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Polity blog posts highlight new and recent books published by us, often with the comments and views of the authors themselves.


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Posted 364 days ago by Super Admin / Tags: Social Media, politics / 0 Comments

In my book Social Media and Everyday Politics, I examine how social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr are used for both playing with and participating in political activity,for engaging with politics. Drawing upon research that I conducted over the last few years, this work extends beyond considerations of the political as just politicians, governments, and elections: politics includes issues of race,gender, sexual identity, class, and more.


Politics forms part of peoples’ everyday lives, and is reflected in (and influences) their every day activity on social media. My consideration of social media also goes past popular platforms to other digital technologies and online platforms used and implicated within political discussions and experiences. There is more going on than just what is happening on Twitter, for instance, and the platforms, users,practices, and experiences in question will also differ vastly across countries and contexts.


One of the most exciting things about studying social and digital media is how everything evolves: practices, platforms, communities, cultures, users, content…  The evolution of social media practices and platforms, and of political issues, means that there is an ever-growing list of examples in which social media and politics are intertwined. As I was writing in late 2014 and early 2015, for instance, movements like Black Lives Matter were (and are) important demonstrations of the intersection of the digital and the political through their campaigning and activism for civil rights. While not being social media-only movements, they make use of digital media as tools for visibility, support, awareness, and protest. Similarly, the responses to the Charlie Hebdo attack, in Paris in early 2015, saw visual social media and the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag as particularly prominent ways of commenting and reacting, across multiple platforms.


These examples also form part of ongoing trends and practices further linking social media and politics, responding to new events and actors as well as current issues. The#JeSuis solidarity style hashtag has been adopted in response to attacks in Paris, Bruxelles, Lahore, and more, as well as displays of support in other contexts (and its presence, meaning, and motivations have also been debated).Sentiments and movements get distilled into hashtag forms that can be concisely integrated into messages: #LetThemStay in Australia, campaigning to process asylum seekers in Australia instead of in detention on Nauru; #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgainfrom the comedian John Oliver, playing on Donald Trump’s campaign slogan to oppose and mock him; #PutOutYourOnions, the public schadenfreude accompanying Tony Abbott being replaced as Australian Prime Minister in a party leadership vote.


Social and digital media are also used to respond to events and issues in immediate and new ways:tweeting breaking news, sharing content on Facebook, posting visual commentary and reactions on Instagram, and spreading information and opinion across platforms and networks. Such content comes from established media and political actors as well as from user-generated and -created means. Engaging effectively with social media and its users is important, and news media have been adapting their coverage to embrace new forms. Footage is posted using Vine, press conferences streamed with Periscope, moments and infographics looped using animated GIFs, and apps like WhatsApp and Snapchat tested out for further content delivery.  Similarly, in addition to maintaining Twitter and Facebook presences, political parties, politicians,and candidates may engage (successfully or otherwise) with social media cultures through creating and sharing memetic content or using emoji in their commentary and campaigns.


Of course, social media are not without their own issues, and the politics of platforms is interlinked with the politics happening on these spaces. How platforms like Twitter and Facebook deal with abuse directed at users, hate speech, racist and sexist content, and user privacy is both ongoing and inconsistent. This affect show users decide which platforms to use: for activists, for example, security and surveillance are considered alongside the visibility and reach of popular social media. The announcement in April 2016 that WhatsApp had turned on encryption has particular relevance here, setting it apart from other popular messaging apps (although WhatsApp is also owned by Facebook, which may raise further questions for users). The impact of algorithms on user experiences,content provision, and the work of platforms is also a major part of current debate. For example, in March 2016 Microsoft’s Tay bot attracted widespread attention for how the responsive bot was (very quickly) taught to share offensive and bigoted messages.


What this means is that social media and politics are connected in more ways than just sharing links about Bernie or Hillary, posting a status about an election, or live-tweeting a debate. In Social Media and Everyday Politics, I offer an exploration of the diverse ways in which the political and the digital overlap, through experiences and examples which may be mundane, tangential, or irreverent, as well as the extraordinary. The flexibility of content and practices means that everyday activity on social media can be applied to the political as necessary, directed by users and not just by established political actors or by platforms. This is not to say, of course, that social media alone will change views, make protests and revolutions succeed, or determine elections, nor that there is a singular‘social media user base’ or way of using these platforms. However, as social media are popular means for engaging with political issues and events, what happens on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and more cannot be automatically discounted as purely frivolous, narcissistic, or uninformed.

