book review

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Book Review: The Gentrification Plot: New York and the Postindustrial Crime Novel by Thomas Heise

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 30/09/2022 - 10:00pm in

In The Gentrification Plot: New York and the Postindustrial Crime NovelThomas Heise investigates gentrification in New York City through the lens of crime fiction. Offering a street-level perspective of the impact of urban renewal projects, this book provides precious insight into contemporary socio-spatial transformations, writes Francesca Cocchiara.

The Gentrification Plot: New York and the Postindustrial Crime Novel. Thomas Heise. Columbia University Press. 2022.

Find this book (affiliate link):amazon-logo

In the last decades, within the transformations of the post-industrial city, gentrification has been a recurrent topic of discussion to the point that, by now, the process is perceived as part of the inevitable fall-and-rise of neighbourhoods. In The Gentrification Plot, Thomas Heise brings in a new perspective by investigating the phenomenon of gentrification in New York City through the lenses of crime novels to trace its true causes. The use of the word ‘plot’ in the title makes a smart hook with literature, using plot as both a parcel of land and a storyline in a novel to suggest that gentrification is itself a story characterised by spaces and events.

One of the advertised benefits of neighbourhood renovation is more efficient management of urban space, especially with regards to safety. In fact, control of crime rates was the banner of the mayoral administrations of Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg between 1990 and the 2010s, leading to the massive re-zoning, demolition and rebuilding of New York. Has this crime crash influenced contemporary New York crime fiction? Heise asks this question because he trusts that literature is a mirror for socio-spatial transformation. Crime fiction takes place in urban environments and unfolds the evolution of the post-industrial city through ever-changing neighbourhoods; the ways this genre has developed might therefore inform us of the issues of the cities we live in.

The Gentrification Plot analyses five iconic New York neighbourhoods through contemporary crime novels that problematise the real process of ongoing gentrification in parts of the city. Most importantly, in these stories, gentrification is the crime. The selected fictions are: Lush Life by Richard Price (set in the Lower East Side); the Jack Yu series by Henry Chang (Chinatown); the Jack Leightner series by Gabriel Cohen, Red Hook by Reggie Nadelson and Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda (Red Hook); If I Should Die by Grace Edwards and Bodega Dreams and Chango’s Fire by Ernesto Quiñonez (Harlem); and Restoration Heights by Wil Medearis and Bed-Stuy Is Burning by Brian Platzer (Bedford-Stuyvesant).

‘These poor, working-class, African-American, and ethnic neighbourhoods, long associated with high rates of crime, blocks of abandoned buildings, blight, and intractable poverty, have been so fundamentally altered that they are nearly unrecognizable to many’ (10). The Lower East Side, Chinatown, Red Hook, Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant have all witnessed gentrification, profoundly changing the architecture and the demographics of the place. From being isolated, racialised and often redlined districts to becoming prime locations for corporate new developments within the span of a few decades: why should urban makeover in New York be considered a crime? Through his selection of novels, Heise supports the thesis that sparkling, neoliberal urbanism is shadowed by precarious living conditions, displacement and a dramatic sharpening of the existing social gap.

Cityscape of New York buildings at night behind bridge

Image Credit: Photo by Laurenz Heymann on Unsplash

The Gentrification Plot not only denounces the current effects of gentrification, a critique that has already been discussed in many Western cities, but it also investigates what led to gentrification in the first place, the causes of pre-gentrification blight and why quality-of-life policing took over as a tool for eradicating urban decay.

First off, Heise aims to deconstruct the perception that gentrification is an inevitable process. Drawing from the reflections of artist Martha Rosler, he argues that ‘When discussing “urban change” we would do well to keep asking basic questions, rather than accepting change as natural or inevitable: who benefits and who does not; whose interests are served and whose are not?’ (28).

Rather than inevitable, Heise contends that the gentrification process is intentional: a systematic attempt for a White, upper-middle-class remake through the infusion of private capital into formerly impoverished neighbourhoods. Just as in crime fiction where the detective traces the precursor events of a crime, the pre-gentrification past of New York neighbourhoods is reviewed throughout the chapters of the book. The outcome of Heise’s investigation is a shifted paradigm: the decline of certain areas was caused by the same logic of economic exploitation that later on would mask itself under the glitter of urban renewal.

The chapter whose crime stories best illustrate how capitalist urbanism serves to reaffirm White economic power in historically racialised zones is the one dedicated to Harlem. As the poorer and more violent neighbourhood of New York, Harlem is the result of prolonged policies for Black confinement and impoverishment that held it as a frontier for gentrification until the advent of the new millennium.

The neoliberal profiting started to creep into Harlem when its distinctive local culture became a business opportunity to appeal to new visitors. Through governmental programmes and cultural investment funds, cash began boosting mixed-use real estate programmes and culturally-led revitalisations that would attract tourists and treat current residents as customers. Exploiting the local culture for profit-making cleared the way for the later re-zoning of the central and eastern blocks by mayor Bloomberg in 2003. This is the real background of Edwards’s If I Should Die (1997) and Quiñonez’s Bodega Dreams (2000) and Chango’s Fire (2004), the crime novels of this chapter that offer a Black and Latinx perspective on gentrification.

‘These are novels about ordinary people doing anything to make do, including resorting to crime, in a city where every day it is a little harder to make the rent or the mortgage’ (173). The protagonists of these stories try to endorse neoliberal values of self-empowerment and meritocracy as a way to survive, but self-affirmation is an unattainable myth for them. As gentrification shows, whereas social mobility, meaning the choice to resettle and make profit in the city, is paved for the wealthy class, for Black and Latinx people this only translates into forced geographical displacement. In the novels, a sort of fix for these social crimes is found in what Heise calls ‘radical economic self-sufficiency’: smuggling, setting up criminal enterprises and bribing city officials in the desperate attempt to make a living.

In Harlem’s crime stories, detectives wander through urban ruins and visit poor parts of the neighbourhood, revealing the city’s crimes of disinvestment, racial isolation and urban neglect. Heise spotlights the variegated ambience of crime stories to detect the precursors and signifiers of gentrification in Harlem. From decades of redlining policies, vacant plots and building skeletons are juxtaposed with beauty salons, barber shops and locally owned businesses which are threatened by chain stores, new sleek bars and art galleries that will inexorably replace the local culture by homogenising the urban space and making it amenable to outsiders.

