about climate breakdown. In the following months hundred thousand teenagers all over the world joined her example and went out during school time to protest against the destruction of the planet; by May 2019 the crowds had grown to over a million.

According to Amnesty International Secretary General Kumi Naidoo (also former director of Greenpeace), Thunberg’s “Fridays for Future” climate campaign was more effective in generating global awareness about climate change than the combined efforts of the major international environmental NGOs. It illustrates again that every big struggle often starts small with the ripple effect of an activist initiative making sense to many more: the basis of any solidarity campaign.

Inequality undermines solidarity

The other building block of solidarity is reciprocity: it represents more than just a voluntary gesture, as it is a commitment that will often imply personal sacrifices. This commitment may be ideologically driven, or religiously, but is born out of the conviction that there is mutuality in a supportive relationship. Solidarity with Syrian refugees coming to Europe implies that we also share some of our welfare and freedom. Again, born out of a basic human value that we help those who have less, as long as we can afford it. This reciprocity distinguishes solidarity from charitable initiatives. And it is not without implications: the bond of solidarity also has consequences for how mutual support is realized. Of course, not everyone is willing to give up welfare or to offer shelter. As Juergen Wiemann argued in his recent EADI-ISS blog: “Solidarity is waning with rising levels of immigration to Europe and the US, provoking resentment by those who already feel left behind”. Inequality is therefore definitely an undermining factor for solidarity.

Following Hannah Ahrendt’s view on compassion, solidarity implies linking action and reciprocity, as it is based on connecting existing struggles. After all, social struggles are mutually dependent the old mantra ‘your struggle is our struggle’.  It is a matter of locating and analysing activist struggles as part of broader efforts and bigger visions for change. This can be extrapolated also to struggles for changing development studies to embrace a more global perspective. The wicked problems to be solved are not necessarily originating in the Global South, as most of its causes are located in the Global North. Despite arguments by authoritarian populist leaders such as Trump and Netanyahu and their supporters for the opposite, the construction of walls between North and South will only aggravate international inequality and will eventually be felt particularly in the North.

Rethinking mainstream Development Studies

So how to deal with solidarity as development studies scholars? Well, it implies that we have to really rethink development studies in its mainstream fashion. For example, by exploring development research topics to be researched explicitly in the Global North, linked to migration policies, poverty and inequality, climate change, neo-colonialism, etc., analysed from a global solidarity perspective. It may require new ways to organise research programmes by providing leading roles (and funding) to Southern scholars. It may even imply phasing out development studies programmes in the Global North as we currently practise it, by shifting their hubs to the Global South. Development studies often remains a Northern-dominated field of studies in which solidarity often is disregarded as a concept revealing activist agendas, rather than a key agenda for fundamental change. After all, isn’t that what we aspire when focusing on ‘development’?

Therefore, the next EADI conference will, for a change, explore examples and experiences of how solidarity efforts have tried to make meaningful changes in a wide variety of settings. We encourage panels on how to integrate solidarity into new perspectives on development studies. And how to address unequal power relations in our curricula and programmes by highlighting the urgency of pursuing change, facilitated by reciprocal relationships and interdependent struggles. Maybe we should talk less about development and more about how to contribute to the necessary changes required.

This article is part of a series launched by the EADI (European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes) and the ISS in preparation for the 2020 EADI/ISS General Conference “Solidarity, Peace and Social Justice”. It was also published on the EADI blog.


About the author:

Kees Biekart is Associate Professor in Political Sociology at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam


EADI/ISS Series | Solidarity, Peace, and Social Justice – will these values prevail in times of fundamental threats to democracy? By Jürgen Wiemann

In today’s world of constantly rising inequality, increasingly authoritarian governments and anti-immigration sentiments, solidarity, peace and social justice seem to be more out of reach than ever. In a joint series by the EADI and ISS in preparation for the 2020 General Conference “Solidarity, Peace and Social Justice”, Jürgen Wiemann, EADI vice president, reflects on the possibilities we have to preserve these values.

Widening gaps

Solidarity, peace and social justice – the title for the 2020 EADI/ISS General Conference – are foundations and goals for a good society, a functioning democracy and for a global system that guarantees peace and facilitates international cooperation. Yet, our world seems to be moving in the opposite direction. Peace is no longer guaranteed when the global order established after the Second World War is not only attacked from outside but – even more disturbing – undermined from within; solidarity is waning with rising levels of immigration to Europe and the US, provoking resentment by those who already feel left behind; finally, social justice has become a utopian goal in a world of constantly rising inequalities.

The widening gap between incomes and wealth of the rich and the squeezed middle class is already perceived as a threat to democracy in Western countries. With political will, income inequality could be alleviated by progressive taxation. What may be even more relevant is the cultural alienation between the old middle class threatened by the negative consequences of globalisation, and the new middle class of professionals, academics and managers who benefit from globalisation and modernisation in general. Educated people see their incomes rise with a widening range of job opportunities through the internet and international job markets. They feel enriched by other cultures and exotic dishes and tend to acclaim openness and immigration. Their cosmopolitan tastes and lifestyles let them look down upon ordinary, less educated people who see their skills devalued by new technologies and new modes of production and distribution until their jobs are finally replaced by machines or outsourced to low-wage countries.

The widening economic and cultural divide between the old and the new middle class brings authoritarian populists to the fore who emphasise the resentment and anger of those left behind, reaffirming their perception of unfair treatment and even neglect by the elites and the media. Obviously, the populists do not have a plan to alleviate the economic distress of their constituency. On the contrary, their role is to defend the existing inequalities by exploiting the widespread resentment against the threats from globalisation. However, economic nationalism will not alleviate the plight of their electorate but will jeopardise jobs and compress incomes of the old middle class even further.

