Solidarity and Resilience: A Forum

Between 19-21 September 2014, resident blogger Wanda and King’s College partner-in-crime, Nicholas Michelsen, organised a workshop with the theme of Solidarity & Resilience at King’s College, London. Before the special issue hits the stands, we have gathered for our readership a small forum of contributions to sample some of the hot topics discussed over that weekend. The organisers would also like to use this opportunity to thank all those who participated in the event. It was really a tremendous gathering that shattered many old ideas and made possible new ones!


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As most good things happen, the “Political Action, Resilience and Solidarity” workshop was born over post-conference drinks. A few of us were musing over the proliferation of the term resilience at the 2013 EISA in Warsaw, when someone chimed in the concept’s obvious rival, solidarity. Had we forgotten about this term? Perhaps even declared it dead? The level of excitement grew and we just knew we had to organize an event about this strange pair. Exactly one year later, we met again at King’s College in London, with much appreciated support from the Open University and Westminster University, to unpack the hidden genealogies of these two concepts and muse over their possible associations/combinations.

We hosted panels approaching the matter from the perspective of political theory, conflict studies, governmentality and social movements. In almost every case, resilience appeared to be more malleable (sometimes infinitely malleable perhaps to its detriment and our suspiciousness), befitting contemporary challenges, and just plain… resilient. Solidarity, on the other hand, required complex theorizing, lacked a practical anchoring, was at times entirely absent from some panels, and made a strong comeback only on the closing roundtable thanks to the benevolence of some Marxists speakers.

Certainly, we would not want to do something as simplistic and rash as to declare a winner. Practices of solidarity would certainly benefit from a dose of resilience, and investments in resilience would certainly be a lot richer if they drew upon the latent democratic culture and transformative impetus of solidarity. But it was hard at the end of the two-day event to not feel like we had found ourselves on the threshold between two worlds. There is a great force pushing against the spirit of Enlightenment thinking, with its “enthusiasm for revolution” and its half technocratic, half romantic belief in human-led progress and perfectibility. That force is variously known as complex systems analysis, new materialism, flat ontology or the Anthropocene, all of which describe a connectivity-volatility-fragility nexus for which resilience emerges as the proper mode of action.

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The Slow Boat to China

The following post is the first in a series of oceanic dispatches from Disorder member Charmaine Chua. She is currently on a 36-day journey on board a 100,000 ton Evergreen container ship starting in Los Angeles, going across the Pacific Ocean and ending in Taipei. Follow her ethnographic adventures with the tag ‘Slow Boat to China’.


“In civilizations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place of pirates.”

- Foucault, Of Other Spaces

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Source: Author

There is uncanny beauty in the monstrous. This, at least, is the feeling that seizes me as I stand under the colossal Ever Cthulhu[1] berthed in the Port of Los Angeles. The ship’s hull alone rises eight stories into the air; even from a distance, I am unable to capture its full length or height within a single camera frame. In describing the ship to my friends and my family, I have sought to make adequate comparisons between its size and more familiar objects: The Ever Cthulhu is 333 meters (1,100 ft) long, 43 meters (141 ft) across, and 70 meters (230 ft) high. It is taller than an eighteen-story building, the Arc De Triomphe, or Niagara Falls. It as long as a line of seventy cars, the Eiffel Tower tipped on its side, two Roman Colosseums, four New York City blocks, or six and half White Houses. I’ve had a lot of practice picturing this ship. Even so, when I am finally at the foot of its immense mass, I can scarcely believe that this monstrosity will be my home for the next 36 days.

I have entered the port’s gateway with very little fuss. As a Singaporean who has lived in the US for the last ten years, I am well acquainted with long lines, laborious checkpoints, and stern homeland security agents who scrutinize my passport with wary questions. This time, I banter with two female security guards at the Evergreen terminal in the port of Los Angeles whose only suspicion is why anyone would want to take the journey I’m on, and board a shuttle bus that drives down a lane flanked by multi-colored containers stacked four high and scores deep, forming long passages along which trucks and cranes stop to pick up their loads. We pass forklifts, spreaders, and trucks with empty chassis, which sweep past in well-oiled synchrony. Less than a 2-minute drive later, I am deposited at the foot of the ship, and I still haven’t shown anyone a passport. Staring up at the vessel, feeling dwarfed by the legs of the gantry cranes that loom far above us, I am directed to a steep and narrow metal gangway ascending seven stories to the deck – the only connection between the ship and land – which shakes and bounces as I drag my suitcase up its 59 steps.

