Free Access at a High Price

Plan S.: PRIO would far rather pay fees to ensure that all our publications in subscription journals are made available via open access than be forced to publish our best research in lower quality journals.

The new European Plan S – an open access (OA) policy for research results – is ambitious and radical. It will also come at a very high cost to some of Norway’s leading research milieus. Institutions that compete successfully for the most prestigious research grants will be penalized, because they will be forced to publish their important research in insignificant journals. This is not only a bad way of disseminating research, it will also have a widespread negative impact on recruitment to, and the internationalization of, the best research projects.

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Is ‘Sustainable Migration’ a Valuable Concept?

Is ‘sustainability’ a good guiding principle for migration policy? Or does using this word muddle well-informed debate on international migration?

Photo: Jørgen Carling / PRIO

The notion of ‘sustainable migration’ has been floated as a guiding principle for migration policy. Is it a concept we should embrace? On the one hand, it neatly captures the idea that migration should be managed in a way that ensures well-balanced distribution of costs and benefits, today and in the future. On the other hand, ‘sustainable migration’ can serve as a politically charged rhetorical device: it thrives on the liberal and progressive connotations of ‘sustainable’, but implicitly presents migration as an existential threat to society.

In an effort to establish a platform of knowledge on ‘sustainable migration’, the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security commissioned us to write a paper on how the concept of ‘sustainable migration’ may be defined, applied and understood. We conducted the project in collaboration with our colleagues Cindy Horst and Cathrine Talleraas. The Ministry also commissioned two professors at the University of Oxford, Alexander Betts and Paul Collier, to write a parallel paper.

We disagree with Betts and Collier on a number of issues. However, we share their view that ‘sustainable migration’ can describe migration that in the best manner possible serves the interests of the country of origin, the recipient country, and the migrants themselves. And our two reports contain proposed definitions that are not so different. Our mandate focused on migration from lower and middle-income countries in the Global South, to high-income countries in the Global North. This is a specific geographic subsection of international migration that accounts for 35% of the global stock of international migrants. For comparison, South–South migration makes up 38%.

Describing something as ‘sustainable’ entails it can be maintained over time. So ‘sustainable migration’ would suggest migration at a level that can continue indefinitely. This may seem like a reasonable yardstick for assessing policy, but unfortunately it is not so simple. Meanwhile, the word ‘sustainable’ is already being used in the immigration debate in Norway and around the world’. This public use happens without connection to ongoing research or the development of analytically meaningful definitions. So what kind of understanding and political message does the use of this word send?

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Eid, Islamic finance and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

Muslims all over the world are celebrating Eid-ul-Adha, the ‘festival of sacrifice’ or the Greater Eid. The other Eid, Eid-ul-Fitr is the festival which marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. This is when many Muslims pay their annual zakat – a religious tax equivalent to 2.5 percent of a person’s wealth each year.

Islamic aid organizations offer qurbani (animal sacrifice) services for Eid-ul-Adha (as shown in an advertisement above), and use the profits from sales of the animal skins to fund their welfare programmes. Photo: Marta Bivand Erdal / PRIO

Meanwhile, in conjunction with Eid-ul-Adha, Muslims worldwide conduct qurbani, sacrificing a goat, sheep, cow or camel, where a third of the meat is distributed to the poor or vulnerable. The sale of animal skins, donated by individuals after the ritual sacrifice, is a major source of income for many charity, welfare, and aid organizations. Religious festivals in Islam often involve distribution of food and donations to help people in need.

Contributing to social justice through the redistribution of wealth is a central tenet of Islam and is implemented by requiring those who are able, to share their wealth. These transactions are private affairs and, according to the Quran, must be conducted discreetly. Accordingly, it is difficult to know how much money is actually involved. But estimates suggest Muslim charity amounted to US$ 2tn (2015) and is on the rise. Even the lowest estimates of Muslim giving globally put the figures at 15 times the global total of official humanitarian aid in 2011.

Religious alms-giving is often criticized for failing to support long-term, sustainable development. Our research among Muslims in Norway and Pakistan shows, however, that many Muslims are keen to give to organizations and initiatives designed to achieve lasting change in people’s lives, for example through funding education. Many are also concerned about sustainable development.

This can be seen as part of a global trend, as Muslim actors have become increasingly prominent internationally in the areas of development and humanitarian aid. Institutions such as the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) and Muslim NGOs are signing up to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

This is a new trend, but what does it mean?Read More

Dead Male Bodies: A Challenge for Feminist Legal Thought

The scholarship on law, conflict and suffering has for the past two decades been dominated by a moral and analytical concern with “women and children” and sexual violence. However, when we look up and do the body count out in the physical and political world – in the city and along the borderlands – those bodies by a large majority belong to a specific subset of males.

