A New Approach to Climate Change and Development: The Future of the Green Climate Fund, Amy Meyer

Individualization of Social Policy and Individualization Through Social Policy, Aurora Randolph

Pessimistic Politics: An Analysis of Social Spending in Western Europe, Ali Naaseh-Shahry

Redefining Illegality: The Immigrant Rights Movement as an Exemplar of Democratic Politics,Alexander Kirkpatrick

The Effects of the United States Drone Campaign in Yemen, Tyler Abboud

U.S. Coastal RetreatL Historical Analysis, Policy Options, and Political Willingness, Nicholas Story

An Investigation of the Emergence of Symbolic Behavior in Early Hominins, Lucas Hampton

A New Approach to Climate Change and Development: The Future of the Green Climate Fund, Ann Meyer


This report proposes that the climate crisis can be looked at as an opportunity at this time to not only curb the occurrence and effects of climate change, but to additionally address the problem of underdevelopment. The deep connections between these two problems are explored, and it is suggested that by aiming to achieve widespread clean energy access in the developing world, both adaptation and mitigation projects and the Millennium Development Goals can be pursued using the same resources. The Green Climate Fund, a financial board of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is proposed as the mechanism through which clean energy access can be realized, utilizing a combination of technology transfer and research and development efforts. Ultimately, this proposal serves a double purpose: to offer a comprehensive policy approach and to reframe the debate taking place in the international arena. The report concludes by calling for a change in the way that climate change policy is configured, using the imbedded proposal as an example of where innovation in this field might move the discussion amongst international leaders. 


            This thesis is a reflection of my amazing experience interacting with the top faculty at the University of Colorado-Boulder. I have had the opportunity to learn from such a diverse range of academic minds, leaving me inspired to offer my own contribution. I am especially grateful to my thesis advisors, each of whom inspired and equipped me throughout this process. Maxwell Boykoff provided me with the background knowledge and analytical skills necessary to engage with the topic of international climate change policy. I am deeply grateful for the support he has provided me as well as my other academic pursuits. Lakshman Guruswamy also played a key role in my research by inspiring me to look outside the bounds of strict environmentalism and providing me with the framework in which I was able to connect climate change with development issues. Finally, I am very grateful to Dale Miller, who has shared with me his considerable wisdom on the thesis process and ensured that this project was as enjoyable as possible.

            It should also be mentioned here that my work was made possible via the generous support of the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP). I would like to thank the people behind the UROP grant for providing me with the means to continue my research over the summer of 2012, allowing me to develop my topic to its fullest.

            It is my hope that throughout this report my passion for the global community comes through from an environmental and a social perspective. It has been very rewarding piecing together these two topics, and I look forward to continuing my work in the future.


“A good crisis should not be wasted.” This was the mentality of the authors of The Hartwell Paper as they wrote about the opportunity to alter the face of climate change policy following the disappointing results of international negotiations in 2009 (Prins et al., 2010). The global climate system is certainly at immense risk from elevated levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere working to raise the overall temperature of the Earth and resulting in extreme harm to many natural ecosystems and the human populations that rely on them. Agricultural productivity is expected to decrease in many areas, sea levels are on the rise, natural disasters are occurring with increased frequency and fatality, and the spread of vector-borne diseases is steadily swelling. People all over the world have been working to find a solution, collaboratively and individually, and there is virtually no doubt that climate change poses a serious threat.

Unfortunately, it is not the only problem facing our planet. One of the biggest is the inequality that exists between the so-called developed and developing countries. There are countless publications that explore the origins of this inequality, yet regardless of why it exists, the fact remains that an incredible number of people are living in poverty without proper access to many of the resources required for a full and healthy life. The incidence of human suffering is immense, and this inequality must also be addressed on a global scale as soon as possible; yet, in this time of extended recession across the world, able countries have been reticent to generate the capital necessary for tackling all of these issues.

Clearly, there is a detrimental gap between the necessities of the global community and the ability of that community to respond to the problems at hand. The issues of climate change and development have been known to the world for quite some time, and the many approaches taken to solve them have taught us valuable lessons about the failures and successes of policy work undertaken to address these. It is important now, in looking forward, to explore alternate methods of framing these problems and consider new discourses regarding the diagnoses of the problems and the inherent solutions. It is only by pushing the conceptual boundaries of current efforts that new and innovative approaches may be developed.   

This report serves as a proposal for how the climate change crisis can be used as a springboard to not only curb the occurrence and effects of global climate change, but to tackle the problem of underdevelopment using the same techniques and the same financial resources, namely the Green Climate Fund (GCF). I looked at how the resources of this fund could be applied at this point in time to combat the effects of climate change and work toward the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). In doing so, I have addressed the flaws in the current policy model of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Kyoto Protocol, and analyzed the intended purpose of the GCF. I have also examined the complex relationship between climate change and the MDG. My research has led me to propose that the GCF could be used to increase access to sustainable energy in developing countries, and as a result, move closer to solving both issues. Climate change should be thought of as an opportunity in disguise to bring about much needed change in this world, and it is my intention to move international discussions forward on this topic.


Literature Review on GCF

Now more than ever the concept of global climate change has become a central issue in the eyes of virtually all nations as the notion of real and serious harm for human populations becomes more accepted. The Conference of the Parties (COP) is an annual collaboration of nations on the topic of global climate change hosted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Convention acknowledges that change in the Earth’s climate and its adverse effects are a common concern of humankind, and that the Convention’s objectives, as stated in Article 2, are to achieve “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” and that “such a level should be achieved within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adjust naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner” (UNFCCC – Article 2, 2012). Article 3 enumerates five specific principles to guide the Convention’s actions in achieving these objectives:

1)    There should be common but differentiated responsibility (CDR).

2)    Specific needs of developing countries should be given full consideration, especially vulnerable ones.

3)    The precautionary principle should be employed.

4)    Actions should be consistent with sustainable development.

5)    Parties should cooperate in promoting an open international economic system that would lead to sustainable economic growth (UNFCCC – Article 3, 2012).


The Conference of the Parties first met in 1995 in Berlin, Germany, and have been meeting every year since. COP18 recently concluded in Doha, Qatar, continuing the search for an appropriate solution to the global warming phenomenon.

Many nations will be impacted by the effects of climate change, but it is primarily the least developed countries that are predicted to be those most adversely affected, despite their relatively minor contribution to anthropogenic climate change overall. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, as well as many other organizations, have established several mechanisms to provide funds to these countries.  However, it was at the Copenhagen Accord in 2009 that the idea of a Green Climate Fund (GCF) was raised which would have proposed an annual budget of US$100 billion beginning in 2020 and would be provided by developed countries and climate-focused organizations and industries (Bredenkamp & Pattillo, 2010). It would consist of a board of twenty-four members, split equally between developing and developed parties, with the World Bank serving as an interim trustee (United Nations, 2012). Ultimately the GCF would be an operating entity of the financial mechanisms of the Convention and would be required to engage in collaboration with and function under the guidance of COP in order to carry out programs, policies, and projects directed at adaptation and mitigation efforts in the developing world (UNFCCC, 2010).

Summary of Research

In order to consider the literature currently available on my topic, I considered each of the following questions: Why is there a need for the GCF? How is the GCF developing? How will the GCF be funded? What critiques are being made? The concept of the GCF is relatively new, coming into being a short four years ago, and therefore there is virtually no mention of its function prior to the year 2009. Although the GCF is in its infancy, the idea of climate finance as a whole has been circulating in academic spheres for approximately fifteen years, and in many cases this is apparent in the literature.

Why is there a need for the Green Climate Fund?

            The necessity of having a Green Climate Fund is a complicated topic, since it is engaged with the issues of sustainable development, shared responsibility, prior success of other financial mechanisms, and global climate change itself. To begin with, the United Nations Committee for Development Policy (2009) has compiled a strong report regarding the achievement of sustainable development amidst the challenges of climate change. This has really set the stage for why action must be taken in the developing world and explores the impact of climate change on achieving the Millennium Development Goals that are so crucial to these nations. By highlighting the connection between economic development and the use of natural resources, this source emphasizes the detrimental effects of making carbon fuel use more expensive, since it will halt much of the progress underway and leave thirty-two percent of the developing world without access to electricity (UN, 2009).

            Having established the need for financial aid, it is not as clear why the array of past and present financial mechanisms of the UNFCCC have not been successful in addressing this issue. Stewart et al. (2009) provide an overview of initial funds and programs, making clear the breadth of attempts to supply the developing world with financial support. However, de Gouvello et al. (2010) explain the need for a new and much larger fund targeted at climate change in the developing world. This report takes a slightly different approach, and instead of proponing the need for financial aid to support developing countries, the issue of the world’s ability to meet necessary greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions is addressed. It is argued that without reductions in the developing world, the scientifically-based target for reductions cannot be met, and therefore the application of funds in these nations is crucial to the health and safety of the global community (de Gouvello et al., 2010). Many low-carbon investment projects already exist in the developing world under the support of mechanisms such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM); however, these authors argue that because these projects have limited access to financing, they are never realized in full. A new mechanism, the Low-Carbon Development Facility (LCDF), is proposed under the operation of the GCF as a way to mobilize much larger sums and support ongoing and future projects in the nations most in need (de Gouvello et al., 2010). 

            Caperton (2011) expands on this idea in that the diversity of a country’s sustainable development portfolio is dependent on the breadth of the fund backing it. In this report he explains the importance of pooling both the risk of investment as well as the capital gained, and that this method would enable countries to fund more adaptation and mitigation projects than they are now able to. By diversifying these projects, Caperton (2011) claims that each individual country will be better able to manage their risk in regard to climate change. An operation such as the GCF would theoretically meet the requirements for achieving this.

What will the structure of the GCF be?

            Having officially adopted the GCF as a mechanism to be implemented by the UNFCCC at COP16 in 2010, it has since been under the responsibility of the COP to move the project forward. At this point in time, there is a notable lack of analytical material regarding the evolution of the structure of the GCF, leading to a surplus of information provided by the UNFCCC in the form of official reports and summaries. One such summary by the UNFCCC (2012a) describes the current plan of action for governing the creation of the GCF for the first few years as it moves towards operationalization. This source reviews the structure of the Green Climate Board, consisting of twenty-four members split between developing and developed countries, and a trustee who will administer the fund itself. A “Transitional Committee” is referenced as being responsible for the development of the fund with recommendations subject to approval by the COP17 (UNFCCC, 2012a).

Looking at the recommendations put forth by the Transitional Committee at COP17 in Durban, it is apparent that the focus of the committee was to create a governing board for the GCF. Several requests were made to the COP for country recommendations for board members and inviting parties to host the GCF itself permanently within their borders (UNFCCC, 2011a). Also under request from the Transitional Committee is the establishment of a date for the first board meeting, the appointment of an interim secretariat immediately following COP17, and the consideration of a fair and accurate process for the selection of the trustee of the GCF (UNFCCC, 2011a).

These requests made by the Transitional Committee are expanded upon in their composed draft of the governing instruments proposed for the GCF. The authors of this report provide a very thorough consideration of the structural mechanisms of the GCF, including selection process for members, terms of service, and responsibilities inherent in the position. While there is considerable information on the role of the board itself, few details are provided in terms of the implementation of the fund. Financial inputs to the fund are to take the form of grants and concessional lending to eligible developing nations (UNFCCC, 2011b). Brief mention is given to monitoring and evaluation standards, but as of now, the governing instruments remain a draft.

Financial Instruments of the Fund

            There has been much speculation as to the appropriate way to provide funds to the GCF in the most efficient and reliable manner. It appears that this is an issue of considerable complexity. Extensive literature exists on the topic of climate financing in the broadest sense as it considers the needs of developing countries and the global community as a whole. With the application of the GCF specifically aimed at developing nations, it is most useful for the purposes of this review to consider only those sources targeted at the same nations. Despite climate change being a relatively new concern on a global scale, previous financial instruments aimed at this problem have provided a base to consider the best approach to financing low emissions projects in developing countries. Dubash (2009) proposed that a top-down approach, for the immediate future, is inferior to the application of bottom-up approaches in terms of having a positive effect on environmental systems. The emphasis on local-level governments is due to the fear of contradicting incentives if emissions reductions were implemented on a higher level, such that sustainable development in vulnerable communities might be sacrificed in the interest of meeting targets and collecting monetary rewards. This idea is supported by Rao (2010), albeit much more broadly as it is related to all green economic policies throughout the globe and not only those directed at developing nations and climate change. 

            Apart from these general conclusions, there are a number of research reports that directly address the GCF itself and possible ways forward. There are significant disagreements when it comes to climate financing and who should be responsible for making a contribution. Many accusations have been made over the past decade as to the United States’ participation; however, the focus of the debate has now turned towards public versus private financing. Over the past decade many countries have attempted to implement market-based mechanisms to curb carbon dioxide emissions (e.g., cap and trade, carbon tax). As a private sector investment, these mechanisms are recognized as important to the overall lowering of greenhouse gas emissions, but some researchers speculate that this will not be enough to meet global challenges for emissions reductions. Lattanzio and Leggett (2011) postulate that it is the public sector that will have the greatest effect on climate financing efforts, suggesting that it will be able to enact the necessary economic changes at a much quicker pace.

            The opinion that market-based mechanisms are inadequate on their own is shared by Romani & Stern (2011) as they break down the current international finance flows going towards climate change. It is estimated that out of the US$97 billion per annum supporting low-carbon development in the developing world, carbon markets account for only US$2 billion, a small percentage of the total. A point of divergence, however, is that these authors do not list carbon markets as a subsection under private investment sources and instead consider it to be a completely separate section. Over half of current investments now come from private sources, and it is predicted that if global trends persist and private investments continue to increase by ten percent annually, then over the next ten years this sector will be able to provide well over US$200 billion to adaptation and mitigation activities in the developing world (Romani & Stern, 2011; Chaum et al., 2011).

            The Secretary General of the United Nations’ high level Advisory Group on Climate Change (AGF), which was tasked with identifying potential sources of funding for the GCF to be presented to the COP, brings further disagreement to the debate by emphasizing the role of carbon pricing on meeting the US$100 billion annual budget for the GCF. The claim is that without a carbon price of US$20-US$25, the rise in available revenues for climate financing will not be sufficient to meet global demand (AGF, 2010). This is a very contentious claim, since many have pointed out that a steep rise in carbon pricing would be detrimental to sustainable development in developing nations without considerable technology transfer from developed countries. Overall, however, the AGF posits that the annual US$100 billion is a challenging but achievable sum (AGF, 2010).

            As mentioned previously, de Gouvello et al. (2010) go beyond simple speculation as to the best approach to financing the GCF and propose their own system called the Low-Carbon Development Fund (LCDF), which is based on a refined model of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), a current financial mechanism supporting mitigation projects in developing countries. This paper represents the next phase in the discussion of financing the GCF, and it is expected that many similar proposals will be emerging over the next few years.

Concerns Regarding the Green Climate Fund

            As it is still in its initial phases, several critics have commented on the challenges facing the GCF, which are considerable considering the scope of the fund and the complexity of its nature. Bird et al. (2011) have written a report focusing on the design challenges faced by the GCF, addressing the tenuous relationship between developed and developing countries that exists in the climate change arena. These authors bring up the point that many observers of the COP proceedings are concerned that the GCF will in reality amount to a failed financial mechanism, serving only to entice developing nations into a binding agreement on carbon emissions. This concern has manifested in negotiations as a debate over whether the GCF should be accountable and guided by the COP or if it should be under this group’s authority. The role of the World Bank as interim trustee is also explored by these authors. Many question the motives of the World Bank, given that this institution operates a portfolio of Climate Investment Funds and, therefore, may have conflicting interests (Bird et al., 2011).

            Critiques have also been made as to how the GCF will interact with existing financing mechanisms targeted at climate change. While some propose that a new niche for the fund must be created for it to succeed (Bird et al., 2011), others claim that it will in fact replace or subsume existing programs that have less mobilization power (Lattanzio, 2011). With many financial mechanisms already in existence, it is crucial to create the right incentives to garner support for the GCF. As of yet it is still unclear what those may be (Bird et al., 2011).

            Negotiators on behalf of the United States have also raised concerns with regard to the governing board of the GCF, making clear their opposition to including climate negotiators in decision-making processes in lieu of a board containing only finance experts (Caperton & Light, 2011). Still, there are other organizations expressing concern about the elimination of climate negotiators from the process (Bird et al., 2011). Overall, a main concern expressed by many politicians and academics alike is that little progress has been made with the conclusion of COP17 this past year (Padma et al., 2011; Podest, 2012). There is still a considerable amount of work to be done on the refinement of the GCF, and it is understandable that some question its ability to progress in a timely manner.

Furthering the Discussion

After reviewing the current research, it is clear that the intent of the GCF is to address mitigation and adaptation measures in the developing world in order to act on global climate change. While many aspects surrounding the creation of the fund have been explored, there has not been significant research done to determine what the impact of these actions will be on the developing world in terms of sustainable development. Many clear goals have been established globally in terms of achieving sustainable development, and as a guiding principal of the UNFCCC it is critical to incorporate these goals within the climate change solution and not allow global warming to affect the developing world in a negative way. There has been some theoretical research that proposes that allowing nations to develop will help them to be better equipped overall to deal with global warming both in terms of adaptation and mitigation. Moving forward from the existing collection of research on the GCF, I have created a proposal as to how this financial mechanism can be applied in a way that address both climate change adaptation and mitigation as well as underdevelopment. However, before the topic of underdevelopment can adequately be explored, a certain amount of background is required.

Underdevelopment as Seen Through the MDG

            The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) consist of eight targets signed into being as part of the Millennium Declaration at the 2000 UN Millennium Summit. This meeting was a collaboration between leaders from the global North and South with 189 nations gathered to discuss how to improve the lives of the billions living in developing nations. In order to achieve this, eight separate goals were established to target different facets of what the leaders saw to be the core causes of underdevelopment. For each goal, a shorthand tag line was concocted, but each was additionally given more specific objectives–all eight are listed below.

1)    Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

a.     Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar a day

b.     Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people

c.     Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger


2)    Achieve universal primary education

a.     Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling


3)    Promote gender equality and empower women

a.     Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015


4)    Reduce child mortality

a.     Reduce by two-thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate


5)    Improve maternal health

a.     Reduce by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio

b.     Achieve, by 2015, universal access to reproductive health


6)    Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

a.     Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS

b.     Achieve, by 2010, universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS for all those who need it

c.     Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases


7)    Ensure environmental sustainability

a.     Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programs and reverse the loss of environmental resources

b.     Reduce biodiversity loss, achieving, by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of loss

c.     Halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation

d.     By 2020, to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers


8)    Develop a global partnership for development

a.     Develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system–includes a commitment to good governance, development and poverty reduction–both naturally and internationally

b.     Address the special needs of the least developed countries

c.     Address the special needs of landlocked developing countries and small island developing States

d.     Deal comprehensively with the debt problems of developing countries through national and international measures in order to make debt sustainable in the long term

e.     In cooperation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries

f.      In cooperation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications


It is clear that each of the goals is slightly different, with some calling for complete eradication of a condition, while others simply call for a reduction. Most of the goals have a targeted completion set at 2015, but there is slight variation to this. For the purposes of this paper, I will be focusing on the shorthand goals set out by the United Nations.

            The MDG have come under scrutiny in recent years with critics such as William Easterly calling into question the effectiveness of such broad goals. There are many programs aimed at achieving the MDG, and many of these involve the giving of aid. Easterly is very critical of aid giving, because without specific, narrowly defined goals, it is harder to generate momentum and make actual progress (2006). For example, the goal to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS across the entire developing world is very broad, and there is no clear way to begin going about it. What is more, with the MDG there are numerous international actors, entire nations even, who are committed to achieving them. The problem here is that too many people are involved in too broad of goals, and it becomes easy for people to assume that others will act for them. The levels of accountability are incredibly low with this international effort, and it is important to consider the flaws inherent in the MDG model (Easterly, 2006).

            This report will not argue against these flaws, but instead will use the MDG as a framework to discuss development in general. This concludes the background portion of this proposal, and we will now transition to a discussion of the current state of policy in the UNFCCC followed by a look at the role for clean energy access to address these issues.

The Importance of Timing and the GCF

The intention of this report is to propose a change in the policy direction taken by the UNFCCC in their efforts to curb global climate change; however, before discussing the specifics of such a proposal, it is important to understand the circumstances under which a change is necessary, and more importantly, possible. An examination of the current policy model and the timeline of the UNFCCC reveals that the climate of international negotiations is perfectly poised to consider an alternate approach to mitigation and adaptation measures. Combined with the planned deployment of the GCF, the timing has never been better.

Current Policy Model

Currently, the international community has come together, for the most part, under the banner of the Kyoto Protocol. This policy was developed at COP3 in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan and is a legally binding agreement for countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Thirty-seven countries eventually signed and ratified the treaty, pledging to reduce emissions by an average of 5% relative to their emissions for the year 1990, over the period 2008-2012 (UN, 1998; UNFCCC, 2012d). It is based on the idea of common but differentiated responsibility, thus targeting the industrialized countries that are most historically responsible for the current levels of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. The agreement was set to expire in 2012, but the term was recently extended until 2020 as agreed upon by nations attending the most recent Conference of the Parties (COP18) held in Doha, Qatar in November 2012. The Kyoto Protocol encourages its members to take national measures in order to meet the objectives for reduction, and it included three major mechanisms through which countries could approach this difficult task: emissions trading (or the “carbon market”), the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and Joint Implementation (JI) (UNFCCC, 2012d). The Kyoto Protocol has been a central component to climate change negotiations since its creation in 1998, and while many have applauded its accomplishments and still fight for its continuance, the flaws of the Kyoto Protocol, both in theory and in practice, are immense.

Flaws in the Current Model

            From a logistical standpoint, the Kyoto Protocol has been unable to include the world’s largest carbon emitters in its framework. The treaty was designed to target only Annex I countries, which are industrialized or developed countries, as part of its initiative to uphold “common but differentiated responsibility”, and to have all treaty members account for at least 55% of total global emissions (UN, 2012). This important benchmark was finally reached in 2004 and allowed the treaty to go into effect, yet it did so without including the United States. The United States makes up a large proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions and has signed but not ratified the treaty. Faith in the Kyoto Protocol has decreased dramatically, and after the latest COP gathering, Japan, Canada, Russia, and New Zealand have all pulled out of the treaty, leaving it to cover only 15% of total global emissions (Ritter & Casey, 2012). Many have used this information to argue that the effectiveness of the Kyoto Protocol is dwindling and that a new treaty must be found. While I agree with this statement, I would argue that even greater issues have plagued the treaty from its conception.

            The Kyoto Protocol is a universal intergovernmental treaty based off of previous models such as the International Stratospheric Ozone Regime, the US EPA Acid Rain Program, and the Strategic Arms Reduction Strategy, which target problems that are incomparable to the issue of global of climate change (Prins & Rayner, 2007b). Prins and Rayner have defined climate change as a “wicked problem”, or in other words, a problem that “can be considered as a symptom of another problem” (2007b; Prins et al., 2010). The essence of this is that climate change is not a problem that is cut and dry with one input and one output. The occurrence of global warming combines political, economic, and social factors at a myriad of levels, resulting in a problem that is so multi-faceted that no simple solution can address all its effects. The problem will not be solved by merely asking developed nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

            Therefore, it is essential to accurately identify the problem that needs addressing. Climate change is a complex problem, and if this complexity is not taken into account when diagnosing the problem, any resulting solution will lack effectiveness (Guruswamy, 2007). Because the Kyoto Protocol was based on existing treaty models, it failed to account for the unique nuances inherent in the climate problem and was disadvantaged from its conception. Following a correct diagnosis of the problem, it is important that an international treaty embody a prescriptive answer that deals directly with the cause of the problem and not its symptoms (Guruswamy, 2007). In this regard, the Kyoto Protocol again falls short.

            A critical issue with the treaty model is its creation of flawed incentives for all signees and for those member nations whose livelihoods rely so heavily on the success of the Kyoto Protocol. The way the Kyoto Protocol is designed requires participating nations to go against their interests in order to pursue altruistic motives, a strategy that rarely works. The nations most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions are also those that are least affected by the changes taking place across the globe. Therefore, their involvement in the treaty is centered around moral obligation and international diplomacy. While these can be motivating factors, it is more natural for nations to pursue actions that benefit their populace in a very direct and immediate way. Historically this policy model has not promised sustainable, long-term outcomes (Prins & Rayner, 2007b). The Kyoto Protocol is further flawed because it has created a system where a number of countries, such as Russia, Ukraine, and Germany, are able to claim free money as a consequence of tearing down their highly inefficient industries, which are remnants of Communism. In this way, the Kyoto Protocol rewards economic lag and punishes those that are economically successful, once again demonstrating skewed incentives (Prins & Rayner, 2007b; Easterly, 2001).

This becomes an even greater problem when the question of involving developing nations is raised, a critical component that is becoming increasingly desirable amongst UNFCCC member nations, particularly the United States. By stifling development, the treaty will only contribute to the extreme inequality currently experienced across the globe, decreasing the incentives of treaty participants even further. Although it is clear that the Kyoto Protocol seeks to uphold the notion of “common but differentiated responsibility,” it is harmful to exclude developing nations from an issue that they are both impacted by and increasingly responsible for. It is predicted that by 2015, developing countries will have outpaced developed ones in terms of energy consumption with much of this coming from fossil fuel sources (Guruswamy, 2007). As it currently stands, the treaty does not take into account this significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore fails to address the heart of the problem. This is not to say that developing countries should be held accountable for the same actions as developed nations, but new solutions must be devised that incorporate the entirety of the problem.

            Ultimately, many claim that the Kyoto Protocol holds only symbolic importance. Even so, it creates more harm than good. It has been argued that with the existence of this treaty the international community has fallen into a state of complacency and is content not to push for more aggressive action. The illusion of a solution blocks further political treaties from manifesting (Prins & Rayner, 2007b; Prins & Rayner, 2007a; Verweij, 2006). Fortunately, it is an ideal time to move in a new policy direction.

The Perfect Time to Act

             With the recent renewal of the Kyoto Protocol through 2020, many have been disheartened at the lack of progress made by the UNFCCC in tackling the issue of climate change, a feeling that is perfectly justified. Despite this continuance, it must also be noted that the opportunity to refocus international efforts on this issue has never been greater, as the UNFCCC is in the process of developing a new, comprehensive legal agreement, working under a deadline of 2015 (C2ES, 2012). It is becoming more and more clear that the basic structure of the Kyoto Protocol is ineffective, as seen by the recent withdrawal of Japan, Canada, Russia, and New Zealand, and with the continued insistence by the United States that developing nations be included in the agreement before they will commit to any reductions. The upcoming deadline coupled with growing criticism of this treaty combines to create the perfect atmosphere in which national leaders may be willing to expand their preconceived notions on how to tackle the issue of climate change and be open to considering a significant change in the policy model.

            Even more fortuitous is that the end of the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol coincides with the launch date of the GCF. Whatever agreement is made in 2015 by the UNFCCC will most likely go into effect in 2020 as the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol comes to an end, allowing the new treaty to coordinate its efforts with the ample financial resources of the GCF. It is not yet clear in what form the new agreement will manifest, but it is my proposal that the alignment of the end of the Kyoto Protocol and the beginning of the GCF be taken advantage of to move climate change adaptation and mitigation to a new level, where the situation is looked at as an opportunity and not as an insurmountable problem. The following section will provide details for one way this opportunity might be realized, and how the issue of climate change can be used to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

Clean Energy Access, Climate Change, and the Millennium Development Goals

The Kyoto Protocol has been in place for sixteen years and has stood as a symbol for international cooperation, leadership, and action in the face of daunting climate change, and yet it is clear that the time has come for a shift in policy. It can be hard to admit that an action taken in the past has been wrong for a given situation, particularly when this action was made under immense international scrutiny. Nonetheless, it is the case that the theory and application of the Kyoto Protocol is flawed. The leadership required to recognize this error is immense and almost as great as that required to move the discussion forward and begin considering new possibilities for the management of climate change on a global scale. This process will undoubtedly be a difficult one, but it will be impossible unless the international community as a whole engages in a discussion as to how this new era in climate change policy might take shape. The mistakes of the past must be analyzed along with the necessities of present and future peoples in order to move forward in the best direction possible. In this section, I will offer my own contribution to this conversation in an attempt to further the dialogue surrounding the best mechanisms of climate change policy.

            The GCF, a burgeoning financial mechanism of the UNFCCC, is an institution of immense potential since its boundaries are still flexible enough to render it a tool in any new climate agreement that is made. It is set to allocate US$100 billion annually towards adaptation and mitigation efforts in the developing world, but I will argue that climate change is a very narrow lens through which to view the possible application of this fund. Underdevelopment is another serious problem faced by many of the world’s nations, and it would be a mistake to extricate these two issues since they are inexorably linked.

            The Hartwell Paper is a leading publication on this topic, where authors highlight the opportunities presented by the looming demise of the Kyoto Protocol to shift the policy approach towards climate change. The authors argue that if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to the targeted parts per million, but people are still left without access to energy, then this would be an affront to human dignity and an ultimate failure rather than a success (Prins et al., 2010). With the international community pressed to come up with a solution to climate change, a holistic approach should be taken in order to take advantage of the crisis and use it to augment the state of the human race. Haines et al. echo this sentiment, in their call for a “no regrets” solution, that is, a solution that will be beneficial on the widest scale possible even if climate change turns out to be a false prophecy (2007). Ultimately, Prins et al. (2010) outline three objectives that they deem the most important to pursue in terms of future climate policy:

1)    Energy access for all

2)    To ensure that we develop in a manner that does not undermine the essential functioning of the earth system

3)    To ensure that societies are adequately equipped to deal with climate change

In the following pages, I will use these points as a basis for my argument that sustainable energy access in the developing world is an appropriate and highly desirable policy objective to both combat the effects of climate change and bring about development through the MDG under the guidance and resources of the GCF. First, however, I will present the deep connection that exists between climate change and development.

Climate Change and Development

            The concept of development is not one that is easy to define or even to recognize, as it has many connotations and has been used in many different ways throughout the course of civilized society. Lawson discusses development in terms of three separate meanings: Big “D” development being government action taken with the intention to develop, little “d” development as the natural unfolding of “economic and social processes within capitalist societies,” and finally development as a discourse, as a way of examining the histories and power relations inherent within the concept (2007). This can be a very complex and nuanced way of approaching development as a discipline, and many scholars have simplified discussions on the topic by relating development directly to a measure of GDP per capita or income. This approach can be very dangerous since it may overlook many improvements in the lives of billions that have been achieved despite a notable lack of increase in GDP per capita overall (Kenny, 2011). Focusing on income alone ignores the improvements in education, health, and gender equality that have been made in recent years. Because of this, I will be examining development through the lens of the MDG since they highlight many of the areas that might otherwise be overlooked and provide a holistic view of the most important factors of development in today’s day and age.

            As shown by the institutions dealing with climate change and the MDG, the two are often treated as distinct issues with distinct solutions; however, it is not practical to separate them when they have become so entwined. The relationship between climate change and the MDG flows in both directions, with each one impacting and influencing the other as the global community seeks to halt one and promote the other (Orellana, 2010). The effects of climate change could have a serious, negative impact on the achievement of the MDG, and yet many people have blamed development, in a very capitalist sense, for bringing about the elevated levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It is a cycle of inequality where developed nations created the circumstances under which the world’s poorer nations exist. Poorer nations are most vulnerable to shifts in the global climate and are unable to combat the dangerous effects of these shifts.

            People residing in underdeveloped conditions are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Some of this is due to the geographic location, as some scholars posit that geography is a key determinant of wealth and, therefore, development (Fig. 1) (Sachs et al., 2001).

Fig. 1 Map of the United States with areas colored according to the amount of GNP per capita derived from them (Sachs et al., 2001).


Sachs et al. use this visual representation of the world’s wealth to demonstrate that nations between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn are generally poorer than nations in temperate zones, which is linked to underdevelopment (2001). Unfortunately, it is the tropics, as well as small island nations, that will be hit hardest by climate change. Climate change is already causing global temperatures to rise and causing changes in patterns of precipitation, rising sea levels, a spread of disease, and more frequent weather-related disasters (World Bank, 2012). These factors severely threaten agricultural productivity in developing nations, which in turn serves to undermine progress made in achieving the MDG of alleviating poverty, hunger, and health concerns. Looking at Fig. 2, it can be seen that the areas that will see the largest decrease in agricultural productivity match up closely with the world’s poorest regions, as shown in Fig. 1.

Fig 2. Changes in agricultural productivity projected for the year 2080 based on the effects of climate change (Ahlenius, 2008).


            Beyond agricultural concerns, the threat from increased occurrence of natural hazards is detrimental to the billions of people in underdeveloped nations. People living in poverty have higher sensitivity and vulnerability to natural hazards, as it is typical that they are greatly reliant on natural resources for their livelihoods. This is especially true of those living in rural areas, where the possibility of diversifying their living is quite minimal. Poverty also brings a lack of access to resources, which are critical for rebuilding purposes in the wake of a natural disaster. Widespread institutional uncertainty only exacerbates this issue (Smith, 2006).

            Of course, the relationship goes both ways, and if the developing world were to continue along a path of development similar to Western countries, that is, a carbon-intensive development path, then the consequences for climate change would be overwhelming. Currently, 86% of the expected increase in carbon emissions is predicted to come from developing countries as they move towards a more energy-intensive economy (Guruswamy, 2012).

            Development is typically at odds with the protection of the climate, resulting in a game of “either/or” when it should be one of mutual progress (Baer et al., 2008). A large sum has thus far been expended on development initiatives to achieve the MDG, both private and public, yet all of the progress that has been made could be undone by climate change (UN 2007; World Bank, 2010). The UN’s development goals cannot be achieved if climate change is left unmitigated, and it would be morally repugnant to abate climate change by repressing the billions living in the developing world (Prins et al., 2010). It is clear that both issues need to be addressed simultaneously, and these strong connections need to be utilized. The Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, stated in a general address to the press: “This is our opportunity to advance sustainable development; encourage new kinds of cleaner technologies, industries and jobs; and integrate climate change risks into national policies and practices” (UN, 2007).

            Of course, it is one thing to claim that development cannot be had without accounting for climate change and vice versa, but for the purposes of this proposal it is equally important to demonstrate why the approaches should be combined into one. A basic reason for arguing for a joint approach is that there are limited global financial resources, particularly during times of economic strife. Channeling money towards an initiative that addresses two large-scale issues is also more efficient than addressing them separately. The expenses generated by monitoring and regulating these programs can be reduced by streamlining projects into a single approach.

            Beyond the simple benefit of saving money, combining climate change and global development initiatives also serves to inspire people to take action where they might otherwise not be willing. Climate change continues to be a contentious issue in many Western nations, and because governments are greatly divided on this topic, it becomes more difficult to generate the funds necessary to address the problem. There remain those who do not adhere to a belief in climate change, and while they might be very opposed to diverting national resources towards adaptation and mitigation efforts, they may be very passionate about global poverty and underdevelopment. Some have called for a “no regrets” solution to climate change, one that is beneficial to people on a global scale even if predictions of disaster turn out to be wrong (Haines et al., 2007). From an opposite perspective, McDonald argues that climate justice could be used as a philosophy through which to promote development projects and involve environmentalists more strongly in the issue (McDonald, 2010). Ultimately, combining the climate change and global development initiatives takes advantage of limited world resources and rallies more people to the cause; I will argue that this can be done through the spread of clean, sustainable energy access.

How Energy Access Addresses Climate Change

Energy and Mitigation Efforts

            The purpose of the GCF is very clear, because it specifies that funds are to be used for both adaptation and mitigation projects in the developing world (UNFCCC, 2011c), Any action that is designed must take both of these into consideration. With the proposal to increase clean energy access, mitigation is very direct in that sustainable energy sources prevent the addition of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. As developing nations continue following a carbon-intensive development path, it is predicted that 86% of the expected increase in greenhouse gas emissions will come from developing countries (Guruswamy, 2012). Greenhouse gases do come from many sources, but it is fuel combustion associated with human energy demands that account for the largest percentage of these emissions. As Smith and Haigler state, “Serious global mitigation will require major changes in energy production and use” (2008).  If an alternative path to development could be negotiated, such as replacing fossil fuels with clean energy sources as this paper proposes, then a sizeable portion of this increase might be prevented and greenhouse gas levels might have a better chance at being held within a steady range.

            Black carbon emissions are another component of global climate change that can be addressed via the promotion of clean energy access in the developing world. Black carbon is described as being a carbonaceous aerosol, which is defined as carbon-rich substances suspended in a gas either in a solid particle or liquid droplet form. Some well known examples are smoke, haze, and air pollution (C2ES, 2010). Beyond being a serious health hazard, black carbon ranks as the second leading cause of climate change behind carbon dioxide emissions with the majority of emissions coming from the developing world, 25-35% from China and India alone (Ramanathan & Carmichael, 2008; C2ES, 2010). Black carbon affects the climate in two ways. First, the suspended particles trap heat in the air, which leads to warming, and the presence of the particles affects regional cloud formation and patterns of precipitation. Second, particles can become attached to snow and ice, leading to the absorption of more heat, which causes snow and ice to melt faster (C2ES, 2010).

