INTERDISCIPINARY SOCIETAL STUDIES
Interdisciplinary societal studies is an area of research that encompasses learning about how contemporary societies deal with their surroundings and how they can enhance sustainability in terms of the economy, society, and politics. This area of research is somewhat considered the think-tank within the Centre as it unifies societal issues on a broader sense and theoretically orients itself within the social sciences, including aspects of anthropology, economics, geography, history, mass communications, political science, psychology, sociology, and gender and family studies. It focuses on thematic and overlapping issues that umbrella human rights, differences between rich and poor, game theory, societal harmonization, international relations, multidimensional views of power, and power relationships and meta-geopolitics. Our research goes beyond countries and examines the multidisciplinary differences in levels of global governance and trade, from the United Nations, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the European Union to recent large-scale trade agreements, worldwide corporate influence, and international agendas (e.g., the European Union’s 20-20-20 Agenda). We see this broadened background as an understanding of societies and as a useful tool for the global citizen in the pursuit of happiness, peace, and harmony.
Special interdisciplinary concentrations include: political transformations; international comparative studies on environment, sustainability and social change; and understanding how well key theories and dynamics perform in practice. Specializations in complex global sustainability issues are addressed by international governance arrangements, rules, and organizations, both public and private. Pressing issues are those related to climatic changes, biodiversity, water quality, the quality of ecosystems, and natural resource suppliers. In terms of multinational corporations, the private sector plays a crucial role in shaping sustainability in the current economic paradigm. Innovative environmental partnerships, specifically focusing on the role of societal and ethical responsibility of business and the market, at large, are key within this paradigmatic focus. The Centre observes that political power struggles continue to trouble humanity as it struggles (1) to find a cooperative middle-ground in harmony with our biological needs as a cohabitant species on the planet, (2) to cooperate among ourselves, and (3) to organize and cooperatively plan a future for our children. This power struggle and lack of cooperation continues to lead to conflict, war and desperation.
GENDER AND DEVELOPMENT
Research on gender requires an understanding of what men and women do and how they relate to each other; it also is an understanding of the ideas, conceptions, and socio-material contexts that motivate and organize gender roles. Gender roles, relations, and perceptions are challenged by changing local, national, and global circumstances. In terms of social change and development, gender can be associated with an approach that assumes that the variations in organizational forms and cultural patterns are to a large extent the outcome of the different ways in which men and women in a given context organizationally and cognitively deal with new situations and accommodate themselves to changing circumstances. Moreover, it draws the attention to the ways in which individuals and groups can contribute to and indeed modify patterns of local, regional, and national development. The Centre conducts gender-related research that spans from international gender and development issues to ethnographic studies of male and female identities in changing social and natural environments. It focuses on emerging technologies and the effect it has on developed and developing countries. Specifically, we have background research from Australia, Nigeria, Russia, parts of Southeast Asia, and southern Europe.
FAMILY AND THE WELFARE STATE
The notion of the welfare state focuses on family policies, gender equality, and family change. Theoretically, the welfare state on gender perspectives assists and challenges the relationships of the family and individual. Issues that typify this research are employability and fertility, gender and class, personal relationships in families, family policies (e.g., parental leave, father quotas, publicly subsidized childcare services, and cash for care benefits), and comparative statistical data (e.g., at national and international levels). In sociological terms, the conceptual theories of social role theory, role conflict, role attribution and social structure—play an important part in the family and its constructive relationship with the notions of the welfare state.
