Politics

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Risks and opportunities for conflict transformation
Maéva Clément, Anna Geis, and Hanna Pfeifer

Many contemporary violent conflicts involve armed non-state actors (ANSAs) as conflict parties. Governments are often hesitant to enter informal talks and negotiations with ANSAs, and yet in many violent conflicts such ‘talks’ are initiated at some point. Engaging with ANSAs is considered risky. Talking and negotiating usually imply gradual steps of recognising and legitimising the counterpart. In successful cases, ANSAs can be transformed into non-violent political parties and their legitimate goals eventually become incorporated into state policy. But recognition can also backfire by creating counterproductive precedents and new modes of exclusion in politics. In unsuccessful cases, armed non-state actors might escalate the violent struggle. At the same time, mis-recognition, which individuals or collective actors experience as humiliation, disrespect or false representations of their identity, can be seen as a major cause of political resistance and escalation.

By conceptualising the (mis-/non-)recognition of ANSAs, pointing to potential ambivalences and addressing its meaning for conflict transformation, the introductory chapter provides the broader analytical frame and contextualisation for the edited volume. It links the concept of recognition as developed in international political theory to research on ANSAs in peace and conflict studies. What forms of (non-/mis-)recognition of armed non-state actors occur in violent conflicts? Which risks and opportunities arise in processes of conflict transformation when state actors recognise armed non-state actors or, conversely, deny them recognition? The theoretical-conceptual considerations presented here draw on examples from the case studies as discussed in the individual contributions to the volume.

in Armed non-state actors and the politics of recognition
Hanna Pfeifer

Lebanese Hezbollah is arguably the most powerful armed non-state actor currently active. Founded as an Islamic resistance movement against Israeli occupation in the 1970s and 1980s, Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organisation by several Western states and, since 2016, by the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council. Since 2015, it is known to have been involved in several armed conflicts in the Middle East, most importantly as a supporter of the Assad regime in the Syrian civil war, but also as a provider of military training for resistance groups in Iraq and Yemen.

At the same time, however, Hezbollah representatives have been part of all Lebanese governments since 2011 and they occupy a number of seats in Parliament. Finally, Hezbollah is also a very active provider of social and welfare services in the Lebanese South and the Beqaa.

For all of the roles it takes, Hezbollah has often been described as a hybrid organisation, which escapes established typologies of both Islamism and terrorism. The chapter, based on the author’s field research in Lebanon, seeks to explore and map the variety of recognition practices that revolve around Hezbollah. It analyses what kind of recognition Hezbollah seeks from different audiences, among them the Lebanese and transnational Shiite community, the Lebanese people, competing political parties in Lebanon, and Western and Middle Eastern states, as well as international organisations. It traces how recognition-granters react to Hezbollah’s claims and what consequences these parallel processes of recognition, non-recognition and mis-recognition have on inner-Lebanese and regional conflict dynamics.

in Armed non-state actors and the politics of recognition
The case of the Islamic State
Tom Kaden and Christoph Günther

The purpose of this chapter is to analyse the ways in which the Islamic State generates and upholds its message through what are termed recognition orders, that is, complex sets of recognition by various actors for various traits and reasons, as well as complex sets of claims for recognition towards various actors as to what is to be recognised about the Islamic State in which way. This means that any act of recognition, non- or mis-recognition is part of a social relationship between those granting (or denying) and those the act is directed towards. Consequently, recognition and its others (non- and mis-recognition) are constituted reciprocally.

Considerations are based on an examination of twenty-three authoritative statements as well as a few texts and videos wherein the Islamic State’s ideologues emphasised particular sets of traits the group aspired to being recognised for as well as sets of actors from which the group sought recognition. These sets of traits and their variation correspond to the series of organisational stages the Islamic State underwent before and after its proclamation as the Caliphate in 2014. The chapter proposes two different sets of analytical questions, the answers to which reveal the complex recognition regime of which the Islamic State is part. The history of the Islamic State and its predecessor organisations is shown to be highly volatile in terms of the content and scope of the recognition it demands.

in Armed non-state actors and the politics of recognition
Open Access (free)
The Politics of Information and Analysis in Food Security Crises
Daniel Maxwell and Peter Hailey

Famine means destitution, increased severe malnutrition, disease, excess death and the breakdown of institutions and social norms. Politically, it means a failure of governance – a failure to provide the most basic of protections. Because of both its human and political meanings, ‘famine’ can be a shocking term. This is turn makes the analysis – and especially declaration – of famine a very sensitive subject. This paper synthesises the findings from six case studies of the analysis of extreme food insecurity and famine to identify the political constraints to data collection and analysis, the ways in which these are manifested, and emergent good practice to manage these influences. The politics of information and analysis are the most fraught where technical capacity and data quality are the weakest. Politics will not be eradicated from analysis but can and must be better managed.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Sean Healy and Victoria Russell

