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Governing Life through Technology, Connectivity and Humanitarianism (GLiTCH)

In 2020-22, Dr Martina Tazzioli will be participating in an ESRC funded grant alongside researchers at the universities of Durham and Leeds: ‘Governing Life through Technology, Connectivity and Humanitarianism’ or GLiTCH. Here is the official description:

“GLITCH examines how financial and digital technologies are transforming refugee governance and refugee live. Debit cards have radically changed humanitarian aid, tech start-ups and volunteers have produced apps and maps for refugees. How do digital technologies and financial tools change the relationships between financial actors, humanitarian  agencies and refugees? Which forms of value and data extraction are generated ? Are refugees transformed into techno-users while they are forced to protracted confinement and displacement ?

GLITCH investigates the increasing role of financial actors in migration governance. By Focusing on a multi-sited research which will include Greece, Jordan, Lebanon and the UK, the project aims to reveal emerging transformations in humanitarian outreach and the new barriers produced by them. Building on participatory co-produced research, project will benefit refugees, volunteers and hosting communities.”

Disability and Political Representation

According to the Department of Work and Pension’s most recent Family Resource Survey, 13.9 million people in the UK reported a disability. This works out at around 22% of the UK population, a percentage which is likely to rise over the next few years due to increased life expectancy. Despite constituting such a significant group, they are under-represented across our political legislatures at both the local and national levels.

Photo by Oliver Cole on Unsplash

The under-representation of disabled people in politics has detrimental consequences for the health of our democracy. In particular, it has the potential to affect the ways in which issues and interests of particular importance to disabled people are represented. When specific groups are under-represented, there is the danger that their voices and perspectives are not included. Indeed, research has shown that disabled people perceive the political system as less responsive to their demands.

Recognising that disabled people face particular types of obstacles in the political recruitment process, and also that the issue itself receives little academic or political attention, the Minister for Women and Equalities has commissioned us — Dr Elizabeth Evans (Goldsmiths, PIR) and Dr Stefanie Reher (University of Strathclyde) — to study the barriers to elected office. By interviewing candidates, activists and elected politicians across all parties, as well as Independents, our objective is to create a list of recommendations on how to tackle and reduce those barriers for relevant stakeholders to discuss, with the ultimate aim of increasing the number of disabled politicians.

Of course, disabled people are not a homogenous group. There are a significant range of impairments that affect people’s opportunities in a variety of ways, including: financial costs; accessibility; the oftentimes aggressive and ‘yah-boo’ nature of Westminster politics; and the demands of election campaigning. The complexity of disability as a category means that there will not be one single explanation for why disabled people are under-represented, nor will there be a ‘one size fits all’ approach to addressing patterns of under-representation.

The issue of disabled people’s political representation has received little attention beyond the UK. This means that we cannot necessarily learn from ‘best practice’ in similar systems of democracy. Indeed, cases in which active measures have been taken to address the representation of disabled people typically occur in post-conflict societies, in which the sudden and significant increase in the number of disabled people required an urgent political solution. For instance, Uganda have introduced reserved seats for disabled people, a strategy that is unlikely to work in the UK system.

Our research is therefore intended to shine a light on the range of barriers experienced by disabled people with a range of impairments in the UK, in order to create a list of appropriate solutions based on the experiences and views of disabled people who are politically engaged. Our findings will be published in a report for the Government Equalities Office, which will be made available to all relevant stakeholders and the public.

Development and Ethnic Conflict in Myanmar

Soldiers of the Karen National Liberation Army attend the opening ceremony of the Salween Peace Park, a community-led conservation project that is conceptualised as a revolutionary alternative to state-led development in Myanmar’s war-torn borderlands (Photo: David Brenner)

Myanmar is home to the world’s longest running civil war. In the present day, more than two dozen ethnonational rebel movements are fighting for greater autonomy or secession in Myanmar’s far-flung mountains and forests bordering Thailand, China and India. At the same time, the country’s restive peripheries are being transformed by powerful economic forces. These include China’s Belt and Road Initiative, India’s Look East Policy, and the Asian Highway Network of the Asian Development Bank. These projects seek to develop large infrastructure across Myanmar’s borderlands to connect the region’s emerging markets (China, India and Mainland Southeast Asia). Their architects believe that economic development will not only increase prosperity in the region but also bring an end to decades-long conflict and violence. As roads and bridges turn peripheral battlefields into hubs of regional economic integration, revolutionary movements resisting state territorialisation seem like waning relics from a bygone era. Escalating violence in Myanmar’s borderlands, however, suggests otherwise.

To investigate the effects of economic development on ethnic conflict in Myanmar, Dr David Brenner received funding from the Global Challenges Research Fund to understand a) the ways in which infrastructure development affects ethno-national conflict; and b) how the shrinking of material space in peripheral borderlands changes practices of resistance. In December 2018 Brenner conducted fieldwork on the Salween Peace Park, a community-led conservation project located deep inside the liberated areas of Myanmar’s oldest ethno-national rebel movement: the Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army. Initiated and managed by community-based organisations and the Karen revolution, the Peace Park serves as a radical world-making alternative to securitised, state-led development. Importantly, the research project has developed in close cooperation with three local civil society organisations of the Kachin, Karen and Naga communities: the Kachinland Research Centre, the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network and Resource Rights for the Indigenous People. In January 2019, Brenner met with activist researchers from all three organisations for a workshop in Yangon to compare and discuss the relationship between conflict, development and resistance in the Chinese, Thai and Indian borderlands with Myanmar. In March 2019 the project partners also organised a training workshop in GPS technology to support civil society advocacy for instance by mapping land ownership of conflict-affected communities. Together with Dan Seng Lawn from Kachinland Research Centre, Brenner will present initial findings of the project at the International Convention of Asia Scholars in July 2019 in Leiden.

Dr David Brenner is Lecturer in International Relations at Goldsmiths’ Department of Politics and International Relations. His first book Rebel Politics: A Political Sociology of Armed Struggle in Myanmar’s Borderlands is forthcoming with Cornell University Press in October 2019. You can follow his research on Twitter @DavBrenner.