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.

 

Thinking Without Bannisters: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt

Dr Hugh McDonnell is based in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Edinburgh as a Postdoctoral Fellow on a project assessing complicity in human rights violations. In this blog post, he discusses a recent film screening and round-table discussion event on the work of Hannah Arendt.

The enduring fascination of one of the twentieth century’s leading thinkers, commonly celebrated as highly original and unclassifiable, was explored in ‘Thinking Without Bannisters: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt’. The afternoon event brought together specialists and interested amateurs alike to view Ada Ushpiz’s new documentary ‘Vita Activa – The Spirit of Hannah Arendt.’ This was followed by a round-table session, featuring three foremost Arendt scholars: Professor Patrick Hayden from International Relations (University of St Andrews), Liisi Keedus from Politics (University of York), and historian Stephan Malinowski (University of Edinburgh).

Ushpiz’s documentary explored Arendt’s life and thought in their mutual interconnections. This included an overview of her formative years as a child in a German-Jewish family in Königsberg and Berlin, before discussing her developing and already prodigious intellectual curiosity at the universities of Marburg and Heidelberg, and the formative intellectual and personal influences of philosophers Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers.

Naturally, Arendt’s experience and reflections on the Second World War loom large in the film. Her own experiences disposed her to reflect on the condition of being a refugee, to think through the radical rightlessness that this implied. Consideration of Arendt’s famous formulation of the ‘banality of evil’ drew on fascinating original film footage of the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, which Arendt attended. Ushpiz does not circumvent controversies surrounding Arendt herself, as interviewees reflected on hostile reactions to Arendt’s work, particularly Eichmann in Jerusalem, as well as, more specifically, her controversial analysis of the Judenräte.

The round-table discussion was opened by Patrick Hayden’s evocative and thought-provoking disquisition on Arendt’s metaphor of the desert as her attempt to understand individuals’ thoughtless flights from the strangeness and suffering of the political world. On this basis, he developed Arendt’s insights into suffering as the other side of action, that at the same time extends an appeal to our joint responsibility to say “enough” and reaffirm the boundaries of politics. Liisi Keedus spoke next about the intellectual history of ‘thinking without bannisters’, tracing its roots to the modern gap between past and future, while revealing its broader purchase as condition of resistant action. And before opening the floor to questions, Stephan Malinowski reflected on the originality of Arendt’s work from a historian’s perspective, suggesting the fertility of the ideas and questions she raised, and the distinctly interesting character of the answers she reached, even when they strike us as mistaken. Questions from the floor prompted the panel to further reflect on the contemporary relevance of Arendt’s thought: the novel insights she offered in terms of the systemic rather than personalised logic of injustice and violence, her attentiveness to the vulnerabilities of democracy, or her staunch resistance to truth claims that have lost an anchor in political reality. Audience members were left with plenty of food for thought to consider further the meaning of Arendt’s independent thinking, judgement, and responsibility at the present historical juncture.

This event was hosted at the University of Edinburgh, and was made possible by the funding of the Global Justice Academy and Global Development Academies’ Innovative Initiative Fund, as well as the School of Social and Political Science through the Research Student-Led Special Projects Grant. 

More about the author:

Dr McDonell completed his PhD at the University of Amsterdam where he worked between the Department of European Studies and the Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis. His work Europeanising Spaces in Paris, c. 1947-1962 (Liverpool University Press, 2016) examines ways in which ideas about Europe and Europeanness were articulated and contested in politics, culture, and the Parisian urban landscape. McDonell is also working as a Postdoctoral Fellow on a European Research Council Starting Grant ‘Grey Zone’ project examines complex complicity from historical and theoretical perspectives. More about the project is available here: http://blogs.sps.ed.ac.uk/greyzone/ 

You can read more about complicity in human rights violations in this blog by Dr Mihaela Mihia, Senior Research Fellow in Political Theory at the University of Edinburgh: http://www.globaljusticeblog.ed.ac.uk/2017/02/20/peace-and-conflict-series-4/

 

Just Justice – how can we achieve the fair distribution of legal resources?

