07 June 2016

Interview: Disposable lives, globalization, and the future of sustainability

Options Magazine Summer 2016: Shalini Randeria is rector of the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna and an IIASA distinguished visiting fellow.

© Dejan Petrovic | IWM

© Dejan Petrovic | IWM

Q: What role does globalization play in the inequality between the Global North and South?
Neo-liberal economic restructuring has increased inequalities between countries but also within each society. We are witness today to an unprecedented concentration of income and wealth, which is not an unforeseen consequence of economic globalization but the result of deliberate public policies. The Global South, however, is no longer a geographical category. Greece is an example of a European country dependent on international finance institutions in much the same way that once so-called developing countries were.

Q: You say that economic and political processes render some lives disposable—what do you mean by that?
Take India for instance: since the country’s independence in 1947, every year some 500,000 people—mostly small-holder farmers, agricultural workers, and fishing and forest-dwelling communities—have been forcibly displaced to make room for gigantic infrastructure projects. They have become development refugees in their own country. These people are regarded as “dispensable” by the state in the sense that their livelihoods are destroyed, their lives disrupted, and they are denied access to common property resources. These populations are the human waste that is sacrificed at the altar of an unsustainable model of incessant economic growth.

Q: The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted last year, include aims to end poverty, ensure access to employment, energy, water, and reduce inequality, at the same time as preserving the environment. What challenges do you see for achieving these goals?

A: The SDGs will prove to be an important milestone, if they are implemented the world over. Some of these goals are in conflict with one another. Take the protection of biodiversity, for example, which is often constructed as an antagonistic relationship between society and nature. In the new global regime of biodiversity conservation, nature is portrayed as a self-regulating, pristine, uninhabited wilderness that is threatened due to the wasteful resource use by local populations. Thus access and traditional usage rights are curtailed, and indigenous knowledge is devalued and marginalized. The (post)colonial transformation of landscapes into “environment,” “natural resources,” and “biodiversity” has enclosed the commons in most regions of the Global South and often commercialized them.

Q: What needs to be done by international institutions to make significant progress in achieving the SDGs?
Eliminating poverty will need an understanding of it that goes beyond a merely economic one. One will need to take into account possibilities of democratic participation, access to public goods and infrastructure, as well as civil rights and a restoration of a plurality of livelihoods. But these institutions also need to be reformed as they have a serious democracy deficit, be it the EU or other institutions. Unaccountability of international institutions and powerful corporations along with stark asymmetries of power between these and the nation-states characterizes the new architecture of global governance. This situation needs to be remedied urgently if we are to realize global justice.

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Last edited: 15 June 2016


Nebojsa Nakicenovic

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Disposable lives, globalization, and the future of sustainability (full version interview)

Shalini Randeria

Distinguished Visiting Fellow

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
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