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Author: Mark Harvey

The failure of COP26 to secure binding commitments delivering a pathway to global warming limited to 1.5°C is attributable to a UN political process that prevents addressing the inequalities between and within nations in generating greenhouse gases. Historical divergences of national wealth and the present extreme inequalities of purchasing power (Piketty, Milanovic, Savage) manifest themselves in how the richest people in the richest nations are now the leading forcers of climate change. A second dimension of inequality, receiving less attention, concerns the inequalities between nations of environmental resources in fossil energy, agricultural land, minerals and renewable alternatives. The concept of sociogenesis of climate change analyses the combination of these two dimensions of inequality to account for the present political impasse, national and international. A dominant feature of a nation’s wealth has historically been based on the unrestricted exploitation of its own environmental resources, or those that it commands through colonisation or trade. This has resulted in the US now producing more than double the CO₂eq per capita than China, or Germany consuming four times more coal per capita than India. The COP26 impasse on coal and fossil fuels arose in part from China’s and India’s unwillingness to strand its environmental assets without alternative pathways to equivalent national wealth, while wealthier nations continue to excessively exploit theirs. A sociogenic analysis of wealth and environmental resource inequalities signals the need for a radical change in the political processes required to mitigate the climate emergency.

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The continuing coronavirus pandemic has combined with other global crises to highlight some of the fundamental challenges of inequality that currently face us. They are global both in their current configuration and their historical constitution. Similarly, any solutions to the challenges represented will be global. The continuing relevance of the social sciences will rest on their ability adequately to conceptualise the global processes involved. It is only by acknowledging the significance of the ‘colonial global’ that it will be possible to understand and address the necessarily postcolonial present that is the context for issues of inequality in the present. This article argues for the need to consider our colonial past as the basis for thinking about contemporary configurations of the global. This is followed by an address of the implications of these arguments for how we understand citizenship and belonging in the present. What is needed is a ‘reparatory social science’ committed to undoing the inadequacies that have become lodged in our disciplines and working towards a project of repair and transformation for a world that works for all of us.

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Despite obstacles, institutional barriers and prejudices, interdisciplinarity is a growing movement within academia. Evolving from the pioneering experiences in broad multidisciplinary ventures since the post–Second World War era, interdisciplinary programmes and research projects are now a worldwide reality in universities. Complex and interconnected challenges of humanity, such as social unrests, economic and ecological crises, political turmoil and global human health emergencies demand integration of efforts and competencies of researchers from a wide range of backgrounds, and the involvement of actors from outside the academia. In recent years, complex challenges fuelling the need for better integration of work in universities and research centres with real demands of societies are further feeding transdisciplinary endeavours. Such movements pose new questions, ranging from institutional arrangements to methodological frameworks, which are far from being solved. This article reflects on the nature and practice of scholarly engagement in this trajectory during the 21st century from vantage points of the Global South. Some insights are based on what we have learnt over our work lives, and some are based on collected information about experiences in India and Brazil. This contribution also raises questions that could potentially concern other countries, especially in the Global South. However, it is not a handbook directly applicable to realities other than Brazil and India. Discussions in academia about pathways to interdisciplinarity should go beyond its legitimisation. The agenda now has to shift towards transdisciplinary co-construction of knowledge, by creating gateways to connect the scientific world to the ‘real world’.

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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.

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