The Edinburgh Centre for Legal Theory organised an author-meets-critics workshop on the manuscript of the book Just Justice by Frederick Wilmot-Smith. This workshop was funded by the Global Justice Academy’s Innovative Initiative Fund.  Lucas Miotto, a PhD candidate in the Edinburgh Law School, introduces the key issues and questions raised by this soon-to-be-published book.

Resources must be fairly distributed. Hardly anyone would disagree with this statement. Besides, most people would agree that the fair distribution of resources is something valuable which we should care about. And people do care about it. Many of the heated debates about social security, social benefits, education, public health and immigration which have recently caught the attention of the public and the media are – or at least are connected to – debates about the fair distribution of resources. It is no exaggeration to say that debates about the fair distribution of resources are at the core of past and present public debate.

Just as we talk about the distribution of economic or educational resources, we can talk about the distribution of legal resources. The public needs lawyers and courts. Like any other resource, lawyers and courts are scarce and access to them doesn’t come for free. So, how about the fair distribution of legal resources? What sort of distribution would count as fair? Curiously, and unfortunately, questions like these are under-appreciated. Not only has the public been timid in addressing questions about the fair distributions of legal resources; an in-depth philosophical treatment of the topic has been entirely missing. Frederick Wilmot-Smith’s Just Justice attempts to correct this.

The book directly engages with many puzzles associated with the fair distribution of legal resources. It starts by questioning the very object of distribution. What should be fairly distributed? To say ‘access to lawyers and courts’ would be too simplistic an answer. The object of fair distribution, Wilmot-Smith argues, is broader than this. Of course, he doesn’t deny that it is important to fairly distribute access to legal resources such as lawyers and courts. But the questions about the fair distribution of these legal resources hang on a broader debate about the fair distribution of the benefits and burdens of the justice system. It is only after we have sound principles for the fair distribution of such benefits and burdens that we will be able to address the fair distribution of legal resources (e.g., access to lawyers and courts).

The core part of the book puts forward principles for the fair distribution of the benefits and burdens of the justice system. In a nutshell, the principles defended in the book support the establishment of a justice system in which benefits and burdens are equally distributed among citizens. Practical implications are myriad, and some of the institutional reforms required to meet the proposed principles radically clash with established views about the justice system. The book, however, doesn’t shy away from defending these radical implications and objecting to established views. In fact, some of these implications are defended at length. For, example, the book has an entire chapter dedicated to defending the view that the justice system should be financed by everyone – which is perhaps the most controversial implication of the principles defended throughout the book. Discussions about the privatisation of legal resources and alternative dispute resolution systems also receive an extensive treatment. The book is no doubt an extremely timely and important contribution to legal philosophy and to the public debate in general. It sharply allies care for philosophical rigour with readability and public relevance.

The Edinburgh Centre for Legal Theory had the pleasure of hosting an author-meets-critics workshop to discuss Frederick Wilmot-Smith’s Just Justice on May 24th, 2017. The event, jointly organised by Luís Duarte d’Almeida and Euan MacDonald, featured a total of eight commentators – ranging from philosophy to criminal law and political science – each of which focused on a different chapter of the book manuscript.

Participants were keen to engage in discussion and offered both critical remarks and constructive feedback. As a result, discussion was very lively, friendly and informal. We look forward to the publication of Just Justice, and we would like to express our gratitude to the Global Justice Academy, whose support made this event possible.

Colombia’s peace process: reflections

This post was written by Sara Valencia and Alejandra Londoño. It reports from a series of recent workshops on the Colombian peace process, led by Colombian students at The University of Edinburgh. The Global Justice Academy and the Global Development Academy supported the workshops.

Colombia’s peace process and Latin America

The first workshop examined the impact and influence of the Colombian internal conflict in the Latin America region. The methodology employed in this workshop was a Collaborative Critical-Thinking Sheet, in which the participants reported the main reflections emerging from the discussion.

