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Session Overview
7-HP136: Governance in Moments where Normality And Exceptionality Meet
Thursday, 08/July/2021:
11:00am - 12:15pm

Session Chair: Dr. Samantha Melis, ISS, Netherlands, The
Session Chair: Prof. Thea Hilhorst, ISS/EUR, Netherlands, The
Session Chair: Dr. Isabelle Desportes, Freie Universität Berlin, Netherlands, The
Session Chair: Dr. Rodrigo Mena, Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands, The

Session Abstract

What happens when normality coincides with exceptionality? The compartimentalization of the nomal versus the exceptional in governance frameworks is a key principle to define policy frames. But when the exceptional is the normal, it has major consequences for how we look at issues related to social justice and multi-actor governance. In this panel, academics and practitioners reflect on governance in the grey zones where normality and exceptionality overlap. From survival migrants, to disasters and conflict, and movements of solidarity and resistance for social justice and peace, all challenge the normal-exceptional dichotomy.

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The Politics of Critical Transitions to Water Scarcity: Using Conceptions of Normality and Exceptionality to Resist Change

Elizabeth Swartz

ISS, EUR, Netherlands, The

Coupled human-environmental systems are becoming increasingly vulnerable as anthropogenic pressure on their functional limits push them towards critical transitions. When natural tipping points are reached and crossed, systems undergo critical transitions, flipping to undesirable contrasting stable states often characterized by a permanent loss of function. It is therefore imperative to better understand how and when natural tipping points are reached and to adjust natural resource governance paradigms in a way that prevents permanent shifts to degraded systems states that can contribute to societal collapse and impede developmental goals. While the flickering of systems in which they repeatedly flip between contrasting states or their critical slowing down in which they take increasingly long to recover from small disturbances have been proposed as two important Early Warning Signals (EWSs) of approaching transitions, there is evidence that transitions can also be recognized on the ground by natural resource users. Whereas adaptative measures among communities to prevent the crossing of critical thresholds in natural systems is well recorded, less focus has been placed on the politics of critical transitions. This paper aims to describe how the normality-exceptionality dichotomy that informs policies and governance strategies is challenged as the boundaries between what is normal and what is exceptional are intentionally blurred in the pre-transition phase. Regarding understandings of and interactions of water users with the collapse of three urban socio-hydrological systems in South Africa corresponding with a regional drought, this research sought to examine the politics of critical transitions, in particular the impact of social tipping points arising in anticipation of the crossing of hydrological boundaries on adaptive responses. Participant observation at the research sites following their collapse was accompanied by semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions with municipal water users engaged in local emergency relief water projects. These projects that emerged parallel to the collapse became platforms for social learning leading to collective efforts to resist conceptualizations of normality related to water scarcity. Collapses perceived to provide evidence of imminent critical transitions to permanent water scarcity were framed as ‘water crises’; the use of crisis discourses following the collapse led to the rejection of prevailing state-led water governance paradigms and the call for political change to prevent critical transitions, along with the rise of new governance configurations as powerful municipal water users at the community level sought to control adaptation processes. Parallel water systems that emerged at the household and community level provided only powerful municipal water users with continued access to water, leading to increased resilience among them to changes in water availability. The blurring of the boundaries of the normality and exceptionality of water shortages and scarcity strongly informed social tipping points that led to the establishment of parallel water systems. Social tipping points can thus emerge when critical transitions are considered undesirable, leading to the rejection of prevailing governance regimes that are not seen to mitigate such transitions. From a perspective of social justice, in this study, social tipping points adversely affected the overall resilience of urban socio-hydrological systems as powerful municipal water users were able to control adaptation processes, exacerbating inequalities in access to water by building selective social networks to resist critical transitions to water scarcity. The boundaries between normality and exceptionality were consciously blurred and used politically to justify specific adaptation trajectories. Efforts to govern coupled human-environmental systems vulnerable to critical transitions should be informed by a better understanding of the impact of social tipping points and instrumental blurring of the boundaries of normality and exceptionality on the inclusivity of adaptive processes.

