Tag Archives: neoliberalism

Climate change must always be viewed from somewhere

By Rory Padfield, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, and Kate Manzo, University of Newcastle

A palm oil plantation (left) borders a degraded peat forest swamp in South Selangor, Peninsular Malaysia. Source: (c) Rory Padfield.

A palm oil plantation (left) borders a degraded peat forest swamp in South Selangor, Peninsular Malaysia. Source: (c) Rory Padfield.

In March 2016 two newspapers on opposites sides of the world covered stories on climate change but with contrasting perspectives. The UK’s Daily Mail painted a picture of impending doom and global catastrophe as climate change is predicted to cause the death of half a million people in 2050 due to food shortages. Regions most vulnerable to climate change induced starvation were reported to be in Asia and the Pacific, although the problem will also affect some richer countries. Conversely, a national newspaper from Malaysia – a country in Southeast Asia at risk from ‘impacts to food production from climate change’ as reported in the Daily Mail – presented both concern at the expected impacts of climate change but also the various opportunities in store. The article in the New Straits Times (‘Adapting to climate change’, March 14, 2016) argued that climate change mitigation and adaption presents an opportunity to invest more substantially in research and development in fields such as biotechnology. Reflecting on the different and at times polarized geographical representations of this important environmental issues, Professor Mike Hulme, from King’s College London, observes: “Climate, and hence climate change, must always be viewed from somewhere”.

Recognising the importance of situated knowledge and cultural politics in framing climate change media narratives, our research, published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, examines representations of climate change in Malaysian media. We investigate the ways in which climate change is framed in five English-language media sources in Malaysia over a three year period, 2009 – 2011. We were interested in the salience of a North–South perspective on climate change in Malaysia and the extent to which the problems of climate change have been reframed as an opportunity for particular modes of development.

The results of our study were interesting on a number of levels. First of all we found that climate change is being framed not only as an environmental issue of concern for society but as a positive opportunity, particularly for neoliberal market forces. Here, Malaysia’s emerging ‘green growth’ policy agenda is shown to be supported by the expectation for greater investment in environmental sectors following climate change mitigation and adaption policies. We found evidence that similar trends exist in other Asian countries, such as India, China and South Korea.

Second,we show that climate change represents an opportunity for geopolitical actors interested in restructuring the international political economy along lines reminiscent of the new international economic order (NIEO) demands of the 1970s. Key themes emergent from this part of the analysis were ‘climate capitalism’ and ‘green nationalism’. Palm oil – one of the most important commodities to national economic development in Malaysia – was illustrative of the interaction of these themes. The Malaysian media was shown to strongly defend the position of palm oil in the global commodities market against perceived injustices and unfairness, such as trade barriers linked to climate policy.

Finally, our analysis brought together the frames of opportunity and responsibility in a frame referred to as a structuralist model of green development. Here, we argued that a hybridisation of different development models (and not just of climate change frames) is at work in Malaysia which support opportunities for so-called ‘green business’, responsibilities for various actors and also emphasizes a key role for the developmental state – in formulating policy, facilitating investment, accessing finance, and lobbying for changes in international relations of power.

For Malaysia, therefore, climate change policy action has not just stimulated a form of internal ‘ecological modernisation’ but it has presented an opportunity to press historic demands for changes in the international political economy.

About the authors: Rory Padfield is a Senior Lecturer at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia. Kate Manzo is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Newcastle. 

60-world2 Ibrahim A 2016 Adapting to climate change New Straits Times Online 14 March 2016

books_icon Manzo, K. and Padfield, R. (2016), Palm oil not polar bears: climate change and development in Malaysian media. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. doi: 10.1111/tran.12129

60-world2 Swan R 2016 Climate change ‘will kill half a million people’ by 2050: global warming will ruin crops leading to disease and malnutrition Daily Mail online 2 March 2016

Studying Abroad and the Neoliberal ‘Cult of Experience’ in the Youth Labour Market

By Ashley Crowson, King’s College London

Figures released this week have shown that more UK students than ever are travelling abroad as part of their degree programmes.

Last year, 15,566 UK students studied in another country as participants in the European Union’s Erasmus programme. This was a 115% increase in the number who took part in 2007, when the scheme was first extended to the UK. Large increases in students travelling to China, India and the USA have also been observed.

