Shilliam’s Undeserving Refusal. Or, why a relational politics of liberation was always (is always) possible

This post, guest authored by Lisa Tilley, is part of a symposium on Robbie Shilliam’s new book Race and the Undeserving Poor: From Abolition to Brexit and follows related contributions by Robbie, Sara Salem, Naeem Inayatullah, Luke de Noronha, and Rick Saull.

 

The white working class was first made in the colonies

The white working class, as an unjustly temporally displaced and materially deserving collective (the “left behind”) has become more notably prominent in the collective consciousness from left to right since Brexit. The re-centring of this political construct tells us how much is at stake in understanding this particular configuration of race and class at this conjunctural moment in Brexit Britain and beyond. In Race and the Undeserving Poor, Shilliam’s historical recovery informs us that this white working class, as a political constituency, was first made in the colonies and therefore needs to be comprehended in historical colonial relation. In other words, this formation can only be understood by means of a travelling analysis, one which crosses hierarchies as much as historical and geographical space.

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Seeing Class through Race: Britain’s Racialized Moral Economy and the Construction of a ‘White Working Class’

This post, guest authored by Rick Saull, is part of a symposium on Robbie Shilliam’s new book Race and the Undeserving Poor: From Abolition to Brexit and follows related contributions by Robbie, Sara Salem, Naeem Inayatullah, and Luke de Noronha.

 

Race and the Undeserving Poor: From Abolition to Brexit, is a major and timely intervention that addresses the development of Britain’s social order and class relations through the vectors of empire and race. Shilliam offers a distinct and compelling account of the racialized moral economy that has defined Britain from ‘abolition to Brexit’ and through which he seeks to historicize, contextualize and explain the Brexit referendum result. However, there is much more in this book – and far more than I can do justice to in this contribution – than an explanation of Brexit. In a prose infused with both a scholarly clarity and a burning sense of social justice, Shilliam charts the way in which race and racial signifiers have been deployed as a means of determining those who are included and excluded as ‘deserving’ of political recognition and access to welfare goods.

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The mobility of deservingness: race, class and citizenship in the wake of the ‘Windrush scandal’

This post, guest authored by Luke De Noronha, is part of a symposium on Robbie Shilliam’s new book Race and the Undeserving Poor: From Abolition to Brexit and follows related contributions by Robbie, Sara Salem, and Naeem Inayatullah.

 

My core argument, then, is that elite actors have racialized and re-racialized the historical distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor through ever more expansive terms that have incorporated working classes, colonial “natives” and nationalities. Elite actors have always been driven in this endeavour by concerns for the integrity of Britain’s imperial – and then postcolonial – order. That has been the case from Abolition to Brexit.

(Shilliam, 2018)

Robbie Shilliam’s book – Race and the Undeserving Poor: From Abolition to Brexit – offers a rich genealogy of race and class in British politics. It helps us read Brexit, and the widespread invocations of the ‘white working class’ as ‘left behind’ with renewed historical perspective. The book offers up some co-ordinates for a richer critique of the times we are in, providing ‘a history of political domination told through the moralizing discourses and rhetoric of the undeserving poor’. Shilliam’s analysis is sharp and clear, his writing to the point, and his insights profoundly generative for those of us wrestling with cognate questions. He states:

“Deservedness” is a racialized discourse and rhetoric that works to consistently offset the disorders necessarily engendered in the pursuit of empire’s capital. Put another way, political domination in (post)colonial commercial society leaves its trace in the racialization of the underserving poor.

In my reflections on the book, I will not try to summarise its many arguments or its elegant movement through historical periods. Instead, I want to think about its argument in relation to the ‘Windrush scandal’. For me, this is not just about adding a postscript to the text, which was written before the Windrush debacle, but is intended to open up some additional questions about race, class and deservingness in relation to mobility.

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Wooden Stakes: In Response to Robbie Shilliam’s Race and the Undeserving Poor

This post, guest authored by Naeem Inayatullah, is part of a symposium on Robbie Shilliam’s new book Race and the Undeserving Poor: From Abolition to Brexit and follows related contributions by Robbie and Sara Salem.

 

 

Wooden Stakes[1]

I devote most of my words to Robbie’s conclusion because it is only here that I can play the role of academic critic rather than the admiring fan that I really am.  I don’t mind being the appreciative follower.  But on a first reading of this book, I worried that I would have little to say except for delivering a kind of abstract praise.  I am not one of those readers who understands everything all at once.  I need to re-read books.  For example, it is only on the third reading that I am coming to terms with Robert Vitalis’ White World Order, Black Power Politics.  I built a course around Bob’s book so I could re-read it.  And, I am re-organizing my “Introduction to International Relations” course so that it synchronizes with how Vitalis presents the history of race relations and the history of political economy.

