Tag Archives: Poverty

Postcolonialism, Responsibility, and ‘The Other’

By Benjamin Sacks

‘Responsibility is increasingly summoned as a route to living ethically in a postcolonial world’ (p. 418). So begins Pat Noxolo’s (University of Sheffield), Parvati Raghuram’s (Open University), and Clare Madge’s (University of Leicester) astute and occasionally scathing discussion of the current state of responsibility to and within developing countries. Published in the July 2012 issue of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, ‘Unsettling Responsibility: Postcolonial Interventions’ unravels traditional conceptualisations of responsibility and agency, at once highlighting recent, significant scholarship in the field and discussing possible new approaches to empowering peoples in developing countries.

Postcolonialism is often understood as a linear ‘give-and-take’; an attempt to rebalance wealth, resources, and power from highly developed, imperial states and their former colonies. But this singular approach is problematic at best. Joanne Sharp and John Briggs, for instance, both geographers at the University of Glasgow, admitted in a jointly-authored 2007 Geographical Journal article that they remained deeply divided over why postcolonial development had failed. Briggs, ensconced in development studies, pointed to ground level problems in developing states. Sharp, conversely, attacked the ‘dominating universalizing discourse of the West, and particularly the extent to which it suggests that it alone has the answer to development problems’ (p. 6). Their disagreement underscored the fundamental problem with the pervading model: the West empowered ‘The Other’ as and when it saw fit; the developing, or ‘Third World’, as victims, took whatever the West could offer.

‘Unsettling Responsibility’ seeks to alter this approach. The authors cite Doreen Massey’s (2004) and Matthew Sparke’s (2007) criticisms as catalysts for a new, multilinear system where ‘responsibility’ and ‘agency’ – both contested terms – are identified in developed and developing countries, supported, and adjusted accordingly (pp. 418-20). Responsibility is neither solely in the hands of the West nor in those of the developing world. Instead, responsibility and accountability operate on international, national, and local tiers, between developed and developing constituencies, various economic and social sectors, via contradictory legal structures, ‘ethical and moral economies’, and certainly through differing academic and administrative systems. Highlighting such factors, of course, complicates postcolonial discourse. In so doing, however, Noxolo, Raghuram, and Madge establish a potent framework that is applicable in a comprehensive range of situations, from Africa to Asia and the Caribbean.

Postcolonialism is an ironic term, for it implies that society has moved beyond colonial attitudes and aspirations, and is actively pursuing equality amongst countries’ standard of living. The number of Western-led interventions since the Second World War suggests otherwise. Further, ‘theories of responsibility’ utilised at ‘a high level of abstraction’ have only muddied geopolitical and anthropological analysis (p. 420). The authors recall G C Spivak’s Other Asias (2008) tenet that globalisation’s interconnectivity has created a plethora of ‘hugely uneven global relationships’ between the Global North and Global South. But importantly, responsibility and agency do not rest entirely with one side or the other: these relationships, however lopsided they may be, are the result of actors’ behaviour and decisions in both developed and developing states. In order to better analyse individual relationships of responsibility and dependency, Noxolo, Raghuram, and Madge contend that the language and processes surrounding ascription and agency must change, and that support should be provided where needed across the entire postcolonial relationship.

Pat Noxolo, Parvati Raghuram, and Clare Madge, ‘Unsettling Responsibility: Postcolonial Interventions‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Volume 37, Issue 3, pages 418-429, July 2012

Joanne Sharp and John Briggs, ‘Postcolonialism and Development: New Dialogues?The Geographical Journal, Volume 172, Issue 1, pages 6-9, March 2006

Content Alert: New Articles (13th January 2012)

These Early View articles are now available on Wiley Online Library.

Original Articles

Anthropogenic controls on large wood input, removal and mobility: examples from rivers in the Czech Republic
Lukáš Krejčí and Zdeněk Máčka
Article first published online: 23 DEC 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2011.01071.x

Special Section: Exploring the Great Outdoors

‘My magic cam’: a more-than-representational account of the climbing assemblage
Paul Barratt
Article first published online: 13 JAN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2011.01069.

Special Section: Emerging Subjects, Registers and Spatialities of Migration Methodologies in Asia

Methodological dilemmas in migration research in Asia: research design, omissions and strategic erasures
Rebecca Elmhirst
Article first published online: 13 JAN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2011.01070.x


The aviation sagas: geographies of volcanic risk
Amy R Donovan and Clive Oppenheimer
Article first published online: 3 JAN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2011.00458.x

Original Articles

Diverging pathways: young female employment and entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa
Thilde Langevang and Katherine V Gough
Article first published online: 13 JAN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2011.00457.x

Original Articles

Rethinking urban public space: accounts from a junction in West London
Regan Koch and Alan Latham
Article first published online: 19 DEC 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00489.x

The social and economic consequences of housing in multiple occupation (HMO) in UK coastal towns: geographies of segregation
Darren P Smith
Article first published online: 23 DEC 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00487.x

The reputational ghetto: territorial stigmatisation in St Paul’s, Bristol
Tom Slater and Ntsiki Anderson
Article first published online: 30 DEC 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00490.x

