Peace and preparation
25 February 2017
Just watched 150 of our students graduate. Congratulations! It's always a pleasure to watch the happy and well deserved smiles that indicate the passage from one phase of life to the next. Good luck to all of you.
And it also marks a small transition for me. My chaotic winter is over and the new chaotic semester is about to begin. But before it does I have two days of solitude to reflect on the winter and re-energize for the spring. Before I came back from the Campus Asia kick-off symposium in Kobe, my wife and daughters ran off to Okinawa for a few days (that will turn out to be much less warm than they were hoping!). Though I have to get some work done (so that I can have time when the family returns), at least I will have a bit of mental space to settle...and will increase this space by going for my now annual hike tomorrow morning.
At any rate, I think I am beginning to look forward to the new semester and the excitement it will bring. I have been reading some very interesting books for my development and globalization classes. And I hope they will provoke engaging discussions. In particular, at the moment I am reading Karl Mannheim's Man and Society in the Age of Reconstruction. It keeps offering observations about mid-20th century society that aptly capture contemporary uncertainty and reconstruction. Hopefully much of my time tomorrow will be spent reading more.
Tanzania and Cambodia
10 February 2017
I am primarily just writing a note to update things since it has been so long. Since I last wrote, Trump has assumed power, protests have erupted, and Park, Guenhye's impeachment process is getting unnecessarily dragged out (presumably seeking victory through attrition).
This winter was supposed to be a quiet one with a focus on writing papers. Instead it has turned into another whirlwind world tour. I spent a week in Hanoi conducting interviews and site visits to understand the market for apartments there. It was phenomenally productive and I still have to sit down to sort out what we have learned. My RAs were amazing at organizing our meetings and focus groups. We met a number of professors from NUCE who taught us a great deal about Hanoi's urban development (though it was surely rudimentary to them!).
One of the tidbits they taught us was that Hanoi's urban planning has always been tied to humans' relation to water, specifically the Red River. Interestingly, I just returned from a GPAS/KOICA sponsored study trip to Cambodia where we learned that the story of Angkor Wat is also a story where water plays the central role. So there may be something about SE Asia and people's relationship to water that lies at the core of spatial planning.
In Cambodia I was the senior faculty member and therefore in charge of our team's formal exchanges with Cambodian representatives. For me, this was a major learning experience and fortunately I was able to draw on what I learned by watching one of my former colleagues on a trip to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Because it was just the two of us, I watched carefully how he connected (or not) with the other parties we encountered.
Perhaps the biggest lesson I have taken from the last couple of weeks is that the world is full of endless possibilities. I may have lost some of this sense over the last few years of having kids and getting stable. In fact, it may be the very achievement of a degree of stability that has allowed me to recognize again the excitement of the world's abundance. Of course, having access to money is key to realizing many of the possibilities, but I have renewed faith that one can make things happen if one wants. Through the conversations I have had new ideas and potential projects have bubbled up and over. The move now is to choose which to act upon and realize.
Thieves and honest men
24 November 2016
This morning I read in Capital that there is an old English proverb that is often reduced to: "When thieves fall out, honest men come by their own." Marx uses it to describe the truth about the economy and labor that emerged in the early 1800s as the aristocracy and industrialists argued amongst themselves about who exploited the common person more. I wonder if this is what is happening in Korea today.
Cosmin Visan and participatory budgeting
10 November 2016
Congratulations goes out to Cosmin Visan, who today successfully defended his PhD dissertation and passed with flying colors. His dissertation, A Simulacrum of Participatory Democracy PB in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, builds on research conducted over a year in Cluj to show how local elites were able to capture a participatory budgeting initiative to provide legitimation for their own interests. Cosmin is my first doctoral student. I hope subsequent students produce equally high quality work. Here is the abstract:
In 2013, in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, a Participatory Budgeting pilot failed as a result of elite co-optation and sabotage. This was a civil society effort at deepening democracy by introducing a form of participatory democracy in the second largest city in Romania.
This study asks the question, "Can civil society deepen democracy at the municipal level?" The focus is on the city of Cluj-Napoca, in Romania and the concept of deepening democracy is operationalized as the pilot Particpatory Budget that occurred in 2013 in the district of Manastur.
The study argues that, even though the enabling conditions for success were met, the pilot PB failed because the Mayor’s Office was only willing to implement a Simulacra PB—a version they could control. They did not want to share power with the citizens, and saw PB as a consultation effort that could improve efficiency and help build party power in the district. In order to prevail, they steered the conclusions of the working group toward their ends, blocked the demands for a dedicated sum in the budget, ensured there would be no independent executive board, and applied a Latourian classification strategy in order to steer citizen demands in the direction they desired. Civil society participants could not overcome the Mayor’s Office designs for sabotage and co-optation.
The case study is embedded in a theoretical framework that provides a model according to which genuine efforts at democratization will be structurally opposed by elites in a representative democracy. This has implications for other instances where civil society advocates deeper democratization—a regime change from representative democracy to participatory paradigms. The theoretical model used in this instance proposes that elite resistance to change is a defining feature of representative systems. Given this, civil society participants need to organize better, and to share their experiences of sabotage and co-optation through international diffusion networks, in order to counteract complex games of elite manipulation.
Trump and America
9 November 2016
UPDATE: Here is Peter Marcuse's take on the situation, one that is harmonious with my own.
Explaining the election:
- A critical shift in the organization of the economy post 1968, from industrial to hi-tech capitalism.