AUSTRALIA: STATISTICAL CASE STUDY
FAMILY: DEVELOPMENT OF FUTURE CITIZENS
Almost every person in society starts life in a family of some kind. The type of family an individual grows up in, influences the type of person one grows up to be. In families, children first encounter concepts of right and wrong, as well as role models who shape their sense of what it is possible for them to do and be. Families are an important school of moral learning which often include inequality and subordination, not principles of justice. Plato, the Classical Greek philosopher, recognized the importance of the family for the moral development of individuals. His philosophical views had many societal implications, especially on the idea of an ideal state or government. Some of his most famous doctrines are contained in the Republic during his middle period, as well as in the Laws and the Statesman. Families inhibit or promote children's talents and abilities and parents play an extremely important role in the lives of their dependent children. For the development of future citizens, almost all countries regulate families to insure that all children are educated and have their basic needs met. This varies among countries but is true to the fact that no state can be indifferent to whether or not children grow up to be literate, functioning members of its economy. For this reason, all societies provide some degree of publicly financed education for its children. All states also depend, at least in part, on the labour of care-taking and childrearing, work that is done primarily, today, by women. Given its evident importance, feminists have made a strong case for taking such care-giving within the family seriously, and for the state to attend to the justice issues involved in care provision. They have also argued that just states must provide care in a way that ensures that all children, boys and girls, rich and poor, have equal opportunities to grow up able to take part in their society.
GEOPOLITICS IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM
The Centre periodically surveys theories of geopolitics and international relations, to explore the issues of international security, organization, regional integration, nationalism, state formation, and conflict. Historic geopolitical cases from Europe, North Africa, and across Eurasia, provide opportunities to assess theoretical approaches and profile the security and foreign policy of the United States. The United States has been the global key player in geopolitics ever since it became a superpower with the Second World War. Having a multi-ocean navy, nuclear weapons, and a global presence, the United States’ hegemonic grip on much of the world—either by political influence, economics, or force—continues to pressure countries and organizations that are in direct competition or conflict with its own. Of late, as geopolitical rivalries have slowly been edging back onto the center stage we are witnessing a new geopolitics in the new millennium. According to a Global Research report in March of 2016, the United States’ military installations operate and control between 700 and 800 military bases worldwide in 156 countries. This military domination is in direct counterbalance with Russia, China, Iran, and Japan, and organizations like the BRICS group, the New Development Bank, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The United States and the European Union find these trends troubling; both would rather move past geopolitical matters of territory and military power and focus instead on world order and global governance—primarily on trade liberalization, nuclear nonproliferation, human rights, and the rule of law. However, much of the West’s foreign policy has been to shift international relations away from zero-sum issues toward win-win ones. The United States, fundamentally, misconstrued what the collapse of the Soviet Union denoted and the ideological triumph of liberal capitalist democracy over communism. Russia, China, and Iran never integrated into the geopolitical settlement that followed the Cold War, and thus continue to make geopolitical counterbalances that threaten American global hegemony. This international politics dynamic raises concerns regarding peace, cooperation, security, and world governance.
RIVAL NON-AMERICAN HEGEMONIC ENTITIES
Globalization and transnational phenomena, technological innovation or transcultural issues, and synergies are all factors that bear on international relations. For subordinate countries under hegemonic control, the Centre has observed various forms of meta-geopolitics, in which a combination of traditional and new dimensions of geopolitics offers a multidimensional view of power and power relationships. Under this framework, the importance of geography is superseded by the combination of hard and soft power tools that countries can employ to preserve and obtain a certain level of sovereignty. It defines seven key dimensions of state power, including: social and health issues, domestic politics, economics, environment, science and human potential, military and security issues, and international diplomacy. Meta-geopolitics captures the enduring relevance of classical geopolitical thinking, the challenges, and normative shifts of our contemporary era, as well as the numerous factors that shape and determine state power and international politics. Accepting that our contemporary world is a highly complex environment means precisely acknowledging that both old and new security issues coexist. Natural resources, cultural fault lines, strategic chokepoints or weather patterns will continue to constrain or give extra leverage to countries on the global scene.
Dufour, J. (2016). "The Worldwide Network of US Military Bases", Global Research, Available: [www.globalresearch.ca/the-worldwide-network-of-us-military-bases/5564].
