Policy and Narratives

The concept of narratives is considered an “umbrella” concept coming from philosophy and literary theory using “word-based approaches” in which narratives are stories that link together events “in time and space” and represent a way of making sense of the world” (Yanov, 2007; Bottici, 2010). Narratives are important in setting the countries goals and gaining the emotional support of the population. France when engaging in the Afghan war used the narrative, “France is engaged in NATO mission for peace and security.” This narrative was important in creating coherence, logic and emotional dimension.

Antonio Gramsci an Italian Marxist theoretician and politician talks about, how counter hegemonic narratives aren’t included in the hegemonic discourse. Basically while some narratives are used to influence foreign policy and are outward there are other narratives that are inward and used more subtly to influence policy.

After looking through narratives and reviewing theories that go into the creating of them, I find that the goal of a narrative is to create an over reaching theme that can be used to link the approaches together. Narratives are important in hegemony in creating a theme that will enable the leaders to control through emotion. It will create a thread that will allow the public to link policies with their emotions.


Trafficking in Narratives

The narratives circulated about human trafficking, both by governments and by nonprofit groups, have a big impact on how trafficking is understood by the general public, what kind of policy is passed about it, and what kind of action is taken towards stopping it. The United States acts on these narratives through the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, which works on legislation, gives grants to international groups fighting trafficking, funds US-based anti-trafficking programs, and publishes the annual Trafficking in Persons report, which reports on the phenomenon worldwide. And while the narratives promoted by nonprofits and by the Office often have the best intentions, they end up restricting the kind of action that can be taken to fight trafficking, and promoting ethnocentric, narrow views of the problem itself.

The most prevalent narratives of trafficking go something like this: human trafficking occurs when someone  is forced to leave their home — usually involving the crossing of borders — in order to perform labor for little or no pay. Usually trafficking is said to affect women and children, though they are certainly not the only victims of trafficking. Imagery of abduction, sweatshops, and child prostitutes is common. The final piece of this narrative is that the only way for this global atrocity to end is through the intervention of large-scale NGOs and/or government intervention.

The reality of trafficking is far more complicated (especially with regards to sex trafficking*). Movement across borders for purposes of labor often straddles a murky line between coercion and willful migration, and the forces of structural poverty and oppression often force those in the developing world to make the least-awful out of several pretty awful choices when it comes to generating income. In addition, cultural understandings of sexuality, childhood, and debt can complicate the one-size-fits-all explanations of the problem (or solutions) that the TIP report seems to promote. In terms of sex trafficking, for example, narratives of what trafficking is — and isn’t — means that the United States probably isn’t going to give international grant money to an organization that is not explicitly abolitionist when it comes to prostitution, even when many women in the developing world see sex work as their best option (and, once they are forced out of the industry, end up in sweatshops). And trafficking happens in the United States, too — But we hardly talk about it as such, and the United States wasn’t even included in the TIP Report until fairly recently. Furthermore, these narratives of trafficking never seem to include the bigger picture: globalization, industrialization, government inefficiency, cultural attitudes towards gender, etc., all interact to make trafficking a reality, and if we don’t take a critical look at these structures, we’re just putting a band-aid on the larger social ills. Narratives of trafficking are narrow enough so that we pity the child forced to weave a carpet in Nepal — and feel that we must act to make other nations fix their trafficking problems — but we don’t think twice about who is picking our fruits and vegetables right here in the US. Until our narratives of trafficking include these structural forces, and ask us to take a good hard look at our own impact on global trafficking (for example, the way that our demand for $5 tee shirts relies on sweatshop labor), they are not going to be sufficient to ensure fair-labor practices worldwide.

(*If you want more links than that, I’ve got plenty. I actually wrote my undergrad thesis on the discourses of sex work and sex trafficking, so I could help fill your brain with more information/opinions on these narratives than you would ever ask for.)


