United States

No one wants to be the “Global North”? On being a researcher across the North and South (May, 2019)

No one wants to be the “Global North”? On being a researcher across the North and South

In this blog post I would like to share my personal experiences of carrying out qualitative research in what contemporary scholars call the “Global South” (Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt) and the “Global North” (Australia and the United Kingdom). To convey my message clearly, I adopt the classical political geography of “South” and “North” with the intention of neither confirming these narrow categories nor of universalizing my personal experiences but in order to work towards an honest sociology of knowledge through such peculiar experiences.

In particular, I discuss what I think are some of the emerging behavioral and ethical tendencies in today’s research economy and its main methodologies. On the one hand, the reluctance in the “Southern” environments in recognizing their own tendency to embrace predominant ways of producing knowledge. On the other, the reluctance of “Northern” research entities to acknowledge their own positionality within the global scenario – that is, accepting the fact of conducting research as outsiders and, above all, the sociological harm of pretending localism. The result of these two tendencies is, from my perspective, a globalized impoverished attention to factual awareness, which depends on the personal involvement of researchers in the context they study and the cultivation of the capability to build and rebuild a continual relationship with the subjects and the places studied beyond the duration of fieldwork research.

The “Southern” tendency to perceive the practice of producing research as antithetical or substantially different to the North consistently builds on the universal romanticization of the research produced in the Global South, cutting across the North and the South. Indeed, while the research and academic institutions that I worked for in the Global South tended to believe that their fieldwork quality standards were inherently higher, the fact of being at the mercy of external – and unstable – sources of funding often endangered their existence and alternative ways of working. In these circumstances, fieldwork mostly took place in relatively small timeframes and, likewise, theories needed to be quickly wrapped up, making it difficult to identify any effective counter-culture of knowledge production. Studies on publishing locally and perishing globally have importantly highlighted the material constraints of localizing research. While “Southern” knowledge is barely known and mentioned by North-produced researchers (although it often marks significantly several fields of studies), it is also important to add that, in my own experiences across the Arab world, large segments of upper and middle classes tend to receive their postgraduate education and establish their scholarship in Northern institutions, thereby being trained according to Northern criteria while trying to preserve their reputation of being local researchers. In similar ways, Southern institutions often delegate fieldwork to research assistants who struggle to receive intellectual acknowledgment. (The same acknowledgment that many “Southern” research institutions have been looking for in the international arena, still dominated by Global North’s epistemologies and funding sources). In this regard, I have seen no co-authorships offered to research assistants, who undergo processes of alienation similar to those recently discussed in the context of the institutions of the Global North. Likewise, I have witnessed similarly exploitative relationships which seek to build knowledge upon the anonymity and the belittling of an underpaid workforce, whatever the latter’s passport is.

Despite acknowledging the partially ethnic character of some of these power dynamics – such as European academics versus local researchers in the Arab Levant, mostly when the former lack the necessary linguistic skills and in-depth knowledge of the research settings – I would like to emphasize some nuances. While the global archetype of neoliberal academia certainly does not stem from Southern institutions, largely due to colonial legacies, in my experience I have identified hierarchical and alienating structures of research-making across different cultural patterns of knowledge production.

Dauntingly, ethical research and decolonial methodologies are becoming tokenistic worldwide, turning into a further disenfranchisement of diversely vulnerable researched subjects, such as refugees. In this scenario, the Global North currently promotes itself as a pioneer advocate of ethical research – a phenomenon which has led to a proliferation of publications on the topic, rather than finally aiming for a radical transformation of research and for the uprooting of the vulnerabilities of the researched.

With no intention to bury unequal historical relationships, the intrinsic “non-ethicness” of such structural deficiencies needs to be observed across Norths and Souths. To ethnographers, if quality fieldwork means collecting relevant data, it also needs to mean collecting what matters at a local level and in an appropriate way. Contextual relevance and cultural appropriateness inevitably require generous timeframes. Doing less but long-term research and paying under-explored forms of respect to the researched may be the way to go.

