Unruly Politics and Rude Accountability

Unruly Politics and Rude Accountability

Rude Accountability, or why shoutiness makes for good-enough governance

This is a paper about informal modes of accountability – about why relatively powerless people with little money or social standing can sometimes hold powerful public authorities to account using no more than the sharp edge of their tongue. It is about Bangladesh, because for reasons of political history and social structure, ‘rude accountability’ works particularly well there. This is just as well, as formal accountability – good governance – is in short supply. An earlier version of this was published as an IDS working paper.

Read more…Rude Accountability

 

The Significance of Unruly Politics in Bangladesh

With the gaze of political economy and institutional analyses fixed firmly on the politics of the patron, far less attention has been paid to the politics of those whose position is mainly that of client. In fact, we know less about the contemporary ‘politics of the governed’ than of the immediate post-Independence period, because the village study tradition of class and power analysis that enriched 1970s and 1980s political sociology appears to have now more or less disappeared; the few and limited analyses of popular politics available suggest, however, that clients are not total prisoners. This paper looks at both elite and mass modes of politics. Unruliness – framed variously as informality, fragility etc – is the substantive governance issue in Bangladesh, and political unruliness is at its nucleus.

Read more…Unruly Politics in Bangladesh

 

Them Belly Full (But We Hungry): Food Rights Struggles in Bangladesh, India, Kenya

This report synthesises the findings from the four country case studies produced for the project. It is intended as a summary introduction to the main findings of the research, and a preliminary comparative analysis across the four cases. The green revolution and the global integration of food markets were supposed to relegate scarcity to the annals of history. So why did thousands of people in dozens of countries take to the streets when world food prices spiked in 2008 and 2011? Are food riots the surest route to securing the right to food in the 21st century? The research synthesised here interrogates this moment of historical rupture in the global food system through comparative analysis of Bangladesh, India, Kenya and Mozambique in the period 2007-12. The core insight of the research is summarised in the title: Them Belly Full (But We Hungry) refers to the moral fury aroused by the knowledge that some people are thriving while – or because – others are going hungry. This anger rejects gross inequalities of power and resources as intolerable; it signals that food inequalities have a particularly embodied power – that food is special. Food unites and mobilises people to resist.

Read more…Them Belly Full

Food Riots and Food Rights

Food Riots and Food Rights

Food Riots research project

The period of food price volatility between 2007 and 2012 sparked what observers have called ‘food riots’, which have historically marked moments of fundamental economic change, when states have lost their ability to preserve the welfare of citizens. Food riots, however, also usher in change, often heralding new forms of public accountability for hunger. This research project explores what recent events say about this historic moment, and about the possibility of protecting food rights, by looking at the causes and consequences of food-related riots and right-to-food movements in Bangladesh, India, Kenya and Mozambique.

Go here for more information on this research project.

Squeezed: Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility

Half a decade after the price spike of 2007-2008, food price volatility has become the new norm: people have come to expect food prices to rise and fall rapidly, though nobody knows by how much or when. So what does the accumulation of food price rises mean for well-being and development in developing countries? And what can be done to improve life in a time of food price volatility? Squeezed provides some preliminary answers to these big development questions, based on the first year results of a four-year project conducted across 10 countries with different levels of exposure to price rises. While high and rising food prices no longer come as a surprise, rapid price changes and the cumulative effects of five years’ worth of price rises are still squeezing those on low incomes.

Read more…Squeezed

Help Yourself!

I loved this title but I think I was alone on this one. This was the second year report from Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility and it was about accountability for hunger. We found that most people felt that they were pretty much left on their own when it came to protection against food insecurity – you have to help yourself or you will go hungry.

