Archive for the 'Politics' Category

The soul of a university: prologue

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Chris Brink

by Chris Brink

The soul of a university: Why excellence is not enough is out now from Bristol University Press

“Aristotle characterised the soul as ‘the essential what-ness’ of a living body. On this definition, and if we accept the university as a living body, the question of the soul of the university is a question about its essence.

Universities are among the most durable institutions society ever invented. You can trace the idea of a university back to Greek philosophers, or Chinese sages, or Islamic madrassas. Even just its European manifestation goes back almost a thousand years. Somehow, despite their wide variety, there is something recognisable about a university. We feel that if a time machine dropped us into a university of say 500 years ago, we would recognise it, and not feel out of place there. Likewise, we hope that if the time machine brought us forward in time to the year 2500, we would still find universities recognisable, and flourishing.

Such durability must be a consequence of the unchanging essence, the soul, of a university. And while we might dispute details and offer different formulations, there can be little doubt that the essence of a university has to do with the exercise of reason. Reason exercised, in particular, in the pursuit of knowledge and the search for truth. When we engage in learning and scholarship we do so in a certain way, and we try to inculcate that way in our students. We follow the way of rationality. This is not to say that universities do not adapt. They do. They may be maddeningly slow, and they may wander off into detours and dead ends, but they are not ignorant of what happens in society, because professors are people, and students even more so. So when we say there is something unchanging about the university – that there is an identifiable essence that characterises it – this is not an indictment of resistance to change. It is an affirmation of enduring value.

“The very essence of a university, it seems, is under threat.”

Having said that, it must be recognised that at present universities are confronted with a societal change so fundamental it is hard to know how it will turn out. The very essence of a university, it seems, is under threat. Throughout the history of universities, the exercise of reason, the pursuit of knowledge and the search for truth have enjoyed the respect and support of society. But no longer. Or at least no longer to the extent to which universities have always taken such respect for granted. It is hard to think of any earlier time when the very concept of truth itself has been undermined and constrained as at present.

Towards the end of 2016, the Oxford English Dictionary selected ‘post-truth’ as its word of the year. In a post-truth world, appearance matters more than reality, and what people can be led to believe takes precedence above what they ought to know.

With hindsight we can see the signs. In the penultimate chapter of his 1997 book Truth: A History and a Guide for the Perplexed, the historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto traces what he calls ‘the death of conviction’, and the role of intellectuals in its demise. Deconstruction, postmodernism, relativism: the intellectual whiteanting of truth is well documented. Since the millennium, the decline of truth has accelerated. Iraq was invaded on the grounds of weapons of mass destruction, which were not found. The financial crisis of 2007–8 destroyed trust in the probity of banks and the veracity of governments. The widening inequality gap led to the rage of the Occupy movement. And, increasingly, a disenchanted electorate refused to vote as they were supposed to, turning to unexpected charismatics stronger on promise than on experience.

In the UK, the leader of a political party signed a pledge, on camera, against any increase in student fees, and then, as part of a coalition government, voted to triple them. Another party elected as leader a man with no clear expertise but a messianic message, and although 80% of his parliamentary colleagues initially declared that they had no confidence in him, the electorate gave him an extra 30 seats in parliament. A former secretary of state for education declared that the people have had enough of experts. A new prime minister called a general election in the confident expectation of significantly increasing the government’s majority, and lost it. The United States of America elected as president a billionaire with no experience whatsoever of government, but an instinctive mastery of social media and an oceanic reservoir of self-belief as an exponent of the art of the deal. France swept aside both the established left and the established right, and elected a president who had never fought an election, and a party which had not existed a year before.

At the same time, we see a new isolationism taking shape. Three decades after the wall came down in Berlin, new walls, physical or metaphysical, are being constructed. Scotland threatens to leave the United Kingdom, Catalonia may leave Spain, and England voted to leave the European Union. A post-referendum secretary of state re-affirmed the government’s intention of bringing immigration into the UK down from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands, starting with a clampdown on international students. A prime minister declared that ‘If you see yourself as a citizen of the world you are a citizen of nowhere. You do not understand the concept of citizenship.’

Both the post-truth and isolationist developments are contrary to the idea of a university. Universities are where experts come from. The search for truth is what makes an expert. Truth knows no boundaries and no national identity. Universities, for hundreds of years, have welcomed anybody, regardless of national or cultural identity, who has the ability to contribute to, or the potential to benefit from, an environment concerned with  knowledge and understanding. That is why universities have always been international entities, ever since medieval wandering scholars commuted between Bologna and Paris and Oxford. The post-truth conception of the world undermines the idea of a university, and the new isolationism constrains it.

It may be argued that the current developments are just a new manifestation of the old tension between logic and rhetoric. But that would be to flatter the post-truth Twitterati. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were all fairly scathing about the sophists, but they took rhetoric seriously, and no sophist would have openly flouted logic, though they were adept at twisting it. It used to be the case that public figures who contradicted themselves were held up to ridicule. Reductio ad absurdum has long been a powerful weapon for destroying the credibility of an opponent. But no longer. The Trumpeters have discovered that contradicting yourself is a way of validating any opinion. In the post-truth world of social media you can always refer back to the currently convenient half of your previous contradiction, and trust to the short attention span of your audience to forget the other half.

