Tag Archives: Nancy Fraser

Beyond the crises: debating Zimbabwe’s future

crisis

News from Zimbabwe is dominated by crisis: economic, political, social, environmental and more. But what lies beyond? It is good news that people are thinking about this. A blog/website has been launched, centred on the book edited by Tendai Murisa and Tendai Chikweche, called ‘Beyond the crises: Zimbabwe’s prospect for transformation’. A blog that appeared a few weeks back offered a useful analysis of the current predicament, arguing following Brian Raftopolous, for the need to go beyond the polarised divide between a politics of redistribution and a politics of rights; and that in fact both are needed.

Tendai Murisa, currently executive director of Trust Africa, formerly a PhD student at Rhodes, and a researcher at the African Institute of Agrarian Studies, working with the late Sam Moyo, is one of the key drivers. The book and the various blogs are important reading for anyone concerned with the future of Zimbabwe. The book contains chapters on changing policy regimes (Murisa and Nyaguse), microfinance, business and small-scale enterprises (Chikweche and others), agrarian issues (Murisa and Mujyei), including gender dynamics, accumulation and land reform (Mutopo); and biodiversity, climate and environmental change (Ndebele-Murisa, Mubaya, Mutasa). All are worth a read. I however want to concentrate on the beginning and end of the book, and the discussion of the need for a transformation in Zimbabwe. They even offer a manifesto.

What is refreshing about this discussion is that it is non-partisan and barely mentions the internecine wars of party politics. It discusses politics in its broader sense, as the modes of governance required for a successful, prosperous, inclusive society. That Zimbabwe is far from this ideal is very plain, and is discussed across the book. Murisa in particular makes the case that a new politics needs to be built from the ground up, generated from the energies, innovations and solidarities of local communities. Only then will the corrupt, patronage-based politics of the centre – emanating from all sides – be challenged.

This argument picks up from Murisa’s own research that documented the emergence of forms of associational life on new resettlements following land reform. It is an important piece of work that points to the importance of mutualism, social connection and relationship building for any new activity – in this case new forms of production on the land. Extending this argument to wider society, the book makes the case that this has been lost, captured by a venal politics of greed and corruption, and that any transformation must instead emerge from a base, one rooted in solidarity, trust, and mutual cooperation, developing a civic pact that goes beyond shallow, performative participation.

Now of course in the face of the power of the party-business-security state, this may seem somewhat hopeful. But in order to get away from the obsession about leadership succession, pacts and alliances across parties, and how to make an electoral system less open to manipulation, a wider look at politics in its broader sense is important.

In his commentary at the launch of the book, Lloyd Sachikonye made some important points of gentle critique, however. There are dangers in imagining an ideal ‘community’ led response without thinking about class, identity, and power – and the array of differences that divide as well as bring together. He asked: What constellation of classes, groups and alliances should form its vanguard and base?”  Murisa and colleagues, coming from a different generation of scholars less influenced by Marx perhaps, do not throw much light on the intersections of class, capital and the state in their analysis. This is a gap. But it is not incompatible with arguing for a new form of politics in my view.

As Nancy Fraser has long argued, an emancipatory politics that takes democracy seriously must address redistribution (and questions of equity and class difference), recognition (and issues of identity politics) and representation (but not just through occasional elections) together, rethinking the ‘public sphere’, and creating a ‘triple movement’ for an emancipatory politics. A revitalised politics in the face of globalised neoliberal capitalism and nationalist, populist politics (and Zimbabwe has its own particular version, but with striking echoes of what has emerged elsewhere), building new forms of political practice is essential. Whether this is the much-hyped hashtag activism of recent times or a more grounded building of new forms of action in particular places – or ideally interactions of the two through new forms of mobilisation – such moves must focus not just on unsettling existing forms of incumbent power, but also creating alternatives that, following Polanyi, re-embed market relations, socialising production in new ways.

At the same time, a new politics must allow for the recognition of diverse identities, including men, women, different ethnicities, creating a new voice for rural people, many of whom benefited from land reform. How this builds to new forms of representation is the big question, with political parties being so bereft of policy ideas and presenting a narrow, blinkered democratic imagination. As Sachikonye argues, this does not mean rejecting electoral democracy but reshaping it with a more vibrant engagement.