Read more…Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility

Delicious, Disgusting, Dangerous: Eating in a Time of Food Price Volatility

The third year results of the study Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility uncover the realities of what people on low and precarious incomes are eating. For the consumer, there are undeniable benefits from the integration of world food trade: more stable supply, wider choice. Changes in food habits mean people are finding new ways to enjoy food and new foods to enjoy, often with greater convenience and ease. There is much to savour in the eating landscape as new markets for purchased and prepared foods open up. But the loss of control this brings has detrimental impacts on wellbeing. Most people feel they understand little about how new foods affect their health and nutrition; knowledge that they had accrued over generations and longer with respect to their customary cuisines. People have real worries about a new culture of fast food and fake food; they worry about additives, nourishment and food hygiene, and they feel that governments do too little to protect them from the risks.

Read more…Delicious, Disgusting, Dangerous

Them Belly Full (But We Hungry): Food Rights Struggles in Bangladesh, India, Kenya

This report synthesises the findings from the four country case studies produced for the project. It is intended as a summary introduction to the main findings of the research, and a preliminary comparative analysis across the four cases. The green revolution and the global integration of food markets were supposed to relegate scarcity to the annals of history. So why did thousands of people in dozens of countries take to the streets when world food prices spiked in 2008 and 2011? Are food riots the surest route to securing the right to food in the 21st century? The research synthesised here interrogates this moment of historical rupture in the global food system through comparative analysis of Bangladesh, India, Kenya and Mozambique in the period 2007-12. The core insight of the research is summarised in the title: Them Belly Full (But We Hungry) refers to the moral fury aroused by the knowledge that some people are thriving while – or because – others are going hungry. This anger rejects gross inequalities of power and resources as intolerable; it signals that food inequalities have a particularly embodied power – that food is special. Food unites and mobilises people to resist.

Read more…Them Belly Full

A Common Sense Approach to the Right to Food

Despite the growing activism and debate around the right to food in the past decade, there has been little exploration of what the right means in everyday life and in the routine encounters between states and citizens. This paper draws together original qualitative research in nine African, Asian and Latin American countries on how people talk about the right to food. It does so on the assumption that accountability for hunger depends on people being aware of that right. The paper explores what people at risk of hunger have to say about what the right to food means in their location; its source and origins; and responsibilities for upholding it. It concludes that while ideas of the right to food do not generally use international human rights language, an understanding of innate or natural rights to food is ‘common sense’: shared across contexts and groups, and part of how people negotiate their right to food in everyday life. Among other findings, the paper concludes that in a period of rapid economic and social development, the right to food of older people looks particularly fragile, and merits special attention.

Read more…The Right to Food

Who Wants to Farm? Youth Aspirations, Opportunities and Rising Food Prices

Based on analysis of interviews, focus group discussion and household case studies with almost 1500 people in 23 rural, urban and peri-urban communities in low and middle income Asian, African and Latin American countries in 2012, this research digs deeper into some of the established explanations as to why youth in developing countries appear reluctant to enter farming, and identifies conditions under which capable and enterprising youth are being attracted to farming, and entry-points for youth participation in policymaking around agriculture and food security.

Read more…Who wants to farm?

The Aid Lab

The Aid Lab

Elite commitment matters

If we really want to understand why Bangladesh sets the global standard for poverty reduction we need to properly understand the role of politics — not only as a fig leaf for when times are hard, but also to explain what has worked. More specifically, we need to make sense of the political settlement, or effective agreements between the elites as to how to share the spoils of power, and what those mean for poverty and inclusive development. As Mushtaq Khan has convincingly argued, Bangladesh’s development success owes much to how the elites managed to coordinate enough to permit broad-based economic growth.

But Bangladesh’s pattern of development has been poverty-reducing, partly because of its strong emphasis on human development, particularly for women. And to explain that, we have to understand why Bangladesh’s elites agreed that it was so vital to tackle poverty head-on, and to ensure that the poor rural masses got at least some modicum of protection against the elements and the vicissitudes of life on the Bengal Delta. I tell the story of this elite settlement in my book The Aid Lab: Understanding Bangladesh’s Unexpected Success, available from Oxford University Press.

