In January 2020, the ISRF launched its fourth Political Economy Research Fellowship competition. Having received a number of strong proposals, a selection panel met in July 2020 and nominated five projects for funding.
Fourth Political Economy Research Fellowship Competition
Scholars from within Europe were eligible to apply for funding, for projects of up to one year. Awards were made to:
Rethinking ‘Grassroots’ Economic Justice: Measured Intervention, Feminist Political Economy Approaches and Sri Lanka’s Former Global Workers
While global assembly lines made rural women of the Global South wage earners, its long-term impact on women’s empowerment and poverty reduction was only speculated on. Sustained ethnographic attention or statistical interpretations are almost non-existent. Focusing on Sri Lanka’s former global factory workers who are now subcontracting for larger FTZ factories, and their robust subversions within and against global capitalist production networks, this research seeks to investigate how a national association of village subcontractors may be developing into a meaningful economic justice movement. Research brings together and experiments with interdisciplinary theories and methods to invigorate, innovate and extend current scholarship in feminist political economy. By manipulating conceptual continuities and contradictions within Anthropology of Global Assembly Lines, Anthropology of Organizational Process, Economic Sociology, and Geography, the proposed ethnography of village subcontracting and transformative politics will re-imagine feminist approaches to political economy in a way that fully recognizes and celebrates marginalized women’s economic decision-making within capitalist market relations. For such subversions can transform gendered social, economic and cultural spaces opening up myriad possibilities for economic imaginations.
Utilizing ethnographic research methods—participant observation, in-depth interviews, observing association meetings, reviewing minutes, and photo narratives, and virtually following the unfolding politics surrounding the association— the project seeks to ignite theoretical re-imagination of context-specific mechanisms of achieving meaningful economic lives.
Using the Sri Lanka case study, the research will challenge current definitions of grassroots economic justice and introduce and test a new approach that I term ‘measured intervention.’ Providing an array of possibilities for future studies of global capitalism the research advances theoretical and methodological horizons and is conceptually and empirically agenda-setting. The project meets many aims of the ISRF by creating new connections between theoretical, methodological and impact activities and focusing on an issue that has strong implications for poverty reduction and economic justice.
Gift Economies in a Context of Welfare State Crisis: New Infrastructures of Solidarity Between Strangers?
The project seeks to understand a rapidly growing phenomenon: localised gifting practices, both online and face to face, that enable sharing of food, clothes, hygiene products and other goods between strangers in need. At the same time, in a context of austerity, there seems to be a crisis in the underlying politics and ethics of the welfare state, and solidarity within communities seems to be under threat. In order to consider these issues together, this project will break with existing ways to conceptualise gifting practices within social sciences, and frame them instead as experiments in collective welfare, solidarity and care. Drawing inspiration from Titmuss (1970), a study that proposed that welfare states should be underpinned by an understanding of gift economies between strangers, the project will bring these contemporary case studies of gifting into dialogue with debates about how we provide welfare for society at a far wider scale.
The project will involve ethnography and interviews of gifting practices in two disadvantaged areas of the UK (East Kent, and Stoke-on-Trent), in order to understand whether new ‘infrastructures of solidarity’ are emerging. Ethnographic research will focus on the affective, material and interpersonal qualities of these infrastructures, in terms of both potentials and problematics. Interviews will enable the production of narratives about involvement in gifting. Particular attention will be paid to the role of mediators and moderators of gift-giving between strangers, and how far trust and solidarity is generated. Participants’ experiences in these practices will be brought into dialogue with debates about welfare provisioning, through an innovative participatory workshop.
Overall, drawing on interdisciplinary perspectives, the project will open up new ways of thinking about both gifting infrastructures and the future of collective welfare.
Renationalising Finance for Development in the Global South
Following decades of financial liberalisation, the 2008 crisis has resulted in a resurgence of interest in statist industrial policies for climate mitigation and structural transformation amongst policymakers and academics. This is especially so in the area of finance as the benefits of liberalisation and deregulation have come into question, activist policies to direct credit and ‘renationalise’ finance are once again being seen as vital to fixing market failures. Yet little is known about the feasibility of such reforms following over three decades of financial globalisation, which has created a hostile international financial architecture, and strengthened domestic interests opposed to financial interventionism.