The figures were released ahead of the British Council’s annual ‘Going Global’ conference for leaders of international education. Professor Rebecca Hughes, British Council Director of Education, said, “This latest evidence confirms that a growing number of the UK’s students are recognising the huge value to be gained from international experience… The UK needs graduates who have the skills and confidence to compete globally, and can compete against foreign talent that may speak more languages, and have wider international experience.”

An Erasmus promotional video highlighting the professional benefits of studying abroad.

Clare Holdsworth addresses the seemingly uncontroversial nature of such statements in a recent article for Area. Holdsworth argues:

Young people are called upon to make themselves employable through engaging in a range of experiences that may include: volunteering, work experience, paid work, internships, travel, leisure and membership of organisations. This fetishizing of experience is becoming so normalised that it is rarely contested. It appears self-evident that in order to protect themselves against an absent future, young people need to not only complete more education and/or training, but they have to acquire experiences to stand out from the crowd.

Holdsworth takes issue with the commodification of experience, suggesting that experiences gained in order to guarantee a better future are ‘conventional and passive’, and have little to do with experimentation, creativity, exploration or learning. Holdworth’s main focus, however, is with the popular notion that the acquisition of experience is a solution to the difficulties of the current youth labour market:

The prevailing popular discourse of youth is one of failure against the need to do better. Thus if academic grades increase, this is because of grade inflation; if more young people are out of work, this is because they do not have the correct skills; if graduates cannot get jobs, this is because they have not acquired the right ‘experiences’… This failure to see beyond the supply side of the labour market is having profound effects on young people’s lives… Not only are young people still faced with the difficulty of finding a job, they are having to do so in direct competition with their peers in a ever-growing globalised labour supply… Thus programmes for work experience, placements, volunteering, internships etc. are rolled out in order to compel young people to invest in their own futures…The cult of experience reinforces this charging of responsibility and passes over other solutions that target the demand side of the youth labour market.

The article highlights the arms race-like nature of the neoliberal youth employment market: as experience is seen as increasingly necessary in order to compete with one’s peers, young people are compelled to engage in more and more homogenised ‘experiences’, effectively ‘running faster in order to stand still’. Invariably, those who win this experience arms race are those with the greatest financial means.

This article also raises important questions for university geography departments; fieldwork has long been seen as a crucial part of a geography degree, but how, in a neoliberal educational establishment, can the experience of fieldwork be elevated above that of a CV-enhancing commodity and turned into a ‘genuine’ learning experience, encouraging students to explore, experiment and consider their own subjectivity?

 Clare Holdsworth, 2015, The cult of experience: standing out from the crowd in an era of austerityArea, DOI: 10.1111/area.12201.

Who lives, who dies, who cares?

By Izabela Delabre, University of Reading

Advances in healthcare technologies and pharmaceutical breakthroughs politicise and manipulate our lives.  An article in The Guardian last week describes how French doctors are challenging the patent of a new and highly expensive drug for hepatitis C in an attempt to bring down the price (the drug, Sofosbuvir, made by the pharmaceutical multinational Gilead Sciences, costs $1,000 (£650) a pill for a 10-week course).  It is a cure for the viral infection that can lead to liver cirrhosis, cancer and death.  The struggle against health inequality persists, with large numbers of people lacking access to healthcare.

A new biopolitical regime judges an individual’s ‘worth’ through their economic productivity

A new biopolitical regime judges an individual’s ‘worth’ through their economic productivity. Image credit: Elvert Xavier Barnes Photography via Wikimedia Commons.

Writing in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Emma Whyte Laurie’s article entitled, “Who lives, who dies, who cares? Valuing life through the disability-adjusted life year measurement” provides a critique of the disability-adjusted life year (DALY) measurement. The World Health Organization defines a DALY as one lost year of “healthy” life. It is a measure of overall disease burden, expressed as the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death.  Emma Whyte Laurie argues that DALYs have ‘become normative because many health policy makers and their funding partners use the DALY as their only measure of disease impact in programmatic analysis’ (King and Bertino 2008, 2). DALYs have supported the emergence of an epoch in global health governance whereby resource allocation is justified on the premise of ‘cost-effectiveness’, ‘value for money’ and ‘good return for investment,’ and this is compounded with the global financial climate which has negatively impacted the available budget for health interventions.

DALYs are established on the conceptualisation of individuals as exclusively economic beings, but individuals may fail to live up to the economically productive ‘ideal.’  DALYs may be partly responsible for the devaluation of the lives of certain individuals, by asserting the values of individualism in relation to wider economic gain where, individuals lose humanness when they become poor, and also unproductive.  Emma Whyte Laurie states that the problem may be less associated with DALYs as a measurement in itself, but rather with the faith that has been placed in them by mainstream institutions.