You keep burning a neighborhood down, you keep cutting services. With all the unhappiness, crime will rise. Now you can blame the people who live there for the decay of the neighbourhood. The landlords will sit on the burned buildings, vacant lots, waiting it out, because sooner or later the government will have to declare it an empowered zone and throw money their way (210, quoting Chango’s Fire)

Throughout the book, Heise describes how crime novels narrate the many nuances of local culture with its complexity and contradictions. Conversely, gentrification agents are presented in a more impersonal way. The street-level perspective of gentrification through the lens of urban crime stories is certainly a main point of originality in The Gentrification Plot. The book is a very well documented study that contextualises crime fiction in a wider urban discourse by citing the work of researchers and activists who very often are women and members of minorities, breaking the ubiquitous tendency of male authors to only cite other men. Nonetheless, given that crime stories are essentially about the life of ordinary people at the intimate scale of the neighbourhood, it would have been interesting to present examples of crime fictions – if any – that address community efforts that have been able to resist, delay or reverse gentrification, even if these have not been sufficient to block the process as a whole.

The Gentrification Plot is a highly recommended read for those who are fascinated by New York City as a matter of investigation. Readers who loved the meta-detective stories in The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster, or essay collections like The Lonely City by Olivia Laing particularly for the discourse around Manhattan law-and-order policing of the 2000s, will find in The Gentrification Plot new, precious insights about contemporary socio-spatial transformations.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science. The LSE RB blog may receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase through the above Amazon affiliate link. This is entirely independent of the coverage of the book on LSE Review of Books.

 

Book Review: Doing Economics: What You Should Have Learned in Grad School – But Didn’t by Marc F. Bellemare

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 28/09/2022 - 8:53pm in

In Doing Economics: What You Should Have Learned in Grad School – But Didn’t, Marc F. Bellemare offers a new guide to research economists to help equip them with the practical tools for ‘doing economics’. This book will be an excellent starting point for young students of economics who are thinking of pursuing a career in academia, writes Ritwika Patgiri.

Doing Economics: What You Should Have Learned in Grad School – But Didn’t. Marc F. Bellemare. MIT Press. 2022.

Doing Economics coverFind this book (affiliate link):amazon-logo

In a world hit by COVID-19, precarity has become the norm of the job market. More and more people in academia have started talking about precariousness within the sector. With the continuous pressure to present and publish research papers, win research grants and awards and contribute to academic public goods like peer review, the minimum qualifications required for a non-tenure track job have become milestones in themselves. However, nobody really tells a grad student about what working in academia actually comprises. As I am approaching the final year of my own PhD, the importance of being able to write well as a researcher has never been felt more.

Marc F. Bellemare’s Doing Economics: What You Should Have Learned in Grad School – But Didn’t is an excellent starting point for anyone looking to pursue research, those who have started research but are feeling lost or anyone who has been doing research for some years but needs motivation. The book is especially important for young students of economics who are thinking of pursuing a career in academia but have nobody to tell them about the harsh realities of the profession.

As economics and many adjacent social science disciplines have become more empirical in nature, there are very few guides to tell researchers how to narrate their findings in words. Bellemare writes that it is almost as if there is a ‘substantial hidden curriculum’ when it comes to doing economics (2). This can be extended to academia as a whole. Research has found that along with your publication record and the prestige of your graduate programme, academic networks have an overriding influence on the selection of faculty members (Val Burris 2004; Michael Hadani et al 2012).

Image Credit: Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Like most other professions, academia has its own set of rules: it almost seems like everybody knows them yet nobody really tells them. With the presence of extensive networks and imperfect information, the process of working in academia becomes layered and unequal, and this is particularly the case for people of marginalised caste, class, gender, ethnicity, region and religion. How do you write a good paper? What does it take for your research to be published in a good journal? What should a response letter to peer review look like? How do you present your research? How do you approach funders or get grants? And, finally, how do you make sure your paper is read by the audience that you want?

Doing Economics is divided into eight chapters, each telling researchers and economists how to handle the various steps that one needs to take to be successful in academia, which researchers are otherwise ‘expected to learn on their own’ (39).

The second chapter, ‘Writing Papers’, makes it clear to the reader that every opportunity to write is an opportunity to practise writing well. Bellemare introduces the concept of ‘inspectional reading’. Most of the time graduate students apply this idea to get a summary of the papers needed to complete the required syllabus. Inspectional reading involves reading the introduction, the methodology, the results and the conclusion. Bellemare warns that while inspectional reading is a good way to develop one’s knowledge of the literature, it is no way to write good papers (6).

Bellemare adds in a footnote that the greatest sin an academic writer can commit is the sin of omission, followed by the sin of commission. Leaving important information out of a paper and forcing the reader to rifle through the piece hunting for a specific bit of information are both dangerous writing habits. This chapter lays out the standard structure of a good economics paper, outlining what works and what does not.

The third chapter, ‘Giving Talks’, provides the reader with an idea of the various kinds of talks an academic department can invite you to give. Bellemare focuses on the importance of precisely understanding the norms of the department in which you are presenting your work, including the time allotted and the ground rules for questions asked by the audience. My colleagues from other departments have always talked about keeping the audience focused with good slides that have less text, just including pointers on what you will be discussing. This ‘less is more’ strategy does not always hold in economics, and Bellemare reiterates what I often tell my colleagues in response: that ‘economists tend to be more comfortable with more text on slides as well as with fewer images’ (40). This helps in making the audience understand what is done in the paper and the author spends less time memorising the content! Bellemare emphasises that a talk should be structured just like a paper and that it is important to keep in mind who the audience will be.

The fourth chapter, ‘Navigating Peer Review’, is my favourite chapter from the book. As an early career researcher, publishing is the real quest – the route to all other aspirations. Bellemare makes this clear by emphasising how in economics, articles in peer-reviewed journals are the ‘coin of the realm’ rather than books or chapters in edited volumes (61). The peer review process may not be a perfect system as it can take a long time – reviewers may not have read one’s work properly and editors might not read the reviews closely either. But Bellemare argues that it is the best system available compared to the alternatives and it leads to better scholarship. Peer review as a form of ‘gatekeeping’ is indeed a necessity (62).

Chapter Four then tries to help the reader understand when you are ready to submit your work. Bellemare gives a solution to this – ‘Your paper is ready to be submitted for publication when you keep hearing the same comments about it when presenting, or in conversations with colleagues about it, and those comments are about things you cannot do anything about except acknowledge them in the paper’ (63). The chapter also gives readers an idea about the seasons when researchers should apply and how to decide where to submit. Bellemare includes some great journal submission strategies: for example, when submitting to a field journal, he advises citing articles in that journal and its competitors published in the last five years. This suggests to the editors that your article belongs in that journal and further helps them in finding reviewers.