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The Politics of Modi’s Vegetarianism

A guest post by Amit Julka and Medha.

AmitJulkaAmit is a PhD student at the Department of Political Science at the National University of Singapore (NUS), and he is working on India’s engagement with Afghanistan from the perspective of Indian identity formation. Previously he worked as a media specialist with the US Embassy in New Delhi and at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi. He holds an M.A. in South Asian Area studies from SOAS, and is a computer engineer by training.

MedhaMedha is a research fellow/doctoral student at the German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA), Hamburg.  Her research focus is on the role of Islam in India’s identity and foreign policy. She previously worked at the IDSA, and also as a journalist in India, Germany, the Netherlands and Canada. She holds an M.A. in Media Studies, jointly from Aarhus and Swansea Universities.


Among the many anodyne reports from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit held in Kathmandu recently, there was a curious piece of news: an article about how the Indian Prime Minister was being served ‘simple vegetarian fare with less spices and oil’ while his Pakistani counterpart was enjoying ‘halal meat dishes’ during their respective stays in Nepal. The next day, on social media, India’s Ministry of External Affairs posted a photograph of a menu with the caption ‘All Vegetarian Fare. For those asking here is what the SAARC leaders are having at the Retreat.’

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While it may be routine for the media to report about the dishes served during meetings and summits, this emphasis on Modi’s vegetarianism—and his apparent success in making sure all the leaders consume vegetarian food, at least at the Retreat—is particularly noteworthy. Especially when the fact that Modi was fasting for Navratri during his visit to the US was also equally publicised. Was this an attempt at burnishing Modi’s image as the Hindu Hriday Samrat within India as well as the increasingly vocal Indian or more precisely, the Hindu community abroad?

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Confronting the Global Colour Line

Race and Racism in IR

Our edited volume Race and Racism in International Relations: Confronting the Global Colour Line has now been published. We asked some of the contributors to give us their thoughts on what has been (both deliberately and unwittingly) overlooked by the discipline of International Relations with regard to questions of race and racism; the challenges posed by (re)centring these vital questions; and how IR may atone for its implication in empire. At your service, Sankaran Krishna, Debra Thompson, Srdjan Vucetic and John Hobson.

What has been the least investigated aspect of race and racism in IR?

Sankaran Krishna

The question makes me want to laugh because to me mainstream IR is all about how not to talk about race and racism while constantly appearing to talk about the relations between different kinds of peoples and countries. I came to IR only at the PhD level. My masters in modern history had acquainted me with the history of colonialism, racism, genocide, man-made holocausts like the Great Bengal famine, the slave trade, and other such events, on a world-scale in the post-Columbian (ie; post-1492) era. In my first IR courses in the United States the focus seemed to be on how can we understand the social world through models that pretend humans are unthinking molecules or inanimate entities. Stuff like Bueno de Mesquita’s War Trap (I kept waiting for someone to tell me that was a joke, like they do on Candid Camera.) It was a few years later that I realized that the penchant for abstract theorization, distaste for historical specificity and woolly stuff like ideology, and fetish for numbers – all voiced in deep manly intonations about analytical rigor – were nothing but an assiduous refusal to face the world in all its racial violence and splendor. In other words it’s the absence of considerations of race and racism that coheres the discipline.

When you widen the frame beyond mainstream IR and include those at the margins – thinkers like DuBois immediately come to mind – and especially take into account writings over the last few decades, the picture is a lot better. From my point of view, there has been a tendency in self-proclaimed dissident literatures to be inadequately critical of the racial conditions of their own emergence: invocations of the Global South or postcoloniality or marginality or the colour line can themselves become fetishized and serve as screens preempting a closer inquiry into racial difference and the consequences of othering. Continually calling out the protean forms in which race and racism manifest themselves historically and contemporarily seems, to me at any rate, a worthwhile vocation.

What is the most important theoretical challenge to IR posed by an engagement with race and racism?

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Dr Manchanda, I Presume?

A Doctor of Philosophy was made this day. Our own Nivi, for her thesis on Imagining Afghanistan: The History and Politics of Imperial Knowledge Production, received from the University of Cambridge. An analysis ranging from the imagined border to the constructed tribe, from gender to sexuality and back again, from the post-colonial to the homonationalist, and from the 19th century to present. Duly tested and found more than able by Dr Sharath Srinivasan and Professor Jutta Weldes. Granted without corrections. From this point forth, Dr Manchanda.

