Thursday, 25 July 2013

British Academy for the humanities and social sciences

Carole Spary has been awarded £7705 by the British Academy for a research project on 'Performing representation: women parliamentarians and political participation in India'. The research will investigate women’s political participation as elected representatives in the national parliament of India. It will focus on selected parliamentary debates as well as the Committee for the Empowerment of Women. The research aims to understand the dynamics of participating in debates, how women MPs are enabled or constrained by institutional norms and practices, and the representational claims they make as women MPs. The research is part of a larger project examining women’s participation as a minority group (less than 11%) in the Indian parliament. The grant will enable research trips to India to conduct elite interviews with MPs and to collect contemporary and archival documentary data from the national parliament.

Institutions must develop strategies to tackle online abuse aimed at female academics

Audra Mitchell argues that universities, funding councils and other academic bodies need to play a more supportive role in addressing online bullying aimed at women. Writing after a recent conference panel exploring the challenges and risks associated with being a female public intellectual in an era of widespread online sexual harassment, she argues that we need to think carefully about making an individual online presence a necessity for academic success.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Indifference and disillusionment in the Holy Land, despite John Kerry's efforts

Reflecting on his field research in the Middle East, Jacob Eriksson argues that, despite John Kerry's recent efforts, indifference and pessimism are pervading the latest chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. 

With mistrust between the parties as high as ever, is it possible for the two sides to make progress?  

Jerusalem, 21 July 2013: 

"You’ve got to hand it to John Kerry, he’s a tenacious operator. He’s managed to overcome the formidable impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and has done well to get the parties back to the table. The respective teams are due in Washington some time next week for an initial meeting. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. As analyst David Makovsky put it, ‘Right now they’re in the very shallow end, and they’re going to have to swim in deeper waters — and they can be treacherous.’

After my many conversations over the last two weeks, it seems that Israeli public opinion regarding peace with the Palestinians is as divergent as it’s always been. Israel needs to withdraw from the occupied territories as soon as possible; yes, we need peace, but it’s hard and will tear the country apart; Israel is nice to those who are nice to us, and we are ready give up the West Bank and East Jerusalem for a Palestinian state if they prove they accept our Jewish state; all of Jerusalem, East and West, is Israeli, no doubt about it, and the Arabs (note: not Palestinians, but Arabs) can’t have it.

This, in itself, is nothing new. Opinion on peace and the Palestinians has always been divergent. What is remarkable, however, is the overwhelming feeling of indifference. Though this was present when I was last here in 2009, it now seems far more pervasive. Despite Kerry’s continuous efforts and the renewed commitment he’s managed to get, people remain very pessimistic. Mistrust between the parties is as high as ever, and questions to Israelis about what is required to change this are either greeted with a shrug, or the suggestion that the ball is in the Palestinians’ court. They need to make the first move to break the formidable psychological barrier, like Egyptian President Anwar Sadat did when he visited Jerusalem in 1977 and addressed the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

Perhaps this opinion is also informed by the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu is unlikely to initiate any substantial moves towards the Palestinians. The man’s politics can be described in one hyphenated word: risk-averse. He is not a man whose unwavering conviction leads to big, bold decisions. Like many politicians, his main priority appears to be staying in power, navigating the political waters and keeping his head just above the surface. During his first period in office (1996-1999), he did it badly. Torn between the liberal left – who wanted to see progress in the peace process – and the conservative and religious right – who were against any territorial concessions to the Palestinians and in favour of settlement expansion – Bibi swung from one to the other and managed to alienate everyone. Too accommodating for the right and not accommodating enough for the left.

Given that his current government leans even more towards the right, it does not augur well, and he will no doubt try very hard to avoid a similar situation by standing his ground. There is an agreement to release a number of Palestinian prisoners, but that is all Kerry could get – there is apparently no Israeli acceptance of Palestinian pre-conditions, including using the 1967 Green Line as a basis for negotiations, and a settlement freeze which includes East Jerusalem.

The occupation of the West Bank is not palatable or pretty, nor does it reflect well on the Israelis, as the security experts I have spoken with admit, but they cannot realistically envisage an alternative at this stage. It is the best of a bad set of options. The firm conviction on my part that Israel needs to withdraw from all of the West Bank in order to ensure its long-term security is greeted with polite scepticism, and either a ‘OK, but how can that happen now?’ or ‘No, you don’t understand the Palestinians.’ Either way, it’s not particularly encouraging. The effective security cooperation that does exist with the Palestinian Authority (PA) and has been working for Israel’s benefit over the last four or five years is given short shrift. Without an Israeli presence, security is not guaranteed, and that’s the bottom line.

