Head of the Project: Peter Wagner, Professor of the University of Barcelona
The project constituted working groups for its three sub-themes, planned and pursued the first steps of research to take in each group and, at the end of 2018, took part in an international conference to confront its perspective with other international projects and present findings and exchange comments about them for future work.
Working group 1: BRICS cooperation, a vision of the world order and proposals for its change (in short: BRICS vision)
One key aim of this working group is to situate the BRICS project and activities within the larger temporal framework of attempts to reinterpret and reformat the world order since the Second World War. Building on the experiences of the notion of “Third World” (1952) and the Bandung Conference (1955), but also more recent initiatives, such as the opposition between the World Economic Forum (1987) and the World Social Forum (2001), the reinterpretation of modernity and world order is especially characteristic of the BRICS countries (term being coined in 2001).
In 2018, this group has analyzed emergence and development of the BRICS vision, starting from its creation and through its transformation over the time. One of the most important issues analysed in 2018 was the origins of the conception of “BRICS plus” as well as its relation to the idea of Global South. The roles of different BRICS countries in the creation of this vision have been analysed. The main attention has been paid to the partly divergent Chinese, Brazilian and South African understandings of the “BRICS plus” model. Furthermore, the group analyzed the concept of “development” and its impact on the vision of the BRICS and its relation to the idea of the Global South. The critical analysis of the concept of the development and of its transformation done by the group in 2018 is expected to pave the way to further analysis of the vision of the BRICS and Global South in the future course of the project. Finally, the issue of different national understandings of what BRICS as a grouping and as a vision should be and which role it could play in the consolidation of the Global South has been analysed by the members of the group. These three aspects of the group activity in 2018 should be seen as implementation of the project promise to study the peculiarities of the history of the formation of the BRICS organization and its functioning as an actor of world politics, to analyse the relationships between its participants and their priorities in development of cooperation.
Working group 2: Institutionalization of interpretations of modernity in the education systems of the BRICS countries (in short: BRICS education)
The main research tasks for the group are oriented at the analysis of the role education plays in development of BRICS collaboration. The group is focused mostly on (1) comparative analysis of the higher education systems in the BRICS countries, and upon (2) studies of the BRICS collaborative activities in regard to the higher education. All these issues are considered within the frameworks of larger transformations, such as globalization and commercialization of higher education, consolidation of different world academic rankings, development of the concept of the World-Class University etc.
In 2018, the research activity of the group has focused on some selected key issues, including (1) the problem of formation of a global educational market (transnational educational capitalism) and the role of the BRICS countries in these processes, (2) the main World University Ranking systems and their influence upon mobile students’ choices and experiences in the BRICS countries, (3) the process of the formation of new South-South collaboration patterns in education, including such well-established projects as BRICS Network University and BRICS University League. The group found that although World Educational Rankings do have some rather strong impact on the choices of undergraduate foreign students from BRICS countries, South – South collaboration in education is organized around very different patterns and is rather horizontally structured in comparison to vertically organized North-South educational cooperation. The group has also developed a methodology for the empirical research, based upon a series of questionnaires (1) for experts in ministries of education, (2) for administrations of universities, (3) for teachers and staff of university services, (4) for the students. This methodology was a basis for pilot interviews with Russian, Brazilian and South African professors, university administrators and foreign students in some Russian universities. The results of the pilot research justify its expansion to larger numbers of students, professors, administrators and experts from all five BRICS countries.
Working group 3: Historical injustice and today's political-moral duty (in short: Historical injustice)
The task of this working group is to analyze the significance of current consequences of historical injustice for co-operation and conflict in the current world order. Today, the globe is composed of a large number of formally equal states, but past injustice and oppression have an impact on the role that states play in the world order. More specifically, many modern states and societies see themselves as freed from the oppression of others in the past, which actually determines their contemporary interests and practices. Examples from the BRICS area that have been studied are South Africa overcoming the consequences of apartheid, or Brazil overcoming the consequences of military dictatorship. From a global point of view, one can talk about overcoming the consequences of colonialism, or rather, dependence on the domination of Europe and the West.