            Black carbon is largely regional in its effect and is thought to be responsible for a significant portion of observed warming in the Arctic and the Himalayans. Unlike carbon dioxide, its residence time in the atmosphere is only one to four weeks, meaning that if the sources of black carbon could be targeted, then notable improvements could be achieved relatively rapidly (Ramanathan & Carmichael, 2008). Currently, traditional cook stoves are thought to be one of the main culprits of black carbon emissions (C2ES, 2010), so a focus on delivering clean alternatives to regions most in need via a clean energy initiative would go a long way in mitigating this major contributor to climate change. 

            Clean energy access would not only achieve significant mitigation goals in developing nations, but it has the potential to also impact emissions in the developed world as well. In order for sources of clean energy to reach developing nations, the appropriate technologies would first have to be produced by developed nations. The expenditure of time and resources and the mass distribution of these technologies should go a long way in making them viable options for developed countries and perhaps facilitate a shift to cleaner energy sources in those nations as well.

Energy and Adaptation Efforts

            While it would be ideal to simply employ mitigation tactics and eliminate the problem of climate change entirely, adaptation measures are equally needed as vulnerable populations are already being impacted by the shifting climate. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the leading cause of climate change. Due to its unique nature, it has the ability to remain in the atmosphere for nearly 100 years, indicating that even if greenhouse gas emissions were to cease immediately, warming of the climate would still occur based on existing levels of carbon dioxide (World Bank, 2010). With this knowledge, international efforts to address climate change have shifted in recent years from direct efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to increasing countries’ adaptive capacity to handle the higher temperatures, lower water availability, rising sea levels, and much more. Having already discussed how clean energy access will work towards mitigation efforts in the context of climate change, it is important to also consider how this tactic will increase adaptive capacity.

            Right now the majority of countries most impacted by climate change are developing ones, and due to their underdevelopment, they are mostly unable to take adaptive action. Many of these countries are now relying on aid programs from developed countries when disasters occur, a system of reaction that is ultimately undesirable. Instead of focusing on relief and disaster efforts after tragedy has struck, energy access will work to build up the resilience of the people most affected, so that these events do not affect them so strongly. Access to energy creates an increase in adaptive capacity that comes predominantly from the increase in development that energy access brings. Adaptive capacity is increased when a country’s infrastructure and institutions are enhanced, which stems from long-term human and social development (Haines et al., 2007; Smit & Pilifosova, 2001).

            One specific way that energy access ties in to adaptation techniques is the increased use of information and communication devices that is facilitated by sustainable energy. This allows people to better prepare and organize in case of a climate disaster. Energy access also brings more reliability to agricultural practices, such as an electric water pump that allows farmers to be less reliant on rainfall to grow their crops, particularly when many regions are experiencing a severe drop in precipitation (Johnson & Lambe, 2009).

            Ultimately, adaptive capacity comes from the resilience of a nation’s people, which can be largely strengthened via development. Therefore, to truly understand how clean energy access can create adaptation in a country, one must first examine how clean energy access builds development. This topic will be discussed at length in the following section through an examination of clean energy and the MDG.

How Energy Access Address the MDG

            As discussed previously, there are many different ways that development can be understood, and as an alternative to engaging with such a complex topic, the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) will be used as a means to discuss the topic as it relates to energy access and to climate change. The MDG are not an exhaustive account of problems facing developing nations, but they do touch on many of the primary impediments blocking the path to development.  To review, the MDG are as follows: (1) Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, (2) Achieve universal primary education, (3) Promote gender equality and empower women, (4) Reduce child mortality, (5) Improve maternal health, (6) Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases, (7) Ensure environmental sustainability, (8) Develop a global partnership for development. Access to clean energy addresses each of these goals, some more than others and in varying degrees of directness. The following will briefly explore this relationship.

Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger (MDG 1)

            The first MDG focuses on reducing poverty and hunger among developing nations. One way that energy access addresses this is through the agricultural sector. Agriculture is still a primary means of employment for many people residing in developing nations, and income generated from this practice directly relates to a family’s overall poverty and their ability to keep food on the table. Energy technologies can assist in making farmers more productive. For example, an electric water pump can help make farmers less reliant on natural precipitation or the manual transport of water to irrigate their fields. This leads to less vulnerability to seasonal variation and allows them to better handle periods of drought that are becoming more and more frequent (Modi et al., 2005). Another role for energy in the agricultural sector is in the form of information and communication devices, such as internet and telephone services. These devices can better connect rural laborers to urban markets and allow them to stay better informed on crop prices. Having knowledge of current crop prices can help farmers to receive fair prices for their goods and make informed decisions on what crops are the most appropriate to plant given current market conditions (Johnson & Lambe, 2009).

            While agriculture is an important part of the economy in developing nations, it is important to also look at how energy might allow individuals to expand their sources of income and therefore achieve better economic security. By implementing energy products in the physical maintenance of crops, less manual labor is required by farmers and their children, and more time becomes available to them to engage in other pursuits. For children, this might mean that they are able to attend school more frequently, which leads to higher income earning potential later in life. For adults this means participation in alternative forms of income generation. Also, having access to lighting at night allows for the pursuit of commercial activity well into the evening hours (Modi et al., 2005; Johnson & Lambe, 2009).

Achieve Universal Primary Education (MDG 2)

            The role of energy access as it relates to universal primary education has been briefly discussed, but it will be examined again here. A primary reason for keeping children out of school is that in the short term they are more valuable working at home than they are sitting in a classroom, and it can be difficult to take the long-term advantages of education into account when a family may be going hungry in the present. As discussed in the above section, energy products could have the effect of reducing the need for manual labor in the fields, and technologies such as electric water pumps and clean cook stoves can reduce the need for children to fetch water and biofuels (Modi et al., 2005). By reducing the need for children to contribute to these activities at home, they are better able to consistently attend school and receive an education.

            Illumination, or lighting, plays a role in this MDG. An important part to education is the ability to study the material and complete homework assignments outside of the classroom. Without proper access to lighting, the ability of children to engage with their education is lessened. Clean energy access brings reliable lighting to individual homes, allowing children to study after dark without having to travel many miles to find lighting or forgo studying all together (Johnson & Lambe, 2009). What is more, the most common source of illumination for poor households in the developing world is the use of kerosene lamps, which entails a number of problems. Kerosene as a fuel source has low efficiency for a high cost, and studies have found that up to $36 billion is spent on this fuel source every year (The Economist, 2012). For households, this could mean spending between 10-25% of their income on lighting, which is money that could be spent in a number of other ways that could benefit children’s education. It could be used to pay school fees to send more children to school or send them to better schools, or it could be used on medications or food to improve a child’s health and keep them more engaged in class material. The widespread use of kerosene has additional negative implications that will be discussed throughout the sections that follow.

Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women (MDG 3)

            An examination of the relationship between the empowerment of women and energy access is quite astounding, and unfortunately can only briefly be explored here. To begin with, it is important to note the increased stress placed on women in many developing countries that is brought on by climate change.  In many cases it is the women who are heavily responsible for resource management. As resources become more scarce and more prone to natural disasters, the burden placed on females is growing. This can lead to gender inequality as female children are more often pulled away from school in order to handle the growing scarcity of resources (Kammila et al., 2010), so it is important to look at how energy mitigates this effect. 

            Clean energy services can improve women’s lives by addressing their practical, productive, and strategic needs at all levels of society. A large part of these benefits comes in the form of improved female health, most of which will be discussed in the following section, but it deserves mention here, as poor health conditions are at the heart of gender inequality. As mentioned previously, technologies such as electric water pumps and clean cook stoves can greatly reduce the need for women to travel and carry heavy containers of water and wood over long distances, which negatively impacts their bodies and their time. When less time is spent on laborious work, women are able to retain more energy to look after themselves, their children, and the elderly, which serves to increase the health of these populations. Also, in this way energy services work to remove the burden of resource gathering and instead allow women to pursue activities that promote their independence and empowerment. With proper lighting brought by reliable, clean energy sources, women are able to engage in income-generating activities at night. Refrigeration technologies can also assist them in preserving food products for local sale (Etuati, 2008). These activities are very important for female empowerment, since they allow women to earn their own income either for themselves or for the household. This can bring them a sense of pride and economic power, since they are not completely reliant on the men in their household (IFAD, 2010).

            Another role for energy in female empowerment is the safety created by street lighting at night, which allows women to meet as a group with more security. This improves their mental state, as it reduces feelings of isolation that women have been observed to experience. Anxiety is also reduced via the sharing of information on reproductive and preventative health issues. This is a form of empowerment as well as an improvement in health, as it better prepares women to deal with many common afflictions native to developing countries that target them as well as their children (Etuati, 2008). Energy also brings the potential for communication devices, including mobile phones, internet access, radios and television. Some studies have shown that local television programs can be used as a medium to deliver messages of female equality, encouraging women to send their female children to school and to have less children overall (Kenny, 2011). This is only a preview of how clean energy can contribute to the achievement of the third MDG, and certainly there are many more ways this relationship is realized across the developing world.

Reduce Child Mortality and Improve Maternal Health (MDG 4 & 5)

            Because clean energy access addresses these two MDG in very similar ways, I have chosen to discuss them as a single factor for the purposes of this paper. It was estimated that in 2000 there were 2.4 million premature deaths directly associated with the energy sector in developing nations, specifically, indoor and outdoor air pollution (Smith & Haigler, 2008). Approximately 76% of all global particulate matter air pollution comes from the developing world in the form of indoor burning of biomass fuel. In many countries this accounts for up to 95% of domestic energy use (Fullerton et al., 2008). The widespread usage of biomass fuel is of extreme concern as there are numerous toxic products in the smoke, including particulate matter, hydrocarbons, free radicals, carbon monoxide, oxygenated organics, and chlorinated organics. This in turn leads to a high prevalence of disease amongst family members, particularly women and children, who are most often indoors where cooking primarily takes place (Fullerton et al., 2008; Campbell-Lendrum & Corvalan, 2007). By replacing traditional cook stoves with alternative forms that run on clean energy, a huge burden on women and children’s health can be lifted and their quality of life improved.

Illumination also has a role to play in the health of women and children. As discussed previously, kerosene lamps are often used as a light source during the evening hours, and many health risks are associated with these objects. Research shows that kerosene-based devices have caused fires and explosions in many households, leaving people with severe burns or even decimating entire complexes (Lam et al., 2012; Peck, 2011). Similar to biofuels, these lamps also emit pollutants that degrade indoor air quality, such as fine particulates, carbon monoxide, nitric oxides, and other damaging substances. As mentioned when discussing biofuels, women and children are at greater risk from these poor conditions, as they typically spend more time working in the household (Lam et al., 2012). Finding a cleaner alternative to kerosene would go a long way in improving indoor air quality and incidences of burns for women and children in many parts of the developing world.

            Clean energy access can also contribute to improving health conditions in women and children through many of the ways mentioned in the previous section. Increased safety achieved via streetlamps allow women to gather and share health information, and access to reliable lighting and refrigeration technologies can contribute to women engaging in independent income-generating activities, giving them more money to spend on their children’s and their own health. Many studies have shown that women are more likely than men to spend money feeding children and seeking medical care for them, so if more women are able to earn their own income, it stands to reason that more money will go towards family healthcare (Todaro & Smith, 2008). There is also a role for information and communication devices, previously mentioned as promoting female empowerment, which can also be used to share health-related information (Kenny, 2011).

Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and Other Diseases (MDG 6)

            Looking beyond child mortality and maternal health, there are other serious health concerns facing the majority of the population in developing countries. In recent years, notable progress has been made in terms of diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria. Much of this has been done without energy services, such as distributing mosquito nets and condoms. Still, there is room for clean energy access to contribute to the fight against these diseases and improve upon the progress that has already been made.

            One way for this to occur is through the information sharing devices that energy access provides. Knowledge concerning preventative actions can be spread via radios, televisions, and the internet, and health practices can be made more socially acceptable through local television programs (Modi et al., 2005). Along the same lines, energy access has an indirect role in combating these diseases in that it makes it easier for children to attend school, where many health practices are communicated and implemented. Another direct connection is that energy access brings the potential for more widespread access to refrigeration technologies, allowing for medicines to be better stored and transported to areas where they are most in need. Ultimately, energy access provides the means to improve upon techniques already being used to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases.

Ensure Environmental Sustainability (MDG 7)

            Environmental sustainability and clean energy access connect in multiple ways, and most of these are understood through the lens of climate change mitigation as described above. Right now environmental systems around the world are under extreme duress as the climate shifts, and much of the cause has been shown to have anthropogenic origins. The developed world has for years pursued a carbon-intensive development path, relying on fossil fuel sources as a means of energy production and industrial strength, and the environment is paying the price. If developing nations are able to adopt clean energy sources early on in the development process, they could prevent the addition of countless tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and move towards environmental sustainability by mitigating climate change.

            A switch from traditional biofuels to cleaner sources also facilitates environmental sustainability by halting massive deforestation in developing countries. Wood is a primary source of biofuel, and if alternative sources could lower demand, then this would greatly contribute to global efforts to curb deforestation.

Develop a Global Partnership for Development (MDG 8)

            With the eighth MDG, the connection between energy access and a global partnership is made very clear through the proposal presented in this paper, which is that developed countries utilize the GCF to deliver clean energy technologies to the developing world. A clearer overview on how this might take place will be delivered in the following section; however, the main point is that clean energy access cannot be realized in the developing world without extensive collaboration and partnership across the globe and between all nations.


            Ultimately, many positive outcomes are predicted to come from increasing access to clean energy sources in the developing world. However, not all predictions are optimistic, and some studies call into question the feasibility of achieving such widespread distribution of reliable and renewable sources. As with any discussion on development, it is questionable whether the imposition of foreign technology will be appreciated and utilized in the manner that it is intended, and if the technology will truly be effective or if in fact it requires an institutional framework that is still lacking in many of the regions most in need. The problem is truly complex, and the answers are not at all clear at this point in time, but the following section will work to outline the potential role of the GCF in realizing the connections between clean energy access, the MDG, and mitigation and adaptation of climate change.

The Application of the GCF to Address Clean Energy Access

            The role of clean energy access as it relates to both climate change and development has been thoroughly explored, and now the question remains as to how this can be accomplished. It is here that the GCF has the potential to play a major role. The fund was created in 2009 in Copenhagen, and although many logistical decisions have been made with regard to its function, there remains considerable room to define the exact use of the annual allotment of US$100 billion. The official writing states that “the Board must balance the provision of the Green Climate Fund between adaptation and mitigation proposals,” so the opportunity to focus the fund towards a project such as clean energy is still technically, if not practically, a possibility (UNFCCC, 2011c).

            When it comes to climate change, one failing of financial mechanisms in the past has been the tendency to spread insufficient money across too wide a range of projects, resulting in limited success. Others have noted the same occurrence in terms of development-oriented aid projects, where focusing on a project with broad objectives leads to minimal impact (Birdsall et al., 2005; Easterly, 2006). Because the proposal to target clean energy access addresses both climate change and development, it becomes increasingly important to narrowly define how this might be brought about. Aid of any type can prove ineffective if there are too many donors spreading money across a number of projects, so the purpose of utilizing the GCF for this project is to attempt to narrow the field of focus and implementation. A review of the literature on the GCF reveals that many experts are concerned that the fund will be unable to find a unique enough niche to avoid supplanting other programs already in existence. Defining the fund to a narrow target will help to alleviate concerns of this nature (Bird et al., 2011).

            How exactly will the money of the GCF be spent in order to bring about clean energy access in the developing world? One answer is technological transfer from developed nations to the developing ones. Many investors supporting existing energy technologies are not willing to engage in projects with high up-front costs that require long payback periods, since there is significant risk involved in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects (Beg et al., 2002). Many communities most in need of clean energy access are located in remote areas in developing nations and are reliant on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for any sort of energy services. Thus, they are not an attractive investment. The GCF could provide the necessary funds that would allow developing regions to undertake these projects.

Pedersen talks about the “tipping point” required for energy access projects, which is the point at which a project becomes ambitious enough to “provide a critical mass sufficient to support all of the foundational applications of an energy ecosystem” (2009). As explored in the previous section, there are numerous benefits that can be derived from energy access, such as increased agricultural productivity and health improvements; however, these benefits cannot be realized if the energy project is not extensive enough to provide a multitude of services in all of the necessary areas. This raises the question as to what types of technology would be most effective to transfer. Some efforts have already focused on decentralized renewable energy technologies, such as solar stoves and treadle pumps, and a number of NGOs have engaged in efforts to bring these technologies directly to people most in need (Johnson & Lambe, 2009). Many of these initiatives have proved effective in addressing very specific targets but fail to power communities to the point of complete access to sustainable energy.

This leads to a secondary, though equally important, role for the GCF in achieving clean energy access in developing nations: research and development initiatives. Research efforts must be increased in order to find answers to many of the questions surrounding clean energy access, such as: Do underdeveloped communities need to be included into an energy grid in order to realize full benefits, and if so, how will this be achieved? A lot of dedicated people and organizations across the globe have been engaged in answering these questions, and while admirable, their efforts could be capitalized upon via increased funding. Many nations have already developed renewable energy technologies, such as solar photovoltaic and thermal energy, wind energy, tidal energy, and biofuels.  These technologies could go a long way in benefiting urban areas in developing nations that already have an energy grid in place (Kammen, 2010). For the more rural areas, significant research and development is necessary.

Using the GCF to increase research and development efforts has the additional benefit of lending support to similar projects in developing countries. For years there have been movements in countries such as the United States to embrace renewable energy technologies, yet lobbying and subsidies for carbon-intensive sources has proven to be a formidable barrier, preventing the serious funding of research and development projects. By utilizing the GCF as a platform from which to mobilize the necessary resources required for such projects, renewable technologies could become more highly refined and economically competitive in developed and developing markets. Of course some technologies would be specific to the needs of developing nations, but with more and more countries revealing emergent industrialized centers, it is expected that an arsenal of technologies will be needed.    

            To summarize, the GCF can be used to mobilize a transfer of existing clean energy technologies, as well as provide funding for research and development efforts targeted at the developing world. Program development, maintenance, and monitoring must also be considered as part of the financial outputs of the fund, but this is expected to occur in conjunction with the other functions of the fund. This overview of fund application has been purposefully brief, and there are admittedly many unexplored facets of this proposal. While it is a useful exercise to explore potential avenues for the evolution of policy within the UNFCCC, it would be remiss to ignore the very real conditions under which this proposal would be taking place. It is by no means an exhaustive prescription of policy but an exploration meant to broaden the range of possibilities under consideration by international governing bodies. That being said, it is important to acknowledge and discuss the flaws in this proposal.

Problems with this Model

            The policy model that has been presented in this paper is only a basic outline of how to bring clean, renewable energy to the developing world, and yet even this theoretical proposal contains a number of potential flaws that are worth mentioning here.

            An initial concern is that many of the countries most in need of clean energy technologies suffer from corrupt governments, typically in combination with ailing institutions, which can make it difficult to ensure that money is being used appropriately and effectively (Easterly, 2001). This presents an additional challenge of having to divert a portion of resources away from research and development initiatives and implementation programs, and instead utilize time and money to investigate country-specific conditions and develop unique avenues for delivery in each instance. Of course, a degree of bottom-up design is desirable in this situation, since it has been proposed that energy services be delivered to a number of nations with differing environmental and geographical conditions, governing bodies, and cultural practices. However, this undertaking is monumental and intimidating, if it is to fall under a single governing entity, namely the governing board of the GCF. There are of course existing models on which to base new programs, for example Elephant Energy that is working to deliver energy services in Namibia, but the scale of the project might appear to many as unapproachable.

            The issue of time is a major one, as it can be difficult to predict the timescale over which significant results might be seen from this model, begging the question if it will be timely enough to effectively address the ill effects of climate change. Already scientists are abandoning the possibility of holding the world to a 20ºC increase in temperature, while in the same breath declaring that a 1.50ºC increase is the only amount that the Earth could sustain without major consequences for human kind (World Bank, 2010). The time required to develop a range of clean energy technologies that can be employed across countries with varying requirements and infrastructure could take any number of years to achieve, as there are many conditions to take into account and a high output of innovation required (Pedersen, 2009). In addition to this, the time frame required for largely redirecting the policy agenda of the UNFCCC must be considered, as the institution has many members and many interests that must be reconciled before any new treaty can be agreed to and implemented. All of this must precede the required process of research and development.

            Unfortunately, while time may be a serious factor to overcome in dealing with the UNFCCC, there is an even bigger issue at the heart of this proposal, which is the question of whether UNFCCC representatives will still agree to the terms of the GCF if the overarching goal is adjusted to reflect a focus on clean energy access. As discussed in the previous section, there is still considerable room to define the objectives of the GCF, and yet the process of solidification is moving forward every day, closing the gap available to redirect the policy model of the UNFCCC and incorporate this into the purpose of the GCF. This creates a problem for how to move a revised goal for the fund forward in the arena of international climate change politics. This is not a question that can be easily answered, since inequality rests at the heart of the issue.

            It would be impractical to consider any proposal on climate change adaptation and mitigation without at least in part addressing the inequality inherent in the issue. This idea has been briefly touched on in the concept of “common but differentiated responsibility," and yet the problem runs much deeper than that. Inequality has always been a large contributing factor in why the world cannot come to an agreement on climate change, as nations have differing responsibility for the problem, differing vulnerability, and uneven participation in global efforts to solve the problem. This inequality is apparent in both environmental and economic regimes, and yet a nation’s economic influence holds great weight in the power it wields to influence decision making at institutions such as the UNFCCC. Even when nations can agree that there is a problem, there remains the concern of how to bring about solutions to “general fairness” issues. States holding this increased economic power must resist the attraction of pursuing solutions with short-term payoff that might take advantage of weaker states (Parks & Roberts, 2010). By acknowledging this inequality, the difficulty of introducing and adopting such radical approaches as clean energy access as a policy model must be acknowledged. The probability of agreement is unclear and highly debatable.


            The issue of climate change has been widely recognized for many years and the effects felt all around the world, yet the global community is still seeking appropriate and effective solutions to the problem. Nearly fifteen years of the Kyoto Protocol has not led to any significant results, and in many ways the problem continues to grow rather than abate. Now is the time to be searching for new and innovative ways of approaching the issue and developing solutions that will have real and lasting impacts for the environment and for human kind.

            The proposal to use the money in the GCF as a means of bringing clean energy access to the developing world is certainly a radical one, and as previously discussed it is accompanied by a myriad of complications that rightfully call into question the viability of this plan. Looking at it very broadly, the spread of clean energy access could contribute to mitigation and adaptation efforts, as well as working toward the MDG, but without more nuance it is easy to see where such a plan might go wrong. To add to this list of potential roadblocks is the very real possibility the US$100 billion promised annually will not be realized, and the GCF will simply turn out to be another empty effort and failed tactic on the road to climate change mitigation and adaptation. This might very well come to pass, but ultimately the realization of this proposal is less important than what it represents. 

            This paper has sought to conjure a basic outline of the potential benefits of bringing clean energy access to the developing world along with the many barriers standing in the way of its achievement. But its purpose does not lie solely in providing the right answer. Instead, this work is a call to action for scholars, policy makers, and national leaders alike, urging them to take advantage of this crisis period. It is clear that past solutions have not done enough to solve the climate issue, and with a new legal agreement to be decided in 2015, the time to act is now. Climate change is unlike any problem that humanity has yet faced, and its impacts will be felt on the environmental, economic, political, and societal levels. Our solutions must take the same approach. Instead of isolating climate change and removing it from all contexts, policy makers should be engaging with issues that elevate the problem to its rightful complexity. Development, as a concept, is inextricably linked with climate change, and if the global community ever hopes to see real improvement made on either of these matters, it is time they started focusing on the bigger picture, not just the individual pieces of the puzzle. 

            Bringing clean energy access to the developing world might be unfeasible in the way that I have proposed, but I do hope that it serves to generate international discussions that take into consideration the boundless opportunities facing us here and now. It is possible that we can find a way out of the climate crisis without sacrificing human dignity, perhaps even in a manner that would allow us to come away having gained something. But this can only happen if serious changes are made. Policymakers need to be mindful of the failures of the past and the opportunities of the present order to come away with a solution for a better future that starts here and now.


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Individualization of Social Policy and Individualization Through Social Policy, Aurora Randolph

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Scholars from various disciplines have documented shifts in different political areas toward an emphasis on individuals and individual actions. This increasing concentration on the individual results in decreased consideration of the social and structural nature of these political issues. This change in conceptualization is a result of neoliberalism. In synthesizing different theories of this ideology and considering the way in which it operates in various political realms, I argue that neoliberalism needs to be understood as an individualizing ideology. Neoliberalism is shown herein to perpetuate itself through a cycle of individualization that is manifested in different ways. The individualizing component of the ideology changes the way in which subjects conceptualize reality and makes it particularly difficult to see neoliberalism as an ideology. I develop a detailed understanding of individualization that accounts for the distinct yet interconnected ways in which neoliberalism is expressed in different political areas. I conclude by arguing that we should interrupt the cycle of individualization in an effort to interfere with the perpetuation of neoliberal ideology.  


Our conceptualization of society, the collective, and even the individual in the United States is undergoing a significant transformation. American individualism is a long-standing concept that is at the heart of even our social structures and institutions. In recent years, however, there has been a striking evolution of this notion at play. As political dialogue is increasingly focused on personal responsibility and the primacy of the individual, a trend can be seen in which issues formerly understood to have systemic and structural components are depoliticized and re-conceptualized as matters of individual character and choice. While this point of view about social issues is just one of many, it is becoming increasingly important insofar as it is understood as the common-sense perspective. The growing prominence of this trend is connected to the rise in neoliberalism as the dominant ideological paradigm of our time and is undermining conceptions of social responsibility, shared obligation, and systemic forces. This phenomenon can be seen across the political and social world.
     A changing dynamic of focus on the individual across various political areas has been well documented in recent years. For example, Nina Power (2009) traces the modern feminist movement from its former emphasis on collective responsibility and political action in collaborating to create a culture that values women and respects the diversity to the consumer culture of modern feminism. This is reflected, she suggests, by the increased focus in having a job, being able to pay your own bills, and finding emancipation through the market (Power, 2009). Similarly, both Lisa Duggan (2003) and Sarah Schulman (2012) characterize the transition in the gay rights movement from a community-oriented collective action-centered fight to a more depoliticized movement with a homogenous, conformist program that utilizes the rhetoric of individual responsibility and privacy. Henry Giroux (2008) presents the evolution of racial issues as a movement away from an understanding of racial inequality as a function of structural oppression generating a social obligation, toward an exclusive focus on the individual choices of people and the responsibility individuals bear for their own situation. Meanwhile, Robin Roff (2007) and many others highlight the new environmentalism in which the former ethos of collective and shared responsibility has given way to a certain kind of personal responsibility that serves to isolate and individuate activism. The way these and other social issues are being structured is changing, and the way we ultimately understand them as a society is changing as well. While these shifts have generally been documented on a case-by-case basis irrespective of other issues, a step back illuminates the simultaneous metamorphoses that are taking place across the spectrum of social problems, and a common theme is emerging.
     The changes being seen in social politics are the result, I argue, of neoliberal ideology. This ideology morphs our understanding of collectivism and the social to an ideological framework of individualization, and in doing so simultaneously undermines our ability to mobilize social action against the ideology. Understanding the role of this individualization within neoliberalism and the way in which it manifests itself is important both theoretically and practically. Other academics speak to this trend but have not yet clearly identified the different aspects of individualization; in this project, I aim to provide this framework. Additionally, though there has been research done on the effects of neoliberalism from various disciplines, the work of these scholars has not been synthesized, which I do in this project. The synthesis and analysis of seemingly diverse developments that I provide here is of particular importance because it provides a framework to consider these changes as part of a broad neoliberal ideological shift–one that serves to disable the foundations of the political activism that could threaten its hegemony. If the dominant ideology is to be challenged, a detailed account of individualization and its different manifestations is vital.
     Neoliberalism, as a political ideology, is built upon the premise that market values are the fundamental tenets of political rationality. In this project, the definitions of many theorists are synthesized to develop this as an ideology grounded in economic values that works to extend market values to all spheres of life, in which the role of the state is to serve the market and economy, ultimately manifesting in policies of deregulation, privatization and liberalization–all of which are premised on the idea of the individual rational actor. The individualization that I highlight as a key component of neoliberalism identifies, in the name of market rationality, the individual as the primary unit of measurement and promotes social concerns as individuated issues. It is a concept that I show to be distinct from the individualism found in classical liberalism. The academics I use in my research have all illustrated this to be a part of the ideology but have not identified it as the primary factor, as I argue it is.
     In this thesis, I initially develop an understanding of neoliberalism as an ideology, and I explain the method through which I present my argument. From that foundation, I present the literature on neoliberalism and argue for an expanded conception of its individualizing tendencies. Then, I consider neoliberalism in practice and analyze literature on five different social movements to show how neoliberal ideology manifests itself in various ways.  I conclude by showing how these case studies identify individualization as produced by and crucial to neoliberalism; while exhibited in four particular ways, individualization is present and is pivotal in the neoliberal model. Ultimately, I argue that a common understanding of neoliberal ideology as an individualizing phenomenon, coupled with a renewed conception of collectivism and shared responsibility, is vital in addressing the effects of individualization. 

Section I: Neoliberalism as an Ideology

Throughout this project, I argue that neoliberalism is an ideology. This claim is an important one to clarify. Above and beyond arguing that neoliberalism has a distinct set of characteristics, conceptualizing neoliberalism as an ideology helps us to understand that it has tangible political effects. Far from a neutral phenomenon, I argue that neoliberal ideology is a particular type of lens or way of viewing politics and reality. Theorists who make the case for neoliberalism as a political ideology face several challenges in making such arguments, and I address them in the following section.
What is an Ideology?

It is imperative to establish a shared understanding of what an ideology is–what its purpose is, how it functions, and what it means–before considering neoliberalism in particular. Theorists like Michael Freeden have laid important intellectual groundwork about the conceptualization of ideology. He explores the multitude of notions about ideology and how they have evolved over time, showing that our understanding of the concept and the way we view it can and does change (Freeden, 1996, 2003). Ultimately, however, he highlights that the common thread among theorists is that an ideology is the mechanism through which we experience the world (Freeden, 2003). I employ a similar reasoning about ideology in this paper, using the word to describe a worldview consisting of theoretical relationships between particular concepts and values that helps us to understand the world. For our purposes, it is helpful to conceptualize an ideology as the lens through which we relate to the world and develop ideas. Ideologies as such are not things that can be cast aside to expose some sort of truth, but are mechanisms used by all people in conceptualizing reality. Consequently, ideology plays a very important, perhaps underestimated, role in our lives.
     Though ideologies are generally understood to be abstract, this doesn’t inhibit our ability to critically analyze what they are and the effects they have. Freeden (2003) describes the evolution of the study of ideology and emphasizes the thinking of Ludwig Wittgenstein in showing that “far from being monolithic, the standard structure of an ideology was a jigsaw of components that furnished it with considerable flexibility” (p. 44). An ideology, then, is the platform from which we conceptualize the world, a collection of values and tools that we utilize in interpreting and responding to our experiences. This platform is helpful in providing some level of cognitive consistency for us as we continually internalize information. 

How Do We Study Ideology?
The study of ideology is a challenging matter because as intellectual frameworks are consumed, understood, and internalized by the masses, they intrinsically lack complete conceptual cohesion. As partly unconscious mechanisms through which we experience the world, they can be hard to identify as an “ideology” and not reality. Specifically, the consideration of neoliberalism as an ideology presents scholars with both a theoretical and political problem.
    As an ideology, neoliberalism is difficult to conceptualize on a theoretical level because there are no official leaders or founding texts, there is no platform as such, and no one affiliates or labels himself or herself as a “neoliberal.” In political theory, as theorist Isaiah Berlin ([1978] 1999, p. 149) notes, most of the work–and certainly the more interesting discussions–are concerned with concepts that may not have a broad consensus definition. Concepts like “freedom” and “justice” do not lend themselves to simple analysis because their understanding varies between people, between context, and between ideologies. The problem that neoliberalism poses to theorists regarding its elusiveness is not insurmountable for scholars; Freeden’s (1996) conceptualization of ideological morphology serves to provide a platform to discuss ideologies with an understanding that they are abstract and less easy to identify than political parties, for example. I utilize this understanding of ideology throughout this project.
     Freeden (1996) describes the dynamism of meaning associated with ideology as morphology. This notion, for Freeden, is based on an ideological structure comprised of political concepts with varying levels of salience: core, adjacent, and peripheral concepts (p. 77). This refers to the changing meaning of political concepts when deciphered in relation to other concepts in the nexus of ideas found in any one ideology (p. 66-76). The positioning of these concepts within the framework of an ideology greatly informs the meanings each respective concept evokes. Ideologies, he argues, have an inherent structure as well as fundamental effects that establish this morphological component (p. 14). To argue this view of ideology, he presents a few premises about the study of ideology. Differentiating himself from other scholars–Karl Marx in particular–he concludes that ideologies are not classist tools (p. 22). He argues that ideologies are “produced by, directed at, and consumed by groups” as tools to facilitate the necessary social and cognitive functions of life (p. 22). The framework provided by an ideology serves to heuristically help us process information efficiently, while not necessarily consistently. In prompting us to think of ideologies as being consumed, Freeden (1996, 2003) highlights that in addition to the inherent morphological characteristics of ideologies there is also variance created at the individual level of utilization. In acknowledging ideologies as “ubiquitous forms of political thinking, reflecting as they do variegated perceptions, misconceptions, and conceptualizations of existing or imagined social worlds,” Freeden (p. 22, 1996) notes that the mental frameworks created by ideologies do not necessarily need consistency, logic, or coherence, and do not need to be premised on accurate conceptualizations of reality. His approach then culminates in the belief that ideologies, as these facilitators, are imperative to study because of their implications for our understanding and internalization of the world (Freeden 1996, 2003).
    Ideologies, as a practical matter, are difficult for us to recognize, and this presents a serious political problem. Public policy theorist Barry Bozeman (2007) in his discussion of the theory of economic individualism, speaks to the elusive influence of political ideas:

Theory is socially enacted and includes not only sets of ideas but also interpretations, applications, rhetoric, and symbols. In many instances, people who may have never read about or even heard of a particular theorist or theory may nonetheless be influenced by popularizations and other secondary uses of the theory . . . if theories produce useful analytical tools, one need not read or fully understand the theory in order to employ, and be strongly influenced by, the tool that has issued from it . . . theories often have their strongest influence not in helping us decide among choices but in helping identify the set of choices we will ultimately decide among. (p. 19)


The surreptitious way in which ideologies function as lenses in our perception of reality has political implications. While ideologies are unavoidable mechanisms that all people utilize, the ability to recognize that is pivotal to an understanding that our perception is one among many, and predisposed with certain values. Losing this recognition, especially in politics, means a loss of awareness that people are using ideological lenses–not looking at the world uninfluenced. This problem can be circumvented with the solid understanding of ideologies as cognitive lenses that provide different perspectives and understandings of the world. Importantly, however, these cognitive lenses are not neutral; emphasizing one conceptualization over another has a distinct political effect and should be recognized as such.
     Understanding the obstacles faced by studying ideology and establishing a common conceptualization of an ideological framework serves to establish an effective method for studying neoliberal ideology. Freeden (1996) not only provides an important conceptualization of how ideologies function even as they may seem abstract and disjointed, he provides a structure for studying ideologies that takes into account their morphological nature (p. 14). Freeden (1996) argues that we can best understand ideologies by approaching them from a few angles. He suggests that by “employing the conceptual analysis that political theorists have been trained to handle; utilizing the type of empirical and contextual inquiry in which historians are versed; and approaching the morphological patterns which contribute to the determination of ideological meaning,” researchers will be best positioned to understand the complexities and implications of ideology (p. 14).
     The structure of this paper is set up in a manner that reflects the type of analysis that Freeden advocates. First, I delve into the conceptual groundwork that has been laid thus far on neoliberal ideology. In my consideration of prior research on this ideology, I highlight the major themes found across the research as well as the variations emphasized by different academics. As is consistent with Freeden’s conceptualization of morphology, the literature about neoliberalism has some disparities. While common themes emerge in all the theories, different scholars position different concepts as more or less central to the ideology, which can result in differing understandings of the ideology. I address these differences by building upon the work of both Wendy Brown and Michel Foucault. I identify the individualization of component as the central feature of neoliberalism, an element that I ultimately argue serves to undermine not only the ability of theorists to construct a coherent understanding of the ideology, but also the ability of the public to conceptualize the existence and implications of the dominant paradigm.
Why Study Ideology?
     Ideology, as the filter through which we understand the world, helps determine our values and choices in a very subtle way–and this has serious political implications. Freeden emphasizes the importance of ideologies in creating the framework for the intellectual realm that we all inhabit; they structure our thinking in a very fundamental way by helping us to organize the way we conceptualize the world (2003, p. 11). The impact of a structured intellectual framework cannot be overstated. This is an important point because, colloquially, if all you have is a hammer, everything you encounter truly does looks like a nail. Ideology not only informs the way we perceive the world but facilitates the production of a specific solution set. Ideologies are powerful forces and are socially constructed, which means that we can influence, change, and adapt them.
     Neoliberal ideology is particularly important to study because of some of its inherent characteristics. The concepts at its core serve to perpetuate both its premises and its values. With the proliferation of the analytical tools and value set of neoliberalism, the ideology is promoted as a common-sense, neutral perspective. As neoliberal ideas alter political and social choices, neoliberalism reaffirms its position as the dominant paradigm because of its seeming sensible perspective. David Harvey solidifies this point when he attributes some of the ideology’s strength to its campaign that promotes the notion that there is no alternative–no alternative to this particular way of thinking or to the neoliberal lens (2005, p. 181). It is by no means a stretch to assume that this kind of framing limits the perspective that we have, whether it be about current political issues or other ideologies. Furthermore, without a definite conception of the ideology (as exists for classical liberalism or classical conservatism), critics and society in general exhibit a sort of collective cognitive dissonance around the concept. In showing neoliberalism to be an ideology, we are better equipped to consider the prominent effects it has on our thinking–effects that may have arisen without our realization. I next examine the existing literature about neoliberalism to highlight the major themes, disagreements, and missing components.