This project develops a novel analytical framework to explain the conditions under which previously liberalised developing countries reassert public control over their financial sectors, for the purposes of industrial policy and climate mitigation, despite domestic and external constraints. This is done through comparative case studies of the use of interventionist financial policies including state-owned development banks, interest rate controls, and credit quotas, in Brazil, South Africa, Bolivia, and Ecuador from the 1980s to the 2010s.
By incorporating insights from political science, development studies, and development, international, and post-Keynesian economics, the project contributes to the knowledge on the influence of the financial sector on policymaking, and reconsiders the conclusions of the developmental state and industrial policy literature in light of globalisation. The findings should provide valuable insights not only to scholars working on development and financial reform, but also for policymakers in national governments, international organisations, and development banks.
It fulfils the goals of ISRF through innovative theorisation of the sources of financial sector influence over policymaking, and addressing real world problems of lack of democratic control over national financial policies, and a financial system that hinders rather than helps development, and the limits to reform under globalisation.
Radical Gold: Emergency Resource Extraction and Trade in the Northern Amazon
This research will provide the first in-depth analysis of emergency resource extraction and trade of gold in the context of the humanitarian crisis and the growing ecological degradation in the Northern Amazon. The project will focus specifically on Venezuelan/Brazilian borderlands that increasingly show patterns of extra-legal gold extraction as a way of survival that permeate global commodity chains (e.g. mobile phones, jewellery) (Ebus 2019). The current crisis in Venezuela raises essential questions about the contemporary entanglements of economic crisis, global crime and ecological degradation that concern societies beyond the Latin American region. The proposed research will therefore examine intraregional processes of emergency resource extraction and trade that uncovers existing and emerging extra-legal connections between state actors and criminal actors. It will link the irregular economic reconfigurations with the cultural significance of natural resources for Latin American populations (Sawyer 2004). To disengage persistent binary classifications of legal/illegal and culture/nature in the literature on global crime and resource extraction, I will apply a radical empirical approach (Jackson 1996) that explicitly draws from international political economy, moral theory and cultural ecology. The research will specifically undertake ethnographic fieldwork to engage with the lived experiences of gold extraction and trade in the Venezuelan borderlands. Alongside, I seek to advance the development of a context-sensitive methodology (Van Roekel 2019) that enables fieldwork in high-stakes environments by synthesising lived experiences and structural inequalities from the bottom-up. Through its focus on economic crime and ecological degradation as a result of the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, the research unsheathes real-life problems in the Northern Amazon. The project also matches ISRF goals by gathering new empirical data on emergency resource extraction that will be utilised in the development of a new analytical framework to study the nexus of humanitarian crisis, global crime and ecological degradation in contemporary societies.
Making All Work Pay: Just Wage Regulation
Why, if at all, are wage guarantees, including direct minimum wage legislation, justified? The most commonly cited reason is that they guarantee a minimally sufficient income, which serves to meet people’s basic needs. But there may be other ways of achieving these aims: unconditional basic incomes, tax credits, and states topping up low wages. Are there more intrinsic, direct reasons to want guaranteed wage floors? Such reasons might pertain to what minimum wages do to, and say about, the quality of employer-employee-relationships; and/or what they express about how society in general values the productive contribution of those at the lower end of the pay scale – the recognition they receive for what they do. Do minimum wages plausibly express such recognition? And if so, is this just a contingent socio-psychological fact that could be changed?
This research project in political philosophy addresses the justification of wage regulation, with a focus on minimum wage guarantees. There is very little research in political philosophy on this pressing real-world problem. This is surprising, and deplorable, as low pay work is widespread in advanced, globally integrated and highly technologically developed societies in recent decades, despite unprecedented, and growing, material abundance.
The project aims to interrogate the special significance of work and its adequate remuneration by integrating political philosophy with relevant literature in comparative political science and political economy on low wage regulation, and social psychology and public health studies on the effect of low pay. Its substantive hypothesis is that adequate minimum wage guarantees are a requirement of social justice both because they express social recognition of work and because they are necessary (albeit not sufficient) for combating domination at work.
This meets the ISRF’s key objective of delivering innovative, interdisciplinary research that responds to some of the most pressing social challenges of today.
If you would like to contact any of our Grantees to discuss their ISRF-funded work, please contact Dr Lars Cornelissen (Academic Editor) in the first instance, at [email protected].