Beyond the restrictive socio-political autonomy and sovereignty

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Beyond the restrictive socio-political autonomy and sovereignty

  • May 14, 2020
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By Abdulkadir Osman Farah, PhD

With an upcoming edited book (Roots, Routes and a New Awakening) Palgrave Macmillan, 2020 [i] Ananta Kumar Giri cautions us extrapolating a dynamic direction of ethnic cross-fertilization-with the necessary embracing of culturally and spiritually creative spaces. In simultaneously accommodating roots and routes such approach historicizes and contextualizes transnational encounters and connections in turning societal divergence into splendid common good. In addition, this dialogical turn integrates the concerns and actions of the self as well as the other into a collective self-renewal. However, the challenges pointed out correctly by Kalyan Kumar Chakravarty in the foreword enthuses us into the situation that this border crossing currently occurs in an almost unequal, asymmetric and under less collaborative constellations. For instance, in the current world, dominant political elites remain distant, occasionally greedy and narrow minded, particularly in often recurring exploitation of ethnic differences for political ends. Meanwhile cynical economic oligarchs, with diverging ideological bases, often strategize for capital expansion. Similarly, speculative media moguls routinely subvert sincere transnational public communication for sensationalism and superficiality. From their part academics engage internal debates with innately inaccessible jargon for most people. Even transnational ethnic communities occasionally preoccupy themselves with internal, often politically instinctive, rivalries of us versus them.

Potential alternative to such foredoomed societal conditions yearns for convincing processes in which cooperative transnational encountering and connections reflect the wishes and concerns of both those propagating for state-centered perspectives as well as those insisting on the struggles of transnational ethnic communities. If successful, such interconnectedness could unleash authentic cross-fertilization and convincing coherence. People may, at least in the short term, not transform their basic entrenched identities, but they will eventually overtime be able raising practical questions regarding the political concepts of autonomy and sovereignty.

The concepts of autonomy and sovereignty dominate our modern socio-political discourse. In its cavalier forms those insisting on singularity and imposed autonomy often pay lesser careful attention to diverse contexts, historical discursive justifications as well as constitutive explanations. So far, in practical terms, emphasis and implementation of contradicting autonomies and sovereignties in diverse socio-political contexts across the world, seems unsuccessful. This is particularly the case with regard to the task of installing a more prosperous stable world with expanded transnational harmony, tolerance and coexistence. Consequently, many people in the world struggle with a sort of combined risk and liquid societies. In recognizing such existing complexities, the contributors of this book propose alternative socio-political platforms- which may resolve the conditions under which we currently conceive reality and progress. This includes the application of multiple approaches demystifying and extending the centuries old, if not a millennium, of the dialectical thesis of not unifying but diversifying human existence, conditions and actions.

The first theses roughly concentrate on the more ubiquitous dimensions of human endeavor. This includes the way in which people pursue concrete actions in mobilizing, resisting and eventually overcoming socio-political limitations and subordination. Sort of partial manifestations through diverse group formations as well instances of ethnic affiliations. Consequently, such civic life-world dwelling complicates and eventually transforms the ambitions and emphasis on exclusive autonomy and sovereignty. The second thesis deals with the intellectually reflective spiritual dimension of human existence. Here perceptions as well as the significations of the meanings of realities related to the way in which humans conduct their lives remain central. Alternatively, the socio-political realities and the temporal social and political conditions, in which humans encounter and connect, shows that it is rather the combination of human intellectual capacities that usher concrete living practical situation of nuances and iridescence. One can therefore conclude that the current insistence of individual and group autonomy combined with state-centric sovereignty remains inconsistent with the prevailing realities of transnational human encounters and connections.

The authors in this volume suggest that societies around the world should alternatively combine forms of socio-political lives- not necessarily neglecting the significance of history and socio-cultural and political situations. This potentially includes transnational conditions by expanding the horizons in seeking connections and collaborations beyond inward looking emphasis on restrictive autonomy and sovereignty- which often insist on intense zero-sum competition and rivalries. Societies could experiment in incorporating and accommodating diverse forms of transnational encounters and connections that, as several authors of this volume, emphasize accommodate creative forms of art. People should in this regard confront realities, reflect it and eventually attend the ultimate purposes and implications for not just the particularly embedded goals and interests but also for common general well-being for and in relation to the surrounding environment. Increasingly, the world seems too small a place for exclusive autonomy and national sovereignty to persist. The constant recourse of transnational encountering and connections, with continuing reflections and practices, is what we should expect and work for in shared autonomies and sovereignties.

One of the major challenges for humanity is whether we should necessarily know everything. Under the current global crises, for instance, Jurgen Habemas suggests that responses to Covid-19 crises have exposed a kind of a real comprehensive fear of not knowing[ii]. Not only that ordinary people occasionally admit and have long lived with diverse forms of uncertainties and anxieties. It is the exposition of the kind of spreading macro fear, he argues, that have always existed among leading experts and politicians, but were often hidden under diverse forms of public management schemes and performances. Now almost everyone seems concerned and worried, including those with institutional and decision-making capabilities. For Habermas, something positive can come out if this fear is recognized and probably reflected discussed and managed intersubjectively. In the end, it will therefore be, not just an issue of knowing, but also a process of not knowing- that eventually will lead us to a more transnationally accommodating coexistence. There are things we will never know as human capabilities both intellectually and practically remain limited and scattered. The idea that humans have solutions for everything, so far, remains a modern exaggeration.

We often hear that politically humans transitioned from been tribes to having religions and eventually becoming modern nation-states in complex globalized world. Here the assumption is that science might have finally liberated the world from oppressive traditions. But, over time science also became a form of religion. In the current more complex world creative people combine traditional norms and science- each contributing to solving different challenges that people confront in their daily lives. Probably the division between the two never existed.

by comparing the old multicentric transnational to the current multi centric partially transnational world, we see that the old transnational world served for the people and their needs. Meanwhile, the current transnational world seems serving mainly for the most capable- resulting the disempowerment of the masses. There is, in other words, cosmopolitanism but a kind of “banal cosmopolitanism” as Ulrich Beck had suggested[iii]. Under such superficial conditions subversive structures build on the criminalization of legitimate public welfare politics. Instead such systems often praise and accommodate diverse forms of populisms and exclusions- in the process also undermining legitimate autonomy.  

In somewhat similar vein, Saskai Sassen and Mary Kaldor, in their recent work “Cities at War: Global Insecurity and Urban Resistance” caution us the link between metropole existence and perpetual insecurity. Cities have the capabilities of preventing or sustaining conflicts[iv]. Urban environments were in the past places of dreams, freedom and refuge. With the current mass surveillance and technology these places might become oppressive locations. In the developing word, in mega-urban environments, there exist immense suffering and extreme oppression in the form of occasional enslavement, gated communities and child labour.

To conclude, the chapters of this book collectively identity alternative bath ways for the diversification of not just politically dealing with established concepts such as autonomy and sovereignty in existing, often conflictual, roots and routs. But the different chapters also urge us to carefully consider the essence of innovative art, spirituality, history, ethical leadership and vibrant urban cosmopolitanism as integral components to the processes of perfecting the potentially capable but often un-knowledgeable, uncertain and fragile human condition     

[i]  This is an extract of larger afterword fort the book  “Roots, Routes and a New Awakening” and it is coming out from Palgrave Macmillan, 2020- in Press  


[iii] Beck, U. (2006). Cosmopolitan vision. Polity.

[iv] Kaldor, M., & Sassen, S. (Eds.). (2020). Cities at War: Global Insecurity and Urban Resistance. Columbia University Press.