Talking Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery in the Context of Migration Negotiations

Dr Kasey McCall-Smith, Chair of the Association of Human Rights Institutes and member of the Global Justice Academy, discusses Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery in the context of the UN Global Compact for Migration.

In a previous post, I gave general overview of the UN Global Compact for Migration and a brief analysis of the Migration Compact thematic discussions on the distinctions between human smuggling and human trafficking. This note considers modern slavery, a topic with which the University of Edinburgh is highly engaged through both academic projects as well as its Modern Slavery initiatives. Following on from the distinction between migrants smuggled into a state for the sole purpose of evading legal migration and individuals trafficked into (or within) a state for purposes of exploitation, the following will present key debates about modern slavery and human trafficking that are highly relevant to the conclusion of a comprehensive Migration Compact.

Anne Gallagher (Doughty St Chambers), an expert on migration and human trafficking, introduced the subject for the assembly echoing the common NGO mantra that current approaches to migration undermine public support for regular legal migration. Many government policies and hyperbolic rhetoric focused on the criminalisation of irregular migrants (often referred to as ‘crimmigration’) ignore the reality that most migration takes place through legal channels and evidence demonstrates that this has been a great contribution to the economic development of states throughout history. Though trafficking does contribute to irregular migration, the underlying purposes breach international law and the rights of individuals who are trafficked into modern slavery. While much progress on addressing irregular migration that contributes to modern slavery has been made in the past decade, states are failing to seriously implement migration reception practices that are sensitive to the victims of this criminal activity.

There is no single definition of modern slavery in international law. Slavery in its traditional sense is prohibited under treaty and customary international law, but the nuances of contemporary practices are highly varied. One thing is certain; victims of trafficking never consent to the intended ends of exploitation, whether these ends are labour exploitation, sexual exploitation or any other form of exploitation or servitude. Poor labour practices where pay is withheld, passports are confiscated or freedom of movement is otherwise restricted amounts to modern slavery and these situations are often linked to highly stringent migrant worker policies. From the perspective of Migration Compact negotiations, the catch is that smuggled irregular migrants and trafficked persons often travel the same routes and many states are unwilling to develop programmes that enhance the identification of trafficked individuals. Furthermore, the power imbalance between the smugglers/traffickers and the migrants/victims are always out of kilter on the side of the former so identification is messy at best even if solely focusing on victimhood. The nature of those facilitating trafficking is also very blurred and generally focused on men and crime syndicates when there is substantial evidence indicating that family members and older children also contribute to the global trafficking epidemic.

A clear divide exists in approaches to tackling trafficking and modern slavery. Many of the origin states and some NGOs of the global south view trafficking as a strictly supply and demand binary, pleading that if destination states enhanced the punishment for end users then the demand would dry up and their nationals would not be trafficked. Very conservative, non-western states argue that no such activity exists in their highly virtuous societies and, again, foist the blame on capitalist economies. Western states point to the internal conflicts or failing economies that are common across the states of origin. The reality is that they are all wrong and they are all right. No state is untouched by the issue of trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable people and every state can take steps to protect future generations from the horrors that hundreds of thousands of people have suffered. It is estimated that from 2012-2014, over 63,000 trafficking victims across 106 states were reported (see the session’s Thematic Brief) though other reports put the number markedly higher. It is notoriously difficult to identify trafficking victims as it is often a coin toss between the greater evil, the trafficker or the state’s mishandling of a victim. This contributes to the lack of comprehensive information about the dynamics of trafficking victims’ journeys. If the Global Compact negotiations are successful, there is hope that the number of trafficking victims and modern slavery will be closer to zero in a future near you.

#UNMigration #HumanTrafficking #humansmuggling #humanrights #internationallaw #UNnegotiations #ModernSlavery #TraffickingVictims

Follow the Global Justice Academy on Twitter: @GlobalJusticeEd

More about the author: Dr McCall-Smith is a lecturer in Public International Law and programme director for the LLM in Human Rights at the Edinburgh Law School.

Smuggling or Trafficking? Defining the Terms in the UN Migration Compact

Dr Kasey McCall-Smith, Chair of the Association of Human Rights Institutes and member of the Global Justice Academy, discusses recent steps towards a UN Global Compact for Migration. This is the first of two blogs from Dr McCall-Smith on the Migration Compact negotiations.

The next steps toward a UN Global Compact for Migration to combat the ever-growing legal and policy issues associated with mass and irregular migration were taken at the UN headquarters in Vienna, Austria, 4-5 September 2017. The Compact aims to deliver a comprehensive approach to human mobility as well as further clarification of and support for existing international frameworks addressing migration, refugees and trafficking, including the Refugee Convention and its Protocol, the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC), the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Trafficking in Persons Protocol) and the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air (Smuggling of Migrants Protocol), as well as a number of human rights instruments such as the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), among many others.

The agenda for the Thematic Session on Smuggling and Trafficking of Migrants promised a challenging two days working through how to identify, support and facilitate legal migration for the most vulnerable and outlined many controversial issues. All of these issues are overshadowed by the need to balance global efforts to regulate migration and protect human dignity against state sovereignty arguments focused on controlling borders. As an international instrument, before the document is agreed, states will spend much effort articulating terms in order to clarify what obligations may, or may not, emerge in the final form. The distinction between human smuggling and human trafficking, two terms that are often conflated in the media and general discourse, emerged as the first controversial terminology discussion. Recalling the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, Louise Arbour, the UN Special Rapporteur on International Migration, clarified that while smuggling of migrants to facilitate irregular migration is a crime against a State, trafficking in persons is a crime against a person. This, sadly, is a point that has been often overlooked by States in the pursuit of stringent domestic migration policies that focus on excluding irregular migrants no matter what their migration journey. It is intended that the Migration Compact will recognise the nuances of the realities faced by people forced into irregular migration journeys and address these in the countries of origin, transit and destination.