Any thought of a response must begin with an admission. As academics, we have been complacent in watching the new posttruth spirit develop, complicit in facilitating it, and compliant in accommodating its consequences. Which is odd. How can we say that we strive for knowledge when we disdain truth?

There are two key questions we should always ask about our academic work. The first is: what are we good at? The second is: what are we good for? The first question is about excellence: who is expert at what? The second question is about purpose: how do we respond to the needs and demands of society? Both questions are important and legitimate. We have been complicit in a relentless focus on the first question, and complacent in the face of a growing revolt about our lack of focus on the second.

“The UK and US like to boast about the world-class excellence of their top academics, counting their Nobel prizes like their Olympic gold medals.”

Inequality is about the distance between the haves and the have-nots. In the UK and the US the economic distance between the top and the bottom is greater now than it has ever been. This is worth taking note of, because there is a strong argument that social ills proliferate in direct correlation with economic inequality. The greater the distance between the rich and the poor, the more social problems the state will face. The same, I hold, is true for educational inequality. The UK and US like to boast about the world-class excellence of their top academics, counting their Nobel prizes like their Olympic gold medals. At the same time, just as the rich are stratospherically above the poor, and the super-athletes are on another plane than the obese masses, the star academics float above an underclass of barely literate and largely innumerate people who, we now know, are very angry. They have been fed a sugary diet of appearances rather than a healthy dose of truth, to the extent that they cannot recognise the difference any more. They do not understand the experts, nor do they interact with them. Whatever lingering vestiges of respect there might have been for clever people has been eroded by a lack of evidence that their work benefits everybody. There has not been a clear educational trickledown effect, just as there has not been an economic trickle-down effect. The knowledge gap, like the wealth gap, has become too large to endure.

The central thesis of this book is that universities should pay attention to the question of what they are good for with the same rigour and determination as they pursue the question of what they are good at. This is not entirely a new idea. I quote a somewhat obscure medieval scholar called Boethius of Dacia as saying that the supreme good open to man is to know the true and pursue the good – and to take delight in both. You can read his own words on this topic in the Epilogue, and you can trace his idea back to Aristotle.

We have not been paying sufficient attention to parity between the two guiding questions about the true and the good. We have self-indulgently been focusing on the former. Some have done so by undermining the very idea of truth. Among the remainder, who have no problem with truth, there is a school of thought that the search for truth is an end in itself – that advancing the frontiers of knowledge will suffice as a response to the question about societal benefit. We may call this the ‘invisible hand’ argument: that knowledge will always, in the fullness of time, through the workings of an invisible hand, bring benefit to society. Many of us accept this maxim as true, but some of us feel that it cannot be the whole truth. The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake is necessary, but not sufficient, for addressing the needs and demands of civil society. Its benefits are unpredictable in nature and slow in coming.

In global society space has shrunk and time has accelerated to the extent that responsiveness to the challenges facing us cannot wait for the workings of the invisible hand in the knowledge economy. Universities need to engage with the challenges faced by civil society, global and local. We should do so with a proper understanding of when the pursuit of knowledge should be challenge-led rather than curiosity-driven, and how these two methodologies differ from and interact with each other. The societal benefit of having experts should be made manifest. We have not been clear about the feedback loop between excellence and relevance.

In expounding my thesis, I have found it necessary to introduce some new ideas and debunk some common assumptions. ‘Applied research’, for example, is almost exactly what I am not talking about when I speak of ‘challenge-led research’. Applied research is a solution looking for a problem, challenge-led research is the opposite. I also have severe concerns about the fashionable idea of ‘merit’, and the accompanying socio-political construct of a meritocracy. A meritocracy, I argue, is much the same as an aristocracy, except that those at the top have higher self-esteem. Third, I am somewhat impatient with bogus quantification, and the deferential respect commonly paid to any conclusion arising from the application of a formula. We are prone to confusing accuracy of calculation with legitimacy of conclusion. This tendency is well illustrated by the current craze for university rankings. It takes only a little scrutiny to realise that these rankings are normative at least as much as they are substantive. They create a reality more than reflect a reality. Any competent arithmetician could easily find a perfectly plausible formula and a decent data set that will deliver pretty much any ranking you want.

“Rankings are a perfect manifestation of the post-truth society. “

Rankings are a perfect manifestation of the post-truth society. They give the appearance of certainty and avoid the complexities of truth. In response to a question about quality they offer a single number, which is your university’s position on their ranking. And they get away with it, on the apparently unimpeachable grounds that the result was obtained by a mathematical calculation.

Behind almost any discussion about universities is the question of quality. What makes a ‘good university’? This question, which occupies not only academics but millions of parents and prospective students, is of course only a proxy for a more fundamental question: what do we mean by ‘good’? Following Boethius of Dacia, I hold that ‘good’ has at least two dimensions: good as in excellent, and good as in virtuous. On the latter, less explored axis, quality is inseparable from equality. Likewise, equality is inseparable from diversity, which leads me to conclude that quality needs diversity.

