Dr. Heloise Weber and Dr. Martin Weber of the University of Queensland have written a rejoinder to the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute’s inaugural Rhodes Report, titled “Civilisations, States and World Order”. What follows is a short summary of the rejoinder written by Drs. Heloise Weber and Martin Weber and a brief interview with the authors. The rejoinder is available to download in full here.
“Civilisations, States and World Order: Where are we? Where are we heading?” is an impressive and compelling synthesis that provides a much enhanced understanding of contemporary global social and political challenges. Among its strengths, the report considers the potentials and political importance of appreciating a wide range of contributing factors to the maintenance and transformation of world order. But the report is a beginning, not an end. It has two major “silences”. In this Rejoinder we identifiy these as the (i) the Development Problematic and (ii) the Ecological Problematic.
“Where we are?” is clearly an outcome of a particular history of development. The civilisation states central to the Report may have distinctive, long-term civilisation histories, but in the contemporary context all are (minor differences aside) premised on a development model that can be traced to modernisation theory’s ideals and values. The broader crisis tendencies in contemporary world order are hence indicative of a crisis of that particular developmental model. They significantly affect all of the contending geopolitical powers identified in the Report.
The Development Problematic is integrally connected with the Ecological Problematic. No ‘new’ or ‘reformed’ hegemonic leadership in world politics could be conceived without the capacity to provide at the very least plausible answers to the Ecological Question. High modernist “development” produced our contemporary ecological problems, while failing to resolve accompanying social questions of poverty, exclusion and exploitation. Both problematics can only be resolved together. Yet, both the theory and practices of global governance, for instance in the form of the SDG initiative, nor a new or re-constituted hegemonic leadership would appear to have plausible answers to our two problematics.
In this rejoinder we present an expanded discussion of why the silences in the Report about the Development Problematic and the Ecological Problematic should be addressed. Following a general appraisal we discuss the orthodox development framework shared among the civilisation states globally. Despite the crucial practical role this framework plays in shaping contemporary understandings of geopolitical competition, we also show it to be contingent and problematic. The Ecological Problematic must be understood as an outcome of that developmental framework. Together the development and ecological problematics present political challenges that call for unprecedented, wholesale revisions by all relevant world powers. We conclude by suggesting how the dialogue inaugurated by the Report could be productively expanded by addressing these two silences.”
How might you see the paradigm of ‘dialogue of civilisations’ helping in the coordination of a global response to the Development Problematic and the Ecological Problematic you mention in your rejoinder?
1) The idea of a ‘dialogue of civilisations’ has quite a long history, though the focus has often been on coming to a better understanding of the differences between them. The promise has rightly always been that understanding these differences would be important for enhanced collaboration, mutual trust, and a more peaceful world order. The paradigm of “dialogue of civilisations” is useful in the coordination of a global response to the development problematic and the ecological problematic because they are integrally connected to dominant conceptions of civilisation. The latter being associated with progress and modernity. In its dominant form, key features of modern social, political and economic organisation have been ‘globalised’. In the contemporary context, civilisational clusters deal with similar problems, albeit with different socio-cultural and politico-cultural resources. This means that ‘dialogue of civilisations’ is a useful common referent through which to alter what such dialogue (about civilisation) has to be about.
What would be your key recommendations for developing a globally sustainable approach to the Development Problematic?
This is another important question. One potential strategy could be a two-pronged approach.
- A) To identify (often small but globally resonating) sustainable socio-political experiments that work in different ways within different civilisational clusters.
The objective would be to develop a research network dedicated to identifying and studying projects across the globe that have achieved noticeable and durable successes in combining both, environmental and social objectives. Such a research project could be the jump-off point for entering new, interesting voices into the dialogic settings necessary for developing ‘new rules’ for world order. It would also help to raise awareness of the dominant civilisational pressures (often in terms of policy environments) that such projects or initiatives are confronted by.
- B) Proactively work towards altering the dialogue about what development is and what it ought to be about. This is part of what the response to question 1 might entail. It is crucial to alter common-sense conceptions of notions of progress associated with ‘civilization’.
These two objectives could be pursued independently from one another (including in and through research), but the approach would be most effective if pursued through a combined approach.
Is there much literature/many initiatives emerging which incorporates ecological considerations into the analysis of ‘big picture’ world order?
There is a lot of literature on big picture ecological constellations, but little that congeals with questions of geopolitics or world order. Analyses proceeding from the vantage point of cycling ecological science into political science typically articulate in one way or another that the imperatives associated with geopolitics inform and shape ecological issues. Some flexibility is introduced in such analyses more often than not as a function of technological adaptation. There is little work that explicitly considers the question of more fundamental institutional changes, including with regard to social and political institutions of world order, such as diplomacy, law and conflict mediation. However, what is it at stake here can be adduced by way of a more systematic encounter with an increasingly prominent resurgent literature on indigenous politics across the world. Often following many decades of careful ‘retrieval’, accounts are now being made available of the often highly complex, inclusive and successful management of human/nature relations, their institutionalisation, and the simultaneous capacity to organise for socio-economic needs. It would be important not to treat such work as ‘blue-prints’, but instead to cultivate dialogic settings in which listening to such experiences and legacies could be done in an enhanced manner. There is a wealth of lessons to be learnt in such contexts.
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