The first panel on smuggling of migrants, comprised of Gabriella Sanchez (Migration Policy Centre, EUI), Mark Shaw (Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime) and Jorgen Carling (Peace Research Institute) delivered concrete, critical insights into the absolute necessity to understand the difference between the terms smuggling and trafficking and reiterated that trafficking victims must be distinguished from economic migrants when transit and destination states are processing irregular migrants. Many interventions prevailed upon States to recognise that heavy-handed counter-irregular migration policies often lead to an increase in trafficking and have extremely negative impacts on women and children that have been trafficked for the various ends of modern slavery. Hassiba Hadj Sabraoui (Médecins Sans Frontières) and Bandana Pattanaik (Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women) cautioned the assembly that the terms human trafficking and human smuggling were not in need of such distinctions if you approach the issue from the victim’s viewpoint. All migrants are prone to vulnerability. It is documented by NGOs that individuals beginning their migration journeys as smuggled irregular migrants often find themselves trafficked as smugglers respond to increased restrictions and policing on traditional migration routes.

Ensuing interventions by states made clear that the distinction was inconsequential for those governments that have experienced a mass exodus in population or that are widely known for their harsh policies toward all irregular migrants. States with increasingly harsh migration policies continued to harp on the need for stronger implementation of criminal laws at the international, regional and domestic levels, ignoring all evidence and statements offered to the contrary. Addressing irregular migration cannot be solely about criminal justice responses and increasing barriers to legal migration. Comprehensive migration solutions must take a human rights based approach to dealing with the root causes of irregular and mass migration and the treatment of victims. A very clear point raised through the proceedings was the pressing need for much more substantial empirical data on migrants, trafficking victims and those involved in the trafficking chain so that there is better understanding of all irregular migration journeys. In the end, states must adapt to the realities that the victims of the wide range of causes for irregular migration, whether smuggled or trafficked or both, are human beings and only a human rights based approach that preserves their dignity will deliver any true resolution to the problem of irregular and mass migration.

#UNMigration #HumanTrafficking #humansmuggling #humanrights #internationallaw #UNnegotiations

Follow the Global Justice Academy on Twitter: @GlobalJusticeEd

More about the author: Dr McCall-Smith is a lecturer in Public International Law and programme director for the LLM in Human Rights at the Edinburgh Law School.

 

What are the Politics of Sports Protests in Trump America?

The Global Justice Academy recently attended an event at the Academy of Sport with visiting professor, Professor Lucia Trimbur (City University of New York; John Jay College of Criminal Justice), on the politics of sports protests in Trump America. The event was part of a collaboration between the Edinburgh Social and Political Sports Research Forum, the Academy of Sport and Moray House School of Education and Sport. Our Communications Intern, Heather Milligan, reflects on the findings and implications of this event.

In her presentation, Professor Trimbur invited audiences to consider the commitment of athletes (and their fans) to political movements, particularly those resistant to the Trump administration and its policies. Trimbur examined sports players’ capacity to struggle against pervasive inequality by denying the status quo, and suggested that modern sporting environments can foster political debates and alliances that may otherwise be inconceivable – illustrating her case with three case studies of American sporting events from the past year. Of particular interest to the Global Justice Academy was the focus Trimbur’s examples had on tackling discrimination and racial violencegender justice and sexism.

Trimbur drew first on Colin Kaepernick’s repeated refusals to stand for the American national anthem before play, which Kaepernick himself explained as a protest against the oppression of ethnic minorities in the US and the country’s continued failure to address police brutality:

‘I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour […] To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder’. [NFL]

Rather than be complicit, Kaepernick instead acted to ally himself with, and provide a platform for, America’s oppressed – an act that inspired players of every level to join him in subsequent games across the country.

In being explicitly pro-American and pro-military, Kaepernick’s stance raised interesting questions about the place of patriotism in contemporary America. Rather than alienating or accusing proud Americans, Kaepernick encouraged them to question what the American flag truly represents: pointing to unification and equality at a time of wall-building isolationism. His protest was not an attack on America, but a plea to return to its core ideals; his drive towards dialogue as a means of improving the lived experience of Black Americans also served to posit inequality as the responsibility of all Americans.

Trimbur’s next case study was the USA Women’s Hockey team, who in March 2017 announced they would boycott the world championship, demanding equitable pay and better training conditions and support by the league. The team’s demands for women’s sport to be treated as seriously and professionally as men’s received massive media attention and support, until the pressure placed on USA Hockey was so great that the team were able to secure a four-year wage agreement, including the formation of a women’s high performance advisory team, as well as marketing and publicity. These clauses crucially aimed to protect and enable the future of girl’s and women’s hockey programming and funding, seeking a legacy far greater than one team’s pay rise.

In a similar vein, Tom Brady and numerous other players for the New England Patriots football team, having won the 2017 Super Bowl, announced that they would not make the customary travel arrangements to meet with the President, in protest of Trump’s gender politics and treatment of women. The Patriots’ demonstration reinforced the idea that challenging gender inequality is not just the responsibility of women activists, but of men too, and urged fellow players to actively use their platform and privilege to encourage change. The players aimed to provide alternative images of masculinity – ones that challenged, rather than enabled sexism and sexual assault – to combat the patriarchal domination of sports spaces, and players and fans alike encouraged traditionally misogynistic spaces like locker rooms to be rethought of as open public spaces for debate and discussion, in which all speakers can be held accountable. Once again, the protesters appealed to American family values and the importance of crafting a more equal world for future generations. In refusing to be associated with Trump and right-wing politics, the Patriots aimed to change the dominant narrative of misogyny, racism, lying and assault to one of inclusion, kindness and equality.

