What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Epistemologically erroneous statements, poplar seeds and other horrors of this world

MStFB returns from Poland
So, back from Poland. I went there to attend the CEEISA (Central and East European International Studies Association) conference in Wrocław - and not directly with the aim of learning about my pet concept, Negative Spill-over Effects (NSEs). Nevertheless, I have met a lot of interesting people, from whom I would have had to try hard not to get a fresh perspective on a number of issues related to my research. I am planning on pointing to some of their studies that are available on the web, on this blog, in the future. So overall the conference was really fine, and, if interested in some academic stuff, you may download the paper I presented there from here (yes, it's a pdf). Title: Liberal vs. libertarian Leviathan, or Predator vs. Alien in a critical theory of state failure: Analytical implications for global governance. It's a revised version of an earlier study that was published here in Hungary, and it comes with altogether new sections on security interdependence and the analytical implications, of all that's in there, for global governance.
At the end of my panel, during the Q and A session, the peace of my soul was somewhat distracted by a comment by an American professor in the audience who actually didn't seem to pay attention to my presentation so much, while I was delivering it. She started the comment by saying, meaning to be sarcastic I guess, that "it's really nice that you are trying to find out about what state failure is". Well, I'll vent my anger about that by saying such obscenities here as "there was an EPISTEMOLOGICALLY ERRONEOUS STATEMENT underlying the comment there!". Obscene, isn't it? :-)
Well, by that I mean that one is never really trying to find out about something like state failure what it is. It is an abstract concept. It is not a neat little cottage house in the middle of a field that people might all get to an objective description of, using different methodologies ranging from analysing satellite imagery to walking there with a folding ruler and taking measures of it. So one doesn't find out about an abstract concept but makes something, potentially anything, out of it. And once you get to a sharper definition like I did, you're not trying any more. You are there at the point where you can actually start using the concept for research, all the time paying attention to each and every feature of it that may be fine-tuned based on what fitting and non-fitting cases you find in the world out there.
I was still fuming a bit about all that when I got on a train the next mourning to Warsaw, where I payed a visit before coming back to Budapest. I bought a copy of the December, 2006 issue of the Poland Monthly magazine for the trip. As expected, I did find news in it about Polish migrant workers in the UK. Well, there's a case for fine-tuning my definition of an NSE. In debates in many Western European countries the proverbial Polish plumber has been securitised to a degree, with people starting to talk about a coming wave of welfare migration milking the victimised Western cow upon the 2004 and 2007 accession of new EU member states. The main point for fine-tuning there: securitisation can be illogical, irrational, and a result of either manipulation or a critical mass of stupidity as such - migrant workers have actually contributed to economic growth in countries like the UK for example. Nevertheless I have read of interesting consequences of the 'Polish invasion'. On page 5 I found an interesting figure for example, according to which the previously weakening, but now reinvigorated Scottish Catholic Church has 50,000 new believers thanks to church-going people arriving from Poland. Friends and foes of religion and the Catholic Church may now start massacring each other over whether that is an NSE or a PSE (a positive spill-over effect). But hey, wait a minute. I'm concerned about my readers, so please don't massacre each other in a debate over abstract concepts. I know this happens in the world sometimes, but we don't have to be that trendy all the time.
And if the previous example was a controversial one, here's an even more interesting one. A London investment banker has apparently hired Polish workers for decorating a flat she bought in the London Docklands last year - only to have them changing the locks to the flat claiming squatters' rights. This time class-sensitive readers and elite-embedded securitisers may clash over the NSE/PSE issue. Well, please do so wielding arguments only.
Then I made it to Warsaw, and it was the middle of the poplar season there, just like in many other places in Poland, as well as in many parts of the former state-socialist East of Europe. The female balsam poplar is the culprit behind an invasion of white fluffy stuff that people can sometimes find quite frustrating. Poplar seeds make up that fluffy stuff. It's a bit like a specialty of the former Eastern bloc. We used to have the so-called 'winter ice cream' over here, which was creamy but wasn't cold, so you wouldn't have ended up with a sore throat eating it, say, in January. And then we also had all these poplar trees, apparently with a bias for female ones, planted in our towns, to produce snowfall for us at the end of May/start of June. Ok, that wasn't exactly the official purpose. The latter was also about turning concrete-and-asphalt socialist towns into a bit more humane settlements thanks to quickly growing poplar trees providing welcome shade on a warm summer day. The price paid for it is the short period every year when things turn fluffy. Read this interesting article to find out more about poplar seeds. There's even a bit of a diplomatic incident noted there, connected to the issue: in 1986, then U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union Arthur A. Hartman inhaled too much of poplar seeds while walking the street in Moscow, and ended up with a serious allergic reaction landing him in a German hospital to which he was evacuated for treatment (a minor NSE, it could be argued).
So much for my theme-oriented account for this blog of my trip to Poland. I could still mention that on the way back from Warsaw I was reading Polish correspondent Ryszard Kapuściński's famous book, 'The Soccer War'. The part about the burning UPGA roadblocks in Nigeria, 1966, was especially scary. It's an overall great book, and I may still write more about it on this site. So that's all for today.

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