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Race, nation and welfare: Eugenics and the problem of the ‘anti-social’ citizen

This post, guest authored by Sara Salem, is part of a symposium on Robbie Shilliam’s new book Race and the Undeserving Poor: From Abolition to Brexit

 

Deservedness is a racialized discourse and rhetoric that works to consistently offset the disorders necessarily engendered in the pursuit of empire’s capital. Political domination in (post)colonial commercial society leaves its trace in the racialization of the undeserving poor.

 

The 2016 Brexit vote brought to the surface of British politics issues of race, migration, economic inequality and sovereignty. In particular, a narrative around the “white working class” quickly became a central focus point of many Brexit debates, most often in an attempt to understand why a certain demographic voted leave. Not only did this obscure the largely middle-class support for Brexit, thereby displacing what was in hindsight seen as a regressive political decision, but it also took the category of the “white working class” as an empirical given. Robbie Shilliam’s new book, Race and the Undeserving Poor: From Abolition to Brexit, is an impressive and comprehensive attempt to trace the genealogy of this concept, and to place it within legacies of British imperialism.

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Feminist labour at the ISA: White manels, the politics of citation and mundane productions of disciplinary sexism and racism

This piece is co-authored by a Feminist IR collective (Linda Åhäll, Sam Cook, Roberta Guerrina, Toni Haastrup, Cristina Masters, Laura Mills, Saara Särmä and Katharine A. M. Wright).


At the International Studies Association (ISA) Annual Convention in San Francisco this April there were, as usual, many all-male panels. However, while they remain prevalent, the number appears to be decreasing at ISA at least. At the same time as ‘manels’ have been challenged both within the discipline and more broadly, attention has been given to the gender citation gap, whereby men benefit from ‘a significant and positive gender citation effect compared to their female colleagues’. International Relations is no exception here, women tend to cite themselves less than men, and men (already overrepresented in the discipline) are more likely to cite other men over women.

We were surprised then to find that a panel titled ‘Citation Is What We Make of It! Towards a Theory of Citation and the Implications of Citation Practice for IR Knowledge and Production’ at ISA featured not only no women on the panel, but, as it later transpired, no discussion of the gendered or racialized geographies of citations. Moreover, one of the panelists has published in International Organization on this very issue. As a result, the politics of citation practice was mysteriously absent. Laura Mills’ tweet questioning whether this was ‘some subversive performance art beyond [her] ken’ received significant attention. We attended the panel, some due to our interest in citations and others out of curiosity about subversiveness at ISA. Our presence as feminist scholars was noticeable, since we far outnumbered the four other audience members. From our perspective, the interactions around this panel were illustrative of the ways in which even those who on the surface appear to address such issues, can fall into a trap of talking past them. They can in fact reify a pernicious politics, which characterises IR as just the sum of its citations.

A Limited Vision of International Relations

The vision of IR the panel presented was both particular and exclusionary. It focused both on a narrow understanding of what IR is and of who is seen to ‘do’ IR. As Jess Gifkins has pointed out, IR more broadly is “‘cannibalistic’ (of other disciplines) and ‘slow’ (amongst other things)”. It creates ‘new turns’ without acknowledging that this knowledge has already been produced in cognate disciplines. These traits were exemplified in this space not only through the composition of the panel, but just as pertinently through the myth of IR they spoke to. An elitist IR where citation practices are the measure of contribution, and one whose contributions are siloed away from other relevant knowledge which might challenge them. Yet, the panel title and the questions posed in the call for papers for the panel suggested this could have provided an important space to address these issues.

The panel title – ‘Citation is what we make of it!’ – prompts consideration of what was being ‘made’ on a panel on citation practice and its implications for knowledge production in IR. How ironic that the panel not only failed to consider the politics of their own citation practices in the papers presented, but also failed to consider the very idea of IR produced as an effect of such utterances! Arguably an IR premised on exclusion, silencing and erasure when no mention of race or gender appeared in any of the presentations. Outside of our prompting during the Q&A, there was little to no reflection of why they began and ended their reflections on citation in IR where they did, why these might be the ‘most pertinent’ conversations, and what ‘vision’ of IR was being produced as an effect. Surely a panel title invoking critical reflection on citation would also prompt some kind of self-reflection. Therefore, the title also prompts consideration of what the implications of these practices are for what ‘counts’ as ‘legitimate’ ‘knowledge’. It points to the incessant gatekeeping of particular kinds of scholarship as ‘knowledge’. For who is this ‘we’ that has the privilege to ‘make’ of citation what it will?