The discussion highlighted the role of the Latin-American community in the peace process. This has been crucial for the exploration phase of the Peace Processes with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). On the one hand, for example, Venezuela, Cuba, and Chile played a central role to build a bridge of trust between the Colombian Government and the FARC guerrilla, a process that started with the FARC in 2012 in La Habana Cuba and concluded with the signing of the agreement in Bogotá on November 24th of 2016. On the other hand, Ecuador has been a crucial actor in the peace process with the ELN guerrilla, offering a neutral space to host the negotiations that started on January 7th of 2017.

During the implementation phase of the Agreement with the FARC guerrilla, the monitoring and checking mechanism of the Agreement on the Bilateral and Definitive Ceasefire and Cessation of Hostilities were explicitly limited to countries of the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC) on behalf of the United Nations. These are just a few examples of the level of commitment and active participation of Latin American States in Colombia’s peace processes.

The direct impact of the peace process in Colombia on the commercial dynamic of Latin America was then discussed. The strategic geographic position of Colombia makes it an important route for transportation between the West and the East (Pacific- Atlantic Ocean) and North and South. The pacification of the country will not only allow the improvement of the Colombian economy, but also may have a direct impact on Mexico, Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela because of a reduction in illegal activities like drug production and trafficking; human trafficking and the illegal immigration routes to the United States. In addition, the shift in the Colombian Foreign Policy since 2010 has strengthened the integration process of Colombia in Latin America. Blocks like the ‘Alianza del Pacifico’ and the formulation and implementation of Bi-national Integration Plans with Ecuador and Peru will be strengthened by the implementation of the Peace Agreements.

On an international level, it was argued that Colombia’s peace offers a historic opportunity to rethink the position, role and contribution of the Latin American bloc in the 21st century. Through these peace processes, the Latin America states can have the opportunity to project themselves in the international community as a region which supports dialogue, openness, interdependence and inclusion where other regions like North America and Europe have begun to shift to a more closed, controlled and independent dynamic within the regional and international systems. The peace process in Colombia is an opportunity to strengthen the regional economy, increase foreign investment, trade and governance in the border areas, and overcome the USA military influence in the region.

A new topic emerged as discussion continued, namely, the popular mobilisation in support of the peace processes following the rejection of the comprehensive peace agreement via referendum on October 2, 2016. The feeling among youths that their agency was weakened by corrupt powers and misinformation, it was argued, catalysed mass mobilization. From this discussion emerged questions like, ‘which factors inspire citizens to mobilise at a personal and collective level?’ ‘How can citizen participation be strengthened after a collective mobilisation?’ ‘What is the role of the citizen as an agent for change within its community in a context of post-truth?’

These questions become the base for our second workshop.

Citizenship in the 21st century: dialogue and mobilisation

In response to the rejection of the peace agreement in Colombia, a massive social mobilisation emerged under a social movement called “¡Paz a la calle!” (Peace to the streets!). This movement reunited social groups and individuals who marched on the streets across the country demanding the Government and FARC guerrilla maintain the bilateral ceasefire and include the proposals of the 50.2 per cent of the electorate whose turn-out did not approve the text. The objective was to claim only for an outcome shared by both parties: peace.

However, the Colombian case of mobilisation is not unique. Other mobilisations like the Women against Trump movement in the United States or the massive protests against corruption in Romania are clear examples of citizen mobilisation. Nonetheless, these types of national dialogues and social mobilisations have not been so evident in the UK after Brexit.

As this workshop opened up many questions on the role of the citizen as an agent of change within processes of public participation and deliberative democracy, this became the focus of our final workshop, which was particularly interested in how such participation might be strengthened.