Fear of a foreign railroad: transnationalism, trainspace, and (im)mobility in the Chicago suburbs
Julie Cidell
Article first published online: 30 DEC 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00491.x

Participation in evolution and sustainability
Thomas L Clark and Eric Clark
Article first published online: 3 JAN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00492.x

Boundary Crossings

Progressive localism and the construction of political alternatives
David Featherstone, Anthony Ince, Danny Mackinnon, Kendra Strauss and Andrew Cumbers
Article first published online: 3 JAN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00493.x

The disciplining effects of impact evaluation practices: negotiating the pressures of impact within an ESRC–DFID project
Glyn Williams
Article first published online: 9 JAN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00494.x

Geography Compass Content Alert: Volume 5, Issue 11 (November 2011)

The latest issue of Geography Compass is available on Wiley Online Library.

Click past the break to view the full table of contents.

Continue reading

Topography & Cultural Exclusion

Lough Lene, Ireland. A traditional view of the island. Wikipedia Commons.

Benjamin Sacks

In the October 2010 issue of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Dr Sergei Shubin explores the sociological and topographical history of cultural exclusion in the Republic of Ireland and the Russian Federation – two nations with remarkably similar agricultural and industrial narratives. Shubin’s work concerns the processes and infrastructures of cultural exclusion and isolation within societies. History has, perhaps unfortunately, imbued both Ireland and Russia with images of idealised, utopian rural life. Such perceptions marginalized contemporary understanding of poverty and helped erode long-standing folk traditions.  Dr Shubin effectively applies the notion of ‘cultural capital’ – a paradigm first discussed by Pierre Bourdieu and Jean Claude Passeron in Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture (1977) – to the analysis of historical and contemporary social hierarchies. Rural poverty, Dr Shubin notes, is part of a much broader cultural past that has allowed some to prosper, while others are caught in a vicious cycle of debt, abuse, isolation, and exclusion.

An intrinsic part of this issue lies with topographical geography. Although immensely varied, the Russian landscape is defined by a relatively standard framework. Expansive urban agglomerations are connected by major thruways (e.g. Moscow to St Petersburg; Rostov-na-Donu to Volgograd). Smaller communities are dotted in the rural countryside that lies between. This geographical arrangement is advantageous for class and cultural distinction, and ultimately, discrimination. A similar situation exists in Ireland. Roughly speaking, one can divide the rural/urban organization of island into quarters. The eastern and southern quarters are relatively wealthy and cosmopolitan. The northwestern quarter, however (as well as the region surrounding the Aran Islands), faces away from the rest of the British Isles and mainland Europe, and remains rural, sparsely populated, and low-income. In both Russia and Ireland, a sharp urban/rural divide exists, determining personal incomes, material wealth, access to domestic and foreign goods, and health.

Discussions of cultural exclusion are by no means limited to Russia and Ireland. The current controversy of the French Republic’s dealings with Roma migrants reflects long-standing cultural tensions between native-born French citizens and immigrants, who are often forced into undesirable jobs or in positions far from major cities. As Dr Shubin pointedly argued, relegation is a particularly effective mean of excluding certain cultural groups, ‘limit[ing] an individual’s cultural resources and forc[ing] people to take up less desirable positions in the community’. Le Monde recently highlighted inter-governmental confusion over the legality of the forced deportations. Yet the Roma fiasco hints at a much more deeply-rooted issue in France. Article 1 of the French Constitution declares that, ‘France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social republic. It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion’. Yet, Article 2 begins by clearly stating that French is the national language’. Over generations, this distinction has established a strong dichotomy between “French” and “non-French” constituents in the national culture. Is it possible for France to embrace multi-ethnicity as part of its national identity? Or will cultural exclusion continue to inhibit immigrants, second-generation families, and non-French speaking peoples?

Sergei Shubin, ‘Cultural Exclusion and Rural Poverty in Ireland and Russia‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 35 no. 3 (Oct., 2010): pp. 555-570.

‘L’opposition dénonce les “dérapages” de Sarkozy‘, Le Monde 19 September 2010.

‘Constitution of October 4, 1958’, The National Assembly in the French Institutions, accessed 19 September 2010.

‘Q&A: France Roma Expulsions’, BBC News, 15 September 2010, accessed 19 September 2010.

The Spirit Level: UK inequalities and a new social Darwinism

On 26 July 2010 The Guardian newspaper ran an editorial on the recent discussion around the book The Spirit Level: why more equal societies almost always do better, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. The thesis of the 2009 book had been briefly picked up by some “modernising Conservatives, up to and including David Cameron, to demonstrate their progressive credentials”, but more recently had been attacked by a range of rightwing thinktanks on both sides of the Atlantic. (Attacks the book’s authors have responded to.) The book argues that highly unequal societies tend to do worse on a whole range of social indicators, for example in areas such as crime and health. The Guardian concluded that “Even though its great sweep invites all manner of sceptical questions, this book’s inconvenient truths must be faced.”