In light of this encouraging perspective on sports protests as presenting possibilities for progressive futures, the Global Justice Academy looks to the future of interdisciplinary collaborations that reach beyond the political sphere alone. It is the sporting element of these protests that made them so contentious, with many commenting on the potential inappropriateness of politicising sport – however, sport’s central place in American society makes it a crucial platform for dialogue. Provoked by such protests, discussions taking place in and around sporting environments were forced to confront the reality of institutional racism and gender inequality in the US. These protests utilised sports grounds to encourage communication and cooperation across race, class and gender divides.

A video podcast of Professor Trimbur’s talk has been provided by the Academy of Sport and is available at the following link: http://www.ed.ac.uk/education/institutes/spehs/academy-of-sport/dialogue/edinburgh-toronto-public-talks/what-are-the-politics-of-sports-protests-in-trump

Specifying and Securing a Social Minimum

Dr Dimitrios Kagiaros (Edinburgh Law School) reports on a recent workshop, ‘Specifying and Securing a Social Minimum’, held at the International Institute for the Sociology of Law in Oñati, Spain with support from the Global Justice Academy.

Organised by Professors Mike Adler (University of Edinburgh), Sara Stendahl (University of Gothenburg) and Jeff King (UCL), the purpose of the workshop was to bring together international experts from a variety of research backgrounds to discuss the theme of ‘Specifying and Securing a Social Minimum’. The overarching issue that was examined related to the difficulties in determining how poor and vulnerable people can achieve basic minimum standards of nutrition, health care, housing, income, employment and education.

Drawing from a variety of disciplines, including legal theory, human rights law, constitutional and administrative law and social policy, the invited academic speakers were asked to submit research papers illustrating recent developments and new challenges in this field. The workshop followed a particularly innovative approach in generating discussion. Commentators were assigned to each paper and were responsible for presenting its content while also acting as discussants, providing feedback and identifying points for further discussion. This facilitated in-depth consideration of each paper and multiple opportunities for exchange of ideas across disciplines.

The conference theme generated debate on two controversial issues. Firstly, the workshop addressed different approaches and obstacles to defining a social minimum. This included discussion on the concept of poverty, the legal position of social assistance recipients, the concepts of social rights and social responsibilities, and the relationship between resources and the concept of a ‘minimally decent life’.
Secondly, the workshop aimed to bring further clarity to the thorny issue of how such a minimum can be achieved. More specifically, participants critically assessed the contribution of national policies, international conventions, targets and development goals, bills of rights or other forms of constitutional protection to securing this social minimum. Special emphasis was placed on the role of courts. Participants presented judicial approaches to securing a social minimum from India, South Africa, Brazil, and at the international level, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the European Court of Human Rights.

Dr Kagiaros’ paper focused on the role of the European Court of Human Rights in this debate. The paper relied on recent admissibility decisions where applicants unsuccessfully challenged austerity measures adopted to give effect to conditionality agreements in states in the midst of a debt crisis. While ultimately the applications failed at the admissibility stage, the Court in obiter statements alluded to the possibility that a wholly insufficient amount of pensions and other benefits would, in principle, violate the Convention. The paper explored these statements in detail to decipher whether in fact the Court would be willing to set a social minimum standard of protection. The paper argued, that although a duty not to target specific individuals with harsh austerity measures while leaving others unaffected has been read into the ECHR, it is unlikely that with this statement on insufficiency of benefits the Court intends to create a social minimum.

Overall, this was a particularly enriching experience for all involved and hopefully more similar opportunities will arise to discuss these issues in even greater depth.

More about the author:

Dr. Dimitrios Kagiaros is a Teaching Fellow in Public Law and Human Rights at the University of Edinburgh and a member of the Edinburgh Centre for Constitutional Law. He has taught on constitutional law, administrative law and human rights law courses at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Hull. His research interests include whistle-blower protection, the impact of European sovereign debt crisis on human rights and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights in relation to freedom of expression.

 

 

The United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Dagmar Topf Aguiar de Medeiros is reading for a PhD in Law at the University of Edinburgh, and is an intern at UN House Scotland. As a member of a delegation from Scottish civil society, she recently attended negotiations in New York on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted 7 July 2017, at the United Nations.

The United Nations has aimed to ban nuclear weapons since it was established in 1945.[1] In fact, the very first UN General Assembly resolution established a Commission to set in motion measures towards nuclear disarmament.[2] Until recently, the most important instrument to this end was the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).[3] Recent years have seen growing discontent with the discriminatory nature of the NPT, which distinguishes between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states. Additionally, the NPT faces criticism with regard to the stagnation of nuclear disarmament. Although the treaty includes an obligation to work towards nuclear disarmament, Article 6 has not, as of late, provided sufficient incentive for nuclear weapon states to act.

With an aim to finally move forwards, in October 2016 the UN disarmament and international security committee saw 123 nations voting in favour of meeting to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading to their total elimination. These negotiations have taken place throughout spring and summer 2017 and have culminated in the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on the 7th July this year.