I have now said what my book is for. If you ask, on the other hand, what my book is against, it is the poverty of linearism. ‘Linear’ just means ‘as if on a straight line’, which is how ordinary numbers are arranged. A straight line is the simplest representation of one-dimensionality. When we assign everything a number we have enforced a situation where, of any two things, one of them has a higher number than the other, and so is presumed to be better. Linearism, then, is a lazy preference for the apparent certainty of one dimension rather than the multidimensional complexities of truth. A ranking, of universities or anything else, is a numbered list, which is a one-dimensional representation of whatever reality we started with. The problem is not that it is done, but that it is so easily and uncritically accepted as a true representation of reality, rather than a preferential ordering. I can easily rank apples above oranges; that will tell you something about my preferences but nothing about fruit.

The antidote to one-dimensionality is more dimensions. I advocate an academic landscape, the two axes of which are excellence and purpose. The excellence axis is our response to the question of what we are good at; the axis of societal purpose is our response to the question of what we are good for. As in any landscape, the two axes are conveniently thought of as being orthogonal: at right angles to each other. Such a conceptualisation is half metaphorical and half practical. Metaphorically, I argue, we should envisage the good as orthogonal to the true. In practical terms, what this means is that challenge-led research cuts across disciplinary research (for which we use words like ‘cross-disciplinary’), and the idea of knowledge in service of society cuts across the idea of knowledge for its own sake.

One advantage of the landscape metaphor is that we are not trapped by another common assumption, which is that academic debate presents itself as a series of binary oppositions. It is not the case that we are talking of excellence versus purpose; the good versus the true. Instead, we can talk of excellence and purpose, knowing the true and pursuing the good. We can delight in both, because each can reinforce the other.

On the metaphor of an academic landscape each university could determine for itself its desired coordinates. What subjects do you wish to be good at? And what contribution do you wish to make to the challenges facing civil society? Given your circumstances, location, history, opportunities and responsibilities, where would you like to be located on the axis of excellence, and where on the axis of societal relevance? And how do these two ambitions interact, and mutually reinforce each other?

In the same way as we all strive to be a ‘world-class’ university on the axis of excellence, we can all strive to be a ‘civic’ university on the axis of societal purpose. ‘Civic’ is nicely ambiguous: it can refer to your interaction with your city or region, but it can also refer to your responsibility to civil society – local, national or global. Just as a world-class university knows what it is good at, and has the evidence to back it up, a civic university is one that knows what it is good for, and has the evidence to back it up.

“Locating ourselves on an academic landscape means we can compete when competition will suffice and collaborate where joint action is necessary.”

For better or for worse, the good-at axis has developed as a competitive one – a fact the rankers have clearly perceived and ruthlessly exploited. The good-for axis, however, is intrinsically a collaborative one. Tackling climate change, or clean energy, or antimicrobial resistance, or obesity, or inequality, or extremism, or any other grand challenge facing global society, is unlikely to be the work of some lone genius. It will be the work of committed teams with various forms of expertise, interacting on different fronts. Locating ourselves on an academic landscape means we can compete when competition will suffice and collaborate where joint action is necessary.

And so, in summary, this book is one of advocacy. It is a set of academic considerations regarding the soul of a university. In a post-truth society we need to keep up the search for truth and understanding, but we need to do so with a better understanding of why we are doing it, and a clear commitment that academic excellence must respond to the challenges facing civil society. In an increasingly fractured world, we need to combat isolationism with the simple truth that your problem will no longer stop at my border, nor mine at yours. It is up to us to demonstrate that the world can still benefit from wandering scholars.

 

The soul of a university FCThe soul of a university by Chris Brink is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £11.99.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Bristol University Press and Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

A democratic answer to neoliberalism and authoritarianism

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Bryn Jones

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Mike O’Donnell

Bryn Jones and Mike O’Donnell, editors of Alternatives to neoliberalism,  examine the problems of authoritarian nationalism and explain that the best hope for greater equality and quality of life lies with people themselves, and in more, not less democracy. The paperback of Alternatives to neoliberalism is out now.

When the hardback edition of our co-edited book was published in early 2017, it was the long, harsh aftermath of the 2007-8 financial crisis and subsequent recession – encapsulated in the term ‘austerity’ – that we challenged and sought answers to.

Along with a growing number of progressive critics and politicians, we named the extreme free-market ideology of neoliberalism as the underlying cause of the economic and social disruption that still persists. Alternatives to neoliberalism offers a range of democratic and egalitarian alternatives from progressive academics and policy practitioners. Their answers apply now even more urgently and provide a concrete vision of a participative society in which power is exercised by citizens, routinely in the communities and institutions in which they engage, and through robust systems of accountability at regional and national levels.

In the last year the need to defend and extend democracy and social justice has become even more acute. The neoliberal theorist, Fredrick Hayek, was a proponent of ‘the free-market’ but tended towards political and social authoritarianism so that business could be executed with the minimum of inconvenience. One man’s freedom…

“Liberal capitalist regimes, especially neoliberal ones, tend to respond to economic crisis and the social protest it provokes, with a shift to authoritarianism.”