Photo: Flickr/FreedomHouse

Battle deaths, torture, unlawful imprisonment, disappearances and extrajudicial killings overwhelmingly affect young poor men of non-Caucasian ethnicity. These dead male bodies constitute a challenge for feminist legal thought.

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Game of Thrones – the Middle Ages and Today

Every generation has its own concept of the Middle Ages. Game of Thrones is a fantasy drama, but it also reflects the present, viewed through the prism of the Middle Ages.

From Middle-earth to Westeros

Many young people today picture our distant past in a way that is strongly influenced by The Lord of the Rings. There the battle is between good and evil and – except in the case of some turncoats (such as Saruman) and certain conquered lands – the battle fronts are clear. This reflected Tolkien’s own experiences, both in the trenches during World War I and as he composed his epic work in the shadow of World War II. Tolkien took inspiration from Beowulf, The Elder Edda and The Kalevala to describe a human universe that is a battle between the forces of good and evil, between freedom and tyranny, between individuality and regimentation.

All hope depends on the ruler Daenerys Targaryen. Still the most important and complex figure of the Middle Ages is the advisor – here represented by Tyrion Lannister. Photo: HBO

“I don’t believe that giants and ghouls and white walkers are lurking beyond the Wall. I believe that the only difference between us and the Wildlings is that when that Wall went up, our ancestors happened to live on the right side of it.”Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones, Season 1

A battle between such forces is still taking place today, but with the major difference that the battle fronts are mutable. Western interventions designed to liberate regions such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya from dictators and extremism have had the opposite effect: violence is increasing, security is being eroded, and extremists are growing ever stronger. One may do evil despite good intentions.

Accordingly, it is not surprising that Game of Thrones, the latest epic narrative to be set in an imaginary past, is a tale where heroes and villains swap roles, where good people often suffer defeat, and where “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions”, to quote Bernard of Clairvaux.Read More

A Venezuelan Incident: Maduro and the Politics of Latin American Drones

Photo: CSIRO / Wikimedia Commons

On 4 August 2018, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s speech at a military parade in Caracas was interrupted by the sound of two explosions. Maduro’s camp immediately claimed that the explosions resulted from a failed assassination attempt by drones carrying explosives. Although the nature of the incident remains disputed, and is being described as “an apparent” assassination attempt, this event sheds light on new types of security challenges that result from the growing presence of drones in Latin American airspace.

The incident can either be interpreted as evidence that a political assassination with weaponized miniature drones is possible, or that political actors (whoever they may be) consider such a scenario to be “believable”. In the latter case, these political actors thus end up conferring credibility to the idea, which in turn kindles certain political and popular responses and imaginations.Read More

Decolonization Gone off the Rails

This summer we have had the opportunity to read about the campaign to ‘decolonize academia’: the call to improve the representation of non-Western voices in the curricula of Norwegian educational institutions.

Photo: Otto Haeckel, German East Africa, 1906. Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin

The supporters of this campaign justify it on the basis that it will challenge ways of thinking in the sciences and humanities that were formed during the colonial era. The motives behind the campaign are good. An academy consisting of researchers from diverse backgrounds will help boost the competition between ideas that is crucial for scholarly progress.

It is therefore sad to see the campaign now running down a blind alley, by promoting a radical form of epistemic relativism: an attack on scientific objectivity in the guise of advocacy on behalf of marginalized groups. Read More

Challenging Everyday Nuclear Insecurity

Founded in 1982, Faslane Peace Camp in Scotland clams to be the longest lived of its kind. Crammed into a small roadside verge, the brightly coloured and ramshackle caravans of the camp are located just a few hundred yards from the razor-wire fences of Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde, home to the British Trident nuclear… Read more »

We researched Russian trolls and figured out exactly how they neutralise certain news

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. Russian “troll factories” have been making headlines for some time. First, as the Kremlin’s digital guardians in the Russian blogosphere. Then, as subversive cyber-squads meddling with US elections. While there has been much sensationalist talk about troll brigades, there have also been thorough… Read more »

What Became of the Norwegian Peacekeeping Forces?

For nearly 20 years, Norway has prioritized contributing to NATO-led operations over UN peacekeeping forces. At the same time, recent research shows that increased commitment to UN operations has a conflict-reducing effect.

Photo: Forsvaret

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the first Norwegian UN soldiers’ departure to Lebanon to serve in UNIFIL (the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon).

Apart from the Independent Norwegian Brigade Group in Germany in the aftermath of World War II, the UNIFIL effort represented the largest and most wide-ranging contribution that Norway has made to international operations. Over 20,000 Norwegians were involved. In April, this anniversary was marked in various places in Norway. At the same time, we know that Norway currently has fewer than 100 personnel engaged in UN peacekeeping operations. What has become of the Norwegian peacekeeping forces?

Norway has been an active contributor to international operations since the end of World War II, but the nature of its involvement changed after the end of the Cold War, when the number of operations in which Norway participated grew significantly.Read More