The fifth chapter ‘Finding Funds’, the sixth chapter ‘Doing Service’ and the seventh chapter ‘Advising Students’ all give another view of what academic life entails, if one is not already familiar with this. It is true that success in academia means different things to different people. There are many pathways to achievement in academia and the book gives readers an understanding of what these various paths could be and how to navigate them.

Doing Economics has been heralded by many on social media as the book that should have been published when they were in grad school. Life in academia is hard in itself; the imperfect information given to young and aspiring entrants to the profession further complicates matters. Doing Economics is an introductory gateway to a world which is highly gated and uncertain.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science. The LSE RB blog may receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase through the above Amazon affiliate link. This is entirely independent of the coverage of the book on LSE Review of Books.

 

Book Review: A Research Agenda for Experimental Economics edited by Ananish Chaudhuri

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 27/09/2022 - 8:28pm in

In A Research Agenda for Experimental Economics, Ananish Chaudhuri brings together researchers in behavioural economics to explore the contribution of decision-making experiments to social science research. This wide-ranging collection will be of value to both newcomers and experts in the field, writes Egor Bronnikov.

A Research Agenda for Experimental Economics. Ananish Chaudhuri (ed.). Edward Elgar. 2021.

Book cover for A Research Agenda for Experimental EconomicsFind this book (affiliate link):amazon-logo

Previously there was a clear difference between behavioural and experimental economics. Historically, the former attempts to insert psychological insights into neoclassical models, whereas the latter tries to adjust natural science methods of testing human economic behaviour in reduced settings. Nowadays, however, these terms are often used as synonyms and are almost interchangeable. Despite some enduring problems, behavioural and experimental economics have had many achievements in understanding phenomena in ways that were impossible in the framework of standard economics. Examples range from daily life (such as overconfidence in one’s use of gym memberships or charitable giving behaviour) to sophisticated advice relevant to national policy (for instance, on labour market discrimination or employee saving).

To share the recent advancements in this field, Ananish Chaudhuri, Professor of Experimental Economics at the University of Auckland, curates a new compendium of wide-ranging topics united by one common theme: behavioural economics. Having already published two well-received books (Experiments in Economics and Behavioural Economics and Experiments), Chaudhuri’s new collection aims to present the state-of-the-art achievements of the field, as introduced by academic experts.

Test tubes in five glass bottles filled with multicoloured liquids

Image by andreas N from Pixabay

The book consists of two parts: the first five chapters provide readers with several topics discussed by economics, broadly defined; the following four chapters present a mosaic of subjects adjacent to ‘pure’ economic research areas.

The first part of the book elaborates on such topics as social norms, stability of preferences, nudging in the context of environmental regulations, entrepreneurial success, and healthcare. If the first two chapters might be a bit demanding for non-economists (the first requires some very basic knowledge of economic modelling and the second is built on understanding of the Coase Theorem), the other four are accessible for a reader without a background in economics. Are there any stable relations between being a successful entrepreneur and risk and competition preferences? Can a natural disaster change risk perception, trust and altruism? What is the mechanism that leads humans to fail in settling disputes and gets them involved in expensive trials? Which environmental regulation policy is the most effective one? Readers curious about the answers to these questions should give this part of the book their attention.

The book’s second section presents a broader perspective on how the methodology of experimental economics can be applied in disciplines ranging from gender studies to neuroscience, political psychology to medicine. Perhaps the most unconventional direction that this part of the book takes is the one presented in Chapter Ten. Written by David L. Dickinson, Professor of Economics at Appalachian State University, this chapter presents an overview of the effects of sleep deprivation on social and economic preferences.

Humans exposed to total sleep deprivation the night before the experiment sessions behaved in a significantly different way compared to well-rested subjects. Subjects with total sleep deprivation exhibited both less risk aversion in the risky gains domain and were less risk-loving in the losses domain. Those with deprived sleep showed an inclination towards more antisocial punishment (punishment directed at those who contribute more than the punishing subjects), a decrease in trust and trustworthiness as well as higher levels of miscoordination. This chapter draws a natural yet impressively detailed conclusion: lack of sleep is detrimental not only to an individual’s health but also to society in general.

Obviously, there is always a trade-off between completeness, the length of a book and accessibility in terms of the detail provided and the time required to read the volume. Written by researchers working in the respective area, each chapter has the same structure: a general introduction to the particular topic, usually with the motivation of demonstrating its practical importance, and a selective rather than comprehensive literature review.

While the first tradeoff — choosing several specific areas within experimental economics — is understandable, the other — preferring eclectic, subjective literature reviews over systematic ones — is more debatable. Of course, one can argue that A Research Agenda for Experimental Economics does not intend to be a handbook, which implies picking papers for the sake of conciseness and readability. However, the book’s approach may still create ambiguity about the grounds for selecting particular papers, and may result in inconclusiveness. It is unclear if this is the effect of the literature itself or the choice of the studies made by the chapters’ authors.

A definite advantage of A Research Agenda for Experimental Economics is its focus on the most recent developments in specific areas within behavioural economics. The contributing authors demonstrate both a high level of professional expertise and genuine passion for the featured topics. Another strength of the book is its attempt not only to discuss the current state of research in particular fields, but also to provide readers with future directions. Each chapter elaborates on possible (and sometimes even desirable) avenues within the discussed topic. Overall, this book is a strong illustration of how broad and absorbing economics is and the importance of multidisciplinarity. Furthermore, there is no path dependence in the collection, so if a reader is interested in a particular topic, they can easily delve into it directly.

A Research Agenda for Experimental Economics sits between being a handbook or textbook and an introduction (in the vein of, for example, Behavioural Economics by Michelle Baddeley). Chaudhuri provides a brief introduction to the principles of contemporary behavioural and experimental economics (discussing the difference between economic and psychological experiments, payment protocols and the validity of external and internal experiments). Yet, the book still requires some acquaintance with economics for readers to fully understand it.

Nevertheless, A Research Agenda for Experimental Economics will be of great interest and value for both newcomers and experts. While the former will discover a diverse universe of experimental approaches in economics and the wider social sciences, its results and applications broadening their scientific horizons, the latter will find an area that can provide a new perspective on well-known problems.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science. The LSE RB blog may receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase through the above Amazon affiliate link. This is entirely independent of the coverage of the book on LSE Review of Books.

