The Ethics of Solidarity, Community and Care

By Leonie Ansems de Vries

I am very happy to introduce this short blog series on The Ethics of Solidarity, Community and Care, which is part of the International Relations and Ethics theme contribution to the School of Security Studies Virtual Research Conference on Global Shocks. In addition to the blog series, IR and Ethics theme members have contributed to a short video in which they reflect on what the ethics of solidarity, community and care means to them and how it features in their research. The video will be shown as part of an interactive panel discussion on the same theme.

Global shocks such as the Covid-19 pandemic highlight the structural social, political, and economic inequalities that put some people more at risk than others, raising important ethical questions. Yet, we have also seen the emergence and renewal of communities of solidarity and care, locally as well as transnationally.

This blog series comprises three thoughtful and thought-provoking contributions on these broader themes of violence, inequality, solidarity, and care, by Hannah Goozee, Alvina Hoffmann and Lucy Thomas respectively. Indeed, one of the things that struck me when I first read the pieces is that all three approach the ethics of solidarity, community and care by addressing questions of violence and exploitation – political, economic, historical, social, personal, structural and epistemic. Moreover, all three pieces weave together the local with the global, the present with the historical, and the personal with the structural and the planetary.

This focus on personal experiences, local and global struggles and practices and structures of violence and exploitation might seem surprising for a set of reflections on community, solidarity, and care. In turn, the focus on these themes might be unusual for a Security Studies conference. Yet, grounded in critical and self-reflexive approaches, the three pieces show that these issues are closely connected; that questions of community, solidarity and care are highly contested and imbued with relations of power and structures of violence. Shifting away from the presumption of institutionalised units such as the state as the starting point for thinking about community and solidarity – as is so often the case in Security Studies and International Relations scholarship – they bring to the fore more marginalised voices and communities, as well as more personal reflections on knowledge production in academia. In addition, the contributions show the importance of taking seriously intersectional issues such as, but not limited to, gender, race, and class.

Rather than thinking about practices of solidarity and care within a realm that is pre-established, and/or implies a preconceived idea of who belongs, the focus is on struggles. This resonates with my own research, which seeks to dig deeper into practices and structures of power and violence whilst remaining attentive to the entanglements of struggles and practices of resistance and what these seek to contest (e.g. Ansems de Vries 2016; Ansems de Vries et al 2017). Communities of solidarity – and a sense of who I am/we are – come into being through struggle, rather than being pre-existent. Moreover, as Coleman and Rosenow (2016) note, an understanding of what the struggle is about emerges through struggle.

For me, the politics of struggle is not only a matter of looking for and listening to what has been silenced and a question of how we amplify the struggles of those who are marginalised; it is also about remaining reflexive of the impact of our interventions and positionalities (Ansems de Vries 2020a). Relatedly, an ethics of solidarity and care means being open to being cha(lle)nged in the process, and in ways that might be uncomfortable and/or unknown. This requires different ways of looking, and, importantly, of listening, as well as developing more affective approaches to knowing, as Goozee and Thomas also write in their contributions.

I will end with a brief overview of the three contributions. Firstly, in her piece, Bringing the personal (back) in (published Wednesday 3 June 2020), Hannah Goozee asks what happens if we, as researchers, listen to our emotions. In this very personal reflection of the felt experience of conducting ethnographic and archival research in South Africa, Goozee writes that research methods are not abstract but very much bound up with who she is as a feeling individual. Much of her time in South Africa was marked by fear and anxiety. She relates this personal reflections to broader epistemological biases in International Relations and the colonial extraction of knowledge. Rather than understanding her efforts to ignore her emotions during her research as a personal failure, she suggests, with reference to Laura Sjoberg (2019), that the realisation of the importance of emotions can also be seen as a political moment: it offers the opportunity to re-evaluate broader systems and values.

Alvina Hoffman’s contribution Solidarity in military courts: Crimean Tatars in global history, politics and practices (published on Thursday 4 June 2020) discusses the criminalisation of Crimean Tatar men after the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, linking local and global struggles and practices. She does so by asking how local activists seek to gain international attention and solidarity and by connecting these local practices to three global struggles in which Crimean Tatars are implicated: the global history of indigenous peoples’ rights; the global politics of extremism legislation as part of counter-terrorism efforts; and global practices of incarceration. The question of gender is also raised, as women become actively involved in activism as men are incarcerated.

Finally, Lucy Thomas, in her piece Writing the self, writing as care (published on Friday 5 June 2020), reflects on how writing differently and writing otherwise can be an act of care and resistance within wider contexts of violence. Her contribution also addresses the epistemic bias according to which academic writing is regarded as detached from the self. She shows how this cleansing of academic writing is deeply implicated in coloniality. The Enlightenment, the intellectual transformation of Europe during which dominant conceptions of ‘objective’ scientific ways of knowing became established, is inextricably bound up with the colonisation of Africa, America and Asia and the extraction of data from ‘the Other’. She concludes that, for those marginalised in the colonial present, ‘writing for and of oneself and writing for and of one another’s lives, struggles, and deaths, is a form of liberation and resistance.’

Leonie Ansems de Vries is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations and Chair of the Migration Research Group at King’s College London.

 

Bibliography

Ansems de Vries, Leoine (2016) ‘Politics of (in)visibility: Governance-resistance and the constitution of refugee subjectivities in Malaysia’, Review of International Studies 42 (5):876–94.

Ansems de Vries, Leonie (2020a) ‘movement – becoming – violence: two’, Arts Cabinet, available at https://www.artscabinet.org/index/movement-becoming-violence-two

Ansems de Vries, Leonie (2020b) ‘movement – becoming – violence: three’, Arts Cabinet, available at https://www.artscabinet.org/index/movement-becoming-violence-three

Ansems de Vries, Leonie, Lara Coleman, Doerthe Rosenow, Martina Tazzioli, Rolando Vázquez (2017) ‘Collective Discussion: Fracturing Politics (Or, How to Avoid the Tacit Reproduction of Modern/Colonial Ontologies in Critical Thought)’, International Political Sociology 11 (1):90–108.

Coleman, Lara Montesinos and Doerthe Rosenow (2016) ‘Security (Studies) and the Limits of Critique: Why We Should Think through Struggle’, Critical Studies on Security 4(2): 202-20.

Sjoberg, Laura (2019) ‘Failure and Critique in Critical Security Studies’, Security Dialogue 50 (1): 77–94.