1st Workshop Report: June 2012

Conflict and Welfare

All papers presented at the Princeton-Oxford workshop examined to some degree the impact of conflict on the concept of political membership, thereby revealing new facets of the formation of transnational histories.  They relied on a broad definition of conflict, from revolutionary instability and the pressures of colonial administration to territorial occupation and confrontation with total war.  Despite the wide range of topics and geographical areas covered, most papers shared some common understandings.  They first underscored the notion that conflict forces the state or its institutions to act, in many cases toward the positive provision of socio-economic rights to its citizens.  Second, they highlighted how war conditions often led to the mingling of groups and classes that would otherwise have remained independent of each other.   These processes contributed to the articulation and reformulation of ideas of political membership.

The extension of extraterritorial citizenship to European Jews during the Holocaust exemplifies how wartime conditions motivated state action toward the provision of specific rights.  In a well-known case, the Swedish authorities decided in 1944 to deliver lifesaving certificates to thousands of Jews stationed in Budapest, who thus avoided deportation.  This reference to the extraterritorial aspect of ethnic citizenship makes us reconsider some familiar frameworks of analysis as it expands the definition of the relationship between the state and its citizens.   In another example, the United Nations’ post-war aim of defining human rights demonstrates that conflict and its aftermath can compel the state, or its international expression, to re-evaluate notions of governance and its obligations to provide human rights to its citizens.

This study of the UN project equally illustrates the second point, that conflict leads to the mixing of entities or groupings until then thought independent.  The UN created a forum where different ‘voices’ and zones were able to meet and interact.  That it drew on non-European transnational norms to articulate concepts of human rights suggests again that we must reassess our conventional framework of investigation.

The exploration of welfare practices in Shanghai’s international settlement during the Sino-Japanese war provides another illustration of this unexpected blending of influences.  The conflict dramatically enhanced the responsibility accepted by the Shanghai Municipal Council for industrial and child protection.   The Chinese initiative, input by the Australian activist Eleanor Hinder, international pressure and Japanese interests amongst others, all contributed in raising awareness of welfare needs.  As Linda Colley noted, a study of the Shanghai’s settlement underscores the existence of areas where the West was powerful, but not necessarily monopolizing power.  The influence of the Japanese on the Settlement highlights the role of some groupings that cannot be conveniently slotted into customary categories.

Some papers also focused more precisely on the effects of occupation on the provision of welfare and socio-political rights, sometimes in unlikely places.  Thus, the presence of British and Soviet occupying forces in Iran during the Second World War guided the concerns of the Tudeh party, possibly stripping it from its original democratic aspirations.   Likewise, the war shaped Greenland’s political identity, as strategic and humanitarian preoccupations brought the U.S. government to impose its territorial presence in order to thwart German control, leading to long-lasting American influence on the island.

Finally, this workshop reminded us of the possible negative effects of welfarism taken in its broad understanding.  The exploration of administrative legacies in the former colonies of India, Cyprus and Israel show for example that the classification criteria for population put in place by the colonial bureaucracy, allegedly in a fair and efficient manner, could sow the seeds of segregation and frictions as well as offer a measure of political membership.  In that sense, the delineation of socio-political rights is a process that has the potential to disrupt the existing political identity taken for granted by a specific community.

Nadine Willems,
June 2012


List of Participants:

Roshan Allpress (Oxford)
Yael Berda (Princeton)
Dawn Berry (Oxford)
Alexander Chase-Levenson (Princeton)
Will Clegg (Oxford)
Linda Colley (Princeton)
Robert Fletcher (Oxford)
Sheldon Garon (Princeton)
Yossi Harpaz (Princeton)
Isabella Jackson (Oxford)
Idriss Jebari (Oxford)
Kate Kennedy (Oxford)
Sherman Lai (Oxford)
Erin Lin (Princeton)
Rana Mitter (Oxford)
Maribel Morey (Princeton)
Rowena Abdul Razak (Oxford)
Helen Schneider (Oxford)
Nadine Willems (Oxford)