Fatal Collaborations

A guest post from Chris Rossdale, issued in the midst of the latest round of UK university strikes over pensions, pay, precarity, workload and inequality. Chris is Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Bristol. He writes about militarism, race and colonialism, social movements and political resistance. His book Resisting Militarism was published last year with Edinburgh University Press, and will be the topic of a Disorder symposium coming to a screen near you soon. You can also find Chris on Twitter here.


In January 2020, hundreds of students at SOAS staged a walk out, joining staff on the steps of the Bloomsbury campus to protest against yet another round of budget cuts. Once again, the institution was at the front line in the long struggle against the neoliberal restructuring of British universities, its position here an enduring product of the collision between aggressive management and well-organised staff and students. This time, administrators had announced that a budget shortfall would be filled by cancelling unfunded research leave for lecturers. Activists expect that this will also entail slashing the hours of sessional teaching staff, the ‘fractionals’ whose inspiring and successful unofficial strike action in 2014 presaged the more determined University and College Union (UCU) action we see today.

SOAS also made headlines last year when students learned that the institution was taking money from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in return for providing academic expertise and training to the British armed forces. Research by the Decolonizing Our Minds society revealed that SOAS has received at least £400,000 since the end of 2016 to deliver ‘Regional Study Weeks’ to the MoD’s ‘Defence Cultural Specialist Unit’ (DCSU). Currently active in at least 22 countries including Afghanistan, Chad and Chile, the DCSU is similar to the widely-criticised Human Terrain System developed by the US to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It involves the MoD supplementing its forces with specialists in the culture of societies where British operations are active, in pursuit of a gentler form of domination in ‘rapidly expanding neo-colonial context[s]’. The Regional Study Weeks are opportunities for academics to teach DCSU staff about the social and political contexts of particular regions, while highlighting the resulting ‘implications for UK military missions’. SOAS academics made up the largest portion of those teaching, but the weeks have included faculty from LSE, St Andrews, Cambridge, KCL, UCL, Lancaster and De Montfort. As the students’ report states, this academic collaboration with the armed forces facilitates a project that, at best, ‘is useful for crafting more inclusive forms of imperial governance’, and at worst, is used to ‘either destroy or “neutralize” potential sites of resistance with insider information’.

Reports of SOAS’s links with the MoD caused a scandal, but this apparent deviation masked a deeper reality. Collaborations between British universities and military institutions are no aberration – they are the overwhelming norm. A recent report by students at the University of Oxford revealed that the institution’s research council grants active in 2019 included over £80m linked to the MoD, and that nearly 40% of its £420m in science council grants are paired with military-related bodies. BAE Systems has spent millions partnering with over ten universities developing new technologies for stealth drones. Thales, Europe’s third largest arms company, are proud to announce that they are involved with over £146m in Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (ESPRC) funded research, working with over 20 institutions. My own institution, Bristol, received £3m from the Atomic Weapons Establishment between 2010 and 2016, while researchers at Surrey have worked with Lockheed Martin on improving components in armored vehicles. These examples are indicative, not exhaustive; very few institutions can claim to be free of these connections. Universities disingenuously attempt to emphasise the civilian applications of this research in their public-facing communications; however the reality is that the British university system is intimately entangled in systems of military production.

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Speaker Vulnerability and The Patriarchal University: A Response and Tribute to Pamela Sue Anderson

Lara ColemanLara Montesinos Coleman is Senior Lecturer in International Relations and International Development at the University of Sussex. This article was originally written for the alumni magazine of Regent’s Park College, Oxford, where Anderson was based before her death and where the author read Philosophy and Theology, and has been featured on the Women in Parentheses blog.


I never quite crossed paths with Pamela Sue Anderson. She returned to Oxford in 2001 to take up a post at my former college the year after I finished my undergraduate studies. In February 2017, we were both invited to speak at a British Academy conference on Vulnerability and The Politics of Care. Anderson’s paper was read by a friend, just weeks before her death.

All of us spoke about vulnerability, but Anderson’s contribution stood out in that she addressed our own vulnerability as speakers. She began by recounting an occasion, earlier in her career, when her audience was unable to receive her as an expert on feminist philosophy. The story stayed with many of us, because it reflected the painful, hidden histories of speakers who do not conform to preconceptions of how a ‘knower’ ought to look, be or think. These stories, if they are told at all, are normally the topic of hushed and anxious conversations, where the speaker’s close friends and colleagues express outrage and reassurance. Anderson, however, put her vulnerability on display.