Section II: Theories of Neoliberalism

    Neoliberalism as a concept has been discussed by people in different disciplines. Other theorists offer significant insights that I use as the foundation of this project and of my understanding of neoliberalism. The general     understanding of neoliberalism developed by prominent theorists consists of several fundamental characteristics including: economic values, expanded market rationality, a specific role of the state, particular public policies, and a focus on the individual. These theories about neoliberalism have been invaluable in helping me to develop a clear conception of the ideology; however, they do not provide a detailed account of individualization and its primary role within the ideology. Using the theoretical foundation that they have built, I seek to add to their understanding of the focus on the individual characteristic, and explore individualization with greater depth. In this section, I review the existing literature and extract common themes from these authors while arguing for a greater primacy of the individualizing component.
What is Neoliberalism?
There are several common themes that are consistently identified with neoliberal theory. Each concept is important to understand both on its own and in relation to other concepts. Neoliberalism as an ideology is greater than the sum of its parts, and should be understood to have multiple values that are interconnected. There are six distinct characteristics of neoliberalism other theorists have established that I will present and ultimately work from in this project. 

Neoliberalism is grounded in economic values. A consistent theme considered by most academics within neoliberal ideology is a strict adherence to economic values. Manfred Steger and Ravi Roy (2010), in their text Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction, explain the ideology as a social construction with three different manifestations. One component of the ideology they highlight is the economistic ethos of the theory. Thomas Palley (2005) in discussing the differences between neoliberalism and Keynesianism, describes neoliberalism as a “conservative economic philosophy” that draws from the classical liberal emphasis on economic values but that is focused primarily on promoting competition as opposed to strict adherence to laissez-faire economics (p. 20). By constructing a romanticized picture of consumerism and the free market, Steger and Roy (2010) see this ideological element as a theoretical structure for free-market globalization politics. It is from this that they label neoliberalism an “economistic ideology,” a value system that “puts the production and exchange of material goods at the heart of the human experience” (p. 12). In this explanation, the two begin to illustrate how an ideology centered on economic values is distinct from the proselytizing of capitalism; this ideology is built upon economic values as opposed to any other considerations.
     The focus of the ideology on economic values has subtle ramifications. Neoliberalism aims to be perceived as an objective, common-sense approach to governing that leaves most value judgments to be made by individuals via participation in the marketplace. This conception of neoliberalism ignores the fact that market rationality is a specific theoretical approach, centered on a particular value–that truth can be found in the market. So though it presents itself as truthful, it espouses a very specific, narrow idea of what truth is. Duggan (2003) implicates the neutrality that the theory tries to invoke as another explanation of the ideology’s expansion (p. xiii). Framing government as analogous to business–framing the role of citizens as consumers of government–neoliberals are able to appeal to the values of market rationality as fundamental and use concepts like efficiency for a seemingly nonpolitical analysis (Duggan 2003, p. xiii).  So, the construction of the ideology is such that while promoting market rationality–the application of economic values–it simultaneously characterizes the promotion of other values as subjective and biased.  
     Simon Clarke (2005) argues that neoliberalism is a greater project than just an ideology. As it is based on a very specific (and “simplistic”) economic model, Clarke suggests that this economistic perspective is the essence of neoliberalism. He goes further to argue, “the point for neoliberalism is not to make a model that is more adequate to the real world, but to make the real world more adequate to its model. This is not merely an intellectual fantasy, it is a very real political project” (p. 58). So concerned is the theory with economic values that it proactively works not only to conceptualize all spheres in market rationality terms but to shape spheres into ones that lend themselves to this particular ideology.

Neoliberalism extends market values to all spheres of life. The research of most theorists establishes the economistic foundation of the ideology and then positions the theory as continually expanding its market rationality to spheres outside of the economy. Foucault (2008) references a type of “standard of truth” that is perceived to exist in economic theory because of the effective process of finding truth/prices in a market (p. 31-32). Under the premise that markets are the best way to manage the interests of individuals in society, neoliberalism requires a state that promotes market rationality in all spheres of life (Foucault, 2008); this is the governmentality of neoliberalism of which he speaks. It is through this characterization of truth that the general mentality of society and government becomes one that says, “the market should be the organizing principle for all political, social, and economic decisions” (Giroux, 2008, p. 2).  Foucault (2008) describes the de facto culture that goes along with this type of rationality as one with a “social ethic of enterprise” (p. 147). Bozeman (2007), in his analysis of the changing paradigm in the public policy realm, highlights the morphing of the concept of public values into promotion of one public value–economic value (p. 129). In a significant break from classical liberalism, neoliberalism dissolves the boundaries of the market, government, and private life, and promotes the rationality of the market in more and more non-economic parts of our lives.
     It is in the discussion of the consequences of broadening the application of this rationale that the research becomes somewhat irresolute, but both Brown and Foucault present interesting effects. Foucault (2008) argues that this change in civil society plays a role in changing the kinds of subjects that operate under these institutions. The people under this paradigm become the kinds of people that are required and conceived of by the theory. Brown (2005) adds to Foucault’s analysis with her understanding that under this economistic governmentality the ideology not only changes the structuring of social issues through expansion of market rationality, but also has implications for “the soul of the citizen-subject,” because of the permeation of this rationality to every sphere of life (p. 39). Foucault (2008) makes the further assertion that in order for this rationality to exist, the state must promote competition, a fundamental piece of market rationality, throughout various social spheres (p. 121). Thus, a neoliberal state is by no means a “small” entity but one that has a very large job of propping up the market and dispersing economic rationality.

The role of the neoliberal state is to serve the market and economy. Neoliberalism’s distinct understanding of the market informs its view of the role of the government. While neoliberalism is founded upon a strong confidence in the market’s ability to promote good, it is a theory that does not see the market as an institution that exists without proper facilitation by the state (Foucault, 2008, p. 132). So while similar to classical liberalism in the view that the government should not intervene directly in the market, neoliberalism considers it to be the state’s job to create the market (Foucault, 2008, p. 132). Liberalism, on the other hand, understands the market as an entity that will naturally come into existence in human society, and that it will work best without interference (Foucault, 2008, p. 132). Thus, for liberals, as we create the space for the market (primarily by restricting the state) to function freely within a political society, we are also promoting individual freedom (Foucault, 2008). Dually, neoliberalism is an ideology based around the belief that the best governmentality is one that promotes market rationality and also creates the market. As such, neoliberalism does not shy away from a strong, “big” government, but simply wants it to operate in a very specific way (Foucault, 2008).
     As indicated, the mandates of the government are to expand the areas under the influence of economic rationality and promote competition in these areas, as well as to construct and ensure the market; the neoliberal government also operates under the economistic rationale. As one of the main manifestations of the theory, Steger and Roy (2010) also speak to the neoliberal mode of governance, describing it as a particular way of governing based on certain premises. The neoliberal state, as is intuitive of an entity acting under the purview of market rationality and concerned primarily with efficiency and competition, is adverse to “public” solutions to problems whenever it is possible to promote “private” solutions instead (MacGregor, 2005, p. 143). Bozeman (2007) notes that the dominant paradigm, what he calls economic individualism, has permeated in part because of its ability to connect the familiar, personal experiences people have as consumers to services provided by the government (p. 53). Duggan (2003) highlights the presentation of government as comparable to business as a serious consequence of neoliberal ideology that results in people becoming the consumers of an increasingly “private” government (p. xiii).  
     A government that functions primarily to create, support, and encourage participation in the market has consequences for its citizens and their society. The state, sociologist Ronaldo Munck (2005) posits, recreates itself in the image of the market to enable the functioning of a market society and economy. Munck (2005) highlights the importance of the state in promotion, not only of the ideology itself but also of its values and the conditions necessary for its proliferation (p. 63). This point is a powerful testament to the institutionalization of economic rationality that a neoliberal state creates by using its unique position in society to structure society in a way that conforms to its mode of governance. 

Neoliberalism manifests in policies of deregulation, privatization, and liberalization. Steger and Roy (2010) discuss one of the manifestations of neoliberalism as a particular policy agenda, including globalization. Globalization–with its emphasis on market values, free trade, consumerism, deregulation, and privatization–is a force through which neoliberal values are promoted globally. They see neoliberal governmentality rearing its head in the prominence of the recent paradigm shift in public policy, new public management (Steger & Roy, 2010, p. 13). Bozeman (2007) characterizes this evolution as “a philosophy emphasizing in matters economic the values and interests of the individual . . . values are based on humans, not society” (p. 4). Within the new public management is an agenda that is adverse to “public” operations and promotes action on the individual level instead, overwhelmingly in favor of deregulation, privatization, and globalization (Steger & Roy, 2010, p. 11). Dumenil and Levy (2005), while acknowledging the economistic tenets of the ideology, see neoliberalism as “a new social order,” shifting power and money back to the ruling classes (p. 9-11). To that end, they see neoliberalism as effective in its upward redistributive efforts (p. 18-19). While not all authors identify this explicitly as an element of neoliberalism, the consequential policy decisions of the other characteristics of the ideology often lead to a predictable political agenda that widens the wealth gap.  

Neoliberalism is premised on the individual rational actor. A fairly consistent characteristic attributed to neoliberalism is its promotion of the individual as the fundamental, cardinal consideration. Using the economic tenets of liberalism, neoliberalism also promotes perhaps one of the most fundamental elements of classical economic theory–the rational economic actor. The state promotes social policy for a society of rational economic actors, the culture promotes this characterization of people, and social policy is enacted under the premise that people are indeed rational actors. Bozeman (2007) is explicit about the change in public policy as a movement that is individual-centered and increasingly ignorant of the broader social context (p. 4). This speaks to neoliberal ideology because as people increasingly view themselves as rational economic actors it becomes easier and more “common sense” to advocate for individualization. Giroux (2008) describes the culture of neoliberalism as “a powerful ensemble of ideological and institutional forces whose aim is to produce competitive, self-interested individuals vying for their own material and ideological gain” (p. 122).
     Other authors mention the individualism found in neoliberalism, but the role that it plays in the theories of many academics varies considerably. Harvey (2008) describes the theory as one that focuses on “liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills” (p. 2). Steger and Roy (2010) make only a brief mention of the role of the individual in their conception of neoliberalism in their discussion of a state that promotes individual-level action (p. 12). They also reference Adam Smith’s idea of homo economicus as one of the economic premises that both liberalism and neoliberalism are built upon (Steger and Roy, 2010, p. 2). This premise, that rational individuals make their decisions largely based on self-interested motives that will provide them the most material gain, is an inherent characteristic of the ideology (ibid.). Duggan (2003) explains neoliberal rhetoric as focused on two concepts: privatization and personal responsibility. The promotion of personal responsibility, for Duggan (2003) is intimately connected with the drive of neoliberalism to privatize. As such, individualism does not serve as an important component of the neoliberalism Duggan (2003) describes but seems to serve as a convenient rhetorical device to either mask or facilitate the privatization policy program of neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism produces people who act like individual rational actors. This is the individualizing component of neoliberalism that is generally underemphasized and undeveloped in current neoliberal literature. Brown (2005) more so than other authors, talks about the types of subjects that are created by neoliberal ideology. Brown (2005) provides a unique and damning analysis of the powerful neoliberal state by emphasizing that in its construction of the market and the society, coupled with the expansion of market rationality, it also structures the behaviors of citizens. In the expansion of market rationality, Brown is concerned with its extension into how citizens behave (2005). Neoliberalism is unique in that it “normatively constructs and interpellates individuals as entrepreneurial actors in every sphere of life” (Brown, 2005, p. 42). Like the homo economicus portrayed in economic theory, the neoliberal citizen is presented as a rational actor, making choices using calculated logic (Brown 2005). This citizen is one that makes strategic self-interested choices using the options presented (Brown 2005, p. 43). Brown (2005) sees the state as constructing such a citizenry by enacting policy that not only treats citizens like these rational individuals, but also one that structures social problems in an individualized manner. Furthermore, Brown (2005) emphasizes that in the construction of this economic individual, neoliberal ideology “equates moral responsibility with rational action” (p. 42). The moral autonomy that becomes attached to being rational and taking care of oneself facilitates the neoliberal political agenda of individuated existence (Brown 2005). The ideas about production of behavior presented by both Foucault and Brown served to initiate my focus on this process of individualization.
What is Individualization?
It is this final aspect of neoliberalism that most interests me. While there is significantly less literature on this than on other components of the ideology, I believe it plays a prominent role in the theory. I argue that a variety of phenomena get conflated and potentially misunderstood in this aspect, and that a theory is needed to develop these interrelated but distinct phenomena that are a result of this individualizing characteristic. These phenomena include:

  • an increased emphasis on personal responsibility that serves to undermine considerations of social responsibility and conceptions of social obligation 
  • attributing inequity and injustice to individual choices, as opposed to recognizing the structural nature of some political issues, thereby individuating issues as personal problems
  • activism through consumerism and the market that reinforces the premises and values of homo economicus 
  • depoliticization of formerly public matters that results in a marginalization of the state as a collective action platform

These phenomena are important to understand both singly and in relation to neoliberalism because it is through these pressures that neoliberalism, as an ideology, shapes the way in which people think and act. This importance is underscored by the aforementioned impacts of ideology as a political force that is difficult to recognize.
     Many authors note these phenomena in their discussion of neoliberal ideology in one way or another. Most theorists, such as Dean (2009) and Munck (2005), seem to attribute this individualization to liberalism–my primary claim, however, is that this individualization is distinctly neoliberal. The economic values that neoliberalism is based on rely heavily on the acceptance of the homo economicus model of subjects and the commitment of individuals to the economic values themselves. This acceptance requires subjects to be socialized as such. Extending these values to other spheres is contingent upon the embracing of this economistic way of thinking. Perhaps the most striking case for individualization as a phenomenon of neoliberalism is the way in which the role of the state is connected with the individualization. The neoliberal state, in implementing specific policies in the service of the market premised on homo economicus subjects, structures policy that atomizes social issues into issues on the individual level. In framing issues this way and premising government actions on the rational actor model, the state’s actions created individuated subjects of a distinctly neoliberal variety with particular economic values and atomized ways of thinking.
     To show how individualization works within the context of neoliberalism it is fruitful to look at how neoliberalism operates in practice because, as Michael Freeden emphasizes, contextual inquiry is an important tool in understanding ideology. In the next section, I consider neoliberalism’s effect on multiple political issues and examine the different role that individualization plays in each case.
Section III: Neoliberalism in Practice–The Cycle of Individualization
     In this section, I review literature on neoliberalism in five political issue areas: racism, feminism, environmentalism, gay rights, and poverty. I look to the evolution of these issues as case studies because in looking at movements on social issues we are positioned to see how individualizing works in the context of the society. These issues and movements provide a grouping that enables a manageable level of analysis that is more measurable than looking at trends among all individuals in society. Furthermore, these cases were chosen because of their variety–the way in which neoliberalism is manifested in these issues is different and provides for a wide range of analysis. The issues chosen also needed to have sufficient scholarship available that traced their progression over the last 40 years.
            In analyzing these cases, I show how in each of these political areas there is a similar perpetuating cycle that is taking place. This cycle, I argue, is the cycle of individualization. While each issue has undergone it in a unique way, it broadly involves five stages: (1) the re-characterization of problems as matters of personal responsibility; (2) a decreased conception of the potential systemic forces at work; (3) advocacy of individual action and choices; (4) minimized role of the state; and (5) an emphasis on the market or market values as the best avenue for activism and change (see Figure 1). As it is a cycle that perpetuates itself, there are no clear starting or ending stages within these cycles, only various components that together result in individualization. This general cycle of neoliberalism, however, manifests itself differently in different situations, as we would predict from the account of ideology presented earlier. These different realizations of individualization are perhaps more interesting to consider because they materialize in distinct ways. From this analysis, we can see that there is indeed a common cycle that we can identity in these multiple political areas. Furthermore, this helps us to see how individualization manifests in four analytically distinct ways, although not in the same way in each area. As such, this analysis is the basis from which I construct a comprehensive account of how neoliberalism produces individualization.





Figure 1. Race: From structural causes of oppression to the focus on individual characteristics and choices. 

When we consider race, what we see is a move toward conceiving race as an individual problem. Individualization in this context involves a depoliticizing of race as notions of a post-racial society proliferate. In framing racism as a problem of the past of minor import today, meritocratic discussions of individual choices and responsibility shift the effects of racism onto individuals. Instead of a social obligation to fix the wrongs of racism, the collective is relieved of this duty while the obligation falls on the individual to take full responsibility of herself and her situation. In removing this issue from the political and public realm, the focus turns to facilitating the exercise of personal responsibility.
     The anti-racism movement has changed dramatically since the 1960s and 1970s during the Civil Rights movement, an evolution in which we can see the role of individualization and neoliberalism in changing the conceptualization of racism. In the 60s, the movement was focused on social institutions and structures, hierarchical power and coercion, and the systemic effects that racism had in the economic, social, and political realms. It had countercultural, radical messages that conceived of racial injustice as a force with common roots with other social issues such as gay rights and feminism and was built upon group solidarity. Beginning in the 1980s and solidifying today, the emphasis has shifted to an accommodation of the systems and institutions once called into question. There has been a narrowing of focus that has resulted in acceptance of systemic structures, advocacy for increased assimilation into the market society, and priority largely focused on individual freedoms–especially freedom to participate in the economic sphere as consumer and producers. In developing this argument, I draw heavily on work done by Giroux (2008), who has written extensively about the interaction of neoliberalism and culture. He has highlighted how the neoliberalization of racism has led to more subtle forms of racism that ultimately disenfranchise minorities. I also look to Duggan (2003), whose work in cultural studies has focused on identity politics and neoliberalism, for an understanding on how the narrowing purview of the anti-racism movement has taken questions systemic or structural in nature out of the equation. In synthesizing these authors’ work, and providing examples of the neoliberal framework of economist Milton Friedman (1962), I show that the utilization of neoliberal values in the anti-racism movement has led to a situation in which personal responsibility is the primary focus, and the social nature of the issue is left unconsidered.  
     The cycle of individualization with respect to race and racism starts with a re-conceptualization of the issue as one of individual responsibility in the context of an impersonal market. This understanding helps facilitate a notion that we are post-racist.  As such, the role of government is minimized to address the few remaining overt racists; primarily, however, the state makes policies that serve the economy as opposed to addressing the plight of the disenfranchised.  Increasingly, this leads to situations in which people are left internalizing the issues caused by racism as matters of personal failings. While it is difficult to say where a cycle like this starts or ends, I go into more depth about the way in which this cycle operates in the following paragraphs. 
            Perhaps the first stage of the individualization in the area of race is the increasing focus on personal characteristics coupled with color-blind rhetoric. Racism as an issue has largely disappeared from public discourse, as it is considered an issue of decreasing salience. Mentalities that move away from social conversations about race and tend to promote the idea that everyone is equal imply that people of all races essentially have equal opportunities. Neoliberalism has framed the conversation about racism in a way that designates the United States as colorblind (Giroux, 2008). The notion of color-blindness as a neoliberal strategy of approaching racism is perhaps best exemplified by Friedman (1962) in Capitalism and Freedom. He makes the case that the market proves to be a force for good on the race issue because pressures for increasing efficiency and profit are indifferent to racial differences. Racism, he suggests, is a matter of taste that will eventually be mitigated as people realize the market consequences of discrimination. In taking this perspective, neoliberals are able to overlook structural disenfranchisement of racial minorities, thereby atomizing the experience of discrimination. While perhaps not immediately apparent, the ramification of ignoring racism in this way is a great disservice to the movement looking to equalize opportunity and experiences for minorities. Giroux (2008) sees this changing relationship between society and racism resulting in a situations where “racial hierarchies now collapse into power-evasive strategies such as blaming minorities of class and color for not working hard enough, refusing to exercise individual initiative, or practicing reverse-racism” (p. 63).
           Another stage in the race cycle is the notion that discussions of race are no longer needed; with increasing understanding that racism is dead, social obligations to address racism subside. Friedman (1962) articulates the neoliberal position by saying that racism is not important in a free-market society because “there is an economic incentive in a free market to separate economic efficiency from other characteristics of the individual” which allows for people of color to compete on their merits (p. 109). Duggan (2003) and Giroux (2008) both draw attention to this evolution of racism as one that has changed the dynamic such that while overt and explicit racism is less frequent, the injustices to minorities are still prevalent, only largely covert and systemic. This stance implies that if people are struggling, it is a problem of their personal merit and ability, not as a consequence of their position in the racial hierarchy. Giroux (2008) describes it as a movement towards “an utterly privatized discourse that erases any trace of racial injustice by denying the very notion of the social and the operations of power through which racial politics are organized and legitimized" (p. 61). Highlighting why this change in racial discourse is so important, Giroux (2008) identifies how this new understanding of race limits our conception of structural inequities that plague minorities in particular, but also the power structures that exist and greatly affect the way that society and the market operate.  He describes it as a kind of racism that “works hard to remove issues of power and equity from broader social concerns” (p. 64). This color-blind approach to race, as Giroux (2008) notes, is “a convenient ideology for enabling whites to disregard the degree to which race is tangled up with asymmetrical relations of power, functioning as a potent force for patterns of exclusion and discrimination . . . providing an ideological space free of guilt, self-reflection, and political responsibility” (p. 69-70). Important to emphasize here is the notion that society can rid itself and its structures of culpability for the status of minorities. As society, broadly, can relinquish accountability for the disenfranchisement of whole groups of people, state programs and social institutions transition from any potential they had to address structural inequities and increasingly look to solve these problems on the individual level–addressing the symptoms of racism as the causes.
     This leads to the next stage of individualization on the issue of race and racism where the notion of increased individual freedom via a limited government with increasing focus on entry into the market and development of human capital is promoted. In dismissing racial discrimination as a matter of malleable tastes of a very small group of individuals, Friedman (1962) says “there is a strong case for using government to prevent one person from imposing positive harm, which is to say, to prevent coercion. There is no case whatsoever for using government to avoid the negative kind of ‘harm.’ On the contrary, such government intervention reduces freedom and limits voluntary co-operation” (p. 113). In this conception of coercion, he is dismissing the idea that any positive harm can be caused by institutional structures. Additionally, he is seriously dismissing the severity of harm caused by racism by classifying it as a factor that is only present on the individual basis and not as a social problem. The neoliberal belief that the market can uniquely address the problem of racism by being an indifferent, efficiency-maximizing entity mandates that the government avoid interventions like affirmative action or quotas. People should be convinced that anti-discrimination is the right way, not be forced into it (Friedman 1962). Giroux (2008) notes that these types of claims gain traction by making reference to the widespread belief that the civil rights movement was successful in purging the system of racism and racists; he acknowledges that the next step in that thinking is a dismantling of state programs.
           In another stage, the role of the government is reduced to producing a workforce. One consequence of this abandonment of proactive government and societal measures to lessen inequalities based in racial differences is a widespread belief in the “political impotence of public institutions” with respect to addressing these important problems (Giroux, 2008, p. 63). As a good representation of neoliberal logic, we can look at Friedman’s (1962) view of the role of the state that “we should not be so naïve as to suppose that deep-seated values and beliefs can be uprooted in short measure by law”–as an indication that there is no acceptable role to be played in to mitigate discrimination (p. 118). Increasingly, measures that seek to address the inequities of opportunity, such as affirmative action, anti-discrimination laws, and quotas, are under attack as the social roots of these problems are lost in rhetoric of personal responsibility. The state, then, is left to deal with the symptoms of racism and discrimination, and increasingly unable to do even that.
           A final stage is the internalization and privatization of racism through emphasis on personal characteristics allowing social obligations to be minimized. When people like Friedman (1962) say “color of skin is an irrelevant characteristic” (p. 117), more so than affirming their inability to discriminate, they are able to shrug off any responsibility for discrimination that does take place. Since skin color is irrelevant, racial minorities are presumed to be equally able to get good jobs and receive good education, though that is clearly not the case even today, and thus are accountable exclusively for their stations in life. Since we live in a world ruled by market rationality, one’s position at the top of the socioeconomic world can be attributed to one’s hard work, not one’s markedly unequal abundance of opportunity relative to others. Apart from Friedman, this sentiment is popular amongst both political parties but particularly in Republican circles as shown by Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s (2012) comment about the lack of racial diversity on the GOP presidential ticket, “I think we recognize people based upon their values.” In putting on these blinders and ignoring the possibility that there may be a serious discrepancy in access to education or opportunity for different segments of society, people are able to put themselves in a more comfortable position where they are only responsible for judging merit and definitely not considering the social structures at work in the staggered opportunities between races.

Feminism: From the personal is political to liberation through the market. While the analysis of race showed the atomization of the increasing emphasis on individual choices, with feminism, we see a similar depoliticizing trend coupled with a unique manifestation of consumerism. Individualization in the realm of feminism, like race, emphasizes personal responsibility and agency while framing feminism and the women’s rights movement as largely unnecessary. In the feminist context individualization also promotes the notion of liberation through consumerism and the market. These simultaneous phenomena result in a production of subjects increasingly more like homo economicus.
     I argue that the feminist movement has undergone a drastic change over the last four or five decades. During the 1960s and 1970s, the emphasis of the movement was on the public, political, and social nature of the disenfranchisement of women. Messages regarding the power of the patriarchy were prevalent; social and gender norms were genuinely critiqued, and solidarity was of central importance in fighting for genuine equality. Today, in stark contrast, feminism is re-conceptualized as greater individual and economic freedom for women. Messages of social mobility, economic empowerment, and consumerism result in a marketed lack of critical conversations about the important questions around the role of women in society. To make this argument, I use the analysis of critical theorist and feminist Power (2009) who shows that consumerism is promoted as an expression of freedom and emancipation, and highlights the consequences of women being socialized as individual, competitive economic actors. Angela McRobbie (2009), cultural theorist and feminist, also adds to my analysis with her discussions of how the feminist community and social institutions have weakened as the economic sphere has moved in to serve as a framework for feminism, and how women understand themselves and others differently under a market dynamic. Weaving the work of these scholars and others together shows that neoliberalism has led to an individualization wherein women are conceptualized and socialized as individual economic actors, and discourses about the systemic nature of sexism are muted.
     The cycle of individualization for feminism is built upon the changing notion of liberation through consumerism and the market. As this becomes the way in which women exercise agency and freedom, the notion of a women’s movement and solidarity becomes obsolete in the face of new personal responsibility. While women are pressured to maximize their engagement in the economic sphere, the issues that were once both public and political become depoliticized. In the context of the market as the tool to achieve agency, the role of the state is minimized to the protection of individual rights. Women increasingly compete with each other as economic actors, and women are held to be exclusively responsible for their situations, seen as reflections of personal failings or successes.
     The initial stage of the individualization of feminism is the framing of emancipation through consumerism and increased economic freedom, access, and agency. Personal responsibility is employed in the form of utilization of the consumer freedom newly provided to women. Power (2009) authors a feminist manifesto that describes how women, as economic actors, and the feminist movement, have been integrated into the market system. Whereas once the feminist conversation may have centered on the issue of equality and genuine self-determination, the focus has shifted on women being fully able to participate in the economic sphere. Women are informed that their feminine freedom is in the form of economic independence. Occupational status and a woman’s place in the market hierarchy becomes a very important piece of self (McRobbie, 2009). The increasing popularity of choice feminism (a flavor of feminism that promotes any decisions made freely by women as feminist) is a good example of the dramatic shift that feminism has undergone in the last 30 years. Working primarily on access to the economic realm means that women implicitly agree to work within the parameters of the market. This means a broad consensus of individualism, the “you go girl” mentality, and acceptance of competition, not just with men, but more importantly with each other.
     As the market becomes the liberating force, the next stage becomes a stigmatization of solidarity that is premised on the idea that feminism is no longer needed and women can now be responsible for themselves. Individualization coupled with the pressures of the market necessitate increased competition and mitigation of feminist values that run counter to the newfound acceptance into the market. Freedom and success in the world of the woman is defined as a lack of attachment to a man, a career, and ultimately becoming an economic actor able to participate individually and autonomously. With this economic freedom, women are expected to be independent. This pressure to conform to the individualizing market and to compete with others seriously stifles any inclination of solidarity and rids women of a “need” for feminism. Power (2009) alludes to this when she notes, “so conditioned are we to think that our behaviors are individual (a degree is an ‘investment’, starting a family is a ‘personal choice’) that we miss the collective and historical dimensions of our current situation” (p. 34). The language of individual empowerment replaces former feminist discourses.
           The social conversation about societal values, gender roles, and sexual identity has fallen by the wayside to make room for a focus on the individual (Ferguson, 2010; Power, 2009). McRobbie (2009) describes this new phenomenon as “feminine citizenship” (p. 54). This is an understanding that feminism is concerned about employment opportunity and participation in the consumer culture, basically exclusively. Antithetical to older notions of feminisms, women are now judged not only on the usual criterion of femininity, but also on how successful they can be in this economic realm. Women in a social mobility-type ethos are told that they can be all that they want to be, and if they are not, it is because of their lack of effort, entrepreneurialism, or marketability. Poor women, in particular, are affected by the lack of consciousness among women as a disenfranchised group. Unable to participate in the “liberation” of the market in the same way as other women, they become stigmatized by society and other women as those that may not be capable of handling this expanded freedom.
     The next stage is a depoliticization of women's issues as maximum incorporation into the economic sphere is promoted. There is a widespread movement encouraging women’s self-improvement and development of women’s human capital in the name of marketability, whether explicitly acknowledged as such or not. The logic of the language of individual empowerment is that if you are not succeeding in your career, relationships, and physically, then something is wrong with you personally. Feminism that is experienced through the market, through economic participation, allows feminism to be an action that can take place in the marketplace and not in politics or society (Ferguson, 2010; Schulman 2012). Economic issues are now synonymous with women’s issues, as public considerations of things like gender roles and patriarchy are pushed out of the public discourse. We can think of legislation like the Lily Ledbetter Act as an example of a shifted market focus. Feminist and critical theorist Robin Goodman (2010) describes this as a shift towards “privatizing public life” where feminism looks away from the political and social realms both as points of agitation and points of discourse, and instead focuses on women’s private individual lives, including abortion and access to birth control (p. 16). Goodman (2010) describes it as a process whereby these broader issues are “disabled from public recognition and thus politicization” (p. 31).
     In the next stage, the state is replaced by the market as a tool for feminists to use in the service of equality, and it becomes primarily focused on protecting individual rights. In the absence of a strong social sense of feminism, there is a “subtle renewal of gender injustices and re-instated patriarchal norms” (McRobbie, 2009, p. 55). The de-politicization, or personal internalizing, of women’s issues leads to what Goodman (2010) describes as a “diminishing sense that the public can be a viable means of political agency or social change” (p. 36). The result of weakening social institutions and feminist communities, McRobbie (2009) suggests, is an increasingly strong, dominant commercial sphere that is opening itself up to women.  As women’s equality is being created in the market, the role of the state is minimized to that which provides for women’s emancipation in the market through job training and marketability programs.
     The next stage is the increasing competition of women as economic actors with the understanding that women’s problems are matters of personal responsibility. Without community or social institutions, women are expected to be self-reliant vis-à-vis the new economic freedom. Other women cannot be looked to, as competition has been accepted and solidarity was thrown away for marketability and acceptance in the liberating marketplace. A “landscape of self-improvement . . . promotes female individualization and condemnation of those who remain unable or unwilling to help themselves" (McRobbie, 2009, p. 73), leaving women to internalize potentially socially rooted problems as their own. It is within this context that empowerment discourse is so poignant. We can also see this when we consider the increase in reliance on and changing approach of women’s self-help books. Sociologist and writer Arlie Hochschild (2003) notes that “modern advice books reaffirm one ideal (equality) but undermine another (emotionally rich social bonds),” a process she refers to as a “cooling” approach to support (p. 15), something that could arguably be linked to the changing dynamic of feminism.

    Environmentalism: Changing the responsibility to act to a responsibility to buy. Individualization in feminism as well as environmentalism involves an element of consumerism, though they have slight variations. Individualization in this context also involves promotion of a neoliberalized version of personal responsibility. The changing understanding from a personal part in the shared responsibility of environmental protection to a notion of personal responsibility to advocate through individual choices has resulted in environmental advocacy via the market. Individualization here has resulted in the elimination of structural critiques and increased emphasis on a marketized personal responsibility. In framing consumer choices as the most effective advocacy, environmental action has largely been atomized.
     Here I will argue that the environmental movement has changed dramatically since the 1970s toward a more individualized model of activism. Forty-five years ago, the focus of environmental advocacy was systemic critique; the viability of capitalism, in particular, was being questioned openly and seriously by the movement. Environmentalism was conceptualized as a social matter that required direct action, a strong environmental community, and an overhaul of unsustainable paradigms. Today, however, mainstream environmentalism is built around market rationality. Social changes are possible through individual consumer actions and utilization of the market. To support my argument I look to many experts but primarily utilize the framework laid by geographer and theorist Roff (2007). In critiquing neoliberal activism generally she highlights the consequences of individualizing advocacy in global issues and the limitations of solutions that are created by market-centered movements. Environmental education scholars Ian Robottom and Paul Hart (1995) illustrate the way in which focus on individual behavior to address climate change minimizes the socio-political aspects and problems. Additionally, I use the insight provided by scholar and author Jennifer Kent (2009) about the marginalizing effects on the environmental movement of disseminated responsibility. I use the various perspectives of these experts to show how the neoliberalization of the environmental movement has led to market-friendly activism that reduces the social problem to a matter of personal responsibility.
    The cycle of individualization in environmentalism starts with an increasing emphasis on a particular type of personal responsibility that is fulfilled by changes in personal consumption decisions. This focus on this type of individual action leads to a movement away from critiquing social structures and instead looking at the personal level. The solutions proposed are firmly planted in notions of market rationality; either the market is the tool for change or the government creates a market as a solution. People are encouraged to be the solution with their actions and consumer choices and are left feeling helpful without taking a second look at the structural components of the issue.
     The initial stage is a shift toward messages of personal responsibility in a way that frames solutions as changes in personal action and consumer choices. Kent (2009) refers to the individual responsibility model of environmentalism as “hegemonic” (p. 146). As notions of personal responsibility for climate change become prevalent, personal action becomes salient. People are empowered to make conscientious decisions as consumers. Changing personal behavior and consuming wisely allows people to combat climate change painlessly. Robottom and Hart (1995), in their critique on individualistic environmentalism, show how recent messages from environmental groups promoting green consumption and personal action “highlight individual responsibilities without considering broader social pressures,” or problems that “involve corporate or structural limitations to improving environmental well-being” (p. 7). The two scholars say that current approaches to environmental education, “by emphasizing individual human agency as the key factor,” misrepresent the socio-political context in which the environmental problem is taking place (p. 8). They highlight the effect that individuating has on the conceptualizing of the issue by saying that “individualism in formal and non-formal environmental education presents the environment in an apolitical, ahistorical, and social manner that deflects attention away from the broader economic, social, and political constraints on environmental improvement” (p. 7-8).
     The next stage is one in which the focus of the environmental conversation moves away from considerations of the structural and social. As a result of increased focus on the individual, critiques about the system that created the environmental problems and injustice fade from the mainstream. Instead, activists choose to work within the system. Distinguished scientist and social critic Fred Magdoff, and John Foster (2011), a sociologist and cultural theorist, provide vital commentary on the salient discussion about the compatibility between capitalism and environmentalism in the movement. Most influential environmentalists, they note, stay away from “direct confrontation” with systemic critiques and adopt positions espousing responsible capitalism (p. 97). Environmental organizations have accepted the capitalist system and advocate within those parameters. As activist and educator Gopal Dayaneni (2009) of Movement Generation’s Justice and Ecology Project notes, the new environmental agenda built on “market fundamentalism diverts attention away from the root causes of the problem” (p. 1).
     The subsequent stage is a changing understanding of solutions for environmental problems into two primary categories. The first is the increased reliance on the market to fix things. The market is promoted as a mechanism which concerned citizens can use to their advantage to demand environmental responsibility from companies. With the increase in “green products,” companies can position themselves as able to offer the types of products that consumers want, products that can be the change that people envision. Furthermore, utilization of the market means that these transitions to more ecologically friendly alternatives will be efficient and innovative. This concept can be seen easily within the free-market environmental movement.
     The second category is governmental policy based in market rationality. If the government does consider environmental action, it is action crafted in the tradition of market rationality. The notion of the market as the best avenue for progress is still very present even in government action. Leaders of this sort include the few conservatives who acknowledge a need for environmental action, but also people like former vice-president Al Gore and organizations like Natural Capitalism that encourage adaptations in the market to address climate issues. Policies like cap and trade and carbon offsetting are examples where the government opts to use market mechanisms to dictate policy and action instead of more direct intervention like imposing strict limits on carbon emissions.
     In a final stage, people are encouraged to make changes in their own individual actions through positive reinforcement mechanisms and empowerment rhetoric. In working within an unsustainable system, these environmentalists ensure that their actions are moderated by the parameters of the system (Roff, 2007). The deferred responsibility that is the new face of the movement–we can all work to fix this–means that accountability is also deferred (Kent, 2009). Contortions in responsibility result in situations like we have seen many times in the United States–catastrophic weather resulting from climate change resulting in tragedy for entire communities, and people are scrutinized for their decisions of where to live, for example, instead of conversations about how to collectively address a problem that is affecting many people.
     While personal responsibility is useful in any discussion of climate change, marketizing the individual responsibility results in narrowing of people’s role in environmentalism. Messages about how much good we can do by switching light bulbs, for example, has a two-fold consequence. It keeps us busy and distracted being conscientious consumers, thereby drawing much of the very limited attention given to thought on the environment. It also serves to reinforce the notion that conscientious consuming is enough; there is a dimension of positive reinforcement that we get in buying green products–from ourselves, from others, and from the companies. “Sustainable consumption has created would-be green consumers who feel that by purchasing ‘sustainable’ commodities they can pursue their same consumerist lifestyles and feel virtuous at the same time” (Magdoff & Foster 2011, p. 105). It is a comfortable way to save the planet that positively reinforces consumerist behavior. 