The issue of net neutrality highlights an interesting example of how competing interests dictate (or attempt to dictate) the rules and norms related to the infrastructure of the internet. Net neutrality refers to “a network design paradigm that argues for broadband network providers to be completely detached from what information is sent over their networks. In essence, it argues that no bit of information should be prioritized over another.” (UC Berkley).

In the US, big telecom companies have used their considerable resources to lobby the government (Verizon alone spent $100 million to lobby Congress on net neutrality since 2009) for the ability to regulate broadband. They want to collect money from big websites like Facebook and Amazon to guarantee that their customers have “fast lane” access to the services they provide. The FCC (which happens to be chaired by a former top lobbyist for the cable industry) was considering a plan that would allow this to happen.

The public played a big role in the issue – a comment period on how the FCC could protect and promote an open Internet resulted in millions of responses from private citizens (3.7 million to be exact). The public had the opportunity to weigh in, and the consensus was that they oppose the FCC’s proposal and want to keep the internet free.

The ongoing issue of net neutrality is about whether the internet should remain open. Does the FCC (in partnership with internet service providers) have the right to alter how the internet works? The competing interests here are diverse: small businesses, large companies like Netflix and Amazon, internet service providers like Comcast, private citizens, and, various parts of the government, such as the FCC, congress, and the executive wing.

At this moment, the Internet is an open and democratized system in which anybody can post their idea to be fairly judged.  Hopefully it will stay that way.


Governance or Greed?


In 1999, peer-to-peer file sharing became popular with the advent of the application Napster, which enabled the sharing of mostly MP3s between users, most of which was downloaded illegally. Although it reached its peak in 2001 with 26.4 million users worldwide, the RIAA retaliated accordingly i.e. they let their armies of attorneys loose  and shut them down (but not before they settled with Metallica and Dr. Dre). By then it was too late, as more sites like the now-defunct Limewire and Madster popped up in dandelion-like fashion. Specific protocols like BitTorrent also emerged and in turn it was used by The Pirate Bay, which was started by a Swedish anti-copyright organization. However elusive, the powers that be have managed to catch up to the latter as recently as July of this year when one of The Pirate Bay’s co-founders and a few others were finally arrested, sentenced to less than a year in prison but hit with $6.9 million in fines from both the Swedish film and music industries, respectively.

P2P sharing is a physical representation of globalization but these cases show that it has to be restricted in lieu of copyright law. The response to illegal downloaders is justified but to these extremes seems a little harsh; it’s clear the RIAA and other bodies like it are trying to send a message. Presently, as record sales falter in comparison to their peak, more artists are releasing their music for free and/or allowing full streams of their albums. With these new developments and the transition from ye olden days of the industry, it seems now that those exorbitant fines were simply a money grab for the organizations.

– Laurel B.


Governance and Government

What distinguishes governance from government, and how does this help us understand how power is distributed?

Before describing the differences between government and governance, it is important to understand the concepts themselves.

Government is a fairly straightforward concept the Webster dictionary defines it as:

 ‘the group of people who control and make decisions for a country, state, etc.’

Governance however is a more obscure concept and can have different meanings depending on who is defining the word. The World Bank for example defines governance as:

 ‘Governance is the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development.’

This definition is hierarchal and vertical. The United Nation Development Program has a different definition of governance:

‘The exercise of political, economic and administrative authority in the management of a country’s affairs at all levels. Governance is a neutral concept comprising the complex mechanism. Process, relationships and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their rights and obligations and mediate their differences.’

This definition by the UNDP is a far more multi-faceted definition that takes into account the different levels of players and encourages a vibrant public sphere.

The difference seems to be government is the body who governs, while, governance is the style in which they govern and the style can change depending on organization, party in power etc.…

So to understand how power is distributed you must first understand the organization, government or whom ever you analyzing, their opinion on governance and structure in which they express their power or authority. You can also look at their organizational structure and decide who is in power and how do they create decision. Since each organization, government might have a different idea on governance you will have to individually access each case. Then you will begin to understand how power is distributed.