Her story was about a talk at Durham on feminist philosophy. Before she arrived, the posters announcing the event had been defaced with the image of another Pamela Anderson: the Playboy model and actress who rose to fame in the 1990s. Anderson’s talk was particularly well attended – by mostly male students and philosophers drawn to it by interest in the other Pamela. From the outset, Anderson was not quite believed to be a philosopher because of her name. However, she was also accused by a prominent male philosopher of ‘disappointing’ her audience because of the content of what she said: her account of epistemology was deemed to lack the ‘particularity, concreteness and relationality required for women, and so, for “feminism”’.[1]

Of course, even the most privileged and celebrated speakers can feel vulnerable when addressing an audience. We all depend upon our audiences to hear us and to recognise us as ‘knowers’ and we all run the risk of being silenced when this recognition is absent. Some of us, however, have a greater material and social exposure to being silenced or dismissed. If we are not embodied or do not perform in a way that fits with stereotypes of the philosopher (male, white, well-spoken and able bodied), then we are often not recognisable as ‘a knower who is trustworthy’.[2] The ‘joke’ of ‘Pamela Anderson’ speaking on philosophy is instructive. It relies upon stereotypes that cannot coincide: a ‘model’ is ruled out in advance as a potential ‘philosopher’.

How do we respond when an audience is unable to recognise us as a knower? Continue reading

A measured response to criticisms of the LSE’s new appointments

By way of homage to xkcd: This blog contains strong language, which may be unsuitable for children, and evidence-based arguments, which may be unsuitable for Trump supporters.

Oh, and also, for those who care about these things: I am most definitely posting this in an independent capacity. My views reflect the views of neither of the institutions with which I am affiliated, nor do those institutions swear as much as I do. Probably. Or at least they only do it in private.

Two things happened in my little corner of the interwebs this week. First, a dear friend discovered the (fabulously sweary and very NSFW) website Get In the Sea, and tagged me in a Facebook post to tell me so. For those who are not familiar, it is a site that posts images of, or links to, things, people or events that its creator(s) finds objectionable with a caption exhorting them to ‘get in the fucking sea’ (it’s funnier than it sounds). Naturally, I was delighted by this development; I have long been a follower of the site – there are days on which only its unique blend of righteous indignation and creative profanity seem able to raise a smile for me – but it pleased me greatly to know that for this, among many other things, my friend and I have shared enthusiasm. It is always nice to be reminded of why your friends are your friends: because of the random synchronicity of humour, life experience, outlook, whatever. Apparently we both enjoy succinct critiques of consumer culture and injustice with a side of foul language. This makes me smile.

Sea

The sea, to get in (photo by author)

And, second, my social media feeds were jammed with the news of Angelina Jolie’s appointment at the London School of Economics and Political Science. My construction of that sentence is entirely deliberate: mass news media coverage of the appointment of four new ‘Professors in Practice’ at the LSE Centre for Women, Peace and Security focused almost exclusively on the credentials of Angelina Jolie Pitt (while mostly dropping the Pitt because who cares about calling her by her actual name when we’re busily engaged in tearing her down) to occupy this position, mentioning in passing if at all the other three new appointments (Jane Connors, Director of International Advocacy at Amnesty International Geneva, William Hague, former UK Foreign Secretary, and Madeleine Rees, Secretary General of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, for those of you who managed – understandably – to miss their names). Continue reading

Solidarity with Academics for Peace: An Open Letter

Academic freedom and freedom for political dissent is under serious threat in Turkey. Following the publication of a statement signed by Turkish and Kurdish academics, condemning Turkish state violence against Kurds, 1,128 of the original signatories have been subjected to sustained attacks and threats from the Turkish state and fascist groups.

Erdogan

The Disorder of Things is proud to publish the following letter, signed by 1,211 academics, offering international support of those facing persecution in Turkey. This letter follows multiple statements criticising the Turkish state from research bodies and associations including, within the field of International Relations, ISA, EISA and BISA.

This is one of many such letters of international support for academics in Turkey. A comprehensive collection can be found here.