Tim Highfield is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Sessional Academic at Queensland University of Technology

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Posted 474 days ago by Super Admin / Tags: Phillip Golub, politics, East Asia, economics / 0 Comments

The guiding theme of this book is that East Asia’s reemergence as a semi-autonomous core of the world economy constitutes one of the most significant structural changes in world politics since the Industrial Revolution and Eurocentric globalization in the nineteenth century. Thanks to a regional developmental dynamic of remarkable intensity, duration and spatial scope, which spread from Japan to the rest of the region, East Asia is gradually regaining the position in the world economy that it enjoyed prior to the great East-West and North-South divergence, commensurate with its demographic weight.

Over the past four decades the region’s share of world Gross Domestic Product (GDP), in purchasing power parity (PPP), has risen from less than 10 percent to 30 percent, a ratio that should rise by 2030 to just over 40 percent. China has become the world’s second-largest economy in current exchange rates (the largest in PPP). Since 1980 its share of world GDP (PPP) has risen from 2% to over 16%. Though growth has recently slowed due to the global contraction that followed the 2008 financial crisis, China remains on an ascending trajectory: average per capita GDP (PPP) has risen from $250 in 1980 to $9,800 and is expected to reach $16,000 by 2020. Assuming steady but slower growth going forward, per capita GDP should reach current Japanese or European levels by the mid-21st century.

China has simultaneously become the gravitational center of new transcontinental South-South trade and investment linkages, supplanting the United States, Europe and Japan as the leading trade partner of most East Asian countries, and becoming a crucial actor in South American, African and South Asian trade. Over the past twenty years South-South trade has expanded more rapidly than global trade, currently accounting for 25 percent of the total, 21 percent of manufacturing exports, and 25 percent of exports of manufactures with medium and high technological intensity. In many cases, notably in East Asia itself, this has been accompanied by industrial upgrading: the “developing” world’s share of manufacturing value-added has risen from less than 10 to nearly 30 percent.

The politics of postcolonial reemergence have lagged behind economics but a gradual political reordering is apparent in the growing voice of the South in international organizations and new institution-building efforts bypassing traditional centers of power and authority. In 2013, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa set up the New Development Bank (NDB), headquartered in Shanghai, which will combine investment and monetary functions, serving as a lending institution for infrastructure development projects as well as a reserve facility dealing with balance of payments problems. In 2014, China founded the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The creation of a distinct institutional system separate from the Bretton Woods institutions that have underpinned world capitalism since 1945 has major implications: from now on rules and regimes will no longer be exclusively set in the historic North.

The East Asian economic revolution, in short, is reshaping the global landscape. Though “revolution” has always been a problematic concept to describe the cumulative effects of technological, economic and social change, I use it not only to denote the relatively sudden, considerable and sustained increases in the rate of growth that the region has experienced, but also and more broadly its systemically transformative effects. Like the European Industrial Revolution, the East Asian one is gradually changing the order of the world. As the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) emphasizes: “The world is witnessing an epochal global rebalancing. The rise of the South reverses the huge shift that saw Europe and North America eclipse the rest of the world, beginning with the industrial revolution, through the colonial era to two World Wars in the twentieth century. Now another tectonic shift has put developing countries on an upward curve”.

The book explores the sources of that shift and interrogates its implications for understandings of globalization and capitalist development. Using a historical sociological approach to the study of world politics, it weaves together social theory and historical narrative to analyze the structural and contingent factors that gave rise, during distinct but interconnected moments of world history, to the East Asian development dynamic.

Moving from present to past and past to present the book examines the early modern European-Asian encounter, the imperial collisions of the nineteenth century, ‘Pax Americana’ and the post-war constitution of authoritarian capitalist developmental states, and China’s state-capitalist turn in the late twentieth century. The focus is on the ways in which imperialism, war and revolution shaped modern nation and state building efforts—the international interactions that generated state forms in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries which, to varying degrees, have proved able to harness transnational forces to national institutions and purposes, and to successfully alter national positions in the global economic hierarchy.

Major challenges lie ahead. For observers concerned with the problem of international inequality, such as this author, global rebalancing is normatively desirable. But because it implies intensified competition for resources, capital, status and voice it carries not insignificant political and economic risks. At the same time capitalist development has generated new social fractures and environmental problems. These problems need to be addressed to create the conditions for a sustainable and peaceful future.

Philip Golub is Professor of International and Comparative Politics at the American University of Paris

Posted 1000 days ago by Super Admin / Tags: coffee, resources, food and drink, inequality, economics, politics, supply chains, trade, history of trade / 0 Comments

If you’re in a reflective mood with your coffee one day, you might ponder all sorts of things: a fantasy of an exotic, far away coffee land; the feel of a warm, cosmopolitan café; or, if you are more somber, perhaps the volatility of coffee markets and the power of transnational coffee companies. But, what about the state?

In my book, Coffee, I argue that the importance of coffee “statecraft,” both good and bad, has been increasingly sidelined in the dominant coffee debates over free trade versusfair trade. Five key assertions form the basis of my argument.