And what of the Palestinians? Disarray seems to be the word of the day. President Mahmoud Abbas (commonly known as Abu Mazen) is currently trying to shore up the Palestinian Authority (PA), which has come under severe criticism over the past year. Street protests over mounting economic problems were prevalent in September 2012, and quickly spread to broader political grievances over the Israeli occupation and the PA’s inability to improve their lives. A political battle between President Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the politically independent economist much loved in the West, was played out in all this, with Fayyad resigning in April this year. His successor, Hami Ramdallah, was in post for two weeks before submitting his resignation due to a disagreement over Abbas’ appointment of two deputy ministers. The composition of a new government is not yet clear. Meanwhile, reconciliation and the formation of a national unity government between Abbas’ main Fatah group in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip doesn’t appear to be on the cards either. The Muslim Brotherhood’s fall from grace in Egypt has weakened Hamas, and they won’t be keen to negotiate from such a position.

Predictions that a third intifada would erupt in 2013 have thus far proved incorrect. The Palestinian street is full of cynicism and mistrust towards all things political, but the prevailing opinion appears to be that political reform, not violence, is the key to their problems. Memories of the tremendous damage wrought by the second intifada are still fresh enough to deter them, not to mention the civil war between Fatah and Hamas in 2007. But how long will this last without progress in the political process and improved quality of life? One can only hope that continued disillusionment and frustration does not make violence seem attractive.

As a result of this, the process will have to be extremely carefully managed, as it may well be the last roll of the dice for Abu Mazen and the PA. Another failure to move decisively towards proper statehood may be too much for the Palestinians to bear. Kerry needs to study the lessons of previous failures very carefully, and use the six to nine months the parties have committed to – reports vary – wisely. He must try to manage expectations clearly from the outset, maintain secrecy, and try to officially establish the by now well known parameters of a two-state solution.

Despite Kerry’s initial achievement, scepticism remains the word of the day. We have seen this story many times before; at best it has ended in disappointment, and at worst, violence. Ultimately, there are two classic Middle Eastern negotiating positions that need to be overcome: ‘I’m weak, how can I negotiate?’ and ‘I’m strong, why should I negotiate?’ Let’s hope they can break this Gordian knot". 

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Crunch time on Trident for Miliband and his party

In an article published yesterday with the Guardian, Nick Ritchie argues that as political parties prepare for the run up to the next general election, Miliband has a chance to break with Blairite and Tory nuclear business as usual - and show some real leadership 

"Ed Miliband confirmed at last year’s party conference that Labour policy on Trident replacement would be reviewed after the publication of the Trident Alternatives Review and the Basic Trident Commission report. With the former now published and he latter due soon, Miliband will face a difficult choice: stick with the Blair and Tory plan of nuclear business as usual; or demonstrate international leadership by ending permanent deployments and further reducing our nuclear arsenal..." 

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Gender, Liberalism and Financial Crisis - Call for Participation

Gender, Neoliberalism, and Financial Crisis Postgraduate Conference
University of York, 27 September 2013

Keynotes: Diane Elson (Essex), Ruth Pearson (Leeds), Sylvia Walby (Lancaster)

Call for participants: 
This is an invitation for University of York students and staff to attend the Gender, Neoliberalism, and Financial Crisis Postgraduate Conference this September.

It is one-day conference bringing together presentations from MA, PhD, and post-doc researchers from the UK and beyond. The conference examines the connections between gender, political economy, and development, with a special focus on the impact of financial crisis. 

This conference will be of special interest to students studying politics, economics, gender studies, sociology, development, and philosophy and to students who are members of political clubs. Undergraduates and postgraduates are encouraged to attend, to see presentations from engaging young researchers, to see the keynote speakers, and to get a better idea of what postgraduate research is like. We really encourage student to attend the conference and join in the discussions! 

Please see the website for more information on the day's events. Tickets (£10 each, including lunch) can also be purchased from the site. Tickets will go on sale from 1 June 2013. 

Please see more info at or contact Sydney Calkin (, the conference convenor. 

Monday, 8 July 2013

Legislative Protest as Democratic Practice

Carole Spary discusses the phenomenon of legislative protest and its significance as a form of democratic practice. She discusses two high profile examples that have been making the headlines, and draws on insights from a recently published special issue of the journal Democratization on the topic of ‘Disruptive Democracy: Analysing Legislative Protest’.