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The HE Green Paper: (Don’t) Read it and Weep – Part 1: The TEF & Social Mobility

Britain’s Conservative government recently released its much-awaited (or much-dreaded) ‘green paper’ on higher education (HE), a consultation document that sets out broad ideas for the sector’s future. Masochistically, I have read this document – so you don’t have to. This first post describes and evaluates the centrepiece of the green paper, the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), and measures on ‘social mobility’.

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Steal This Conference

A guest post from the Ray Hudson Posse.


If you were to ask a handful of early career scholars for their impressions of the recent British International Studies Association (BISA) conference in London they would probably say: “I wasn’t there”. The reason for the dearth in young attendees is that the conference (like all conferences) was prohibitively priced. Its four days costs a whopping £120 for early birds and £150 otherwise. For undergrads and postgrads the fee is £100 (early bird) and £130 (late). Membership to BISA is compulsory, which costs another £30 a year. It’s a hell of an entry fee into the Ivory Tower.

The way in which the structures of academia are chewing up and spitting out the next generation of scholars-with-no-future is most clearly expressed in the ‘conference trap’, characterised by a double-fuckery – those most in need of attending are precisely those most priced out. While for established academics conferences are little more than an opportunity to blow research budgets on a piss-up with the lads, for aspiring researchers these events are crucial to bolstering the CV and (*shudder*) networking. That is, they are crucial to obtaining a job that will provide them with the means – a proper wage, research budgets, time off teaching etcetera – needed to go to conferences! (And, also, to live).

But it is precisely early career scholars in fractional, contract or zero-hours employment that have limited/ no research budgets and therefore struggle to attend. It is precisely early career scholars that are underpaid and thus unable to pay out of their own pocket. These structural constraints tend to be ratcheted up if you’re a person of colour, not-male, working class, and/or from the global south. On the one hand we can’t afford to go; on the other hand we can’t afford not to go. We need a job to go; we need to go to get a job. Something has to give.

We went to BISA. We didn’t pay. We stole this conference. You can too. Here’s how.
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Why Torture When Torture Does Not Work? Orientalism, Anti-Blackness and the Persistence of White Terror

A guest post from Melanie Richter-Montpetit, responding to the disclosure of the Senate Torture Report in December. Melanie is currently lecturer in international security at the University of Sussex, having recently gained her PhD from York University in Toronto. Her work on issues of subjectivity, belonging and political violence has also been published in Security Dialogue and the International Feminist Journal of Politics.


a land on which no slave can breathe.

– Frederick Douglass (1846)[i]

I had to leave; I needed to be in a place where I could breathe and not feel someone’s hand on my throat.

– James Baldwin (1977)[ii]

I can’t breathe.

– Eric Garner (2014)

 America Waterboards

No, bin Laden was not found because of CIA torture.[iii] In fact, the US Senate’s official investigation into the CIA’s post-9/11 Detention and Interrogation program concludes that torture yielded not a single documented case of “actionable intelligence.” If anything, the Senate Torture Report[iv] – based on the review of more than six million pages of CIA material, including operational cables, intelligence reports, internal memoranda and emails, briefing materials, interview transcripts, contracts, and other records – shows that the administration of torture has led to blowbacks due to false intelligence and disrupted relationships with prisoners who cooperated. What went “wrong”? How is it possible that despite the enormous efforts and resources invested in the CIA-led global torture regime, including the careful guidance and support by psychologists[v] and medical doctors, that the post-9/11 detention and interrogation program failed to produce a single case of actionable data? Well, contrary to the commonsense understanding of torture as a form of information-gathering, confessions made under the influence of torture produce notoriously unreliable data, and the overwhelming majority of interrogation experts and studies oppose the collection of intelligence via the use of torture. This is because most people are willing to say anything to stop the pain or to avoid getting killed and/or are simply unable to remember accurate information owing to exhaustion and trauma.[vi]

So if torture is known not work, how come, then, that in the wake of 9/11 the U.S. at the highest levels of government ran the risk of setting up a torture regime in violation of international and domestic law? Why alienate international support and exacerbate resentments against “America” with the public display of controversial incarceration practices, as in Guantánamo Bay, instead of simply relying on the existing system of secret renditions? Furthermore, in the words of a former head of interrogations at Guantánamo Bay, most of the tortured and indefinitely detained are “Mickey Mouse” prisoners,[vii] reportedly known not to be involved in or not to have any information on criminal or terrorist activity against the U.S. and its allies. Drawing on previously published work, I will explore this puzzle by addressing two key questions: What is the value of these carceral practices when they do not produce actionable intelligence? And, what are some of the affective and material economies involved in making these absurd and seemingly counterproductive carceral practices possible and desirable as technologies of security in the post-9/11 Counterterrorism efforts?

