The traditional political dividing lines no longer fit a world of new puzzles and paradoxes, says Professor Andrea Ruggeri of Oxford’s Department of Politics and International Relations.

Women's march, January 2017

By Olivia Gordon

‘Politics is about conflict,’ says Professor Andrea Ruggeri. ‘If we didn’t have conflict, politics would not exist. I believe the core of how we organise society is about conflict.’

But politics is changing dramatically, and so are conflicts. Ruggeri’s grandfather fought the Nazi occupation as a member of the Italian Resistance. Growing up in Italy himself, Ruggeri was active in politics — a far more formative part of a high-school student’s identity in Italy than in Britain, he says. Here, he senses, identity seems to be constructed more by social class.

 ‘When I was growing up it was still the classic left–right divide. Easy; simple. Now, I don’t think it’s so simple. There are issues about inequality and marginalisation, but we can’t understand the Brexit vote in terms of left- and right-wing politics.’

So how can we understand Brexit — and Trump? ‘We see puzzles and paradoxes. Marginalised, poor people vote for a very rich white man; unemployed people vote against labour laws that protected minimum wages… I think we should look at the role of emotions, particularly indignation and resentment. Resentment of whom and what? People who feel under-represented perceiving an unfair redistribution.’

In other words, a misplaced sense that immigrants are taking what is theirs; that there’s too much political correctness. Or indignation making a British citizen join Isis.

But although he does not agree with this new politics of anger, Ruggeri insists: ‘We should not blame the voters — it’s shortsighted to say they shouldn’t have voted that way. If they voted that way, it meant they felt that way.’

Women's march, January 2017

Tutorial Fellow in Politics at Brasenose, Ruggeri is Associate Professor of Quantitative Methods in International Relations at Oxford’s Department of Politics and International Relations. In a timely move earlier this academic year, he and his colleagues created a brand-new undergraduate Politics course: International Conflict and Security.

One of the founding insights of his career — a point that struck Ruggeri while researching his PhD — is that civil wars are not a domestic issue but an international one. A civil war in one country has an effect on other countries and vice versa — just look at Syria and its interrelationships with the USA, Libya, Russia and the whole Middle East.

Ruggeri’s work then moved onto researching how United Nations peacekeeping missions — typically composed of soldiers from a wide range of nationalities — affect civilians’ safety. To take the relatively new state of South Sudan as an example, the mission there is made up of soldiers from 66 different countries. ‘How do they communicate?’ Ruggeri asks. ‘What is their training? What are their norms; capabilities? And how do these differences affect the way they stop the fighting and protect civilians? We find that diversity can protect civilians, but where the leader of the mission comes from, and how often they change, can have a negative effect.’

Professor Andrea RuggeriHe focuses his attention mostly on the currently raging conflicts of Africa and much of Asia — and other areas which suffered in the 1990s, in Latin America and the former Yugoslavia. Which is the most egregious conflict? The war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ruggeri says. ‘It’s one of the longest-running peacekeeping missions and usually used as an example of a failure of peacekeeping.’ Another is that of South Sudan, where a military commander in charge of peacekeeping was sacked by Ban Ki-moon, an unprecedented move by the UN.

For a world expert on conflict, Ruggeri (pictured right) is a thoroughly genial man. You could say that a researcher needs an open and diplomatic personality to get to the bottom of complex, violent wars.

The Italian from Liguria arrived in Oxford in 2014 from the University of Amsterdam, having done his PhD in Government at the University of Essex. Essex was his first experience of England, and ‘very different from Oxford!’, Ruggeri smiles. In his cosy college room, his hundreds of books on politics are ordered on the shelves with a logic only the professor can make sense of. ‘I have even more in storage,’ he tells me.

He and his wife and son live in Oxford. When not researching or teaching, you’ll find Ruggeri playing the trumpet — he was once ‘almost’ a professional musician. In true Italian style, his other passion is cooking — ‘cooking is like doing research,’ he laughs. ‘Most people think playing the trumpet, or cooking, or research, is about creativity. But most of the time it’s about preparation, training, making mistakes and trying again. That’s why I use the recipe of how to make risotto in my graduate class as an example of how to do research. Step by step, you define the ingredients, put them together, experiment, and eventually you make a decent product.’