    Gay rights: From community action to individual rights advocacy. Individualization in the area of environmentalism was focused on a market-oriented idea of personal responsibility; when we look at individualization in the context of gay rights there is a process of depoliticization that results in a focus on individual rights and privacy. In advocating primarily for individual and privacy rights, the trend has been to privatize the discrimination and difficulties that this group faces. In moving these issues out of the public and political realms, the social/structural nature of the issue is removed from focus as the community of activists is atomized by the emphasis on individual rights.
     In the gay rights movement, there has been a change in focus and rhetoric since the 1970s. Formerly, strong community and solidarity, promotion of alternative culture and perspectives, and strong critique of structural and institutional disenfranchisement marked the movement. As the movement has evolved under neoliberalism, it increasingly has narrowed its purview from the collective good and consciousness to focus on individual rights and privacy. The connectedness of the gay community has deteriorated, physically shown by the dissolving of enclaves, as advocacy focuses on creating space for gay people to have their rights and privacy. In developing my argument, I lean on writer and gay rights activist Schulman (2012) to provide insight from inside of the movement on how it shifted to a more moderate, mainstream force and the disconnection that has occurred because of the transition. I also look to Duggan (2003) in this section to show how the reconceptualization of purpose in gay rights activism has led to an ignorance of power structures and narrowed view of activism. In looking to these authors, and others, I show that the changing approach of the movement towards a more individual rights focus has led to an individualizing and privatizing of social issues.
     The cycle of individualization in the gay rights movement is largely an issue of a narrowing purview. There is a movement away from a former emphasis on the gay community and a collective good toward more individual rights. Acceptance of homosexuals is presented as implicitly conditional; society does not want to change, gay people are asked to fit in. Under this ethos, a divide is created between counter-culture structuralist activists and more mainstream advocacy, with the former being marginalized. The importance of the gay community as an entity is weakened by promotion of the individual and privacy. As such, conceptualization of a community with common issues is decreased.
     As with the other political areas, the first stage involves a shift away from consideration of the collective good toward a framing of individual rights. Schulman (2012), in her memoir about the changing of the movement, describes the transition strikingly:

How did the gay liberation movement . . . a group relationship that envisioned total revolution of gender and sex roles, social accountability, and community-based responsibility . . . a community that faced the AIDS crisis with unity and endless imagination . . . how did this radical, living, creative force . . . deteriorate into a group of racist, closeted, top-down privatized couples willing to sacrifice their entire legacy to get married? And fail? (p. 114)

The trend in conversation is to show that gay people are just like everyone else–they want to be able to exercise their individual rights and be productive members of society–not necessarily to embrace the diversity that this group can bring to their communities as unique individuals. Whereas there was once a large vein in the gay movement regarding the value of questioning norms and the value of diversity for society broadly, recently there has been a noticeable difference in approach that does not ask society to change so much as to accept or make room for gays and lesbians. 
     A following stage is that of conditional acceptance–encouragement to fit into acceptable society and its structures. Duggan (2003) is concerned about a sort of gay mainstreaming (or gay tunnel vision) that leads to a lack of consideration of the power structures and inequities at play and promotes individual rights instead. She describes this as a “new homonormativity–it is a politics that does not contest dominant heteronormative assumptions and institutions, but upholds and sustains them, while promising the possibility of a demobilized gay constituency and a privatized, depoliticized gay culture anchored in domesticity and consumption” (p. 50). Schulman (2003) quotes infamous activist feminist and gay rights activist Marcia Gallo as saying “when we’re at our best we challenge the way power gets constructed” (p. 132). Through a variety of ways, the gay rights movement has changed in its demands. It has increasingly looked to a more atomized approach of activism. Focusing on individual rights has resulted in a less community-oriented movement.
     In a distinct stage, counter-culture gay activism with a structural focus is marginalized and separated from more mainstream activism advocating within the system. Duggan (2003) highlights how the advocacy of the gay movement has changed:

National lesbian and gay civil rights, lobbying and litigation organizations have nearly all moved away from constituency mobilization and community-based consultation . . . gay civil rights groups have adopted neoliberal rhetoric and corporate decision-making models . . . consequently, the push for gay marriage and military service has replaced the array of political, cultural, and economic issues that galvanized the national groups as they first emerged from a progressive social movement context several decades earlier. (p 45)

Schulman (2012) describes this as “a place where homosexuality loses its own transformative potential and strives instead to be banal” (p. 115). Schulman (2012) places a large portion of responsibility on popular media’s gay figureheads that did not represent the gay movement but served to be marketable to a mass audience, as opposed to “community-based figures” (p. 121) with roots in the grassroots activism, as a key point in the changing of the discourse of the gay rights movement. Gay marriage, Schulman (2012) argues, is “dramatically more acceptable to the tolerance model than any true concept of distinct culture or community-based structure” (p. 130). She captures the idea that the gay movement may be playing a game of moderating activism for acceptance and success in a society that increasingly marginalizes different social norms and groups. 
     In the gay rights movement, we have seen that working within the system has led to an emphasis in moderation and system-sanctioned solutions. Formerly, sexual norms were challenged, traditional family structures were questioned, and the equality of the system was constantly facing scrutiny. Today, through the focus on individual rights and privacy, we see the movement focused on acceptance within the framework of the market society. This emphasis, as opposed to one of acceptance of the community and counter-culture alternatives, serves to change the dynamic of the gay community. The deteriorating solidarity associated with privacy advocacy, which looks something like allowing people to be who they are in their private lives instead of demanding acceptance in the public sphere, has only catalyzed the divisiveness of individual rights focused advocacy. Furthermore, the biggest organizations in the gay rights movements have shifted the discussion toward more moderate, acceptable goals such as marriage and adoption. Advocacy went from discourses about the social nature of the AIDS epidemic to promotion of same-sex marriage and access to certain individual rights such as entering into a viable contract as a homosexual couple and promotion of the normal gay couple endorsing adoption rights. These demands from the gay community were compatible with a neoliberal model; older critiques of social norms and power structures, however, were not.
     Consequently, the next stage of the cycle is a sense that the gay community as such is no longer needed as individual rights and privacy protections are advocated. There is a sense that the gay community as a strong entity is moot, as seen by more integrated communities and decreasing enclaves. Citing the lack of a national anti-discrimination legislation, lack of widespread integration in society and culture, and the social hierarchy that implicates homo or bisexuals as less than heterosexuals, Schulman (2012) pushes back against the common notion that the LGBTQ community is concerned primarily with marriage because everything else is basically alright for the gay community. Additionally, there is a serious question about where the movement will go after marriage equality is eventually accepted, highlighting the limitations of this new framework of advocacy.
     A final stage of the cycle is the resulting deteriorating solidarity and conception of people as a cohort with common problems caused by an individualized focus. With the changing gay community has come increased focus on individual rights and privacy protection, a movement away from a broader civil rights focus to individual freedom to privacy and the free market. The right to privacy that is advocated for by many of the large gay rights organizations has the effect of privatizing the issues facing gay and lesbian citizens (Duggan, 2003). Much like the change that we see with color-blind racism, we see that stated indifference to homosexuality has the effect of leaving important social issues, such as the disproportionately high suicide rate for gay teens or the inability for many people to be open at work, out of the public discussion. Discourse in the movement has a clear lack of structural critique or alternative ways of being; working within the parameters of the social status quo, which emphasizes individualization, leads to a narrowed scope for advocacy, and ignores the systemic, public nature of many problems that uniquely affect the gay and lesbian community.

Poverty: A Relinquishment of Social Obligations

     While the individualization of the gay movement amounted to depoliticization and an increasingly exclusive focus on individual rights, individualization of the area of poverty results in a move toward focus on individual choices and actions. This individualization involves morphing the focus from addressing the problems, including structural ones, keeping people in poverty to a focus on transferring responsibility to individuals through positioning individual choices and actions as the primary considerations. This process is predicated on depoliticization and discounting of structural critiques. Like the other cycles of individualization, this results in disintegration of community and of public awareness of the various political problems and how they affect entire groups of people, not just those of lacking entrepreneurship or motivation.
     Our understanding of poverty and the way that we feel we need to address it as a society has subtly changed since the 1970s. Before the issue was neoliberalized, the state was tasked with working to move people out of poverty to better economic situations. Assistance for low-income citizens was aimed at providing the necessary tools and resources to lift people out of the cycle of poverty. Importantly, the cycle of poverty (the lack of educational opportunities for poor communities and constant pressures on limited resources) was a part of the conversation. Today, poverty is considered in a very different way. As notions of personal responsibility reign supreme, the conceptualization of poverty becomes one that focuses on getting people off of poverty assistance instead of out of poverty. Instigation of limits on assistance, stigmatization of poor recipients through fickle requirements and obstacles, and an entire belief system built upon the idea of social mobility have contributed to the new understanding. The difference is rather nuanced, but very important to highlight. There was a time when poverty assistance was based on the principle of the imperative to maintain the well-being of citizens above a minimal, acceptable standard of living regardless of any other factors, including their potential addictions, criminal history, or even the inability (or lack of desire) to work.
     Now, assistance is not about sustaining people above a minimum, but ultimately creating individuals who can get off of the government’s list of obligations. Assistance is offered to those who are deemed responsible, cut off at a certain point whether or not people are at the minimal level of subsistence, and is focused on moving people from welfare to jobs regardless of the fact that many of these situations do not provide for the minimal standard. I am continuing to use the framework of Duggan (2003) in the discussion of poverty to show how formerly social obligations have been internalized by individuals and turned into matters of individual responsibility. Steger and Roy (2010) have laid out an analysis of the changing policies under neoliberal presidents that I will also use to inform my discussion of the status quo. By weaving these various accounts of the new paradigm of poverty together, I show how the trend away from society’s obligation to maintain all people toward an almost exclusive emphasis on individual responsibility is a result of neoliberalization. This individualization changes the way we look at both the poor and ways to alleviate poverty.
     The cycle of individualization in the area of poverty and poverty alleviation is a matter of resigning social obligations to the poor. Initially, focus shifts onto members of the community in a manner designed to implicate poor people as responsible for making bad choices. Rhetoric is centered on getting people to take care of themselves, implying both a lack of responsibility and reiterating individualistic values. The focus of government changes, consequently, from helping to get poor people out of poverty to relinquishing its obligation and getting people back into the workplace. As a part of this picture, people are prompted to look to the private sphere and market as avenues for help instead of their community or government. The poor community is then divided and competitive amongst each other and poverty assistance is stigmatized to an even greater degree.
     The initial stage shifts the focus away from the structures that affect the poor towards an emphasis on personal responsibility and focus on individuals, choices, and character. Rhetoric like that described by philosopher and economist David Schmidtz (1998) focuses “not so much [on] individualism as much as a willingness to take responsibility,” and on self-reliance versus dependency, thus re-shaping the national conversation about poverty (p. 9). This changing focus is framed by stigmatizing those who need help as personally defunct and through messages that reinforce notions of social mobility as consistent and strong. People are encouraged to believe that if one works hard, she can succeed; the shadow logic of that notion is that if one is not “successful,” then she is not hard-working because for someone to be working hard and unable to make ends meet is inconsistent with the neoliberalism’s fundamental premises. President Barack Obama (2013) provided an example of this promotion of hard work being the great equalizer in his second inauguration speech when he said, “we know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship.  We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else.”
     An example of this shift can be seen in Bill Clinton’s transition from more traditional forms of poverty assistance to his infamous workfare. It is specifically important to note the responsibility his program and subsequent welfare programs transfer to families by limiting both the amount and the types of aid people can access. This leads to people being herded into low wage jobs without benefits or opportunities to train for better work. Duggan (2003) describes this as a process wherein “social service functions are privatized through personal responsibility,” the costs of which are thus internalized by working class individuals and families (p. 15). An important consequence of this personal responsibility transition is a changing understanding of the roots of poverty that leads to a changing understanding of how to address the problem.
     The second stage of the shifting emphasis towards poverty as a problem of personal responsibility is how society’s role in poverty prevention and assistance has changed. With the permeation of the belief that those who work hard enough will be successful is the corresponding idea that society only needs to maintain a very minimal safety net and primarily needs to properly motivate individuals through programs like workfare with specific conditions and limitations. In this way, receiving help is implicitly and sometimes explicitly shameful and stigmatized. This type of demonization is prevalent as in this tidbit from Fox News contributor and lawyer Gary Shapiro (2012), “whatever the true number of unemployed able-bodied Americans, it is much larger than it should be. These people are straining our economy and our collective ability to support them.” Discourse about poor people’s dependency on the system further removes society from taking responsibility for the condition of the poor. The draining of responsibility from society to support the poor does not always show itself in a demonizing nature, however.
           In his second inauguration speech, President Obama (2013) shows how this message can be taken on by Democrats as well when he says that, “while the means will change, our purpose endures: a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American.” This is a vision of a society where people get just compensation for their work, as opposed to a nation where we promise a level of wellbeing for our citizens, period. When he conceptualizes a just society in this speech it is not one where society will support other members, it is one in which people are rewarded individually based on their performance.
     Foucault (2008) addresses this issue in a more abstract way. In a neoliberal society, he says, there are not egalitarian sentiments, only pressures for competition. Competition, he believes, is a state that requires inequity. Whereas conversations about class and income inequality are largely missing from popular political and social discourse, the increasing emphasis on personal responsibility, especially in the realm of poverty, promotes this competition. Fox News commentator Roy Beck (2012) highlights this when he says:

Yet, these two groups with exceptionally high unemployment among young adults are the ones who will have to compete most directly with the millions of illegal aliens that the president intends to add to the labor force. What Mr. Obama–and all the Members of Congress proposing their own versions of a DREAM amnesty–miss is that young illegal aliens aren’t the only ones having a hard time. The country is full of American victims of this economy. The latter should not be re-victimized by efforts to help the former. 

So, not only is poverty no longer an issue of society’s, but also the role society is asked to play is different. As poverty becomes a personal issue, poor people are pushed to (a) not look to society for help, and (b) compete with each other for scarce opportunities and resources, as exemplified by Beck’s rhetoric. This serves to disintegrate solidarity that working class people could have as a group. Additionally, as Foucault (2008) wants to imply, because a neoliberal society requires competition–whether that is because it is a fundamental principle of a market society or because without competition there could be greater solidarity and social consciousness–inequity is not an imperative problem to fix anyway, as it ensures perpetual competitiveness amongst subjects.
     Another stage involves the state shifting its priorities from providing for the poor to ensuring businesses the opportunities to have low-wage, under-regulated jobs; government is working to get people off welfare, not out of poverty. As poverty becomes a personal issue, government is prompted to either (a) move out of the way, i.e. lower regulations and rules in an effort to allow the market and private sector to ensure that there are job opportunities for the poor, or (b) use policy based in market rationality or market principles. Government programs generally, as they continue to be cut by both Democrats and Republicans, face increased pressure to cut minimum wage, and work standards and regulations to allow for easier connectivity between needy people and employment. In reference to the “residual restrictions” that minorities and the working class face, Friedman (1962) says that as opposed to being the perpetrator of these restrictions, “the free market has been the major factor enabling these restrictions to be as small as they are” (p. 109). As the exemplar neoliberal, Friedman highlights here the belief that the market–and not the state–has brought about progress for minorities.

            The policies that the government does implement are designed with a market rationality framework with the ultimate goal of poor people being integrated within the market where they will no longer be on assistance from the state. Neoliberal welfare reform is easily highlighted in Clinton’s 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (Duggan, 2003). His effort to rid the nation of “a cycle of dependence to one that emphasizes work and independence” (Clinton, 1996) through the workfare component is an example of neoliberal reform (Steger & Roy 2010). With limitations, this program meant that recipients faced serious pressure to take low-wage jobs that risked perpetuating their situation while assuring that there could be a cap on the responsibility the government had to take care of people. The tendency of these reforms to limit the responsibility of the government to take care of its most desperate people, coupled with decreased funding being allocated to these programs means that this vulnerable population gradually moves to relying on the market for solutions.
     Subsequently, the next stage is the increasing encouragement for people to look to the market and the private sphere as a solution. Poor people are disengaged from the state as they are chastised, judged, and increasingly alienated by the government and society. Vulnerable people, encouraged to work as much as possible at minimum wage, are then removed from the purview of the government: addictions ignored, lack of education overlooked, system reform averted. Writer and advocate Barbara Ehrenreich (2012) writes about this issue, noting, “the impression is left of a public sector that’s gone totally schizoid: on the one hand, offering safety-net programs for the poor; on the other, enabling large-scale private sector theft from the very people it is supposedly trying to help.”
     A final stage is the resulting fracturing of the poor community; people in dire circumstances become competitive with each other in the economic sphere, and support for assistance is weakened as people are alienated from each other. As the state pushes people off of welfare into the free market where they can expect minimum wage, or less, without health benefits or childcare or access to career or educational training, people are expected to make things work. Limited by time constraints on assistance from the state and private organizations, people are expected to get along and develop an even better existence for their children. Welfare and welfare recipients are stigmatized by generalizations and stereotypes. Schmidtz (1998) exemplifies this when he says “we do untold damage when we set up programs that make recipients less willing to meet life’s challenges in peaceful and productive ways” (p. 94). He presumes that assistance to the poor somehow debilitates their dignity and ability to be meaningful members of society. Welfare assistance, he argues, is “not making responsible adulthood necessary,” and thus becomes a program looked upon with very judgmental eyes (p. 96).

In considering the way in which individualization has affected these different political areas, I have highlighted the different ways in which neoliberalism operates. Utilizing Freeden’s understanding of ideology, we can now see how morphology materializes in practice. Furthermore, as the nature of the cycle of individualization has been analyzed, we can begin to establish a conceptualization about the way in which neoliberalism changes people as subjects. Though manifestations of individualization are different in different political areas, a common theme should now be understood to exist. As this trend has been highlighted, a better understanding of the forces at work needs to be theorized. 

Section IV: A New Account of Individualization

In considering what individualization looks like both in theory and in practice, we are positioned to consider individualization in greater detail. Neoliberalism as an ideology makes suppositions about the world and the way in which people operate within it. The individualization that I have described is the process by which people are subtly changed into the homo economicus subjects that neoliberalism posits and ultimately requires. Theorists to date have identified this propensity of neoliberalism, but have conflated or even ignored the different parts of individualization. In this section, I argue that there are four distinct ways in which individualization manifests in neoliberalism. These different aspects are interrelated and can occur separately or together; and though they are distinct and have different consequences they are all a part of the same larger phenomenon.  

Personal Responsibility vs. Collective Responsibility

The first form of individualization is the shift from collective responsibility to personal responsibility in handling social problems. Neoliberalism relies heavily upon the privatization/internalization of responsibility by individuals for a few reasons. Ultimately, in framing social problems as issues of personal responsibility, neoliberalism obscures the need for state action. It asserts that if people are choosing to be poor, for example, it is not a problem that government or the larger collective should be responsible for. If it is a matter of individual choices, preferences, and interests, it should be left to the market. So in framing things this way, market rationality is expanded–a fundamental component of neoliberalism. Privatizing responsibility is part of the neoliberal effort to privatize as much as possible to take it out of the public, political realm and into the market. Duggan (2003) seems to think of individualization as partly caused by the drive towards privatization, but I think it is an aspect that stems from the individualization itself, as it seems to dovetail with many other characteristics of individualization. Under the notion of isolated, strictly personal responsibility, we can see how with this focus neoliberalism frames rhetoric and public discourse around rational action and individual economic actors.
     This manifestation of individualism is clearest in the environmentalism case. The notion of personal responsibility has been promoted as the primary lens through which activism and advocacy needs to take place. This particular issue, where the problem clearly has an amount of personal responsibility that has to go with it, shows the type of individualism for which neoliberalism pushes. Because the movement itself advocates and assumes a high degree of personal responsibility in solving ecological problems, neoliberalism has co-opted this tendency and morphed it to fit with its paradigm. Where once personal responsibility was considered only part of the issue, and it was more about responsibility to activate ourselves and others politically and publically, we see personal responsibility of a different, specific variety. The environmental personal responsibility of today is the exclusive level of responsibility; that is, there are no other dimensions of responsibility that need to be considered. Instead of looking at our personal piece of a shared social responsibility for a structural problem, people are prompted to consider their personal share and accordingly act atomistically. Exclusively focused on the individual as opposed to the societal or systemic dimensions of the issue, this version of responsibility promotes personal consumer choices and activity in the market as the platform for advocacy.  This has meant that instead of being a potential target of critique of the environmental movement, the market has been accepted as a tool–an extremely successful instance of expanding market rationality and utilization. This is underscored by the fact that government action on this issue is by and large focused on working with or creating markets. Furthermore, individualization in this case has resulted in a changing conceptualization of the shared nature of this problem. In atomizing advocacy, neoliberalism has expanded the market into a new space, continued to spread market rationality, ushered the state into its proper role as market promoter, and isolated advocacy such that structural critiques remain largely out of the picture. While most clear in environmentalism, we see this morphing of personal responsibility to some degree in all of our cases where a reasonable level of personal responsibility is present but being pushed to take a new form that ignores systemic variables. 

Individual Choices vs. Structural Oppression

Another form of individualization is the movement away from structural critique toward critiques of individuals’ choices. In eliminating unfair systemic problems as appropriate places to bestow some responsibility, culpability for one’s position falls almost exclusively on the individual and her personal choices. Personal responsibility is pushed in a way where obligation shifts from society to individual people. The individual responsibility emanating from here is the accountability for one’s problems. Moving away from institutional arguments in favor of an individual/rationalist line of thinking allows for the shirking of collective responsibility and leads to a smoother application of economic values and the expansion of market rationality. With a weakening ability and impetus to look at things from a structuralist perspective, subjects are less able to perceive structural injustice as such, and an inability to critique inadequate institutions allows for an easier, broader implementation of market rationality and the expansion of the market generally. If people are told it is their responsibility or a matter of individual choice, they start to conceptualize things on this level. With neoliberalism, it is a matter of re-framing the way we think about ourselves. If we continue to operate within a paradigm where we are exclusively responsible for our situation in life, we start to think in that way. So the reconstruction of these issues as a matter of choice facilitates the conceptualization of the framework within which we experience the world. In being prompted to look at the world as such, we begin to operate under the same understanding. Additionally, as the entire neoliberal system is built upon the premise that all subjects operate as rational economic actors, the notion of systemic injustice or systematic market failure would create deep instability in the foundation of the model.
     In looking at poverty and racism, this feature of individualization is especially clear. Founded on the ideas that the market is meritocratic, and that rational actors who make good decisions will be successful and prosperous, individualism serves an important role in the neoliberal model. Systemic factors contributing to poverty and racism are ignored in the neoliberal narrative. Instead, these issues are framed as matters of personal problems and failings. Those struggling within this system are isolated from one another, as there is not an understanding of the widespread nature of these issues. This alienation allows for a greater degree of individualization to take hold.
     Market rationality has a solid presence in the state’s decisions regarding poverty policy as well. The state feels less of an obligation to people who have “made bad decisions.” Instead of working to get people out of poverty, the state allows assistance for a limited time, regardless of how the people are faring, and pushes them to become responsible by getting poorly paying jobs and leaving assistance. Instead of improving the system via structural change or helping people get the resources they need to be permanently better off, the focus is on getting them off of assistance rolls and into the market where they will now (hopefully) make better choices. As consideration of the structural foundations of poverty and racism shifts to an impetus on individual choices almost exclusively, the neoliberal paradigm is solidified.

Consumerism vs. Political Action

The third aspect of individualization is the promotion of consumerism as a stand-in for political action. Increasing impetus toward commercialization and consumption-oriented advocacy and action is one way in which individualization changes the dynamic of social issues. The advancement of the market as the new avenue for advocacy means that the market, as an institution that may hold some responsibility for structural injustice, is essentially off bounds for critique. In using it as a tool for advocacy, activists are limited by its framework. Trying to initiate change within the market means that the rules and structures of the market are implicitly accepted by the movements, and consideration of the problems created by the market fall largely off of the radar of activists. The transition toward consumer-centered activism ingrains and reiterates neoliberal market rationality. Moving away from the state and a more collectively oriented platform to the market individuates action and commodifies solutions. Furthermore, this consumerism changes the understanding of political action from a more collective notion to one, again, of individual action and choices. The promotion of consumerism instead of political action has served to largely conflate our understanding of personal responsibility to be one of consumer responsibility–and this consumer responsibility serves as a stand in for political action.
     This characteristic has been prevalent in recent environmentalism as “green washing” takes root; green-washing is particularly alarming to see in this movement as consumption is a serious contributing factor in environmental degradation. This focus on personal consumer choices has empowered individuals to take the issue into their own hands. While this sense of accountability is not completely unusable or bad, this focus has served to individualize environmental advocacy and potentially make the problem worse through increased consumption. This can be seen in a slightly different way in feminism, as well. Consumption as a form of liberation has resulted in feminists setting the market, and even capitalism, aside as problematic. The morphing of the notion of equality from one of equal agency and respect to one of equal ability to operate in the economic sphere is seen in this push toward consumption. This emphasis on the market for feminism has resulted in atomized individuals who consider the former solidarity and critiques of their predecessors unnecessary because of their ability to participate in the market and independent consumption. Individualization in this case has permeated the movement with economic values; these values are the driving values of many mainstream feminist groups. 

Depoliticization vs. Collective Political Action

The final aspect of individualization is the increasing depoliticizing of these issues as they are framed as personal issues. This has to do with the changing nature of the citizen-government relationship. As consumers of government, citizens now have a quite a different relationship with the state than they used to have. Taking these issues out of the public sphere and the political realm changes the ways in which people relate to the state. In removing the influence of the state from social issues, and removing these from the public realm, people are left as isolated individuals trying to address problems that are often perpetuated by institutional factors. The state, in a strong position to facilitate collective political action, is effectively removed from the conversation once issues are pushed towards depoliticization.
     As formerly public issues become private, the purview of the government shrinks. This is vital to neoliberalism remaining dominant. While advocating for a strong government that creates and promotes markets and competition, welfare-type concerns are the antithesis of neoliberalism. Limiting the role of the government by limiting the issues it is concerned about is in the service of a neoliberal paradigm. In shrinking the domain of the government, neoliberalism simultaneously creates space for a greater presence of the market. Increasingly, the state is shredded to fit into its place in a neoliberal model . . . a state that creates and promotes the market, one that typically acts under market rationality, or at least to relieve itself of responsibility and defer citizens (or consumers) to the market.
     Every issue discussed in this project exhibits this aspect of individualization. In the gay rights movement, even above and beyond the primary political push for marriage equality, we can see how the rhetoric of the movement has become focused on personal rights. Emphasizing advocacy for the right to privacy has the effect of depoliticizing the issues that face the gay and lesbian community. Taking the discrimination that a group faces on a systematic level and removing it from the public sphere of discussion takes it out of the political realm and leaves individuals to deal with it themselves. The role of the state is minimized by such advocacy, and individuals are left to deal with the consequences. It is similar with the issue of racism. The role of the state shrinks when these issues are internalized and removed from the public sphere. The individual is left to work against very real structural difficulties without support from the state or the public, as these issues generally recede from the public domain.
     Many theorists have highlighted these aspects of neoliberalism separately, which has been invaluable to me in developing an understanding of the ideology. However, they have not recognized these as aspects of the broader phenomenon of individualization. Understanding these distinct tendencies of individualization facilitates important insights about the way in which neoliberalism operates. From this analysis, it is clear that neoliberalism does not manifest in the same way in all cases, and it shows that the fact that it doesn’t materialize in the same way is not a reason to discredit the role of neoliberalism. With this understanding, it is clearer that we are becoming individualized actors, and more possible to see how this social framework is impacting that change. Furthermore, what this detailed account of individualization shows is a widespread depoliticization, a depoliticization that leaves subjects less able to recognize, critique, and organize against this dominant theoretical paradigm and thus less able to offer potential alternatives. 

Section V: Conclusion 

    In this project thus far, I have worked to construct a methodological framework and have extrapolated from the research of others to provide a better understanding of neoliberalism. Using the theoretical models of Freeden, I have provided a foundation for thinking about neoliberalism as a coherent ideology with morphological characteristics. Under this theory of ideology, it is clear that ideologies are not neutral forces. Looking to other theorists, I have established a general understanding of neoliberalism as a way of viewing the world with market rationality. I emphasized how important a common conception of this ideology is, and identified a place in which theorists to date have neglected. In discussing individualization, I argued for a more primary position for this particular aspect of neoliberalism. My discussion of various political areas served to show how individualization works in practice, and how changing social dynamics can change the way we both understand a problem and work to solve it. In developing a more detailed account of the way in which individualization is manifested, I showed (a) how we can understand neoliberalism as a coherent phenomenon even if it does not result in the same outcome in all cases, and (b) how individualization changes us as subjects.
    While developing this thesis, I have been navigating two particular concerns that are important to come back to now. The theoretical challenge of this project was the matter of conceptualizing ideology in the absence of a cohesive platform, founding texts, or clear leaders. In reflecting back on the discussion of ideology in general, I chose to address it not by positing a certain outcome for all political areas, but by noticing and analyzing common themes and trends. In my analysis of the different manifestations and components of neoliberalism, I have shown how distinct manifestations are attributable to the cycle of individualization. Understanding the ideology as a phenomenon in which there are common themes and a fundamental cycle of individualization, which are expressed differently in differing political areas, but with common tendencies, has served to mitigate this particular issue.
    The political issue of the project still looms: it is difficult to see a point of view as ideological and not necessarily objective reality. As my analysis of neoliberalism has shown, this issue is more insidious with neoliberal ideology because through its individualization it undermines our ability to recognize it as a point of view and see it as a problem, and undermines mechanisms through which we might contest its hegemony.  It is not a problem of rejecting all ideology, because ideologies are tools all people use to conceive of reality; rather, the problem is that neoliberalism makes it harder to see the ideology as such. In addition to its conception of market rationality as a neutral, common-sense theoretical tool, it undermines institutions through which we could mobilize against it. Individualization, through the various manifestations I have outlined, serves to disempower subjects to be able to see this hegemonic ideology as a common problem and makes it less likely that people will be able to resist it. As established earlier in the project, however, ideologies are a socially constructed force, which means that we can influence and change them.
    The cycle of individualization is an important mechanism for the reinforcement and production of neoliberal ideology and values; interrupting this cycle in even a minor way would serve to interfere with the perpetuating mechanism of atomization. A potential way of doing this would be a reconceptualization of personal responsibility and social obligation. Theorist Iris Young (2007) has written extensively about this change of perspective. She begins by showing how the common understanding of responsibility, based upon some degree of direct interaction between parties, what she calls the “liability model,” cannot reasonably account for or deal with structural injustice (p. 175). This is the typical way in which we conceive of responsibility, and the foundation on which the individual responsibility component of neoliberalism is built. She expands the notion of responsibility to account for structural and systematic injustice. Her “social connection model of responsibility” conceptualizes responsibility as shared (p. 172). Each individual is partially accountable for systemic wrongdoings; however, it is a certain conceptualization that is based in individuals. The exact responsibility of every person, she notes, cannot be identified given the nature of structural injustice–so the responsibility is one that is “shared,” as opposed to collective (Young, 2007). Young’s understanding of responsibility could be particularly helpful. She conceptualizes it like we conceptualize one’s responsibility as a citizen, stating that it “does not imply finding one at fault or liable for a past wrong, but rather refers to agents carrying out activities in a morally appropriate way and aiming for certain outcomes” with “a reference to causes of wrongs, here the form of structural processes that produce injustice . . . we bear responsibility because we are part of the process” (Young, 2007, p. 175).
     To identify how this would differ from a neoliberal conception of responsibility, we can consider how different one of the aforementioned political areas might look with such an understanding. If we look to environmentalism, a straightforward issue in which structural problems can clearly be seen as bearing a large brunt of the blame, the change is clear. If, instead of considering environmentalism a matter of personal consumer responsibility, we were to understand it as a matter in which each person has a level of responsibility but in the form of a piece of the broader shared responsibility model, the cycle of individualization could be interrupted. As subjects that are part of a system that produces environmental injustice, we each must bear a portion of culpability for a system that results in outcomes contrary to what we perceive to be fair and just. Conceiving of responsibility in this way in the context of environmentalism instead of on the liability model would mean that personal obligations would be of a different type. Instead of understanding personal responsibility as individual consumer choices that lessen an individual’s environmental impact, people would be prompted to think about their responsibility as a part of an unjust situation. In environmentalism, this shift would mean that the consumerism and individualistic advocacy would lose salience, and people would be encouraged to advocate and collaborate on a more collective level. In this context specifically, once people are conceptualizing of responsibility as having a component in structural injustice as well, they are freed up to look critically at social structures and institutions, like the market, that may be producing adverse outcomes. The avenues for activism, critique, and change are much broader than under a neoliberal responsibility model.
     The purpose of this project has been to identify the mechanisms through which neoliberalism works, to highlight the ways in which it perpetuates itself, and to identify a different way of looking at the world. Beyond the fact that neoliberalism is a particularly problematic ideology because it works to undermine efforts to see the world in any other way, neoliberalism is especially concerning because of the way in which it undermines the ability of the collective to recognize that the political world is affected, at least in part, by systemic and structural social forces. A reconceptualization of responsibility, and the degree to which we assume accountability for the structural forces that have serious ramifications in the lives of others, would enable us to address problems like racism and poverty much more effectively and compassionately.
    Re-establishing awareness of the collective nature of our society is still very possible. In his 2013 Inaugural Address, President Obama (2013) made a clear reference to the idea:

. . . preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action. For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.

While President Obama himself operates under neoliberal ideology (made clear by his primary focus on “individual freedoms”), the fact that the majority of the country also resonates with such a message is a sign that individualization has not completely saturated public consciousness. The notion of the social nature of society is appealing, intrinsic, and fully capable of being revived. Foucault (2008) was right when he said “the more we move towards an economic state, the more, paradoxically, the constitutive bond of civil society is weakened and the more the individual is isolated by the economic bond he has with everyone and anyone” (p. 303). It is of the utmost importance to seriously consider the way in which we see the world, and to consciously decide if the values that neoliberalism perpetuates are the best way to conceptualize the world and effectively work toward a fair society. 