The treaty prohibits member states from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, transferring, possessing, stockpiling, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons, and disallows them from assisting, encouraging or inducing anyone to participate in such activities. Furthermore, it has become forbidden to allow nuclear weapons to be stationed or deployed on member states’ territory. Of equal importance are the positive obligations in the treaty to provide adequate victim assistance and to take measures towards the remediation of environments contaminated as a result of the use or testing of nuclear weapons. Although not explicitly mentioned, there is a growing understanding that financing constitutes ‘assistance’ with prohibited acts.

The text and preamble of the ban treaty reflect the efforts of civil society by emphasising the humanitarian and environmental impact of any nuclear detonation, be it accidental or intentional. The humanitarian initiative proved successful in shifting the debate out of the security argument stalemate states had become entrenched in. At the negotiations, civil society had the opportunity to share the experiences of victims of nuclear weapons and nuclear testing, and to highlight the devastating impact of any detonation and the lack of adequate emergency-response capacity.

By placing human welfare and safety at the centre of the treaty, it is hoped that the ban treaty will have a ripple effect similar to that of the Conventions prohibiting Biological and Chemical weapons. Therefore, even though none of the nuclear weapons states have expressed any interest in joining the negotiations or the treaty, it is hoped the legal norm combined with continued pressure from civil society will eventually convince governments to discontinue nuclear deterrence policies.

The ban treaty is of particular interest to Scotland because of the country’s unique position of having to facilitate nuclear weapons without having any say in the decisions involving them. This is because nuclear weapons are considered a matter of national security and as such fall outside the scope of Scotland’s devolved powers.

[1] https://www.un.org/disarmament/wmd/nuclear/ (last visited 9 July 2017).

[2] General Assembly Resolution VIII, Establishment of a commission to deal with the problem raised by the discovery of atomic energy (24 January 1946), available from http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/1(I) (last visited 9 July 2017).

[3] Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (5 March 1970) 729 U.N.T.S. 161.

If you are interested in reading more about the negotiations on the ban treaty, including daily reports from the Scottish civil society delegation to New York, visit http://www.nuclearban.scot/ and http://www.icanw.org/

If you want to find out more about civil society engagement surrounding nuclear disarmament, please visit:

http://www.banthebomb.org/

http://www.nukewatch.org.uk/

http://www.article36.org/

If you’re interested in reading twitter updates, the handle to follow is #nuclearban

More about the author:

Dagmar Topf Aguiar de Medeiros is reading for a PhD in Law at the University of Edinburgh. She holds an LLM in Private Law from the University of Leiden and an LLB from the Utrecht Law College of Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Dagmar’s research interests span public international law, specifically environmental law, climate change law and human rights. Her current research relates to the international constitutionalism in the context of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Thomas Hobbes: a philosopher of peace?

The Edinburgh Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH) recently hosted a workshop on “Thomas Hobbes and Peace”. The event brought together political theorists, intellectual historians, and specialists in international relations theory, and received funding from the Global Justice and Global Development Academies’ joint Innovative Initiative Fund. Dr Maximilian Jaede, a postdoctoral fellow at IASH, summarises the papers and key themes discussed at the workshop.

The event was aimed at reconsidering Hobbes’s conception of peace, its place in the history of political thought, and its reception today. Speakers approached this theme from a variety of perspectives. While all participants highlighted Hobbes’s commitment to peace, there was debate on what precisely Hobbes means by being at peace, and on the interpretation of his ideas in relation to other conceptions of peace.

Prof. Glen Newey (Leiden) highlighted the puzzle of why elements of war seemingly persist within the Hobbesian civil state. In particular, the paper examined Hobbes’s distinction between citizens, who are at peace, and slaves, who remain in a state of war towards their master. This suggests a juridical distinction between the states of war and peace. However, the distinction between war and peace may be less clear-cut. Newey emphasised the resistance rights of citizens and the possibility that a Hobbesian state might enslave its own people. In the discussion of this paper, participants expressed different views on the question of whether, and in what way, Hobbes envisions the sovereign and citizens to be at peace with one another.

Prof. Deborah Baumgold (Oregon) offered an interpretation of Hobbes as a political philosopher of peace inspired by Hugo Grotius’ The Rights of War and Peace. She presented new historical evidence for Hobbes’s likely personal acquaintance with Grotius, and highlighted the similarities of both thinkers’ political projects. Like Grotius, Hobbes’s aim was to create peace, which Baumgold described as the supreme good (summum bonum) of society. The discussion of this paper raised the questions of whether there is a difference between pursuing peace and merely avoiding war, and what it ultimately means to be a philosopher of peace.

Prof. Patricia Springborg (Humboldt, Berlin) challenged the view that Hobbes was a predecessor of realist theories of international relations. Her paper contrasted realist approaches to war with Hobbes’s political theory of peace. Specifically, Springborg discussed Hobbes’s opposition to colonial adventurism and emphasised his insistence on the need to maintain a well-balanced political economy. Commentators questioned whether Hobbes’s political theory contains a norm of non-interference in other states’ affairs. Another theme of the discussion was the possible anachronism of viewing Hobbes as advocate or critic of empire in the modern sense.

Dr Gabriella Slomp’s (St. Andrews) talk focused on the connections between peace and friendship in Hobbes’s political thought. Hobbes is sometimes blamed for the decline of friendship as an ethical or political ideal in the modern period. Yet, Slomp rejected the view that Hobbesian friendship is necessarily confined to the private sphere. Hobbes was highly conscious of possible political implications of friendship, which he considered to be a source of corruption and a threat to civil peace. The presentation concluded that Hobbes advocated an attitude of universal friendliness, as opposed to bonds of friendship between citizens, as a condition of peaceful coexistence.