 

Book Review: Rivers of Iron: Railroads and Chinese Power in Southeast Asia by David M. Lampton, Selina Ho and Cheng-Chwee Kuik

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 26/09/2022 - 8:41pm in

In Rivers of Iron: Railroads and Chinese Power in Southeast Asia, David M. Lampton, Selina Ho and Cheng-Chwee Kuik explore the allure and challenges of enhancing cross-border connections through a pan-Asian railway as part of a grand Belt and Road Initiative vision. With impressive breadth, this timely and ambitious book reveals how railroad projects are negotiated among actors with diverse interests and stakes in connectivity in both China and Southeast Asian countries, writes Kathrin Reed.

This book review is published by the LSE Southeast Asia blog and LSE Review of Books blog as part of a collaborative series focusing on timely and important social science books from and about Southeast Asia.

Rivers of Iron: Railroads and Chinese Power in Southeast Asia. David M. Lampton, Selina Ho and Cheng-Chwee Kuik. University of California Press. 2020. 

Book cover of Rivers of IronThe Chinese motto ‘if you want to get rich, first build roads’ (要想富, 先修路) highlights the centrality and appeal of large infrastructure projects to the Chinese development approach at home and abroad, especially in neighbouring Southeast Asia. In December 2021, the Chinese and Lao governments inaugurated a flagship component of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a high-speed railroad connecting Yunnan province in China with the borders of Laos and Thailand near the capital of Vientiane. A few weeks earlier, the United Nations General Assembly had approved Laos to graduate from its status as a least developed country in 2026.

On the one hand, this can be conceived of as a monumental achievement for this landlocked country and for narrowing the development gap between mainland and maritime Southeast Asia, a major objective of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). On the other hand, it has involved displacing thousands of local farmers and significantly indebting this small state to China. Therefore, the book Rivers of Iron: Railroads and Chinese Power in Southeast Asia is a timely and ambitious endeavour to make sense of the enduring allure and multifaceted challenges of enhancing cross-border connectivity through a pan-Asian railway and of implementing the grand vision of BRI. The multinational research team conducted interviews and field visits to eight countries across multiple years, involving the participation of over 150 organisations.

Train carriages on railway line, Vietnam

Image Credit: Photo by Jireh Foo on Unsplash

David Lampton, Selina Ho and Cheng Chwee-Kuik reveal how railroad projects are continuously contested and negotiated among actors with diverse interests and stakes in connectivity at the national, sub-national and local levels in both China and Southeast Asian countries. The book touches upon four core areas of social science research: power in asymmetrical relationships; negotiation tactics; the role of domestic politics in shaping foreign policy behaviour; and policy implementation.

The authors provide an agency-centric and process-oriented account of infrastructure development in the region, importantly complicating the conventional narrative of China as a monolithic actor with absolute power vis-à-vis the smaller states in Southeast Asia.

The second chapter traces the history of railroad development in Southeast Asia, as well as in China. In the post-World War II period, the authors emphasise that members of ASEAN were the conductors of the pan-Asian railway dream until rapid socio-economic and technological development in China aligned their interests and sped up the process. Other factors such as global political and financial shocks, decolonisation, support from leadership and a domestic audience and domestic demand for railroads proved as enabling and disabling conditions for railroad development from the nineteenth century onwards. In particular, ministerial leadership in China was decisive in pushing for railroad development at home and abroad in the 2000s.

Yet, the third chapter suggests that exporting the infrastructure vision to Southeast Asia is challenging for a country with decentralised development practices and competing ideas about the role of BRI in foreign policy. In offering a detailed account of the two main societal and expert-level debates on BRI in China, the authors demonstrate the internal contestation of infrastructure development abroad and lack of uniformity in implementing the vision. This is further complicated when taking into account the diverse responses of Southeast Asian states to BRI, considered in the fourth chapter. The varied development levels, domestic political systems and regime legitimation pathways of Southeast Asian states influence China’s capacity to implement large railroad projects.

According to the authors, the interplay of these variables has produced divergent responses in the examined case studies: selective and flexible engagement (Thailand); receptive engagement (Malaysia); limited involvement (Vietnam); and enthusiastic but gradual embrace (Laos). This is the context in which China and smaller Southeast Asian states are negotiating, which is explored in the fifth chapter. Engaging with the growing literature on the agency of smaller states, the authors address the role of power asymmetry beyond the security realm. Notably, the bargaining power of smaller states is based on relative size and wealth, geographic location, state capacity and public opinion in the domestic realm.

Given the aligned interests on infrastructure development between China and its Southern neighbors, the Chinese government is implementing a strategy of expressive hierarchy whereby it exercises restraint in negotiations.

As the sixth chapter argues, this bargaining process continues during the implementation phases, in which local actors and interests take centre stage and risk delaying or even derailing projects. The initial stage of land acquisition and clearance proves especially difficult due to the impact of domestic politics in Southeast Asia and the lack of experience with private land on the part of Chinese actors. Since 2014, the Chinese government additionally has contended with geopolitical competition in infrastructure development, which is presented in the seventh chapter. With its focus on quality infrastructure and the local economy, Japan has particularly emerged as an alternative player in railroad development. Nevertheless, the leverage that Southeast Asian states gain through alternative partners depends on the specific terms that they can offer and the willingness of China to learn from its past mistakes in the region.

The concluding chapter highlights the contingent nature of BRI for domestic politics and development in China and implores the US government to consider the role of infrastructure in its own development and foreign policy, advocating for a ‘balanced connectivity’ approach that does not focus on China. It importantly reminds us that strategic economic and political competition is taking place amongst Southeast Asian countries and not just between the great powers. Given the focus on the smaller states, this observation would have been interesting to explore earlier  in the book, especially since it adds a critical layer of complexity to negotiating a pan-Asian railroad with multiple countries. Nevertheless, this may fall outside the scope of the book as it would move the conversation beyond the link between domestic politics and foreign policy.

Overall, the interplay between China exercising restraint and smaller states exerting their agency could have been addressed more deeply. The idea that smaller states are not helpless even in asymmetrical power relations, such as between China and Southeast Asian states, is not new. How much space for exerting their agency do smaller states have in China’s expressive hierarchy? How much of this space is a result of structural conditions rather than a function of agency? In this regard, the discussion could have been linked to the literature on railroad negotiations in Southeast Asia, such as Yoon Ah Oh’s article on bargaining.

There is a clear trade-off between examining the general drivers and challenges of connectivity through BRI and in-depth analysis of the railroad negotiation case studies in Southeast Asia. For example, it would have been informative to provide a more detailed example of a Chinese debate on a specific railroad project in Southeast Asia in the third chapter. Moreover, with the exception of the second chapter, little attention is paid to contemporary debates within ASEAN on the pan-Asian railroad or to how membership in ASEAN or other sub-regional organisations such as the Greater Mekong Sub-region may impact how smaller states are negotiating with China on infrastructure projects.