THE GLOBAL CHESS BOARD
EXAMINING POLITICAL ECOLOGY
Political ecology incorporates the relationships between political, economic, and social factors in respect to environmental issues and changes. Political ecology differs from apolitical ecological studies by politicizing environmental issues and phenomena. It offers wide-ranging research opportunities that integrate ecological social sciences with political economics in topics such as degradation and marginalization, environmental conflict, conservation and control, and environmental identities and social movements. Political ecology’s analytics on social forms and human organization interact at the environmental level. This discipline integrates aspects of anthropology, forestry, development studies, environmental sociology, environmental history, and geography—querying the relationship between economics, politics, and nature. Political ecological research advocates fundamental changes in the management of nature and the rights of people. Political ecology synthesizes the central questions asked within the social sciences about the relations between human society and its bio-cultural-political complexity, via a significantly humanized nature. Political ecology, thus, encompasses the issues of the clash of individual interests and the potential for collusion that lies at the heart of political economics, and ecology’s concerns with our biological and physical environment and emphases holistic analyses that connect the more social and power-centered field of political economy.
The Centre utilizes aspects of political ecology in an attempt to provide critiques as well as alternatives in the interplay of the environment and political, economic, and social factors. It has been asserted that the discipline has a normative understanding to do things better, to be less coercive and exploitative and to function more soundly in terms of sustainability. From these assumptions, political ecology can be used to: (1) inform policy-makers and organizations of the complexities surrounding environment and development, thereby contributing to better environmental governance; (2) understand the decisions that communities make about the natural environment in the context of their political environment, economic pressure and societal regulations; and (3) look at how unequal relations in and among societies affect the natural environment, especially in context of government policy. The Centre has referenced the Environmental Justice Atlas [ejatlas.org] for some of its application work as we have found it to be a useful tool in quickly examining political ecology matters. Applying political ecology to policy decisions—especially in the United States and Western Europe—will remain problematic; the separation of science and politics indicates the trend that juxtaposes the domination of nature and Neo-Marxist and Marxist theory of the order of things.
POLITICS OF FOOD
POLITICS OF FOOD
The rise in global food prices that peaked in mid-2008 has put rising food insecurity back on the international political agenda. According to recent estimates, the number of undernourished people in the world is currently over 1 billion. Food politics is the political aspects of the production, control, regulation, inspection, distribution, and consumption of food. The politics can be affected by the ethical, cultural, medical, and environmental disputes concerning proper farming, agricultural, and retailing methods and regulations. Food has become central to the precarious economy, it has become a form of social control in which conceptual and methodological approaches to understanding its security, nutrition, availability, and accountability have left most people detached from what they consume. Further information on this topic can be found under Food and Agriculture under Human Geography. There are some parallel themes of interest, however, in Interdisciplinary Societal Studies we focus solely on the political aspects and route cause-and-effect.
CASE STUDY: UNITED STATES
The United States is of particular interest due to its overwhelming power and multinational conglomerate influence on this subject matter. The politics of the global food system is put into play via policies, structures, power relations, and political debates surrounding the production, distribution, and consumption of food. Key American theoretical frameworks and concepts of understanding the dominant paradigms and dynamics of the food system integrate sociology and politics of food and agriculture, food policy, the political economy, and the political ecology of food. This is detailed by examining (1) food technology which looks at the farming of animals and their levels of intensity, genetically modified foods and its consummate safety, pesticide use, conglomerate food manufacturing and processing, biofuels versus food supply, and domestic food aid; (2) food security which is comprised of domestic production and self-sufficiency, commercial food imports, and international food aid; and (3) food management which in turn affects retailing, hunger rates, and regulatory control. The precautionary principle is the baseline of the European Union and Centre's research; we continue to draw upon findings, the United States Food and Drug Administration has been compromised and has not properly looked out for the public interest of its citizens. In effect, via American hegemony, its influences have a wash on affect throughout many other parts of the world.