Luca Tenneriello (Sapienza Rome) addressed the question to what extent Hobbes considers religious conscience a challenge to civil peace. The paper outlined different meanings of ‘conscience’ in Hobbes’s works, and examined his reasons for considering appeals to religious conscience politically dangerous. In Tenneriello’s view, Hobbes insisted on public education as a means to counter this threat. The subsequent discussion focused on differences between Hobbes’s views and liberal accounts of liberty of conscience. It was also noted that Hobbes does not seem to acknowledge any positive role of private conscience in regards to making peace or refusing war.

Dr Max Jaede (Edinburgh) presented parts of a book that examines Hobbes’s conception of peace in light of debates about liberal world order, international intervention, and peacebuilding in war-torn societies. He rejected the view that Hobbes advocates a negative peace that is based on mere coercion. Rather, Hobbes aims for a positive peace that is realised in accordance with certain principles of justice. Jaede also argued that the internal pacification of Hobbesian states leads to more peaceful international relations. Commentators raised questions such as in what way Hobbes may be said to anticipate liberal conceptions of peace, and how Jaede’s interpretation can account for authoritarian elements in Hobbes’s political thought.

 

More about the author:

Dr Maximilian Jaede is a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh. He holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of St Andrews and has taught political theory at the University of Stirling. He has published articles on Hobbes’s political thought in History of European Ideas, Hobbes Studies and the Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy.

Towards a radical digital citizenship in digital education

Dr Callum McGregor (Lecturer in Education, University of Edinburgh) reports and reflects on a recent Edinburgh lecture on digital citizenship and digital education, funded by the Global Justice Academy’s Innovative Initiative Fund

In collaboration with the Global Justice Academy, a number of people recently eschewed the rare evening sun in favour of assembling at Moray House School of Education for a public lecture entitled ‘Towards a radical digital citizenship in digital education.’ More noteworthy still, was the palpable enthusiasm in the room for striking up a sustained dialogue on social justice and digital education, across a range of standpoints and disciplines. This event, made possible with the support of the Global Justice Academy’s Innovative Initiative Fund[i], was organised by a small group of academics, tentatively titled the Forum for Digital Culture and Social Justice (DCSJ)[ii]. The DCSJ forum is at the initial stages of adumbrating a cross-disciplinary research agenda at the confluence of social justice, digital culture and education. The purpose of this event was to catalyse this process by creating space for an inclusive conversation about what digital citizenship is and what it might be, if re-framed as a political project for social justice.

The event was co-chaired by Dr Karen Gregory (Lecturer in Digital Sociology at the University of Edinburgh), and Dr Jen Ross (Senior Lecturer in Digital Education) who fielded questions and comments from participants using the hastag #deresearch, who were watching via the livestream (click here to watch the recording). Proceedings began with an input from members of the aforementioned DCSJ forum, Dr Akwugo Emejulu (Professor of Sociology, University of Warwick) and Dr Callum McGregor (Lecturer in Education, University of Edinburgh). They offered a polemical intervention that sought to disrupt the ways in which dominant cultural narratives construct digital citizenship, by explicating a concept of ‘radical digital citizenship’, and its implications for digital education. The arguments they advanced drew on a co-authored paper, published in Critical Studies in Education. Professor Emejulu and Dr McGregor argued that radical digital citizenship must push beyond ameliorative conceptions of digital citizenship, wherein the role of education is to bridge the ‘digital divide’ for the benefit of groups failing to be flexible enough to survive under the conditions of neoliberal techno-capitalism. They proposed that such an educational task involves two co-constitutive elements: (1) critical analysis of the political, economic and environmental consequences of digital technology in everyday life; (2) collective deliberation and action to build alternative and emancipatory techno-social practices.

This was followed by a response from Dr Emma Dowling[iii] (Senior Researcher, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Sociology at the University of Jena) and Dr Huw Davies[iv] (researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute and Convener of the BSA’s Digital Sociology study group). These inputs acted as stimuli to a lively and convivial discussion with attendees over tea and coffee. Below, respondents Emma and Huw share their reflections:

Emma Dowling

“The crucial question Akwugo Emejulu and Callum McGregor ask is what makes the digital possible, looking at the extraction of natural resources and gendered, racialised and classed human labour that the development of digital technologies is premised upon.  Their analysis makes three core proposals that could orient a radical digital education. First of all they caution against the instrumentalisation of digital education for neoliberal ends and urge for an understanding of what global social relations constitute the digital and condition the effects that digitalisation has. Moreover, their approach signals a commitment to social justice that insists on a critical pedagogy with the capacity not just for an analysis of the power relations behind digitalisation, but a commitment to transforming them. Transforming these power relations requires the identification of key sites of transformation. Undoubtedly these are conflictual terrains of struggle about how the materiality of the digital is spoken about and organised. Naming forms of exploitation is part of the struggle to transform them. A recent example is the way in which critical voices have refused to settle on the term ‘sharing economy’ that makes invisible the hyper-exploited forms of work undertaken by people providing services such as driving, delivering food or cleaning houses in platform capitalism. The more recent term ‘gig economy’, while in and of itself not changing those conditions, nonetheless gives a name to these activities as work and draws attention to the precarious ways in which this work is organised. Making sense of the affective structures of precariousness is another way in which agencies for transformation can be unearthed, because this allows for subjective everyday experiences to be deindividualised and related to the social structures that produce them. Critical pedagogies for digital education must do so much more than provide mere skills to process information and compete in an ever-more precarious labour market. Instead, radical digital citizens committed to social justice must be able to question and challenge the forms of exploitation, expropriation and oppression that are entangled in today’s algorithms.”