Reflections

Diana Diajer (University of Edinburgh) and Dr Oliver Escobar (University of Edinburgh), researchers on citizen participation, were event panellists at our final workshop. Diana highlighted the need to generate spaces free from violence with guarantees to enforce participation. Unfortunately, in countries like Colombia, citizen participation is associated with communism and creates a stigmatisation of this type of participation as well as discouraging public participation. In countries where leaders have been constantly murdered, a cyclical process of fear and death prevent participation. For Diana, there are four main challenges to encourage citizen participation in peace building: A highly polarised society, the lack of a national peace movement that articulates the local initiatives, lack of trust, and apathy produced by corruption. Therefore, she proposed six elements to trigger citizen participation for peace: provide security and protection to leaders, use of an offline-online coordinated strategy, create a state of articulation and coordination, create meaningful dialogues among people, strength state capacity, and enforce individual incentives to participate.

In the Colombian case, the process to build peace initiates with what people understand for peace. She has identified four understandings of peace: peace as a social inclusion process, peace associated with transparency in elections, peace as the empowerment of people to have a possibility to have a word, and reconciliation. Nonetheless, this last understanding is one of the most difficult to reach. For example, people at the local level do not talk about reconciliation, they talk about co-existence or tolerance despite differences – so it is a long path to follow.

Oliver focused his talk on the micro-dynamics that take place in peace processes and civic participation, paying attention to the need to promote spaces for dialogue and deliberation to enhance citizen participation. Nonetheless, the creation of these spaces must overcome challenges that emerge at the individual level.

First, Oliver addressed the tendency of people to avoid conflict, which creates the first barrier to participating in spaces where their ideas are challenged. The lack of diversity and segregation in groups give place to like-minded groups, which create polarisation. Oliver highlighted the ‘Spiral of Silence’, as another barrier to participation. This is a scenario where people think that they are part of a minority and they are not going to be listened to. For this reason, they silence themselves, creating a polarisation by omission in the group, where apparently one idea prevails. Also, in groups where individuals are exposed to opposing views, if they are strongly attached to a position they will tend to avoid any evidence, processing only those messages that confirm their own perspective, so dialogue and deliberation are less possible. Therefore, the lack of views in any conversation reduces the opportunities to be exposed to alternate points of view, furthering polarisation.

According to Oliver, dialogue takes time and is a painful process, but in safe spaces, people can engage with their diverse perspectives and a constructive dialogue can emerge. The creation of these spaces is not simple and requires the work of facilitators to promote spaces where people listen and engage in the conversation. In this way, the facilitator helps the participants to suspend their immediate reactions and reflections, allowing a fluid communication through active listening. However, the communication can be influenced by several factors like different standpoints, communication norms, and a lack of information. In these dialogues, storytelling becomes the most effective way of communication. In the narrative of these stories, emotions play a fundamental role because, as some neuroscience studies reveal, people can only think and reason about things that they care about. One of the challenges for mediators in dialogue spaces, then, is how to channel emotions in a positive and constructive way to promote a constructive process. In conclusion, in safe spaces, dialogue and participation can be fostered, creating a sustainable and legitimate way forward by becoming more open minded.

As Oliver explained that such micro-dynamics in groups matter at the global level because if social movements make an attempt to welcome different positions, there is a risk to only mobilise the like-minded people, which prevents public dialogue and deliberation, thus creating elites of power and micro-worlds in the society. Therefore, mobilisation and public dialogue have a different role and various functions in the political sphere. Social mobilisation is right to create an agenda, paying attention to one issue. However, dialogue allows the inclusion of different perspectives to create not only a shared understanding of complex issues but also by co-producing solutions.

 Note of thanks:

This series of workshops was made possible through the generous support of the Global Justice and Global Development Academies’ joint Innovative Initiative Fund. Special thanks to the organiser team Alejandra Londoño, Ana Chaparro, Natalia Salamanca and María Gundestrup.

Unrecognized in the Shadows – the Plight of the Stateless

This blog post was written by Lee Caspi and Federica Sola, masters students of the LL.M in Human Rights at the University of Edinburgh. The blog reports on the panel eventUnrecognized in the Shadows: The Plight of the Stateless” on the topic of statelessness, hosted recently in Edinburgh, that received funding from the Global Justice and Global Development academies’ joint Innovative Initiative Fund.