However, the current resurgence of authoritarianism in many parts of the world, notably in the United States, Eastern Europe and Russia, and the Philippines, is not significantly the product of theoretical thinking – rather the opposite.  Liberal capitalist regimes, especially neoliberal ones, tend to respond to economic crisis and the social protest it provokes, with a shift to authoritarianism. Thus, they impose austerity on the majority in order to pay off debts caused mainly by financial speculation. The cry ‘we are all in this together’ rings out and populist nationalism is offered as the antidote to ‘the peoples’ complaints.

In reality, political turbulence following economic chaos serves to obscure the real causes of crisis and misleads popular opinion. ‘Taking back control’ in terms of sustained democratic participation is a fair description of what is least likely to happen. Alternatives to neoliberalism seeks to make these processes transparent and to offer solutions.

“…populist leaders and supportive media frame ‘the solution’ in terms of a supposed long-suffering national majority and ‘others’.”

Authoritarian nationalism typically couches the promise of restoring economic prosperity in terms of cultural inclusion and exclusion. These two aspects are rhetorically conflated as populist leaders and supportive media frame ‘the solution’ in terms of a supposed long-suffering national majority and ‘others’, frequently recent migrants or more established but easily differentiated and scapegoated groups. This was the scenario in inter-war Germany and is currently being played out in numerous parts of the world, if for now in somewhat less brutal terms. Why ‘we’ behave in this way is not best explained in terms of the psychopathology of the few – although that has some traction – than in the exploitation of insecurity and want.

It need not be so. The message of our book is fundamentally optimistic. Sceptical of the sustained intentions of remote elites to deliver on electoral promises, we believe that the best hope for greater equality and quality of life lies with people themselves, in more, not less democracy.  However, we mean this not in terms of current populist bombast but in the extension of citizens’ engagement and rights.

Thomas Marshall’s classic book on citizenship published in 1950 chronicles the development of a trilogy citizen’s rights in Britain; civil (legal), political and social. We advocate a fourth phase in the accretion of citizen’s rights: the development and implementation of democratic participation and accountability from the bottom to the top of society. Already many community and voluntary organisations as well as more formal organisations such as trade unions and small businesses contribute to sustain their localities.

Anna Coote, a contributor to the book, argues for a ‘new social settlement’ that would channel capital and resources ‘upstream’ drawing on civic organisation and vitality, leaving to residents more control of expenditure and development be it, for instance, in social care, additional educational and leisure facilities, community enterprise, and the maintenance and protection of the environment.  A complementary policy presented in the book would require supermarkets to negotiate and contract for the provision of certain services such as sourcing a minimum quota of local produce and/or meeting enhanced environmental standards.

“Such redistribution of power as we are currently seeing is into the hands of populist politicians.”

Building a more participative society will take organisation. Like any major change it has a political as well as a socio-economic dimension. It requires a redistribution of power. An increase in democratic participation in locally based institutions of, for instance, big business, education and in budget allocation will cumulatively have major regional and national implications. If sustained it will create a participative democratic society. Such redistribution of power as we are currently seeing is into the hands of populist politicians.

After the virulently totalitarian inter-war bout of authoritarianism and the war required to defeat it, there was a widespread desire for social reform. That reform, Marshall’s third phase of citizens’ rights, has been pushed back and as a priority must be defended and re-established. But beyond necessity awaits the tantalising possibility of a society of meaningful participation and opportunity.

Jones_Alternatives to neoliberalism [FC]Alternatives to neoliberalism edited by Bryn Jones and Mike O’Donnell is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £20.79.

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Southgate offers solutions for local leadership

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Robin Hambleton

By Robin Hambleton

Originally published by Local Government Chronicle on 12 July 2018.

The disappointment of England losing the World Cup semi-final to Croatia last week does not undermine the fact that Gareth Southgate has raised the bar for international football management.

His calm and self-effacing manner, coupled with his inspirational leadership, has won admiration from football fans in many countries.

Here in England Southgate has become an enormously popular public figure. His influence already extends well beyond the world of sport, not least because of the rapid expansion of the hilarious Twitter movement ‘GarethSouthgateWould’, which provides hundreds of amusing suggestions on ‘What Gareth would do’ in all manner of situations.

Can we draw any lessons for local leadership from the ‘Southgate approach’ to leadership and management?

Some will answer ‘no’. They will argue that managing a national football team is entirely different from exercising effective place-based leadership. For a start the overall objectives of leadership are far more straightforward in sports management. The metrics for measuring success are pretty clear – basically adhere to the rules of the game and win against opponents.

In contrast, local leaders are required to pursue multiple objectives and respond creatively to a wide range of expectations and pressures. The metrics for measuring performance are contested and power struggles between competing interests are endemic. Moreover, different interests will disagree over whether a given policy outcome is good, bad or indifferent.

“I believe that the ‘Southgate approach’ to leadership provides three pointers for local government politicians and managers.”

Notwithstanding these important differences I believe that the ‘Southgate approach’ to leadership provides three pointers for local government politicians and managers.

First, his leadership style is collaborative. Fabio Capello, England manager from 2008-2012, was, for sure, previously an exceptionally talented footballer and a successful club coach. But his leadership approach was very top-down. Indeed, he had a reputation as a disciplinarian and was criticised for not allowing his senior players to have tactical input. As England manager he was less than successful.