Moreover, a pressing question may center on the tyranny of grants and funding, which is said to dictate the design of today’s projects. To what extent is this the cause of such an unacknowledged sociology of failure in academic research? The present tendency is to design methods that involve an extremely large number of interviews and what I would call the “participatory approach fever”. The result of a misinterpretation of what “participation” should mean is subcontracting scientific evidence to researched subjects overburdened with theoretical expectations and over-theorizations, a tendency which seldom turns out to provide sound empirical evidence. In this vein, Northern-led research not only tends to romanticize the South, which would not be new in postcolonial scholarship, but increasingly invites the South to actively participate in its own romanticization. Affected by “participatory approach fever”, many scholars in the Global North feel urged to depict their work as local, while also missing the fact that sharing their own conscious positionality vis-à-vis the researched would instead be an invaluable point of departure in the effort to avoid ethical and scientific failure. Indeed, such a self-acknowledgment would finally contribute to nuancing the multiple cultures in which research design, data collection, writing, and knowledge production are embedded – cultures that are hardly definable within the categories of “North” and “South”.

In light of these considerations, I ask myself how ethnographic studies can survive without being sociologically relevant and, at times, even culturally appropriate. Subcontracting the production of knowledge either to local researchers or to the researched themselves is certainly not a one-size-fits-all answer. Yet it looks unfeasible for many researchers across the globe to dispose of proper time and funding to conduct research over a longer timeframe and develop a localized understanding of the contexts they wish to study. I identified a similar issue when I realized that some researchers who have a poor command of the local language shy away from hiring an interpreter due to a lack of material means or because they are in an environment that frowns upon social science researchers who lack contextual skills. While peacefully sharing one’s own limits and assets would potentiate empirical analysis overall, everyone wants to be the “voice of the Global South”. Instead, no one wants to be the Global North, impeding a honest sociology of knowledge. Thus, how do we decolonize sociological and anthropological knowledge and, at the same time, the sociology of knowledge, if the drivers of epistemological coloniality, across Norths and Souths, have managed to make themselves invisible?

Advertisements
Categories: Africa, Arab Gulf, Asia, Australia, Bahrain, Central America, Egypt, Europe, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kurdistan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Middle East, North Africa, Palestine, Play, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Siria, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE, United States, USA, Yemen | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The ‘Need to Be There’: North-South Encounters and Imaginations in the Humanitarian Economy (December, 2018)

I have contributed to the Routledge Handbook of South-South Relations, edited by Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh and Patricia Daley (2018), which has just been published!

https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/9781138652002

The edited volume collects an important number of critical contributions which question contemporary political geographies of Global North and Global South. Here below you can read the abstract of my chapter which focuses on my work on humanitarianism in Lebanon.

chapter 22|13 pages

North–South encounters and imaginations in the humanitarian economy
ByEstella Carpi
Hide abstract

Based on ethnographic research conducted in Beirut’s southern suburbs (Dahiye) and northern Lebanon (Akkar) between 2011 and 2013, this chapter advances a critical reflection on humanitarian lifeworlds in Lebanon and their encounters with war-stricken local citizens and refugees. Defining Southism as a structural relationship that cements the ‘global South’ as the key symbolic capital of Northern empowerment, accountability and capability, the chapter discusses the attitudes and thinking that have characterised the Lebanese humanitarian economy during the Israel–Lebanon July 2006 war and the Syrian refugee influx into Lebanon from 2011. While it defines ‘epistemic failure’ and ‘material discrimination’ as the actual encounters between humanitarian providers and their beneficiaries, this chapter proposes that ‘humanitarian tourism’, ‘politics of blame’, and the ‘betrayal of the international community’ represent the local and refugee imaginary encounters with global humanitarian lifeworlds. With the purpose of problematising ethnic and political geographies in provider–recipient power relations, it finally theorises a de-geographicised notion of Southism that can better capture the complex role of international and local humanitarian workers in crisis settings, as well as the ad hoc relevance of nationality within humanitarian economies.