On the 4th of April 2017 students, academics and professionals came together to discuss the issue of statelessness, a topic that does not receive much attention in academia or in public debate. The speakers aimed to raise awareness of the challenges encountered by stateless people. The event started with four short lectures on the topic, orchestrated by Professor Jo Shaw (University of Edinburgh).

The first speaker was Mr. Omar Alansari (Queens University, Belfast). Omar gave a very comprehensive overview of statelessness in international law, discussing the difficulties in achieving an accurate number of stateless people worldwide due to the fact that they are, by definition, not registered. He then discussed the causes of statelessness, such as discrimination; religion; gender; arbitrary denial of nationality based on political views; and gaps in nationality laws and geopolitical changes (as happened with the breakup of the former Soviet Union). He then focused on the two international conventions dealing with statelessness, underlining that both are not widely ratified. Next, he described the UNHCR mandate as relates to stateless people, which focuses on encouraging states to ratify the two conventions, and a campaign to end statelessness by 2024. Omar concluded his talk by describing the situation in Saudi Arabia, where there is an estimated total of over half a million stateless people.

Following this excellent outline of the legal framework on statelessness, Deirdre Brennen from the Institute of Statelessness and Inclusion spoke about “Gender Discrimination and Statelessness”. There are 28 countries where women are discriminated against in their ability to confer their nationality to their children, and over 50 where they are discriminated against in their ability to change and confer their nationality through marriage. Following this introduction, Deirdre screened testimonies by a woman named Deepdi, with whom she worked in Nepal, Deepdi’s husband and two daughters. They told their personal stories, describing the everyday difficulties arising from the lack of nationality such as the inability to have their own bank accounts, open a business and access certain educational institutions. Deepdi’s two daughters also spoke about their experiences of feeling different to their friends due to their limited opportunities in some areas. In conclusion, Deirdre spoke about the mainstream aspects of feminism nowadays, but said that a fight for women’s nationality is missing from this global movement, and there is a need to raise more awareness of it.

Next came a presentation by Nina Murray from the European Network on Statelessness (ENS), who spoke about the arbitrary detention of stateless people. The ENS initiated a project around Europe to try to understand the scope of the problem of detention of stateless people, which was derived from 6 country reports from around Europe. The project focuses on removal procedures, the point at which stateless people are most at risk of detention. Despite the fact that detention of migrants is becoming more common, there is very poor data regarding detention of the stateless since it is not always recorded, making it more difficult to protect them. Nina then discussed two countries, Poland and the UK, where there is a route for stateless people to become recognized, but both present often insurmountable obstacles on the path to recognition. For example, in the UK, those who have a criminal record cannot be recognized as stateless. This creates what Nina describes as a cycle of detention-release-detention, making it near impossible for people ever to start a normal life. The presentation concluded with recommendations for the way forward, such as finding alternatives to detention and developing a better procedure for identifying the stateless.

Finally, Cynthia Orchard from AsylumAid spoke about Statelessness in the UK. Being stateless in the UK makes it very difficult to work, access higher education, creates a higher risk of detention, and many other problems as access to housing. A procedure for recognizing stateless people was successfully introduced by the UK government in 2013. To apply to stay in the UK, a stateless person must fill out a 38-page application in English and provide many documents that are impossible to access if you are stateless. The Home Office expects stateless people to contact the embassy of a country to which they have some connection in order to obtain proof that they are stateless. AsylumAid often accompanies them in this process in order to act as witnesses, because the testimonies of the applicants are frequently deemed not credible. If the application is successful, the applicant is granted leave to remain in the UK for 2.5 years, which can then be extended. If leave is refused, the applicant can make a new asylum/statelessness application, or request judicial or administrative review. Cynthia discussed her concerns regarding the process of recognizing stateless people in the UK, which is extremely slow, provides no legal aid (in England and Wales), and has a very low rate of granting stateless status (around 5%).