The emergence of the aid lab

My own analysis of the politics of Bangladesh’s unexpected development success is less congratulatory of the aid industry and its clever prescriptions. It is also an altogether uglier story of how the international community applied “lifeboat ethics” to justify their neglect of the 1.5 million victims of the 1974 famine in Bangladesh, and of the violent aftermath of that particularly tragic period in Bangladesh’s history.

My reconstruction of the political history of that time concludes that an elite consensus emerged that committed the Bangladeshi ruling class to protecting the rural masses against the crises of subsistence and survival that so frequently swept their way. This elite consensus included accepting the painful conditions that came with foreign aid, because without external support, the short-term survival of the country, let alone of the political elite, looked bleak.

And it meant letting aid experts treat Bangladesh as a kind of laboratory for aid, in which they often treated as the targets and objects of development, instead of as people with rights, agency, and autonomy. It may have got the Bangladeshi people into the global market, but it has done so on terms that are precarious, at best.

And so the World Bank, and the aid community in general, has little to congratulate itself for treating Bangladesh as the world’s aid lab. It should instead look again at the politics that underpin successful transitions. And it should take more seriously not only where development is taking us, but the ethics of how we are to get there. If Bangladesh was really the test case for development, what does that say about development?

Snapshots of crisis

Snapshots of crisis

The 2008 food, fuel and financial crisis was the moment when globalisation really and truly caught up with us all. Not everyone realised this and many sensible people said the moment was only a crisis for global elites, because most people living on low and precarious incomes lived lives of constant crisis. Nevertheless, something definitely happened in that year that shook things – markets, politics, peoples, environments – up and made us realise that as the artist David Shrigley so wisely put it – Its Getting Worse. Hydra-headed crises, the Perfect Storm, whatever you wanted to call it, it was a moment for pause. (The advantage was, in the end, seized by the political right almost everywhere in the world, but that is another story).

Accounts of crisis

I was involved with groups doing a lot of research at that time. Not all of it was ‘gold standard’ but all of it did something important: it tried to be in the moment, to take snapshots of the crisis, to capture the mood and talk and feeling on the street. You can think of it as an effort at a popular political sociology of global economic crisis.

The first piece of work was a study using participatory methods commissioned by the UK Department for International Development in late 2008. DFID very sensibly wanted something to report to the G20 meeting about how poor developing country folk were experiencing these shocks. From commissioning to reporting Accounts of crisis took 10 weeks but if it was quick it was also very powerful. All of us involved found we were absorbed and dismayed, and sometimes very shocked by the stories people told us in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kenya and Zambia. Mwila Mulumbi’s images of a Zambian food basket became famous.

We followed the 2009 study up with a second round of research, Social Impacts of Crisis with the same communities in 2010, this time including Yemen instead of Jamaica. This was when we first started to hear about the food crisis beginning to engulf the Middle East, of which Yemen, being the poorest country, was at the frontline.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation asked if we could do a similar piece of work to explore how globalisation might be affecting people living in poverty in the UK. Impacts of global crisis on UK communities and poverty was my first experience of researching poverty in the UK, but the research proper was done by colleagues in Oldham in Lancashire (Bridget Byrne and Pasha Shah), Newhaven in East Sussex (Elizabeth Harrison) and in Kildress, in rural Northern Ireland (Aidan Campbell and Bebhinn McKinley). What shocked me most about the study was a young woman in Newhaven who was concerned about her children’s health and whether she could afford to feed them properly any more:

[From ‘The Impact of the Global Economic Downturn on Communities and Poverty in the UK’, 2011]
One mother of small children in Newhaven felt the poorer quality of food she was buying had affected her children’s health:
Whereas before they would always have like grapes, strawberries – they’re so expensive … Ellie’s not going to have that as a treat, she’s going to have crisps and a biscuit, things like that. It’s terrible when you say it out loud actually, it really is awful. But that’s exactly what I used to do with Jason before, when we had money, was his treat would be fresh fruit, because he loved it, with a pile of yoghurt or something on top, he loved it. But I can’t even buy yoghurts really these days, they’ve gone through the roof.
This mother saw a difference between the robust health of her four year old when he was a baby, and her eight month old daughter:
She’s always a bit run-down. She hasn’t been too bad for the last couple of months actually, but,before that she seemed to be ill from the day she was born, nothing too serious but always a constant cold or cough, or things like that. And I’d say that was her diet.