1. Coffee statecraft has been central to a lot of “bad” in the coffee world.

Colonialism and slavery were both key to coffee expansion in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. First Haiti, under French rule, and then Brazil took turns having the world’s largest coffee economies on the backs of slave labour.

In the twentieth century, the state continued to play a central role in the coffee world, often maintaining highly unequal land distribution and terrible working conditions through state violence and mass murder.

2. Coffee statecraft has also been central to some “good” in the coffee world.

Both Costa Rica and Colombia have coffee industries that are dominated by smaller farmers an dare among the most efficient in the world, owing significantly to the role of the state in providing a variety of economic and social supports.

From 1963 to 1989, global coffee prices were regulated by a series of state-driven International Coffee Agreements (ICAs), involving all major producing and consuming countries. For many of those years, coffee farmers worldwide received prices close to or higher than what today would be considered the “fair trade” price.

3. Despite much talk about the decline of the state since the 1980s, coffee statecraft has continued to be of central importance.

The rapid growth of Vietnamese coffee exports, which helped spark a global coffee crisis from 1998 to 2002, occurred not strictly out of market forces. From the 1970s onward, the Vietnamese state was the key player in constructing the country’s entire coffee industry in the pursuit of economic statecraft. Today, Vietnam is the world’s second largest coffee exporter, after Brazil.

4.  Non-state projects, whether corporate social responsibility or fair trade, cannot match the impact and reach of the state.

Starbucks coffee company participates in fair trade and treats its retail workers better than most competitors. At the same time, only around 8.1 percent of its beans are certified fair trade and its workers are still low paid compared to other sectors. Starbucks, like most transnationals, is also a “tax avoider,” depriving the state of needed resources while advocating for government austerity. In 2012, protests emerged in the UK when it was discovered that, despite £3 billion in sales over 14 years, Starbucks had only paid £8.6 million in taxes due to various legal loopholes.    

Fair trade, while not perfect, is a meaningful grassroots project that has reached around 670,000 farmer families. Unfortunately, this represents only around 3 percent of the world’s coffee families.

5. Today, statecraft continues to play a significant role in the coffee world, but often by providing last minute bailouts as crises emerge.

In Central America, only after a major coffee rust crisis began in 2012, resulting in a significant drop in production and the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, did states pledge millions of dollars to assist desperate growers. In the end, what is needed is not desperate-bailout statecraft, nor a turn away from statecraft in favour of market-driven initiatives, but better coffee statecraft guided by the history of gains and losses in the highly imperfect global coffee market.

Posted 1018 days ago by Super Admin / Tags: Eurozone, Europe, crisis, Angela Merkel, European politics, politics, foreign policy, European Union international relations, integration / 0 Comments

My book, European Foreign Policy in a Changing World, is out now in its third edition. In all three books, I have analysed why and how the EU pursues five particular foreign policy objectives:

-  The promotion of regional cooperation
-  The promotion of human rights
-  The promotion of democracy and good governance
-  The prevention of violent conflict
-  The fight against international crime

I explore whether the way the EU pursues these objectives marks it out as a unique, sui generis, actor, and I argue that to some extent it does. The EU relies on dialogue and institutionalised cooperation more than many other ‘powers’ and eschews the use of coercion (including sanctions) – though this can be the case because the member states cannot agree to impose negative measures.

Over a decade has passed since the first edition of the book was published, and much has changed within and outside the EU. Have the EU’s capabilities to pursue its foreign policy objectives increased over time? Is the EU more likely to be able to fulfil its foreign policy objectives? Is its foreign policy becoming more coherent and consistent – that is, are the member states and the EU institutions more in agreement about foreign policy priorities and how best to pursue them?

In the 1st edition (2003), I found evidence that the EU ‘actorness’ was strengthening: the EU member states had shown ever more willingness to devote resources to try to achieve the five foreign policy objectives. However, I warned that there was still an underlying tension between the member states’ desire to preserve national prerogatives in foreign relations and their desire to project a more assertive and effective collective international identity.

The 2nd edition (2008) was bleaker,concluding that over the past five years there had been continual internal negotiations over institutional reform, while the member states showed persistent differences over various foreign policy issues.

The 3rd edition appears after the EU has experienced the very severe euro crisis, which has tested solidarity among the member states, drained attention and resources from other policy areas (including foreign policy) and seriously dented public support for the EU. At the same time, the almost decade-long process of institutional reform finally ended with the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty, which was supposed to help strengthen the coherence and effectiveness of EU foreign policy (among other reforms).

