Politics and International Relations > Politics
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To achieve the dual goals of minimising global pollution and meeting diverse demands for environmental justice, energy transitions need to involve not only a shift to renewable energy sources but also the safe decommissioning of older energy infrastructures and management of their toxic legacies. While the global scale of the decommissioning challenge is yet to be accurately quantified, the climate impacts are significant: each year, more than an estimated 29 million abandoned oil and gas wells around the world emit 2.5 million tons of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. In the US alone, at least 14 million people live within a mile of an abandoned oil or gas well, creating pollution that is concentrated among low-income areas and communities of colour. The costs involved in decommissioning projects are significant, raising urgent questions about responsibility and whether companies who have profited from the sale of extracted resources will be held liable for clean-up, remediation and management costs. Recognising these political goals and policy challenges, this article invites further research, scrutiny and debate on what would constitute the successful and safe decommissioning of sites affected by fossil fuel operations – with a particular focus on accountability, environmental inequality, the temporality of energy transitions, and strategies for phasing out or phasing down fossil fuel extraction.
Development and Marxism are both discourses with a complex and not-always-consistent genealogy. This article seeks to (re)set the dialogue between them through a process of deconstruction. It shows the substantial shift in the position of Karl Marx from a somewhat evolutionist conception of development to one that aligns more with our understanding of combined and uneven development. It outlines Lenin’s epistemological break from an orthodox or evolutionist view of development to a view of the global economy via the hinge of ‘imperialism’. This ushers in a new view of capitalism as non-homogeneous rather than one where part of the world develops and another ‘underdevelops’. Finally, we offer some thoughts on development in the era of globalisation that, to some extent, confirms Marx’s original intuition that capitalism would come to spread across the world.
In this policy intervention, we recount the process of producing a policy briefing targeting researchers and practitioners who use drones in biodiversity conservation. We use the writing process as a springboard to think through the ways that interdisciplinary exchange has and might further inform the ethical use of new technologies, such as drones. This approach is vital, we argue, because while drones may be deployed as tools that enable or empower forest, wildlife or habitat monitoring practices, so too can they be variously disruptive, repurposed and/or exceed these applications in significant ways. From questions of surveillance and capture, data ownership and security, to noise disruption, drone use requires careful and critical reflection, particularly in sensitive contexts. Yet, interdisciplinary exchange attentive to the ethical, social and experiential dimensions of drone use remains patchy and thin. To this end, this intervention reflects on the process of a group of scholars from ecological, environmental and social science backgrounds coming together in an interdisciplinary project grappling with diverse issues around responsible conservation drone use. After recounting our methodology, including the surprises and learning that emerged in practice, we contextualise the key themes we chose to foreground in our published policy briefing. We conclude by connecting our collaboration with wider actions and energies in the context of existing (conservation) drone policy and practice, while underscoring our contributions to existing work.
The re-emergence of conflict at the apex of the global political economy between the United States and China makes it imperative to establish analytical connections between geopolitics and national political-economic development trajectories. However, just as realist international relations conceals ‘domestic’ causes of international conflict, most comparative capitalisms (CC) research has systematically underplayed the role of geopolitics and the global political economy as forces structuring and driving national economies. Furthermore, both IR and CC analyses misleadingly treat states as analogous and independent ‘units’, rather than relationally constituted and internally heterogenous political forms whose existence and reproduction requires explanation. As such, CC fails to examine either the geopolitical preconditions for, constitution of, or the geopolitical outcomes of growth models. This article presents an uneven and combined development (U&CD) account of the connections between global order, geopolitical economy and Chinese capitalism, showing how – rather than an alien infiltrator – Chinese state capitalism is both a product, and increasingly a transmitter, of the dynamics of competitive capital accumulation operating in the global political economy. In this way, I contribute to the development of heterodox CC literature by advancing i) a conception of capitalism as a geopolitical-economic system, (ii) an example of how national cases can be treated as dialectically related to and sites for the emergence of the global geopolitical economy, and (iii) a concise application of this method to the case of Sino-US relations.
Brexit is a distinctive – if long drawn out – moment in this conjuncture. For some, it marks a turning point as a new configuration of forces, identities and possibilities is established. For others, it resembles an unfinished transition, an ‘interregnum’ that is marked (in a much-quoted phrase from Gramsci) by the ‘variety of morbid symptoms’ that arise ‘when the old is dying and the new cannot be born’. This chapter critically examines three ways in which Brexit has been accounted for:
• as a variant of a wider contemporary shift towards populist politics;
• as a revolt against neoliberal globalisation;
• and as the revenge of the ‘left behind’.