Given that the question of the significance of past injustice for the present is very broad, the working group focuses on two more clearly definable areas, the question of global social inequality and the question of the asymmetries of causes and consequences with regard to climate change. Global social inequality is seen here from the angle of having been generated by colonial domination, whether formal or not, in the past. The most obvious consequence of this today is migration, often generated by poverty. Similarly, climate change is a consequence of two centuries of industrialization, the fruits of which were mainly used by the countries of the north-western part of the world. But the restrictions necessary to reduce the harmful consequences are also imposed on those countries that have least contributed to the occurrence of this problem. In both cases, a discussion arises about the moral and political duty of some countries over others. Perhaps attractive from a moral point of view, this demand for debt is difficult to assess, let alone prescribe real actions to prospective "debtors".
The group’s research activity in 2018 has focused upon the general polico-philosophical and historico-sociological understanding of the problem of the past injustices on the one hand, and on the particular instances of dealing with past injustices in postcolonial Africa and anti-colonial/postcolonial Russia, on the other. In empirical terms, it was decided to give preference to the ecological question and climate change and start the exploration in this area. The scholarly aspects of the debate on an “ecological debt” that the early industrialized societies have incurred towards the dominated societies have been analyzed. The analysis of the debate around the Paris Climate Agreement, including both the preceding controversies and the ongoing debate about the implementation of the Agreement has been initiated. In parallel, work on the current debate on historical injustice in moral and political philosophy has begun. Furthermore, research on the question of whether BRICS (especially China’s) involvement in Africa has different moral-philosophical dimensions than earlier colonialism and neo-colonialism has been started. The case of Chinese engagement with Africa in the post-colonial context connects the work of this group with the critical studies of the idea of the development, done by the first research group of the project. In addition, the working group has introduced a line of research on representations of societies in historiography and literature, both in terms of self-representation and of representation by others. The focus has been on the view of colonialism and its opponents within Russian history of XIX – XX centuries, on the one side, and on foreign traveler’s representations of contemporary Russia. The issues of colonialism and anti-colonialism are analyzed both in terms of self-description of the studied countries and from the point-of view of the foreign observers.
International conference: Trajectories of modernity
After half a year of research, the work within the three groups had matured that much that an international conference could be held in November 2018, with a double purpose, namely on the one hand, (a) to create intellectual exchange with two related research projects and, on the other hand, (b) to serve as an occasion to spell out research findings as a step towards publishable articles. This workshop was held from 26 to 27 of November, hosted by the Research Centre on Culture, Politics and Society (CECUPS) at the University of Barcelona.
The conference brought together researchers from this project with researchers from the former project “Trajectories of modernity: comparing non-European and European varieties” (TRAMOD), which had been funded by the European Research Council (ERC) as an Advanced Grant between 2010 and 2016, and with researchers from the ongoing project “The debt: historicizing Europe's relations with the 'South'”, funded by the consortium Humanities in the European Research Area (HERA) between 2016 and 2019. In the exchange with TRAMOD researchers, our project benefitted from the expertise on two BRICS societies, Brazil and South Africa, as accumulated within that project. Presentations were made by almost all project members as well as by two South African and one Brazilian researcher who had been working in TRAMOD. The project “The debt” is relevant for our project more in terms of the expertise in political philosophy and in intellectual history. Furthermore, the notion of “debt” lends itself to addressing questions of historical injustice. “The debt” is a collaborative project between the Institute for Social Research, Frankfurt, the University of Helsinki, the University of Eastern Piedmont, Vercelli, and the University of Barcelona, thus also strengthening the international connections of our project.
The presentations and discussions showed that the research proceeds well and engages with important debate in international scholarship. The conference permitted to give further direction to the project and to envisage a publication strategy that may include two special sections of international journals, one on representations of BRICS itself and of BRICS societies (self-representations and other-representations), and the other one on perspectives on historical injustice between political philosophy and global history.
Created / Updated: 12 April 2019 / 12 November 2019