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Stephen J. Silvia

Since German unification, assessments of the German economy have swung from “sick man of the euro” in the early years to dominant hegemon of late. I argue that the German economy appears strong because of its recent positive performance in two politically salient areas: unemployment and the current account. A deeper assessment reveals, however, that German economic performance cannot be considered a second economic miracle, but is at best a mini miracle. The reduction in unemployment is an important achievement. That said, it was not the product of faster growth, but of sharing the same volume of work among more individuals. Germany’s current account surpluses are as much the result of weak domestic demand as of export prowess. Germany has also logged middling performances in recent years regarding growth, investment, productivity, and compensation. The article also reviews seven challenges Germany has faced since unification: financial transfers from west to east, the global financial crisis, the euro crisis, internal and external migration, demographics, climate change, and upheavals in the automobile industry. German policy-makers managed the first four challenges largely successfully. The latter three will be more difficult to tackle in the future.

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Kuwait and Iran

Mutual Contact in the Pre-oil Era

Yacoub Y. Al-Hijji

This article examines the relations and interaction between Kuwait and Iran before the export of oil from Kuwait in 1946. It begins with a short account of the establishment of Kuwait as a small maritime community, the ramifications of its location amongst its three large neighbours, and Iran's role in helping Kuwait to establish its roots as a seafaring community by providing its earlier inhabitants with basic food requirements. The article then goes on to review several aspects of the interaction between Iran and Kuwait and the influence that these communities have had on one another. It concludes by emphasising that the relationship of mutuality between the two countries must continue in this age of oil and globalisation for the benefit of both peoples.

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Trading Futures

Sadaqah, social enterprise, and the polytemporalities of development gifts

Tom Widger and Filippo Osella

In this article, we explore what happens when idea(l)s of Islamic charity (sadaqah) and social enterprise converge within a low-cost public health clinic in Colombo, Sri Lanka. For both the clinic’s wealthy sponsors and the urban poor who use it, interpreting the intervention as a pious expression of care toward the poor or as a for-profit humanitarian venture meant extending different futures to the poor. The ambiguous temporalities of gifts and commodities anticipated by benefactors and beneficiaries involved in this challenges anthropological assumptions concerning the marketizing effects of neoliberal development interventions. Our ethnography revealed a hesitancy among the clinic’s sponsors, managers, and users to endow the intervention with a final interpretation, undermining its stated goal of promoting health care privatization and “responsibilization” of the poor.

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Trading Up

Reflections on Power, Collaboration, and Ethnography in the Anthropology of Policy

Tara Schwegler

This article constitutes a pragmatic consideration of how to orchestrate access to 'powerful' individuals and a theoretical reflection on what efforts to negotiate access reveal about the anthropologist's subterranean assumptions about power, collaboration and ethnographic data. Too frequently, powerful actors and the contemporary settings they inhabit appear to be obstacles to ethnographic research. In contrast, I propose that we explore the ways in which working with powerful actors can enhance, rather than inhibit, the possibilities of anthropological data collection. In this article, I present several examples from my field research in the Mexican government to show how the ethnographic encounter can be constructive of the political process, not jut an appendage to it. By directing attention to the ways in which our actual research practices (and not just our findings) intervene in the political space, we can re-orient our expectations about data and the ontology of anthropological expertise.

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The Anthropocene Trading Zone

The New Conservation, Big Data Ecology, and the Valuation of Nature

Lizzy Hare

The Anthropocene has been a generative concept in recent years and its influence can be felt across a wide range of fields. New Conservation and big data ecology are interrelated trends in ecology and conservation science that have been influenced by the technological developments and social concerns of the yet-to-be ratified Anthropocene epoch. Advocates of these ideas claim that they will revolutionize conservation science and practice, however they share many of the same underlying economic metaphors as the frameworks they seek to replace. The use of economic concepts, such as value, allows ecological science to be made legible outside of scientific communities, but that legibility places limitations on the possibilities for thinking about conservation outside of a market-based framework. If there is to be a threshold moment for new ecological thought, it will need to overcome the ideological limitations of valuation.