Huw Davies

“I found Emejulu & McGregor’s Towards a radical digital citizenship in digital education  (2016) inspiring. Their paper shows some of the most cited scholarship on digital skills and literacies is ‘sociology-lite’. This literature draws-up taxonomies and descriptions of normatively defined skills and literacies which once translated into curriculum plans become part of the problem of digital inequality rather than its solution. Emejulu & McGregor argue we shouldn’t disengage ‘the digital’ from the all the historic and continuing struggles for equality because, despite the utopian rhetoric, digital technology is quickly maturing into another exclusionary and privileging technology of power.

For example, every child from years 1 to 9 in England is to study Computer Science before being offered it as an option at GCSE. However, there is growing concern that the digital economy–far from being the meritocracy that is suggested in the discourse about the 4th industrial revolution–is becoming a ‘ruthless stratifier’ (Posner, 2017). This is because the dominant mode of production for the digital economy is ‘platform capitalism’ (Srnicek, 2016): a winner takes all system (Kenney and Zysman 2016) that allows the owners of platforms to operate exploitative employment practices that harness the affordances and fragilities of immaterial labour (Friedman 2014; Hill 2015; Leyshon et al. 2016), such as the ability to code. One of the myths of anti-immigration discourse is that if we close our borders natives will no longer have to compete with foreigners for jobs. But platform capitalism’s use of immaterial labour to create a transnational playing field (so that jobs with digital outputs such as software engineering can be put out to tender to an international workforce) means young people will be competing in global market place while having to pay for local living expenses. Therefore, to avoid their exploitation we can’t just rely on teaching young people to code (or skills and literacies) they need to be thinking about they can use these skills to challenge the architectures of digital economy’s dominant socio-technical structures (Davies & Eynon, forthcoming).

As a respondent, I took the opportunity to argue the most constructive contribution I can make is to help transform Digital Sociology into a respected mainstream subject that can influence the content of curriculums for all ages and levels. I described Digital Sociology as the most effective discipline for challenging platform capitalism. I argued that sociologists are able to draw on strong traditions to challenge the ideologies behind platform capitalism, but to understand code and digital infrastructures and their relationship to the political economy we have some way to go. Then (Digital) Sociology can offer a critique, which can become the foundation ethical alternatives to platform capitalism’s monopolies.”

[i] The public lecture was also funded with the support of the Institute for Education, Community and Society and the Centre for Research in Digital Education. Also, thanks to Dr Karen Gregory and Dr Jen Ross, who acted as chair and digital chair, respectively. Finally, particular thanks to learning technologist Barrie Barreto for livestreaming and recording the event.

[ii] If you are interested in participating in this group and helping it to develop, please contact Karen Gregory (karen.gregory@ed.ac.uk), Callum McGregor (callum.mcgregor@ed.ac.uk), or Jen Ross (jen.ross@ed.ac.uk).

[iii] Emma’s interests cover global social justice, feminist political economy and affective and emotional labour. She is the author of a forthcoming book on the Crisis of Care to be published by Verso Books.

[iv] Huw’s research combines social theory with mixed, digital and ethnographic, methods to help critically re-evaluate how we approach young people’s digital literacies.

 

Photography for Peace: Masterclass & Competition

The Global Justice Academy (GJA) and Political Settlements Research Programme (PSRP) recently hosted a free Peace Photography Masterclass at the University of Edinburgh. The workshop discussed the visual representation of peace and conflict transformation, led by world-leading photographers Martina Bacogalupo, Colin Cavers and Paul Lowe. The photographers discussed their own work, as well as images produced by Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) and Nanjing Institute of Industry and Technology students for the Global Justice Academy’s photography competition, to invite participants to view peace with a new, critical and artistic eye.

Introduced by Professor Jolyon Mitchell (Director of the Centre for Theology and Public Issues) and chaired by the Global Justice Academy’s Astrid Jamar, the workshop began with lectures from three professional photographers, who explained the vision behind their work as well as the challenges involved in visually capturing peace and post-conflict societies.

The first speaker, Paul Lowe (London College of Communication, University of the Arts London), discussed the use of photography in social and ethical discourses using examples from his exhibition project ‘Picturing Moral Courage: The Rescuers’. By capturing the portraits and stories of individuals who risked their own lives to save the lives of others in instances of mass violence and genocide, Lowe invites audiences to hear the testimonies of those pictured with empathy and recognition: to bring to light the personal and human sides of global issues and to make accessible the narrative of the ordinary hero. Lowe’s portraits capture powerful, emotionally charged moments of reunion and testimony. His exhibition aims to provide relatable moral role-models for recovering post-conflict communities to spark positive, active participation in peacebuilding efforts. To this end, the photographs have been made available online and as a travelling outdoor exhibition in order to bring Lowe’s work and its messages to new, usually untargeted audiences. The exhibition has become a focal point for youth workshops across the globe, bringing together different ethnic groups to consider issues of violence, human rights and peace. Responding to audience questions, Lowe expanded on the difficulties of capturing portraits in fraught communities where individuals are afraid of being outspoken, yet ultimately stressed that working together on common creative projects allowed participants to enter into new discursive and collaborative territories.

The second speaker, Martina Bacigalupo (Agence VU), discussed her time living and working in Central East Africa as an independent photojournalist and stressed the importance of lived experience when visualising peace and post-conflict societies. Bacigalupo described her own experience of falling into the journalistic trap of producing westernised images of Africa that follow preconceived, mainstream modes of discourse. Deliberately attempting to counter this, Bacigalupo crafted a new body of work that aims to encapsulate the intimacy and vibrancy of everyday life in Africa: the ordinary, complicated humanity of local communities and not the sensationalised images of war and violence that permeate mass-media depictions. Bacigalupo described a desire to use photography to challenge patronising European views and to create new visual narratives of Africa based on collaboration and equality. Her latest photobook ‘Gulu Real Art Studio’ reprints scraps from an African portrait studio in which the faces have been cut out for ID photos – only the clothing and posture of the sitters remain. By examining that which is usually left out of the frame, Bacigalupo captures rich details about contemporary life in Eastern Africa, revealing insights into the tensions and nuances of post-conflict communities.

