New book releases

This week we feature three books recently released by academics in Politics and International Studies: Moving Health Sovereignty in Africa: Disease, Governance, Climate Change; Advances in Sequence Analysis: Methods, Theories and Applications; and Classified: Secrecy and the State in Modern Britain.

Moving Health Sovereignty in Africa: Disease, Governance, Climate ChangeMoving Health Sovereignty in Africa: Disease, Governance, Climate Change
Kirton, J., A. Cooper, F. Lisk and H. Besada (eds.) Ashgate, 2014

This is the second book of a two-volume study which broadly addresses the ideational and policy-oriented challenges of Africa’s health governance as well as the challenges that the globalisation of health presents for Africa. The first volume ’Africa’s Health Challenges: Sovereignty, Mobility of People and Healthcare Governance’ (Ashgate) which was published last year focuses on particular problem of health sovereignty and mobility of people. The second volume deals with general dynamics, concepts and applications with respect to responding to health challenges. Both volumes are derived from a project on moving health sovereignty in Africa which was launched in 2008 under the auspices of the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) in Waterloo, Canada, the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and CSGR, University of Warwick, UK. The chapters are authored by a variety of specialists who were invited to an international workshop on the subject in Stellenbosch, South Africa, in November 2008, and such were the quality of the contributions that the editors decided to report the results in two separate volumes.   The original project from which the two sub-Saharan Africa volumes later emerged was inspired by the 2003 outbreak of SARS; in the light of the current Ebola crises in West Africa, one cannot help noting the coincidence of the publication of this book which deals with the moving world of pathogens, people, patients and healthcare providers and the challenges they present for Africa, especially with   poorly managed health systems and under-resourced healthcare facilities. Both volumes indeed highlight the need for innovations in national, regional and global health policy instruments, rules and institutions.

Blanchard P., F.-X. Dudouet and A.Vion. Trajectories of most central members of boards of European transational companies, 1950-2008. Yellow=finance, brown=industry, other colours=other sectors.
Blanchard P., F.-X. Dudouet and A.Vion. Trajectories of most central members of boards of European transational companies, 1950-2008. Yellow=finance, brown=industry, other colours=other sectors.

Advances in Sequence Analysis: Methods, Theories and Applications
Blanchard P., F. Bühlmann and J.-A. Gauthier (Eds). London: Springer, 2014

Time has been discussed at length by political thinkers. It is well known that political action is the art of waiting for the right moment (kairos) and proceeding quickly when it comes. From policy making to rebellion or war, managing a political career or marketing one’s organisation, all is about observing competing, simultaneous time lines and pacing one’s own strategy in accordance. Recent socio-technological developments, such as global live media coverage, permanent campaigning and high-frequency finance only accelerate politics. They challenge the rhythm of political institutions, threatening their fundamental ability to coordinate and synchronise social times.

The methods to study these phenomena are diverse. In an ethnographic approach, one may analyse political actors’ schedules and calendars or disentangle the techniques of time management used by political organisations. One may also calculate how close parallel processes correlate over time (the time series approach) or add up a time variable in causal designs (regression models). We can even forecast the incidence of a given event–obtaining a position, winning an election, causing a crisis or a war (duration models). But political scientists have never been comfortable with sequences. How to analyse ministers’ careers, stages of social mobilizations or long-term regime changes? How to make sense of loads of dated interactions on media and social networks?

Sequence analysis can help. It goes beyond the temporal Esperanto of Cartesian time, addressing the complexities of collective rhythms, competing schedules and various time strategies. No other method properly summarize duration, order and timing. Its flexible analytical power fits for long-term processes (biographies, history of political regimes, comparative macro-historical phenomena), but also for short-term (game interactions, conversations, crises involving many actors) and intermediate-term (regime transitions, international relations, participation behaviour) ones.

It is ample time to move from synchronic models to the dynamics of sequences.

classified-secrecy-and-the-state-in-modern-britainClassified: Secrecy and the State in Modern Britain
Christopher Moran. Cambridge: CUP, 2013

Classified is an account of the British state’s long obsession with secrecy, focusing on the ways it has sought to prevent info about its secret activities from entering the public domain. The subject matter should be one that resonates with all of us.  As citizens and taxpayers, we have a right to hold our elected officials accountable, and a right to know what public authorities are doing, although exactly what we should be told and how much is extremely contested. The subject matter is one that is particularly topical and raises questions about the trade-off between security and privacy.

My personal position is that governments should be open by default, secrecy only when necessary.  Public authorities have a duty to provide as much information as is possible on issues of national importance, even if this cannot be done on a real-time basis. Clearly there are things that shouldn’t be disclosed (names of intel officers etc), but by and large there is a lot that can and should be released.  My position on this recognises that, for governments, secrecy often carries its own penalty, creating more problems than it is designed to prevent. By keeping too much behind a tight veil of secrecy, the work of government can be covered in misunderstanding and ignorance; worst of all, conspiracy theories harden into fact.

So what arguments can you expect to find in Classified?  The first main argument is that the biggest challenge to official secrecy has come from ‘insiders’, specifically memoirists. The second main argument relates to journalists.  Classified argues that the British press has been far more troublesome to the secret state than has hitherto been acknowledged. A third key argument is that governments have gradually moved into the realm of ‘offensive’ information management, based on the idea that absolute secrecy is not only hard to achieve in the modern era but counter-productive.

In the coming years, it will be fascinating to see whether this offensive strategy of information control will survive what future scholars of secrecy will probably call the ‘Age of WikiLeaks’.  Today, technological progress is changing the landscape of secrecy completely.

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