The leadership approach adopted by Gareth Southgate could hardly be more different. He is very strong on listening and on motivating the whole squad, coaches and staff.

For example, in interviews he almost invariably refers to the important contribution of players in the squad who have not appeared on the pitch, explaining that their solid commitment to work on the training ground enables whoever ends up playing for England to be better than they otherwise would have been.

Second, Southgate is emotionally intelligent. He understands that leadership is first and foremost about feelings, and he recognises that successful leaders need to make an emotional connection. His leadership approach has shown that if people are respected and feel valued they can perform at an unprecedented level.

“His success in enabling such a young team to perform so well stems from the way he has cultivated a culture of common commitment and an emphasis on positivity.”

His success in enabling such a young team to perform so well stems from the way he has cultivated a culture of common commitment and an emphasis on positivity. In interviews and discussion he demonstrates not only his advanced tactical knowledge of football but, just as important, he comes across as warm, light hearted and liberating.

It is possible that you could say the same about Sven-Goran Erikkson, England manager from 2002-2006. While the Swedish manager was always courteous and friendly, he was criticised for being unenthusiastic on the touchline. His deliberate ‘ice cool Sven’ body language backfired.

In contrast, Southgate knows when to damp down the feelings on the touchline. But he also knows that it is important for the manager to let it all out when the team does well. Southgate is certainly soft-spoken but he can also shout very loudly when the occasion demands.

Third, Southgate recognises that effective leaders do not simply focus on the leadership of their own organisation. In more than one interview he has noted how proud he is to be “part of a team that has a chance to affect things that are bigger than football”.

By his squad and team selections, as well as through his personal leadership style, Southgate is contributing to the national debate about what it means to be English in 2018. It would be misguided to believe that a successful multi-ethnic national football team can put an end to racism in any given society, but sport can play a role in shaping national feelings of identity. Southgate is very aware of this and believes that football can play a role in uniting people.

“My definition of leadership is ‘shaping emotions and behaviour to achieve common goals’. “

My definition of leadership is ‘shaping emotions and behaviour to achieve common goals’. This definition draws attention to how people feel, and it emphasises the collective construction of common purpose.

Many political and managerial leaders in local government now recognise the importance of the three ‘Southgate approach’ criteria. They are committed to collaboration; they are emotionally intelligent; and they are fully aware of the larger purposes guiding their leadership efforts.

My suggestion is that even the most accomplished place-based leaders can learn from studying how Gareth Southgate leads the English national football team.

 

Leading the inclusive city [FC] 4webLeading the inclusive city by Robin Hambleton is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £20.79.

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Feature Image by Антон Зайцев, soccer.ru (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Understanding the rise of populism and addressing its challenges

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Amitai Etzioni

Amitai Etzioni, author of Law and society in a populist age, examines the emergence of populism and suggests ways in which law-based approaches and political institutions can both understand and manage the challenges these movements present.

“Much attention has been paid, for good reason, to the rise of right-wing populism in many countries. Emerging notably in opposition to immigration, and Britain’s decision to leave the EU, this type of populism plays out as a direct political bond between a charismatic leader and the masses, which occurs outside established institutional channels.

Left-wing populism, on the other hand – seen in movements such as the rise of Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain – is often all too overlooked but must be taken into account.

To take an example from the US, when Bernie Sanders ran for nomination as its presidential candidate he was not a member of the Democratic Party and was about as critical of it as Trump was of the Republican Party. Both candidates were initially opposed by the establishment of the two parties they came to represent. Likewise, Macron won the French presidential election, against all candidates of established parties, and created his own party in the process.

Their success demonstrates that, although right-wing populism is not embraced by the majority of the public in most of the nations in which it is rising, if one adds those on the left who are deeply troubled by the existing political regime, the combined result is a large majority of citizens who are alienated and distrust major institutions of their countries. Unexpected alternatives become viable options.

“The populist response to loss of jobs and benefits, increased economic insecurity, and accelerating social and cultural changes is deeply troubling and must be corrected, but their disaffection is driven by valid concerns.”

These emerging majorities have strong reasons to be disaffected. To dismiss their concerns as merely reflecting ignorance, prejudice, or credulity is both empirically wrong, and unhelpful in dealing with the crisis they pose to the legal order of liberal democracy. The populist response to loss of jobs and benefits, increased economic insecurity, and accelerating social and cultural changes is deeply troubling and must be corrected, but their disaffection is driven by valid concerns. To go forward, we must look for paths toward the reintegration of these masses into a society based on the rule of law, even if some of the laws involved may have to be recast in the process.

Modernity is characterized by technological and economic developments that underpin the existing legal, ethical, and political institutions. As populist movements grow, these institutions lose their ability to ensure that these developments will be dedicated to pro-social rather than anti-social purposes.  Like Golem, or the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, society has lost control of these developments and is buffeted by them.  This institutional lag should be closed and society—drawing on its law-making, policy-setting institutions—can then guide the forces that have been unleashed, rather than be captured by them.

This is just one of the ways in which law-based, political institutions in many democratic societies are being challenged by populist movements, parties, and leaders. Changes such as this necessitate greater attention to the role society plays in forming and challenging laws—and to the role of the law in coping with these challenges. An agenda is needed for research and deliberations by those interested in these law-in-society considerations.