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Goodman, Robin T. 2010. Feminist Theory in Pursuit of the Public: Women and the “Re-Privatization” of Labor. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Harvey, David. 2005. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Hochschild, Arlie Russell. 2003. The Commercialization of Intimate Life: Notes from Home and Work. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. 

Kent, Jennifer. 2009. “Individualized Responsibility and Climate Change: ‘If Climate Protection Becomes Everyone’s Responsibility, Does It End up Being No-One’s?’” Cosmopolitan Civil Societies Journal 1. 

MacGregor, Susanne. 2005. “The Welfare State and Neoliberalism.” In Alfredo Saad-Filho and Deborah Johnston, ed., Neoliberalism: A Critical Reader. London: Pluto Press.

Magdoff, Fred and John Foster. 2011. What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism. New York: Monthly Review Press. 

McRobbie, Angela. 2009. The Aftermath of Feminism: Gender, Culture and Social Change. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications Inc.

Munck, Ronaldo. 2005. “Neoliberalism and Politics, and the Politics of Neoliberalism.” In Alfredo Saad-Filho and Deborah Johnston, ed., Neoliberalism: A Critical Reader. London: Pluto Press.

National Public Radio. 2012. Morning Edition. “Racial Diversity Absent from GOP Presidential Ticket.” August 14. http://www.npr.org/2012/08/14/158745437/on-the-road-with-romney.

Obama, Barack. 2013. Second Presidential Inaugural Address. January 21. Speech presented in Washington, D.C. 

Palley, Thomas. 2005. “From Keynesianism to Neoliberalism: Shifting Paradigms in Economics.” In Alfredo Saad-Filho and Deborah Johnston, ed., Neoliberalism: A Critical Reader. London: Pluto Press.

Power, Nina. 2009. One Dimensional Woman. Hants, UK: Zero Books.

Roff, Robin. 2007. “Shopping for change? Neoliberalizing Activism and the Limits to Eating Non-GMO.” Agriculture and Human Values 24:511-522. 

Robottom, Ian and Paul Hart. 1995. “Behaviorist Environmental Education Research: Environmentalism as Individualism.” Journal of Environmental Education 26. 

Schmidtz, David, and Robert E. Goodin. 1998. Social Welfare and Individual Responsibility (For and Against). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Schulman, Sarah. 2012. The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination. 1st ed. Berkley: University of California Press.

Shapiro, Gary. 2012. “When Did It Become OK for Americans Not to Work?” May 1. http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2012/05/01/when-did-it-become-ok-for-amer....

Steger, Manfred B., and Ravi K. Roy. 2010. Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 1958. Philosophical Investigations. 2nd ed. Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd.

Young, Iris. 2007. Global Challenges: War, Self-Determination and Responsibility for Justice. Cambridge: Polity Press. 


Pessimistic Politics: An Analysis of Social Spending in Western Europe, Ali Naaseh-Shahry

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Ever since the conservative reforms of Otto von Bismarck in the late 19th century, the welfare state has played a vital role in western politics.[1] Since then, most countries in the developed world have adopted welfare programs, and most of today’s well-known and successful welfare states exist in Western Europe. Despite this, there exists wide variation in how much each country actually spends on welfare programs. This essay attempts to find an explanation as to why some countries in Western Europe spend more than others on welfare. In order to do so, the following research question was developed:

Why do some countries spend more on welfare than others?

In order to answer this question, the following hypothesis was generated:

H1: Countries with higher levels of national pride will have higher levels of social spending.[2]

            In an attempt to test this question, this paper utilizes data regarding national pride compiled by the University of Goethenburg’s Quality of Government Institute. The 2012 survey[3] asked a variety of people from around the world how proud they were of their respective nationalities. Their response options were (1) very proud, (2) quite proud, (3) not very proud, and (4) not at all proud. Interestingly enough, Portugal, Ireland, and Iceland topped the charts, all with national pride values of approximately 1.3. The vast majority of the countries fell into the middle, with ratings between 1.5 and 1.7. Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden, however, were the least proud of their nationalities, with respective ratings of 2.2, 2.1, and 1.8 (see Chart 2).

            These data were analyzed alongside each country’s social welfare spending, represented as a percentage of total GDP. The data were taken from a 2012 dataset on the Organization for Economic Co-operation’s (OECD) Social Expenditure (SOCX) database website.[4] Upon analysis, it was observed that Iceland had the lowest levels of social spending, with only 16% of its GDP going towards welfare. Denmark and France’s numbers, however, were far higher. With more than 30% of their GDP going towards welfare, Denmark and France were the two highest-spending welfare states in the sample. Most other countries spent percentages of GDP in the mid-twenties (see Chart 1).

            The two variables revealed a weak negative correlation between social spending and national pride. The correlation coefficient, r, was -.123 (see Chart 3). In simpler terms, the greater a country’s pride, the less it spends on social welfare. This does not support the original hypothesis, which predicted that countries with higher national pride would have higher levels of social spending.

            This puzzling, negative relationship between national pride and social spending can be interpreted in one of two ways: optimistic or pessimistic. If one is an optimist, they might not read low national pride scores as a bad thing. One could make the argument that citizens in states with low levels of national pride are less interested in the state and more interested in each other. They may in fact take more pride in community relationships than they do in their relationship with the state, thus taking less pride in their nationality. People in these countries might connect with one another as members of the same religious group, as followers of the same soccer club, or as people who enjoy the same type of clothing. Ultimately, the citizens whose cultures encourage social involvement and interconnectivity care for one another more than those with individualistic cultures. Robert Putnam outlines this idea in his 1993 book Making Democracy Work, and links societal involvement with better functioning governments. These governments, who are supported by active, interconnected citizens, spend more on welfare because it is in their rational best interest. Countries with low levels of national pride have citizens who prioritize interpersonal relationships over their relationship with the state, and thus spend more on welfare.

            When analyzed though a more pessimistic (and perhaps more realistic) lens, however, one could argue that countries have low levels of pride because they feel ashamed of their country’s history, present situation, or future outlook. This could very well be the case for Germany. An infamous track record during the first half of the 20th century has, according to David Art, created a “culture of contrition” in Germany, one that produces extreme feelings of guilt and remorse for simply being German. High levels of social spending could be an attempt by the government to counteract the negative connotations associated with being German.

            While it was easy to make comparisons between the two, there were some issues with the data regarding the relationship between national pride and welfare spending. The data exhibited a roughly positive correlation, but very few of the individual countries fit the trend. Iceland, for example, had the third highest national pride level. Based on the statistical and graphical analysis, one would have expected their social spending to be quite high. In fact, their expenditures on welfare were the lowest, clocking in at a miniscule 16.4% of GDP. Ireland–with the group’s second-highest level of national pride–had the fourth lowest welfare expenditure. Ultimately, the data’s extreme number of outliers and low correlation coefficient (r = -.124, very weak) provided significant cause to investigate another variable. Furthermore, it would be extremely disheartening to discover that social programs are driven solely by guilt, shame, and pessimistic outlooks on life. For that reason, I continued searching for a variable that explained why some Western European countries spend more on welfare than others.

            One intuitive independent variable wwwas the rural/urban divide. As countries’ urban areas develop and grow in size, their inhabitants get richer. They have greater access to jobs, commodities, and public services like healthcare and education. As this happens, most countries’ rural inhabitants become even further alienated from the resources that urban dwellers enjoy, increasing overall inequality. In order to combat this divide and make life for rural inhabitants similar to that of urban residents, countries would likely increase social spending. In order to test this theory, the following hypothesis was formulated:

H3: Countries with higher urban population growth rates will have higher levels of social spending.

After comparing social spending and urban population growth rates,[5] it was determined that the correlation was -.216–slightly stronger than the correlation between welfare and national pride (see Chart 4). However, the data suggest a trend that goes against the initial expectation–as urban populations grow, social spending decreases. This is most likely because people from rural areas actually flee the countryside to go to the cities, leaving no one for the state to spend money on. It may actually be more beneficial to look at this relationship over time, to see if there is any discernable trend.

            While urban population growth showed a stronger (and unexpected) correlation to social spending than national pride did, its relative weakness called for yet another variable to be explored. This time, national literacy rates were analyzed. Logically, countries with high adult literacy rates will spend less on welfare, seeing as their citizens are more capable of fending for themselves. The following hypothesis was generated:

H4: Countries with higher literacy rates will have lower levels of social spending.

Data from the World Bank supported this hypothesis. The correlation between the two variables turned out to be -.127 (see Chart 5), in between those regarding national pride and urban population growth. Again, this weak correlation was due to the fact that most countries did not exactly fit the trend. One would have expected Iceland, the country with the lowest welfare spending, to have the highest literacy rate. Instead, it had the third lowest. Luxembourg had the lowest literacy rate, but fell mid-range with regards to social spending. Yet again, the weak correlation between literacy rates and welfare spending led me to believe that there was something else out there driving social spending.

            After testing a slew of other variables including tertiary-level school enrollment, the number of female legislators in the government, effectiveness of the government, and overall tolerance–all of which resulted in correlations that were between -.3 and .1 and categorized as ‘weak’ or ‘very weak’ (see Appendix)–I stumbled across a variable that posed a possible answer as to why some countries in Western Europe spend more than others on welfare. A country’s age dependency ratio (ADR) is measured by totaling the number of dependents–people younger than 15 and older than 64–and comparing this number to the total working-age population. In the data used in our study, a country value of 100 means a country has a 1:1 ratio of dependents to workers. Anything greater than 100 means there are more dependents than workers, and vice versa for values less than 100. For reference, the following hypothesis was formulated:

H5: Countries with higher ADRs will have higher levels of social spending.

            The data regarding ADRs supported this hypothesis, and showed a much stronger correlation to social spending than any of the previous variables. Analysis revealed that r, the correlation coefficient for the data set, was .656 (see Chart 7). This is regarded as strong, and stems from the fact that most of the countries followed a linear trend that was not present in previous analyses. At a whopping 32.1%, France had the highest social spending of the group, as well as the highest ADR (55). Switzerland spent only 20.3% of its GDP on welfare, which put it in second-to-last place. Its ADR also fell second-to-last at 47.3. Germany’s and the Netherlands’ rakings for both variables were identical, as well. The rest of the countries were mostly ranked the same, with some variance (see Chart 6).

            The relationship between a country’s social spending and its ADR is a reasonably simple one to explain. Children and the elderly are (for the most part) unable to work, and are, therefore, unable to provide for themselves. In the absence of the state, they depend on the working population to provide for them–hence the term ‘dependency ratio.’ As their numbers increase, the size of the working population must also increase. Unfortunately, this is simply impossible in some countries, which is why the state must increase overall social spending.

            The results from comparing social spending and ADR prompted me to generate yet another, more in-depth research question:

Q2: Why do some countries have lower ADRs than others?

Since the ADR is a ratio, it drops in two situations–when there are fewer dependents, and/or when there are more workers. The following hypothesis was created:

H6: Countries with lower minimum retirement ages will have lower ADRs, and thus higher levels of social spending.

In order to test this hypothesis, the social spending data from the SOCX database was compared alongside retirement age data from a 2011 World Bank report entitled Women, Business, and the Law.[6] Minimum retirement ages for males and females in each country were averaged and compared with the percentages of GDP spent on social welfare. The results were eye opening and obvious at the same time–the countries with lower retirement ages were indeed the ones that spent the most on welfare. The correlation coefficient between these two variables was a strong -.524 (see Chart 8). France, the country with the highest level of social spending, had the lowest retirement age. Finland had the third highest welfare spending and the third lowest retirement age. The rest of the countries closely followed this trend.

            As I analyzed the data, it became increasingly clear that obscure factors like literacy rate and number of female legislators have little or no correlation with social spending. If they do, the effect is so small that it goes unnoticed, even in statistical analyses. Ultimately, a country’s level of social spending is driven by the ratio of dependents to workers, a variable that is almost certainly directly linked to a country’s minimum retirement age. The longer citizens work, the less the country has to spend on their housing, food, and medical care.

            In future explorations, further analysis on why some countries have lower retirement ages than others could be done. The explanation could be rational (labor productivity declines as age increases), cultural (some people believe the elderly should not be forced to work), or institutional (perhaps certain political parties or legislators benefit from retirees’ votes). More than likely, the size of a country’s workforce has more influence on retirement age than anything else. Out of the countries examined, smaller states like Iceland, Norway, and Ireland had the lowest levels of social spending. They also had the highest retirement ages, because every member of their small population is needed to bolster the economy. Large countries like France and Germany, however, have low retirement ages because they have a large supply of extra workers. They also have the highest levels of social spending, because they must support non-workers. It would be interesting to collect further data regarding countries’ population, workforce participation, and these variables’ effects on social spending.

            Future research must dig deeper to find out what other factors causally influence social spending. Perhaps countries with higher unemployment rates have more dependents, and, therefore, spend more on welfare. If that is the case, we must then find out why these countries have higher levels of unemployment than others. Perhaps some have economy-influencing cultural quirks that others lack; perhaps they have no incentives to work hard and are rationally weighing the pros and cons of being employed. Either way, we face a problem when pursuing further explorations–it becomes an endless cycle of research that leads to one explanation, prompting further research that provides another explanation, et cetera. This demonstrates how complex the field of political science is, and emphasizes the fact that there may not be a single, identifiable cause to any one issue.

            Looking back, the results of this study are quite clear. After numerous letdowns from misleading variables like national pride, literacy rate, and urban population growth rate, a strong, positive correlation between social spending and the age dependency ratio was identified. It was then determined that the age dependency ratio is strongly and positively linked to the minimum retirement age. In essence, these findings suggest a country’s social spending is dictated by its minimum retirement age more than any other variable. This includes cultural factors like pride and tolerance, as well as institutional factors like the number of women in parliament. That being said, there is most likely a simple explanation as to why some countries have higher retirement ages than others. It could be a cultural, institutional, or rational explanation–but that’s the topic of a completely separate paper.

[1] S. B. Fay, 'Bismarck's Welfare State', Current History, Vol. XVIII, January 1950, pp. 1-7.

[2] For simplicity, the terms welfare, social spending, and their variants will be used interchangeably in this paper.

[3] Teorell, Jan, Marcus Samanni, Sören Holmberg and Bo Rothstein, 2012, The Quality of Government Basic Dataset made from The QoG Standard Dataset version 6Apr11, University of Gothenburg: The Quality of Government Institute,http://www.qog.pol.gu.se.

[4] Adema, W., P. Fron and M. Ladaique, 2011, “Is the European Welfare State Really More Expensive? Indicators on Social Spending, 1980-2012; and a Manual to the OECD Social Expenditure Database (SOCX)”, OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers No. 124.

[5] World Development Indicators, The World Bank, 2011, data retrieved April 28, 2013, from World DataBank database.

[6] World Bank, International Finance Corporation, 2011, “Women, Business and the Law 2012: Removing Barriers to Economic Inclusion.”




Works Cited

Adema, W., P. Fron and M. Ladaique. 2011. “Is the European Welfare State Really More Expensive? Indicators on Social Spending, 1980-2012; and a Manual to the OECD Social Expenditure Database (SOCX)”. OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers No. 124.

S. B. Fay. 'Bismarck's Welfare State'. Current History. Vol. XVIII. January 1950. pp. 1-7.

Teorell, Jan, Marcus Samanni, Sören Holmberg and Bo Rothstein. 2012. The Quality of Government Basic Dataset made from The QoG Standard Dataset version 6Apr11. University of Gothenburg: The Quality of Government Institute.http://www.qog.pol.gu.se.

World Bank. International Finance Corporation. 2011. “Women, Business and the Law 2012: Removing Barriers to Economic Inclusion”.

World Development Indicators. The World Bank. 2011. Data retrieved April 28, 2013, from World DataBank database.


Redefining Illegality: The Immigrant Rights Movement as an Exemplar of Democratic Politics, Alexander Kirkpatrick 

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            In the spring of 2006, with the introduction of House Resolution 4437, the “Sensenbrenner Bill,” came a wave of nation-wide immigration rights protests. These protests sought to redefine the growing association in America between undocumented people and “illegality.” This bill, which was never implemented, would have increased the militarization of the Mexico border, made it a felony to be undocumented, and most radically, made it a crime to give aid to undocumented people. With major Republican support in the House and Senate, this bill epitomized the national sentiment regarding undocumented immigrants: “love it or leave it.”

             In the years leading up to introduction of the bill, undocumented peoples in the national conversation over immigration policy became synonymous with “criminals,” “anchor-babies,” and “insects or leeches” that “steal our resources and goods.”[1] The first protest to HR 4437 in Washington, D.C. spurred over 100,000 participants and began a chain of protests across the country. Days later, immigrant rights protests in Chicago drew over 300,000 people and over 1 million in Los Angeles. These nation-wide demonstrations, recruiting about 1.7 million protesters in total, called for dignity, equal treatment, and citizenship rights for undocumented people, asylum seekers, and non-citizens.[2] With signs reading, “I am a worker, not a criminal,” “Let Us Be a Part of the American Dream,” and “We Are America,” they attempted to challenge the growing association in the United States of undocumented people as “illegals or criminals.”[3]

            Since 2006 we have not witnessed an immigrant-rights protest of such magnitude and velocity. Spectators, news reporters, media, and scholars have characterized this movement as a failure because it did not lead to legal implementation of equal rights.[4]Instead of equality for undocumented people, since 2006 we have experienced anincrease in border enforcement, deportation, and criminalization. In 2010, Arizona passed “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act,” or SB 1070, which was at the time the strictest immigration enforcement act of its kind. Under “reasonable suspicion,” this bill enabled Arizona police to question, without provocation, people’s immigration status. This sparked a wave of cases concerning racially profiled immigrants, victims of sexual violence, and parents of citizen children placed in deportation proceedings. In 2011, a similar but even more radical version of the bill passed in Alabama. The “Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act” implemented similar laws as the Arizona Act with the additional provision to prohibit undocumented immigrants to access public services, including education, health care, heating, and basic necessities.  On the federal level, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has implemented the program of Secure Communities, which gives local and state police the ability to inquire into arrestee’s citizenship status. In light of increasing deportation and the implementation of harsh immigration policy, we are left to wonder if the 2006 protests achieved their goals. With growing enforcement on a local and national level, can we call the immigrant rights protests in 2006 a failure?

            This essay will show that the 2006 immigrant rights protests mobilized millions of immigrants alongside citizens to publicly contest the growing association between undocumented immigrants and “illegality.” I will argue that we should measure the success of the protests not on their ability to influence policy but rather on their capacity to transform undocumented immigrants into visible political actors. I will argue that even in light of increased deportation and strengthened immigration policy following 2006, these protests were a success in that they enabled undocumented immigrants to claim the rights and privileges of citizenship without formal recognition from the state. By marching, protesting, and publicly demanding dignity and justice in the face of deportation, the undocumented protester exemplified democratic citizenship.

            In three parts, this essay will explore how citizenship is attained in a democracy and argue that immigrants in the 2006 protests laid claim to informal citizenship without state permission. First, I will explore Hannah Arendt’s critique of human rights in her bookThe Origins of Totalitarianism alongside Jacques Rancière’s essay “Who is the Subject of the Rights of Man?” to argue that democratic citizenship is attained and sustained through active political participation and performance. Second, through analyzing the use of signs, multi-lingual speech, and international flags in the 2006 marches I will argue that the protests were democratic performances that took undocumented immigrants out of the shadows of their “illegal” status and made them visible political actors. In this, I will argue that the protesters claimed citizenship without permission by transforming their status from mere powerless “laborers” to engaged and active democratic participants. Third, I will argue that the marches uncovered the paradox of citizenship; we have denied political rights to undocumented people who have publically participated in democratic debates but are simultaneously granting citizenship rights to Americans that are politically passive and docile. I suggest that the marchers were able to bypass this paradox and gain a form of informal citizenship by ignoring the state altogether by not making inclusion and government authorization the protest’s ultimate goal.

Part 1: Performing Citizenship

            Hannah Arendt discuses the necessity of citizenship in her account of stateless refugees during the onset of totalitarianism. In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt describes the generations of stateless migrants who, unlike their predecessors, “were welcomed nowhere and could be assimilated nowhere.”[5] Arendt identifies the migrant’s statelessness and “rightlessness” as a precursor for totalitarian politics that gave rise to World War II. She writes, “Once they had left their homeland they remained homeless, once they had left their state they became stateless; once they had been deprived of their human rights they were rightless, the scum of the earth.”[6] The explosive political flux of World War I tore thousands of people (especially Jews) from their geopolitical communities. Arendt impassionedly recounts how it was that these ethnic minorities slowly began to lose their political liberties and eventually their right to citizenship. The rules that once protected these groups no longer applied in an age of transitioning into modernity and state radicalization. In the years leading up to the Holocaust and the mass extinction of millions of stateless refuges brought on by totalitarian regimes, these stateless migrants had no formal rights or institutions to protect their lives. In these pre-war years, Arendt writes that these stateless people could still live in their home and within their country, but they were stateless because they were fully deprived of their citizenship and political rights and were completely vulnerable to every whim of the state.

            In the preface of the first edition of The Origins, Arendt warns us that we must assess the origins of totalitarianism–the ultimate crime against humanity–so we can stop the horrors of the past from surfacing again. Arendt writes that our “history has finally come to the surface and usurped the dignity of our tradition. This is the reality in which we live.”[7] She means, in other words, that totalitarianism proved that rights based on tradition and custom are no longer adequate in an age of nation states. We must reconceptualize a legal and political groundwork upheld by political institutions that enable citizenship and agency. Arendt insists that statelessness is not a problem of the past but a modern epidemic. She reminds us that Nazi Germany deprived Jews of their citizenship and rights before they committed crimes against humanity. Similarly, in the age of McCarthyism in which Arendt was writing, she draws a comparison as to how the United States systematically attempted to strip communists of their citizenship rights. In Arendt’s depiction, we can view statelessness as not only lacking nationality or a literal geographical home, but also as a set of vulnerabilities that govern and restrict how people live, work, and politically participate within their polity.

            Linda Kerber, in her essay “The Stateless as the Citizen’s Other: A View from the United States,” writes that the stateless subject has been reconceptualized into the modern day undocumented immigrant. Kerber notes that within the U.S., “the most chilling signal that reconceptualization is possible is the presence of a vigorous political attack on the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of birthright citizenship.”[8] Through a review of immigration case law, Kerber shows that the Untied States has taken away the right of jus soli in many cases and has incriminated nationals due to their ethnic “otherness.”[9] Even those who have citizenship “back at home,” become incriminated, abused and deported back into poverty and other systems of vulnerability.[10] The lack of citizenship rights, Kerber argues, defines the modern undocumented immigrant as a stateless refuge susceptible to a regime of vulnerability dictated by the flux of domestic policy. The utter powerlessness of the stateless or undocumented migrant begs the question of how they fight back and gain rights in a system that cannot guarantee them. 

            Arendt maintains throughout The Origins that the only guarantee of rights is citizenship or membership under the state. She develops this stance through a critique ofThe Declaration of the Rights of Man coming out of the eighteenth century, in which she argues that human rights are seen as “inalienable” protections of rightless victims but are actually toothless and unenforceable promises. Arendt writes that “it seemed only natural that the ‘inalienable’ rights of man would find their guarantee and become an inalienable part of the right of the people to sovereign self-government.”[11] In other words, Arendt questions how human rights are guaranteed in an anarchic international political system where the highest authority lies with the state. Indeed, the horrors of the Holocaust were state-sponsored crimes impeding the Rights of Man, and yet there was no legal or political recourse for stateless and powerless victims. The rights of man, then, are simply rights of citizens. Arendt argues that the danger of statelessness is the lack of a guarantee that enables political agency and freedom. The reliance on human rights as a form of protection distracts us from the necessity of citizenship. Human rights, Arendt shows, are protections only granted on the basis of altruism.[12] The very moment that it becomes inconvenient for “nations to feed them,” states stop providing basic freedoms and throw stateless refugees back into the shadows of vulnerability.[13] Even though human rights appeal to the dignity and humanity of stateless migrants, they are ultimately no guarantee for freedom.

            Similar to the stateless refugees in Arendt’s analysis, undocumented people in the United States today suffer from the unenforceability of human rights. As Jacqueline Bhabha explains, the United States border “crystallizes the conflict between two founding principles of modern society: the belief in universal human rights which inhere in all individuals by virtue of their common dignity, and the sovereignty of nation states.”[14]Bhabha shows that human rights violations become legally ambiguous when violated on the border. The victim often cannot appeal to either U.S. or Mexican courts due to their citizenship status. Likewise, their appeal on behalf of human rights violations is rejected, as it is most often the U.S. border control committing the crimes.[15]

             Human rights within the current U.S. context prove problematic, because they are not guaranteed by the state. Eithne Luibheid writes that appeals of human rights violations across the span of United States immigration case law only become accepted if they fit into the political agenda of the time.[16] In context with Arendt’s argument, human rights are used as forms of charity that appeal to vulnerable victims in convenient times but are ignored when they do not produce foreseeable benefits to the enforcers.  Human rights, just like stateless and undocumented migrants, become susceptible to political flux. Luibheid further explains that immigration law across U.S. history has accepted or denied immigrants based upon their ethnic or national origins. In other words, if an immigrant is culturally “acceptable” and originates from a “suitable” country, then he or she is given citizenship rights. If the immigrant is perceived as a “threat to the nation” or does not produce some strategic benefit, then that immigrant is denied. One of Arendt’s central concerns with human rights as a protection for stateless immigrants is that the immigrant will be left rightness if the nation’s attitude towards their nationality or ethnicity turns. Today, the widespread association of Latino and undocumented immigrants with “illegality” portrays the inconsistency of human rights. As the nation further stigmatizes this group by declaring them a “threat,” the barriers to citizenship become greater, along with their legal power to legitimately claim that their human rights have been violated.[17] Christian Joppke writes, “As the U.S. experience demonstrates, the absence of political rights–which everywhere continue to be the privilege of citizens–makes immigrants defenseless victims of discriminatory public policies.”[18]

            Arendt’s critique of human rights shows that since the state is the ultimate protector and enforcer of rights, the only guarantee of rights comes with full membership under the state. She also warns us that the delusion that human rights protect stateless immigrants undermines the necessity and importance of citizenship. However, if citizenship is the only solution to statelessness and undocumented vulnerability, what options are left for the millions of stateless and undocumented migrants who are denied political membership?

             Jacque Rancière attempts an answer by arguing that stateless actors contain the potential to seize their own rights and legitimize them by acting them out in public. Like Arendt, Rancière sees that human rights are dangerous as they offer no guarantee of political freedom. However, Rancière critiques Arendt’s pessimistic stance on the predicament of stateless refugees and argues that she desperately underestimates the power of the rightless actors. Rancière contends that Arendt locates the stateless subject within the private realm, where they are banished from ever participating within public life due to their rightless vulnerability–being visible in the public realm means risking being deported, jailed, or killed without recourse.  Rancière writes that Arendt defines the public sphere as “that of citizenship, of a political life separated from that of private life. For the issue is to know precisely where to draw the line separating one life from the other.”[19]Rancière insists that Arendt’s strict division between public and private spheres detains the stateless actor within an apolitical world, where they are unable to act and are forever hiding in the shadows.

            Rancière reconceptualizes citizenship as the process of making the private public. Instead of waiting for citizenship to be granted or petitioning for selective membership, Rancière argues that rightless immigrants can rise from the shadows of their private life and adopt the rights of citizens without state recognition. A rightless migrant does not gain citizenship through a passive exchange from the state but rather through performingcitizenship and enacting the rights (not necessarily judicial ones) that are self-endowed. Undocumented immigrants do not wait for inclusion but rather become involved in politics by simply acting out or performing rights that they don’t actually have.

            Rancière calls this enactment of rights a staging of “dissensus.” He defines dissensus as a challenge to “common sense: a dispute over what is given and about the frame within which see something as given.”[20] Dissensus is the antithesis of consensus; it is action that calls into question why and how the world exists in the way it does.  Rancière claims that through staging dissensus–participating in public acts that reframe and repartition how the world is perceived–immigrants can seize the rights that they have been denied. In other words, undocumented immigrants, by asserting their rights in the public eye, can reframe the narratives of “threat” and “illegality” that banish them to the private realm. These immigrants are self-authorized without the help of the state or the backing of human rights. Rancière writes that the stateless immigrant “is not caught between the void of Man and the plenitude of the citizen with its actual rights.”[21] By staging dissensus, the undocumented immigrant becomes empowered and gains a sense of political agency that is only subject to his or her individual will.

            Rancière rethinks the logic of citizenship and rights through his theory of dissensus. Politics and democracy become “the supplementation for all qualifications by the power of the unqualified.”[22] In this, politics and democracy are grounded on the basis of performative action. Citizens and non-citizens alike reaffirm and reestablish rights through continually performing actions that question the power of formal institutions. Within dissensus democracy, power is not located within the state or judicial laws but is rather posited into actions themselves. By acting in defiance of established rules and social norms, these takers of rights counteract the formal power of the state through staging dissensus. If citizenship is attainable through performative action that defies established power, then the undocumented and stateless actors have a means to rights. “Performing citizenship,” then, is not the process of acting out the rights of citizens in the judicial and legal sense, but rather as actions that claim self-created rights. Performing citizenship means acting without authorization and giving oneself the power to become politically engaged. The second part of this essay will show how the 2006 protests were examples of dissensus that involved immigrants who performed citizenship without permission.

Part 2: Searching for a Guarantee

            As spectators marveled at the millions of undocumented immigrants alongside scores of citizens and naturalized families marching in the streets from Huston to Madison and Los Angeles, news reports were quick to blame House Resolution 4437. The “Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act,” which at the time had passed in the House but was still sitting in the Senate, had spurred massive debate when it was introduced in 2005.[23] The bill had mobilized immigrant rights organizations across the U.S. and abroad to draw up a strategy to fight mounting anti-immigrant sentiments. Once these demonstrations began in the following spring, competing House and Senate versions soon mired the bill in congressional gridlock. With HR 4437 tied up, national and local news stations began to question the persistence of the protests, witnessing them grow by the thousands and spread from city to city. The public’s perception began to change. Focus shifted from debate over the bill to outrage over the widespread waving of the Mexican flag and signs posing seemingly anti-assimilationist “threats.”[24]

            The protests drew massive criticism from both the left and right. Conservative commentators recognized the demonstrations as unwarranted actions signaling the impending destruction of American culture by the “illegal aliens.” Protesters who waved the Mexican flag (and flags from around the world) began to embody the growing cultural trope of the “undocumented” threat, in which the protests represented the literal imperialism of foreign nations onto U.S. territory.[25] Within this frame, the undocumented protester was viewed as stepping out of their role as a rightless “laborer” and faceless migrant. On the left, the demonstrations were criticized for lacking a common goal and a proper strategy.[26] The waving of Mexican flags and the widespread use of signs reading, “We didn’t cross the borders, the borders crossed us,” were seen as a refusal to assimilate. Much of the liberal media, who generally supported the protests, chose to focus instead on examples of culturally and politically deserving migrants and protesters.[27] These articles and news stories insisted that protesters needed to stop emphasizing their differences and diversity–that they should try to be more “American”–to successfully achieve their goal of comprehensive immigration reform. From both sides of the political spectrum, these protests were analyzed as anti-assimilationist and lacking clear political intentions.

            Media criticism came to a climax in Los Angeles when the Catholic archbishop, Cardinal Roger Mahoney, who was one of the leading organizers of the nation-wide protest, remarked to a march of over a million people, “that unless you have an American flag, you roll up flags from other countries and do not use them because they do not help us get the legislation we need.”[28] The shift in tactics within the movement to a more legislation-centered agenda has been marked by many scholars as undermining the intent of the protest. Even though many did comply with Mahoney’s request, thousands of the protesters still persisted in waving flags from their national origin and carrying signs that bore anti-American or anti-assimilationist slogans. The following analysis will emphasize the non-policy related goals of the marches, and I will argue that the larger impetus for the protests was to make undocumented immigrants visible under a regime of political invisibility. Moreover, I will show that the occupation of public space by undocumented people and citizens alike portrayed scenes of dissensus in which marchers were able to use their diversity in actions that disrupted the public order and repartitioned the public imaginary.

            It is all too easy to perceive the marches as having no direct political goal at all, no demand, and no set agenda. At the outset, the marches were framed as a counter-attack against the threating HR 4437 bill. The marchers were able to defeat the bill quite quickly and effectively within two months of protest. As unpredictably as the marches began, they soon dissipated in the wake of policy success. However, beyond the narrow goal of defeating HR 4437, the broader claims of the protests exemplified a diverse range of assertions that overall questioned the “illegal” status of undocumented immigrants. Embodied in this larger goal of gaining visibility and questioning existing regimes of “illegality” was the frequent chant: “¡Aquí Estamos, y No Nos Vamos! [Here we are, and we’re not leaving!].” Nicholas De Genova writes that this chant “was not a ‘demand’: it petitioned no legislators, pleaded no legal case, pandered to no politicians, deferred to no law enforcement authorities.”[29] This chant did not appeal to the policy goals of the immigrant rights movement, but instead it reaffirmed the undeniable presence of undocumented immigrants. This chant became proof that seemingly invisible immigrants were not marching as outsiders or foreigners but as part of the existing political community. It also served as a threat, twisting the immigrants’ existing vulnerability to deportation into a form of undocumented empowerment–“we’re not leaving!” Alongside this chant, marchers also screamed: “Nos Sacan, Nos Regresamos! [ . . . and if they throw us out, we'll come right back!].”[30] Not only were these claims reaffirming the presence of rightless people in everyday communities, they were bringing attention to the reality of circular migration that causes deported immigrants to re-migrate back into the United States. Rhetorically, these claims transferred the power from the state and its ability to deport and criminalize to the immigrant. The immigrants claim, in essence, that the state can’t control where they live and exist, and if the state attempts to deport them, they will just “come right back!” In this rhetorical switch, the state becomes a powerless entity susceptible to the will of the migrant.

            Moreover, chanting these claims in both Spanish and English served to rhetorically reaffirm diversity and difference in the marches. By emphasizing their ethnic and cultural otherness, these protesters were able to resist assimilation and argue that citizenship is grounded in difference. These chants fit into the framework of dissensus in that they do not seek inclusion or citizenship underneath the power of the state but instead act to disrupt state power and claim political agency and freedom for themselves. Rancière writes that the “power of the people” within democracy “exists only in the form of a disjunction.”[31] In other words, people (regardless of their citizenship status) become empowered not through a passive exchange of rights from the state, but through a disagreement with the institutionalized forms of power. Cultural and national difference, then, are not conceptualized as agents of exclusion and therefore vulnerable to assimilation, but are traits and actions that rejuvenate democracy and sustain the perpetual process of disjunction.

            Together with chants, marchers carried signs reading, “Am a Worker, Not a Criminal” and “We Are America.” Christina Beltran argues that these signs embody the concept of performative citizenship. Namely, rightless immigrants were able to gain a sense of informal citizenship and social dignity by protesting their status publically.[32]Beltran argues that the immigrant was a taker of citizenship by laying claim to rights that they never had or were not given. However, I resist Beltran’s interpretations of the signs, because she locates the ultimate purpose of protest action in the goal of formal inclusion. As Michaele Ferguson contends, Beltran’s emphasis on how undocumented protesters become legitimized as political actors is only contextualized within the framework of the state. Beltran writes, “The demonstrations can be thought of as such a moment of disclosure as a space in which participants publicly celebrated and legitimated the presence of the undocumented in American society.”[33] Even though Beltran recognizes the importance of action that celebrates the status of undocumented immigrants, she nonetheless argues that the marches sought to legitimate the undocumented actor in the context of American society. If the protests were examples of dissensus, then Beltran’s argument is not radical enough. Dissensus is not oriented towards social or political legitimization, but rather, as Rancière writes, dissensus simultaneously “legitimizes and delegitimizes every set of institutions or the power of any one set of people.”[34] The beauty and power of these signs is that they are not seeking confirmation or acceptance from the American people, but rather they are declarations that actively affirm that undocumented people exist. Likewise, these signs are also not seeking recognition from the state, but are instead challenging and disrupting the preconceived stereotypes that police their “illegality.”

            What Rancière means by a continual process of legitimization and delegitimization is that a politics grounded on disjunction and difference requires unestablished forms of power. In other words, if we focus on legitimization as a strategy, then citizenship is a process of assimilating to “acceptable” social or political standards. Ferguson writes that these marches “enacted the idea that political actors do not require prior authorization by the state in order to occupy public space and voice their views.”[35] Even though Ferguson does not imagine her theory in terms of dissensus, the action of self-authorization offers the takers-of-rights, as opposed to those who wait for rights to be given, a form of self-endowed agency and political freedom.