A forthcoming article by Danny Dorling, “All connected? Geographies of race, death, wealth, votes and births” addresses some of the  Spirit Level issues in a UK context. Dorling notes that in the UK income inequality has returned to 1918 levels, having risen for the last 30 years, after falling for 60. Similarly, Dorling shows that in terms of life expectancy, wealth and voting segregation, the UK had become once again as socially divided in 2010 as it had been in 1934. Dorling identifies correlations (in the 1918 – 2005 period) between income, health and the geographical concentration of Conservative votes, and concludes “When the rich take even more of the national income of a country (and almost all of its wealth), the health of the poor suffers and voting in general elections becomes more spatially polarised.”

Going beyond this, Dorling argues that the UK’s post-1970s rise in social and economic inequalities contributed to a revival of social Darwinism (“a kind of growing racism against the poor”), which had been rejected in the more equitable post-war era. Continue reading

Islamic Finance

By Alexander Leo Phillips

Public confidence in the banking sector has been significantly shaken over recent years.  Given the turmoil caused by the global financial crisis, the depression and the public bail-outs of banks like RBS and Northern Rock; the raising levels of doubt and mistrust are hardly surprising.  Furthermore, such doubts show little sign of abating this week, as seven EU banks fail newly imposed ‘stress tests‘ by the Committee of European Banking Supervisors (CEBS).  As a result increasing numbers are looking for an alternative form of banking in which to invest and Islamic finance could just fit the bill.

Unlike the traditional banking sector, Islamic banking is based upon a strict set of principles; the central of which is that “money itself has no intrinsic value. [Also] as a matter of faith, a Muslim cannot lend money to, or receive money from someone and expect to benefit – interest (known as riba) is not allowed. To make money from money is forbidden – wealth can only be generated through legitimate trade and investment in assets. Money must be used in a productive way” (IBB).  As a result of this central principle Islamic finance is considered more stable (as the temptation to risk in search of profit is reduced) and more ethically appealing to many private savers and investors dismayed by increased profits and bankers bonuses.  Moreover, Pollard (2010) suggests that many organisations like the IBB, are attempting to market themselves as ‘ethical banks’ in areas such as the EU and USA which could otherwise be sceptical of the Islamic name.

In a recent issue of Area geographers Bassons, Derudder and Witlox detail the global spread of the Islamic finance model in recent years, charting how Islamic financial services have moved out of their historical base in the cities of the Middle East and become “anchored in the more conventional world cities” (2010, 44) of London and Paris, challenging our pre-existing geographical imaginations of the global financial sector.

These changes should be of great interest of all Human Geographers, as they offer a potentially fruitful intersection between social & cultural, political and economic geographical research; as we explore how the actions and values of the individual impact upon these globalised networks.

Bassons, D, Derudder, B and Witlox, F. 2010. ‘Searching for the Mecca of finance: Islamic financial services and the world city network’, Area, 42 (1). pp. 35-46.

Pollard, J. 2010. Faith in Economic Geography: some reflections on Islamic finance. In: Geographies of Religion: a new dialogue, Newcastle University, 9th March 2010.

Live Aid 25

By Alexander Leo Phillips

Tuesday 13th July marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Live Aid.  The “global jukebox”, devised by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, was held simultaneously in Wembley Stadium, London and John F. Kennedy Stadium, Philadelphia and viewed by an estimated two billion people across the globe. The aim of the concert was simple; to raise money for the millions of Ethiopians struck by the devastating famine of 1984. The result was over £150 million raised for famine relief and a defining television event marking the generosity of millions.

Its easy and indeed reassuring to look back, twenty-five years on, and think of the event as the day the “developed” nations and publics of Great Britain, America and others got together and said NO to starvation, suffering and death amongst some of our poorest neighbours; but did the event really make much of  a difference?

To mark the anniversary, celebrities, activists and charities are once again joining together in a renewed call for aid, since the situation now is as bad as ever.  To quote Colin Firth on East Africa “These people are facing another food crisis. A dangerous storm of factors, drought, conflict, poverty and rocketing food prices, are pushing people over the edge. Oxfam needs public support to avert catastrophe and keep people alive” (Mirror.co.uk).

International aid, poverty and global development remain critical issues in our world today.  Indeed international aid and the NHS were the only two areas protected from the savage cuts of Britain’s new coalition government.  Geographers have also written extensively on the subject.  In recent months Paul Milbourne has provided a critical review of the recent geographical work on poverty and welfare and William Gould has asked us to reconsider our understandings of links between HIV/AIDS and poverty in Africa, questioning the nature of our aid policies.

As the decades pass and the preventable deaths multiply, it’s becoming abundantly clear that throwing money at the issue does little to help; furthermore the very act of doing so has become ‘big business’ in itself as Linda Polman‘s new book illustrates so painfully.  So what are the solutions, if they even exist and what can geographers do to help?

Gould, B. 2009. ‘Exploring the Anomalous Positive Relationship between AIDS and Poverty in Africa’, Geography Compass, 3 (4), pp. 1449-1464.

Milbourne, P.  2010. ‘The Geographies of Poverty and Welfare’, Geography Compass, 4 (2), pp. 158-171.

For further information regarding the 25th anniversary of Live Aid see The Daily Mirror.

For further information regarding Linda Polman’s work on the aid industry see The Sunday Times.