Working Group 2: Governing through crisis: (dis)continuities in actors and epistemologies of development

Eija Meriläinen, Hanken (, Corresponding chair
Linda Annala
Martin Fougère
Nikodemus Solitander
Yewondwossen Tesfaye
Virva Tuomala

CCR – Centre for Corporate Responsibility

CCR is a joint Research and Development Institute between Hanken School of Economics and University of Helsinki

‘Crisis’ seems to have become a chronic condition of our times: most if not all parts of the world have recently been deemed to experience interrelated economic crises, environmental crises, financial crises, governance crises, humanitarian crises, political crises, refugee crises, and so on. While crisis discourse usually refers to events with highly impactful material consequences, the way crises are discursively co-constructed by a range of actors (e.g., experts, think-tanks, policymakers, media) always entails a multifaceted expression of power over society. This includes (1) the power to diagnose a crisis in such a way that it is amenable to a certain type of intervention, (2) the power to recommend what needs to be done, and by whom, and (3) the power to participate in the implementation of the action plan that is presented as addressing the diagnosed problem. While no single actor, or group of actors, can fully control these powers, it has been noted that a certain kind of market rationality, often labelled ‘neoliberal’, tends to be dominant in the ‘solutions’ that are implemented to address contemporary crises (e.g., Letelier & Irazábal, 2018; Mirowski, 2014; Peck, 2006).

Thus, as critical studies on disaster governance, humanitarianism, migration and environmental governance show, the changes in governance that a crisis can help bring about are not necessarily addressing the causes of the crisis, nor in the interest of the population most affected by it (Balibar, 2004; Fassin, 2012; Mehta 2001; 2005). The political tipping point brought about by a crisis can push the sociopolitical regimes to a variety of directions (Pelling & Dill, 2010); the ‘critical juncture’ might sometimes provide an opportunity for progressive change and empowerment of marginalized communities, but as capitalist elites have learnt to also see crises as opportunities, the reproduction and exacerbation of social inequalities are often a more likely outcome. Worse, in a number of well-documented cases, crises have been found to have been actively orchestrated for the purpose of shaping (especially ‘developing’) societies (e.g., Klein, 2007; Loewenstein, 2015) along with the interests of the economic superpowers, their large corporations and wealthy investors, and at the cost of populations, keeping entire countries in a state of ‘permanent crisis’ (e.g., van de Walle, 2001). Such a permanent crisis, offering a continuous state of exception, legitimizes interventions that would not be acceptable under ‘normality’ – if that state existed.

Today’s politics of crisis contributes to reshaping the relations between states, businesses, the media, civil society organizations, and a range of ‘hybrid’ actors (such as development finance companies, policy networks and think-tanks) as part of, and perhaps beyond, what governmentality scholars call the neoliberal mode of government; fundamental transformations in statehood and state-society relations seem to be at stake here (e.g., Dean, 2010; Lemke, 2002). Accordingly, by looking into the politics of crisis, we seek to investigate how crisis is taking shape as a tool of government in the context of development and what specific forms of state-society relations it is constitutive of. On a different scale this call also highlight how the politics of crisis functions through various biopolitical interventions, e.g. framing women in the Global South (and North) as responsible economic agents in the context of financial crisis (Calkin, 2015; Price, forthcoming). Thus, we invite research that look into continuities and discontinuities in (1) the roles of various actors in development, (2) the epistemologies and types of knowledge that are mobilized in constructing – diagnosing, calling for action on and acting on – ‘crises’, and (3) how subjects are shaped by the (bio)politics of crisis.

To this working group we welcomed both empirical and conceptual papers engaging with the following questions (including connecting them with the three stages of crisis construction: diagnosis, call for action and implementation) and beyond:

  • North-South relationships in the politics of crisis and in constructing crises for intervention
  • South-South relationships in the politics of crisis and in constructing crises for intervention
  • The geopolitics of crisis, with particular reference to the US and China, but also to the EU, Russia, India, Saudi Arabia, etc.
  • The construction of the climate crisis in an alarming yet hopeful way, and the limits thereof
  • The legacy of structural adjustment policies in relation to the politics of crisis
  • Natural hazards, disasters, humanitarian interventions and the politics of crisis
  • The performativity and biopolitical interventions of/through the politics of crisis