The question of who benefits from health interventions is heavily value-laden. Priority-setting is essentially a political and social process (rather than a scientific one), involving deliberation and public accountability. Through the exact numbers provided by the DALY measurement, important questions of ethics and politics are omitted, potentially hindering important and difficult discussions of setting priorities in the health sector.

Emma Whyte Laurie considers the question posed by Farmer: ‘[if health is a human right, who is considered human enough to have that right?’ (2005, 206). According to Agamben (1998), throughout history, the humanity of living man has been judged by each society, which has decided whose lives have value. Today, these judgements are increasingly based on economic productivity or the pursuit of capital accumulation where certain (wealthier) lives are considered more valuable than others. DALYs reflect this, capturing the ‘disease burden’ through economic loss, but also addressing Farmer’s question as to who is valuable, or who is human enough, to be afforded the right to health.

References

books_icon   Agamben G. (1998). Homo sacer: sovereign power and bare life. Stanford University Press, Stanford CA

60-world2   Boseley S. (2015). Doctors challenge hepatitis C drug patent in price protest. The Guardian, 10 February

books_icon   Farmer P. (2005). Pathologies of power: health, human rights and the new war on the poor. University of California Press, Berkeley CA

books_icon   King C. H. and Bertino A-M. (2008). Asymmetries of poverty: why global burden of disease valuations underestimate the burden of neglected tropical diseases. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases 2 e209

books_icon   Laurie E.W. (2015). Who lives, who dies, who cares? Valuing life through the disability-adjusted life year measurement. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 40:1 pp. 75–87.

60-world2   World Health Organization (WHO). Metrics: Disability-Adjusted Life Year (DALY).

CSR, Mining, and Culturally Articulated Neoliberalisation

By Izabela Delabre, University of Reading

According to this month’s Ethical Corporation report, the drop in commodity prices will put pressure on extractives companies to cut back in all areas, including Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).  Sadler (2004: 852) describes CSR as “the notion that companies should accompany the pursuit of profit with good citizenship.”  Society’s increased demand for CSR in the mining industry is considered inevitable due to the sector’s impacts on the environment and people (Kepore and Imbun, 2011).

Mine in New Caledonia. Image credit: Fourrure via Wikimedia Commons.

A paper by Leah Horowitz in the January 2015 issue of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, entitled, “Culturally articulated neoliberalisation: corporate social responsibility and the capture of indigenous legitimacy in New Caledonia,” develops our understanding of CSR as roll-out neoliberalism.  It considers CSR as elements of a capitalist system actively working to create its own social regularization in order to secure a geographically specific socio-politico-economic context that supports (or at least, does not prevent) capitalist development.  CSR can thus re-legitimise market-led development and counter resistance.  Horowitz argues that processes of neoliberalisation must articulate with specific politico-economic conditions and also with cultural ideologies and local hegemonic relationships.

Horowitz’s ethnographic analysis of an indigenous protest group (Rhéébù Nùù, meaning ‘eye of the country’) that targeted a multinational mining project in New Caledonia describes how the company undercut and ultimately co-opted local resistance, through its ability to successfully capture culturally-based ideologies of customary and indigenous legitimacy.  Neoliberalisation’s articulations may therefore involve attempts to capture both formal and informal regulation or regulators, through direct benefits and indirectly by capturing culturally valued ideologies.  These ideologies then interact with culturally grounded hegemonic processes.

Horowitz goes on to explore different forms of hegemony, based in distinct cultural formations, and how they interact with each other as well as with counter-hegemonic forces. Through the company’s direct engagement with customary authorities, rather than exclusively with activists, it was able to delegitimise the activist opponents and reposition them as subordinates within their own culturally informed social hierarchy. Although some customary authorities were sympathetic to protestors’ aims, the privileged hegemonic status of customary authorities was re-instated, and the company re-legitimised itself.

Sources

60-world2 Ethical Corporation (2015) Commodity Prices Briefing: Building a CSR strategy during an era of low commodity prices.

