The term polycrisis has recently gained much interest in academia and policy-making circles as a perspective to understand the nature of ‘overlapping emergencies’ – geopolitical, ecological, pandemics and economic – that are disrupting policy and politics in the Global North and South. How do we understand the nature of these new forms of crisis? This provocation argues that polycrisis, while a good descriptive term for the overlapping emergencies that characterise the current conjecture, should be analysed in terms of the larger crisis of capitalist social reproduction. The polycrisis needs to be understood as a political crisis that arises from a contradiction between social reproduction and the crisis of capital accumulation. It leads to increasing authoritarian statist forms as well as the growing resistance and dissent that is a feature of the broken politics of time and distinguishes the multiple intersecting crises of the 21st century.
In this article we identify the ways in which Leon Trotsky’s ideas constitute a powerful resource to understand the contemporary crisis of international relations and its historical roots in the 20th century. Trotsky’s concept of uneven and combined development has already been highlighted as a signal contribution by an established scholarship in and around the discipline of International Relations. While this is a welcome development, we contend that it has come at a significant cost, detaching Trotsky’s theoretical insights from his revolutionary politics. We employ a different mode of engagement with Trotsky’s ideas, focusing on the theory of Permanent Revolution as an expression of an original analysis of the dialectic between the national and the international. Far from being a theoretically detachable and politically erroneous appendage to the more fundamental and applicable concept of uneven and combined development, we argue that Permanent Revolution constitutes its necessary culmination, as well as Trotsky’s most significant contribution to classical Marxism. We then elucidate how, writing in the first half of the 20th century and applying his theory of Permanent Revolution, Trotsky was able to diagnose certain essential lines of political development – the rise and ongoing breakdown of American hegemony, the political degeneration and collapse of the Soviet Union, and the emergence and failure of the postcolonial independent nation states – tracing the long and crisis-ridden trajectory of international relations from the second half of the 20th century down to today.
The city of Bristol, UK, set out to pursue a just transition to climate change in 2020. This paper explores what happened next. We set out to study how just transition is unfolding politically on the ground, focusing on procedural justice. Over the course of a year, we conducted interviews and observations to study decision making at three levels – public sector, private sector and civil society. We found that not only is it difficult to define what just transition means, even for experts, but that the process of deciding how to pursue such a transition is highly exclusionary, especially to women and ethnic minorities. We therefore argue there is an urgency to revise decision-making procedures and ensure that there is ample opportunity to feed into decision-making processes by those who are typically excluded. Inclusive decision making must be embedded into the process of just transition from the beginning and throughout its implementation – it is not a step that can be ‘ticked off’ and then abandoned, but rather an ongoing process that must be consistently returned to. Finally, we conclude that cities have the unique opportunity to pilot bottom-up participatory approaches and to feed into the process of how a just transition might be pursued at the global level – for example, through their participation in the United Nations Framework for the Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) processes.
In spring 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic, research projects funded by the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) were subjected to budget cuts. The cuts were the result of UK government’s decision to reduce its Official Development Assistance (ODA), which had devastating effects for humanitarian, development and research work. This article draws on focus group discussions with project teams working on three large GCRF-funded projects to explore the effects of these cuts. The article documents how the cuts curtailed project aspirations and impact, had a negative toll on the mental health of researchers, and imperilled the trusting relationships upon which international research collaborations are built. The article argues that the cuts expose the shallow commitments to research ethics and equitable partnerships of powerful actors in the UK research ecosystem, including research councils and government. In ‘doing harm’ via these cuts, the article explores the failure of research governance structures and the continued coloniality underpinning the UK’s approach to researching ‘global challenges’.
This study examines how the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can be leveraged to facilitate strategic change towards sustainability involving multiple stakeholders in a pluralistic city environment. By drawing on an exemplary case study of the localisation of the SDGs in Bristol, a medium-sized UK city, we show how the goals can operate as a boundary object. In particular, we identify a pattern in which the discursive localisation of the SDGs moved from problematisation and visioning through strategising and structuring towards embedding and performing. In addition, we elaborate on the three tensions that the SDGs help participants to understand and use productively, that is, across scale, time and different ways of valuing. Our study contributes to research on strategic change in pluralistic settings, such as cities, by offering a nuanced account of the discursive use of the SDGs by organisations involved in a city’s sustainable development. Furthermore, by proposing a framework based on the specific tensions that play an important role in the discursive localisation, our study advances research on the role of city strategising and practice more generally.
Since the early 2010s, academic and policy debates about the interlinkages between climate and security have expanded and deepened. Climate is now widely acknowledged to magnify security risks especially in conflict or post-conflict contexts. This relationship is viewed as complex, dynamic and indirect, involving a wide range of intermediate variables. However, this discussion – and hence, related policy efforts – have tended to occur at highly aggregate levels of analysis, especially national, regional and global ones. Instead, this paper addresses climate-sensitive peacebuilding at the local level. What does local climate-sensitive peacebuilding look like on the ground? What are the promising areas for research and policy responses in fragile and conflict-affected settings? After offering a broad overview of climate-sensitive peacebuilding, we focus on the case of Afghanistan, drawing on specific examples that were in place prior to the 2021 return to power of the Taliban. We find that the traditional Western approach in the country – top-down, focused on hard security rather than human security and highly state-centric – tends to ignore the impacts of climate change. In addition, the dominant security paradigm overlooks the potential of local peacebuilding initiatives that address adaptation and resilience. We argue that climate-sensitive peacebuilding offers a bottom-up alternative to addressing the intersection of these risks in conflict-affected settings.
In this paper I argue that the new coronavirus pandemic has brought to light some of the contradictions and paradoxes of our time, namely the contrast between human fragility and the technological hubris linked to the fourth industrial revolution (artificial intelligence); and the contrast between the TINA ideology (there is no alternative) and the sudden and extreme changes in our everyday life caused by the virus, thus suggesting that there are indeed alternatives. I then analyse the main metaphors that have been used in public discourse concerning our relations with the virus: the virus as an enemy; the virus as a messenger; the virus as pedagogue. I prefer the last one and explain why, and in what sense the virus is our contemporary.