However, these are questions that arise from the impressive breadth and value-added nature of the book and can be further explored in future publications on this pivotal topic. The heightened competition on infrastructure development in Southeast Asia is especially visible in Phnom Penh, where signs from the Chinese, Japanese, and now also increasingly the South Korean, governments abound.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, the LSE Southeast Asia blog or of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

 

Book Review: Tigers are our Brothers: Anthropology of Wildlife Conservation in Northeast India by Ambika Aiyadurai

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/09/2022 - 8:31pm in

In Tigers are our Brothers: Anthropology of Wildlife Conservation in Northeast IndiaAmbika Aiyadurai offers an ethnographic study of wildlife conservation in Northeast India, examining the relationship between tigers, the Idu Mishmi and conservation actors. Writing about the region with care, this book will be an important starting point for future research by conservationists and social scientists on identity construction through biodiversity conservation, writes Dixita Deka.

Tigers are our Brothers: Anthropology of Wildlife Conservation in Northeast India. Ambika Aiyadurai. Oxford University Press. 2021.

Tigers are Our Brothers coverFind this book (affiliate link):amazon-logo

Most of the research on wildlife conservation ideally involves ‘the story of a charismatic species, the ‘‘new discovery’’ of a species, news about undocumented landscapes, and the use of high technology in studying wildlife’ (170). In Tigers are our Brothers, Ambika Aiyadurai offers the other side of wildlife conservation, its human side, at Dibang Valley district in the Northeast Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. Having trained in wildlife biology before becoming an anthropologist, Aiyadurai points out that ‘science-based conservation practice does not acknowledge social issues, such as local needs, social inequality, and power relations’ (168).

As home to the Idu Mishmi tribe (a sub-group within the Mishmis), Dibang Valley is considered to be one among the 36 global biodiversity hotspots in the world. Tigers are our Brothers illustrates the conversations, connections, conflicts and negotiations between the Mishmis and conservation actors. Out of the many thoughtful themes that come out of this book, I discuss three here that would appeal to anyone interested in reading about or researching the region. These are the processes of undertaking fieldwork in Northeast India around issues of conservation; of unveiling a rich ethnography of the Idu Mishmis; and of pursuing identity preservation and development discourse through the politics of wildlife conservation.

Aiyadurai delivers a detailed description of her entry into Dibang Valley. She does not refrain from explaining the challenges of doing fieldwork as a lone female researcher, of not being taken seriously initially. Without a survey form, which was otherwise common with the wildlife conservationists visiting the valley, Aiyadurai’s expertise as a researcher was also questioned. She left it to time, engagement with the community and their non-native common link language, Hindi, to shape the course of her fieldwork.

While aware of her privileges, Aiyadurai acknowledges how fieldwork should not be done. She states that ‘the ‘‘fixation’’ with sample size made the fieldwork look like a ‘‘sampling’’ race to meet as many people as possible at the expense of the quality of the information, thereby treating people like data suppliers’ (29). This aligns with the perspective of wildlife biologists who lament the ‘data’ denied to them by the Mishmis (150). They were looked upon with suspicion as the community was never informed of the research based on the fieldwork that they had facilitated. It is extremely heartening to read Aiyadurai making return trips to her field site and the community taking pride in her work, being open to her as one of them rather than being treated as a guest or a stranger.

Tiger in Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan, India

Image Credit: Photo by Kartikeya Srivastava on Unsplash

Aiyadurai begins by narrating how the rescue of four tiger cubs after the reported killing of their mother had made Dibang Valley the centre for research students, wildlife biologists and the conservation community who sought to map the tiger habitat and assess the tiger population (5). By the tigers being their brothers, the Mishmis marked the kinship that they shared with the tigers, highlighting that they would kill a tiger as a last resort and only when it was a threat to human life, cattle and property.

There were contestations regarding the pros and cons of turning the Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary into Dibang Tiger Reserve. While some defended it in the hope for ‘development’ through tourism and livelihood options, others opposed it for it might result in confiscation of land by the state, leading to development-induced displacement. What was being ‘written’ by the wildlife biologists thus mattered to the community. Aiyadurai succinctly states: ‘Any open discussion with the local residents may bring up uncomfortable questions about conservation and may possibly destabilize the long-held views of the conservation philosophy of ‘‘protectionism’’’ (171).

Tigers are our Brothers offers a detailed description of the precarious lives of the Mishmis as a borderland community. On the one hand, they are suspected of being allies of China; on the other hand, their skills and knowledge made them good guides and porters for the Indian security forces. Aiyadurai also highlights British writings that shaped perceptions of the Mishmi identity in both positive and negative lights. The book is nostalgia for anyone who has witnessed the display of traditional weapons and animal skulls, horns, legs, ivories or skin in their ancestral or village homes across Northeast India. These material cultures form a big part of one’s history, identity, privileges and memories where the cultural practices of the communities consider them legitimate and part of their being. This also speaks a lot to Indigenous ways of life as set against what is considered lawfully right.

The book also contains a very interesting account of hunting as a gendered practice of the community. It illustrates the connections of women to wildlife, not just the men to hunting, conservation or development. For instance, menstruating women cannot brew the local beer, touch the hunting kit or serve water or tea to the hunters when they return. In fact, hunting is avoided when one’s wife is menstruating (64). Women also cannot cook wild animals or touch the displayed animal skulls, which can only be cleaned by the men.

Aiyadurai mentions the social contract of the hunters and the spirits. She elaborates on the close relationship of the Indigenous community with the forests. For a curious reader, it would be interesting to know if she had ever accompanied or tried to accompany a hunting expedition. She was apparently considered an ‘outsider’ yet was offered wild animal meat that otherwise was not consumed by the women of the community. Were there other such instances in the field where the author, as the ‘lone female researcher’ as she was perceived, felt liberated or suppressed?

Initially, as a reader, I felt the tiger story came far too late in the book. However, the author gives enough context for understanding the human-nature relations through the narratives of Indigenous people and conservationists, where the latter claims a separation of human activities from nature. While the author in no way romanticises hunting, she explains conservation politics from the perspectives of the state, environmentalists, villagers and Indigenous Mishmi elites.

