Archive for ‘Interdisciplinarity’

May, 2014

Psychological Drivers of Distrust Between Adversaries

Professor Nicholas J. Wheeler

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I concluded yesterday’s blog by suggesting that perhaps our values and beliefs lead us astray when it comes to thinking about the possibilities for building trust in International politics. I want to pursue this theme today by exploring two key beliefs that promote distrust, and hence fuel security competition. By contrast with Mearsheimer’s structural approach, these beliefs reside in the individual psychology of decision-makers, and the societal narratives that constrain and enable foreign policy decision-making. The two beliefs are: (1) peaceful/defensive self images; and (2) ideological fundamentalism, and its logical corollary, a bad faith model of the adversary.

The British historian, Herbert Butterfield, was the first to capture the psychological dynamics which give rise to decision-makers holding peaceful/defensive self-images (the idea is explored in Chapter 2 of Booth and Wheeler 2008). Butterfield’s contribution was to show how governments with defensive motives failed to understand that others did not see them as they saw themselves. The following much-quoted passage reveals how he thought a spiral of fear and insecurity could develop between two actors, even when neither had malign motives towards the other:

‘For you know that you yourself mean him no harm, and that you want nothing from him save guarantees for your own safety; and it  is never possible for you to realize or remember properly that since he cannot see the inside of your mind, he can never have the same assurance of your intentions that you have. As this operates on both sides the Chinese puzzle is complete in all its interlockings – and neither party sees the nature of the predicament he is in, for each only imagines that the other party is being hostile and unreasonable. It is even possible for each to feel that the other is willfully withholding the guarantees that would have enabled him to have a sense of security.’ (Butterfield 1951: 21)

Developing and elaborating Butterfield’s work, Robert Jervis in the 1970s described these psychological dynamics as the spiral model. Jervis explained this as a situation where two states (mis)perceive each other as having aggressive motives and intent when each is only acting defensively; the result is a spiral of mutual hostility that might have been avoided through a better understanding of these dynamics. As Jervis wrote, what drives the spiral is the inability of policy-makers to ‘recognize that one’s own actions could be seen as menacing and the concomitant belief that the other’s hostility can only be explained by its aggressiveness’ (1976: 75, 354 – see also 1978: 181; Booth and Wheeler 2008: 46-8; White, 1984). It is interesting to reflect how far NATO and Russian interactions over Ukraine in recent weeks are an example of the interaction between NATO and Russian peaceful/defensive self images, giving rise to spiral model dynamics. Accepting that NATO governments have no malign motives or intentions towards Russia, Butterfield and Jervis remind us that since Russian policy-makers don’t have a crystal ball that allows them to see into the minds of decision-makers in NATO states, they can never have that level of reassurance about the motives and intentions of NATO governments.

The key corrective to decision-makers operating with a peaceful/defensive self-image is increased empathy for an adversary’s security concerns and interests. The importance of empathy in statecraft was recognised by Butterfield, though he was very doubtful that decision-makers would be capable of exercising this level of empathy in conflict situations, and Jervis, who has also been sceptical that the idea of empathy could overcome the structural dynamics of anarchy. One of the key claims of Booth and Wheeler (2008) was to elevate the importance of empathy in de-escalating conflicts, and to this end, we introduced into the literature the concept of security dilemma sensibility. We defined this as: ‘an actor’s intention and capacity to perceive the motives behind, and to show responsiveness towards, the potential complexity of the military intentions of others. In particular, it refers to the ability to understand the role that fear might play in their attitudes and behaviour, including, crucially, the role that one’s own actions may play in provoking that fear’ (Booth and Wheeler 2008: 7, emphasis added). Unfortunately, the exercise of security dilemma sensibility is a rarity among decision-makers, who as a result expect an adversary to make the first move in ending any conflict.

Security competition can be generated between two states operating with peaceful/defensive self-images, but the resulting level of insecurity and distrust will be escalated still further if one, or both sides, operate with a mindset of ideological fundamentalism. The latter was defined by Booth and I as a belief that ‘assigns enemy status because of what the other is – its political identity – rather than how it actually behaves (Booth and Wheeler 2008: 65 – see also Booth 1987: 42-3; Wheeler and Booth 1987: 331). Ralph White had earlier coined the term ‘diabolical enemy image’ to capture how ideological values lead decision-makers and societies to impute malign motives and intentions to others who are seen as holding antithetical beliefs and values (1984: 133-34, 170).

