The Geopolitics of Culture: Five Substrates

Culture has a salient geopolitical relevance in a world that defines itself by much more than diplomatic exchanges and inter-state relations. This is primarily because of the deeply visceral and emotional connotations associated with identity issues. This has been the case throughout history, as exchanges have taken place between people of different cultures for millennia, but today they are marked by unprecedented intensity and scope of relations. This offers great opportunities on a number of levels but also has the potential to initiate tension or conflict when combined with injustice, inequalities and insecurities.

Cultures are cognitive structures that shape how people view themselves, relate to the world and to each other. As I have explained in my theory “emotional amoral egoism”, human beings are motivated above all else by emotional self-interest. This includes ego, which entails negotiating between inner needs and social context and which requires a sense of belonging and a positive identity. Identity performs its functions by drawing boundaries. If the social context precludes a stable and positive group identity– for instance, because of being negatively defined by others – people are more likely to generate a resistance identity, with boundaries that appear impermeable and safe, or by engaging in identity construction that can lead to xenophobia, rigid ethnocentrism, or forms of ideological radicalism. Because of the emotional nature of identity issues, identity construction has to be authentic to each group itself and will be rejected if defined by others.

Having a positive group identity and self-identity does not have to imply denigrating difference, even if one’s own group is ultimately preferred. I would even argue that cultural and ethnic diversity can be thought of as benefiting humanity’s future, survival, strength and excellence. It promotes what I call cultural vigor similar to the way in which molecular and genetic diversity promotes “hybrid vigor” in nature and thus strength, resilience and a higher potential for a problem-free future. However, in order to yield such productive results, cultures and sub-cultures need to evolve in a non-exclusive manner in a context of transcultural security.

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Interview with Margaret MacMillan: The War That Ended Peace

Margaret Macmillan, Professor of International History at the University of Oxford and Warden of St Anthony’s College, discusses her new book ‘The War That Ended Peace’ with DPhil student Katharine Brooks. The book is a re-examination of the causes of World War One and seeks to answer the question of why the long peace preceding 1914 failed to hold. Katharine asks what Professor Macmillan felt she has been able to add to our understandings of World War One, what parallels can be drawn from 1914 to 2014 and why academia still fails to come to an agreement on the causes of this most important of world events.

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Travelling to the UK? On the Pain, Separation and Dehumanisation of Student Families from ‘High-Risk’ Countries

The violence and despair of the militarised and exclusionary immigration policies of ‘Fortress Europe’ have been well documented. Institutionalised racism combines with an openly hostile bureaucracy of ‘paper walls’. In the UK Home Office, officials are encouraged through a perk system that awards shopping vouchers to officials who decline the highest number of asylum applicants per month. In Fortress Europe: Dispatches from a Gated Continent, Matthew Carr (2012: 120) describes the immigration-media nexus in the UK as a ‘mutually reinforcing consensus between governments, the media and the public that invariably depicts immigration as an endless crisis [and undocumented migrants as] dangerous and dehumanised invaders massing outside the nation’s borders’

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Towards a progressive capitalism

Labour’s challenge is to position the active state and responsible ownership as essential prerequisites of business success in an age of intensive global competition

Among the most insistent questions in British politics is what model of capitalism the UK needs to remain a wealthy and cohesive society. Since the financial crisis, public disquiet about avaricious global capitalism has been palpable. The growing unpopularity of business and large corporations risks undermining the moral compact in favour of open markets. The backlash against the private sector is hardly surprising: when financial institutions broke down following the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2007, the costs fell not on wealthy financiers but society as a whole in an era when middle income households were suffering an unprecedented squeeze.

The irony is that both bankers and the left have faltered in the wake of the crash. Far from gaining politically from the ‘crisis of capitalism’, the Labour party has been left utterly disorientated. The New Labour model of political economy was shaken to its core, having pledged allegiance both to Thatcherite deregulated markets and an overly complacent social democratic model of ‘tax and spend’. Despite delivering forty four consecutive quarters of nominal GDP growth, Labour’s embrace of 1980s neo-liberalism guaranteed neither economic stability nor the sound productive base necessary to sustain long-term social investment.

The Blair/Brown economic legacy was one of under-investment in key infrastructure, notably transport and energy; a continuing decline in manufacturing contributing to a structural balance of payments deficit; an accelerating regional economic divide; and a speculative property and construction boom financing public and private consumption through highly leveraged government and household debt. Not everything about the pre-2008 model was proved wrong: far from it. Research, innovation and high-tech start-ups flourished; labour market flexibility generally kept unemployment down; Britain’s cities underwent a renaissance; the United Kingdom remained a successful base for global companies. In the meantime, financial services – including the City of London – have bounced back from the crisis as the leading-edge professional services centre in the EU.

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Exit Strategies and State-Building

Richard Caplan’s new book, Exit Strategies and State Building, fills a noticeable void in the otherwise rapidly expanding literature on international state-building. Despite the volume of scholarly attention dedicated to issues of peace- and state-building of recent decades, relatively little consideration has hitherto been given to questions regarding the “end game” of post-conflict state-building operations. This book seeks to address that gap and, therein, examine one of the most contentious issues for any state-building operation; the decision of when and how to leave.

Exit Strategies and State Building comprises a collection of chapters written by expert academics in the field and high-level practitioners with extensive experience on the ground during these missions. It is therefore both a well-informed and rounded contribution to the literature and essential reading both for scholars of post-conflict state-building and policymakers alike.

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