The search and rescue of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants on the Mediterranean has become a site of major political contestation in Europe, on the seas, in parliaments and government offices and in online public opinion. This article summarises one particular set of controversies, namely, false claims that the non-government organisations conducting such search and rescue operations are actively ‘colluding’ with people smugglers to ferry people into Europe. In spring and summer 2017, these claims of ‘collusion’ emerged from state agencies and from anti-immigration groups, became viral on social media platforms and rapidly moved into mainstream media coverage, criminal investigations by prosecutors and the speech and laws of politicians across the continent. These claims were in turn connected to far-right conspiracy theories about ‘flooding’ Europe with ‘invaders’. By looking at the experience of one particular ship, the MV Aquarius, run in partnership by MSF and SOS Méditerranée, the authors detail the risks that humanitarian organisations now face from such types of disinformation campaign. If humanitarian organisations do not prepare themselves against this risk, they will find themselves in a world turned upside-down, in which their efforts to help people in distress become evidence of criminal activity.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Open Access (free)
A Belated but Welcome Theory of Change on Mental Health and Development
Laura Davidson

This article critiques the new Theory of Change (ToC) on mental health published by the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) in the last fortnight of its existence. The ToC offers development actors a framework for better support of beneficiaries with mental health conditions and psychosocial disabilities – given disappointingly scant attention by the sector to date. Yet, 70 per cent of mental disorders occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), with a 22 per cent prevalence in fragile and conflict-affected states. Globally, mental ill-health is estimated to affect almost one billion people. Its intersectionality with poverty and physical health has been brought into sharp focus by the current COVID-19 pandemic which has magnified the underlying social and environmental stressors of mental health. DfID’s ToC provides a conceptual framework for improving mental health globally, with an overarching vision of the full and equal exercise of all human rights by those affected by mental health conditions and psychosocial disability. The framework incorporates a rights-based approach with user-participation embedded in five critical change pathways to outcomes. The article analyses the ToC, provides an overview, highlights gaps and comments upon how DfID might have improved clarity for development actors seeking to realise its vision.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Open Access (free)
Humanity and Solidarity
Tanja R. Müller and Róisín Read
Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Middle-Aged Syrian Women’s Contributions to Family Livelihoods during Protracted Displacement in Jordan
Dina Sidhva, Ann-Christin Zuntz, Ruba al Akash, Ayat Nashwan, and Areej Al-Majali

This article explores the intersections of generational and gender dynamics with humanitarian governance in Jordan that cause shifts in the division of labour within displaced families. Drawing on life history interviews and focus group discussions with seventeen Syrian women in Jordan in spring 2019, we explore the monetary and non-monetary contributions of middle-aged females to the livelihoods of refugee households. Older women’s paid and unpaid labour holds together dispersed families whose fathers have been killed or incapacitated, or remain in Syria or in the Gulf. In doing so, many women draw on their pre-war experience of living with – or rather apart from – migrant husbands. Increased economic and social responsibilities coincide with a phase in our interviewees’ lifecycle in which they traditionally acquire greater authority as elders, especially as mothers-in-law. While power inequalities between older and younger Syrian women are not new, they have been exacerbated by the loss of resources in displacement. Our insights offer a counterpoint to humanitarian attempts at increasing refugees’ ‘self-reliance’ through small-scale entrepreneurship. For now, culturally appropriate and practically feasible jobs for middle-aged women are found in their living rooms. Supportive humanitarian action should allow them to upscale their businesses and address power dynamics within families.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Brendan T. Lawson

Over the past 25 years, the humanitarian sector has become increasingly dominated by numbers. This has been reflected in the growth of academic work that explores this relationship between humanitarianism and quantification. The most recent contribution to this literature is Joël Glasman’s Humanitarianism and the Quantification of Humanitarian Needs. Through his empirical and theoretical contributions, Glasman draws our attention to the different ways that academics approach this topic. These four strands structure the literature review: knowledge – the technical difficulties in quantifying phenomena; governance – how numbers help humanitarian organisations manage the sector; effects – the impact that quantification has had on the sector as a whole; meaning – the importance of rhetoric, discourse, representation and communication when it comes to understanding the quantitative. As part of the review, the essay also identifies how academics can better engage with each of the four strands.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Arjun Claire

Evidence-based advocacy is all the rage in humanitarian action. It is premised on rational thinking, which posits that factual evidence can limit subjective bias in humanitarians’ call for change. Data has come to be a cornerstone of this turn towards reason, aggregating human stories in numbers and percentages, which when reaching an elusive threshold is expected to persuade decision-makers to act. This article claims that the prominence of data and facts comes at the cost of understanding people’s concerns and aspirations, and reveals an increasingly emotions-scarce and morally depleted humanitarian enterprise. Examining Médecins Sans Frontières concept of témoignage, the article argues that the pull between reason and emotion crystallises a more profound tension between the need for a professional and technical humanitarianism as opposed to a political and morally charged one. It concludes that the prism of solidarity can help reinvigorate humanitarian advocacy helping reconcile reason with emotion, combining practices of advocacy with those of activism, in turn creating the foundations of a more solidarist humanitarianism.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs