Tag Archives: ERPI

Confronting authoritarian populism: challenges for agrarian studies

Woman reaper, 1928 (K. Malevich, Russian Museum, St Petersburg)

Last week I was in Russia at the fascinating fifth BRICS Initiative in Critical Agrarian Studies conference. Throughout the event we heard about the emergence of particular styles of authoritarian populist regimes, including in the BRICS countries, but elsewhere too. Based on my remarks at the final plenary, I want to ask what the challenges are for agrarian studies in confronting authoritarian populism.

This is a theme that is at the core of the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI), launched in May this year. The open access framing paper is available from the Journal of Peasant Studies, as is a brilliant contribution to the JPS Forum on this theme from Walden Bello.  The ERPI conference in March next year at ISS, the Hague now also has an open call for contributions (deadline, Nov 15). We have been somewhat overwhelmed by the global response to the initiative, and we had a flood of applicants for small grants, with the winners of the 2017 competition announced recently. There is a very vibrant network emerging among scholars and activists around the world, and many were present at the conference in Moscow.

So, what do we mean by authoritarian populism? It takes many forms, but we draw on the arguments of Stuart Hall and others made in the context of Thatcherism in the UK. In Gramscian terms, authoritarian populisms can emerge when the ‘balance of forces’ changes, creating a new ‘political-ideological conjuncture’. Drawing on populist discontents, a transformist, authoritarian movement, often with a strong, figurehead leader, is launched, mobilising around ‘moral panics‘and ‘authoritarian closure’, and being given, in Hall’s words, ‘the gloss of populist consent’. Sound familiar?

In this blog, I want to discuss the implications and challenges for how we think about agrarian issues in the context of authoritarian populism, and want to make four brief points.

First, as Dani Rodrik, the Harvard economist, explains, the form of populism that emerges around the world – broadly characterised as authoritarian or progressive – depends very much on the historical engagements with globalisation, and how populists mobilise, either around ethno-nationalist arguments when global migration flows create discontents or around class divisions when global trade has impacts on livelihoods. I think this is an important argument, but so far in his writings he doesn’t flesh out the detail, and in particular how globalisation processes affect rural spaces in different ways to urban metropoles, with contrasting implications for class, caste, gender or age – and so processes of political mobilisation. I’d argue that agrarian studies needs to engage with these questions, and perhaps bring more of a global political economy angle back in, where the economics are taken seriously.

Second, the emergence of populism, with a strong rural base, needs a careful analysis of the social and cultural dynamics of rural change, asking sympathetically why it is that young people, women, peasant farmers and others are often strongly behind reactionary populist positions. Liberals and leftists may argue that this does not serve their interests and they are somehow mistaken, but we need to look beyond such rationalist arguments, and think harder about the politics of identity, belonging, recognition and community. Rural religion and cultural identities are important, but not conventionally part of agrarian studies. Interest-based analyses (centred on class or whatever category) and conventional political economy may simply be not enough.

Third, at the same time, authoritarian populism provides an impetus to the continuation of extractive exploitation of rural resources – land, water, resource grabbing continues apace. But this time with a nationalist tinge, and with new capital-elite-state alliances forged. These processes, which were a response to the global financial crisis of 2008 and the desperate search for investment opportunities by global capital, now have a new context in many settings. How do new configurations of power, and a populist, nationalist, often anti-globalization narrative, affect the politics of dispossession in rural spaces, and with these the dynamics of accumulation, among local and international elites? I think these wider political shifts mean that our conversations around grabbing and extractivism that occupied many of the presentations at the conference, require an expanded frame that takes populist politics seriously.

Fourth, the ERPI is interested in how alternatives are forged and resistances mobilised to authoritarian populism. Our analyses must probe why these don’t happen, but also how and when they do. We also must think hard about the conventional frames for mobilisation, and ask whether these do the job today, in the face of authoritarian populisms. Take the idea of food sovereignty. For many, the food sovereignty movement has been a site for progressive discussion about agrarian alternatives. But the notion of sovereignty, localism, autonomy and rejection of the role of the state and globalism, has frequently been captured by regressive populist positions. Why do peasant farmers support such political leaders? Because they claim to offer a voice and a commitment to protecting their autonomy from the ill-winds of global trade and state interference. The Natural Farming Movement in India is a case in point. A perfectly good idea about agro-ecological farming gets wrapped up in exclusionary Hindutva nationalism, yet is celebrated as a food sovereignty success. A new politics of the mainstream requires a new politics of the alternative, and agrarian movements need in my view some hard thinking about positioning.

As outlined in our ERPI framing paper, a new moment is emerging: a critical, historical conjuncture, when the tectonic plates of global power relations shift. We cannot pretend this is not happening. In Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, for sure, but also in Turkey, the Philippines, Indonesia, much of Europe and of course the US, political reconfigurations are underway, responding in different ways to a quite fundamental crisis in globalised neoliberal capitalism, with huge ramifications across rural worlds everywhere.

New contexts require new questions, new analytical frames and new forms of mobilisation. And with this moment unfolding rapidly, in alliance with others, the intellectual and political project of agrarian studies must rise to the challenge.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland

 

 

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Confronting authoritarian populism: a new initiative

A few weeks back, I highlighted the launch of the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI), and the availability of small grants for doing research on both the contours of the current conjuncture, and how authoritarian populism emerges and is sustained in rural areas, as well as the forms of resistance and diversity of alternatives being generated for more emancipatory futures.