Having an intellectual debate about these issues in a non-partisan forum, based on scholarship from Zimbabwe, is really refreshing, and timely. Only with such input will Zimbabwe ever find a space beyond the seemingly endless crises.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

 

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Resource politics: living in the Anthropocene

This week we are hosting a major conference at the STEPS Centre at Sussex on resource politics. There are panels looking at everything from mining to wildlife to carbon to water, with big themes cross-cutting on: Scarcity, politics and securitization; Resource grabbing; Governance, elites, citizenship and democracy; Financialisation and markets; Growth, waste and consumption and Gender, race, class and sustainability

Why is this important? As resources become more contested and incorporated as part of a globalised economy, politics take on a new form. We have seen this in the land, water and green grabbing debates, which provide the backdrop to the conference. The resource grabbing debates have each raised important issues around who gains from what resources, and how resources are constructed, regulated and shared, as we discuss in our ‘narratives of scarcity’ paper that will be presented at the conference.

Also at the conference, we will be debating the much talked about concept of the Anthropecene, and the notion of ‘planetary boundaries’, with Johan Rockstrom and Melissa Leach taking the stage to present their perspectives. These ideas have put the politics of resources at the centre of the debate, and the controversy generated has not been seen since the discussions around the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth report.

Some argue that these concepts down-play politics, constructed as they are in the register of science. Yet at the same time, they also imply a top-down, authoritarian response, and particularly problematic form of undemocratic resource politics to ‘save the planet’ against impending doom. The return of Malthusian narratives of population catastrophe, ‘perfect storms’ and resource wars is significant but, as in previous renditions, problematic. Such rhetoric can easily be deployed to justify appropriation of resources, and imposition of rules, regulations and market mechanisms that hurt local livelihoods, but not the global capitalist system that generates the problems in the first place.

Others however suggest that the Anthropecene framing and the concept of planetary boundaries offers a more emancipatory vision, connecting not separating nature and humanity, and offering the opportunity for the negotiation of a new more symmetrical political bargain for the planet. This requires not rejecting the ideas but claiming them, and injecting them with a new form of democratic politics that simultaneously respects nature and its limits, as well as puts people, social justice, equity and livelihoods at the core. This doesn’t need an old politics of environmental summitry and global regulation, but, in the words of Chantal Mouffe, a vibrant agonistic politics, part of what Nancy Fraser terms a ‘triple movement’ – neither state protection nor market dominance.

So what do we mean by resource politics? If we understand resources to be not just ‘things’, but created, assembled and constructed in social and political worlds, then we must see resources and their politics as located within particular knowledge frames, and in contextualised political economies – of particular places, and involving certain people. A bit of carbon here, is different to a bit there – just as all resources – because of the social, market, cultural, political and other connections made. Resource scarcity, as Lyla Mehta argues, is inevitably constructed and relational. My scarcity may be the result of someone else’s abundance, and what I see as scarce may not be seen in the same way by others.

Resource politics is therefore about knowledge, about social and political relations and about contests over meaning and access. It is the agonistic hybrid politics of Chantal Mouffe, cutting across state, market and civic spaces, creating an emancipatory politics of transformation, as Andy Stirling argues. It is not therefore the formal, institutionalised politics of global agreements, elections and international relations – although of course all these spaces can become important sites for contest and radical politics, as Catherine Corson argues. As Nancy Peluso and Mike Watts explain in a great chapter in the excellent ‘keywords’ book, Critical Environmental Politics, understanding resource politics requires understanding regimes of accumulation (who gets what – the classic concerns of Marxist political economy), regimes of truth (who understands what in what frame – drawing in Foucauldian analyses of knowledge and power), and regimes of rule (who controls what through what form of governance – Gramsci’s concern with hegemony). Each of these regimes intersects of course, and together make up resource politics.

Understanding resource politics inevitably then requires a diversity of disciplines, connecting natural and social sciences, and importantly across the siloes of social science. At the conference we have people coming from development studies, geography, science and technology studies, international relations, security studies, social anthropology and sociology, politics and political economy, and many with backgrounds in biology, engineering, physics, psychology, information technology and so on. With this mix, the conversation becomes vibrant and challenging – just what we hope to encourage at the STEPS Centre.

If you want to learn more, check out the conference website where there will be papers, presentations and other material. After the conference there will be videos of key sessions, photos and a Storify commentary. If you want to catch the buzz live – starting in a few hours – then follow the conference on Twitter with the hashtag #resourcepol.

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

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