Decision-makers who operate with a mindset of ideological fundamentalism will infer threatening and untrustworthy motives from the behaviour of an adversary, and they will see this as determined by inherent characteristics and values that are not changeable. Such thinking gives rise to what Ole Holsti called an ‘inherent bad faith model’ of an adversary (Holsti 1967: 26). A highly pernicious consequence of bad faith thinking is that decision-makers will believe that they face an implacable foe, with which there can be no accommodation. Arguments that a particular conflict is driven by Jervis’s spiral model and that what is needed is increased empathy for an adversary will be dismissed as wishful thinking and dangerous. Moreover, actors running this programme will view any apparent conciliatory moves on the part of an adversary as either a trick to lull them into a false sense of security, or a sign of weakness which can be exploited (Larson 1997: 22; Bennett 2003: 190-1).

Now, I am not saying that applying such a mindset to national security policy-making is always wrong, and there are cases, as with Nazi Germany in the 1930s, when it can be extremely costly to misplace empathy in an adversary as Neville Chamberlain’s government did in relation to the appeasement of Hitler. But it is also the case that if decision-makers hold peaceful/defensive self-images and operate with a mindset of ideological fundamentalism, two states with peaceful motives and intentions could find themselves in a spiralling competition of fear, insecurity, and distrust. In such situations the space for building trust is very limited, and the first step is for one side to appreciate the possibility that conflict is driven by spiral dynamics (though because of the security dilemma there can be no guarantee here). But the exercise of security dilemma sensibility has to be translated into new policies that conciliate an adversary and signal potential trustworthiness. Tomorrow, I will explore how the US social-psychologist Charles Osgood believed this process might operate through his strategy of graduated and reciprocated initiatives in tension-reduction (GRIT), and suggest that President Obama tried such a strategy in his outreach to Iran in 2009.

Nicholas J. Wheeler is Professor of International Relations in the Department of Political Science and International Studies, and Director of the Institute for Conflict, Cooperation and Security at the University of Birmingham.

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May, 2014

Migrant integration in an era of superdiversity

Professor Jenny Phillimore

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The advent of superdiversity has in the past few years been juxtaposed with several other trends. Perhaps most importantly there is the global recession and associated austerity cuts introduced in many of the world’s leading countries of immigration. These global developments occur in an environment already unfavourable to immigration and integration. Developments including the re- politicisation of migration, the rise of new right-wing and xenophobic movements, growing use of welfare rationing, and increasing levels of negative media and public opinion, all of which impact on migrants’ ability to integrate. Claims have been made that the increase in diversity has reduced levels of social solidarity in society, and with it support for the welfare state, as the general population are prepared only to contribute to welfare measures for people with whom they share an affinity.   In the combined eras of superdiversity and austerity the successful integration of migrants is more important and more challenging than ever.

Today’s article focuses on the findings of a large scale review of local and experiential aspects of integration undertaken as part of the European funded KING project which is working to help shape the Common Basic Principles on migrant integration for the European Commission. Gary Craig, Rachel Humphris and Marta Kindler were collaborators on this project.

Academics have long outlined the two-way nature of the integration process . True integration can only occur when majority and minority communities adapt to a new reality. This is barely if ever acknowledged by politicians and thus rarely translates into policy and practice. The need for mutual adapation is reinforced by the evidence that shows the extent to which both individual and institutional racism impacts upon migrant and minority communities. Racism prevents minorities from achieving their potential, impacts on social mobility and reduces social confidence restricting social networks. The current anti-migrant, anti-multiculturalism ideology perpetuated by politicians and the media prevents migrants and minorities accessing all integration domains, impacts upon mental and physical health and social mobility. Such ideology legitimises racism while supporting moves to restrict migrants’ access to welfare which then enhances their vulnerability and exclusion.