Simultaneously, the world has been in flux – with a diffusion of power away from the ‘West’, and a good deal of violent turmoil in the EU’s neighbourhood. A more multipolar world could foster an appreciation of the benefits of strengthening the EU’s foreign policy capabilities, but so far the evidence that the member states recognise this – and are prepared to act accordingly – is thin. Setting clear priorities and devising strategies to meet them are still particularly difficult tasks for the EU member states.

In this new edition, I explore why and how this is evident in the EU’s pursuit of the five foreign policy objectives.

Karen Smith is Professor of International Relations and Director of the European Foreign Policy Unit at the London School of Economics and Political Science.  European Foreign Policy in a Changing World, 3rd Edition published on 18th July 2014

Posted 1053 days ago by Super Admin / Tags: Toleration, multiculturalism, religion, politics, Philosophy, race, class, conflict / 0 Comments

In the contemporary west (and perhaps elsewhere), many of us like to think we are open to meeting and having friendships with all sorts of people that are different from us.  We might have our own religious or moral beliefs, but we think of ourselves as beyond having to impose them on others.  So we meet others with views that can’t be true if ours are and we think “they are entitled to their views.”  With that firmly established in our minds, we think we can have an honest and respectful relationship with the other.  We think we can and should tolerate everyone else. Live and let live. So far so good.

Too often, however, the “live and let live” attitude is thought the opposite of a proselytizing dogmatism.  Proselytizing dogmatists, as I understand them, are uncomfortable with their own beliefs not being accepted by others and seek to convince everyone they meet of those beliefs.  These people are seemingly so convinced of their own beliefs that they can’t tolerate others not accepting them as true.

We seem to have two possibilities:

1.    Those thoroughly committed to the truth of their own views and, so, unwilling to accept that others can’t come to see the truth of these views

2.    Those who live and let live, presumably not very committed to their own beliefs.  The non-proselytizer, it seems, isn’t willing to say others are wrong.  Indeed, we often hear it said that we can’t (or shouldn’t) judge others or their beliefs and so must tolerate them.  Toleration, on that view, is based in our inability to judge others, perhaps because of a recognition of our own fallibility.  But, of course, if we are fallible with regard to our other beliefs, we are fallible with regard to our belief that toleration is a value!

We are, indeed, fallible.  I don’t think anything follows from this with regard to toleration.  It is perfectly reasonable to think toleration is a value while recognizing one’s own fallibility.  One may be wrong, but to say one thinks X is to say, “given all else I know, I think X and I will maintain X until shown that X is false.” 

As Joseph Schumpeter said “To realise the relative validity of one’s convictions and yet stand for them unflinchingly, is what distinguishes a civilized man from a barbarian.”  Indeed, it seems entirely natural to be willing to stand for one’s beliefs unflinchingly, recognizing one’s judgments may nonetheless be wrong.  Importantly, moreover, that willingness to judge is necessary for toleration (and, I think, part of a good life—consider someone unwilling to judge a chain-sawing wielding hockey-masked stranger). 

This is an important and sometimes overlooked fact.  To tolerate something is, in part, to refrain from interfering with it, but not every instance of noninterference is an instance of toleration.  I can watch my son play with his wooden trains for hours without interfering.  No one would say I tolerate his play.  If I said “yes, I tolerate his play,” I imagine people would wonder about my parenting.  This is because saying I tolerate the train play implies that I dislike or disapprove of it—that is, saying that in some way, I oppose it.  But I don’t oppose it.  I love it.  (This is also why multiculturalism, as advocacy of multiple cultures, is not a form of toleration; it is a form of endorsement rather than indication of opposition.)

Saying I tolerate X means, in part, that I have made a judgment that X is something in need of toleration, something not thought worthwhile or good, morally or otherwise.  If I make no judgment against X, I cannot (conceptually) tolerate X.   This suggests that the two possible positions noted in my third paragraph above are not exhaustive of the possibilities.  Indeed, a third sort of person is missing: (3) those thoroughly committed to their own views, willing to judge that others’ or others’ beliefs are worth opposing and yet insistent that—at least in some of those cases—the others must be tolerated.

“Advocating toleration does not mean advocating some wishy-washy namby-pamby way of being that requires you to refrain from judging others” (page 2).  To be an advocate of toleration is to think toleration is objectively valuable—that is, to think it something all should value, not something one merely endorses as good for oneself but perhaps not good for others.  Tolerating others requires opposing them in some way. 

This is one of the fundamental lessons I hope people take away from my book.  I also lay out different principles that indicate when we should tolerate and when the limits of toleration have been transgressed.  I endorse one of these and indicate why I reject the others—though I suspect others will think at least one of those others must be endorsed as well.  I will tolerate that.

Andrew Jason Cohen is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Georgia State University.  His book Toleration was published earlier this year by Polity Press

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