Against the exceptionalism[viii] of conceiving of these violences as “cruel and unusual,” “abuse” or “human rights violations”[ix] that indicate a return to “medieval” methods of punishment, the post-9/11 US torture regime speaks to the constitutive role of certain racial-sexual violences in the production of the US social formation. Contrary to understandings of 9/11 and the authorization of the torture regime as a watershed moment in U.S. history “destroying the soul of America,”[x] the carceral security or pacification practices documented in the Senate Torture Report and their underpinning racial-sexual grammars of legitimate violence and suffering have played a fundamental role in the making of the US state and nation since the early days of settlement.[xi] The CIA Detention and Interrogation program[xii] targeting Muslimified subjects and populations was not only shaped by the gendered racial-sexual grammars of Orientalism, but – as has been less explored in IR[xiii]is informed also by grammars of anti-Blackness, the capture and enslavement of Africans and the concomitant production of the figure of the Black body as the site of enslaveability and openness to gratuitous violence.[xiv]

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Acting Time; Or, Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict

Pitt Jolie ESVC Pictures

The attention lavished on sexual violence in conflict last week was in many ways unprecedented. As well as convening the largest ever gathering of officials, NGOs and other experts for the Global Summit on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict, co-chairs William Hague (Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) and Angelina Jolie (Special Envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees) also generated very many pages – both print and digital – of commentary. In some myopic quarters, that achievement was in itself a distraction from the really important politics of blossoming conflict in Iraq. Such views should remind us that there are still those who insist on seeing gender violence as marginal to international peace and security. Worthy, yes, “no doubt important”, obviously a cause for concern, and so on, but naturally not the real deal.

Since the Summit’s close on Friday, there have also been criticisms of a different sort. A protest on the first day drew attention to the asylum and refugee policies of Her Majesty’s Government, and the ways in which survivors of sexual violence were being mistreated on the British mainland. The Foreign Office raised awareness in part through one-dimensional stories of crazy monsters in the hinterlands of barbarism. The “weapon of war” framework was ubiquitous, but no less problematic for that (see also). Although the Summit made space for youth delegates, UN entities, amateur hackers, foreign ministers, survivors, doctors, lawyers, celebrities, military officers and the odd NGO, academics (and our directly relevant research) were barely at the table. Some myths were therefore recycled. Delegates insisted on using rape survivors as props for their own journeys of self-discovery. I met a women in Panzi Hospital and what she told me broke my heart, etcetera. Some national representatives seemed only just to have discovered the existence of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which urged the participation of women in military and political settings at all levels. That was, um, 14 years ago. John Kerry, amongst others, appeared to believe that rape in war was not yet illegal, but that we could make it so if we really put our minds to it.

The Fringe events were themselves a source of considerable disappointment. Angelina opened proceedings by assuring us that “our” institutions protected us from rape, and prosecuted it ably when it did occur, whilst “they” (we all know who) need our help because they are confined to refugee camps. There was a staged ‘trial’ of the afore-mentioned Resolution 1325, in which an all-white panel of lawyers and faux-judges, including Cherie Booth QC, took the testimony of African witnesses. You could buy various goods made by (or meant to help) rape survivors in the “bustling” Fringe marketplace, and the official programme recommended that you “treat yourself” by doing so. All of this (including the less appalling and more considered exhibits) seemed removed from the set piece debates upstairs. If the Foreign Secretary really did refuse to meet with four Nobel Laureates – some of whom are themselves survivors of political rape – then clearly civil society (that vague but essential category) was being neglected.

