Decolonizing Politics

Robbie Shilliam wrote "Decolonizing Politics: An Introduction" in 2021, and it is thankfully affordable for an academic book ($18). The book takes a different road to the conversation that ones I had read, and in that regard it was interest and a great place for new insights. The level of text is well suited to undergraduate students, which is a welcome addition as many of authors writing in this area are really suitable for graduate level and not accessible beyond a niche. Recommended for consideration in your classes.

Note: For some reason the text of the book was not searchable (even via Google Books), which I usually use to double check the quotes. If you notice any errors, appreciate if you can let me know.

"There is an easy option to decolonizing the study of politics. You can simply search for the most exotic forms of politics around the world and revel in their alien-ness. But in doing so, you'd keep the 'familiar' familiar and the 'unfamiliar' unfamiliar. There would be no intimate engagement between 'them' and 'us'. No question raised as to what counts as 'exotic' to whom and why. No stakes at play. Put another way, if you moved your focus to a study of the "margins" only, then that would leave the "Center" intact. Your movement would thereby avoid difficult but compelling questions such as: Who made their lives central and other people's lives marginal? And, by what logic are the margins divided from the center?" (p. 2)

"In what follows, I recontextualize, reconceptualize, and reimagined four popular subfields of political science: political theory, political behavior, development in comparative politics, and war and peace in international relations." (p. 18)

"In his anthropological writings, Kant maps out a particular geography of race which betrays a fundamental logic of difference: the white race can fulfill human potential; the other races cannot. I will suggest that the universal rights of which Kant boasts are only universal to those racially counted as properly human, that is white European men, when it comes to the rest of humanity, Kant provides a practical guide for their colonization." (p. 27)

"While Darwin, Spencer, and Galton differed on the mechanisms and consequences of inheritance and evolution, all of them eventually asserted that mental fitness differed between human groups. What's more all of them proposed that the human struggle envisioned by Malthus took place between races. The science of heredity was avowedly a race science. Empire and colonial rule were fundamentally implicated in the rare logics of this science via concerns for the integrity of the anglo-saxon race as it emigrated to the four corners of the earth as urbanisation in the imperial centre mixed populations within a dysgenic industrial landscape." (p. 61) 

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Agroecology - Science & Politics

If you are looking for an introduction to agroecology and/or a textbook for a course on sustainable agriculture, "Agroecology: Science and Politics" (2017) by Rosset and Altieri is it. This book is written by leading experts, activists, and advocates (which motivates the book), for students this might be read in combination with a parallel book offering a different perspective for comparative purposes. As a stand alone book it is also excellent, concise (for a topic that could be complicated), and readable at 146 pages. Chapters cover the principles, history, current directions, evidence, examples of scaling, and politics. Examples given are concrete, with references for follow up and deeper engagement. A key point that the authors make throughout is that agroecology is political. Very useful introductory book. One of the authors has put the book online here.

A few notes:

"Agroecology combines indigenous knowledge systems about soils, plants and so on with disciplines from modern ecological and agricultural science. By promoting a dialogue of wisdoms and integrating elements of modern science and ethno-science, a series of principles emerge, which when applied in a particular region take different technological forms depending on the socio-economic, cultural and environmental context." (p. 9)

"Most analysts today agree that increasing food production will be a necessary but not a sufficient condition to prevent future hunger around the world. Hunger results from underlying inequities in the dominant capitalist system that deprive poor people of economic opportunity, access to food and land and other resources vital for a secure livelihood (Lappé, Collins and Rosset 1998). Focusing narrowly on increasing food production cannot alleviate hunger because it fails to alter the tightly concentrated distribution of economic power that determines who can buy food or have access to seeds, water and land to produce it." (p. 68)

"While most agroecology research to date has emphasized natural science, these results point to the need to prioritize social science approaches and self-study by rural movements, to draw systematic lessons from their successful experiences. This can produce the information and principles needed to design new collective processes." (p. 114) 

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Qatar: Politics and the Challenges of Development

In the same year that Kamrava published his book on Qatar, Matthew Gray published Qatar: Politics and the Challenges of Development (2013). Kamrava's book has about three times as many citations and seems to have become the go-to book on political issues in Qatar for the time period. Kamrava took a position at Georgetown University in Qatar in 2007, and has been there since, giving him a depth of experience and insight that many others do not have. When I picked up Gray's book, and read that it was based upon three short visits to Qatar in 2011 and 2012, I was skeptical. Maybe it is a disciplinary or training difference, but I struggle to see how I could write a book with such limited contextual experience. Nonetheless, Gray's book is a really good resource, contains lots of data (which is often challenging to find in one place), it is well organized and structured. Some parts could have done with more references, allowing us readers to know where the information was obtained - for example the historical chapter gives many details that must have been sourced somewhere, but we are not told where (and a heavy reliance upon one source, in that chapter Crystal's work). As with many other works written by 'outsider' academics, no Arabic sources are used. While the author speaks of interviews and cites interviewees, we know little to nothing about who they are, how representative that data is, how many interviews are used, how the data was analyzed in order to draw conclusions, et cetera. This presents a significant methodological weakness. Nonetheless, this is a good resource for students, albeit slightly dated now, but for the period before 2012, this is worth reading.

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Small State, Big Politics

Professor of Government at Georgetown University in Qatar, Mehran Kamrava, penned one of the most read / taught books on Qatar in 2013 (with a 2015 adding an updated Preface): Qatar: Small State, Big Politics. Having read a few books on Qatar, this is one of the best, although increasingly dated (the content essentially up to 2012). Nonetheless, this is a good primer, and for those interested in the country, worth a read. A few notes:

Context on book: "The emergence of Qatar as an influential powerbroker in the Middle East and beyond over the past decade has puzzled students and observers of the region alike. How can a small stake, with little previous history of diplomatic engagement regionally or globally, have emerged as such an influential and significant player in shaping unfolding events across the Middle East and elsewhere? This is the central question to which this book is devoted." (p. 1)

"Ascendance is not without its risks, and many deep-seated structural limitations impede, or altogether threaten, the meteoric rise of the Middle East's newest heavyweights. I argue that in many ways Qatar is immune to many of these risks and limitations, and, insofar as its international profile and power-projection abilities are concerned, it has therefore been able to stand above the rest of the pack so far. The unique rise of Qatar is facilitated by a combination of factors that are both structural and contextual, in relation to its neighbours, and agency related - that is, its own resources and its employment of those resources and its agendas for purposes of power projection." (p. 18)

"Hedging may be defined as "a behavior in which a country seeks to offset risks by pursuing multiple policy options that are intended to produce mutually counteracting effects, under the situation of high-uncertainties and high-stakes." Hedging stresses engagement and integration mechanisms, on the one hand, and realist-style balancing and external security cooperation, on the other... It is a carefully calibrated policy in which the state takes big bets one way - for example, in Qatar's case opting for the US security umbrella - while it also takes smaller bets the other way, as in maintaining friendly ties with Iran and regional Islamists." (p. 51-52)

"A second, rather distinctive, branding strategy that Qatar employs is through proactive attempts at regional conflict resolution. Over the past decade, Qatar has become one of the world's most active mediators in international conflicts across the Middle East and parts of Africa, and in the process it has actively cultivated an image of itself as an honest broker interested in peace and stability. These have included mediation efforts in Yemen, Palestine, Sudan, Djibouti and Eritrea, and, most notably, in Lebanon." (p. 93) Since the book was written, probably even more notable is the brokering efforts in Afghanistan. 

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