The (Hidden) Politics Of Disaster Response Across The Low-Intensity Conflict Cases Of Ethiopia, Myanmar And Zimbabwe

Isabelle Desportes

University of Rotterdam, Netherlands, The

Disaster response most frequently occurs in reaction to dramatic events, such as floods and earthquakes, yet also involves in appearance very technical processes ranging from needs assessments to logistical distribution of aid supplies, routinely practiced by humanitarian organizations. The same applies to low-intensity conflict (LIC) dynamics: LIC frequently involves human rights violations, yet violence is most readily expressing itself in other less blatant ways than direct physical harm, and sometimes even seen as legitimate in the local context. The LIC-disaster nexus is particularly interesting to study the tensions between the exceptional and the normal as it at first gaze also constitutes a clash between ostensibly political and depoliticized paradigms. Our analysis draws on one year of qualitative fieldwork in three disaster-struck LIC contexts showing authoritarian practices, thus heightened state-aid-civil society tensions. It details the governance arrangements and negotiations which surrounded disaster response in 2016 drought-ridden Ethiopia (marked by protests and a State of Emergency), 2015 flooded Myanmar (marked by explosive identity politics) and 2016-2019 drought-ridden Zimbabwe (marked by heightened political turbulences). Through the methodology of Structured Focused Comparison, the most salient LIC-disaster elements are zoomed in from one case to the next: polarized but also silent discourses, restrictive, ambiguous and threatening everyday politics, non-confrontational social navigation strategies, and problematic implications - not least at community level.

North-South Linkages in the Politics of Food Assistance and Social Welfare

Susanne Jaspars1, C. Sathyamala2

1SOAS, London, United Kingdom; 2International Institute of Social Studies, The Netherlands

This paper examines north-south linkages in the politics of contemporary food assistance and social welfare, and in particular how increased digitization, privatisation and individualisation of aid or welfare systems is normalising poverty and humanitarian crisis. It will consider the treatment of undocumented migrants as an extreme case and how these policies and practices have lead to the growth of a global precariat who are constantly on the edge of survival (or death). We also link this with food assistance and nutrition actions, because these practices form the main part of humanitarian aid, food is a global commodity, and the act of sharing or giving food can be both an act of solidarity and of political control (and thus a form of governing or resistance). We will use India, Sudan, Somalia and the UK as case studies, all of which have seen persistently high levels of acute malnutrition, or rising levels of hunger (in the case of the UK). In terms of responses, Somalia for example has seen a shift from food aid to cash and nutrition, which promotes the interests of business and which maintains displacement of already marginalised groups. In the UK, the digitisation of welfare has not addressed a rise in hunger and has been compensated by a growth in foodbanks. Solidarity for undocumented migrants (and people in precarious situations generally) is sometimes expressed through providing cooked food. These measures are not only a form of aid but also of resistance, because they make the problem visible. The paper will explore what is possible in terms of resistence to contemporary digital, individualised and market-based approaches and the role of food within this.

Enabling and Impeding Factors of Urban Disaster Risk Governance in Informal Settlements of Latin America and the Caribbean: Precariousness, Uncertainty, and Covid-19

Vicente Sandoval

Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

This work explores the role of international and local actors working on disaster risk reduction (DRR) and urban development in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), specifically on how urban DRR interventions have worked to created new or strengthen existing governance arrangements beyond its practical outcomes. Analysing the governance relationships between national and local governments, international NGOs, and community organisations of slum dwellers, the work looks at the facilitators and challenges faced by these actors in bridging marginalised neighbourhoods to local governments. Following a characterisation of informal settlements in the LAC region, this work also offers some reflexions on how living with precariousness and in risk conditions –the normality in many informal settlements– intertwin with the ‘exceptionality’ of the Covid-19 pandemic. The work bases on the performance evaluation of the Urban DRR programming in LAC by USAID/OFDA, focused on the effectiveness and sustainability of eight urban DRR projects in six countries: Colombia, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, and Peru. This study used mixed research methods, including surveys, focus groups, and interviews, and an extensive review of academic and grey literature. Results show a variety of enabling and impeding factors for good urban and disaster risk governance, many of them related to the role of INGOs in bridging the gaps between marginalized communities and local governments: for instance, commitment from upper levels of local government officials, limitations of existing legal framework for DRR and urban development, turnover of municipal officials, among other factors. One example of these enabling and impeding factors is reflected in an observed relationship among actors referred here as ‘concatenation’. The concatenation consists of a governance capacity of DRR projects’ actors to advance on the achievements of other initiatives. For instance, in Haiti, one DRR project provided an excellent quality pipeline from the source of the water to the town. Subsequently, the World Bank built ten water tanks, followed by the municipality, which built the distribution network. This and other examples of enabling and impeding factors of urban disaster risk governance may offer new ideas on how approach the pre-existing urban challenges while meeting uncertainty due to Covid-19 and future pandemics.

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