POVERTY AND AID
POVERTY AND DEVELOPMENT
Despite the high prospects generated in the early 1990s, the past decades have offered little hope to most poor countries whose populations increasingly find themselves in a complex web of poverty and deprivation. Poverty and inequality appear as resilient as ever and hundreds of millions across the world suffer the daily torment of deprivation in some form or another, be it the pain of persistent hunger and disease, the absence of adequate health care or the blatant disregard of basic human rights. Almost half the world—over 3 billion people—live on less than USD 2.50 a day. The gross domestic product (GDP) of the 41 heavily indebted poor countries (600 million people) have less wealth than the world’s seven richest people combined. Nearly a billion people entered the Twentieth Century unable to read a book or sign their names. Less than one percent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000, yet it didn’t happen. One billion children live in poverty, that is, one in two children worldwide. 1.6 billion live without access to modern energy, one quarter of all the children on the planet suffer from malnutrition and one in six have no supply of clean water. The Centre’s poverty research explores how lives of the poor are characterized by the lack of capabilities and entitlements to food, health, education, land, natural resources, security, and political influence. We are also interested in comparative studies of disparities across countries and regions in terms of income poverty, vulnerability and well-being and issues related to natural resource use and management, ethics, governance, human rights, and foreign aid. This research extends to include studies of policy formulation and implementation which may shed light on why certain poverty reduction strategies succeed in certain contexts and not in others.
Foreign aid, or development assistance, is often regarded as being too much or wasted on corrupt recipient governments despite any good intentions from donor countries. In reality, both the quantity and quality of aid have been poor and donor countries have not been held to account. There are numerous forms of aid, including: bilateral, multilateral, and tied. These forms of aid complement humanitarian emergency assistance, food aid, project development, and military assistance. Development aid has long been recognized as crucial to help poor developing countries grow out of poverty. Foreign aid, historically, dates back to the 1960s when the first United Nations Development Decade was declared. In 1970, the world’s rich countries agreed to give 0.7 % of their GDP as official international development aid, annually. Since that time, despite billions given each year, rich countries have rarely met their actual promised quotas. As an example, the United States is often the largest donor in dollar terms, but ranks amongst the lowest in terms of meeting the stated 0.7 % quota. Moreover, effective development aid needs as much investment in relationships as in does in financial support. In many of the poorest countries continued debates about the need continues, including: policy coherence, problems of corruption, criticism of United Nations bureaucracy, and the established neoliberalist institutions of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and International Monetary Fund. The Centre undertakes critical research, from different disciplinary perspectives, on the challenges that aid faces: both for donors and recipients. The OECD countries noted an almost 3 % decline in aid after 2010, the first decline in a long time. Although this decline was expected at some point because of the financial problems in most wealthier countries, those same problems ripple onto the poorest countries, so a drop in aid, is very significant. During recent years, some developing countries have been advancing (e.g., China, India, Brazil, etc.) and economic arguments for not giving foreign aid have been again put to the test. Some arguments against foreign aid include:
it does not promote faster growth but may in fact hold it back by substituting for domestic savings and investment;
it is generally focused on the growth of the modern sector, thereby increasing the gap in living standards between the rich and the poor in recipient countries;
if the aid given is concerned with unproductive fields or obsolete technology, it will have the effect of increasing the inflation in the country; and
it is often donor countries that impose or make interference in the economic and political activities of the recipient country.
Note, the United States' foreign aid is divided into two broad categories: military aid and economic assistance. Other large sums are given to non-government organizations, agencies, and individuals in other countries through American foundations, churches, and other organizations. At the Centre, we research poverty and development very closely and weight in both the positive and negative aspects of aid.
RIGHTS AND DEVELOPMENT
Today, among the most talked about issues in politics is human rights and its growing acceptance that human beings, irrespective of where they live, have certain common goals related to life and well-being both at individual and collective levels. The human rights-based approach to development gained momentum in the 1990s against the backdrop of growing criticism of the relative failure of so-called conventional development strategies, encouraged and pursued by national and international agencies, to eradicate poverty. The solution, many argued, was to adopt the approach which demands the process of human development that is normatively based on international human rights standards and operationally aimed at promoting and protecting human rights for all. An important notion that has gained considerable attention in recent years is legal empowerment of the poor, in which poverty persists partly due to the poor not being able to exercise or the power to exercise legal rights. The goal of empowering the poor requires more than simply a transfer of resources; it entails the creation of sound legal and political frameworks which specifically address the needs of poor and vulnerable groups in the population and hold political and administrative leaders to account for policy failures. The Centre’s research on rights and development focuses on critical studies of how these approaches can be operationalised in practice in selected countries in Africa and Southeast Asia. Empirical research examines social justice and accountability of states and explores public policies and judicial reforms aimed at legal and social empowerment of the poor by promoting, protecting and fulfilling human rights. Specific areas of focus including the rule of law and access to justice, the informal sector and labour rights.
HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE UNITED STATES
The United States has a vibrant civil society and strong constitutional protections for many basic rights; however, particularly in the areas of criminal justice, immigration, and national security, its laws and practices routinely violate rights. Often, those least able to defend their rights in court or through the political process, racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, children, the poor, and prisoners, are the people most likely to suffer abuses. Economic and social rights are a natural, and in fact necessary, outgrowth of the United States founding ideals of equality, freedom, and human dignity. Social movement leaders have often recognized this relationship. Around the time of his launching the Poor People’s Campaign, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to this stating:
We read one day. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. That they endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these, are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But if a man doesn’t have job or an income, he has neither life, nor liberty and the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists.
—Martin Luther King, Jr. (March 1968)
Issuing a dramatic challenge, Dr. King called for a Bill of Economic Rights and recognized that:
We have moved from the era of civil rights to the era of human rights, an era where we are called upon to raise certain basic questions about the whole society. We have been in a reform movement. But after Selma and the voting rights bill, we moved into a new era, which must be the era of revolution. We must recognize that we can’t solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power, this means a revolution of values and other things. We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together, you can’t really get rid of one without getting rid of the others, the whole structure of American life must be changed. America is a hypocritical nation and [we] must put [our] own house in order.
—Martin Luther King, Jr. (May 1967)
There are powerful messages that are worth reviewing; they should not be overlooked. Current human rights abuses extend to many facets of culture and countries and challenge the very Constitution of the United States, including the amendments, its state constitutions, conferred by treaty and enacted legislatively through the United States Congress, its state legislatures and its state referenda and citizen's initiatives. As the global superpower, the United States, as a country falls short in procuring the global vision its political establishment calls American freedom and democracy.
In reference to recent research in science and technology of sustainable societies it lays out a critical scope on the state-of-the-art rationale in terms of human interconnectedness with the world-around-us and diverse challenges contemporary societies face. Key points of interest are exemplified in terms of fostering the need to understand sustainable societies via a functional, versus dysfunctional, redefinition of society itself. Present research relating to studies that co-involve many science-based queries in which the examination of the coexistence of personal and interdisciplinary studies play key roles in better piecing together the human factor of improving societal harmonization. Reflecting on historical and chronology-based research act as vital elements in improving the understanding of why and how contemporary societies sense detachment from what is sustainable and in what direction they are headed. This research is based on a worldwide growing concern of ideas and concepts that people from all scopes of life are probing. The concern can be correlated to human necessities in which needs and wants at an individual level coexist and frame day-to-day actions. The level of harmonization societies exert is somewhat of a balancing-act in which large scoped challenges—such as loss of biodiversity, acute poverty and rising inequality—are at the center of attention receiving bandage-like fixes that have been relatively inept. The need to rearrange nature-society relations is core at trying to comprehend the noise in society in which functionality, between the two, defines human sustainability. Noise, in this sense, is the busyness societies, especially contemporary, levy on an individual. This levy is weight. It is the individual’s level of effectiveness or participation, versus unproductiveness or imaginative state of thinking “outside the box”. Sustainable societies relate not only to lifestyle but to an aggregate thinking of where human survival starts and ends and whether it is from a top-down or bottom-up viewpoint. On a broadened scale the use of various bottom-line perspectives offers a number of viable notions in which threshold and trend like designs illustrate a lack of cohesiveness; over the last few decades this fragmentation has worsened mostly via cause-and-effect of self-indulgence and materialism. This continued fragmenting relationship is at a crossroad and transitional point in which forthcoming generations will work and live at a standard consequential of our actions.