“In order for the public at-large to be served, rather than having large segments of the population feel left out and antagonized, we need a major reallocation of power as well as a new source of legitimacy.”

Part of this agenda is to examine how the challenges posed by specific sources of alienation must be addressed. These include the privatization of force, the capture of the public domain by concentrations of private power, and ways in which obsolescent legitimacy can be replaced by newly-formed legitimacy.  In order for the public at-large to be served, rather than having large segments of the population feel left out and antagonized, we need a major reallocation of power as well as a new source of legitimacy. Both of these developments require the kind of major societal change historically brought about only by social movements.

An agenda must acknowledge the tensions between those who seek ever more governmental powers to bolster national security and defense (as well as environmental protection and climate control), and those who believe that such concentrations of power undermine their rights.  The very concept of the common good is contested by libertarians and introduces a liberal communitarian conception of a balance between individual rights and social responsibilities.

Finally, relations are needed between the national communities and the attempts to build more encompassing, so-called supranational (or regional) communities. The most advanced of these is the European Union (EU). The fact that Britain chose to leave the EU is often cited as a key example of the rise and victory of populism. One can also see it as an example of multilateral overreach; of concentrating power in Brussels and violating national sovereignty—before most people transferred their loyalty to the nascent European community.

“This acknowledgement that law and society are deeply intertwined will help to address the challenges posed by both right and left wing populism in these troubled times.”

In one major arena after another, specific sources of alienation require deliberations on how the challenges they pose should be faced. According to Lawrence Friedman, one of the leading thinkers in the law and society field, we must look at “ways in which law is socially and historically constructed, how law both reflects and impacts culture, and how inequalities are reinforced through differential access to, and competence with, legal procedures and institutions.” This acknowledgement that law and society are deeply intertwined will help to address the challenges posed by both right and left wing populism in these troubled times.

Law and society in a populist age FCLaw and society in a populist age by Amitai Etzioni is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £15.99.

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Repealed! Now we look to Northern Ireland

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Judith Orr

Originally published by the Abortion Rights blog on May 26th 2018.

An uprising of activists in every city, town and village across Ireland made history yesterday and sealed the end of an era that saw women denied basic human rights. The victory of the Repeal the Eighth campaign will ring out across the world to everyone who is fighting to win the right to safe and legal abortions, whether in Poland, Bolivia or even on the doorstep, in my own birthplace, Northern Ireland.

The grassroots campaign saw great teams of people knocking on doors night after night and taking stalls to local high streets all over the country. It was inspiring to witness thousands of people going out to talk to people face to face about why they should vote Yes.

Thousands came #HometoVote from all over the world, and numerous Twitter streams and new hashtags showed the reach and creativity of the movement. Dentists for Yes campaigned in tribute to Savita Halappanavar who died in 2012 after she was denied an abortion when she suffered a septic miscarriage. She was herself a dentist, and her parents spoke out from India in support of a yes vote. Farmers for Yes tweeted photos of themselves holding Yes signs alongside their livestock and tractors while Grandfathers for Yes defied the clichés that this was simply a generational divide.

“…while Grandfathers for Yes defied the clichés that this was simply a generational divide.”

But most of all the courage of all those who told their own personal stories, many for the first time, stands as a testament to the cruelty of a state ban of what is an essential part of women’s health care. Moving accounts, for example on In her Shoes Twitter account, recorded the anguish inflicted on women who had to travel to end an unwanted pregnancy, or who needed to end a wanted pregnancy for health reasons. Women spoke out about the past so no one would have to go through what they endured in the future.

The No side showed no humility in the face of this outpouring of moving experiences. In fact the anti abortion lobby rehearsed its well worn propaganda about being ‘pro-women’ and ‘pro-life’. These claims were exposed as being lies as the Yes campaign highlighted the impact that denying access to abortion services in Ireland had on every area of women’s health care.

Women described being denied cancer treatment, or medication for epilepsy, when they became pregnant. One doctor told of woman brought by ambulance to a maternity hospital rather than an A&E after being injured in a car accident because she was pregnant. Her own physical injuries were dealt with only after doctors successfully picked up the foetal heartbeat. In the most tragic cases surviving relatives bore witness to the consequences of the constitution treating a foetus and a pregnant women as equal under the law

So this is a momentous change that has been a long time coming. Many compare yesterday’s referendum to one that led Ireland to be the first country to legalise equal marriage after a poplar vote in a referendum. But although both show how attitudes to the Catholic Church’s orthodoxies are changing, today’s result is even more significant. Women’s lives, their bodies, their fertility and sexuality have always faced the greatest scrutiny by the church and the establishment.

“Abortion cannot be seen in isolation, rather as part of a regime of oppression that imposed severe restrictions on women’s lives, and on their sex lives in particular.”

Abortion cannot be seen in isolation, rather as part of a regime of oppression that imposed severe restrictions on women’s lives, and on their sex lives in particular. This is a system that saw women who did give birth, but who happened to be unmarried, forced into institutions, such as Mother and Baby homes and Magdalene laundries. Here their babies were forcibly taken from them to be adopted. Many babies were even sold, often to rich American couples, leaving a trail of personal devastation over generations.

