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Books

In Measuring Peace, Professor Richard Caplan of the University of Oxford has written an insightful guide for students and practitioners of peace. The book will help those who want to understand the fundamental principles and existing practices of how to assess peace while at the same time outlining some critical political constraints. Caplan provides a succinct and clear analysis of key approaches to peace measurements, their weaknesses and ways to move forward. Due to its accessibility and policy relevance, the book also stands out among other publications that have sought to evaluate and grapple with the question of how to judge the quality of existing peace.  The key aim of the book is to give peacebuilders a ‘compass’ to navigate the post-war peace …

My new book Cultural Citizenship in India: Politics, Power, and Media (Oxford University Press, 2016) analyses the role which cultural participation, understood in terms of media representation, plays for citizenship. Drawing on the hypothesis of Mitra (2012), that citizenship is a two-dimensional concept, comprising of a legal right to the soil and a moral affiliation to it, the book explores the question of the ways in which people ‘belong’ to a nation as citizens. Based on the assumption that the nation is an imagined community created through discourse (Anderson, 1983), the moral side of citizenship is understood in cultural terms, and in analogy to the two-dimensional model noted above, is explored in terms of the rights and duties granted to groups …

Dr Tristen Naylor, Oxford’s Lecturer in Diplomatic Studies, chatted with Tom Fletcher, the former British Ambassador and Downing Street foreign policy advisor, about his new book, Naked Diplomacy.  In this three-part series their discussion explores everything from diplomacy in the digital era to the divide between academics and policy makers — with a nod to the intertextuality of W.H. Auden and Black Sabbath along the way. For Part I, see here, and Part II, see here.    TN: I want to talk about your style of writing and your approach to it. I spend most of my waking hours reading works on diplomacy and I spend much of that time asking myself why I self-inflict such torture because so much of it – too much …

Democracy in Africa: Successes, Failure and the Struggle for Political Reform testifies to the ability of African states to democratize against the odds. It effectively introduces a framework for understanding how leaders choose to respond to the pressure to liberalise their political systems, covering the recent history of African politics and providing great detail on the return of multiparty politics in Africa since the early 1990s. In this Q&A, Ian Cooper of the Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS) at the University of Cambridge interviews Professor Nic Cheeseman, Associate Professor of African Politics, Jesus College, University of Oxford, on his recent publication.

In March, Uday Chandra of the Max Planck Institute reviewed ‘Patronage in Politics in South Asia’ for our Migration and Citizenship. In this post, I want to respond with my own analysis of the book’s arguments. It is true, as Anastasia Piliavsky points out in her superb introduction, that patronage has long been treated as a distasteful element of developing societies.  Personalised exchange between social unequals has been viewed as either a perversion of liberalism’s central tenets of equality and freedom of choice or as a screen concealing exploitation. Quid pro quo electoral exchanges, in which votes are bartered for particular services rendered, are considered ‘bad’ democratic practice. And of course, the use of public power for private gain is unequivocally condemned as corruption. It …

Patronage, which may be defined as a hierarchical relationship based on mutual obligations, is often regarded today as an unwelcome anachronism. Although this volume resists any single definition, the word ‘patronage’ reminds us of feudal and slave-owning societies of the past, where a few enjoyed the rights of citizenship at the expense of the many. Liberal democracies in our world have no place for patrons or clients, we believe, because universal adult franchise makes everyone legally equal and sovereignty rests with the demos. Yet modern democratic societies face a peculiar paradox: they must elect representatives who enact laws and make policies even as they maintain the fiction that they are just like us. The paradox of modern democracy has little to do with the level of inequality in society. Neither is it specific to cultural contexts in which democracy appears to be compromised, even distorted, by patron-client relations. Patronage is everywhere, as this refreshing new volume argues, and its workings in India, the world’s most populous democracy, push us to think of citizenship as vertically differentiated or hierarchical. There is a simple reason why the politics of patronage offends modern liberals. It strikes us as a perversion of a democratic ideal that treats all citizens, despite differences in income and wealth, as political equals. All are equally citizens in a democratic polity.

Politics in Spires is launching a new series in which contributers are invited review books written by Oxford academics. If you know of a recent (last 24 months) book by anyone at Oxford please submit it to katharine.brooks@politics.ox.ac.uk. Here is a provisional list of books for review:
Thomas Piketty

What do we really know about how wealth and income have evolved since the 18th century and what lessons can we take from that for centuries to come? For Thomas Piketty in Capital in the Twenty-First Century, one lesson is clear: inequality is self-generating within a capitalist system. Capital, a magnificent 650-page work, first appeared in France late last year and already looms, in Paul Krugman’s eyes, as ‘‘the most important economics book of the year — and maybe of the decade’’. It is important because inequality is emerging as what Barack Obama recently called ‘‘the defining challenge of our time’’. Piketty, whose work on income inequality helped inspire the Occupy Wall Street movement, is particularly well placed to answer these questions. He is a bit of a strange creature in modern economics: as much an economic historian and archeologist as a number-crunching theorist. An academic at one of France’s elite grandes ecoles, Piketty has spent the past 20 years not only seeking to come to grips with economic inequality but also to make his conclusions digestible for public consumption. After a period at the top American universities in the 1990s, he returned to France convinced American economics was infused with a ‘‘childish passion for mathematics’’ and was merely a forum ‘‘for purely theoretical and often highly ideological speculation … preoccupied with petty mathematical problems of interest only to themselves’’. In Capital, Piketty has surely avoided that.