60-world2 Sudip Kar-Gupta (2015). UK’s FTSE flops as fall in copper clobbers mining shares. Reuters UK. 14 January 2015

books_icon Kevin P. Kepore and Benedict Y. Imbun (2011). Mining and stakeholder engagement discourse in a Papua New Guinea mine. Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management. 18(4) 220–233.

books_icon Leah S. Horowitz (2015). Culturally articulated neoliberalisation: Corporate social responsibility and the capture of indigenous legitimacy in New Caledonia. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 40(1) 88–101.

books_icon David Sadler (2004). Anti-corporate Campaigning and Corporate “Social” Responsibility: Towards Alternative Spaces of Citizenship? Antipode. 36(5) 851–870.

The $250,000 burger: towards a new moral economy of meat-eating?

Image credit: macieklew

No cows were harmed in the making of this post
Image credit: macieklew

By Helen Pallett

On Monday afternoon at a West London press conference, reporters witnessed a world first: the eating of a pioneering laboratory-grown hamburger. The carefully orchestrated spectacle also reached a further audience worldwide, as this pricey mid-afternoon snack was streamed live onto thousands of PCs, whilst others joined in the conversation on twitter with the hashtag #culturedbeef. Media reporting on this event has been quick to point out the potential of this emerging technology to alleviate pressing food security and distribution problems, and to reduce the environmental impacts of meat production. The arrival of the new burger has also been celebrated by animal rights advocates, such as the philosopher Peter Singer and the activist group PETA, as opening up a new market of cruelty-free meet.

The event has raised challenging questions which have stimulated wide-ranging debates across the traditional media and new media. Are there any meaningful differences between this stem cell burger and ‘natural’ meat? How do we know that it is safe to eat? What stance should vegetarians take? Can a lab-based food source prove to be a sustainable alternative to other low carbon, low impact diets based on low meat intake and local or organic food? And of course, does it taste any good?

The press conference focused on demonstrating the safety of the new product, but also brought together a group of food writers and journalists to attest to the meat-like taste and texture of the burger. What was not under the microscope were some of the broader moral and economic questions, covering scales beyond the object of this solitary burger, spanning temporalities beyond the specific event, and concerning the whole of the production chain. In a 2009 paper, Peter Jackson and colleagues used the term ‘moral economy’ to describe how ethical and moral concerns were expressed across time and space, and in relation to the diverse practices and processes involved in the production of different food products. Whilst Jackson’s paper was concerned with the morals and markets of the supply chains of chicken and sugar, their framework also helps to shed light on the moral economy of this newest of products.

The answers to questions such as ‘how different is this new meat?’ and ‘is it suitable for vegetarians?’ depend not only on which ethical frameworks we use but also where we choose to look, through space and time. The in vitro burger is made up of muscle tissue, the substance which would also account for the majority of any normal beef burger that you could pick up in the local supermarket. The scientists have also been careful to reassure potential consumers that there have been no ‘unnatural’ chemicals added to the burger. In this sense then, perhaps there is no meaningful difference between the two kinds of beef. But the processes that went into making the new burger, do set it apart, and this is why it is possible to claim vast environmental benefits of in vitro meat. A small amount of muscle cells are harvested from a living cow and are then nurtured in the lab so that they grow and multiply. This process takes around 3 months, much shorter than the life of the average cow when it enters the slaughterhouse. The carefully controlled laboratory process also means that there is no fat in the meat to give it flavour, so this instead came from the use of ‘natural’ flavourings such as beet.

On the question of the response of vegetarians, the the texture and taste of the burger itself has been likened to the meat substitute quorn. When we broaden our gaze to the production processes as well, the burger has been welcomed as cruelty-free (and therefore implicitly vegetarian friendly) meat by many advocates as it requires the painless removal of muscle cells rather than the slaughter of a cow. However, when the micro-scale laboratory processes which go into the production of the meat are also brought into the frame the use of calf serum – a slaughterhouse product – to nurture the stem cells comes into view.

Another aspect of the moral economy of the new burger which has been relatively unexplored in the media coverage is its situation in broader economic and market structures. The making of the in vitro burger was bank-rolled by the much-criticised Google co-founder Sergey Brin, citing animal welfare concerns but also with interests in the market potential of this emerging product. In the liberalised and globalised modern food industry does this product bring into being new moral economies or will it simply be moulded by existing ones?

books_icon Peter Jackson, Neil Ward & Polly Russell, 2009, Moral economies of food and geographies of responsibilityTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers 34 12-24

60-world2 The world’s first cruelty-free burger The Guardian, 5 August 2013

60-world2 First hamburger made from lab-grown meat to be served at press-conference The Guardian, 5 August 2013

