What I’m reading this month: March 2019 edition

 Tube journeys (blogs/policy briefs/podcasts)

Kanisha D Bond et al, The West needs to take the politics of women in ISIS seriously

On the back of controversy here in the UK surrounding the decision to strip 19-year old Shamima Begum of her citizenship, this article argues that narratives about women and conflict can strip women of their agency and turn them into often sexualised victim archetypes – ‘ISIS brides’, in this case – hiding the complex role that women have played in conflicts for a very long time. It also means, they argue, that we don’t try to understand the underlying social, economic and political factors that draw women to conflict roles in the first place, which are then exacerbated by inadequate policy responses. As they argue, ‘Post-conflict policy that fails to take women’s politics seriously will only feed cycles of violence and impede the pursuit of a sustainable peace’.

Odil Gafarov, Rise of China’s private armies

Now I knew about Erik Prince and Blackwater, and his controversial proposals for privatising US military operations in Afghanistan. I didn’t realise his company is now funded by the Chinese government with its growing need for protection for citizens working around the world. Given the sheer size of Chinese investments in Africa, and the number of countries involved, this makes Erik Prince a seriously significant player in African security with, arguably, statebuilding (if that’s the right word for it) ambitions.  Do you remember back when global politics didn’t necessarily directly reference 1990s Nicholas Cage films? Good times…

Southern Rail journeys (papers/journal articles/longer thought pieces)

Peter Evans, Heather Marquette, Alisha Patel and David Pedley, The machinery of government and the mechanics of governance: Findings from the Uganda Governance Evidence Week

We’re somewhat shamelessly plugging the DFID Research Blog we wrote that summarises our findings from the new Governance Evidence Week in Uganda. In collaboration with the DFID Uganda office, we piloted a new approach to research engagement bringing together DFID-funded researchers working on governance and politics in Uganda to discuss their findings and consider what they collectively add up to. This piece summarises what we learnt and captures the discussions we had.

Graham Allison, The Thucydides Trap: Are the U.S. and China headed for war?

This article is a summary of research led by Harvard academic Graham Allison. The researchers looked at conflicts where a ruling power faced a credible challenge from a rising power, shortlisting 16 conflicts in the last 500 years. In 12 of the 16, the result was war. (All of the 4 ‘outliers’ were in the 20th century, though it’s worth noting that 4 of the 8 conflicts they looked at in the 20th century resulted in war, so swings and roundabouts…) Long story short, war was averted when the ruling power agreed to give up something and the rising power agreed to lower its demands. Given that China’s ascendency has been at a pace and scale not seen in human history, the question is: will the US (then under Obama’s presidency) concede the need to share power with China, and will China concede that it will need to accept a lesser position that the US has enjoyed for the past century? If you need me, I’ll be living somewhere off grid in rural Maine, I think.

Arcangelo Dimico, Alessia Isopi & Ola Olsson, Origins of the Sicilian Mafia: The market for lemons

This article argues that the Sicilian Mafia emerged as a response to the exponential rise in demand for lemons and oranges after the discovery of the cure for scurvy in the late 18th century. I love how the authors combine quantitative and historical analysis, which doesn’t happen enough IMHO, but it’s also a reminder that we need to be thinking a lot more about the potential unintended consequences of licit trade and export markets.

Matt Bishop & Tony Payne, Is Britain ‘undeveloping’ before our eyes?

Academics in arguably the UK’s leading political economy research centre are arguing that the UK is in the process of ‘undeveloping’. They argue in this 2-part blog (part 2 here) that the idea of a ‘developed’ country is inherently flawed, because it suggests a static state rather than something that’s constantly in flux. As an ‘early developer’ that hasn’t taken this flux state seriously for the last century, they argue that it’s not surprising the UK finds itself where we are. Interesting diagnosis of the problems with suggestions for what to do about it that will be familiar to anyone who has read the developmental state literature.

Long-haul flights (books/longer papers)

Oliver Bullough, Moneyland: Why thieves and crooks now rule the world and how to take it back

moneyland1Link is to a review by Andy Beckett. I think I’d gladly give this book to everyone I know. Oliver takes the reader on a journey through what he calls ‘Moneyland’ – the spaces in global economic and political systems that allow the very rich to hide their wealth – and, importantly, the sources of their wealth – from any scrutiny, accountability or tax. From shell companies to golden passports to diplomatic immunity – it’s all here, wrapped up in wonderful storytelling.


Carl Miller, Death of the Gods: The new global power grab

deathofthegodsLink is to a review by Bryan Appleyard. I saw Carl speak recently at a Development Dialogue on Organised Crime co-organised by DFID and the Global Initiative. He was a funny, dynamic speaker, which is great because I literally ended my notes on his talk with ‘Frankly, we are all f***ed’. He argues here that internet monopolies have leeched power away from traditional sources in ways that we’re only just starting to grasp, and we have no idea what to do about it. Some of this is ‘depressing but I knew’, like the ways in which journalism is dying and fake news is winning the day, and some of it is ‘things I didn’t know but kind of wish I still didn’t’, like how unfeasibly easy it is to become a cybercriminal or how little it costs to hire an assassin on the dark web. And some of it I simply don’t understand, like how to hack an offline computer using light or how blockchain may be creating a world where companies are replaced with Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (if someone wants to explain it to me in the comments, please do!). Like Appleyard, I found the book best when he writes like the excellent journalist he is, and not like the academic he isn’t (sorry, Carl!). It doesn’t tell us as much about power as it could, but it illuminates a dark world we really need to better understand.

Heather’s Lost & Found Bin

 I always put way too many things in an Outlook folder labelled @NextMonth’sReading, and I need to apply a bit of Marie Kondo to my mailbox. So…now for something completely different! Author, title and link only, in no particular order. All sparked joy for me, so there should be a little something here for everyone!

Peter Harling, The Mediterranean Crush

Giorgia Perletta, Beyond Westoxification and Orientalism: How to read Iranian politics

Indy Johar, Legitimate change & the critical role of cities

Claire Leigh, Why Britain should give aid to non-democracies

 Editorial, The Guardian view on crime and algorithms: Big data makes bigger problems

 Martin Innes, Amanda Robinson & Michael Levi, Preventing future crimes and crime prevention futures (from the What Works Centre for Crime Prevention)

 Jason Burke, Why Africa’s leaders are keeping a close watch on the DRC power struggle

 Peter Beaumont, Baghdad at 10 million: Fragile dreams of normality as megacity status beckons

 Marla Spivack, Quantifying the system: A concrete, comparative case that systems matter from South Africa

 Ravi Kanbur & Todd Sandler, with Kevin Morrison, The future of development assistance: Common pools and international public goods

 BBC Podcast, The Why Factor: Why do we collude with corruption?

 And, because spring is coming, and my reading this month has been a wee bit on the dark side … The Good Trade, 16 ethically-made workwear brands for the modern working woman


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