The KING review provided clear evidence that migrants experienced poor outcomes in the arenas of health, housing, education and employment. Whilst many of these outcomes improve over generations some long-established minority groups have yet to reach parity with the general population. The review also demonstrated that social mixing with non-migrant communities was difficult to achieve because migrants lacked the opportunity to mix or were fearful of racist harassment. Instead migrants relied heavily on peer groups and civil society for support.

Lack of knowledge about institutional structures and systems and local behavioural norms prevents migrants accessing services and interaction with local people. Superdiversity brings challenges associated with newness and novelty of cultures, experiences and problems both for providers and migrants. A key gap in integration initiatives is developing the skills that professionals need to adapt services in an ever-changing, fast diversifying, environment.

Ability to speak the host community language emerges from many research projects as being essential to enable migrant/minority access to services, support the development of social relations with others and to enable participation in networks and forums. Language enables conversations with ‘others’ that have the potential to resist racist sterotyping, at least at individual and local community level. Language enables access to education about how to engage with the system and better quality employment that can help support social mobility and thus reduce exclusion.

Austerity measures have led to a reduction in support for migrant focused initiatives to the point that many EU countries are able to provide little support with integration and adaptation. Scandinavian countries standout in stark contrast to much of the rest of Europe in providing extensive integration programmes that support migrants to access language and citizenship classes which have been demonstrated to impact positively on migrants’ access to employment.

Exclusion and deprivation have enormous impact upon the ability of new migrants and existing minorities to integrate and meet their potential. Furthermore given the economic imperative used as the main justification for migration, migrant down-skilling, poor education outcomes and economic activity levels have an economic, as well as social, opportunity cost. If we continue our laissez-faire approach to integration placing the onus on migrants to integrate without considering the role of the state and its citizens it is likely that we will see the super-exclusion discussed yesterday given that it is predicted that by 2050 around 30% of the UK’s population will have a migrant background.

Professor Jenny Phillimore is Professor of Migration and Superdiversity at the University of Birmingham.

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March, 2014

Burns: A riot in the body

Dr Jonathan Reinarz

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You can imagine, as a medical historian, much of my research centres on ‘Saving Humans’. When I was asked to contribute to this blog, though, one particularly timely subject immediately leapt out: burns. I began researching burns last year in the British context for the years 1800 to 2000, and, in that time, the public has been reminded of the subject with regular reports of acid attacks, house fires, wars, suicides and revolutions. More than many other subjects I have researched, burns are both timeless and very timely. In June 2013, the Burns Collective was launched in Birmingham, creating a national centre for burns research linking hospitals in London, Bristol and the ‘Second City’. I attended the inaugural conference and instantly found myself fascinated by papers outlining current practices, research and priorities. Though the history of burns remains to be explored, they should also be familiar to all of us. Unlike many diseases and accidents which will thankfully remain a mystery to most of this blog’s readers, we have all experienced burns. However prevalent or timely, burns are also particularly suited to a blog managed by the University’s Institute of Advanced Studies. Like the IAS, which aims to bring together scholars from across the University of Birmingham’s various academic disciplines, burns are unique in the way they bring together people from across medicine’s many specialties. 

In a previous project, I had the opportunity broadly to explore the medical, social and cultural history of the skin. At its most basic, a burn is an injury of the skin, the body’s largest organ (though some now call it a ‘multi-organ’). Addressing burns and scalds only in passing, the project reminded us that burns are prominent in the cultural imagination, and have been so for hundreds of years. Neither are they confined to the realm of the dermatologist. Besides contributing significantly to the way in which we conceive of ourselves and others, the skin has many essential functions: it regulates the passage of fluids in and out of the body; it helps synthesis vitamin D, while shielding the body’s interior from ultraviolet radiation; it is a barrier that prevents disease-causing organisms from entering the body, while simultaneously receiving sensations which it passes on to the brain via the nervous system. As a result, when the skin is burned, whether by hot tea, a sunburn, or following more serious flame, electrical or chemical accidents, we experience pain, and much else that is more than just skin deep. The skin’s many features and functions are invariably compromised by burns, and people’s identities may be changed forever. The more serious the burn – anything larger than 10% total body surface area is considered a major burn – the more violent the body’s response. It is for this reason that burns have been described as ‘a riot in the body’. All bodily systems potentially respond to serious burns, especially if the victim also experiences smoke inhalation.