60-world2 Google’s Sergey Brin bankrolled world’s first synthetic beef hamburger The Guardian, 5 August 2013

60-world2 World’s first synthetic hamburger gets full marks for ‘mouth feel’ The Guardian, 5 August 2013

60-world2 Synthetic meat: is it ‘natural’ food? The Guardian, 6 August 2013

60-world2 Lab-grown burgers cannot provide a secure future for Africa The Guardian, 6 August 2013

60-world2 PETA: Lab meat to provide methadone for meat eaters ITV News, 5 August 2013

60-world2 What is Cultured Beef? Maastricht University, accessed 5 August 2013

60-world2 Test-Tube Burger: Lab-Cultured Meat Passes Taste Test (Sort of) Scientific American, 5 August 2013

Stop Horsing Around – Governance of the Meat Industry, Consumer Confidence and the Blame Game

Jen Dickie

Basashi (raw horsemeat) from Towada. Photograph taken by Richard W.M. Jones and released under the GFDL. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.On the 15th January the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) published a report stating that horse and pig DNA had been detected in beefburger products available from retail outlets in Ireland.  The FSAI reported that whilst the presence of pig DNA had a plausible, although clearly still unacceptable, explanation –cross contamination in meat processing plants, there was no reasonable explanation for the presence of horsemeat.

Since then, the ‘horsemeat scandal’ has dominated our headlines with a steady stream of shocking revelations about the meat industry and its regulations, supply chains and possible links to the criminal underworld.  The timeline of findings and events published by the UK Food Standards Agency demonstrates not only the extent and seriousness of the investigation, but the unfolding complexity and (to some) the surprising lack of transparency of the meat industry.  What is clear, however, is that as the number of products testing positive for horse DNA rise, consumer confidence is plummeting and accusations of blame are flying. 

Whilst Felicity Lawrence provides an ‘essential guide to the horsemeat scandal’ in The Guardian, explaining the involvement of Europe in our meat supply chains in particular, Reuters report on the “accusations, denials and threats to sue (that) reverberated round Europe on Friday as meat traders, food processors, retailers and governments all rejected blame”.  However, as the pressure on Governments to act grows and claims of mis-labelling, negligence and fraud ricochet across Europe, Reuters describe how the accused believe they are being used as scapegoats for the politicians who are struggling to explain these breaches in food safety controls.     

As the saga continues, and questions are raised about how this substantial quality control failure has been allowed to happen, the meat industry will find itself under increasing scrutiny.  In a timely article for The Geographical Journal, Laura Devaney provides interesting insight to the operating logics, performance and impact of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (the institution that first reported the presence of horsemeat in beef products) since its formation 10 years ago.  Using interviews with food industry stakeholders, Devaney highlights the “dynamic coexistence of both neoliberal and biosecurity agendas” in the work of the FSAI, which reflect the “new ways of securitising food… (that attempt to) protect society and allow it to prosper, but enable the deregulated free trade of safe food”.  However, Devaney also discusses the conflict between the neoliberal agendas that promote self-regulation in the food industry and the biosecurity measures related to ensuring public health and food safety.  It is this conflict that appears to be the key component in the current horsemeat scandal.  

In these times of economic austerity the demand for cheap, mass-produced processed food has grown, it is therefore not a surprise that the complex nature of supply chains and the de-regulation of the food industry have been taken advantage of.  As always, ‘lessons will be learned’ from this latest food scare but in the meantime, instead of pointing the finger of blame, regulations need to be tightened and consumer confidence regained.

books_icon Laura Devaney, 2013, Spaces of security, surveillance and food safety: interrogating perceptions of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland’s governing technologies, power and performance, The Geographical Journal, DOI: 10.1111/geoj.12001

60-world2 Horsemeat scandal: the essential guide, The Guardian, 15th February 2013

60-world2 Horsemeat blame game ricochets across Europe, Reuters, 15th February 2013

60-world2 Timeline on horse meat issue, The Food Standards Agency, accessed on 19th February 2013

60-world2 FSAI Survey Finds Horse DNA in Some Beef Burger Products, Food Safety Authority of Ireland, accessed on 19th February 2013

Area Content Alert: 44, 2 (June 2012)

Cover image for Vol. 44 Issue 2The latest issue of Area (Volume 44, Issue 2, pages 134–268, June 2012) is available on Wiley Online Library.

Click past the break for a full list of articles in this issue.

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