Each provides reasons for thinking conjuncturally, especially about social antagonisms, social forces and their political-cultural articulation and mobilisation. The chapter draws attention to the symbolic struggles and their mediations through both social media and the ‘tabloidisation’ of the Brexit conflict. Ideas of the ‘left behind’, however, link popular, mediatised and academic arguments in important ways and provided one route to the ‘rediscovery of class’ in the moment of Brexit.
The continued accumulation of crises suggests that the Brexit moment has not given rise to a stabilised social and political-cultural equilibrium. Rather, the pace of accumulation has increased as long-running crises acquire increasing urgency (the climate catastrophe) and encounter deepening ones (the intensification of inequality), while the challenge of making the spatial, scalar and sovereignty imaginaries of Brexit materialise has proved difficult, both internationally and domestically. New crises kept arriving, from the pandemic to international conflicts, and from economic instabilities to the many forms taken by the deepening climate catastrophe. Meanwhile, finding ways of sustaining and subsidising capital, at least since 2008, has expended public resources on private wealth (through taxation, subsidy and contracting out, for example). This accumulation of crises has been shadowed by a rise of ‘counter movements’ challenging dominant political norms and narratives.
This book addresses the social, political and economic turbulence in which the UK is embroiled. Drawing on Cultural Studies, it explores proliferating crises and conflicts, from the multiplying varieties of social dissent through the stagnation of rentier capitalism to the looming climate catastrophe.
Examining arguments about Brexit, class and ‘race’, and the changing character of the state, the book is underpinned by a transnational and relational conception of the UK. It traces the entangled dynamics of time and space that have shaped the current conjuncture.
Questioning whether increasingly anti-democratic and authoritarian strategies can provide a resolution to these troubles, it explores how the accumulating crises and conflicts have produced a deepening ‘crisis of authority’ that forms the terrain of the Battle for Britain.
The concluding chapter reflects back on some of the organising themes of the book and its approach to conjunctural analysis. It explores the relevance of particular ideas taken from Gramsci that have been used to address the present moment: the conjuncture, interregnum and counter-hegemonic possibilities. I consider some of the ways in which the current field of the political is being shrunk and rendered inhospitable. In response, I explore lines of thinking opened out by geographers in terms of ‘countertopographies’ and topological ‘power-geometries’. The chapter concludes by considering how the practices of reimagining, repairing and rearticulating might be ways of approaching the challenge of creating other futures.
Many of these accumulating crises were exacerbated by the pandemic. COVID-19 exposed the hollowed-out nature of the British state and was followed by failures of the favoured models of subcontracting. Although successful vaccination programmes averted some of the crisis (and partly rescued the government’s reputation), other troubles became apparent. Central among these was the concentration of risks of infection and death among racialised minorities. The visibility of such inequalities coincided dramatically with the killing of George Floyd (not least in the global resonance of the phrase “I can’t breathe”) in the midst of a series of ongoing challenges to racialised inequalities (attacks on the Windrush generation, racist policing, and more). The government attempted to deflect, delay and displace these challenges, not least into the register of ‘culture wars’. The idea of ‘culture wars’ poses important questions about the relationships between culture and politics, in which different intersections of politics, power and culture are mobilised – and contested. As I have already suggested, the (shifting) relationships between politics and culture are vital to understanding this conjuncture.
Developing the previous chapter’s understanding of social forces, this chapter draws on Stuart Hall’s concept of articulation to argue for a view of political mobilisation as accomplished through selective and contingent articulations. Rather than claims about decisive shifts in the political-cultural landscape, the chapter suggests that contemporary populisms and nationalisms have involved a distinctive practice of ‘vernacular ventriloquism’ as they imagine and project distinctions between the ‘people’ and their ‘enemies’. The Leave campaigns for Brexit developed a distinctive British populism (entwined with English nationalism) that assembled a particular bloc for the referendum, articulating many forms of loss, grievance and frustration. Stabilising this bloc has proved challenging: its coherence was challenged by the Corbyn-led Labour Party in the 2017 general election which voiced different popular anxieties and desires. It was, however, reassembled in the ‘Boris bloc’ of 2019, although, by 2022, this was coming apart, partly because of its internal contradictions and partly because of the proliferating crises that the Conservative government had to confront.