What is a burn?

The immediate aftermath of a severe burn is shock and suffocation, both related to a lack of oxygen. Plasma normally circulating in the blood surges to the tissues, leaving the blood thicker and prone to clotting. During the 24-hours following a burn, the affected area grows progressively more swollen; this is the period when blisters form. Fluid must be replaced to restore circulation and dilute the toxins being expelled in greater amounts by the kidneys (one formula used to help calculate fluid replacement was developed by Basil Pruitt, who attended the Birmingham congress). In the nineteenth century, the oozing appearance of burns might have led doctors to introduce treatments which only encouraged dehydration. As a result of these physiological changes, the body is less able to regulate temperature and shock ensues. One by one, the major organs are compromised by the loss of liquids. When the respiratory system is effected, breathing becomes difficult and the body deals with lower cardiac output by pumping more blood. The additional effort required to do so sends the body into a hypermetabolic, or catabolic, state, and it begins to break down tissues, burning protein as well as fat. As body mass decreases, the patient becomes more susceptible to infection and wounds also heal more slowly. The destructive increase in metabolism, on the other hand, is countered by feeding the patient amounts of food that might ordinarily be regarded as excessive. And, importantly, the whole process is not over in a day or two. Burns are an acute illness that lasts weeks or even months. Treatment of burns patients therefore becomes an intensive life-saving process, which these days extends beyond the immediate survival of the burned individual, and aims for full psychological recovery, involving psychiatrists, physiotherapists and social workers, among many other specialists and professionals. It is for this reason that victims of severe burns are treated in burns units. According to the British Burns Association, there are currently 27 specialised burn units in Britain. In the 1930s, more than half of major burns cases in this country might have died from their injuries. Today, 97% of approximately 16,000 people hospitalised for burns each year survive this ordeal.

Dr Jonathan Reinarz is Director of The History of Medicine Unit and a Reader in the History of Medicine at the University of Birmingham.

 
October, 2013

Reflections on using an interdisciplinary lens

The blog posts this week have explored different aspects of international human rights. My research interests include the United Nations human rights machinery, political processes around human rights and the developments occurring at the international level. Human rights are not static. They evolve as global society changes. The field constantly adapts and responds to new challenges. Understanding the mechanisms and processes involved requires a bridging of the gap between scholars of international law and international relations. International law depends heavily on politics, diplomacy and international relations. Using an interdisciplinary lens to view the UN and international human rights enables a greater understanding of what ought to occur and what actually happens ‘on the ground’.

One main area of my work is on the United Nations Human Rights Council. My book on that body,  The United Nations Human Rights Council: A critique and early assessment,  explores the extent to which the Council is fulfilling its mandate. I use international relations theories to understand the political processes that affect the Council undertaking its duties. It is only through an understanding of the politics that occurs within that body that we can find solutions to enable the Council better to protect and promote human rights.

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My second book (to be published in May 2014) is entitled ‘Failing to Protect: The United Nations and Politicisation of Human Rights.’ The UN has three human rights mandates – to develop, promote and protect rights. The book focuses on the protection mandate. It explores how and why the UN fails adequately to protect human rights. While the Organisation does wonderful work in developing and promoting rights, it is the systematic and grave violations that make the headlines; and rightly so. In order to find solutions, there needs to be greater understanding of the problems. Aimed at a non-specialist audience, the book explains the overlap between international law and politics and how that impacts on protecting rights. It demonstrates the need for stronger protection mechanisms and for ways of enforcing human rights.

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Sparking conversations and discussions about the UN and human rights is crucial for ensuring that the system continues to be refined and honed in such a way as to afford better protection to individuals. Those conversations ought not to take place solely at the academic level. Nor is it sufficient for them only to take place between scholars of law and political science. Involving policy-makers, activists, the media, the wider public and other interested parties will enable more effective protection of rights. Academic research informs those discussions. My aim to ensure that my research is disseminated to as wide an audience as possible in order to fuel ongoing debates.

Rosa Freedman @GoonerDr

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