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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.


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About the author:

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

 

Human security and migration in Europe: a realistic approach by Ali Bilgiç

Human security is not a moralistic utopia but a realistic approach to migration, which takes European citizens’ insecurities seriously by focusing on human security of migrants. It is now time to bravely and innovatively rethink Europe and migration, and by extension, what kind of European political community can be imagined.


 

Today, many individuals, whether European citizens or migrants in(to) Europe, live under fear and anxiety. These two types of insecurity are different, but inherently connected. Both are lives under fear, because Europe’s migration (mis)management dichotomise these two lives—these two insecurities. However, European migration (mis)management policies dichotomise the security of European citizens and migrants from the global South. This dichotomy leads to the three dialectics of European migration (mis)management:

  1. Limited Legal Migration Channels and ‘Criminalisation’ of Mobility: The reduction of legal migration routes, combined with continuing high demand for many types of labour from abroad, has led to higher irregular migration and to the flourishing of the smuggling business.
  2. Mutual Distrust: The European border management system operates based on distrust towards migrants. Such distrust by Europe towards migrants feeds into distrust from migrants to Europe.
  3. Mutual human insecurity: The condition of ‘illegality’ is a source of human insecurity for both migrants and European citizens. Each group’s attempts to secure itself cause insecurity for the other.

Human Securitising Migration in Europe

There have been several renditions and implications of human security. In my understanding, which matches that adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2012, human security broadly refers to each individual’s freedom from fear (threats such as physical and direct violence), from want (meaning unemployment, poverty, sickness), and from indignity (exclusion, exploitation, and discrimination). It imagines communities in which political, economic and social systems do not inflict physical and structural violence on individuals.

Human security is explicitly about problematising power relations that inflict violence on individuals and communities. Being conscious of power relations, human security reveals that the security of those who are disadvantaged and marginalised and the security of those who are more privileged in different power relations are, in fact, inherently connected. A human security perspective asks the following questions:

How does the interaction between economic and political structures in Europe produce violence, fear and anxiety for individuals?

The three dialectics of migration mismanagement result from Europe’s political and economic choices in the last five decades. A human security researcher begins her analysis by questioning political, economic, legal, and sociological consequences of these choices which constructed migration from the global South as a security problem in the first place. A migration management policy starts with turning the mirror to Europe and asks how European policies contribute to the criminalisation of migration.

How do European external relations produce or obscure human security?

Europe’s external relations regarding migration have fundamentally two dimensions. The first one targets the countries of origin to tackle ‘the root causes’ of migration. In theory, addressing root causes of migration can be praised from a human security perspective because they are supposed to address structural problems that inflict violence on individuals. However, first, ‘the root causes’ do not affect all individuals in the same way so addressing ‘the root causes’ does not provide us with a quick solution that is applicable to all. Second, the root causes approach must be a long term policy, which should be accompanied by opening legal and circular migration channels to Europe. A smart root causes approach aims to manage migration, not stop it. Otherwise, it is self-defeating.

Another area that human security researchers can question is EU relations with its North African and Middle Eastern neighbours in particular, the field I have been studying in the last ten years. In the last 30 years, Europe has developed the policy of containing migrants in the EU’s neighbourhood by transforming the neighbouring states into ‘Europe’s border guards’. We call this process ‘externalisation’ of migration management. Highly problematic deals with the neighbouring countries to keep migrants on their territories do not consider rising ethnic and racial tensions and exploitation of migrants’ cheap labour, which encourage migrants to continue their migration.

How can the human security of migrants, EU citizens and citizens of neighbouring regions be addressed together, and not opposed to each other?

Human security of one social group cannot—sustainably and successfully—be pursued at the expense of another group. This idea is known as the principle of common human security. It can be traced back at least to the foundation of the United Nations. The current migration management regime of Europe divides groups. This is not to argue that European authorities are not responsible for the security of EU citizens. On the contrary, it encourages and calls European sovereign authorities to take the human insecurities of EU citizens seriously by acknowledging that their security depends on the human security of non-EU citizens.

Against the backdrop of these three questions, several policy research areas regarding migration to Europe from a human security perspective can be thought. For example, one research area concerns developing a new language that surpasses the dichotomies of ‘good migrant’ and ‘bad migrant’, ‘refugee’ and ‘economic migrant’. Reflecting the common human security perspective and deriving from the EU Commission’s calls for developing ‘a migrant-centred approach’ in migration management, human security research explores a new language that reflects realities of contemporary human mobility.

Another research area can be how European political community can regain the trust of migrants so they do not feel the need to be ‘invisible’. A question can be asked what institutional mechanisms can be designed at the EU level, and possibly beyond European borders, to re-establish a relationship based on trust, not fear, between migrant and Europe. In my book Rethinking Security in the Age of Migration, I developed the concept of ‘protection-seeker’ and proposed an EU-level regularisation mechanism, examples of which we can observe in several South American states including Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil.

Human security is not a moralistic utopia but a realistic approach to migration, which takes European citizens’ insecurities seriously by focusing on human security of migrants. It is now time to bravely and innovatively rethink Europe and migration, and by extension, what kind of European political community can be imagined.


This article is based on the lecture of Dr. Ali Bilgiç, presented on 12 April 2018 for his inauguration as holder of the Prince Claus Chair in Development and Equity 2017-19 in the area of ‘Migration and Human Security’ at the ISS. An interview with him (in Dutch) can be found here.


Picture credit: European Union Naval Force Somalia Operation Atalanta


ali_bilgic_op_prins_claus_leerstoel_migratie_en_menselijkeAli Bilgiç is Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Loughborough University. He has a Ph.D. from Aberystwyth University and a MA in European Politics from Lund University. He is the author of Rethinking Security in the Age of Migration: Trust and Emancipation in Europe (Routledge, 2013) and Turkey, Power and the West: Gendered International Relations and Foreign Policy (I.B. Tauris, 2016).