Now the team initially behind the ERPI have produced an open access ‘think-piece’ background paper, the first in a Journal of Peasant Studies Forum series on Authoritarian Populism in the Rural World.

The paper is open access, so please do share widely. The small grants window closes at the end of this week, so if you are thinking of applying do so now. And tell others across the world!

Since our initial launch, there has been massive interest, so do sign up for more info via the ERPI website (www.iss.nl/erpi). This paper will hopefully inspire further questions, suggest challenges and further provoke the debate. With political developments in all parts of the world, this is a vital theme for engaged researchers and activists concerned about the future of the rural world – and more broadly too.

Here is the paper’s abstract:

Emancipatory rural politics: confronting authoritarian populism

A new political moment is underway. Although there are significant differences in how this is constituted in different places, one manifestation of the new moment is the rise of distinct forms of authoritarian populism. In this opening paper of the JPS Forum series on ‘Authoritarian Populism and the Rural World,’ we explore the relationship between these new forms of politics and rural areas around the world. We ask how rural transformations have contributed to deepening regressive national politics, and how rural areas shape and are shaped by these politics. We propose a global agenda for research, debate and action, which we call the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI. This centres on understanding the contemporary conjuncture, working to confront authoritarian populism through the analysis of and support for alternatives.

Download the paper here. We’d love to hear what you think of it. And please do get involved in the Initiative!

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The Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative: small grants call

This week the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI) is being launched, with a small grants programme. If you are anywhere near IDS in the UK on 24 May, come along at 1pm, when Ruth Hall and Ian Scoones will be introducing the Initiative. Together with a wider global network, we are interested in confronting the forces of authoritarian populism in rural areas, and exploring emancipatory alternatives.

Why is this important? Deepening inequalities, failed livelihoods, mass (under)employment, climate chaos and racist anti-immigrant attacks characterise many settings across the world. Forms of ‘progressive neoliberalism’ — peddled inaccurately as social democracy — have failed to stem disillusionment, disenfranchisement and marginalisation. The rise of populist, nationalist movements — with racist, misogynist and isolationist characteristics — has been one very visible response. Such exclusionary politics are unravelling protections for women, racial minorities, disabled people, LGBTQ communities and many others.

This type of populism depicts politics as a struggle between ‘the people’ and some combination of malevolent elites and racialized, unfairly advantaged ‘Others’. Yet the reactions to authoritarian populism are incredibly diverse, across and indeed within countries. In this Initiative, we are interested in changes ongoing in and in relation to rural areas that both give rise to a particular form of politics, but also offer alternatives.

Whether in the US, across Europe, Turkey, India, the Philippines, Brazil or South Africa and Zimbabwe – and many other countries besides – various forms of reactionary nationalism have entrenched a narrow, sometimes violent, conflictual, exclusionary politics. This may be in the name of ‘taking back control’ in favour of ‘the people’, or putting one ideology and position ‘first’, while excluding others, generating tensions across society. All are responses to crises in contemporary capitalism, yet they are rooted in specific histories, institutional and social structures and political dynamics. Responses may be contradictory: for example shoring up a certain style of political power, while selectively offering progressive policies, whether free education, land reform or investment in rural communities.

The ERPI is focused on the social and political processes across rural spaces that are giving rise to such political reactions today. We seek to understand – but not judge – the characteristics of the social base that give rise to such political dynamics. We also aim to explore how alternatives are being actively generated to regressive, authoritarian politics.  We seek to create the space for a debate about alternatives, documenting, analysing and theorising these in order to begin to outline new emancipatory politics that challenge narrow, exclusionary, violent and populist visions, analysing, sharing, supporting, deepening and scaling up alternatives.

Initially, we are proposing three core themes and a range of questions for the Initiative: (i) The current conjuncture: rural roots and consequences (ii) Resisting, organising and mobilising for an emancipatory rural politics (iii) Alternatives: understanding, supporting, creating, deepening and scaling. More detail on emerging thinking can also be found here.

With this call we seek to engage scholars, activists and practitioners from across the world who are both concerned about the current conjuncture, but also hopeful about alternatives. We will initiate a Working Paper series, supported by a limited number of small grants, to allow for the writing up of original research. In parallel we are inviting other, shorter contributions in a variety of media, helping to map out responses and alternatives. In 2018, we will host a major international conference on this theme, and we will be encouraging publication of a series of papers in the Journal of Peasant Studies, as well as other popular and media outlets, as a focus for an intense, informed and radical engagement around this theme. We hope others in social movements, political formations, policy institutions, and elsewhere will participate, developing new visions that respond to the current moment.

Collectively, we hope that we can make a small contribution in sharpening our analysis of the global situation, and by doing so, help inspire more people to join in peoples’ movements, community conversations and local innovations and experiments, wherever these may be. So readers of this blog, researching in rural areas and interested in these themes, please join the Initiative! You can sign up to mailing lists by getting in touch at emancipatoryruralpolitics@gmail.com, and follow on Facebook and Twitter.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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