The Texas Senate recently witnessed an important and spectacular ten hour filibuster by Democrat Senator Wendy Davis, designed to block a controversial abortion bill which would restrict abortion rights and access in Texas. The filibuster, the purpose of which is to speak extensively on a bill with the deliberate purpose of delaying or preventing a vote, fell just short of the midnight deadline. However, it was followed by a passionately supportive public gallery protest which successfully disrupted the final vote on the bill. 

In another recent but unconnected incident, a parliamentary debate in Westminster witnessed a more muted but still noteworthy protest against media sexism by Caroline Lucas MP. Wearing a t-shirt with the slogan ‘No More Page Three’ in reference to the on-going campaign to remove pictures of topless models from selected newspapers, Lucas stood up and spoke in the debate but was shortly told by the debate chair that she was in breach of the Westminster dress code. Lucas complied with the chair’s order to cover up by putting on and buttoning up her jacket. Whilst doing so, she commented on the irony of being told to comply with the dress code when the same newspapers targeted by the campaign were available to purchase in retail outlets on the Westminster estate. She held up a copy of one such newspaper open at page three but was called to order by the chair.

These two examples suggest how protests by legislators within legislative contexts are important not just for the immediate impact they make on legislative debates and outcomes, but for what they signify in terms of democratic practice. Legislative protests can offer insights into the meaning and functioning of legislative institutions, actors and their behaviour beyond aggregate votes or routine deliberation in debates. Analysing the protest behaviour of legislators and the regulatory role of presiding officers can help us to better understand the significance of how elected representatives perform representation and how legislative institutions manage disagreement and conflict.

For example, the two examples of legislative protest above illustrate contrasting modes of compliance, yet official rules of procedure often need to be interpreted by legislative actors such as presiding officers and legislators. Some modes of legislative protest such as Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibuster are part of established though rarely performed modes of legislative performance and comply with official legislative rules and procedure. Others, such as the one recently enacted by Caroline Lucas MP, may bend or break official rules in order to communicate a key message. The Texas filibuster by Sen. Wendy Davis, however, fell short of the vote deadline because Davis accumulated three violations of the filibustering procedure which raised as points of order by legislators and upheld by the chair, despite being contested. This suggests that legislative protest is contingent and that interpretive work can often have important consequences for the success or failure of legislative protest acts.

Also, the manner in which rules are interpreted and applied may also be strongly influenced by informal institutional norms and conventions. Some forms of disobedience might be tolerated more in some legislative contexts compared to others for reasons of pragmatism, such as the repeated disruptions to debate in the Parliament of India. Also, the frequency and intensity of protest may change over time, for example as a result of changes in the relative strength of the government and the opposition in the legislature and the quality of communication between them.  This interpretive work means that legislative protest and regulatory responses will differ across and within legislative institutions and over time.

Finally, both examples illustrate how performance and its embodiment are key elements of legislative protest. The filibuster involved intense and protracted physical labour. Sen. Wendy Davis deliberately wore running shoes and swayed from side to side while she was on her feet and talking for ten hours and 45 minutes. During this time she could not take meals or bathroom breaks or sit down. Assistance from another legislator in adjusting her back brace was the basis of a point of order raised by Republican senators and sustained against her (for ‘aiding’ the filibuster). The final vote on the bill was disrupted in part by the loud volume of the public gallery protestors including many who were physically and forcibly removed. In the protest by Caroline Lucas MP, her physical embodiment as a female MP, her physical wearing of a protest message, as well as her display of the page three of a newspaper provided visual layers of protest simultaneous to her speech. While her T-shirt and display of the newspaper was reprimanded by the presiding officer, he emphasised that he was not curtailing Lucas’ speech.  These examples remind us of how legislative protest in particular and representation more broadly involves embodied performances.

These ideas about legislative protest and democratic practice are just some of those explored in a recently published special issue of the journal Democratization called ‘Disruptive Democracy: Analysing Legislative Protest’. The special issue includes articles which discuss legislative protest both theoretically and conceptually such as in relation to deliberation, representation, performativity, and democratic space, as well as empirically with case study analysis of national legislatures of the UK, South Africa, Sweden, and India. The theme of this special issue is linked to a research programme on ‘Gendered Ceremony and Ritual in Parliament’ which was funded by the Leverhulme Trust from 2007-2011. For further details about the programme please visit the GCRP website