Government, Governance, and Consensus

At first, it’s easy to say that the difference between government and governance is grammatical, or that it’s purely semantic. The difference seems more relevant, though, when you consider the connotations of power distribution between these two systems. From what I can understand, a system of “government” seems to imply a system with one governing body, which more or less solely holds responsibility for governing. “Governance,” however, implies the act of governing: not necessarily in a traditional, government-centered way, but with several actors and less rigid and historically-bounded precedent. “Governance” is a more fluid, active concept that can be performed by governments or by other actors (or by both, working together).

What is interesting to me about governance as a concept is the diverse number of interests that can then be considered in the governing process. In a system of shared governance, everyone approaching the process brings with them their own interests, meaning that in a best-case scenario, more facets of a particular problem will be accommodated and taken into account. In a worst-case scenario, though, it seems possible that so many issues will be brought up that the governing bodies can end up in a state of paralysis.

This is, of course, especially relevant in the area of Internet governance. I’ve been working for the past few weeks as a research assistant for a professor who researches cooperation among international organizations in the realm of Internet governance. In particular, I’ve been looking at conversations that happened at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) this past year. Although it is far from the worst-case scenario, there is certainly a struggle of competing interests when debating potential Internet governance policy that led to pretty slow movement at the conference. If I have learned anything from reading the transcripts of IGF meetings, it is how hard it is to reach consensus when dealing with multi-stakeholder governance. There was even a time in one IGF meeting in which the attendees debated how much consensus they would need before releasing any suggestions or documents from the meetings; in other words, a struggle for consensus about how to reach consensus! But beyond that, reading through IGF transcripts has shown how much the many stakeholders in Internet governance care about the platform remaining open, diverse, and truly multi-stakeholder, relegated not to one (or many) governments but to an active system of governance that involves all relevant actors.


Governance and the Split Screen Scandal

Could you watch a split TV screen where one side shows you images from a massive explosion killing 10, meanwhile the other half is presenting a soccer match on mute? Weird question I know, but Israelis faced that dilemma one Saturday evening, early March 2002.

In the early 2000’s Israeli television wasn’t easy to watch. During the days of the second Intifada Israelis feared suicide bombings and terror attacks which claimed the lives of many civilians. Whenever something of the sort took place, Israeli TV had to go into ‘crisis mode’ broadcasts. Those were long, repetitive and with basic norms such as stopping regular programing or not breaking for commercials. As the conflict continued, producers lost money for not being able to show advertisement and the viewers grew numb.

The Israeli leading national channel, Channel 2, at the time was operated by 3 franchisees dividing the days of the week between them. In March 2002 ‘Telad’ was responsible for Saturdays, which also meant it was responsible for broadcasting live soccer matches from the Israeli league. That night, in a sensational match, the champion Maccabi Haifa was down 3-0 against the last team in the league Irony Kiryat Gat, when a suicide bombing took place in the heart of Jerusalem. ‘Telad’ didn’t stop the broadcast from the match, rather it kept it on one third of the screen on mute. It took the producers more than 10 minutes to decide to cut the feed from the game. By not switching the game off, the company broke many norms in Israeli news and society at the time, although some would say it portrayed Israel numbing sentiment.

The company was censured and reprimanded by the Second Authority for Television and Radio, the governing body over Israel’s commercial broadcasters, and by the public. But even worse the incident left an impression the company was not able to fix, and was a factor that cost ‘Telad’ its franchise. When Channel 2 was launched in 1993 it was agreed the three operator system will become two operators in 2005. ‘Telad’ lost its place to its competition.

The ‘split screen’ scandal demonstrated how a non-governmental media governing body (the Second Authority for Television and Radio) enforced its norms on producers, even when they lost money, and how eventually it affected the entire Channel 2 structure. Although it is important to note the incident also changed how ‘crisis broadcasts’ were done in Israel, with the understanding some changes had to be made.