While the government facilitated lists of rare and endangered animals to receive the highest levels of ‘funding, protection, and visibility for research’ (120), the Mishmis have also claimed an ‘ecological identity’ for the community. This has emerged from the global environmental discourse on biodiversity conservation and recurring land conflicts (106). According to Aiyadurai, reclaiming an ecological identity by the Mishmis is a conscious effort to show that the community is sensitive to wildlife. For instance, the mithun, which is a domesticated and culturally valued animal of the Mishmis, was dropped from the logo of the Idu Mishmi Cultural and Literary Society (IMCLS) alongside the takin, which is a wild and vulnerable animal (113). For the Mishmis, dropping the mithun from the logo was important to erase the community’s involvement in the ceremonial sacrifices of the animal at a time when the region has a huge presence of wildlife NGOs. This selective conservation of the wild and the rare marks the use of animal symbols to create an ‘ecological identity’, just like recognising particular species as national/state animals globally.

Tigers are our Brothers may serve as an important starting point for future research on identity construction through biodiversity conservation, whereby specific animals are positioned as the centre of politics. This book is an incredible effort in writing about the region of Northeast India with care, and will surely be useful for conservationists and social scientists working across disciplines in our current times.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science. The LSE RB blog may receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase through the above Amazon affiliate link. This is entirely independent of the coverage of the book on LSE Review of Books.

 

Book Review: Global Shareholder Stewardship edited by Dionysia Katelouzou and Dan W. Puchniak

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 21/09/2022 - 9:01pm in

In Global Shareholder Stewardship, editors Dionysia Katelouzou and Dan W. Puchniak bring together contributors to explore the complex state of global shareholder stewardship and its future prospects. This extensive collection is invaluable given the current cultural transformations to corporate governance, writes Irina Bevza.

Global Shareholder Stewardship. Dionysia Katelouzou and Dan W. Puchniak (eds). Cambridge University Press. 2022.

Find this book (affiliate link):amazon-logo

Global Shareholder Stewardship coverGlobal Shareholder Stewardship, edited by Dionysia Katelouzou and Dan W. Puchniak, provides an in-depth analysis of the shareholder engagement framework at international and regional levels. The book explains the complex state of global shareholder stewardship and discusses its prospects.

Shareholder stewardship largely refers to how institutional investors manage capital to generate long-term value for beneficiaries and other stakeholders. Shareholder stewardship saw a rise in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis after the UK released the world’s first stewardship code in 2010. This defined stewardship as ‘the responsible allocation, management and oversight of capital to create long-term value for clients and beneficiaries leading to sustainable benefits for the economy, the environment and society’. However, in Global Shareholder Stewardship, Katelouzou and Puchniak dissuade readers from the idea that the shareholder stewardship codes that followed at international and regional levels adopted the philosophy of the UK code.

In fact, due to region and jurisdiction-specific factors, global stewardship is far more complex than it appears. Moreover, it serves various functions ‘which would have never been anticipated by the original drafter of the UK Stewardship Code’ (5). For example, government bodies might develop stewardship codes to demonstrate their jurisdiction adheres to global norms of good corporate governance. At the same time, institutional investors might create a code to promote self-regulation and avoid being regulated by the government.

A more notable difference, however, is the lax enforcement of stewardship codes globally: none of the jurisdictions that have adopted a UK-style code has followed the UK’s model of enforcement. In contrast, stewardship codes were made voluntary in scope. One stark example is Kenya, where a government-issued stewardship code has zero signatories, as discussed in the chapter by Austin Ouko.

Person with watering can watering a plant made of money

Image Credit: Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

The collection’s empirical research presents mixed evidence of the impact of stewardship engagement by institutional investors on corporate performance. Moreover, in the chapter ‘Investment Management, Stewardship and Corporate Governance Roles’, Roger J. Barker and Iris H.-Y. Chiu suggest that ‘the reliance of shareholders ‘‘to do the right thing’’ in monitoring the corporate economy for the common good is […] a lofty ambition, and one that institutional investors have not quite lived up to, and may not be well placed to fulfil’ (530).

The UK Stewardship Code (revised in 2020) and the Shareholders Rights Directive (EU) 2017/828 require that the investment management industry engages in corporate governance as part of good stewardship. However, business incentives and existing business models can impact the effectiveness of their engagement. Existing literature offers a variety of reasons why investment managers might be disincentivised from investing resources in stewardship. These reasons include excessive trading of securities in the portfolio to generate transaction charges by active investment strategies (where a portfolio manager runs a more concentrated portfolio and targets to outperform the benchmark market index); and disengagement from the real economy in passive strategies (where a portfolio manager tracks the benchmark market index).

Moreover, some fund beneficiaries might not be interested in the long-term wellbeing of investee companies either. For instance, defined benefit pension funds have defined liabilities and will target liability-driven strategies that might be short-termist and not adhere to a long-term good stewardship perspective. However, Barker and Chiu point out that UK and EU regulators only began to grapple with numerous obstacles to investment management’s productive engagement with investee companies to improve corporate governance. Nevertheless, they stress that ‘perhaps ‘‘stewardship’’ can be the starting point for cultural adjustment on the part of the investment management industry as it considers how its structures, incentives, business models and governance affect the ultimate saver’ (548).

In the UK, the government contributes to pension investments through provision of a tax credit, which makes it a significant financial investor in the market. In ‘The Market for Stewardship and the Role of the Government’, Katelouzou and Eve Micheler suggest that the UK government should tailor tax credits to investments that are stewardship active. The UK government oversees financial service providers and is a significant economic contributor to the financial services industry – pension schemes represent 90 per cent of revenues of investment consultants and fiduciary managers. So, if the government makes a financial contribution to investment, it is entitled to know how investment and stewardship decisions for pensions are taken. The authors conclude: ‘like all other beneficiaries of and contributors to the market, the government should act as a steward in relation to its own investment’ (87).

The environmental, social and governance (ESG) trend has gathered political attention and become embedded in business models for an increasing number of institutional investors. Katelouzou and Puchniak note that a focus on ESG considerations in investment management has motivated the adoption of stewardship codes. However, there has been lax enforcement, along with a regulatory design that assumes that institutional shareholders hold the majority of shares across listed companies (while most of the institutional investors are minority shareholders). They conclude that these ‘undercut the ability [of shareholder stewardship] to solve most firm-specific or systematic corporate governance problems in most jurisdictions around the world. However, the rise of ESG as a recent focal point of stewardship appears to present a hopeful possibility for its future’ (36).

Since 2010, policymakers, private-standard setters, corporate stakeholders and institutional investors have increasingly adopted the shareholder stewardship concept and embedded it in their practices. Yet, as this book demonstrates, the development of global stewardship has proved to be much more complicated than anticipated. Katelouzou and Puchniak have given readers a collection that explores previously unknown complexities of the global stewardship movement. This extensive work will be invaluable amid the cultural transformation that the corporate governance field is undergoing.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science. The LSE RB blog may receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase through the above Amazon affiliate link. This is entirely independent of the coverage of the book on LSE Review of Books.

