Political Science

Building a Better Society

Interview with LSE-professor of global governance, Mary Kaldor

13. 2. 2013 | Mary Kaldor's work on global civil society and human security has shone a light on how governments and everyday people interact
AcademiaNet: What area of civil society are you currently studying in your role as director of the Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit at the London School of Economics?

Mary Kaldor: We did a study last year on what we called "subterranean politics", which is about new political campaigns, parties, ideas and protests. We deliberately decided not to use the term "civil society" because we felt that civil society was so identified with NGOs, non-governmental organisations, and we wanted to get at what's happening politically outside of the mainstream. The idea was to look in different cultural contexts across Europe: some of them were national – we had Germany, Italy, Spain, and Hungary –some of them were transnational, and one was a city, London.
Prof. Mary Kaldor
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(© private)

Prof. Mary Kaldor | in her office at the prestigious London School of Economics

We found that these new emerging political phenomena are no more widespread or organised than in previous years, but they have greater resonance among the broader population. They are not a reaction to austerity but rather they are about politics – a loss of trust in mainstream politics. Social networking such as Facebook and Twitter is important to these movements, not only as a means of organisation but also in the way it has transformed the very nature of political activism.

Over the past 12 years or so you've been instrumental in developing the concept of "global civil society". How would you define this term?

The term "civil society" is very old and goes back to ancient Greece. In common parlance, civil society tends to be equated with NGOs and other non-state actors. For me, civil society is something different – an arena where people negotiate, debate, argue, struggle, and protest with the centres of economic and political power about the decisions that affect their lives. "Global civil society" is civil society in these global times.

The term civil society was reinvented in the 1980s simultaneously in Latin America, where people were struggling against military dictatorship, and in Eastern Europe. It meant, at that time, a space independent of the state that people carved out for themselves; it was all about autonomy and self organisation. For me what was interesting about civil society at that point was not just this new use of the term but also the fact that it really did depend on the emergence of what can be called global politics, by which I mean politics in the international arena involving all kinds of non-state actors.

You’ve tracked the development of this concept in the global civil society yearbook, which is now in its 10th year. How do you think the concept has evolved in this period?

In the post 1968 period, a lot of people who wanted to get active in politics found themselves blocked by the dominant political parties, so they joined a movement. After the revolutions in 1989 in Eastern Europe, governments became much more responsive to these new groups, which turned themselves into what we call NGOs and became "tamed", as it were. NGOs are increasingly being seen as part of the elite, so today the free spaces where people can debate public affairs have moved elsewhere; for example, to the internet and to the squares.
Occupy London
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(© Neil Cummings, creative commons)

Occupy London | From October 2011 until June 2012, protesters in London set up tent camps, reflecting the New York protests of "Occupy Wall Street": against economic inequality, and against greedy companies and governments.

You also study human security. How does the concept of human security differ from more traditional notions of security?

The definition of human security is that it's about the security of individuals rather than the security of states. A second aspect of the definition is that it's about people feeling secure not only from physical threats of violence but also from economic and social causes and from material deprivation.

I think the concept of human security that we have developed in my research unit is rather unlike other concepts in that we also stress the idea that it's related to the rule of law. We used to think of internal security as something that's based on the rule of law, and external security as something that's based more on diplomacy. What human security is really about is extending internationally the kind of security that we enjoy in rights based, law governed societies like the UK.

At the moment, we have a major research programme entitled "Security in Transition: An interdisciplinary investigation into the security gap". By "security gap", we mean the millions of people around the world who experience deep insecurity, like threats from terrorism, from organised crime, or in the context of failing states, yet our security capabilities do not help them feel more secure. But these insecurities can spill over and cause insecurities elsewhere, for instance in the EU.

You’ve worked with a lot of organisations worldwide, for example the Corvinus University in Budapest and the Stockholm International Peace Research Unit. Are there any collaborations that have been particularly fruitful?

I think the most important thing I've done is that I was the convenor of a study group that contributed to the development of a European Defence and Security policy. We reported to Javier Solana, who was the European Union's High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy at the time. He had to establish a European security policy from scratch, so we set up this study group to think about what kind of security capabilities Europe needed. Halfway through, at the end of the first report, we said that we needed a name for what European security policy should be about, and that was when we started to talk about human security.

Our first report, which was published in 2004, was called a Human Security Doctrine for Europe. After we had finished the first report, the European Commission put much greater emphasis on human rights and on consultation with people. More importantly, the fact that we were completely independent made our report the subject of lots of debate around Europe. There were a lot of seminars, a lot of discussion, and a lot of literature about whether it was right that European policy should be based on human security.

Dear Prof. Kaldor, thank you very much for this interesting interview.

Interview: Helen Jaques
  (© AcademiaNet)

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