We are in an era of crises. Environmental degradation, domestic political and social crisis, the emergence of transnational problems and the failure of institutions of global governance, demonstrate the need for humanity to identify transformative ideas in reorganising to meet the critical challenges to the day. This edition of The Spectrum seeks critical responses, through comparative analyses, to these issues and the ideas, strategies, and institutions that we use to address them at present.
Comparison allows us to uncover different and new possibilities to engage our planetary problems, drawing on the diversity of social, cultural and intellectual traditions to offer alternatives. Comparison allows us to attend to marginalised practices and forgotten innovations away from existing centres of global knowledge. It plays the role of transferring knowledge across boundaries, by drawing linkages between the conditions of one society or community with another. It demands of us to think in careful and nuanced fashion about the way in which the context of operation shapes the success or failure of a policy idea or intervention – what works or has worked, where, and why.
In this globalised and interconnected environment, comparison matters more. Just as policy ideas may travel, so do our problems. Viral discourses of anti-immigration and narrow nationalism or new forms of environmentally exploitative practices can spread and evolve in different spaces. Such transnational flows/exchanges create new complexities and nuances to global problems rather than homogenise them. Comparisons allow us to connect the effects of these flows with the production of a problem in a place, and uncover their own effects on other places. What could, for example, governance failures in managing forest burning in one country teach us about the appropriate mechanisms for addressing transboundary haze pollution effects of that burning in another country? Are failures of collective action driven by contextual difference in politics, culture, or economic power? How do hyperlocalisms and extreme nationalisms reinforce, and become reinforced by, the wave of global populism?
The unit of comparison matters. Our failure to make sense of particular problems across context may be a reflection of mistaken assumptions as to the lens we should use to think about a crisis. Place and scale produce unique pathologies that we have to attend to not only theoretically and methodologically, but also practically. What institutions are best suited for addressing a crisis at a particular scale? Do they function across culture? Why does it matter if a problem is tackled at a particular scale and place – are the boundaries of the problems the same as our solutions? Can we make our policies more relevant to the needs of specific individuals and communities?
The act of comparison is not simply a methodological choice, but a call for dialogue between places in a way which embodies resistance against parochial thinking. In justifying the choices and sensibilities of our comparative analysis, we learn more about ourselves and others – which ideas and values are commensurable and which are non-equivalent. We recognise difference and diversity about the way we think and act, but also find that we share common challenges and a common desire for a better world. In comparing, we find hope from other places. In comparing, we learn to make more empathetic and humane choices necessary for a sustainable future.
We welcome articles responding to the theme from all disciplinary backgrounds, level of study, or institutional affiliation. Interested writers are strongly encouraged to bring fresh ideas and innovative comparisons – be it towards ideas, events, legal cases, institutions, communities, cities, nation states, or otherwise. Articles should be of either 2500 words or 4000 words in length.
Please register your interest to write for the Spectrum Winter AY 16/17 by 20th Dec 2016, with an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell us, in a few sentences, about your topic of interest and who you are! If the proposal is accepted, writers are expected to provide a draft before 1st February 2017.
Journal Editor for AY16/17: Rocky Howe