Balibar, É. (2004). We, the People of Europe? Reflections on Transnational Citizenship. Princeton University Press.
Calkin, S. (2015). “Tapping” women for post-crisis capitalism: Evidence from the 2012 World development report. International Feminist Journal of Politics, 17(4), 611-629.
Dean, M. (2010) Governmentality: power and rule in modern society. Sage (2nd ed.).
Fassin, D. (2012). Humanitarian Reason: A Moral History of the Present. University of California Press.
Klein, N. (2007). The shock doctrine: The rise of disaster capitalism. Macmillan.
Lemke, T. (2002) Foucault, Governmentality, and Critique. Rethinking Marxism, Vol 14 (3).
Letelier, F., & Irazábal, C. (2018). Contesting TINA: Community planning alternatives for disaster reconstruction in Chile. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 38(1), 67-85.
Loewenstein, A. (2015). Disaster capitalism: Making a killing out of catastrophe. Verso Books.
Mehta, L. (2001). The Manufacture of Popular Perceptions of Scarcity: Dams and Water-Related Narratives in Gujarat, India. World Development, Volume 30, Issue 7.
Mirowski, P. (2014). Never let a serious crisis go to waste: How neoliberalism survived the financial meltdown. Verso.
Mehta L. (2005). The politics and poetics of water. Naturalising scarcity in Western India. Orient Longman: New Delhi.
Peck, J. (2006). Liberating the city: Between New York and New Orleans. Urban Geography, 27(8), 681-713.
Pelling, M., & Dill, K. (2010). Disaster politics: tipping points for change in the adaptation of sociopolitical regimes. Progress in Human Geography, 34(1), 21–37.
Price, S. (forthcoming). The risks and incentives of disciplinary neoliberal feminism: the case of microfinance. International Feminist Journal of Politics, 1-22.
Van de Walle, N. (2001). African economies and the politics of permanent crisis, 1979-1999. Cambridge University Press


1.Forest governance transformation. Lessons learnt from Tanzania Dismas L. Mwaseba, Associate Professor, Sokoine University of Agriculture Antti Erkkilä, Senior Researcher, University of Eastern Finland Irmeli Mustalahti, Professor, University of Eastern Finland Esbern Friis-Hansen, Senior Researcher, Danish Institute for International Studies

In Tanzania there have been conflicts between farmers and pastoralists; wildlife conservation and adjacent communities; agricultural investors and small-scale farmers; domestic and foreign forestry investors and local people. In addition, land tenure conflicts include disputes on boundaries, inheritance and user rights. In the Southern Highlands, the promotion of non-industrial private forestry (NIPF) has attracted domestic investors to capture this new resource frontier, which has further increased land value and consequently also land related disputes. The on-going Timber Rush research programme by Sokoine Agricultural University and the Danish Institute for International Studies has investigated the scale and drivers of the current investments in land and timber in Tanzania as well as local people’s access to and benefits from land and other resources have been investigated. The preliminary findings indicate that although NIPF is generally impacting positively on local people’s livelihoods there is power asymmetry along the value chain which does not foster equitable distribution of benefits. As such, there is need for governance transformation towards collaborative participatory approaches. The results of the Timber Rush programme will be used in the new research project titled Makutano and funded by the Academy of Finland.  An action learning process will be used in a theoretical framework built around translocality approach with practice partners, such as Tanzania Timber Growers’ Association Union. The motivation behind the new research project is to transfer skills in environmental collaboration and conflict resolution to a group of forest owners and local community members in Southern Highlands, Tanzania, and to trace how these skills are appropriated, transformed and applied in the future actions of these forest owners and by surrounding communities.

Keywords: Tanzania, forestry, governance, land tenure, environmental collaboration, conflict resolution

2. Conflict zone or safe zone? The gendered security of the UN Women, Peace & Security framework and its application in South Africa. Laura Sulin, Centre for Trust, Peace & Social Relations, Coventry University, United Kingdom.

The United Nations Resolution 1325 on “Women, Peace and Security” (WPS), adopted in 2000, is often remarked as a historical resolution – a resolution that emphasizes the important role women play in peace negotiations and peacebuilding efforts, and the importance of their full involvement in all aspects of maintaining and promoting peace and security. Together with seven supporting resolutions it forms the United Nations Women, Peace and Security Framework (WPS framework), which aims to protect and promote the role of women in conflict and post-conflict situations.  This paper looks at how an international top-down development framework can be applied and implemented at national level from the perspective of security. Drawing from initial data from civil society interviews as well as reflecting on feminist theories of security, the presentation examines how a development approach such as the WPS framework can be applied to the political and societal context of South Africa. It will examine this through the lens of security – how is security defined by Resolution 1325 and what are the implications of this definition to the implementation process? The distinction between conflict and safe zones is a myth that does not hold truth anymore in the conflict of our times. Yet Resolution 1325 was designed to be implemented in post-conflict situations. The paper will examine the applicability of the WPS framework to improve gender security in South Africa which is not traditionally considered a post-conflict country, yet is still experiencing many issues around economic, political and social problems which can be associated with a country in conflict. The way in which the WPS framework has been used has proved to be problematic for women in South Africa.  The lines between the different aspects of security are often blurry – do these definitions restrict the national governments and civil society organisations on implementing, what is otherwise a fit for purpose development agenda, effectively to the local context?

3. Development as Crisis: The role of financialization. Authors: Nikodemus Solitander, Centre for Corporate Responsibility, Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland. Johanna Järvelä.

