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 welcome 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

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