            The enactments of difference and diversity across the marches can be seen as attacks against what Rancière defines as “our police order.” The “police order” is a set of institutions, norms, people, and communities that structure society in its place. This concept is more easily understood as an entity that polices the ways in which people behave and act. Rene Galindo uses Rancière’s concept of the “police order” alongside dissensus to analyze how Mexican flags were used in the marches to publically affirm immigrants’ undocumented presence. Mexican flags waved by the marchers were not symbols of allegiance to immigrants’ foreign origins but were rather performative actions that protested their invisibility. Galindo shows that the process of cultural assimilation forces undocumented people to hide their nationality when active in the public sphere and that it is only in some acceptable places and on some acceptable occasions that foreign flags are not seen as threatening.[36] The Mexican flag metaphorically embodied the action of “coming out of the shadows” by appearing in public and protesting despite the consequences of deportation and criminalization. In other words, by symbolizing foreignness and representing the ultimate threat to American culture, the action of waving the Mexican flag represented a claiming of one’s own identity in the public context. Moreover, the waving of the flag served to delegitimize the power of the “police order” and the regime of “illegality.”

            The use of speech, signs, and flags at the 2006 marches can be seen as actions of performed citizenship. These actions were not performing the citizenship of citizens–the type of citizenship guaranteed and upheld by the state–but rather a type of radical citizenship that is only attained through action. This radical citizenship is not seeking to gain a guarantee through legal recognition. Instead, this type of citizenship only exists during the time it is performed and in the place of action. By analyzing the marches through the frame of dissensus, we are able to see that even state-granted citizenship has no guarantee. Because of a perpetual “police order” that constrains political freedom and agency, only action and the active claiming of rights can offer a solution to the predicament of citizenship. Linda Bosniak writes, “Possession of citizenship status is not always a prerequisite for the enjoyment of substantive citizenship. In the United States . . . a great many of the rights commonly associated with equal citizenship . . . are not confined to status citizens.”[37] In other words, citizenship is no guarantee of the enjoyment of rights. She remarks that there are first-class undocumented immigrants and second-class citizens. Both the citizen and the undocumented migrant are susceptible to legal vulnerability. It is only through continued action and participation with politics (available both to the undocumented actor and the citizen) that a person can gain a sense of control over his or her own rights.

            In part three of this essay, I will explore the paradox of citizenship, in which the undocumented migrant is paradoxically denied rights as a model participatory democratic actor, while the passive and docile citizen is granted rights. I will offer a theoretical answer to the paradox in a critique of Rancière’s dissensus democracy, where I suggest that the most apt theory of citizenship ignores the state all together.

Part 3: Action as the Precursor of Rights

            As thousands of undocumented immigrants were arrested for coming out to march, hundreds of thousands of remaining protesters persisted albeit the threat of deportation. Conservative news media warned the nation that the “illegal” presence of undocumented immigrants posed an unstoppable threat. Fox News questioned whether or not immigrants deserved citizenship, as their enactments of ethnic and cultural diversity did not accurately fit into “what it means to be an American.”[38] Doug Schoen, a political correspondent for Fox News, argued that the protests needed to prove that undocumented immigrants “want a process to become part of America.”[39] News reports followed, from both the left and the right, discussing the marches in terms of deservingness while frequently posing the question: how or what can the marchers do to show that they deserve citizenship?

            The protestors’ courageous display of cultural diversity resisted the frame of deservingness and instead highlighted the marchers’ active seizing of rights without state recognition. In carrying signs reading, “We Are America,” the protestors declared that the state could not determine their roles as political actors. Even if they could not enjoy legal citizenship, they gained a form of informal recognition from the public at large by embodying the model democratic actor. Despite the very real risk of being deported, the undocumented immigrants demonstrated the core attributes of democratic participation. Bonnie Honig reads Arendt’s analysis of the Declaration of Independence as a speech act that demonstrates or performs what it means to be part of “America.”[40] Honig quotes Arendt, saying that the Declaration was an embodiment of democratic action in that it brought “something into being which did not exist before.”[41] The very act of declaring rights to be “self-evident,” without authorization from King George, created a process of political inclusion that had never previously existed. The essence of democracy, Honig shows, is public political performance. Analogous to American revolutionaries declaring their political freedom, the declarations by undocumented protesters waving “We Are America” signs showed that their political belonging was self-evident, and that they belonged to America even if America didn’t want them.

            Although the majority of American voters did not support amnesty for undocumented immigrants, and the news media defined them as un-American and unwilling to assimilate, the actions of the marchers as a whole exemplified undocumented protesters as model citizens. Perhaps they were not citizens in the legal and cultural sense, but the protesters were exemplars of the participatory democratic spirit on which this nation was founded. Their actions created a source of public recognition and visibility that had never before existed. In doing this, the undocumented protester paradoxically upheld the democratic tenets of a nation that was unwilling to grant them formal citizenship. On one hand, they performed the type of citizenship exhibited during the founding of our nation, but on the other, they were systematically denied political rights and freedoms for which our founding fathers fought. The contradiction of participatory citizenship versus formal citizenship is even more paradoxical when we witness these marches in the backdrop of a rising political apathy across America. The United States has denied political rights to undocumented protesters who have publically participated in democratic debates, but is simultaneously granting citizenship rights to Americans who are politically passive and docile.[42] These protests exposed the paradox of citizenship in which political participation is neither a sufficient or necessary condition of formal inclusion.

            However, if we end our analysis of the 2006 immigrant marches within the context of this citizenship paradox, the undocumented immigrant is fated to a grim future. This paradox shows that no matter what actions these protestors perform, they will never appear deserving of citizenship. If formal citizenship is not concerned with participatory citizenship, then the only route to gain formal rights is to wait for the state to grant them. With increasing deportation of undocumented immigrants since 2006 alongside a slew of stringent federal and state immigration policies, undocumented immigrants are worse off than before. Even President Obama’s proposed 2013 policy to grant amnesty to millions of undocumented immigrants excludes millions of other undocumented migrants who do not meet the appropriate criteria. Formal citizenship will always be susceptible to political flux and thus will never be a guarantee of political freedom.

            Christina Beltran and Rene Galindo’s analysis of the 2006 marches also focused on those aspects that were overtly participatory and performative. They, too, raised the quintessential dilemma of formal citizenship, arguing that the undocumented protestors performed rights instead of waiting to be granted them.[43] However, their analysis along with many other scholarly accounts of the protests depicted the marches as deserving of formal citizenship due to their extensive turnout and massive participation. It is precisely because they acted, these authors argue, that they deserve formal inclusion. Though they define immigrant action as participatory politics, they still locate citizenship as a guarantee granted from the state. In these analyses, the ultimate goal of participation and protest is formal citizenship.

            Likewise, Rancière’s conception of dissensus democracy shows that political action and participation do not seek recognition or state legitimization, but rather attempt to undermine the power of formal institutions. Rancière argues that the goal of politics is to disrupt “the proper” authority of the state and to ground “the supplementary power of the people, which at once founds it and withdraws its foundations.”[44] It is through constant contestation that politics protects difference, individuality, and the democratic spirit. Rancière’s central target of political action is toward the hegemonic “police order” that constrains and suppresses diversity. Thus, citizens within Rancière’s “radical democracy” check the power of the state by continually founding and un-founding formal institutions.

            Viewing the actions of undocumented protesters as either performers seeking formal citizenship or as radical enactors who attempt to undermine state power defines politics as only concerned with or aimed at the state. If the end goal of political participation is formal inclusion, then democratic action does not empower the individual or enable agency, it simply gives the state jurisdiction to determine when and how freedom is possible. Likewise, radical democracy through dissensus locates its ultimate political goal in continual contestation and seeks political action as a means to de-legitimize state power. Either analysis of democratic participation conceptualizes political action as a response to how and when the state acts. However, the 2006 immigrant rights marches empowered themselves by acting irrespective of the state. The protestors did not wait for permission or stop marching when the state began to arrest undocumented immigrants.

            The answer to the predicament of citizenship, then, is to ignore the state all together. The only guarantee of political freedom is to locate politics not within the state but within protest actions themselves. Michaele Ferguson similarly sees politics not as a project of the state but as a performative potential located in every individual. She writes, “The demos as sovereign is a singular self with a discrete will . . . The Sovereign demos rules itself, with no interference from anyone else.”[45] Ferguson draws on Arendt’s theories of sovereignty to argue that the demos–the “people”–hold power over their own actions that are ultimately higher or more legitimate than the power of the state. In other words, no matter the government’s will, individuals as sovereign actors contain the potential to shape the world. Here, politics is not confined to the state. It is within the grasp of all people. The state may define borders, implement legislation, and enforce citizenship through threat of violence, but it cannot take away the power of the sovereign self and its potential for action. In The Human Condition, Arendt defines politics as “the organization of the people as it arises out of acting and speaking together, and its true space lies between people living together for this purpose, no matter where they happen to be. ‘Wherever you go, you will be a polis.’”[46] Politics are not confined to a physical location dictated by the government, but rather democracy forms where people act and speak in unison.

            These marches reaffirmed that undocumented immigrants had the equal right to shape the world. Democracy requires participation, because citizenship will never offer a guarantee. In redefining citizenship, we must conceptualize a status grounded on action. No matter what side of the border one may reside, rights are not passive freedoms but rather they require active participation. Ferguson writes, “We exercise this world-building capacity in a world we inhabit with others, and so democracy sense is also a sense of our nonsovereignty over this world that we nonetheless can play a role in shaping.”[47] Even though borders and nationalities create vulnerabilities, undocumented and stateless migrants posses the power of action and the potential for public recognition. These marches show that citizenship is not clearly defined, but rather, fluid and malleable. Even though the protests did not give the undocumented immigrant a legal guarantee, they empowered the protestors with a sense of informal citizenship–the right to appear in public–during the months of their action. Arendt writes that power “springs up between men when they act together and vanishes the moment they disperse.”[48] The protests did not seek a particular end but were rather an empowering process in themselves. The protests endowed the marchers with power for as long as they sustained their action.


            Even though formal citizenship under the state offers a solution to the unpredictability and unenforceability of human rights, it is no guarantee of political freedom. However, if we try to gain political agency by forming dissensus democracy, then all action must seek to undermine the power of the state. Though legal and illegal immigrants alike protested the abusive immigration system, most protestors simply wanted recognition as legitimate human beings. The marches as a whole showed that citizenship is not simply a legal threshold but a performative measure that must be actively sought. These protestors redefined what it means to be “illegal” by becoming an exemplar of democracy and embodying the revolutionary spirit of America’s founding. The marches showed that our fixation on analyzing social movements in terms of whether or not they influenced the state in a strategic manner is problematic and perhaps inherently incorrect. These marches should not be assessed on their ability to influence policy, as policy provides no guarantee, but rather we should view the marches as successfully empowering rightless migrants through sustained public action. In total, the protestors exemplified self-sovereignty by relying on their own actions to gain rights instead of waiting for the government to provide them. Ultimately, citizenship should be viewed as a self-authorized process of performing rights. The polemic rallying cry, “America, love it or leave it,” thus takes on a subtle and paradoxical new meaning.  A refusal to leave may indeed be the ultimate demonstration of belonging.

[1] Quotes are not exact but are extrapolated stereotypes described in: Cisneros, Josue David. (P.137)

[2] Ferguson. (P.141)

[3] Beltran, “Going Public.” (P.596)

[4] Ferguson. (P.143)

[5] Arendt. The Origins of Totalitarianism. (P.267)

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid. (P.ix)

[8] Kerber. (P.23)

[9] Ibid. (P.24)

[10] Ibid. (P.25)

[11] Arendt. The Origins of Totalitarianism. (P.291)

[12] Ibid. (P.296)

[13] Ibid.

[14] Bhabha. (P.3)

[15] Luibheid. (P.105)

[16] Ibid. (P.125)

[17] Ibid.

[18] Joppke. (P.563). This quote was originally found in Isabel Barber’s senior thesis “Inclusion Vs. Unity” from Bard College’s graduating class of 2010.

[19] Rancière. (P.68)

[20] Ibid. (P.69)

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid. (P.53)

[23] Galindo. (P.38)

[24] Ibid. (P.41)

[25] Ibid. (P.47)

[26] Ferguson. (P.142)

[27] Swarns.

[28] National Public Radio.

[29] De Genova. (P.103)

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ranciere. (P.53)

[32] Beltran, “Going Public.” (P.596)

[33] Ibid. (P.610)

[34] Rancière. (P.53)

[35] Ferguson. (P.115)

[36] Galindo. (P.49)

[37] Bosniak. (P.117)

[38] Fox News.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Honig. Political Theory and the Displacement of Politics. (P.99)

[41] Ibid.

[42] Barber. (P.71)

[43] Beltran, “Going Public.” (P.602). Galindo. (P.39)

[44] Rancière. (P.52)

[45] Ferguson. (P.128)

[46] Arendt. The Human Condition. (P.198)

[47] Ferguson. (P.140)

[48]Arendt. The Human Condition. (P.202)


Arendt, Hannah. Origins of Totalitarianism.  New York: Harcourt, 1968.


                           On Revolution. New York: The Viking Press, 1963.


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Beltrán, Cristina. The Trouble with Unity: Latino Politics and the Creation of Identity. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010.


                            “Going Public: Hannah Arendt, Immigrant Action, and the Space of Appearance.” Political Theory 37.5 (2009): 595-622.


Benhabib, Seyla, and Judith Resnik. Migrations and Mobilities: Citizenship, Borders, and Gender. New York: New York UP, 2009.


Benabib, Sheyla. The Reluctant Modernism of Hannah Arendt. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003.


Bhabha, Jacqueline. “Embodied Rights: Gender Persecution, State Sovereignty, and Refugees.” Public Culture 9.1 (1996): 3-32.


Birmingham, Peg. Hannah Arendt and Human Rights: The Predicament of Common Responsibility. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006.


Bosniak, Linda. The Citizen and the Alien: Dilemmas of Contemporary Membership. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2006.


Cisneros, Josue David. “Looking 'Illegal': Affect, Rhetoric, and Performativity in Arizona's Senate Bill 1070.” 2012.


DeChaine, D. Robert. Border Rhetorics: Citizenship and Identity on the US-Mexico Frontier. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama, 2012.


De Genova, Nicholas. “The Queer Politics of Migration: Reflections on ‘Illegality’ and Incorrigibility.” Studies in Social Justice 4.2 (2010): 101-26.


Ferguson, Michaele L. Sharing Democracy. New York: Oxford UP, 2012.


Flores, William V. “Citizens vs. Citizenry: Undocumented Immigrants & Latino Cultural Citizenship.” In Latino Cultural Citizenship: Claiming Identity, Space, and Rights, edited by Rina Benmayor and William V Flores, 255-278. Boston: Beacon, 1997.


Fox News. “More Immigrants Take to Streets to Protest Proposed Laws,” April 11, 2006.


Galindo, Rene. "Repartitioning the National Community: Political Visibility and Voice for Undocumented Immigrants in the Spring 2006 Immigration Rights Marches." Aztlan: A Journal of Chicano Studies 2nd ser. 35 (2010): 37-64.


Honig, Bonnie. Democracy and the Foreigner. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.


                        Political Theory and the Displacement of Politics. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1993.


Joppke, Christian. “The Legal-Domestic Sources of Immigrant Rights: The United States, and the European Union.” Comparative Political Studies 34, no. 4 (May 2001): 339-366.


Kerber, Linda K. “The Stateless as the Citizen’s Other: A View from the United States.” American Historical Review 112, no. 1 (February 2007): 1-34.http://www.jstor.org/‌stable/‌10.1086/‌ahr.112.1.1.


Kirkpatrick, David D. “Demonstrations on Immigration Harden a Divide.” New York Times, April 17, 2006.


Lacey, Marc. “Arizona Lawmakers Push New Round of Immigration Restrictions.”New York Times,      February 23, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/‌2011/‌02/‌24/‌us/‌24arizona.html?_r=2.


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The Effects of the United States Drone Campaign in Yemen, Tyler Abboud

(Back to top)

In 2002, few Americans were concerned about Yemen. A small country with limited resources and a low GDP, it was not, like Afghanistan and Iraq, at the top of the counter-terror radar. However, that same year, the Bush administration conducted one of the first known Predator drone strikes in the country, killing alleged USS Cole bomber and American citizen Ali Qaeda Senyan al-Harthi, along with five others.[1] For the next seven years, Yemen would remain largely out of the spotlight. It was not until 2009, with the Obama administration in power, a shift occurred. Using the newly empowered Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the United States embarked on a shadow war that, more often than not, remains hidden from the public eye. Since 2009, JSOC, with CIA assistance, has struck Yemen a total of 93 times, 72 of which via drone operation.[2] Between 591 and 807 militants were killed via drone. At the same time, Yemen simultaneously experienced a political upheaval resulting from the Arab Spring protests.[3] Unfortunately, what is seldom asked in popular media or academic discourse is whether or not this series of strikes are "positive" eliminations of the threat of terror. This paper will examine the effects of consistent drone usage and asks a relatively simple question: if the steadily increasing US drone strikes are successful, how will the number of terrorist attacks be affected? If the outcome does not support increased drone usage, then this paper will examine alternate methods of engagement.  

Beginning of AQAP and U.S. Intervention

            Similar to the original Al-Qaeda, Al-Qaeda in Yemen stemmed from the U.S.-funded Mujahideen in Afghanistan. After the war against the Soviets in the 1980s ended, most of the fighters returned home with newfound warfare skills. Former Yemeni President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was not concerned with this new insurgent presence as much as he was with Houthi rebels in the North and renegade tribes in the South. In the 1990s, Yemen was often a transit point for Al-Qaeda fighters since the strong tribal system proved relatively resistant to an Islamist presence. The north-south contention was more of an issue in Yemen than the small presence and transit of Al-Qaeda fighters. This selective attitude of the Saleh Administration would come to a halt on October 12, 2000 when the USS Cole was attacked by Al-Qaeda in the Aden Port in Yemen, killing seventeen American sailors.[4] It was then (and especially after the 9-11 attacks) that Saleh realized in order to maintain positive relations with the U.S., he needed to cultivate a greater working relationship with the U.S.–not one based entirely on military means.

Saleh was notorious for exaggerating threats posed to him by various internal factors to the U.S., while at the same time negotiating Yemen’s tribal system in order to ensure outright power. In order to receive more U.S. military aid, Saleh would often argue that the Houthi Rebels and southern secessionists were receiving support from Iran. Such claims proved categorically false, but due to Saleh’s persuasive nature and the necessity of having another partner in the “War on Terror," the U.S. reluctantly obliged. In 2002 alone, the United States provided Yemen with approximately $400 million in military aid.[5] However, this aid would not assist much, as President Saleh’s regime came to an abrupt end in 2011, when the Arab Spring Protests forced him to resign from his position. The power vacuum left by Saleh sent Yemen into turmoil, despite the improved relationship between the U.S. and succeeding Yemeni president, Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

 Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula’s (AQAP) history began as a result of the unification between the original Al-Qaeda in Yemen and the Al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia in 2009.[6]The powerful security forces of the Saudi ruling family forced Al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia out of the country in the mid 2000s; most of the expelled forces chose to relocate to Yemen. The Saudi fighters were further emboldened by a 2006 jailbreak in Yemen where approximately twenty-three of Al-Qaeda’s most dangerous individuals, including current AQAP leader Naser al-Wuhayshi, escaped with apparent help from inside Yemen’s security service.[7]

Indeed the storm that was brewing in Yemen was evidence of the critical failure of the Obama administration, and slightly that of the Bush administration, during which no Human Intelligence (HUMINT) was collected from Yemen. The United States, in typical fashion with engagements in the Middle East, failed to take into account the on-ground situation of Yemen, with a complex tribal system and Saleh’s hidden agendas. Eventually the failure to take into account these two facts led to the unsuccessful Christmas Day bombing in 2009. Though the attack was not a success, it was significant in that it represented a shift in attention to Yemen, outside of the traditional battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Obama administration, using precedent from the Bush administration, began the infamous “Drone War,” an aggressive ramping up of drone strikes in an effort to eliminate as many AQAP fighters as possible.

Current “Strategy”

One look at the State Department records indicates that the average number of terror attacks in Yemen from 2003 to 2009 was about twenty per year.[8] The threats were relatively regional despite the AQAP merger in April 2009; nonetheless, in July of that same year, General David Petraeus met with President Saleh in an effort to solidify counter-terror bonds. Saleh promised General Petraeus full cooperation “without restrictions or conditions,” and so the drone usage began.[9]

At first, the plans were set to have several large drone attacks occur irregularly. An example of this was the December 17, 2009 attack, which was a miserable failure, killing approximately fifty innocent civilians, including five pregnant women and three children.[10] Only eight days later, the strategy would shift.  On Christmas Day 2009, the U.S. encountered a potential terrorist attack when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, known colloquially as the “underwear bomber,” failed to ignite an explosive device on a Detroit-bound airliner. The attack was another close call for the Obama administration, who coincidentally would amend the drone attacks to become smaller and ideally more precise.

In his National Security Strategy of 2010, President Obama and his advisors outlined the threats they believed deserved the most attention. Typical concerns like nuclear weapons, Afghanistan, and pandemics were given the usual attention, but curiously Yemen was only addressed once in passing, clearly displaying the lack of HUMINT. In fact, the largest concern at the time for the Obama administration was Pakistan. In Pakistan, the drone strikes quickly increased from a scant forty-seven under the Bush administration, to the current 318 under the Obama administration.[11] In some respects, the drone usage was a mild success in Pakistan, because it rooted out the original Al-Qaeda, which was quickly replaced by the Haqqani Network and the Pakistani Taliban. Unfortunately, the Obama administration believed it could replicate the same strategy in Yemen following the Christmas Day plot. Herein lies the problem; in Pakistan, Al-Qaeda was a foreign network comprised of Arabs in a Central Asian area, whereas AQAP is a group of Yemenis based in Yemen. AQAP thrives off of Yemen’s tribal culture, and its willingness not to engage tribal leaders as targets, is indicative of its subordinate presence. 

Keeping the drone presence slightly limited, the Obama administration conducted nine drone strikes on Yemen in 2010, while the number of terrorist attacks would spike to about 110 in the same year, reflecting the beginning of a major problem.[12] The growing number of terrorist attacks was matched by an increase in drone operations. 2011 saw a total of eleven strikes, with eight by drone. 2011 would also see the end of President Saleh, who succumbed to the Arab Spring protests. Despite this change, U.S. intervention would increase substantially.

With President Hadi assuming power in the 2011 Yemeni election, in which he was the only individual on the ballot, the U.S. believed it had a more willing partner against AQAP. Since coming to power, President Hadi has managed to obtain approximately $600 million in U.S. aid, with the bulk of that going to military expenses. The U.S. also increased its drone presence by conducting fifty-five drone strikes in 2012.[13] Coupled with the increase in drone strikes was an increase in terrorist attacks, as the number soared to an incredible 203 incidents. Only four years ago, the Maplecroft Terror Index placed Yemen as the twenty-third most dangerous nation in the world; today the situation is entirely different since Yemen has earned the infamous top spot in the Maplecroft rankings.[14] The prominent Yemeni scholar, Gregory Johnsen, has estimated that the number of AQAP fighters in Yemen has swelled from the original three hundred to over one thousand.[15]

The situation has gotten so out-of-hand in Yemen that one of the United States’ covert operations architects, former General Stanley McChrystal, warned that drone usage, especially in Yemen, has become a “covert fix for a complex problem.”[16]  General McChrystal also said that the United States was not investigating the rising motivation behind the ever-growing threat in Yemen, and because of this fault, its campaign was doomed to fail.

            Even when the Obama administration attempted to alter its engagement course, a drone presence remained at the forefront. For example, in the spring of 2012, when the Yemeni government undertook a major operation to uproot AQAP and their new offshoot, Ansar al-Sharia, from their strongholds in the Abyan Province. The operation consisted of 20,000 Yemeni troops tactically backed by various tribal leaders and U.S. drone presence. It took this major coalition about two months to uproot approximately one hundred AQAP fighters. The U.S. State Department commented on this Abyan operation as one that “regained government control of the south,” a commentary that is optimistic at best.[17]

The Abyan operation did in fact root AQAP out of urban strongholds, but because of their deep affiliations with the local community in Abyan, AQAP was able to remain in the province and continues to conduct asymmetric warfare against the government. AQAP has planted itself in the Abyan community in the same way as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza: by providing local services such as medical care and policing. Through this, AQAP is able to cement relationships that the Yemeni government and the U.S., cannot. Farea al-Muslimi, a Yemeni activist, expressed this to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when he stated, “The drone strikes have become the face of America.”[18]


The above-mentioned facts suggest that as U.S. drone strikes increase, terrorist attacks and instability increase as well. Sadly, the Obama administration will more than likely choose to continue the drone strategy, since 2013 is projected to be the first year in which drone strikes in Yemen outpace those in Pakistan. This is also indicative of a switch of attention away from Central Asia back to the Middle East.[19]  Should the Obama administration choose to reverse course, it must do so in a manner that complies with both international law and constitutional requirements. Increasing the strike requirements will have a positive effect on the U.S., since it can continue to engage AQAP, while at the same time ensuring it does not overplay its hand. 

First and foremost, the United States or, more specifically, Congress must update the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF). The 2001 AUMF was passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and permits the U.S. to target and attack Al-Qaeda and its “affiliates,” wherever they may be.[20] The irony here is that most of the individuals who end up on the U.S.’s current kill list fall under the “signature strike” protocol. The controversial signature strike protocol allows the U.S. to engage specific individuals on the basis of certain lifestyle patterns without knowing the target’s name. Essentially, this means the U.S. is targeting individuals who may or may not belong to AQAP based on their lifestyle, not actionable intelligence. Specific requirements for a signature strike remain largely hidden from both the U.S. public and Congress as the Obama administration has indicated a preference for Title 50 Operations. Title 50 Operations permit the President to undertake “covert” military engagements under a black budget that remains shielded from any oversight. Indeed this very same authority is what permitted the U.S. to neither confirm nor deny the December 17, 2009 drone strike.  Such a practice is exceptionally ripe for abuse and a prime reason why figures on civilian casualties, government cooperation, and compensation totals remain completely shielded from the public.

Many U.S. international lawyers and intelligence officials have asserted that with the 2001 AUMF, the U.S. can engage AQAP on the basis of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), colloquially known as the "laws of war." United Nations Special Rapporteur on Counterterrorism, Ben Emmerson, has noted that a substantial majority of the world’s international lawyers and policy makers disagree with this notion, citing the 2001 AUMF’s ambiguity and a lack of consistent threat to United States homeland security.[21]Abandoning the signature strike protocol in favor of the “personality strike” protocol would decrease the number of U.S. strikes as well. The “personality strike” protocol guarantees that strikes mark clear threats, since they can only be committed if the target has been tracked and verified for an extended period of time. Undergoing this switch would clear up any legal ambiguities pertaining to (IHL) and surely limit the number of strikes in a more effective manner.

Today, eighty-seven nations are in possession of drone technology and their potential for abuse is excruciatingly high.[22] If the U.S. expects to maintain credibility, it must lead the international charge in working to build a more rigid structure for drone usage. If not, the consequences could be dire, especially if nations like Russia, China, and Iran point to the liberal usage of drones by the United States as a casus belli against self-perceived insurgents. Considering that autonomous robots are on the rise and that their intended use is for warfare in the United States, the world must guarantee that the law is not outpaced by technology. If the U.S. fails to address these deteriorating situations quickly, the potential for abuse, through blowback or war crimes, could be disastrous.


[1] "CIA Kills Al-Qaeda Suspects in Yemen." BBC News. BBC, 11 May 2002. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.

[2] Taylor, Letta, and Farea Al Muslimi. ""Between a Drone and Al-Qaeda"" Human Rights Watch, 2013. Web.

[3] (Taylor, L, 34)

[4] CNN Library. "USS Cole Bombing Fast Facts." CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.

[5] United States of America. Department of State. Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. US-Yemen Relations. N.p.: n.p., 2013. Print.

[6] (Taylor L, 36)

[7] Roggio, Bill. "Al Qaeda Jailbreak in Yemen." The Long War Journal, 8 Feb. 2006. Web.

[8] Scahill, Jeremy. New York City: Nation, 2013. Print.

[9] Hudson, Leila, Colin S. Owens, and David J. Callen. "Drone Warfare in Yemen: Fostering Emirates through Counterterrorism?" Middle East Policy XIX.3 (2012): 142-156. Print.

[10] United States of America. The Office of the White House. National Security. National Security Strategy. N.p.: n.p., 2010. Print.

[11] Osbourne, Annie. Air and Drone Wars in Yemen: Analysis. Rep. Washington D.C: New America Foundation, 2013. Print.

[12] (Osbourne)

[13] (Scahill, 334)


[15] Wittes, Benjamin. "Gregory Johnsen on Yemen and AQAP." Lawfare. Brookings Institution, n.d. Web.

[16] Byers, Dylan. "McChrystal on Drones." Politico.com. N.p., 15 Feb. 2013. Web

[17] (US-Yemeni Relations)

[18] Muslimi, Farea. "My Village Was Attacked By US Drone in Yemen." Al-Monitor. Al-Monitor, 18 Apr. 2013. Web.

[19] Fair, Christine C. "Drones, Spies, Terrorists, and Second Class Citizenship." Social Science Research Network, n.d. Web.

[20] Wall, Andru E. "Demystifying the Title 10-Title 50 Debate." Harvard National Security Review 3 (2011): 85-138. Web.

[21] United Nations. Counter Terror. Special Rapporteur. Study on Targeted Killings. By Ben Emmerson. 26th ed. Vol. 14. New York: n.p., 2013. Print.

[22] Taylor, Guy. "24/7 Newsfeed." Reason.com. N.p., 10 Nov. 2013. Web.


U.S. Coastal Retreat Historical Analysis, Policy Options, and Political Willingness, Nicholas Story

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1. Introduction

The recent impacts of Hurricane Sandy brought many issues to the public sphere, especially in regard to climate change and human adaptation to natural disasters. Coastal disasters stemming from hurricanes, floods, or Nor’easters have become frequent occurrences. Climate models predict a rise in sea level and an increase in temperature that indicate an increase in frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events (Knutson, 2013). The range of predictions for sea level rise by 2100 is 0.6 to 6.6 feet (7.1 in the Appendix). Even a small rise in sea level can have detrimental effects on a coastal community. Thirty-nine percent of the American population lives in coastal zones (NOAA, 2012a). Efforts to mitigate potential hazard impacts in flood-prone areas should be taken, and to a certain extent they already are. However, the United States continues to build and rebuild after hazard events in areas prone to natural hazards, allowing exposure to grow. It is necessary to address this issue. Current natural hazard policy focuses on response rather than avoidance. In light of predictions for an increase of disaster events we must reconsider current policy to focus more on how to avoid disaster rather than how to react to disaster. Coastal retreat needs to be addressed.

 “Disasters are often used as windows of opportunity to rebuild more safely than before. The United States, however, tends to rebuild after disasters as quickly as possible, often recreating or worsening the level of vulnerability that allowed the disaster to happen” (Platt, 2000, p. 2). U.S. land use policy does not adequately address potential futures or the sustainability of development in our regulatory actions after large disaster events, which can create a similar disaster scenario for future inhabitants.

American land-use policy has enacted zoning measures on new development in hazard prone areas under the term “safe construction practices” (for example: minimum elevation required or strengthening against wind damage), but measures to restrict building in these zones have been backpedaled in response to a national increase in property rights organizations (PROs). These grassroots organizations proliferated in the 1990s in reaction to government regulation on new development for environmental (or other purposes) without compensation (Platt, 1999). Responding in fear that non-compensatory restrictions on properties in hazard zones may be held as “takings” under the Fifth Amendment (“Nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation”), the U.S. government has allowed development to continue in hazard-prone areas, albeit with “safe construction practices” tacked on in recent cases (Platt, 1999). Government fear of doling out “just compensation” for properties located in hazard zones increased public exposure to natural disasters and modified American hazard policy to one of response rather than one of avoidance. It gave owners the right to continue building on their property and in turn promoted higher population densities that are increasingly more vulnerable. Furthermore, the government’s reaction to PROs cannot address the issue of vulnerable populations on already developed land and restricts efforts to alleviate future burdens of climate change predictions. 

Given the current frequency of coastal natural disasters and predicted increases in their magnitude and frequency, it is apparent that mitigation and preparedness for such events must be analyzed in a comprehensive way to determine the best approach for planning for disasters in coastal regions. The objectives of this paper are to (1) assess how the U.S. came to favor a policy of disaster response, (2) compare and contrast different approaches to coastal retreat, (3) address the benefits and drawbacks of policy options available to legislators and (4) analyze selected coastal states for their degree of willingness to retreat from the coast.  

2. Literature Review: the Impact of American Policy Decisions

In order to understand hazard policy decisions in America we must first address its history of natural and man-made hazards, highlighting the government response to these events. The enactment of the first natural hazard policy in America stems from a string of accidents that occurred under the laissez-faire and free enterprise mentality of the early 20th century.  Progressive reform and regulation of the “invisible hand” attracted many mainstream middle class Americans. Seeking to enact more government regulation over corporations and private interest, this movement solidified its presence after two shocking man-made disasters, namely the burning of the Triangle Shirt Waist factory in New York City, 1911, and the sinking of the Titanic, 1912: both of these disasters were brought on by poor planning and human error. The 10-story Triangle Shirt Waist factory was too tall for firefighting technology of the era to handle, resulting in 146 casualties. The Titanic only provided enough emergency lifeboats for half of its capacity, resulting in 1,635 deaths. The number of lifeboats provided was due to the hubris of its maker, the White Star Line, who boasted that the ship was unsinkable (Platt, 1999). The U.S. government soon enacted regulations on building height and helped strengthen international requirements for safety at sea. The reaction to these events marked an increase in government regulation on private activity and common law nuisance (an activity that is harmful or annoying to others, regulated after a nuisance is identified) to avoid similar occurrences.

A few years after these incidents, questioning the efficacy of common law nuisance itself, Professor Ernst Freund of the University of Chicago Law School posed that reasonable government regulation of private activity–the “police power”–was needed to safeguard the public:

The common law of nuisance deals with nearly all the more serious flagrant violations of the interests which the police power protects, but it deals with evils only after they have come into existence, and it leaves the determination of what evil is very largely to the particular circumstance of each case. The police power endeavors to prevent evil by checking the tendency toward it and it seeks to place a margin of safety between that which is permitted and that which is sure to lead to injury or loss. This can be accomplished to some extent by establishing positive standards and limitations which must be observed, although to step beyond them would not necessarily create a nuisance at common law.   

Public intervention and regulation by the government after this questioning of common law nuisance increased, leading to the establishment of zoning laws and urban reform. In 1916, New York City adopted the first comprehensive urban land use zoning law; a decade later it had spread to several hundred cities (Platt, 1999). One influential case in the expansion of land use zoning was the 1926 decision in the case Amber Realty v. Village of Euclid, where the practice of urban land use zoning was upheld by the court (since referred to by planners as “Euclidean Zoning”).

During the same breadth of time, many coastal/water-related hazards were reported: the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, the Miami Hurricane of 1926, the Lower Mississippi Flood of 1927, and the New England Hurricane of 1938. Yet, no government regulation of the era addressed the issue of zoning in areas prone to flood. Government regulations separated condominiums from single-family homes and kept adult bookstores away from elementary schools but did not regulate the location of communities in areas of natural hazard risk. The government did, however, build massive works and undergo projects to protect communities from natural disasters.

2.1 Flood Control Act of 1927

After the Mississippi Flood of 1927, which inundated 27,000 square miles of land with as much as 30 feet of water (Risk Management Solutions, 2007), Congress established the Flood Control Act of 1927 (FCA). It called for a taming of the nation’s rivers. The projects that emanated from this act were questionable in their breadth and did not meet the criteria of the Mississippi River Commission (MRC), an influential group of concerned civil engineers (Pearcy, 2002). The American government during the passing of the FCA was very conservative, making the issue of whether or not the federal government should intervene in disasters a highly debated topic. Previously, natural disasters were seen as “Acts of God” and mostly funded and under the purview of charitable donations, volunteers, local authorities, and churches (Platt, 1999). On May 15, 1928, President Coolidge signed the FCA of 1928 stating that the Federal government–not the state or local authorities–were responsible for the containment of the Lower Mississippi River (Risk Management Solutions, 2007). This had great implications for the role that the federal government played in times of disaster and led to other federally funded acts and programs that furthered their responsibility.

2.2 The Federal Disaster Relief Act       

         In 1950, Congress passed the Federal Disaster Relief Act (FDRA). Unlike the FCA, the FDRA specifically addressed disaster recovery and assistance, giving the President, at the request from a governor, the power to supplement disaster scenarios with federal assistance, as well as the power to decide when an event was significant enough to warrant federal assistance (Federal Emergency Management Agency, n.d.). The act stated that federal disaster assistance would “supplement the efforts and available resources of the state and local governments” (Federal Emergency Management Agency, n.d.), with the federal government only intervening if the disaster became large enough to warrant its assistance. Furthermore, a contingency for federal involvement was placed on the condition that state and local governments invested a reasonable amount of funding into disaster relief; this amount was relative to the area in question (Federal Emergency Management Agency, n.d.).