The crisis of poverty is increasingly framed as a problem of finance. The last twenty years has seen a rapid increased focus on private-driven development coupled with the idea that a larger part of development funding needs to come from financial markets, financial instruments, financial innovation and financial logics at large. In the context of Finnish development aid, this is manifested in the increased financialization of previously non-financial actors of development aid (such as NGOs), the increased role of quasi-state actors such Development Finance Institutions, as well as the use of private-equity funds to increase the returns of development assistance. The launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) marked the firm entrenchment of these ideals as various UN organizations seamlessly combined the disruptive logics of finance to the radical changes necessitated by the environmental and social crises that the SDGs and Agenda 2030 are meant to address.  Influenced by the ‘logics approach’ of policy studies (Glynos et al. 2015; Howarth et al. 2016) we show how the financialization development has accelerated after the financial crisis of 2007-2008, how the ‘crisis of development aid’ has increased the reliance on private capital in general, but finance capital in particular, how this shift is legitimated through political logics of “state/poverty/sustainability friendly” policies and backed up by fantasmatic articulations of the urgency of the looming climate crisis behind the SDGs coupled with the notion of ‘profound disruptive power’ of finance.

4. Failures in addressing the palm oil sustainability crisis: Graduated sovereignty and graduated optics. Martin Fougère, Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland; Rohit Varman, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia.

The palm oil sustainability crisis has gradually attracted more attention over the past 15 years or so, as the growth of demand for palm oil has led to a seemingly unstoppable expansion of oil palm plantations. Many social movements and civil society organizations have been raising awareness on this wicked problem which involves massive development-sustainability trade-offs. An engine of economic growth in subtropical areas, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia where 85 % of the world’s palm oil is produced, the palm oil industry has been accused of causing biodiversity loss, higher greenhouse gas emissions, land rights violations, and losses of livelihoods, among a number of interrelated aspects. The key sustainability issue has been claimed to arise as a result of the conversion of lands into oil palm plantations, which involves deforestation and drainage of peatlands and thus leads to a number of negative externalities. While there is broad agreement that the question of land-use change is a central problem here, different powerful and less powerful actors propose different types of solutions to address the palm oil sustainability issue. However, cumulatively, all these different solutions mainly preserve the interests of the most powerful actors (the large buyers of palm oil, the large plantations, the large partnership-oriented NGOs which are involved together in the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil RSPO; and the states of Indonesia and Malaysia whose economy needs palm oil exports, and which introduce regulations that are either too soft or not enforced) at the cost of many of the more marginalized victims of oil palm expansion (indigenous and local communities, plantation workers, non-human animals and nature). Worse, even supposedly benevolent representations of the palm oil issue by environmental activists to Western consumers often contribute to the ‘divide and rule’ business and state interests in relation to the victims–for example when the representations focus only on non-human victims and make the local poor communities the culprits. In order to illuminate these failures of addressing the palm oil sustainabilitycrisis, we draw on Ong’s (2000) concept of ‘graduated sovereignty’ and complement it with a concept of ‘graduated optics’, whereby dominant consumer-oriented environmental representations of this sustainability crisis, instead of challenging destructive industry and state interests, become ‘useful idiots’ who help perpetuate the dynamics that got us here in the first place.

References: Ong, A. (2000). Graduated sovereignty in south-east Asia. Theory, culture & society, 17(4), 55-75.

5. Rescaling of political and humanitarian responsibility in disaster governance: a Rawlsian social contract theory approach. Eija Meriläinen, Centre for Corporate Responsibility, Hanken School of Economic, Helsinki, Finland; Jukka Mäkinen, Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland

Social contract is a hypothetical agreement amongst people to form a government for mutual protection and wellbeing. (Nation)states are conventionally thought of as the sovereign entity to protect its citizens – also, or especially, in the case of a disaster or crisis. Yet in the globalized and neoliberal context states are increasingly witnessed as frames for economic activities, and the responsibilities for disaster governance are not clearly attributed to states. Instead, the social contract in regard to disasters has been disintegrating between different spatial scales. This paper analyzes this through the concepts of humanitarian responsibility and political responsibility. On a global scale and in particularly in the context of large-scale disasters, humanitarian system is increasingly expected to address the suffering of disaster-affected populations. This is to say, humanitarian responsibility has been moving towards larger spatial scales. While there are good arguments for a global response in a world where the causes of the devastation are not locally confined, international humanitarian aid provided is often criticized as instrumental, short-term and even unaccountable. Meanwhile, national disaster governance has been increasingly de-centralizing, with more responsibility placed on regional and local entities. Furthermore, the communities and individuals vulnerable to disasters and affected by them are expected to exhibit agency and self-organization. This is to say, the political responsibility has been moving towards smaller spatial scales. Resilience as a (disaster) governance discourse exhibits this shift. While this shift could give the vulnerable populations more political power over their fate, the downscaling of political responsibility may not come with needed resources. This papers starts with analyzing the impact of the rescaling between political responsibility and humanitarian responsibility on the good of disaster-vulnerable people within the contemporary neoliberal governance structure. The paper then proceeds to imagining what the implications of the Rawlsian social contract theory approach would be on the state of disaster governance. The Rawlsian approach focuses on the division of responsibility between the institutional structures of state apparatus, civil society associations and private actors like corporations in delivering justice in a society. A Rawlsian perspective to disaster governance can serve to balance the neoliberal one, as it brings forth the collective responsibility, rather than focusing on agency of vulnerable individuals and communities. Furthermore, it allows for a pluralistic understanding of the good.

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