 

Categories: Africa, Asia, Europe, Middle East, Nord Africa, United States | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Security and Development: Questioning ‘Righting Wrongs’ Strategies and the Role of the International Community (by Estella Carpi, March 2015)

Security and Development: Questioning ‘righting wrongs’ strategies and the role of the international community

Security and Development: Questioning ‘righting wrongs’ strategies and the role of the international community

http://trendsinstitution.org/?p=1042

March 11, 2015 12:39 pm

Last March 8, David Malone, a Canadian career diplomat and an international development and security scholar, gave a talk at the New York University of Abu Dhabi to discuss the changing role of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in conflicts and new possibilities for development assistance in the contemporary era.

Indeed, whereas the Council is supposed to be the main transnational entity approving or rejecting requests of intervention in conflict-ridden areas, and tackling various inter-state decisional matters, it seems to have partially lost its executive force on the ground. Similar weakness points can be discussed for development assistance, towards which generalised scepticism is increasing as much as the nihilism of the aid and development workers themselves.

Thus, the broadly explored connections between security and development need to be further investigated.

Can development assistance make any difference?

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are the traditional way societies express the desire of and plan betterments, and seek to achieve them through the use of a common international code. The MDGs, however, are inherently incomplete in that they are expressed in quantitative indicators and normally address general targets: factors which are unsuitable per se to changeability.  The MDGs are therefore subject to reiterated failures.

Nevertheless, according to Malone, pessimism is not necessarily the moral approach that the international community should adopt in order to respond appropriately to crises and conflicts. For instance, history has shown thus far how in small countries development assistance does make a difference, however changing the goals that it used to entail at the beginning of the development path. Lebanon is a perfect case in point, illustrating how, on the one hand, emergency relief cannot be sufficient or successfully needs-focused. On the other, development assistance can still play a role in the reinforcement of local welfare in the contexts where the latter has historically been lacking. In big countries, by contrast, development assistance has not certainly led to economic growth, departing from the stable point that the so-called “Global South” will probably never develop big economies, despite the increasing competence of some developing countries’ governments (i.e. African governments and India), and in spite of the absence of democratic structures within a specific country (unlike China which witnessed economic growth with no democracy).

In line with his scepticism about the efficiency and the appropriateness of the MDGs, which necessarily involve predictions, Malone foregrounded the definitive defeat of one winning democratic and economic model to be followed. The multiple successful models that we witness can actually show how new waves of human optimism can be identified in a major diffusion of information, a consequently far more demanding public, and the urbanisation process, which has been able, to Malone’s mind, to mobilise resources more rapidly and raising important social issues that were previously concealed (e.g. family patterns, the social role of women, the labour force’s rights).

A winning strategy for each country is picking up those of the MDGs which are the most important to it. The involvement of the World Bank (WB) and the United Nations (UN) should rather be limited to the functionality of these organisations in specific domestic issues. This would invert the conceptual North-South unilateral power flow, in which the WB and other large international organisations are the ones that dictate pre-established programmes and approaches to developing countries regardless of local specificities.

In this polarised scenario between the “Global North” – bountiful enough to offer resources – and the “Global South” – chronically needy enough to receive them – the West is known to request respect of human rights, justice and development in exchange for its financial resources, which only constitute, in any case, a small funding portion to pursue development; moreover, once a country finds itself in deficit, development assistance is the first expense that is usually cut down. In this framework, élite powers are a social obstacle to development in developing countries, but, from Malone’s perspective, the fact that they gain their benefits from imported assistance does not render assistance itself unworthy for the poorer categories.

In these circumstances, Malone unexpectedly calls for a “data revolution” in development projects, where qualitative research needs to be prioritised over quantitative research. This data revolution would shed light on the qualitative deadlocks that development implies, such as the issue of political impartiality and its empirical feasibility. UNSC, for example, is believed super partes but its role is actually that of taking sides in crises, being formed itself by the most powerful states.

The UNSC and the present challenges

Even in apparent deadlocks such as Libya, Syria and Ukraine nowadays, the UNSC has reached points of agreement despite multiple confrontations. It is the case of Syria and the evacuation of the Asad regime’s chemical weapons in the wake of the August 2013 chemical attack on the Ghouta population in East Damascus.