Following this excellent series of lectures, three students discussed issues of statelessness from their home contexts. The first speaker was Josef Budde who moved to Guam in 2010. Josef discussed Guam’s history and its current status as a US naval base, where the local community has limited statehood. They are, on the one hand, US citizens, but on the other cannot vote for the presidency and have no representation in the Senate. Next, Aija Butane described the situation in Latvia. When Latvia achieved independence, it established in its nationality laws that those who were citizens of Latvia before the Second World War and their descendants would be recognized as Latvian, and those who moved during the Communist era would not. This has rendered many ethnic Russians in Latvia stateless. Aija discussed the very high requirements of the naturalization process for ethnic Russians to become Latvian due, among other things, to the high language requirements. However, the situation is slowly improving and now affects mostly those of the older generation. Finally, Dania Abul Haj described the complex nationality situation in Palestine. She described her personal experiences as a Palestinian from East Jerusalem travelling with an Israeli travel document despite not having Israeli nationality, while having a Jordanian nationality which is cumbersome and impractical to use. She described her experiences when registering her nationality with the University of Edinburgh and the bureaucratic system’s lack of understanding of the situation she must deal with every day.

The event concluded with a short Q&A session, where students brought up issues such as climate refugees, the nationality of children born in the Islamic State, and the ratification rates of the two statelessness conventions.

 

This workshop was made possible through the generous support of the Global Development Academy and the Global Justice Academy. We would like to give a special thanks to Dr Kasey McCall-Smith for her support; to Professor Jo Shaw for chairing the conference and to all the guests who travelled from all over the UK to speak at the event.

The Asylum Monologues

This blog has been written by Dr Grit Wesser, a postdoctoral fellow in Social Anthropology at The University of Edinburgh. Here, she reports from a recent Asylum Monologues event in Edinburgh, which brought together performers, academics, students and the public to discuss this global human rights issue.

Immigration has perhaps always been – at least since the rise of nation-states – a contentious issue for policy makers, in public discourse, and around families’ kitchen tables. The so-called “European Refugee Crisis” has renewed a debate not on ‘whether’, but on ‘how much’ to control and limit immigration to Europe. In this process, the issue has been reduced to one of numbers.

But why do people cross borders and leave behind their home countries and loved ones? What does it mean to be an asylum seeker in Scotland? What new boundaries do migrants face, once they arrive in a country that is foreign to them – and treats them as foreigners? Could Scotland become their new home? These questions were being creatively examined through a performance of the Asylum Monologues, and in the panel discussion that followed.

Ice&Fire, a theatre company that explores human rights issues through performance, created the first script of the Asylum Monologues in 2006. Since then the company has recorded and performed various testimonies of asylum seekers, aimed at raising awareness of asylum seekers’ experiences by sharing their stories with the communities to which they now belong. The audience listened attentively to a Scottish script, launched only during Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival in 2016.

The three Ice&Fire performers took turns in telling the stories of a Kurdish unaccompanied minor, a young Pakistani man, and an Iranian woman and their experiences in Scotland. These narrations were candid and often bittersweet, taking the audience on the asylum seekers’ journeys, oscillating between the fear of state persecution and the sensations of loss, hope, and homesickness. The stories evoked the grief caused by broken families and the joys experienced through new-found friends as well as the frustrations and struggles associated with having to start from scratch and the potentials and expectations that new beginnings hold.

The performance was followed by a panel discussion, chaired by Jenny Munro from Beyond Borders Scotland. The panel comprised Professor Anthony Good, Social Anthropology; Phil Jones, manager of the Glasgow Night Shelter for Destitute Asylum Seekers; and Steven Ritchie, one of the three performers. The panellists were joined by two young men whose stories we had just heard: Tony and Aras.

Since Aras had listened to the script of his own story for the first time, he was eager to praise the performer: “It was great. You told it better than I could have!” Tony and Aras spoke to the audience about their new life in Scotland, while Phil explained how the Night Shelter’s work attempts to mitigate the difficulties faced by asylum seekers in Glasgow. Steven, who was also involved in interviewing asylum seekers, revealed more about the process of recording and retelling their life stories.