Whatever the medium and long-term economic effects of the nationalist policy agenda will be, it threatens to undermine the post-war global order from within. This would have dire consequences not only for the world economy, but also for international cooperation and global governance. It opens the door for other authoritarian governments to pursue their illiberal agenda and what they perceive as national interest without respect for their neighbours’ interests and the rest of the world.

From the end of history to the end of Western hegemony

After the Second World War, a global order was erected in order to prevent another world war and enhance peaceful international cooperation through trade, foreign direct investment and development cooperation. It was based on a set of values and principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Charter. An array of international organisations was founded to implement the principles of peaceful international cooperation.

Trade liberalization and market access to the United States helped the war-damaged economies of Germany, Japan and the rest of Western Europe to recover faster than had been expected at the end of the war. Since the 1960s, a handful of smaller South East Asian countries implemented a development strategy of export-oriented industrialisation which let them catch up with the West within one generation, in terms of both income and technological capacity. Their success was celebrated as East Asian Miracle. In those days already, American and European industries felt the pressure from labour-intensive industries in South East Asia and Japan. Yet, in the 1970s, Western economies were more affected by two oil shocks and the ensuing stagflation. On both sides of the Atlantic the answer to that challenge was to stimulate economic growth through unleashing market forces, i.e. the neoliberal agenda.

That was the beginning of globalisation unchained, with China embracing capitalism in 1978 and copying the East Asian model of export-oriented industrialisation on a large scale. For two decades, economists and international financial institutes like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund took the rapid rise of China, India and other Asian emerging markets as proof of the effectiveness of the Washington Consensus that prescribes trade liberalisation for goods, services and capital. Millions of Chinese, Koreans, Indians, Indonesians etc. have been lifted out of poverty in one generation.

The complementary stress for the industrialised countries resulting from increasing imports of ever more sophisticated products from East Asia – job losses, abandoned industries, declining communities and regions – was vindicated by economists as necessary industrial restructuring that would eventually make everybody better off.  Today, we realise that this was an unfounded promise: the incomes of the old middle class have stagnated since decades while the rich have enjoyed increasing incomes and wealth. The middle-class squeeze was especially strong in the US and the UK, two countries whose governments had embraced neoliberal economic policies earlier and with more consequence than continental Europe. In both countries, populists have either taken over the government or gained a decisive influence on its course, undermining the European Union and the post war global order.

Responding to Environmental Threats

These trends do not forebode well for international cooperation and global governance which is more urgent than ever when it comes to responding to the challenges of climate change, extinction of species, overexploitation and excessive pollution of the oceans and other global or regional ecological disasters. A growing world population aspiring to the lifestyles of the middle classes in the West, is already trespassing several planetary boundaries. However, authoritarian populists routinely question scientific evidence and threaten media coverage of scientific research that aims at preparing the public for the required changes in lifestyles, for increasing taxation of carbon dioxide and for sharing responsibility for the global commons with other countries.

Optimists believe that human ingenuity and creativity will produce technological solutions to the global challenges. However, there is a risk that the avalanche of new technologies, especially artificial intelligence, will not only replace manual labour, but also jeopardise a wide range of professional jobs so that the fabric of industrial societies will be undermined faster than policies can be developed to contain their impact. There are more disturbing aspects associated with revolutionary new technologies, such as the manipulation of public opinion through social media, the possibility of totalitarian governments to control and suppress any opposition with new surveillance technologies, and new forms of warfare, cyberwar and fully autonomous weapon systems, may threaten peace and security. One can only hope for creative policies and agreements both on the national and the global level for containing the disruptive consequences of all these new technologies.

Conclusion: The challenge for the development community

The current erosion of the global order in general and the European Union in particular, is alarming, especially for those committed to development research and cooperation. It is our interest to work for improving the climate for effective international cooperation and a fair sharing of responsibilities for managing the various challenges between rich and poor countries and rich and poor in each country. The recent challenges to political stability and economic prosperity need to be comprehended by the community of development scholars, development policy makers and practitioners in order to focus their teaching and research and to adjust development cooperation to the changing environment.

At this critical moment in history, the development community must make up its mind: Quite a few scholars and activists have been, with good reasons, critical of globalisation and neoliberal policies that aggravate inequalities everywhere and threaten the global commons. Yet, we should reject the fundamental questioning of the old global order and economic globalisation that is gaining ground in the West. Authoritarian populists are not concerned about the problems of developing countries. Their dream of the good old times when White Supremacy justified uninhibited exploitation of developing countries and their natural resources allowing for relatively comfortable lifestyles even for the middle classes in the West, is opposed to any effort at improving the living conditions in the Global South while respecting the ecological limits to growth. Therefore, we will have to defend the principles and institutions of the global order against the assault from the authoritarian international in order to keep the door open for the reforms and improvements necessary in every country and in the global arena for achieving the SDGs before 2030.

This is the first article in a series launched by the EADI (European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes) and the ISS in preparation for the 2020 EADI/ISS General Conference “Solidarity, Peace and Social Justice”. It was also published on the EADI blog.

Image Credit: EarthDayPicture

About the author:


Jürgen Wiemann is economist, EADI Vice President and chair of the Subcommittee of the EXCO on Conferences. From 1999 to 2011, he had been the German delegate to EADI’s Executive Committee. Before his retirement in 2011, he had been deputy director of the German Development Institute (DIE) and advisor on trade (policy) and development (cooperation) to the German Ministry for development .