In spite of the increasing unpopularity of the UNSC within the international community and “conflicts spectators”, the unresolved cases of the UNSC, apparently, make up only 10%. Nevertheless, Malone underlines the controversial aspects of such a percentage, especially in the case of NATO, whenever it allegedly intervenes to protect civilians and eventually contributes to regime changes like in Libya.

The historical cases of the UN failure still resonate today in the international community’s consciousness, like the 1995 massacre of Srebrenica, in which we witnessed a soft response of the UN that were largely represented in the media and in people’s accounts as shrugging off the genocide of Bosnians. Malone also provides the example of France in the 1994 Rwanda conflict, which did not know in depth the fighting parts and that, therefore, did not take a clear stance within the UNSC at that time. The effects of “state behaviours” within international entities are still hunting governments and are easily identifiable today: for example, France pulled out of the 20th anniversary commemoration of the Rwandan genocide last year, in that it was accused by the President Paul Kagame of having contributed to the large-scale 1994 massacre.

Diversely, inter-African protection has often been obfuscated by western saviours who have more powerful means of self-propaganda. Malone highlights how it was actually the Ghanaians to rescue many Tutsis and Hutu moderates in Rwanda in the 1990s by sheltering them, while the UN ordered the withdrawal of their peacekeeping forces.

The UNSC is arbitrarily defined as weak, according to Malone. What is interpreted as an increasingly big loss of efficaciousness is actually the co-presence of new factors in the international scenario. The major changes that occurred within the UNSC are the emerged influence of the non-governmental organisations (NGOs), like the abovementioned case of France in Rwanda, where the medical NGO Médecins Sans Frontières got separated from Médecins Du Monde by rejecting a politically neutral approach to humanitarian assistance.

A further change is constituted by the 2002-created International Criminal Court (ICC), which took over a part of the UNSC tasks, after being formed in quite a short time and being in charge of prosecuting international criminals. Such changes have often been undercut or ignored tout court in evaluating the action and the efficaciousness of the international actors.

In light of Malone’s considerations, the “Global North” feels threatened in terms of security and adopts defense mechanisms like asking the “Global South” to uphold human rights and democratic standards. In dealing with the global danger of having a larger number of insecure regions, poverty reduction and the development of unstable regions have become a moral as well as a political imperative, in that development contributes to guarantee worldwide security.

As English scholar Mark Duffield extensively showed in his research studies, development has become a security technology related to promoting the life of populations that are essentially non-insured in their states. Hence, development becomes a state strategy purporting to protect people while practically prioritising geopolitics over biopolitics, or, otherwise said, state security over human security. In brief, regions need to be developed in that they present a constant risk to homeland security. In turn, security has become an integral component of development discourse.

Needless to say that even too many projects have been implemented so far to develop the imaginary Global South, to the extent of reifying it in a chronic “receiving” position and turning it into an ironically “project-affected” area. Rather, much more efforts should be done to improve domestic and inter-state security within the Global South, the alleged major source of global threats. When such threats will be perceived and dealt with as such within the threatening countries rather than with respect to “the West” – the donor, the saviour, and the security-regulator par excellence – maybe, only then, we will see better days.

Categories: Africa, Europe, Middle East, United States | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Exiled Razaniyyat

Personal observations of myself, others, states and exile.

Diario di Siria

Blog di Asmae Dachan "Scrivere per riscoprire il valore della vita umana"

YALLA SOURIYA

Update on Syria revolution -The other side of the coin ignored by the main stream news

ZANZANAGLOB

Sguardi Globali da una Finestra di Cucina al Ticinese

Salim Salamah's Blog

Stories & Tales about Syria and Tomorrow

invisiblearabs

Views on anthropological, social and political affairs in the Middle East

tabsir.net

Views on anthropological, social and political affairs in the Middle East

SiriaLibano

"... chi parte per Beirut e ha in tasca un miliardo..."

Tutto in 30 secondi

[was] appunti e note sul mondo islamico contemporaneo

Anna Vanzan

Views on anthropological, social and political affairs in the Middle East

letturearabe di Jolanda Guardi

Ho sempre immaginato che il Paradiso fosse una sorta di biblioteca (J. L. Borges)