The past decade has seen an extreme argument in access to knowledge and information. This is purely the result of the Internet. Global access to information has had, and continues to have, a profound impact on the way societies around the world view the individual, communities, nation states, and the global division among elites and non-elites. Concurrently, this concept touches every aspect of the human life cycle. There are rules of which people must be conscious and observe to stay out of trouble and be accepted. The notion of obedience is key to the authority figure that supervises the activities of those who supposedly know no better. Those who believe to have the answers to life's complex questions usually fall into this role or, at any rate, those who declare themselves as having the answers dictate the whys and wherefores of how subordinate classes live. Throughout human history this type of surrendering one's will to the whims of another is to bury one's self beneath a layer of obedience, whether enforced or voluntary, suppressing subconscious tendencies bent toward personal strength. This strength-manifest, when exerted, is often considered rebellion or on a larger scale revolution. The authority, in this case, will often reply with the call for psychological counselling, medication, physical deterrence or force. At the Centre, we believe we are living in extraordinary times. If human beings were sheep, we would all live and obey without questioning the powers that be; yet, as we observe levels of individuality there is a global movement, via the Internet, to demand upon leadership and, consequentially, just decision making of the self-proclaimed, ordained, elected or hired authority to expound and be held responsible for ruling and decisions that effect other people.
Socioeconomics—or social economics—are concerns regarding the factors that can impact an individual or family’s social standing and economic status. These concerns or questions include the ethics, fairness, and results of policies, theories, and institutions that may result in a different standard of treatment and opportunities based on socioeconomic status. Poverty is a major socioeconomic issue because it is the source of many other socioeconomic concerns. Socioeconomic factors are lifestyle components and measurements of both financial viability and social standing. They directly influence social privilege and levels of financial independence. Factors such as health status, income, environment, and education are studied by the Centre’s sociologists in terms of how they each affect human behaviors and circumstances. As lifestyle measurements, they are believed to be directly correlated to patterns of drug use, health, food choices, migration, disease prevalence, and rates of mortality in human populations.
The issue of socioeconomic inequalities is by and large addressed in terms of the extreme poor detached from the relational dimensions of the extreme rich. This extreme wealth-imbalance is characterized as a result of multifaceted processes led by the emergence of complex forms of appropriation and private enjoyment of the socially affluent. Sociological expertise can bring light to this subject matter by way of social classes and conceptualizing the consequences of this current process on society as a whole—covering substantial wealth and personification of wealth—via the affluent class. Collectively, it should be recognized that hindrances and prejudices exist from historical class difference in which we envision a need to be overcome. This would allow progress toward the production of critical knowledge about the division of society and the formation of power and of subordination. Within the European Commission's Social Sciences and Humanities focus, specific policy area research focuses on reversing such inequalities, we at the Centre are in support of this research and are fully committed in creating a Europe with a 'Triple-A Social Rating' and strengthening the concept of the European Social Model. Further information on the European Commission’s work on wealth disparities can be found on its Reversing Inequalities website at [https://ec.europa.eu/info/research-and-innovation/research-area/social-sciences-and-humanities/reversing-inequalities_en]. The Centre has enlarged its socioeconomics research throughout Europe and has expanded to include parts of Southeast Asia, North America, and Australia.
CASE STUDY: ITALY
The divide between the 'givers' and the 'takers' is well known across the broad European Union, but it is just as prevalent as on the national scale in Italy. This chasm between the two sides of fiscal profligacy marks a critical separation between North and South. The North of the country tends to be the net tax contributor and the South the net receiver of fiscal benefits. At the very top is Lombardia, the richest area, a northern region that sent a net EUR 44bn to the rest of the nation; while, the most broke state, Sicily, received a net EUR 12.8bn from the rest of the nation. This divide can further be examined by looking at Italy's regions' Human Development Index (HDI). No region in Italy was close to the underdeveloped core states of the United States (i.e., Kentucky has the lowest HDI); however, Italy's lowest HDI region of Campania was comparable to Uruguay and Cuba, and stood just above countries like Mexico and Bulgaria. As a whole, Italy's HDI number of .945 is comparable to Portugal or the Czech Republic. The Centre closely observes its host nation's development potential and provides input and feedback, accordingly.