Images from women’s marches against Donald Trump, January 2017, by bones64 (Pixabay) and Lorie Shaull (flickr) under Creative Commons licence. Portrait courtesy of Professor Andrea Ruggeri.

Comments

By John May, D. Ph...
on

That anger and resentment have become important drivers of decision-making by electorates reflects three important themes. The first is the failure of modern education to provide tools for critical thinking and analysis. The second is the culpability of the media in abetting political emotionalism. The third is the failure of society to understand civic responsibility. Study of all three need to be part of educational curricula for those not fortunate enough to attend university.

By Nicholas Taylor
on

An interesting thing about conflict is how wasteful it is. It makes we wonder whether it isn't a natural process of shaking down a society and redistributing resources or consuming surplus resources, even if not removing surplus population (which is usually marginal).

By RH Findlay (SEH)
on

Perhaps the issue is that the traditional dividing lines in politics no longer exist as those in either the conservative of socialist groupings now follow very much the same post-1979 economic paradigm that has led to the decline of public health systems, the conversion of universities to businesses and the privatisation of taxpayer-owned public-good utilities with the resultant trickle upwards of wealth and the increasing denial of community services.

New Zealand forms a classic example; following its election in 1985 the NZ Labour Party privatised everything it could lay its hands on, demanded that government scientific institutes earn their keep through following a business model that had scientists on yearly contracts to their "customer", the NZ government, and brought in the delights of enterprise bargaining where the lone employee had to agree to the bargain-basement conditions offered.by the enterprise.

In Australia the impression now exists that both the major parties are just the same, run by career politicians whose only real interest is their income and perks. Correct or not in Australia, it is this perception that in the USA has led to the election of Donald Trump as President almost as a protest vote, and in Australia one may expect the rise of politicians of similar ilk to Trump as people have simply lost faith in the politicians of the major parties. The same might be said of the recent EU referendum in the UK.

Simple, really.

By Peter Lush
on

I am troubled by the assertion "we should not blame the voters". In a democracy people have rights. Such civil, political rights should be defended. But if citizens are to be treated as mature adults, they also have a duty to participate in a responsible way. If they wilfully avoid uncomfortable information and hang on the words of rabble rousers is it not reasonable to level at least a modicum of criticism?

By Salah Elnagar
on

Because the conventual classic way of politics and media can't cope with the inevitable change. The world suffered enough and new approach is necessary

By David Greenslade
on

How mobile are academics! British universities are full of aliens and what a good thing that is too. But do young British academics feel pushed out, probably not as they can be in Germany or the U.S.A. - remember the BrainDrain? The real problem is technology in the widest sense of that word and how microchips have affected it: President Trump claimed to bring back the jobs to the " rust belt " whose voters elected him but more informed persons would know that it only needs a small workforce to run steel mill or an automobile factory. A news site put picture of an old Ford works next to the Cowley factory producing minis and it told all! Other conflicts seem to me to be tribal and we humans love to group into our little enclaves don't we! Brits not europeans : Shias not Sunnies ; Christians not Islamists; Hindu not Islamic. Education is the sole answer to all these problems, but then I taught at Essex University, including the 1968-74 student trouble period, amongst other places!

By Frederick Hulton
on

"a misplaced sense that immigrants are taking what is theirs". Why misplaced? The availability of immigrant labour from countries with lower wages reduces the pressure on the labour market that would lead to higher wages. The population increase resulting from large scale immigrants increases the need for new houses. Immigration has many benefits, and many of the immigrants improve the lives of many of our citizens - but, nonetheless immigration keeps our poorer citizens poor while the rest of us grow richer because labour remains cheap. It is not healthy when the rich grow richer while our poorer fellow-citizens find their hopes for a better life frustrated...

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