The discovery, in 2017, of a mass grave of babies and children in the grounds of a former Bon Secours Mother and Baby home in Tuam, County Galway show that the full truth of these institutions has yet to come out.

This policing of women’s bodies meant that some women were shamed if they did give birth, but others were also shamed if they decided they did not want to continue a pregnancy. Yet, as so many Yes campaigners pointed out, keeping abortion illegal did not stop Irish women having abortions, it just stopped them having abortions in Ireland.

Yet the shame associated with abortion is not unique to Ireland. Abortion still carries a stigma in countries with access to legal abortion, such as Britain. Abortion is portrayed as the ultimate betrayal of what it is to be a woman, we are encouraged to see it as an aberration and a rejection of our natural biological selves. When anti abortion campaigners can’t win a bar on abortion they concentrate on maintaining these taboos.

Such stigma will not disappear overnight, but the impact of what has happened in Ireland cannot be overstated. It is a sea change that will not only affect the legal status of abortion. The result is both an expression of, and spur for, a transformation of social attitudes to abortion as well. This will be the backdrop for the debates still to come over what new abortion legislation will say, and then about how that is interpreted and implemented.

“But there is also other unfinished business that is thrust into the spotlight by the referendum result, and that is the ban on abortion rights in Northern Ireland. “

But there is also other unfinished business that is thrust into the spotlight by the referendum result, and that is the ban on abortion rights in Northern Ireland. The 1967 Abortion Act was never extended to Northern Ireland, last year least 700 women traveled to England for health care they should be able to access at home. Others risk prison sentences by buying abortion pills online. One woman, 19 years old when she bought online pills when she couldn’t afford to travel to England, received a three month suspended sentence in 2016.

Theresa May was forced to concede that women from Northern Ireland should have access to NHS funded abortions in England in 2017. Until then women from Northern Ireland, paying the same National Insurance and taxes as women in the rest of the UK, not only had to travel for abortion care, they also had to pay for it privately. The issue threatened May’s ability to form a government after a snap election in June left her without a Tory majority. Her subsequent deal with the DUP, a Northern Ireland party trenchantly opposed to abortion rights, led Labour MP Stella Creasy to put a widely-supported amendment that could have defeated May’s critical Queens Speech.

In a single afternoon 50 years of discriminatory practice was overturned. This was not a sudden change of heart by the Tory government wanting to put right half a century of injustice. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had only two weeks earlier fought a case in the Supreme Court to defend the right to deny NHS funded abortions to women from Northern Ireland.

This was a reform pushed through by a government to ensure its own survival, but it showed what was possible. It has made a real difference for hundreds of women. But they still have to travel, and many cannot take the trip even if it is funded, for many different reasons from ill health to child care or the fact they are living in an abusive relationship.

That’s why today while we are celebrating this tremendous referendum victory, the Abortion Rights campaign in the UK is saying let’s take this opportunity to demand reproductive rights for women in Northern Ireland too. It’s about time.

final FC_Lyn 4 webAbortion wars by Judith Orr is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for just £10.39.

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Brexit: 10 myths about the ‘Norway model’ examined

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On 8 May the UK’s House of Lords passed an amendment to require the House of Commons to vote on remaining in the European Economic Area (EEA), the possibility of Britain adopting the so-called ‘Norway model’ is back on the agenda of British politics.  

Here the authors of Squaring the Circle on Brexit: Could the Norway Model Work?, John Erik Fossum and Hans Petter Graver, give some background to Norway’s relationship with the European Union and reveal the truth behind some common myths about the Norway model.

“While Norway has rejected membership of the European Union twice in referendums in 1972 and 1994, it has consistently sought as close a relationship with the European Union as is possible for a non-member.  The core element of that relationship is the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement, which came into effect in January 1994, almost a year before the second referendum.  This seamlessly ties Norway to the EU’s internal market without it being part of the supranational political union.

However, Norway’s experience shows how non-members of the EU must make difficult trade-offs between relative autonomy in decision- and rule-making and access to the EU’s internal market and other EU policies.  Norway is frequently portrayed as a ‘rule-taker’ and there is no doubt that Norway’s inability to affect EU rule and decision making is – democratically speaking – very problematic.

A closer look at Norway’s experience reveals that, in spite of this, members of the EEA can still shape their socio-economic model and mode of functioning.  In other words, how a country handles its relationship with the European Union matters.  Norway has retained a well-functioning welfare state and high levels of trust in public institutions, helping to offset potential negative influences. This trust is crucial. Norway’s experience underlines that the issue is not simply one mode of EU affiliation but the important left-right issue of choice of socio-economic model, which has significant bearings on the question of social justice.

“Norway has retained a well-functioning welfare state and high levels of trust in public institutions, helping to offset potential negative influences.”

Given these pros and cons, and the reemergence of the EEA as an essential aspect of the Brexit agenda, now is the time to unravel some of the myths around Norway’s relationship with the EU:

 

1. The ‘Norway model’ is an arrangement that just involves Norway

A core aspect of the Norway Model is, in fact, the European Free Trade Association (EFTA)-based EEA agreement which was signed by Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway and where all decisions are based on unanimity.