 

Impermanent Resident

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 20/09/2022 - 11:05pm in

The purgatory of America’s broken visa system.

Book Review: Environmentalism and Global International Society by Robert Falkner

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 20/09/2022 - 8:55pm in

In Environmentalism and Global International SocietyRobert Falkner explains how environmentalism has transformed from being largely a fringe social movement to a primary institution within global society. As societal circumstances change, academics and policymakers can use this book to better understand how social relations influence environmentalism and extend its insights into improving global environmental conditions, writes Dan Ziebarth

If you are interested in this book review, you can read a recent LSE Research for the World article by Professor Robert Falkner on the role of great powers in the international politics of climate change. 

Environmentalism and Global International Society. Robert Falkner. Cambridge University Press. 2021.

Environmentalism and Global International Society coverFind this book (affiliate link):amazon-logo

You don’t have to be a scientist to be aware that climate change has become an increasingly prominent global issue, and consequently a central focus of global social and political concerns. Changing climate conditions across the world have led scholars in a range of academic disciplines to place greater emphasis on the relationship between climate change and humanity. In Environmentalism and Global International Society, Robert Falkner seeks to explain how, and why, environmentalism has gone from being largely a fringe social movement to becoming a primary institution within global society.

The book is divided into three main sections. The first part involves the theoretical background. The second is the lengthiest and covers the historical development of environmentalism through a global view. The third section presents analytical perspectives on how the theoretical background may be applied to future global environmental governance.

The focal point of the book is the spread of environmentalism as an international norm and how this change has been the result of interactions between state and non-state actors. The theoretical background is grounded in the ‘English School’ of International Relations, which focuses largely on how ideas and norms influence global society, as opposed to simply material power. Within the English School, there is distinction between the international system, which is the process of contact between two or more states impacting one another’s decisions; international society, when states share a common set of rules; and world society, whereby non-state actors interact with and alongside state actors (Hedley Bull, 1977). From this perspective, social structures and international institutions are particularly important for how we understand the rise of global environmentalism.

Another central aspect of the English School approach is the differentiation between primary and secondary institutions. Introduced by Barry Buzan (2004), this distinction separates primary institutions – those which involve deep and durable social practices viewed as legitimate behaviour in international society, such as sovereignty and territoriality – from secondary institutions, which by contrast are typically intergovernmental arrangements established by states, such as the United Nations or the World Bank (Buzan and George Lawson, 2018).

Image Credit: Photo by Photo Boards on Unsplash

In the book, Falkner regularly discusses this distinction in relation to the spread of international norms regarding environmentalism. Falkner argues that environmentalism is not merely a trendy buzzword but has become a fundamental principle in international affairs. This suggests that global environmental politics holds international legitimacy, and that this legitimacy has created a new relationship between environmentalism and International Relations.

This is particularly applicable to the normative order of international society, where the rise of environmental stewardship has been an important case of norm transfer from world society to international society. This process began in domestic and transnational debates during the nineteenth century. The hardening of environmental stewardship began following the rise of the modern environmental movement, starting in the 1960s, and has since been adopted as a fundamental norm.

The book also uses the conceptual dyads of pluralism and solidarism, and international society and world society, taken from the English School, to outline four ideal types of global green order: Green Westphalia; eco-localism; global environmental governance; and eco-globalism.

Green Westphalia represents the pluralism-international society ideal type, which is a state-centric international order with decentralised decision-making, low levels of international cooperation and high levels of value diversity. Eco-localism represents the pluralism-world society ideal type, whereby there would be greater normative convergence and more cooperation among states. Global environmental governance represents the solidarism-international society ideal type, in which there would be greater decentralisation and high levels of value diversity like Green Westphalia, but local communities would be the main vehicles through which environmental aims are met. Finally, eco-globalism represents the solidarism-world society ideal type, where individual and society groups are able to pursue a common set of environmental values as opposed to a state-centric process.

Falkner presents a thorough, insightful and well-informed history of environmental movements, or at times simply attempts at environmental movements, through a global point of view. Falkner’s work is particularly impressive in its ability to trace the early origins of disparate efforts to improve environmental conditions, both within different countries as well as among international and transnational actors, and collect them into a cohesive story which shows the interconnections between many of these events and actors.

Falkner seamlessly weaves together the interactions between domestic environmental advocacy groups, domestic political institutions and international organisations, and how these interactions changed over the course of two centuries to reshape global environmentalism. It should come as no surprise here that the longest section of the book is focused on history. This proves to be the heart of the work and is particularly interesting and engaging.

Environmentalism and Global International Society will be particularly useful for scholars firmly embedded in the English School of IR literature and debates surrounding how to further extend this school of thought into issues of global environmentalism. As Falkner notes, early English School work largely neglected environmentalism, and this book presents a thorough account of how environmentalism became an established international norm. In addition, Falkner’s novel presentation of four ideal types of global green order will likely serve as a meaningful starting point for future work among scholars and policymakers when considering transnational environmental goals. Connecting different pluralist and solidarist perspectives on long-term aims in environmentalism is a key part of Falkner’s theory, and this will likely be a significant aspect of how English School scholars in particular consider international environmental norms.

While Falkner provides a detailed history and convincing account of the spread of environmentalism as an international norm, critics may call into question whether the spread of these norms has actually been as consequential as presented in the book. Even those who agree that environmentalism has become a salient international norm that has established itself in global affairs in recent decades could question the extent to which this has created sufficient action by state and non-state actors. While environmentalism may now be a fundamental principle in international affairs, determining whether this has translated into actions defending environmental principles in practice on a global scale will need to be the terrain of future work.

Moreover, while the book deftly presents theoretical considerations, further research will need to build on this text to put forth more testable hypotheses. Many issues and institutions presented in the book ‘overlap’ and affect one another. While this honestly reflects the multipolar nature of international politics, it sometimes means readers may be left unclear as to whether any true causes and effects can be gleaned from our understanding of the rise of international environmental norms.

Overall, Environmentalism and Global International Society is a welcome addition to the study of environmentalism in international politics and should become an important read for those seeking to gain a greater understanding of the history of global environmentalism and the English School of International Relations. This work can serve as a starting point for scholars of global environmental politics, as well as researchers of IR and international law more broadly, to comprehend the development of norms and institutions regarding environmentalism. As societal circumstances change, academics and policymakers should use this book to better understand how social relations influence the concept of environmentalism and extend its insights to new challenges in improving global environmental conditions.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science. The LSE RB blog may receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase through the above Amazon affiliate link. This is entirely independent of the coverage of the book on LSE Review of Books.