Issues surrounding the asylum process in the UK were clarified by Prof Good, who has frequently acted as an expert witness on asylum appeals in the UK and other countries. Contrary to the stories we had listened to, he elaborated, the Home Office structures its interviews with asylum seekers in a way that does not accommodate a chronological order of their experiences. Questions are often phrased ambiguously so that asylum seekers’ answers could vary, in turn leading to an intentional undermining of their credibility – a credibility required for gaining refugee status.

After a vote of thanks to the performers, panellists, and sponsors, the event ended with much applause and a donation appeal. The audience donated a total of nearly £200, which was equally split to support the work of Amnesty International and the Glasgow Night Shelter.

Aimed at making the people behind immigration numbers visible again, it was a successful evening – as one attendee later commented: “I’ve been to a few discussions on refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland, but this was the first to have a more creative take with the monologues, which I thought worked really well. It’s always helpful to have a more personal take, because numbers and places are difficult to bring to life.  I thought it was great all in so thanks for putting it together.”

Grit Wesser organised The Asylum Monologues event with Helene Frössling (Scottish Graduate School of Social Science) and Hannah Cook (Centre for African Studies), and in collaboration with Beyond Borders Scotland and Ice&Fire. The event was co-supported by the Global Justice and Global Development Academies’ through their joint Innovative Initiative Fund.

The Future of Pan-Africanism

This blog post was written by Micaela Opoku-Mensah, a masters student in Africa and International Development at The University of Edinburgh. Micaela reports from The Future of Pan-Africanism event, hosted recently in Edinburgh, that received funding from the Global Justice and Global Development academies’ joint Innovative Initiative Fund.

Fellow students and lecturers from various disciplines across the University of Edinburgh came together at the Evolution House Boardroom to amplify conversations on ‘The Future of Pan-Africanism’ through a series of panel debates. From tracing the historical foundations, we discussed its current efforts in mobilizing those of African descent and envisaged future ramifications in its influence in African politics, philosophy and economics.

The event opened with the first panel on ‘Pan-Africanism and its Historical Foundations’, led by Dr. Kehinde Andrews (Birmingham City University). Taking us back to the origins of the Pan-African movement, Dr. Andrews drew attention to the importance of differentiating between the all-encompassing ‘Pan-Africanism’ movement with a capital ‘P’ and ‘pan-Africanism’ movement with a small ‘p’, demonstrating that the former refers to the renowned figures W.E.B Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah and the five Pan-African Congresses and the latter constituting a group of cultural movements that are somewhat ephemeral. Placing emphasis on the tendency to use the terms interchangeably, he explicates that one misses the nuances surrounding the objective. For instance, in regards to Dr. Kwame Nkumah’s end goal of Pan-Africanism to be the United States of Africa, this pushes us to rethink its application in the 21st century and what we mean by the nation-state in Africa.

Following on from this, Dr.Lawrence Dritsas (The University of Edinburgh) also traced the historical trajectories, however he ventured upon a different route talking about the history of pan-African Science, pan-African scientific institutions and explored their combined origins in both colonial and diasporic ideas.

Mr.Muhammed Dan Suleiman, a PhD candidate from the University of Western Australia, digitally spearheaded the second panel on ‘Pan-Africanism and Islamism’ speaking on locating the ‘African’ in contemporary Islamism. He embarked upon critically unpacking the Eurocentric understandings of Islamism and highlighted continuities in laying aside the Afrocentric perspective. Muhammed closed this segment urging the need for scholars to augment discussions.