The purpose of the FDRA was to “provide for an orderly and continuing method of rendering assistance to the state and local governments in alleviating suffering and damage resulting from a major peacetime disaster… and in restoring public facilities and in supplementing whatever aid the state or local governments can render themselves” (Platt, pg. 12, 1999). Although the act only authorized $5 million for funds allocated to disaster relief (Platt, 1999), it marked a new era of how the government viewed disaster events and provided at least a minimal measure of government intervention and a new model for future disaster laws.

2.3 The Small Business Administration Disaster Loan Program

In 1953, the Small Business Administration Disaster Loan Program (SBADLP) was established under the Small Business Act. When a disaster strikes, the SBADLP is automatically activated and citizens or business owners that have incurred a loss are eligible to take out a loan at a low rate. The purpose of this is to ensure that people can get back to their way of life quickly after a disaster and rebuild their business or home (Riviera, 2012). However, the SBADLP supports the permanent placement of a house or business by giving those eligible an extra 20% of their loan total towards mitigation measures that will hopefully prevent future property loss (Small Business Administration, 2011). The SBADLP does support mitigation efforts but does not encourage the movement out of hazard prone areas.  

2.4 The National Flood Insurance Program

The year 1956 ushered in the era of the Flood Insurance Program, and for good reason–ninety percent of all disasters in the United States are flood-related (Platt, 1999). The true measures of this program were not realized until the mid 1960s, but the effects it has had on the distribution and development of coastal communities would suggest that it has been around much longer. Following a string of flood events that cost the federal government a fortune to clean up (in association with large increases in the money allocated for federal response actions under the FDRA), Congress, with support from the Task Force on Federal Flood Control Policy, began looking for other ways to defer costs of hazard cleanup on property owners themselves (Platt, 1999). The answer was the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

The NFIP was designed to offer property owners flood insurance at low cost. However, insurance was only provided to communities that took action to decrease their vulnerability to flooding. This was meant to encourage smart development in flood-prone areas but actually had negative consequences that will be discussed soon. The NFIP was small at first but expanded its scope under the Flood Protection Act of 1973 (FPA), which required property owners to purchase flood insurance policies if they were receiving federal funding involving flood-prone property. This drastically increased the number of people with government flood insurance policies, and also, at first, allowed for disaster cleanup to fund itself (Platt, 1999). However, by 1997 the program was in debt totaling $1.1 billion and still only covered an estimated 20 to 25 percent of flood prone properties. One of the main criteria for instituting the NFIP was the assumption that it would maintain itself (Maher, 2008). This is not the case anymore, as extensive coastal and riparian flooding has exacted high tolls for the repair and rebuilding of damaged property while a relatively low number of flood-prone properties pay into the plan.

There are many problems with the NFIP. One concern is the relatively high rate of repetitive losses. A repetitive loss property is one that has received two or more claim payments over $1,000 in a ten-year period (Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2007). These properties are costly for taxpayers and pose a high risk to residents who may be threatened by continual flooding. In a report done by the National Wildlife Federation, 774 communities were identified as having a history of repetitive losses. Between 1978 and 1993, 8,000 properties received 24,800 insurance claims totaling to $291 million (National Wildlife Federation, 1998). One property in Houston has been flooded 16 times and awarded a total of $807,000 in repairs, which is more than seven times its market value (Warrick, 2002). Repeatedly paying the price to repair a property that has been flooded over and over is a waste of resources. Residents should instead be encouraged to move out of these areas. But given the government fear of taking a stand on buying out property that poses a public nuisance, little has been done.

This fear can be seen in the formulation of the NFIP. Private insurance companies increase the premiums on properties once a property takes damage. This is not the case in the NFIP in an attempt to maintain affordability. Most private insurers have ceased flood insurance policies due to the inability to afford the hefty price of covering claims from extensive flooding events, forcing the government to intervene. This lack of increasing premiums negates the other reasons for the introduction of NFIP, the desire to support sound development practices and decrease vulnerability in flood-prone regions. In keeping the insurance premium at the same rate, property owners that have incurred repetitive losses have no monetary incentive to relocate. The government will keep paying for these losses. Increasing insurance premiums would create more negative incentive to relocate after a disaster. 

Government provision of flat rate insurance premiums presents a moral hazard. The government is trying to decrease vulnerability and provide relief from natural hazard events through the passing of legislation and allocating government funding. The observed effects are sustained vulnerability and the lengthening of time needed to relocate populations into residential areas that have lower probabilities of hazard risk.  Repetitive loss is more prolific than the above findings in the National Wildlife Federation study would suggest. Approximately 37% of repetitive loss properties have flooded three or more times, with payments totaled to $1.4 billion (53% of repetitive loss payments) (Platt, 1999). The NFIP is deteriorating its own capability to collect payments by not addressing the real issue: solutions need to be found to relocate these populations to where they are not a threat to themselves or a burden on taxpayers.

2.5 The Stafford Act

The next prominent act to pass through congress was the Stafford Act. The objectives of the Stafford act are as follows:

(1) Revising and broadening the scope of existing disaster relief programs; (2) encouraging the development of comprehensive disaster preparedness and assistance plans . . . ;  (3) achieving greater coordination and responsiveness of disaster preparedness and relief programs;  (4) encouraging individuals, states, and local governments to protect themselves by obtaining insurance coverage . . . ; (5) encouraging hazard mitigation measures to reduce losses from disasters, including development of land use and construction regulations…; (6) and providing federal assistance programs for both public and private losses sustained in disasters. (Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2013)

Notably, the Stafford Act officially established that 75% of the damage done by major natural hazards falls under the responsibility of federal government (Platt, 1999). This is a large extension of the federal role in natural disasters. Increasing the federal responsibilities and funding during a natural hazard event is a good measure that allows communities to return to normalcy faster without the stress of finding funding. But the Stafford Act also requires that damaged properties be built in the same location, to the exact same building code standard (Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2013), furthering the moral hazard. The Stafford Act is a non-progressive approach at redevelopment post-disaster and it is hard to imagine a community gathering in support of rebuilding a 70-year old hospital or a 40-year old school or the two-lane bridge that backed traffic up for miles on a daily basis. The act could at least use funding to build structures that have a higher resilience to floods. The Stafford Act disregards positive planning for changes needed and maintains that the best solution is to rebuild in a hazard-prone area. The moral hazard is repeated. Instead of finding other solutions to relocate people to less vulnerable areas the U.S. government continues to put them in harm’s way, at the expense of taxpayers, and continues to avoid the underlying issues. While the Stafford Act does have many positive aspects in terms of emergency response and the allocation of federal funding, it is no milestone in the prevention of future risks. An increase in federal funding does not necessarily equate to a better solution.

3. Selected Methods of Relocation

Despite federal insistence that communities be rebuilt in hazard areas as they were prior to loss, coastal communities and states are not powerless to address coastal hazards. There are ways to acquire property that has been damaged by flood events but, according to current legislation, the owner of the property has to voluntarily sell. The acquisition of property is most effective at reducing flood losses before a disaster strikes (Lewis, 2012). After disasters, long-term decisions are harder to make, as the community generally wants to get their lives put back together again and return to normalcy. Questions of whether rebuilding is the best strategy are waylaid as the sense of urgency abounds (Lewis, 2012). However, in most cases, it seems to take a disaster for the planning of the acquisition of property to take place. In the next subsections I will discuss one program that was enacted post-disaster and one plan that has been laid out pre-disaster and highlight their differences.

3.1 The Road Home Program

One such acquisition project implemented after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita was Louisiana’s Road Home Program. The program was not intended to reduce the vulnerability of coastal populations: it was designed to compensate residents for losses incurred. Roughly 10,000 households voluntarily relocated under this initiative but over 200,000 households were destroyed. Congress replied to this disaster with $11.5 billion allocated for states along the Gulf Coast with Louisiana receiving $6.5 billion at first, an additional $3 billion later from Congress, and another $1.2 billion from the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. The money was pooled to provide assistance to the Homeowner Assistance Program in rebuilding communities that suffered the most losses. Homeowners had three options to receive their benefits: 1) rebuild 2) sell and purchase another home in Louisiana or 3) sell and purchase a home out of state (Lewis, 2012; Road Home Program, 2006).

There are some concerns with this program. Those that chose option one (rebuild) were not required to rebuild with mitigation techniques, such as elevating their house, although more funding was given to those who would go through with recommended mitigation actions. Ninety-two percent of those whose claims were accepted chose to rebuild, and twenty-five percent of those chose to go ahead with the recommended mitigation (Lewis, 2012; Road Home Program, 2006). Those choosing the first option were compensated fully for their loss. Eight percent chose to relocate. But those who did decide to relocate were undercompensated for their losses, which could have incentivized the option to stay for many. Homeowners that selected option two (sell and remain in state) were subject to an automatic 30% reduction in compensation price if they did not have flood insurance and, as noted in the previous section, the majority of homeowners do not have flood insurance. Those who chose option three (sell and move out of state) could receive no more than 60% of the value of their home. Homeowners who chose option two were subject to the same 40% penalty of those who chose option three if they could not find a new house within 180 days (Lewis, 2012; Road Home Program, 2006).

The options posed to homeowners gave preference to those who wished to stay by penalizing them the least. This incited no financial incentive to relocate. However, the Road Home Program was relatively effective in comparison to other programs. The relocation of 10,000 households and the acquisition of their property has been greatest success in any program thus far in terms of residents moving out of vulnerable areas.

3.2 The Mississippi Coastal Improvement Program

There are plans that focus on relocation prior to a hurricane event but they do not yet have funding. The Mississippi Coastal Improvement Program (MsCIP) is the most ambitious of these, as it calls for the relocation of a vulnerable 75-mile stretch of developed area located on the Gulf Coast (see 7.2 in Appendix). The MsCIP recognizes the problems of “significant damage to structures and infrastructure… due to hurricane-induced storm surge, significant erosion of the coastal landscape with subsequent damage to … man-made infrastructure” and the opportunity to “reduce the susceptibility of residential, commercial, and public structures and infrastructure to hurricane-induced storm damages” (Army Corps of Engineers, 2009), rather than merely trying to compensate owners for their losses. The MsCIP would provide a significant risk reduction to over 58,000 parcels within the 100-year floodplain and would restore over 30,000 acres of coastal habitats that also serve as an absorptive buffer for storm surge (Army Corps of Engineers, 2009). This would affect 15,000 residential and commercial structures that are in the high hazard area (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2009). The MsCIP highlights the need for the voluntary acquisition of properties but does not exclude the use of eminent domain (a government-ordered buyout of property that poses a public nuisance), which is needed in order to successfully relocate residents to areas of less hurricane-induced risk.

There are two phases recommended for the MsCIP that span 30-40 years. These are noted in the Long Term High Hazard Risk Reduction Plan (HARP). Phase I will seek to buyout 2,000 of the existing 15,000 high-hazard properties, targeting those that are currently undeveloped so as to decrease the probability of new development. Phase II is automatically initiated when a hurricane hits the area and starts the action of “wide-scale relocation” (Lewis, 2012). The reason for this is that reconstruction of properties after Hurricane Katrina and Rita have come too far to prompt the voluntary relocation of a significant number of residents. Residents have complained that the program is “too much, too late” (Lewis, 2012). In order to balance the needs of the public it was determined that eminent domain would not come into play until after a hurricane event and prior to future reconstruction of damaged buildings (Army Corps of Engineers, 2009; Lewis, 2012).

One very significant finding in the cost/benefit analysis of HARP and the environmental impact statement is “the recognition that acquisition is a more cost-effective long term strategy than protection of properties in high-hazard areas through seawalls, levees and other structural means” (Lewis, 2012, p. 128). Yearly damages to property were expected to range from $22-$23 million and Phase I of the acquisition was estimated to cost $24 million per year, but only over the span of five years (Army Corps of Engineers, 2009). The yearly estimates for property damage would continue far past a five-year span.

MsCIP is a refreshing take on government initiative to retreat from the coast. By conceding that coastal populations are at risk to coastal hazards and addressing the plan prior to hurricane events the MsCIP furthers the ability of similar programs to be established by increasing the knowledge of planners and those who are affected. While the buyout does wait for the next hurricane event to fully relocate the population in the 100-year floodplain, like the Road Home Program, the best way to fully relocate a population in this type of acquisition is to have the system already in place prior to a hurricane event. By having the system in place, the likelihood of attaining federal funding for a buyout of the high hazard area increases and the overall vulnerability to hurricane events of the American population decreases.

4. State Policy Options to Address Sea Level Rise

There are many policy options that states can take to prevent increased vulnerability to coastal populations. States and communities must decide, in a case-by-case analysis, whether to defend shoreline properties/communities or allow them to be taken by the sea. Each option has its own benefits and drawbacks within a situated place (See 7.3 in the Appendix). Some communities may not have a choice in the matter, as regulatory measures on development, or shoreline armoring, have been in place for decades. Properties that have had shoreline armoring for decades, in the form of dikes or seawalls, may not easily be able to switch to a living shoreline or retreat approach if erosion and natural processes have already made the transition uneconomical or labor-intensive. The seawall may be the only thing protecting the community from the high tide.

4.1 Defensive Policy Options

Defensive policy options include shoreline armoring, beach nourishment, or living shorelines. In the following subsections I will highlight the benefits and drawbacks of each approach. This will include environmental and property concerns as well as each option’s ability to reduce vulnerability to coastal populations.


4.1.1 Shoreline Armoring

Shoreline armoring protects development with structures such as dikes, seawalls or bulkheads. The use of such structures is common in many coastal communities with a history of flooding. There are two well-documented benefits to shoreline armoring. However, these mainly benefit the property owner, and only for so long. (1) Shoreline armoring can retain the value of waterfront property and (2) is currently preserving millions of dollars of real estate in coastal communities (O'Connell, 2010; Titus, 2011). Conversely, real estate just inland of these properties is significantly less. One drawback in this is that as shoreline armoring increases even coastal properties see a decrease in real estate value (O'Connell, 2010; Titus, 2011).

Environmental impacts from the use of shoreline armoring will increase as sea level rises (Rodil et al., 2008). As beaches narrow between the sea and armored infrastructure, critical habitat and vegetation is lost (Schlacher et al., 2007). Loss of habitat from shoreline armoring has been associated with significant two- to thirty-six-fold impacts on beach zones, macro-invertebrates, foraging shorebirds, and roosting gulls and seabirds on open coast beaches (Rodil et al., 2008). Also, many beneficial functions of coastal ecosystems are lost with the addition of shoreline armoring; inland sediment loads become trapped behind infrastructure, increasing erosion rates on the seaward side and further down the coast (NOAA, 2012b); beaches, a main economic attraction for many coastal communities, recede (NOAA, 2012); the absorption of wave energy by coastal vegetation and sand dunes decreases (Defeo et al., 2009); and the reflection of wave energy by hard structures increases (Holmes, 2001), posing more potential risk to coastal communities as sea level increases.

            Shoreline armoring has immediate benefits, and if preservation of a coastal community is the desired action then shoreline armoring is a means to a short-term end. As sea level rises, communities relying on shoreline armoring increase their vulnerability. Climate models are calling for a 0.6-6.6 foot rise in sea level by the year 2100. Policy should reflect this by requiring property lines to retreat as the sea rises. While the existence of shoreline armoring may lessen the severity of storm events, their use is an ill adaptation for long-term planning against predicted sea level rise. 

4.1.2 Beach Nourishment

Beach nourishment is the practice of building up the beach with sand dredged from other locations. The process preserves property lines and increases beach width, protecting property from storm surge and maintaining tourism revenue. Beach nourishment is favored over shoreline armoring both economically and environmentally (Defeo et al., 2009).

Beach nourishment is an ongoing investment and needs to be redone periodically depending on local erosion rates. Rates of erosion vary depending on local factors, and the durability of nourishment is questionable. Twenty-six percent of replenished US Atlantic Coast barrier island beaches effectively disappear in less than one year, sixty-two percent last between two and five years, and twelve percent remain for more than five years (Daniel, 2001). Depending on the rate of erosion, beach nourishment can become costly. Between 1950 and 2002 the U.S. spent at least $2.5 billion on beach nourishment (In $2002). Analysis of federal expenditures shows a trend that more and more federal money is invested yearly. Federal appropriations between 1995 and 2002 accounted for more than half of this $2.5 billion ($787 million) (Smith et al., 2009). Increases in yearly expenditure can mean: (1) more beaches are being nourished, (2) the amount of developed coastal property is increasing or (3) the rate of coastal erosion is increasing. The answer is a combination of all three. When does the cost of beach nourishment outweigh protection for coastal communities?

            Environmental costs to beach nourishment are a concern and impacts are seen at both the dredging and receiving environments. Recovery of ecosystems does occur after initial disturbance. The rate of recovery in the receiving environment is dependent upon sediment quality and sediment pairing between the two environments: foreign fine grain sediment mixed with coarse sediment may cause severe ecological impacts and hinder or cease recovery (Defeo et al., 2009). Environmental impacts of beach nourishment are less than coastal armoring, but great care is needed to ensure ecosystem recovery.

4.1.3 Living Shorelines

Living shorelines are a recent addition to coastal mitigation technology. The process uses plants, sand, oyster reefs, and limited use of rock to stabilize the shoreline (decrease erosion) and protect and maintain valuable habitat. Living shorelines improve water quality from the filtration of upland runoff, provide a buffer zone to absorb wave impacts from storm surge, and are often less costly than beach nourishment or shoreline armoring projects (CCRM, 2013; Chesapeake Bay Foundation, 2007; NOAA, 2013). There are many benefits, but its application cannot mitigate loss in areas that experience high wave energy (Chesapeake Bay Foundation, 2007). Even so, many states are investing in living shorelines. California, North Carolina, New York, Maryland, and Delaware all have ongoing projects. Living shorelines are a way to strike a balance between the need to provide protection from the coast with the need to preserve natural ecosystems.  

4.2 Policy Options for Retreat

Policy options for retreat include minimum setbacks from the coastline and rolling easements. These options provide a legal basis for government acquisition of property once a property is determined to be within a set distance of coastal encroachment. In the following subsections I will highlight the benefits and drawbacks of each approach, including environmental and property concerns as well as each option’s ability to reduce vulnerability to coastal populations.

4.2.1 Minimum Setbacks

A minimum setback defines a zone in which new construction is prohibited. In coastal environments the distance spans from the ocean to a defined environmental demarcation, such as the dune line or vegetation line. This allows for ecosystem preservation, a decrease in property vulnerability for new development, and avoidance of shoreline armoring projects. Houses already within the defined setback zone can be denied expansion or rebuilding after a disaster. Criterion for rebuilding within the setback zone can be set so that structures more than 50% damaged are denied rebuilding permits.

The defined line expands or contracts with the accretion or loss of the line’s basis. If the vegetation retreats inland then a zone based on the vegetation line moves inland as well. However, basing a minimum setback on an annual survey of the coastline boundary to determine erosion or vegetation trends is labor-intensive. Ten to twenty-year survey measurements can be the basis of the defined line. The defined zone setback distance can be based on 50-100-year predictions of sea level rise, or it can be given an arbitrary distance.

Zone distance should account for ecosystem preservation. Inadequate setbacks can have severe impacts on local flora and fauna in combination with sea level rise. A setback of 10 meters has been shown to significantly affect Hawksbill sea turtle populations. One-hundred percent of Hawksbill nesting areas in Barbados would be lost with a 10-meter setback and an intermediate rise (0.5 m) in sea level (Fish et al., 2008). Not considering the local ecosystem in setback determinations can have large consequences, such as decreases in tourist-driven revenue or loss of critical wave energy absorbing flora. Setting adequate determinations of setbacks requires analysis of local environmental and anthropocentric dynamics. Coastal vulnerability to property is a combination of development proximity and the presence, or lack of presence, of environmental barriers to sea level rise. Analysis of local factors in combination with predictions of sea level rise can provide policy makers an adequate distance for minimum setbacks.    

4.2.2 Rolling Easements

Rolling easements are “a collection of arrangements, under which human activities are required to yield the right of way to naturally migrating shores” (Titus, 1998, p. 1313). The basis of such arrangements are strips of land that are defined by and move with the coastal boundary (Strack, 2011). All property remains in the possession of the owner of the upland property but the public has the right of beach access under the Public Trust Doctrine. In order to achieve this, shore protection must be banned in certain areas to allow for the sea encroachment, a rolling design boundary such as vegetation line must be in place, building restrictions seaward of this boundary must exist, and encouragement to remove property that is seaward of the boundary needs to be established. Public beach access must be supported as a condition for justification (Titus, 2011). If a building comes within a certain distance of the rolling vegetation line, the building is subject to removal and the owner maintains ownership depending on the property rights regulations or agreements made. This makes a takings clause less likely and is justified because the property has become an obstruction to public access. This is a powerful tool to utilize with increases in sea level.  

Rolling easements allow for ecosystem preservation. Banning coastline armoring enables the ecosystem to shift with increases in sea level and for the wetland buffer to be maintained. Also, development is unhindered until it is threatened by coastal intrusion. A push landward is fostered with the use of rolling easements. Many coastal areas have access roads near the sea. As the sea encroaches roads will be pushed back. A road may become damaged and no longer provide access to a property. Property owners will not want the government to put in a road through their property to provide access to the now inaccessible property. The government body will be more inclined to push the location of the road landward (Titus, 2011).

Rolling easements can be applied as a government regulation or a property right. A regulation restricting what property owners can do, i.e. shoreline armoring, and a property right ensures the movement of the wetlands with the natural retreat of the shore (Titus, 2011). Either approach has the ability to facilitate retreat as long as regulation is enforced and public beach access is a made a primary concern.

5. State Assessment of the Political Will to Retreat from the Coast: Florida, New York and North Carolina

5.1 Methods of Analysis

            I use ten factors to identify the political willingness for a state to retreat from the coast. Each will be rated on an assessment scale from 0-10. If the question posed is a Boolean measure then a zero will be given for a negative answer and a ten will be given for a positive one. The descriptions, justification, and methods of analysis are given in each section.

5.1.1 State Governor Acceptance of Climate Change Rate Increase:

Because the governor possesses executive state power that can bar legislation and the position is seen as an indicator of the overall political climate of the state, the governor’s view on climate change will be determined. This measurement is based on official press statements indicating the governor’s stance on climate change. The acceptance of anthropogenic climate change rate increase will be given ten points, while rejection will be given zero points.      

5.1.2 Acceptance of Local Sea Level Rise and Efforts to Mitigate:

Acceptance of local sea level rise is important in policy making for natural hazards. Some states have undergone scientific assessments to analyze actual local and regional impacts from sea level rise. While the undertaking of coastal analysis shows initiative and concern, the actual implementation of the recommendations in these reports may be dismissed or altered in order to preserve coastal economies, especially in the area of land development. I will determine whether or not the selected states have complied with the recommendations of these reports through analysis of post-report state legislation and public statements. States having publicly accepted recommendations, even though they have not acted, will be given five points. States that have acted in accordance to the recommendations will be given ten points. States that have refused or significantly altered the recommendations will be given zero points.

5.1.3 No new development in hazard-prone coastal areas:

Decreasing the density of coastal areas is a key indicator of implementing a coastal retreat plan. Looking at the locations of new development can shed light on a state’s commitment to retreat. Because retreat is a lengthy process, states can, at the minimum, begin the retreat process by preventing new development. To measure this, I will research the locations of new development in the selected states and determine if they are within a 100-year flood zone. States that have allowed new development in the 100-year floodplain will receive zero points, while states that have not will receive ten points.

5.1.4 New Laws to Limit Coastal/Flood-prone Property Rights:

New legislation limiting the development of coastal/flood-prone property is another indicator of effort to reduce vulnerability to coastal hazards. Coastal properties or regions that have become inundated frequently can be considered a public nuisance, as they are a burden to local and state economies post-disaster. New laws limiting rights to property ownership after a coastal disaster indicate state acknowledgement of sea level rise or erosion. Starting from the year 2000, states with recent limitations to coastal/flood-prone private property rights, will receive ten points. States without recent laws to limit coastal/flood-prone private property rights will receive zero points. 

5.1.5 Recent Coastline Armoring Ban (Urban):

Coastline armoring, while protecting coastal communities, can cause the loss of wetlands, beaches, and ecosystems when combined with sea level rise or erosion and increase the vulnerability of a community from coastal hazards. If coastal retreat is on the state agenda, the installation of urban coastal armoring must cease allowing natural wetland barriers to absorb energy from storm surges. Coastline armoring can only work for so long. A state emphasis on eliminating this practice shows that the state has acknowledged the efficiency of wetlands to absorb storm surge impacts and that living in these communities that must be protected by these technical fixes are a risk to life, property and economic sustainability. I will analyze this factor by researching state effort to limit urban coastline armoring since the year 2000. If effort is shown, the state will be given a ten in the analysis. If no recent program or law banning urban coastline armoring exists then the state will be given a zero.

5.1.6 Recent Coastline Armoring Ban (Rural):

Preventing coastline armoring in rural areas is just as important as in urban areas. Agricultural and conservation areas need to be protected to prevent ecosystem collapse and food shortages in the coming future. Differentiation is needed to address future research in the weighting of the impacts between rural and urban armoring. I will analyze this factor by researching state effort to limit rural coastline armoring since the year 2000. If effort is shown, a simple Boolean analysis, the state will be given a ten. If no recent program or law banning rural coastline armoring exists then the state will be given a zero.

5.1.7 Post Disaster Mitigation Plan Including Retreat Contingency:

Incorporating a plan of retreat for communities indicates state preparedness for coastal retreat. To measure this, I will research post-disaster redevelopment plans in the selected state’s coastal areas to determine if there is a consideration of coastal retreat. While this may be an indicator of community preparedness rather than state preparedness, it is still an indicator that the state has knowledge of these plans and the ability to utilize or readily recreate them. States that outline coastal retreat as an option within redevelopment plans will receive ten points. States that allude to coastal retreat in development plans (inversely or the main prerogative being redevelopment) without addressing it specifically will receive 5 points. States with no plans for retreat will receive zero points.

5.1.8 Strict Zoning Measures:

In this research, strict zoning will be defined as minimum setbacks from hazard prone coastal areas or rolling easements in place upon coastal property. While differences may be found from county to county, I will consider the application of these zoning restrictions an indicator of coastal retreat efforts. If these exist at all within the state in question the state will be given a ten on the assessment scale. However, further research not in the scope of this paper will be needed to determine the actual extent and overall impact of minimum setbacks and rolling easements.

5.1.9 Recent Wetland Preservation, Expansion and Maintenance (Urban):

Typically, coastal urban areas in the U.S. are not known for wetland preservation efforts. Much of the wetlands along the urban coast have been filled in for new development or destroyed for resource extraction. Yet, wetlands are a key defense against storm surge. They absorb much of the wave energy associated with storm surge and can store large amounts of water. Identifying urban areas for wetland preservation indicates state understanding of the benefits of wetlands in urban areas. While this does not indicate coastal retreat per se, it does indicate state effort to reclaim or maintain the natural buffer zone against storm surge and reduce vulnerability. I will measure urban wetland preservation at a state level by researching urban wetland related projects/programs in the selected state. States that have preserved their urban wetlands or have undergone a significant expansion of them post-wetland loss will receive a ten on the assessment scale, while those that have lost wetlands and have made little effort in reclamation will receive a zero.

5.1.10 Wetland Preservation:

I divided recent wetland preservation, expansion and maintenance into two separate categories in order to highlight the significance of wetlands. Preservation, expansion and maintenance of rural wetlands are important in terms of resource extraction. Many coastal wetland areas are high in resources such as oil or timber. The extraction of these resources can significantly impact a community’s vulnerability by altering the water storage capacity of wetlands and allowing saltwater intrusion into freshwater wetlands that are unable to adapt to this change. Saltwater intrusion promotes the loss of freshwater wetlands and in turn the loss of the natural buffer zone. To measure this, I will research the selected state’s commitment to wetland preservation in coastal areas. States that have preserved their rural wetlands or have undergone significant expansion of them post-wetland loss will receive a ten on the assessment scale, while those that have lost wetlands and have made little progress in wetland reclamation will receive a zero.

5.2 Results of Political Willingness Assessment Scale

Points allotted to each category for each state will be presented in text in the following format (10/10 category name). The summarized versions of these results are presented in 7.4 in the Appendix.

5.2.1 Florida

The State of Florida accumulated a total of 55 points of the 100 possible. Florida’s state governor, Rick Scott, does not accept an increase in the rate of climate change (0/10 Acceptance of Climate Change Rate Increase). The state does accept sea level rise as a natural process and is taking the measures recommended by the 2010 report by the Florida Oceans and Coastal Council (FOCC) (10/10 points Accepts Sea Level Rise and Efforts to Mitigate) (Florida Oceans and Coastal Council, 2010). Florida has not restricted new development on the coastline (0/10 points No New Development in Hazard Prone Areas) but has enacted new laws to limit property rights for new properties and reconstruction along coastal areas (10/10 points New Laws to Limit Property Rights). Coastal property lines are subject to move with an increase in sea level. However, in 2011, the Florida Senate strengthened property rights limiting the power of government on land-use rights by amending the Private Property Rights Protection Act. The new law reaffirms the takings clause for regulatory decisions. In effect, property that is deemed a nuisance will have a strong case for financial compensation from the state (Merlin, 2011). This is not included in the assessment and is an example of the complexity of this issue. This act, while lessening burdens on property owners promotes a financial barrier to support coastal retreat.

Florida currently has no shoreline-armoring ban (0/20 points Recent Coastline Armoring Ban both Urban and Rural). They have a restrictive permitting process but shoreline armoring is generally supported. Post-disaster plans in some counties do include measures of retreat. However, references to retreat are vague (5/10 points Post-Disaster Plan of Retreat). For example, the Hillsborough County redevelopment plan does not mention retreat at all but does inversely imply that areas that are easily relocated can be. The main context of the redevelopment plan is to promote high density development in areas that are outside of the Category 1-3 Hurricane zone post-disaster (Hillsborough County, 2010).

Florida State has minimum setbacks based upon annual erosion rates for beachfront lots and is subject to change with those rates (10/10 Strict Zoning). The setback is reevaluated every ten years (NOAA, 2012).

Wetland preservation in Florida is on the rise in urban areas, and significant wetland growth has occurred (20/20 points). Since 2000, Florida has passed the Water Resources Development Act of 2000, the Everglades Restoration Investment Act, the Lake Okeechobee Protection Act, Senate Bill 54A (which gives more funding to the 1994 Everglades Forever Act), the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program, and the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 (provides funding to the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan) (State of Florida, 2011). Urban wetland restoration has focused on protecting the habitats of the Florida panther and black bears (Buening et al., 2007). However, the Florida panther was put on the endangered species list because of the loss of much of their wetland habitat (Center for Biological Diversity, 2012). Substantial efforts to increase wetland acreage overall have been made by Florida to warrant a positive view in this assessment table.

5.2.2 New York

New York State is awarded a total of 50 points out of 100 in the assessment table. Governor Andrew Cuomo has accepted that climate chance rate increases are a new reality for the State of New York and that long term planning needs to include effort to address this (10/10 Governor Accepts Climate Change Rate Increase) (Gormley, 2013). The City of New York underwent a planning project to assess climate change impacts called PlaNYC. The project includes detailed plans to maintain coastal properties and mitigate future risk. While this plan refuses to retreat from the coastline to protect economic assets, it does accept sea level rise and all but one of the recommendations from the New York Sea Level Rise Task Force (10/10 Accepts Sea Level Rise and Efforts to Mitigate). The recommendation not accepted is to discourage coastal development, but because of disagreement within the Task Force on discouraging coastal development (Ciardullo, 2011), I will still give New York the full ten points. This is interesting, as it requires another subcategory within the assessment table to account for deviation from what I would expect to be a logical recommendation of a retreat measure within the assessment. The recommendations from the task force do not specify retreat measures, only the development of long term regional resilience plans subject to translation (Ciardullo, 2011).

 PlaNYC does allow for new development along the coast (0/10 points No New Development in Hazard Zones), but buildings must be built to standards that increase resilience to storm surge (City of New York, 2011). I cannot prove that new limitations of property rights have been put on New Yorkers. I have found no indication that New York has enacted any new policy since 2000 to limit permits for coastal properties or propose new conditions for property owners (0/10 points New Laws to Limit Property Rights). I have found that some communities are increasing the amount of environmentally protected areas to limit development (The Nature Conservancy, 2013), but this is not a policy aimed exclusively at limiting development or posing restrictions on current property owners and so cannot be awarded points. To further this null finding PlaNYC indicates that new zoning regulations are being created for adaptation to climate change, but they are centered on structural flood resilience codes in the 100-year floodplain and not on property rights (City of New York, 2011). There is little effort to burden property owners with increased property limitations.    

New York State currently has no bans on shoreline armoring (0/20 points Coastline Armoring Ban Rural and Urban). While Southampton, NY did ban shoreline armoring (Rather, 2003), it was a city effort and not a state effort. Due to this, the state will not receive any points under the shoreline armoring rural and urban categories.

New York, despite its insistence on not retreating from the coast, has recently announced a plan to buyout up to $400 million worth of property damaged from Hurricane Sandy in the most vulnerable areas of New York. Property purchased by the state could not be redeveloped (Siders, 2013). Though the effectiveness of this plan is questionable, the state predicts only 10-15% of eligible homeowners will accept the offer (Siders, 2013). Still, this shows that New York State is allowing flexibility in policy aimed at climate change impacts (10/10 points Post-Disaster Plan of Retreat)

New York State has two different minimum setback lines determined by Coastal Erosion Hazard Areas Act: a natural protective feature line dependent upon the coastal features that provide protection for upland property, and a structural hazard line dependent upon projected coastal erosion rates over forty years (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, 2013). Natural protective feature lines vary depending upon the feature. For example, setbacks for dune areas are a minimum of 25 feet and setbacks in beach areas are 100 feet The structural hazard line is used in areas experiencing more than a foot of erosion annually (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, 2013). The application of this measure does allow for restrictions to new development in coastal zones (10/10 points Strict Zoning).

Wetland preservation and expansion is on the rise in New York. The New York Tidal Wetlands Act protects and seeks to expand wetlands throughout the state. Also, part of PlaNYC is an increase in wetland area to establish soft mitigation structures that help absorb storm surge energy. This is carried out through the New York Wetlands Strategy, an action plan of how to protect, preserve, and restore coastal ecosystems (U.S. Department of Transportation, 2012). Efforts to increase urban wetland expansion are significant in New York (10/10 points Urban Wetland Conservation Effort). However, 85% of coastal wetlands in New York have been lost over the past century and not reclaimed (0/10 points Wetland Preservation) (U.S. Department of Transportation, 2012).

5.2.3 North Carolina

North Carolina State Ex-Governor Bev Perdue recently prohibited calculating sea level change for use in regulatory measures until 2016 by not acting on House Bill 819. The bill states, “The Division of Coastal Management shall be the only state agency authorized to develop rates of sea level rise and shall do so only at the request of the Commission. These rates shall only be determined using historical data, and these data shall be limited to the time period following the year 1900. Rates of sea level rise may be extrapolated linearly to estimate future rates of rise but shall not include scenarios of accelerated rates of sea level rise” (General Assembly of North Carolina, 2011). The state legislature effectively barred action on regulating based on sea level rise for four years. The North Carolina legislature also denied the North Carolina Sea Level Rise Assessment Report by the North Carolina Coastal Resource Commission. This report highlighted that a 39-inch increase in sea level is possible by 2100 (North Carolina Coastal Resource Commission, 2010). The legislature instead adopted an eight-inch increase in sea level (0/10 Accepts Sea Level Rise and Efforts to Mitigate) (Masters, 2012; Union of Concerned Scientist, 2012).

The current governor, Pat McCrory, has carefully not expressed his opinion on climate change rate increase. However, after elected, Governor McCrory appointed John Skvarla, a climate change skeptic, to the head of the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (0/10 Governor Accepts Climate Change Rate Increase) (Institute for Southern Studies, 2013).   

North Carolina continues to develop within the 100-year floodplain (0/10 No New Development in Hazard Zones). Construction in hazard zones is not allowed under the Coastal Area Management Act if an existing property has suffered a net loss equal to or greater than 50% of the building value or if the lowest floor of the structure is a foot above the expected depth of a 100-year flood (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services, 2013; New Hanover County, 2013).

The state has enacted new laws to limit property rights in coastal areas (10/10 New Laws to Limit Property Rights). New minimum setback standards based on the size of a structure are now implemented statewide (10/10 Strict Zoning). As the size of the structure increases, so does the distance of the setback (NOAA, 2012). Also, North Carolina has a statewide ban on shoreline armoring (20/20 Recent Coastline Armoring Ban Urban and Rural). This ban promotes statewide acquisition of properties under the Public Beach and Coastal Waterfront Access Program. Existing structures that restrict public access to the coast may be subject to acquisition. Land acquisition projects in North Carolina are minimally funded; however, only $1 million is annually allocated to the Public Beach and Coastal Waterfront Access Program, and other competing interests may be prioritized (NOAA, 2012c).