LOL Edward Said Eurocentrism

The Politics of the UK HE Marking Boycott, Part III

A brief update. As anticipated in Part II, UCU’s higher education committee voted to suspend the industrial action over pensions until 15 January and enter into negotiations with employers, despite opposition from UCU Left members. Having voted down UCU Left amendments to their negotiating position, the HEC has authorised its representatives to pursue an outcome that implicitly accepts much of the employers’ agenda and envisages sacrificing the 75% of USS members on a final salary pension for a weakly improved career-average scheme for all. It now appears that these proposals were initially discussed at a USS conference with branch delegates in October, but no mandate was given then to pursue the far-reaching changes envisaged, and attendees were actively instructed not to discuss the proposals within their branches. This only confirms my earlier impression that the individuals running UCU have no respect for internal union democracy. They wanted to keep their proposals quiet, hoping that they could simply march UCU members up to the top of the hill and back down again, then unveil their negotiating position and cut a deal privately with UUK. This is backroom dealing at its very worst.

It is also more obvious than ever that these individuals have absolutely no clue about political strategy or power. UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt wrote to members immediately after the action was suspended, asking them to sign a petition “in order to clearly demonstrate to vice-chancellors and principals the strength of feeling among staff about USS”. Recall that 78% of UCU members have voted for strike action and 87% for action short of a strike in the autumn ballot. Does that not already “clearly demonstrate” the “strength of feeling”? What on earth could possibly be added by a petition? Moreover, a strike ballot is an assertion of power: do as we demand, or we will harm your interests. A petition is just that: a plaintive request made to the powerful, containing no inherent assertion of power or leverage, which the powerful are entirely at liberty to disregard at will. The tragedy of UCU is that it is a trade union led by people who do not understand what trade unions are for. Sally Hunt thinks the height of labour activism is signing an online petition asking employers please not to be so mean, and posting photos of them handing in the petition to a blog.

I am also more convinced than ever that this leadership is out of kilter with the membership, despite the latter’s general passivity. The ballot result aside, a recent THE survey recorded the views of 4,000 staff, including on pensions. A full 48% of respondents disagree that USS needs to be reformed at all to make it sustainable, with only 24% of academics agreeing. This suggests that university staff are much more militant than their union leaders: a plurality resist any change at all, let alone the hara kiri being suggested by Hunt and colleagues. Even the minority of staff supporting USS reform might not consent to UCU’s feeble counter-proposals.

Those opposed to all this are still trying to rally branches to call a special HE Sector Conference to thrash out a proper strategy and a decent negotiating position. This internal struggle is now openly displayed in the pages of the THE. As of today, half of the required twenty branches had passed the requisite motions (Open University, Kings, UCL, Goldsmiths, Queen Mary, SOAS, Manchester Met, Liverpool, Salford and St Andrews). Whether this rearguard action can succeed remains to be seen.

Terra-forming Islands in the South China Sea, or the Future of International Law in the Age of Anthropocene

As per our disciplinary formations, IR scholars often indoctrinate instruct their students with the assumption that anarchy is a constant in international relations. The use of the term, however, generally assumes that there are natural/material constants within the international that transcend central concepts of sovereignty, power, and choice/preference. In other words, the assumption is that anarchy has (material) limits. Even those subscribing to the discursive turn would/might agree that there are material constraints that limit ‘meaning construction.’ We base a number of international laws, norms and regulations on this assumption; there are certain constants that cannot be changed through human actions. Our aspirations, capabilities, hopes, preferences, do not change these constants. What if – and this is a big ‘what if’ – for the time being, we are increasingly wrong about this assumption? What if human ability to transform the earth’s eco-systems has reached a level where this basic assumption no longer holds valid, or as valid as it used to be?

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A number of geologists, environmental scientists, and futurists alike have already picked up on this trend. Looking at climate change in particular, they claimed that the earth has entered a new epoch in its life cycle. “We now live in the age of Anthropocene!” these scholars claim. Anthropocene, in this context, refers to the humans’ distinct ability to affect earth’s ecosystems. This claim is disputed, yet many see merit in it. To understand, or reflect, on the implication of the fact that we, as humans, are not the only ‘things’ that matter in this world of ours, you can also look at this amazing post by Audra Mitchell on Posthuman Security.

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While in the future we might see the effects of other types of terra-forming and/or bio-engineering in international relations and international law, this post will only look at the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the effects of the Chinese pursuits in the South China Sea on the said law. The BBC ran an excellent exposé back in September on the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) pursuit of building man-made islands on the South China Sea and its (intended) effects on the territorial water disputes between the countries of the region. Aside from the amazing medium through which the BBC editors and reporters managed to convey the message, the story itself is equally worth reflecting on for all things international.

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