The politics of uncertainty, disorder, and contingency in 'developing' states (Paper)

Rebecca Tapscott (The Graduate Institute, Geneva)
Rebecca Tapscott
Sam Hickey
F: Governance, politics and social protection
Start time:
27 June, 2018 at 14:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

Increasingly, scholars recognize disorder and uncertainty as political phenomena, the effects of which require further study. The panel asks: (1) how do disorder and contingency function as contemporary modes of governance? and (2) can development practitioners work in such environments? If so, how?

Long abstract:

This panel starts from the premise that disorder and uncertainty do not mark the inverse of an institutionalized and consolidated state with a monopoly on force. Instead, disorder and uncertainty are discrete political phenomena, the political uses and effects of which require further study. The panel pursues two related areas of inquiry. First, it examines how disorder and contingency function as modes of governance. Scholarship has increasingly recognized the instrumental use of disorder to shape and pacify political populations, though how this relates to international development is less well treated. By injecting indeterminacy and contingency into the daily lives of citizens, perpetuating low-level insecurity in communities, allowing competing factions to duel it out, or producing zones of exception where the law does not apply, authorities can destroy citizens' ability to predict terms of exchange and distribution, thereby producing quiescent subjects. Papers might examine the various forms that instrumental disorder takes, including arbitrary intervention, legal indeterminacy, misinformation, institutional fragmentation, and zones of insecurity in relation to developmental goals. Second, this panel asks if and how development practitioners can meaningfully work in environments that are purposefully made unpredictable and contingent. Cultivation of unpredictability and disorder are anathema to teleological assumptions of international development, in which people and states desire and progressively produce increased control over politics and the economy. How, then, ought international development practitioners engage in such an environment? Should they at all? Is there any way that international development and unpredictable governance could be compatible?