 

2. The Norway model is the EEA

The Norway Model is made up of 120 different arrangements and covers a far greater realm of issue-areas than just those regulated under the EEA agreement. Norway is an affiliated member of Schengen and asylum and police cooperation (Dublin I, II and III. Norway is therefore within the EU’s external border with responsibility for border controls. It has also signed agreements on foreign and security policy and participates in the EU’s battle groups).

 

3. The Norway model is more constraining than the Swiss model

Unlike Norway, the Swiss have opted to unilaterally adapt their legislation to be EU-compatible. The EU is unhappy with the Swiss arrangements. They will likely not be extended elsewhere.

 

4. The EU’s off-the-shelf arrangements for non-members are straitjackets that do not allow for the flexibility of a bespoke deal

The sheer range of affiliations under the Norway Model testifies to some flexibility and ingenuity, but there are limits, especially within the EEA agreement which is about common rules and equal conditions for competition. There is political will on both the EU side and the Norwegian side to maintain close relations, and that allows for a certain measure of flexibility.

 

5. The Norway Model does not allow for an independent trade policy

The EFTA states retained their freedom to decide their own trade policies towards third countries because they are not part of the EU’s customs union. Norway had negotiated 27 free trade agreements with the EFTA countries in 2016, and has undertaken negotiations with ten countries (including China) and regional trade blocks (MERCOSUR).

 

6. No deal is better than a bad deal

Theresa May has said on Brexit that no deal is better than a bad deal. The Norway Model, with all its challenges, has shown to Norwegians that having common rules and equal conditions of competition, and the equivalent means of enforcement, offers the certainty that is necessary for an open economy to function in today’s tightly interwoven Europe.

 

7. The Norway Model is deeply contested in Norway and is unlikely to receive majority support elsewhere

In fact, there always been a clear majority in Norway in support for the model it has adopted: there is little support for EU membership, and very little support for abolishing the EEA. There is a very strong sense across most economic sectors that assured EU access is vital for prosperity. 65% of Norway’s exports (excluding oil, gas and ships) go to the EU. Norway needed a Schengen association agreement (to be within EU’s borders) in order to preserve the Nordic passport union which ensures free movement in the Nordic region.

 

8. The Norway Model is about rule-taking 

There is no denying the arrangement is democratically problematic, but there is scope for local adaptation and flexibility. The Norway model reflects the complex nature of the EU, which combines a supranational core (the internal market) and a set of intergovernmental arrangements for handling matters of border controls, and security. There is more scope for bargaining in the intergovernmental realm, which the UK has experienced through its numerous opt-outs and opt-ins. In the supranational realm the EU is also constrained by the Court of Justice, which has the final say on what arrangements are compatible with the EU aquis (the body of common rights and obligations that are binding on all EU member states) The implication is that the EU is more likely to accept bespoke arrangements in the intergovernmental than in the supranational institutional realm.

 

9. The key question about the Norway Model is the type of affiliation that it represents

That is only part of the picture. Equally important is how Norway handles this affiliation domestically. What Norway’s experience shows is that it is important to consider the state’s ability to handle its EU relationship. The Norwegian state is a well-functioning state with a high level of competence and a broad range of comprehensive welfare arrangements that enable it to compensate actors for the negative effects of Europeanisation. Norway also has a tradition of consensus-based politics that contribute to keeping EEA issues outside the realm of party politics.

 

10. Norway will be included in the European Union’s post-Brexit arrangements

Norwegians will not automatically get the same arrangements with Britain that members of the European Union will. Norway is not part of the Brexit negotiations and for many issues Norway will have to sort out its relations with the UK on its own, for example, on the rights of Norwegian citizens in the UK and UK citizens in Norway. In this case, the UK government has assured Norway that citizens will receive the same treatment. Nevertheless, Norway is a decision-taker on the sidelines during the negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU and is concerned with when its arrangements with the UK will be settled.

 

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Could the Norway model work for Britain? Find out more in Squaring the circle on Brexit – Could the Norway model work? by John Erik Fossum and Hans Petter Graver, a comprehensive first-hand account of Norway’s relationship with the EU.

The book is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £19.99.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Introducing our 2018 Policy & Politics special issue on Practical Lessons from Policy Theories

Originally published on the Policy & Politics blog on 2 May 2018.

Christopher M. Weible and Paul Cairney

Introducing our 2018 Policy & Politics special issue on Practical Lessons from Policy Theories, published in April now available online and in print. (Free to access online until 31 May)

Professors Christopher. M. Weible from the University of Colorado, Denver and Paul Cairney from the University of Stirling talk in the video below about their motivation for producing a special issue on drawing practical lessons from policy theories, and why their subject is so important.


The special issue challenges policy theory scholars to translate their research findings to explain its benefits for those working within a policy context, and to encourage feedback on its quality and value.

Presenting state of the art analyses of eight of the main policy process theories, they invite scholars and practitioners alike to reflect on the state of the field.

Look out for forthcoming blog posts on the articles featured in the special issue coming soon.

View the special issue full table of contents here. The whole issue is free to access until 31 May.


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