Finally, Colin Cavers (Edinburgh College of Art, Edinburgh Napier University) introduced his work for the Global Justice Academy’s annual photography competition. Cavers looked at classic examples from protest photography to illustrate the pitfalls and binary stereotypes that typically inhabit peace photography – those of male/female, floral/industrial divisions – and advocated a move towards more interpretative – rather than literal – modes of image production for the GJA commission. Using a selection of work from the past photography competitions (and previews of the recently announced 2017 winners), Cavers demonstrated how students from the Edinburgh College of Art and the Nanjing Institute of Industry and Technology came together to reinterpret traditional thematic associations of peace and create new subversive images that provoke thought and discussion.

A full selection of entrants’ submissions to current and previous GJA photography competitions can be found here.

After the opening talks, participants engaged in an ‘interactive lunch break’; each used a photograph they felt illustrated peace to briefly introduce themselves and spark discussion on the topic. Groups discussed the idea that peace may be something more than the mere absence of violence, contemplated the intense longing for, and absence of, peace often found in post-conflict images; and debated the importance of disagreements and conflict even within peaceful communities. In a final round-table discussion, participants shared their reflections on the photographers’ work and the themes that had been raised during the afternoon, looking to the future of photography as a means of challenging assumptions about peace and conflict and as an important tool for provoking and facilitating discussion.

Blog post by Heather Milligan, Communications Intern for the Global Justice Academy. This event was supported by a generous grant from the Social Trends Institute, the GJA, the Binks Trust, and the Centre for Theology and Public Issues (CTPI).

Sexual Intimacy, Gender Identity & Fraud: A Conversation

This blog post was written by Heather Milligan, Communications Intern for the Global Justice Academy. The blog reports on a recent seminar event hosted by the Centre for Law and Society at The University of Edinburgh and led by Professor Alex Sharpe of Keele University on sexual intimacy, gender identity and fraud. 

The Centre for Law and Society at the University of Edinburgh recently hosted a presentation and seminar discussion on sexual intimacy, gender identity and fraud. Participants from a range of interdisciplinary backgrounds compared legal, cultural and ethical standpoints to debate convictions of gender identity fraud: either as demonstrating respect for the sexual autonomy of female complainants, or as a concerning example of criminal law overreach. The discussion was framed and contextualised by a series of sexual offence prosecutions brought against young gender non-conforming people (designated female at birth) in recent years in the United Kingdom on the basis of gender identity fraud, all of whom were convicted and placed on the Sex Offenders Register. Professor Alex Sharpe (Keele University) introduced the topic with a brief film clip from the 1992 film ‘The Crying Game’ in order to illustrate the type of intimate encounter between cisgender and transgender individuals that has led to such convictions. The film also served to demonstrate the complainants’ typical responses to cis-trans intimacy, in which the defendant’s gender history is (apparently) not disclosed and this non-disclosure is later perceived as deceptive and harmful.

Professor Sharpe put forward a persuasive argument for bringing an end to the criminalisation and prosecution of these cases, advocating greater individual responsibility for sexual intimacy while remaining sensitive to the difficulties involved in questioning the statements of rape complainants. Her initial presentation was structured around three key philosophical and criminal law concepts: consent, harm and deception. Firstly, the point was made that claims of non-consent in the discussed cases relied heavily on a ‘right to know’ ideology, in which complainants foregrounded an entitlement to the defendants’ gender history, simultaneously dismissing and overruling the defendants’ rights to privacy and dignity. The seminar group discussed the idea that this apparent right to know is often conflated with a desire to define transmen as women against their will: an act of degradation. The discussion prompted resonant legal and ethical questions: should there be an obligation to disclose information prior to intimacy, or should our ethical response be to scrutinise the cisgender demand to know? With implications for sexual offences more broadly, for consent to be informed, how transparent must sexual partners be, and at what cost?

Other examples of desire-led intimacy were put forward to suggest that individuals may wish to know many facts about their sexual partners – for example age, income, drug use, criminal conviction – yet the omission of this information would never lead to prosecution. The specific targeting of gender history is an issue of inconsistency further indicative of the discriminatory effects of civil society and criminal law. These cases seemed motivated by the underlying transphobic (and homophobic) assumptions that no cisgender person would, with full disclosure of their gender history, willingly have intimate relations with a transgender person. This led to interesting audience reflection that complainants often only come forward when encouraged to do so by family or community members, and that the pressure of homophobic society, the fear of being identified as a lesbian by others and internal crises of identity and sexuality, may have motivated the complaints. The societal presumption that any non-cis non-heterosexual intimacy is inherently harmful was identified as an aggressive amplifier in these cases.

 
Finally, a distinction between acts of omission and acts of deception was drawn. It was argued that in cases of gender history and identity disclosure, most often these were instances of ‘not saying’ rather than active or intentional deception, and that these entailed a variety of valid justifications – not least the physical and psychological risk involved in acts of disclosure. Professor Sharpe invited the audience to understand these cases as a balancing of potential harms, weighing the complainants’ feelings of betrayal and distress (potentially a response conditioned by transphobic and homophobic anxieties) against the defenders’ risk of degradation and abuse. Opening up questions and discussion to the audience encouraged a lively discussion on related issues such as the ethics of sexual preference and the reproduction of power dynamics; the (positive) ambiguity of desire; what acts can really be said to constitute disclosure; and, ultimately, whether pleasurable acts retrospectively re-imagined can truly be labelled as harmful.