 

Celtic Twilight

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 19/09/2022 - 11:05pm in

Two new books evoke a rural Ireland of Arcadian memory and grim reality.

Book Review: Millicent Garrett Fawcett: Selected Writings edited by Melissa Terras and Elizabeth Crawford

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 16/09/2022 - 9:04pm in

In Millicent Garrett Fawcett available open access from UCL Press – Melissa Terras and Elizabeth Crawford offer a new collection of writings by the seasoned organiser, lobbyist and public speaker who campaigned for women’s suffrage. Contemporary feminists will take inspiration from the book’s evidence of the formidable fortitude, optimism, determination and generous spirit of activists like Fawcett, writes Sharon Crozier-De Rosa.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett: Selected Writings. Melissa Terras and Elizabeth Crawford (eds). UCL Press. 2022.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett coverIn 1918, the Representation of the People Act granted the vote to women over the age of 30 who met a property qualification. This reform was the result of five decades of sustained feminist campaigning. A woman who was active through all of those years was Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847-1929). From the onset of the women’s suffrage movement, she was a relentless and seemingly tireless organiser, lobbyist and public speaker. In its later years, she spearheaded it through her role as president of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS, established 1897), an umbrella organisation for regional societies devoted to achieving women’s enfranchisement. It is reported that, by 1914, the NUWSS had over 500 branches and 100,000 members. However, despite evidence of the sheer breadth of her devotion to the cause, Fawcett’s name has been eclipsed in the public memory by her more provocative peer, militant suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928).

This collection of a selection of Fawcett’s writings, edited by Melissa Terras and Elizabeth Crawford, gives voice to an often overlooked seasoned political campaigner. In beautiful detail – captured in wonderful introductions to, and extensive endnotes for, each of the 55 chapters – the editors contextualise the social, political, literary and religious spaces that Fawcett moved through and which informed her worldview. At times, in the introductions for instance, the editors quote an elderly Fawcett looking back on the words of her younger self to great effect.

Image Credit: Crop of ‘Portrait of Millicent Garrett Fawcett, c1910 in Mary Lowndes Album 2ASL/11/02b’, LSE Library. No known copyright restrictions.

It is difficult to communicate a sense of the richness of this contextualisation, but let me try with one random example. In relation to a reference to hairdressing in Fawcett’s 1875 novel, Janet Doncaster, the editors explain that this referred to a speech given by women’s rights activist Emily Faithful (1835-95) in which she revealed that hairdressing had become a new occupation for women given that female hair-cutters now joined male barbers in London’s West End (endnote 6, page 91). (Did you even know that Fawcett wrote a novel, albeit one that renowned early chronicler of British women’s suffrage Ray Strachey (1887-1940) said was ‘not written with the skill of a great novelist’ (85)?) Such a dedication to researching all elements of the suffragist’s writing, even seemingly inconsequential details, renders Fawcett and her world more vivid, intimate and alive.

This is a very good thing because, as you might expect given that Fawcett was promulgating the same arguments for 50 years, many of her texts are repetitive and sometimes heavy-going. Still, such a characterisation does enforce for the reader just how enduring the suffrage campaign was, and it builds up a picture of the stamina required to see it out to the end.

The selection of Fawcett’s writings contained here demonstrate the diversity of her audiences and shows how skilled she was at crafting her addresses to appeal specifically to them. For example, Chapter 19 details a report of an invited speech which Fawcett presented to a Conservative London gentlemen’s club in 1897. At that time, she was only proposing legislative reform that would have seen approximately one million women added to an existing male electorate of about six million. Through adopting a humorous, almost self-deprecating approach to the radical reform that she and her peers were trying to push through, she reportedly diffused what she imagined were her listeners’ fears. You are not going to be out-voted by ‘a horde and rabble of women’, she claimed. ‘There really was nothing so very terrible after all – even to the most timid of the stronger sex – (laughter) – in the thought that for every six men there was one woman who was entitled to vote’ (181). Her subtlety and intelligent discursive manoeuvring may come across as tame or perhaps unexciting and unradical to a post-suffrage audience whose contact with the history of British suffragism has been saturated with the ‘Deeds not Words’ of the militant suffragists.

The collection demonstrates the extent of Fawcett’s interests – ranging from suffrage to child employment to the so-called white slave trade to war and patriotism (where she had much in common with her militant counterparts, the Pankhursts being renowned for their jingoism). Intriguingly, there are also 20 ‘Picturing Fawcett’ inclusions containing photographs and paintings of her, from lecturer to wife to garden party attendee. For those of you who are fans of Pre-Raphaelite art (like me), you may be surprised (like me) to discover that Ford Maddox Brown (1821-93), in his signature style, painted a portrait of Millicent and her husband Henry Fawcett (1872). This was commissioned by their friend, liberal politician Sir Charles Dilke (1843-1911), and such was his affection for the couple, it hung in his home until his death (58-60).

Image Credit: ‘Portrait of Henry and Millicent Fawcett 2ASL/11/02a’, LSE Library. No known copyright restrictions.  

In 1918, shortly after the passing of the Representation of the People Act, Fawcett reflected: ‘I most devoutly believe that the Suffrage movement, all through its fifty years’ existence as practical politics, has made continuous and fairly rapid progress’. Admitting there were some disappointments, like the defeat of the Conciliation Bill that would have seen women enfranchised in 1912, she added: ‘those of us whose disposition and training led us to take long views never doubted for a moment that ultimate success was certain […] Looking back over the last fifty years’ work for women, I can truly say it has been a joyful and exhilarating time: punctuated by victory after victory’ (356).

Today, we variously watch on, mobilise, campaign for and protest as women’s rights are won and lost. The ‘Marea Verde’ (‘Green Wave’) movement has recently resulted in the decriminalisation of abortion in places like Argentina and Colombia. However, in 2022, 50 years after the Roe v. Wade judgment (1973) which ruled that the US Constitution protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction, the US Supreme Court overturned that historic decision.

In 1918, Fawcett wrote: ‘I can only hope that that those who are beginning their work now may have as joyful a fifty years before them as I and many dearly loved colleagues have to look back upon’ (356). Feminists around the world are still fighting for women’s and gender rights. There is much need among contemporary feminists for inspiration from this book’s evidence of the formidable fortitude, optimism, determination and generous spirit of activists like Millicent Garrett Fawcett. For students and scholars of English social and political life, the broader history of women’s rights globally or even those who simply wish to appreciate the pace of a different time, this book is a must read (and it is accessible as a free open access PDF!).

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science. 

 

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