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Subtracting the Narrative

Trade, Collecting, and Forgetting in the Kongo Coast Friction Zone during the Late Nineteenth Century

Zachary Kingdon

Museums can be theorized as sites of forgetting. Furthermore, British traders who collected carved tusks made by Kongo-speaking peoples of the Central African coast in the nineteenth century appear to have had no interest in accounting for the complex narrative scenes that embellished these works. Recent scholarship advocates applying an “archaeological sensibility” (Harrison 2013) that conceptualizes museum collections as “assemblages” in order to reveal new knowledge about collections. This article employs a version of this approach by applying an ichnography, or “science of traces” (Byrne 2013), to the visual narratives carved on tusks in the World Museum Liverpool collection and to the textual narratives of British traders’ from the period, to reveal discrepant and elided themes in these sources. The insights generated by probing the significance of these narrative disjunctions helps provide a “thicker” understanding of the dynamic, cosmopolitan “zone” of cross-cultural interaction from which the tusks were acquired.

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Carlo Barone and Gianluca Argentin

In July 2015, the so-called Good School reform was approved. This measure introduces several novelties in the school sector, including an increase in resources. The reform was strongly promoted by Prime Minister Renzi, who has simplified the traditional processes of engagement with the teachers’ unions. The aim is to empower school principals and teachers in a meritocratic framework, to overcome the lack of job stability for teachers by establishing new mechanisms of recruitment, and to open schools to extracurricular activities and vocational experiences. These important innovations, which are needed to improve the existing state of affairs, sound more like announcements rather than concrete commitments. In fact, there is a gap between the communication dimension of the reform, which is very effective, and its actual design, which in many aspects is approximate. There is therefore a real risk that the future implementation of the Good School reform might be less substantive than originally perceived.

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“The people's oil”

Nationalism, globalization, and the possibility of another country in Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela

John Gledhill

This article examines similarities and differences in the development of the oil industries of Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela through an analysis of the struggles and alliances between their elites, political classes, and diverse popular forces. The analysis demonstrates that although history has produced popular skepticism over the meaning of the state's claim that “our oil belongs to the people,” a popular imaginary of the potential link between national resource sovereignty and social justice has had powerful historical effects. Despite the structural differences between these cases, it remains today at the center of emergent alternatives that cannot be dismissed simply as a return to the populism of the past. While its main significance in Mexico to date has been to impede persistent efforts to privatize the industry, in the cases of Venezuela and Brazil we may now talk of significant possibilities for building a more multipolar world economic order.

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Robert Eastwood

This article is a non-technical review of the economics of global policy on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Quite a lot is known about the likely physical consequences of anthropogenic climate change, but much uncertainty remains. In particular, account needs to be taken of possible catastrophes such as ice sheet melting. How are we to balance the known costs of taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the present against the uncertain benefits of such action for future generations? How convincing is the case for substantial measures to be undertaken now? If the case for such action is accepted, should emissions be controlled via Kyoto-style national emissions targets or by the imposition of carbon taxes? How can the challenges of burden sharing between developed and developing countries be addressed?

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Stefano Sacchi

This chapter deals with two momentous structural reforms introduced by the Monti government in the social policy field: the pension reform approved in late 2011 and the labor market reform passed in July 2012. Alongside discussing the content of these two reforms and their plausible policy impact, the chapter places them in the context of the Italian sovereign debt crisis and shows how they were introduced due to pressures exerted by international and supra-national actors. The analysis focuses in particular on the policy-making process of the labor market reform, reconstructing the various stages it went through. All this took place in the context of a new policy style by the Monti government, which forced decisions in the shadow of hierarchy and even took unilateral action, pursuing its policy objectives under the legitimacy provided by the international actors and the sense of urgency stemming from the sovereign debt crisis.