This event was presented by Law Reform and Social Justice, and The Centre for Law, Arts and Humanities and the Gender Institute.

Re-thinking ‘the commons’: examining dilemmas, exploring solutions

Dr. Leila Sinclair-Bright is a Career Development Fellow in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. In this article, she reflects on the notion of ‘the commons’ as recently debated in an interdisciplinary, open forum discussion event in Edinburgh.

 

Common Dilemmas

This open forum discussion was designed as a starting point for an interdisciplinary exchange of empirical and conceptual work exploring the theme of ‘the commons’ and collective ownership across different contexts. Excellent papers were presented by Dr. Tahl Kaminer (Edinburgh College of Art), Dr. Marisa Wilson (GeoSciences) and Dr. Kieran Oberman (Politics and International Relations) and followed by open discussion with the audience.

Dr. Kaminer’s presentation focused on the influence of the idea of ‘the commons’ in contemporary urban agriculture and regeneration movements. Kaminer opened by distinguishing the commons from the public space. Originating during the enlightenment, the notion of ‘public space’ has always been linked to civil society ideals. However, public spaces have long been as much about keeping particular elements of society out, as they have been about providing an arena for open movement and debate. In contrast, within contemporary urban agriculture and regeneration, ‘the commons’ has become a political movement that seeks to undermine and critique the control of urban space, as well as current economic and political conditions. Here then, the notion of ‘the commons’ is actually used to challenge the idea of a controlled public realm by various super-structures, from the state to corporations. As a movement, Kaminer suggests that ‘the commons’ provides an ideal but unachievable horizon that ‘rallies the troops’, but does not necessarily offer activists achievable, immediate objectives. Kaminer ended by pulling into question the efficacy of the commons movement, positing it more as a conceptual spring-board deployed by a variety of movements to gain traction and raise support for their campaigns, but often not leading to practical change.

Dr. Marisa Wilson’s paper examined local modes of governing food commons and how those interact with state and market models of the commons in Cuba. At what scale do we define food sovereignty? While sovereignty is usually defined at the national scale, how do localised models of food sovereignty fit into the national project? Since the late 19th century, food sovereignty has been promoted as a national ideal in Cuba, with individual profiteering denounced as against the national interest. From 1959, this became a top down institutionalised model of food ‘commoning’ that aimed to redistribute and provide basic food needs for Cuba’s population. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Cuban state was increasingly unable to adequately provide for its population’s food needs, and practices of local level food provisioning increased and/or became more visible. Local food industries were, however, still justified in terms of a local level fight for collective national food commons, and denunciations of private profit from food sales were equally prevalent at this scale. Simultaneously, powers in the agro-food industry were gradually devolved. More recently, the Cuban state has even begun, somewhat ambivalently, to support local level food networks, but maintains strict controls on their capital inputs. Local food providers thus rely on transnational remittances to supplement their capital input needs. Yet these local/transnational networks are still justified and framed into terms of contributing to the national food sovereignty cause. This fascinating case study revealed the multiple complexities at play around food commoning, and raised questions about the relationship between practices of ‘commoning’ and scale which also pertain to current discussions around food sovereignty in other contexts, such as Latin America and Scotland.

Dr. Kieran Oberman’s presentation, provocatively entitled: ‘Against the commons: an egalitarian argument for privatisation’, provided a schema of three different models of ownership: egalitarian collective ownership; common ownership; and equal ownership. In the egalitarian collective ownership model, a collective body owns the resource, say land, and everyone has an equal say on how it is used. In the common ownership model, everyone has use rights, but no one has individual ownership rights (so you could not sell the land, for example). In equal division, everyone has an equal share of the property, or the value of the property (for example basic income), and can choose what to do with their share. Collective and common ownership both curb individual freedoms. In the first, one can only act according to the agreements of the collective body; in the second, one only has use rights and individuals cannot enjoy the other rights that might come with ownership. Thus, Oberman suggests that equal ownership should be the starting place for those things which the majority believe should be commonly owned, such as the planet earth and its natural resources. Individuals can then choose to opt for a collective ownership model and pool their resources if they so choose. Oberman’s schema provided a useful starting point for assessing why and how different groups chose different models or combinations thereof, as well as highlighting a consideration of what rights are gained or lost in each case.

Re-thinking the Commons

The three presentations provided rich material for further discussion. We began by identifying the need to separate out what different kinds of rights inhere in particular claims of ownership (sale rights, use rights, etc…) rather than simply working with the oversimplified binary of individual ownership/privatisation/commodification: collective ownership/commons/non-commodified realm. Four themes for further enquiry also emerged: how the transition between different ownership models works; how governance affects the very framing of the ‘problem’ of the commons; what is a common/practices of commoning, and (how?) does transitioning between different ownership models actually change the ‘object’ in question. It is hoped that this event was the beginning of a set of interdisciplinary working relationships that may lead to further collaboration as a group or between individuals whose research interests intersect.

More about the author:

Dr. Leila Sinclair-Bright completed her doctorate entitled, ‘This Land: politics, authority and and morality after Zimbabwean land reform’ in 2017 (University of Edinburgh). Her research interests are in labour, property, conflict and politics. While her regional expertise lies in Southern Africa, she is in the early stages of developing her next research project on common property regimes in the UK.