- Leaving many dependent on the old economy hurt and at a loss, largely the white working class, hold-over racism and sexism accentuated as scapegoats. (foreclosures, evictions, bankrupcies, struggling suburban homeowners – not the really poor, homeless)
- They reacted with anxiety and an emotional attachment to the past Deep Story (their traditional identity?).
- They blamed, quite rightly, “the” establishment, although not clear as to its membership, pushed by media etc. to blame "government" (social media, TV, not press?)
- Trump as politician picked up on this, despite his own membership in the new establishment (motivation? pathological egotism? Business).
- The anxious white ex-working class built up a deep story, a vision, abetted by Trump and the media that was heavily emotional (shaping identities?)
- That story, built on real anxiety-inducing experience, mis-interpreted history, and built a psychological/ideological barrier that facts and reason could not penetrate (high school or less education?).
- Trump offered the charismatic fairy tale leader, believe me, trust me, not them, they have failed you (over 30 years? Since Reagan? since Johnson?)
- Hillary offered no vision that addressed the grounded anxiety (health care costs? Real unemployment levels?).
- But Trump’s allegiance as a businessman is and always was to the new elite establishment, and he will unify the Republican Party around it. The holdouts will be those with a personal repugnance to Trump’s personal behavior, which they will swallow. (social circles, clienteles, customers, tenants?)
Madden and Marcuse on housing
21 October 2016
I just learned yesterday that my friend David Madden and my advisor Peter Marcuse have finally published their collaboration on housing in capitalist societies with Verso. In Defense of Housing: The Politics of Crisis addresses the global housing crisis. You can read an excerpt here: The Permanent Crisis of Housing.
Mining and me
15 October 2016
I forgot that I should self-promote. An article I wrote with one of my current PhD students, Alexander Constantine Lupilya, has just come out in the Journal of International Development. Entitled ‘You have hands, make use of them!’ Child labour in Artisanal and Small-scale Mining in Tanzania, it looks at the socio-economic drivers of child labor in artisanal and small-scale mining in Tanzania. Here is the abstract:
This paper examines child labour in artisanal mining through ethnographic research in Tanzania. The poverty hypothesis argues that households send children to work to bolster household income. The sociocultural approach suggests that child mining offers valuable vocational training. This paper builds on a growing literature that complicates these approaches' straightforward claims by illustrating how household fragmentation is generated through the encounter of traditional cultural practices with mining's culture of consumption. This encounter exacerbates household fragmentation, which in turn increases child poverty and labour. These findings suggest that policy interventions should also address these mediating factors rather than poverty per se.
Marx and planetary urbanism
12 October 2016
This semester I taught that part of Lefebvre's Urban Revolution that introduces the emergence of the urban society as the urban incorporates the rural, as the town consumes the country. Additionally, in preparation for my ACSP paper, I have been reading the debate over planetary urbanism, in particular Richard Walker's response to Brenner and Schmid in City (19: 2-3). In his response, Walker argues that Brenner and Schmid have an unclear notion of the "urban" and often conflate it with capitalism in general. He argues that this all-inclusive treatment of the urban eviscerates the word of any tractable meaning. Instead, we should continue to use both concepts in a dialectical fashion. It is not enough, Walker says, to say that the urban is incorporating the rural; rather, we must also consider ways in which the rural is incorporating the urban. I think he has in mind urban gardening, rural-urban migrants, perhaps fashion choices, and so on.
This dialectical relationship seems to make sense, and my recent trip to Ethiopia suggests as much. Here is a picture of a sheep market on the edge of Addis Ababa. Farmers, I presume, bring their herd to this roadside in the hope that a butcher will purchase them.
But what has prompted me to write is a chance encounter with Marx and cities as I was reading Zerzan's Twilight of the Machines. He includes a quote from the Grundrisse (p. 479): "the modern [age] is the urbanization of the countryside, not ruralization of the city as in antiquity." Though I have yet to read the material preceding the quote, this is almost certainly one source of Lefebvre's inspiration for the urban society notion. The question Walker would then have to pose is whether Marx is letting go of the dialectical relation in this quote or if Lefebvre, Brenner, and Schmid have pushed Marx's concept beyond dialectics. And then I suppose one would have to ask if letting go of that dialectical framework is useful or not.
I don't think so.
Guns and love
7 October 2016
My trip to Ethiopia under KOICA's auspices is coming to a close...and a wonderfully fulfilling one at that. Thanks to Prof. Lee, Jin-Sang's extensive experience and consequent network in Ethiopia, other professors and I enjoyed dinner in the home of Ethiopia's Speaker of the House of People's Representatives, Abadula Gemeda. For me it was an incredible learning opportunity. Here is a man who started his adulthood fighting against the Derg in the bush with Meles in a Marxist-Leninist parth, rose to the head of the Ethiopian military, and is now Speaker in an actively capitalist government.
He shared a few bits of wisdom. The first was that if you can run a military, you can run any machine. The logic was that decisions in the military concern the most precious thing, life. He is certainly responsible for the loss of life, but he genuinely appears to care. I cannot imagine that he took decisions lightly. The second tidbit reinforces this thought. He said that the only way to win a war is with love. He argued that an army can't win by destroying the enemy (or at least trying). That only creates new enemies. The only way to win is to love the enemy. Give them water and food when they are captured. Talk to them. Teach them. Turn them into friends that you can live with. Further to this is that you cannot understand yourself without understanding why your enemy sees you as an enemy.
The last perhaps was that one must take every opportunity to live life. That is why he volunteers on the weekend. That is why he has adopted several children (despite being 60!).That is surely why he invited us over to dinner. And I'd like to think that is why I went.