This study made me realise that even while the global elite are increasingly all looking the same, wearing the same rolexes and carrying the same handbags, global poverty is beginning to converge too. It is not only those on low and precarious incomes in developing countries who cannot afford to feed their children nutritiously, but even people a 10 minute train ride from my own office in East Sussex.

And then in 2011, even while the rich world was reeling from the global financial crisis, food prices spiked again. And with Duncan Green of Oxfam, our researchers produced this report with the painfully apt title Living on a Spike.

Living with Crisis was a book edited by Rasmus Helberg (he did all the heavy lifting) at the World Bank that I was involved with. Its got a lot of good case material based mainly on ‘real time’ qualitative research into the global ‘triple F’ crises of food, fuel and finance in 2008 – how people adjusted and coped, and what it was like in different parts of the world. Amazingly enough you can get the whole thing for free here.

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Other papers from the social impacts of crisis research c. 2009-11 are

‘Coping and Resilience during the Food, Fuel, and Financial Crises’ (with Rasmus Heltberg, Anna Reva and Carolyn Turk) in Journal of Development Studies 49 (5) (2013)

‘Invisible impacts and lost opportunities: evidence of the global recession in developing countries’ (with Rizki Fillaili and Grace Lubaale) in Journal of Poverty and Social Justice 18 (3) (2010)

‘A ‘Lost Generation’? Impacts of Complex Compound Crises on Children and Young People’ (with A. McGregor), in Development Policy Review (2011)

Anatomy of Coping: Evidence from People Living Through the Crises of 2008-11‘ (with R. Heltberg, A. Reva and C. Turk) World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 5957 (2011)

[Not all of these are freely downloadable, so contact me if necessary.]

I’m (still) hungry, mum: the return of Care

Participation, Power and Social Change Research at IDS

Naomi HossainNaomi Hossain photo mini

Is it just me or have we come full circle on care* in development? Back in 1994, armed with a box-fresh copy of Naila Kabeer’s Reversed Realities,I got my first job in development, in Bangladesh. There I was first set to study whether non-traditional jobs empowered women, and then to analyse rural women’s time-use diaries. My eyes were opened to the perennial contradiction of women’s empowerment: earning money is lovely and really important if you want autonomy and control. But someone still has to wipe the dirty bums.

Naomi Hossain blog 7 Mar image 1What happened in the last 20 or so years that took our (my) eye off the care-ball? We started to glamorize women’s empowerment as always and necessarily positive-sum.** Gender equity got a makeover as ‘smart economics’; development meant high return investments in future mothers, clever low-cost micro-credit, and win-win global export industries employing poor young women to make…

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Prices that bounce

Participation, Power and Social Change Research at IDS

Naomi Hossain

I’m just back from South Kalimantan, part of Indonesian Borneo, where the idea that future food prices are likely to be jump even higher because of extreme weather events feels very real. Climate, energy, food and global economic crisis all feature in an alarming combination of volatilities. In the Banjarese community where IDS partners SMERU have been researching the social impacts of crisis since 2009, most people are rubber tappers. The past year has been particularly up-and-down, mainly down, even by the elastic standards of rubber producers.

We went to see one family, where the newly-single mother and household head – call her Siti – panicked when she saw us. ‘I’ve already paid’, she said. ‘I’ve paid for this month’. She thought we were debt collectors and was already behind on her first (I suspect also last) installment for her new motorbike, easily the most popular means…

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