In the final panel, ‘Pan-Africanism and Prospects for the Future’, was Mr.Nigel Stewart from the Centre for Pan-African Thought. He indicated that we are in a unique time in history where the future is to what degree one can harness and shape the global awakening and resistance into a program for sustainable change towards the ultimate aim for the total liberation of the African continent and its people. He stipulated that the spirit of Pan-Africanism, a beacon of social, cultural, political and economic emancipation is being revived and will continue to speak essentially on the importance of the unity of Africans across the globe. Nigel closed the event with considerable attention to Pan-Africanism becoming a model that represents a framework and pillars of which one can construct values and principles, particularly through corporate institutions, community programs and development programs focusing renewing consciousness in the mode of decolonization.

This workshop was made possible through the generous support of the Global Development Academy, the Global Justice Academy and the Centre of African Studies. I would like to give a special thanks to Sarah-Jane Cooper Knock, Louise McKenzie, the Student Rapporteurs: Courage Matiza, Safiya Mann, Patrick Brobbey and all of the wonderful volunteers from the MSc Africa & International Development, MSc African studies and MSc Global Health & Public Policy student cohort.

Following Ghana’s Elections: an IIF Event

On 7 December 2016, the Global Justice and Global Development Academies supported a student-led initiative to follow the elections in Ghana, as part of their Innovative Initiative Fund. In this post, MSc student, Matthew Pflaum, reflects on the evening’s events.

image-1Elections are critical processes for global social and political change, leading to new policies and reforms. Certain elections, referenda, and regions receive widespread attention and coverage – the US election and Brexit, for example – while others are less covered. Elections in the Global South tend to be disregarded by much of the world, and this is a mistake. All elections are significant, principally for local citizens, but also for the rest of the world through geopolitics and trade.

 

During the US election, crowds gathered in tenebrous bars and sterile classrooms to watch the event unfold, their eyes festooned to the glaring screens with constant updates of results. Americans and non-Americans watched with anticipation, feeling that the event was important to their lives. But aren’t all elections important? Should we not also gather to support elections in Burma and Botswana?

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Report from an IIF Event – Academic Freedom: “national security” threats in Turkey, India and the UK

Can the university be a space where academic freedom reigns while restrictions are increasingly threatening voices and lives outside its gates? Or must spaces for politics be opened up on and off campus in order to address the invasion of national security (and capitalist) logics into the realms of open enquiry? On 27 October 2016, scholars and activists engaged these questions with a focus on the variable effects of the securitisation of university space in Turkey, India and the UK.

A panel on Turkey included academics and students who have lost their jobs as a result of the broader crackdown on dissent following the failed coup in July. They highlighted the connections between increasing violence in the Kurdish regions of Turkey—which precipitated the “Academics for peace” petition that has been used as a pretext for dismissing many signatories from their posts—and the attempts of the state to impose controls on its critics. They asked if the focus on the plight of academics may mean that this violence recedes from the view of international publics. Efforts to maintain solidarity among those now outside the academy and those still within it, as well as initiatives to take the university outside spaces the government controls, provide hope for continued resistance in fearful times and carve out a more universal idea of the University as institution and spirit that always has had to be fought for and salvaged from strategies of subjection from various quarters, not only outside the University. In this way, this panel was inspiring for all university struggles, not just those related to Turkey.

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Workshop on Dignity: Reporting from an Innovative Initiative Fund Event

 

The Edinburgh Legal Theory Research Group had the pleasure of hosting, with the kind sponsorship of the Global Justice Academy through its Innovative Initiative Fund, the Workshop on Dignity on 6 October 2016. The workshop had three speakers: Ioanna Tourkochoriti (National University of Ireland Galway), Colin Bird (University of Virginia), and Adam Etinson (St. Andrews).

This guest post by co-organisers, Lucas Miotto and Paul Burgess, discusses the presentations and debate that took place.

The workshop was well attended by both staff members and students. An interesting, and beneficial, feature of the audience, was that it reflected the interdisciplinary character of the topic; we had attendees coming from myriad fields, such as politics, human rights, international and constitutional law, as well as legal and moral philosophy. Discussion was very lively and, perhaps due to the diverse character of the audience, presenters received feedback and questions from several different angles.

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