Those accumulated complaints can be dismissed as relatively trivial if the Summit gets even some way to achieving its stated aim of ending sexual violence in conflict.[1]  Continue reading

A Magical Anti-Rape Secretion

Todd Akin (R-MO) says that doctors told him that women can’t get pregnant from rape. The doctor in question was presumably Onesipherous W. Bartley, whose 1815 A Treaties on Forensic Medicine or Medical Jurisprudence explained that conception:

must depend on the exciting passion that predominates; to this effect the oestrum/veneris must be excited to such a degree as to produce that mutual orgasm which is essentially necessary to impregnation; if any desponding or depressing passion presides, this will not be accomplished. (via)

At least we know how up to date a certain kind of Republican is on the medical literature. Aaron ‘zunguzungu’ Bady offers a less generous, but surely more astute, diagnosis:

The thing about a chucklehead like Rep. Akins is that he doesn’t actually care whether or not women have a magical anti-rape secretion in their body that makes conception less likely. That’s the whole point: his right not to have to worry about it. If you look at his entire statement, for example, you’ll notice that his foray into weird science was tangential to his main point, which was, simply, punish the criminal not the child. And this is more or less orthodox GOP doctrine, which has the hammer of law enforcement and looks for nails: solve the problem of rape by hammering the criminal, and make abortion into a crime, so you can hammer that too. But this simple-minded approach stumbles when it runs into the problem of the rape-victim: how to have empathy for the victim (because “victim’s rights” is a central pillar of the law and order approach) while also criminalizing her if she gets an abortion? How to insulate her choice to get an abortion from the contingency she did not control, and could not have chosen?

As many have pointed out, then, the first imperative is to make it her choice, and therefore her fault. But there’s still he cognitive dissonance of a rape victim forced to have the child of a rapist, something that doesn’t sit at all easily in the mind of a right wing family-and-police; she’s still a problem, and a thorny one. And so, a simple answer, for a simple mind: she does not exist. He argues that the rape victim who is impregnated is a fantasy of people who want to make the whole thing complicated and difficult, with their “ethics” and “problems,” and so he invents a “doctors told me” story to make it make sense, to explain how what seems complicated is actually simple. But the fact that he’s just making shit up, that women’s body’s aren’t Nature’s Own Anti-Rape Kit, is irrelevant; when you believe in the super-sufficiency of simple laws (and in The Law), problem-cases just become nails to be hammered down or ignored, while “facts” are nothing more that the warrant for doing so.

 

Mapping the (In)Visibility of Gender in Politics and International Relations

Do elite institutions teach the global politics of gender and sexuality on any scale or in any depth? Emma Foster, Peter Kerr, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Byrne and Linda Åhäll (all of Birmingham, at least when they did the research) have an Early View piece up at The British Journal of Politics and International Relations addressing just this question. Surveying the course content of the 16 top Politics and IR Departments in the UK (‘top’ meaning either in the top 10 in student satisfaction scores or in REF scores), they give some empirical confirmation of what many of us might have known anecdotally:

Our findings…show, in our view quite strikingly, that few political science and international relations departments offer extensive or in-depth coverage of gender and sexuality issues. As a result, many political science and international relations undergraduates merely experience a brief introduction to ‘feminism’ as their only encounter with key debates over gender inequalities and sexual identity.

Of 629 modules in IR and Politics identified across those Departments, only 9 existing full modules related to gender or sexuality (increasing to 12 if Aberystwyth’s ‘forthcoming’ courses are included). That’s 1.4%. Only an estimated 8.9% of all surveyed modules offer at least one week on feminism/gender as part of their wider sweep. The study also shows up some noteworthy cases where there is Departmental expertise but no teaching provision. Warwick and Oxford both have seven staff listing gender/feminism as a core research interest, but Warwick hosts only one gender-related module and Oxford none. Although the paper does not pursue this in great detail, the suggestion is that the relative paucity of courses is not a result of absent expertise, since the progress of feminist and gender studies has been sufficient that all Departments surveyed (with the exception of de Montfort) have staff members with a gender interest. Indeed, on the average of these 16 elite institutions, there are some 3.9 gender specialists in each one (although numbers are always, of course, shifting).

The overall picture, then, is of some progress (perhaps surprisingly limited) in getting gender (but not sexuality) included as the spectral “week on feminism”, presumably primarily in theoretical survey modules. But this vague and introductory inclusion is not supported by more concentrated work either theoretically (as in a module on different perspectives on gender) or empirically (as in an issue-by-issue survey of gender in global politics). Although Foster et al. do not map changes in Faculty composition, this appears to be happening at the same time as gender and feminist academics are increasing in strength within IR.

As is to be expected, this leaves a number of issues unaddressed. Continue reading