All-male, all-white panels cannot be separated from the broader structural inequalities of our discipline which manifest themselves in particular and pernicious ways at ISA. Why? Because when women and people of colour are absent from the stage, their contributions are also made invisible. Manels reinforce the notion that white men are ‘experts’, marginalizing the authority and experience of others. The racism, sexism, and ableism embedded within IR as a discipline become all the more visible at this conference. This particular and exclusionary vision of what (and who) IR is communicated by the panel support, rather than challenge, these wider inequalities. As Marysia Zalewski writes in reference to all-male panels at the ISA in 2015: “Why is it that resistances to curtailing sexism, misogyny and racism remain so strong? Few in a field of study such as IR would simply say “no” to the call to curtail these violences. But many choose not to notice and not to think. Or to choose to be unthinking, even offended when such violences are pointed out. And in effect to not see the violence at all or acknowledge its viscous place in our power-drenched institutional structures.”

Indeed, the very use of the language of violence to describe manels could be met with further resistance. It would be all too easy to respond that to speak of violence as enacted in and through the ‘mundane’ site of the conference panel is to descend to hyperbole. Continue reading

Is it Time to Abandon International Interventions and International Relations? A Response to Sabaratnam

This post is part of a symposium on Meera Sabaratnam’s Decolonising Intervention. Meera’s original post, with links to the other contributions, is here. If tweeting, please use #DecolonisingIntervention! [Photo selection – LJ]


Megan MackenzieMegan Mackenzie is an Associate Professor in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney. Her research is broadly- and humbly- aimed at reducing and, eventually ending war; it bridges feminist theory, critical security studies, and critical/post development studies. Megan has contributed research on topics including sexual violence in war, truth and reconciliation commissions, military culture, images and international relations, and women in combat.

 


When I was briefly living in Sierra Leone I was invited on a boat trip off the coast of Freetown with a range of women, including a translator at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, a “high-ranking” official within the World Bank who was visiting for three days, a photographer, and a “low-ranking” UN staffer. At one point on the boat trip, we passed what is known as Kroo Bay or Kroo Town, one of the largest “slums” in central Freetown. The Nigerian World Bank official clucked her tongue, seemingly irritated, and said “things just don’t get better here – I don’t get it.” The rest of us sat in silence, including the local male boat driver, who may in fact have lived in the area. This woman was not asking why things “don’t get better,” what “better” might look like, or for responses from those of us in the boat – not least from the driver, who was silent the entire trip. She was making a declaration: “things just don’t get better”, period.

I’ve often thought back to this trip and wondered what this woman did for the rest of her three-day visit to Freetown and what other “poor” country she visited afterward. This small interaction remains a signal to me of two endemic features of both international intervention and international relations. First, it is easy to ask silly questions and draw simple conclusions when you are sitting in a boat looking into a community from the outside. In this story, we were a group of privileged women floating by Freetown. Similarly, I often think of the “discipline” of International Relations (IR) as this boat. IR scholars rely on the stability of “established” knowledge and approaches from which to ask questions and observe “the international.” Second, the encounter signalled the complex relationship between “interveners” and “locals.” The World Bank official was objectively the most powerful person in the boat. Her confidence was impressive, yet she asked no questions, stuck to her set research and work agenda, made many assumptions, and dismissed the local Sierra Leonean as an ignorant worker who should, and did, remain silent. When it comes to powerful IR scholars and approaches, I still can’t help but see the comparisons.

boat

Meera Sabaratnam’s Decolonising Intervention: International Statebuilding in Mozambique calls out IR scholars for continually floating by “case” countries and concluding, with a “tsk, tsk”, that “interventions keep failing”. What is remarkable and inspiring about Sabaratnam’s contribution is the way she weaves several rich intellectual contributions together. First, she makes the case that existing work on international interventions (including critical, “edgy” work) conducts uninspired, repetitive, and theoretically light analyses that ignore the history of intervention and its roots in imperial, racist logics. Second, Sabaratnam speaks back to the discipline of IR by mapping out IR’s commitment to a) Eurocentrism, b) “core” approaches, c) a laughably generous reading of its own history. Sabaratnam argues that these features of IR limit the study not just of international interventions, but of – well, international relations. In other words, Sabaratnam reminds us of the ways that IR scholars remain fiercely committed to a discipline that is parochial, provincial, and often unhelpful in understanding global politics. In short, IR often doesn’t help us understand international relations. This echoes Ann Tickner infamous conclusion: “International Relations is neither international nor relational.”

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