Coastal counties in North Carolina have similar objectives within their hazard mitigation plans. Coastal counties with complete hazard mitigation action plans suggest relocation of vulnerable structures is a method of disaster prevention (Brunswick County, 2011; Union County, 2013). North Carolina does have contingencies of retreat on the county level (10/10 Post-Disaster Plan of Retreat). 

Wetland acreage in North Carolina has decreased rapidly (0/10 Wetland Preservation). From the 1970s to 1990, wetland area in North Carolina decreased by 1.2 million acres in one of the most extensive losses recorded in any U.S. state (Dahl & Johnson, 1991). North Carolina continues to lose wetlands as development, timber companies, agriculture and highway projects remain competing interests to wetland preservation (North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, 2013).

The North Carolina Wetland Restoration Program is a non-regulatory, voluntary plan to increase wetland acreage and quality. The program started in 1996 and has not significantly expanded the wetland acreage, as the majority of the projects focus only on wetland preservation and not wetland growth (North Carolina Department of the Environment and Natural Resources, 2003). There is also the Ecosystem Enhancement Program (EEP). As of 2005, the EEP had not undergone projects long enough for an evaluation of success to be determined (Engler, 2005). These projects do intend to increase wetland areas in both rural and urban environments but have yet to show significant wetland growth (0/10 Urban Wetland Conservation Effort).

6. Conclusions

The results showed that all of the states analyzed had a similar score in the assessment table. Each state had different strengths: Florida, a significant effort in wetland preservation; New York, a government willing to accept climate change-induced increases in sea level rise and planning to address it; North Carolina, a statewide shoreline armoring ban. Many problems associated with the limitation of the assessment factors arose. The minimum setback component of the strict zoning factor is not an ideal factor determinant. Each coastal state has a minimum setback of some sort, whether it is an arbitrary line or based upon erosion rates. Minimum setbacks need to be further defined to some demarcation indicative of political responsibility for the vulnerability of coastal populations, or eliminated as a determinant factor. None of these states showed explicit use of rolling easements as a way to justify land acquisition. Keeping rolling easements as a determinant factor in strict zoning is more indicative of progressive policy towards coastal retreat.

The analysis of the state of Florida showed that new laws to limit coastal property rights could be useless if there are laws that increase property owner power. The strengthening of the Private Property Rights Protection Act decreased the probability of state land acquisition without a takings issue rising. Florida will now be hesitant to deem property as a nuisance, allowing sustained vulnerability in hazard areas. New laws limiting coastal property rights are subject to existing laws. The relationship between state laws needs to be further analyzed to determine the relative impact of legislative measures to promote coastal retreat.    

The analysis of the State of New York showed that recommendations for mitigation do not always contain a retreat contingency. I had expected this recommendation in every assessment of local sea level rise increase from the scientific community. It was because of the retreat contingency that I determined the factor to be useful for highlighting political will. The assessment also shows that climate change affirming governors do not give up coastal property so easily. Not agreeing to the new development restrictions seems counterproductive if Governor Cuomo’s plan is to decrease vulnerability. At the same time, Governor Cuomo instituted a buyout program for highly vulnerable, damaged properties to address climate model predictions and reduce future vulnerability.  

Analysis of North Carolina showed that progressive legislature promoting coastal retreat does come from states that do not accept climate change increases in sea level or follow local scientific assessment recommendations for the impacts of sea level increase. The banning of shoreline armoring statewide is a highly progressive move based on the right to beach access. This law provides North Carolina the ability to acquire land and property when property becomes a nuisance to beach access. Counties within North Carolina have laid out relocation plans for vulnerable property, another progressive move facilitating coastal retreat.

This research is meant to be a springboard into a larger, more in-depth, analysis of political willingness to retreat from the coast. I expected to find that this assessment scale does not fully encompass the political willingness to retreat from the coast, and that is indeed the case. There are many factors involved, which cannot be fully represented in these findings. Further and more in-depth research is needed to determine the relative weight of each factor within each state, subject to the overall positive or negative impacts of the separate state policies or actions taken. The given weight to these state policies or actions then needs to be compared state to state to provide a relative state scale of action on coastal retreat.

7. Appendix

7.1 Sea Level Rise Predictions

Observed and predicted sea level rise. There is a strong consensus in the scientific community that the 2007 IPCC estimates of 21st century sea level rise are far too low. Observations in the first decade of the century support that view. Most experts think the projections of Rahmstorf are more likely. Credit: Copyright ©2009 Jeff Masters.

7.2 MsCIP Comprehensive Plan

7.3 Table-1 Policy Options

7.4 Assessment of Political Willingness


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An Investigation of the Emergence of Symbolic Behavior in Early Hominins, Lucas Hampton

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The evolution of symbolic behavior in early hominids has been explored as an interdisciplinary effort. Current research on this topic focuses on the moment in the evolutionary sequence when hominids were first capable of symbolic behavior. Symbolic behavior is of particular significance not only because some consider it an exclusive quality of the human genus, but also because it is thought to indicate the presence of language. Comparative studies have revealed that many non-human primates exhibit behaviors that can be classified as symbolic. Cognitive capacity for symbolic behavior is not an adequate indicator of symbolic behavior, for chimpanzees display an understanding of symbols and formulate sentences with such symbols. I argue that the emergence of the human as a symbolic animal was the result of two major factors: the specific cortical architecture of the genus homo, which involves not only a capacity for symbolic behavior, but a particular development of cortical regions seemingly specialized for symbolic behavior, and a shift to social groups as a primary means of subsistence. Many have attempted to identify the species first capable of symbolic behavior. My argument differs in that I do not identify a particular species in which the phenomenon occurred; rather, I am attempting to establish a criterion that when applied to a particular species in a given environment will logically entail the capability and actuality of symbolic behavior.


            Answering the question of when humans became human has predominantly been the domain of archaeology. However, within the last several decades more disciplines have participated in the discussion, giving way to burgeoning new fields such as Cognitive Archaeology and Paleoneurology. Current research on this topic focuses on the moment in the evolutionary sequence when hominids were first capable of symbolic behavior, for symbolic behavior is of particular significance not only because some consider it a defining quality of the human species, but also because it is thought to indicate the building blocks of language. Although establishing a cognitive capacity for symbolic behavior is necessary in asserting the presence of symbolic behavior, it is by no means sufficient. I argue that the emergence of humans as symbolic animals can be indicated by two factors: a cortical architecture that gave capacity and preference for symbolic behavior, and a shift to social groups as a primary means of subsistence. The second dimension refers to the activities and subsistence strategies of early hominids and contemplates whether symbolic or social behavior would be a more evolutionarily beneficial means of completing such tasks. Identifying the species first capable of symbolic behavior is a difficult endeavor that usually involves highlighting specific artifacts in the archaeological record, but I do not identify a particular species in which the phenomenon occurred, for I am attempting to create independent empirical standards that when met would logically entail the occurrence of symbolic behavior.

            The psychological evolution of humans was of increasing interest in the middle of the twentieth century, and coupled with advances in science and technology, new and provocative theories began to emerge. Characteristic of these new inquiries was their interdisciplinary nature, for social archaeologists have long speculated on the origins of language and symbolic behavior, but rarely were they “concerned with the biological sciences” (Holloway 1969).[1] Articles began to emerge that used psychological theories of development to explain archaeological remains; soon after, archaeologists were pairing with psychologists, philosophers, neuroscientists, and primatologists in order to shed new light on the issue. In recent years, Paleoneurology has emerged as a dominant voice in the discussion, for it is the first discipline to offer physical evidence of archaic brain morphology.

            Many of the publications on cognitive evolution focus on establishing a cognitive capacity for language or symbolism. In this attempt, the author chooses a behavior or artifact of archaic Homo and discusses the cognitive processes involved in its production (Byers 1994). It is often the case that stone tools are used to assert the capacity for language. For example, Holloway argues that “tool-making and language are similar, if not identical, cognitive processes” (Holloway 1969), for in producing a stone tool, one uses multiple steps to achieve a specific result. The same can be said of language, for one uses sounds, letters, etc. in a specific order to form a specific word: “the organization of the entire activity is hierarchical and concatenated according to conventions of sequence” (Holloway 1969). Holloway’s argument is fallacious, for the convergence of similar properties is by no means indicative of equivalence, or in this case, of equivalent brain processes. Holloway’s use of stone tools as an indicator of language capability was not altogether successful, and many within the field contended that stone tools were far too distinct from language to provide any sort of insight (Gowlett 1979, 1984; Davidson 1989). However, approaches that incorporate stone tools have found success in evaluating the cognitive processes that underlie not the process of production but the process of learning the production; one can assert the level of communication needed and, thus, the capacity for symbolic behavior.

            The two qualifications in my criteria for identifying the presence of symbolic behavior are cognitive capacity and the shift to socially orientated means of subsistence. The necessity of the capacity for symbolic behavior is apparent, for the difficulty lies in the establishment of such. The shift to a socially orientated society is similarly fundamental, although its function as an indicator of the presence of symbolic behavior needs qualification.

Biopsychology and Paleoneurology provide primary evidence supporting social shift as a criterion for identifying symbolic behavior. Human brain morphology has evolved in some areas non-allometrically, particularly the frontal and parietal lobes. Allometry refers to the relationship between shape and size; allometric growth is regular changes in shape due to global increase in size; non-allometric growth is an irregular change in shape that are not entirely explainable through change in size. Frontal lobe widening is a characteristic that occurred in the genus Homo, although it is most prevalent within modern humans and Neanderthals (Bruner 2010). Parietal expansion is a unique characteristic of human evolution, for “only Homo sapiens shows a generalized enlargement of the entire parietal surface” (Bruner 2010). The frontal and parietal lobes are of significance for their association with executive functions, symbolic behavior, and language. The “language center” of the brain has been loosely localized to regions labeled Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. Broca’s area is involved in speech production and is located in the frontal lobes, slightly anterior of the fronto-parietal junction. Wernicke’s area is involved in understanding language, or phonological storage, and is located near the superior temporal lobes and the posterior parietal lobes. Bruner suggests that the increase of size in particular cortical regions reflects an increase “of the underlying neural mass” (Bruner 2010). Neural density includes several factors, but the effect of greater density is greater connectivity (Bruner 2010; Welshon 2011). The non-allometric patterns of growth in the human brain have been explained as autocatalytic, “describing a positive feedback between cerebral complexity and consequent socio-cultural factors” (Bruner 2003). In other words, the brain regions execute cultural or social tasks enlarged, thus increasing neural connectivity, and, as humans began to occupy a social niche, evolution would select for a more socially specialized brain, to accommodate an increasingly social animal, a process occurring at a genetic and an epigenetic level.

            Subsistence by means of social groups is often paired with the emergence of symbolic behavior. Social groups involve complex and unique individual interactions and the adherence to specific rules of behavior. However, the shift to social groups does not simply refer to a group of animals that exhibit these social behaviors, for chimpanzees have a somewhat complex social system. The shift to social groups as a primary means to subsistence highlights society’s role as the impetus of the individual’s daily life. In order to claim a shift to social groups, one must examine how a species was living and ask whether symbolic behavior would be evolutionarily beneficial to such a lifestyle. For if a species relies on social groups, then that species would stand to benefit from a symbol-capable mind.  The duties of the individuals within a social environment would require–to a certain extent–a cognitive capacity for functions, such as response inhibition, shared attention, and working memory, which are classified as executive functions. Executive functions may refer to a range of cognitive abilities, but they are largely associated with the frontal lobes.

            My argument is less focused on the origin of language and more focused on the role of symbolic behavior in human evolution. Evidence for the occurrence of both criteria, cognitive capacity for symbolism and a shift to social groups, will be demonstrated through an analysis of the procedures involved in conveying subsistence strategies to group members–e.g. stone tool production, hunting/gathering strategies, etc. The defense of these criteria as a valid indicator of the presence of symbolic behavior will rely on biopsychological evidence. The argument relies on the specific architecture of the human brain. The evolutionary culling of previous generations shaped a brain that was primed for symbolic behavior, and when coupled with an increasing reliance on socially mediated subsistence, one may conclude the emergence of a symboling human.


            Describing objects in the archaeological record as symbolic has always been problematic, for by definition, the object that is the signifier has an arbitrary relationship to what is being signified. Many discussions that focus on symbolic behavior establish many objects as symbolic when in fact they are iconic or indexical. An icon is a signifier that is “perceived as resembling or imitating the signified,” whereas an index is a signifier that “is directly connected in some way (physically or causally) to the signified” (Chandler 2007, 250-251). For example, a yellow deer-crossing sign is iconic, for the picture of a deer is signifying a deer, and the traditional poison warning is indexical, for the skull and crossbones does not mean death, but it means one would die if the contents were consumed. A symbol is a signifier that “does not resemble the signified but which is arbitrary or purely conventional–so that the relationship must be learnt” (Chandler 2007, 262). A stop sign is symbolic, for nothing about an octagon, the color red, or the word STOP has a direct relationship to the action of stopping.

            Objects that have been readily classified as symbolic include “depictions or abstract representations and personal ornaments” (d’Errico 2003, 17). Examples from the archaeological record include the Berekhat Ram figurine, engraved ochre, and perforated shell beads. The status of these items as symbolic has been supported by multiple theories, most of which rely on the claim that these objects had no practical use value, and they so must have had some sort of representational or symbolic value. However, the absence of a use value in an object does not preclude the possibility that the object is anything other than a symbolic, for it could be indexical or iconic. The status of these objects as well as others as symbolic is troubling, for given the definition of a symbol, it would be impossible to assert with any confidence that an object that is so distant from modern semiotic conventions is in fact symbolic. The quality of an object that renders it a symbol is created and understood only by the group that uses such signs, and without having knowledge of a group’s social conventions, one cannot assert anything to be symbolic. Although one cannot label a specific object in the archaeological record as symbolic, one can make the broader claim that symbolic behavior was occurring.

Symbolism in the archaeological record

            Many arguments have relied on stone tools as an indicator of some cognitive capacity, whether it is as strong as language or as modest as shared attention. Arguments that are most effective focus on the process of acquiring the skills necessary to produce stone tools. The process of stone tool production–stone knapping–is fairly simple, mostly involving only a hammer and a core. The terms are fairly descriptive, for the rock that is the hammer hits the rock that is the core, and depending on the tool industry, either a flake will be used or the core will be used after repeated flaking. Stone tool industries are classified according to their complexity. The simplest technologies such as scrapers and choppers are classified as Oldowan industries, core tools such as handaxes and cleavers are Acheulean, and prepared core techniques and modified flakes are Mousterian.

Figure A. (After Davidson and Noble, 1989)


These industries are also sometimes categorized in modes, with Oldowan being mode I, Acheulean mode II, and so on. Each of the industries has been the focus for cognitive arguments. Archaeologists question the complexity of the Oldowan–questioning whether the modern chimpanzee is capable of such a product. The Acheulean industry is a mystery in itself–for the level of innovation is virtually stagnant for one million years; some have called this the ‘handaxe enigma.’ The majority of arguments that infer symbolic capability rely on artifacts of the Mousterian industry. Prepared core techniques are specific sequences of core reduction that were widely used. One prepared core technique has received significant attention in the argument for cognitive capabilities: the Levallois technique. Levallois is a mode III technology dated to ~500 ka, and–generally speaking–involves flaking the sides and top of a core, preparing a striking platform, and then removing a large flake that–due to earlier preparation–is already flaked on the edges. The process is repeated in order to maximize the tools gained from one piece of raw material. However, this process is much more complex than such a simple description, for each sequence “is made up of at least three distinct subroutines–production-surface preparation, platform-surface preparation, and platform preparation” (Wynn 2010). Furthermore, these steps must be completed in a certain order. Wynn also notes that “the knapper must attend closely to the distal convexity–opposite the striking platform–and the lateral convexities because these guide flake propagation” (Wynn 2010). The complexity of this technique has led many to infer capacities, such as shared attention, long-term memory, and language.

Evidence of group behavior

The group size of prehistoric Homo has been speculated upon through multiple venues, including brain size, hunting/gathering strategies, and stone tools. Early attempts to establish group size were championed by Robin Dunbar, who theorized that brain size correlated with group size. Group size is a “‘cognitive group’, that is the number of individuals of whom one has social knowledge” (Mithen 1999, 107). He established the ratio of brain size to group size in modern non-human primates, then formulated an equation that “used the cranial volume of the fossil skulls . . . to estimate brain size” (Mithen 1999, 106-107), and then–based on the primate ratio–estimated the group size of australopithecines and prehistoric Homo. Using Dunbar’s equation, H. habilis would have a group size of 82, H. erectus would have a group size of 111, and H. neaderthalensiswould have a group size of 144; he places modern humans at 150 (Mithen 1999). An analysis of the archaeological evidence will reveal that Dunbar’s theory is incorrect, for although I agree that the group size of H. erectus would have been large, an alarming amount of evidence suggests that the group size of Neanderthals would have been much smaller than predicted. Group size of Neanderthals will be indicated primarily through a number of archaeological sites, focusing on tool manufacture, travel, and use of fire. In order to balance my critique of Dunbar’s argument, I will contrast the Neanderthal evaluation with an evaluation of archaeological sites associated with anatomically modern H. sapiens. The reason for such a contrast is to evaluate two species of the same genus that existed concurrently; Otherwise, it would not be a fair critique of Dunbar if one were to evaluate two species separated by several hundred thousand years.

Klasies River Mouth, South Africa has one of the largest assemblages of faunal remains of any Homo sapiens site, and the debris can be used to infer aspects of the society of the site’s occupants. Klasies River Mouth consists of three cave sites, which date to approximately 120kya. as well as faunal remains, many complex stone tools were also found, including flaked blades, possible projectile points, and barbs (Binford 1984). The inhabitants of Klasies hunted anything from buffalo to baby seal, and they were quite skilled at it. The animal most commonly taken by the inhabitants of Klasies was the Cape grysbok, a small antelope weighing between 20 and 30 pounds. Lewis Binford (Binford 1984) argues that to acquire such an animal, and at such high frequencies, the occupants of Klasies River must have been hunting, and they may have been using traps. The faunal remains at Klasies reveal a preference of the hominid inhabitants for certain ages of animals. Furthermore, there was a preference toward less dangerous animals in general, and when the game was dangerous, the very young were preferred. For example, of the 41 cape buffalo killed–one of the most dangerous prey roaming the savanna–nine of them were old, and 32 were young; youth is marked by “milk detention of the fourth premolar” (Binford 1984, 223). The evidence from Klasies provides much to the discussion of social cognition. The complex hunting strategies of the hominids suggest a greater reliance on community interaction, possibly communication. The wide range of animal species suggests a vast and diverse hunting range, which is only sustainable with a large group. Given the evidence from Klasies River Mouth, it seems unlikely that the H.sapiens occupants were not operating on large group levels.

Evidence from Neanderthal sites Grotte Vaufrey and Kebara Cave suggest the opposite conclusion, for evidence from these sites support claims that Neanderthals were operating in small groups with little social interaction. Grotte Vaufrey is a cave site in central France. The cave spans an area of 170 square meters, and was first excavated by Jean-Philippe Riguad in 1969. The site revealed lithic remains concentrated in three main areas of the cave.  The cave site is divided into eleven levels, and artifacts that were recovered date to  ~200 – 170kya (Mellars 1996; Gamble 1999). Most studies of Grotte Vaufrey include the production of lithic assemblages, but few have discussed this evidence as it relates to Neanderthal territory range. There were nine different flint sources among the raw material at Grotte Vaufrey (Gamble 1999), and upon mapping the distance the material was carried from its source location, Geneste and Riguad found that 95% of the flint came from within six kilometers, and less than one percent came from farther than 20 kilometers (Mellars 1996; Gamble 1999). Neanderthals rarely travelled more than ten kilometers to retrieve raw material for stone tools, and handaxes having been produced for over a million years, one can assume that the production of tools was a significant aspect of Neanderthal subsistence. In terms of social cognition, one could speculate that a preference toward a resource’s locality over its quality would suggest little innovation or invention, something characteristic of either small social groups or limited contact between other groups.

            Neanderthal group size is also indicated by use of fire, and the fire hearths at Kebara Cave reinforce the claim that Neandertals lived in small social groups with minimal social interaction. Kebara Cave is a Neandertal site in Israel on the base of Mt. Carmel; it was first excavated in 1930 and has since been re-excavated beginning in 1982 by Bar-Yosef. The stratigraphy of the site dates it to approximately 50 – 60kya (Bar-Yosef et al. 1992). Kebara has several fire hearths, most of which have a diameter between 20-80cm (Bar-Yosef et al. 1992). The fires were not used for warmth, as is evident by their small size and lack of heating rocks. Bar-Yosef concludes that the hearths at Kebara were most likely used for cooking, for within the hearths were found small burnt bone and burnt seed (Bar-Yosef et al. 1992). Kebara cave also includes the remains of several Neandertal individuals, including a child. The fire hearths, and their apparent one-purpose characteristic, suggest that Neandertals did not place much importance on social gathering or social interaction, and moreover, Neandertal subsistence required about 3,000 to 5,500 calories a day (Wynn & Coolidge 2012); an 80cm diameter fire could not have provided a large enough cooking area to sustain a substantive group of individuals consuming 4,000 calories of meat a day. The general group size of Neandertals is also speculated on by the relative size of the archaeological sites, and many sites are evaluated in terms of available activity space, which is the maximum number of individuals that could have potentially occupied the site at one time (Mellars 1996). Sites such as Kebara Cave suggest a relatively small group size.

It is the general consensus that group sizes of Neandertals tended to be small, some would say as small as 5 to 10 per group. The size of the fire hearths of Kebara, as well as available activity space of both Grotte Vaufrey and Kebara, corroborate the small group size. H. sapiens group size, in contrast, is likely to have been much larger, for the hunting strategies and the range alone of the species would have been extremely difficult without a large social group.

Generally speaking, cognitive arguments that hinge on stone tool production or group size–such as my own–are often thwarted by non-human primate comparative studies. The most famous of these are on the bonobo, Kanzi. Kanzi presents a significant difficultly for those attempting to classify symbolic behavior as uniquely human, for Kanzi has ‘learned’ over 400 ‘words’ (Urban 2002; Savage-Rumbaugh et al. 1985) and has even been induced to knap stone tools (Toth et al. 1993; Savage-Rumbaugh and Fields 2006).

Cognitive bases for symbolic behavior

            The localization of cognitive abilities is somewhat misleading, for although some are well-established, others are relatively unknown. Most cognitive processes are global interactions between several areas of the brain. For example, Stout et al. recently used positron emission tomography (PET) scans to establish the cognitive basis for stone knapping. Their results included regional activation of the superior parietal lobe, central sulcus, precentral gyrus, postcentral gyrus, cerebellum, and fusiform gyrus (Stout et al.2000). In short, stone knapping requires the use of spatial cognition, primary motor and somatosensory processing, motor coordination, postural control, and visual association (Stout et al. 2000). Relating this to symbolic behavior, it is difficult to establish specific regions where this ability is processed, for it would also require many other cognitive abilities depending on the mode of symbol (objects, words, gestures, etc.).

However, extensive research has been committed to establish the language centers of the brain, and the specificity of this type of symbolic behavior leads to a more exact localization. Language can be understood as an “abstract system of rules and conventions of a signifying system” (Chandler 2007, 252), but language is more than a group of symbols insofar as it includes a principle that governs the organization of the symbols, namely syntax. The regions of the brain that subserve symbolic behavior in general are a superset of the areas that subserve language, whereas the areas that subserve language are a proper subset of the areas that subserve some mode of symbolic behavior–insofar as a linguistic ability is a symbolic ability.

            The regions of the brain that have been identified as the language centers are Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. Paul Broca and Karl Wernicke were some of the first to investigate the cognitive underpinnings of language, and the areas of the brain they identified as being central to language production and comprehension are now well established. Broca, and the area of the brain sporting his appellation, is associated with language production. His discovery is owed to a patient of his who could understand but could not construct sentences, verbal or written (Kandel 2000, 10). Broca’s research prompted many others to investigate the nature of language, specifically the disconnect between language production and comprehension. Broca’s area has since been identified as the area of the brain responsible for language production, and it is located in the posterior frontal lobe adjacent to the precentral gyrus (Kandel 2000, 1174). Karl Wernicke elaborated on the work of Broca and his successors. His contribution to neuroscience was reached through investigating aphasia–a broad term for a language or speech disorder. He analyzed patients who had abilities that were the converse of Broca’s patients, for Wernicke’s patients could “speak but could not understand language” (Kandel 2000, 11). Wernicke’s research led to the establishment of Wernicke’s aphasia, which is a language disorder in which one cannot comprehend language. Wernicke’s aphasia is caused through damage or abnormal development in the fronto-parietal junction, specifically the superior temporal gyrus and supramarginal gyrus (Kandel 2000, 1174). This area is now called Wernicke’s area, and it is the area of the brain responsible for language comprehension.

Figure B. Locations of Broca’s area (B) and Wernicke’s area (W). The arrow represents the pathway that connects the two in regular linguistic abilities. (After Kandel 2000)


            Symbolic behavior is a necessary component of language, and so the areas the brain that process language must also process symbolic behavior. The areas of the brain that primarily process language are Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, and so Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area are regions of the brain that process symbolic behavior.

Regional cortical expansion

            Physical analyses of brain evolution have been a primary focus for Ralph Holloway and Emiliano Bruner, and their research has significantly expanded our knowledge of paleoneurology. Studies in Paleoneurology attempt to elucidate the changes in neural architecture and cortical morphology. The methodology in calculating these changes involves the analysis of endocasts–“natural or artificial cast[s] of a brain made from the impressions the brain produced on the internal table of the cranium” (Wynn and Coolidge 2000)–through some geometric morphometric[2] method. Many are skeptical of claims that use brain size to infer particular cognitive abilities. First, Neanderthals have a greater cranial capacity than modern humans, and given the current opinions of Neanderthal cognition, it is very unlikely that they possessed greater abilities than modern humans, so as a rule, absolute brain size cannot be an indicator of cognitive ability. Second, changes in brain size tend to lead to changes in brain shape (Huxley 1932; Gould 1966, 1977), and there is an allometric pattern to this growth. So, if there is an increase in size of the parietal lobe–or any other region, then one must establish that it was not simply a result from expansion of the brain as a whole. Two particular changes unique to the Homo genus are frontal and parietal widening.

            Non-allometric widening of the frontal lobes is present within the Homo genus. In a recent study, Bruner and Holloway analyzed endocasts from modern humans, Neanderthals, and archaic humans–which includes Homo erectus and Homo eragaster–recognizing a non-allometric change in the shape of the frontal lobe. In order to have a valid comparison that would also take into account the established allometric trajectory of the regions in question, they measured the hemispheric length, maximum width, and frontal width. Through comparing these measurements, one is able to establish a relative rather than an absolute change. The results, as shown in figure C, reveal “that Neanderthals and modern humans have relatively wider frontal lobes” (Bruner and Holloway 2010, 140) than archaic humans. Archaic humans showed “the lowest allometric trajectory, and Neanderthals the highest” (Bruner and Holloway 2010, 141).

Figure C.[3] After Bruner and Holloway (2010)


Although the significant widening of modern human and Neanderthal frontal lobes is of primary concern, it is also important to note that there is a small degree of non-allometric expansion within archaic humans. This informs us that whatever implication is derived from this information as it pertains to modern humans and Neanderthals will also apply–although to a much smaller extent–to archaic humans. Analyses that compared australopithecine endocasts with other archaic skulls revealed that there were no allometric differences (Bruner and Holloway 2010, 141) between the two species. So, non-allometric frontal lobe widening may have its origins ~1.5 mya when we begin to see less Australopithecus remains and more early Homo remains. The particular area of the frontal lobe that experienced the greatest degree of horizontal change “is localised at the posterior tract of the third frontal circumvolution” (Bruner and Holloway 2010, 139). This area, the pars orbitalis, corresponds to Broca’s cap, the posterior part of Broca’s area associated with the circumvolutions, or brain folds, that lie near the fronto-parieto-temporal junction. The human genus experienced a relative widening of the frontal lobes, particularly around the region that corresponds with Broca’s area, which may have begun as early as 1.5 mya and continued throughout the evolutionary sequence.

            Studies within Paleoneurology have suggested that hominins also experienced a relative expansion of the parietal lobes. While frontal lobe widening was a characteristic unique to the humans, parietal expansion is “hypothesised to be a crucial source of morphological variation in both Hominoids and Hominids” (Bruner 2010, 84).[4]Unfortunately, when compared to physical studies of the frontal lobe, those of the parietal lobe are much scarcer (Bruner 2010, 77), and so there is a dearth of data available for statistical analysis. For this reason, some studies of the parietal lobe in hominins contain a smaller sample size, usually comparing one australopithecine or archaic human endocast–if the skull is intact–to another human endocast. One such study compared a 500 ka Homo erectus skull from Salé, Morocco to a 25 ka modern human skull. The results revealed “a generalized enlargement of the entire parietal surface” (Bruner 2010, 77) as well as a lengthening of the temporal lobe in Homo sapiens(Bruner 2010, 87). The results were determined not only through morphological analyses, but through a physical examination of the endocasts. Endocasts do not only provide information concerning shape and cranial capacity, for they also are a preservation of the outermost surface of the brain. The meninges that surround the brain press against the endocranium wall, leaving an imprint of the arteries and sometimes sulci or gyri. The comparison between the archaic human from Salé and the modern human reveal that middle meningeal vessels experienced much more reticulation and were much more distinct in modern humans, for “the increasing reticulation of the middle men­ingeal vessels concerns the whole endocranial surface, mostly through its anterior branches, but it is particularly stressed at the parietal surface” (Bruner 2010, 89).[5] Considering that expansion of the parietal lobe in modern humans is of the entire parietal surface, it is difficult to identify any specific trait that may have been affected, for the parietal lobes serve countless cognitive abilities. Although the enlargement does cover a vast area, Bruner does observe that the enlargement is “increasing from the lower to upper areas” (Bruner 2010, 81), and although the expansion is most significant in the upper parietal areas, the process begins in the area “between the supramarginal gyrus and the lateral sulcus” (Bruner 2010, 81); the supramarginal gyrus is classic Wernicke’s area. The human genus experienced a relative enlargement of the parietal surface, increasing upward from the area around the supramarginal gyrus. This expansion is debatably present to a small degree in australopithecines, and most likely began before the widening of the frontal lobes.

            Hominins also experienced a relative widening of the frontal lobes and a general enlargement of the entire parietal surface. The loci of such changes are the pars orbitalisin the former, and the supramarginal gyrus in the latter. Many have associated the frontal lobe widening with the enhancement of working memory, executive functions, and language. In addition, some have speculated about the relationship between parietal enlargement and subjective reality (Bruner 2010, 83). However, no research explicitly links the two morphological changes. The current neurophysiological relationship between the parietal and the frontal lobes in modern humans is well established, for the frontal lobes “are strongly connected with the parietal lobes by a very developed network of cortico-cortical connections supporting re-entrant signaling” (Bruner 2010, 145), and there are many “reciprocal connections between these [parietal] areas and the prefrontal ones” (Bruner 2010, 83). The connection between these two lobes coupled with the somewhat genus-specific enlargement of these areas opens the possibility that frontal widening and parietal enlargement may be related. The relationship between these evolutionary developments is not causal, for the origin of the alleles that caused these evolutionary changes–whether it was a mutation, exaptation, or genuine adaptation–will always be a topic of speculation. The relationship between these two evolutionary changes is that they would both enhance one’s symbolic abilities. The area of the frontal lobe that experienced the most significant amount of widening corresponds almost directly to Broca’s area, and the area of the parietal lobe that begins to experience enlargement roughly corresponds to Wernicke’s area. Enlargement or widening of regions of the brain in general is usually not enough to indicate an enhancement of the abilities that are processed in the respective areas, but in this particular case, the increase in size also reflects an increase “of the underlying neural mass” (Bruner 2010), and so in this case, regional expansion resulted in an enhancement of the abilities that are processed in the respective regions. Furthermore, if these regions are intricately connected, and an increase in size and neural mass in these particular regions also reflects an increase in the connection density between these two regions, and given the previous statement, then it would be reasonable to conclude that this increase also reflects an enhancement of the abilities that are processed in the connections between these two lobes, namely, the processing loop between Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area that supports normal linguistic functions. The relationship between these structures and symbolic behavior, as it applies to human evolution, is that those individuals who carried the genes for wider frontal lobes and larger parietal lobes would have had a symbolic advantage, i.e. they would have had symbolic abilities that were greater than those that were without these genes. However, this is not to say that the foundations of symbolic behavior are purely genetic, for such advantages would be labeled as such with some existing form of socially orientated environment.  Presently speaking, it does not seem too farfetched of a claim that those with better communication skills will likely succeed, but life history success by no means translates to gene succession. Only when symbolic behavior increases reproductive success would it be evolutionarily successful and be passed on. So, if the archaic humans who were first endowed with the genes that gave wider frontal lobes and larger parietal lobes lived in such a way that symbolic behavior increased their reproductive success, and given that the enlargement of these structures enhances symbolic ability, then those genes coupled with such a life history would result in the proliferation of symbolic behavior.

Reproductive success and symbolic behavior

            Hominins–as well as many other species–have lived in a group environment for millions of years. One of the few useful applications of comparative studies to non-human primates is to elucidate how we lived when we branched from our ape ancestors ~6 mya. For the purposes of this argument, chimpanzee group behavior shall be classified as a basic group setting. Currently, humans have one of the most complex social groups, and it is reasonable to conclude that, like any other evolutionary process, the progression from basic social groups to complex social groups was gradual. In any group setting, some form of communication–gestural, verbal, or physical–can lead to reproductive success. Basic forms of communication are common in chimpanzee groups, and one of the most frequently practiced forms of communication is deception, a somewhat complex form of communication involving a specific arrangement of facial muscles. Deception is frequently observed in living primates (Smith 1987, 52), and it is often practiced to facilitate sexual encounters between a female and a non-alpha male. The social code of primates groups stipulates that the alpha male has the privilege of gaining sexual access to every female in the group. So without deception, many non-alpha males would not have been able to pass along their genes. Although deception can lead to reproductive success, it is not the case that those who practice deception will be reproductively successful. Only when social groups reach a certain level of complexity will communication abilities be a major factor in reproductive success.

The relationship between complex groups and communication is evident in the archaeological record, specifically within lithic artifacts. Classifying the progression of lithic technology is similar to classifying the complexity of social groups, for both are ambiguous classifications. However, one need not focus on the nebulous area that is between basic and complex, for one can assert a complex or basic attribute without needing to define or even understand the entire spectrum. So, without defining the exact nature of complex or basic, one can understand that throwing a rock on the ground is much more basic than systematically and intentionally removing flakes of a rock, just as one can understand that modern human social groups are more complex than chimpanzee groups. The complex lithic technology referred to is the Levallois process of flake production. This type of prepared core technique has been likened to an expertise, like chess or blacksmithing (Wynn and Coolidge 2010), and is perhaps the most complex method of stone tool production. The steps involved, its vast propagation into numerous regions, and the amount of artifacts that have survived leads to the conclusion that Levallois must have required some form of communication. Comparative studies of extant human tribes that still practice stone tool production reveal that communication is essential for the transference of such knowledge. Stout recently studied the Langda people of Indonesian Irian Jaya, where the process of stone adze production and the transference of such skills are rigid and ancient (Stout 2002). Stout notes that “communication plays a key role in this system of apprenticeship” (Stout 2011, 174), and that during the apprenticeship process, “gesture (usually pointing) and vocalization are frequently combined to convey meaning and shape” (Stout 2011, 174). Although the comparison is not exactly balanced, the complexity of the technique alone supports Stout’s claims of necessary communication. The vast amount of lithic remains that were produced through Levallois and the distance the artifacts travelled indicates that this technique was an important aspect of the species’ group, and, if we dismiss the unlikely possibility that multiple groups independently stumbled upon the same technique, then we are left with the possibility that some form of communication facilitated such a technical explosion. Many of the hominins living ~500 ka produced flakes using the Levallois technique, and this behavior was a significant part of the group culture; if they produced Levallois flakes, then they had some form of communication, and so, the hominins living ~500 ka required some basic form of communication in order to participate in a significant part of their group’s culture.


            Beginning around 1.5 mya, hominins began experiencing a widening of the frontal lobes and a general expansion of the parietal lobes; the relative expansion of these areas created a particular cortical architecture that was primed to foster symbolic behavior. However, this structure would not promote symbolic behavior unless an environment existed in which those who were more symbolically apt were likely to be reproductively successful, and this environment was a complex social group that was mediated by some form of communication. The point in which humans reached this level of group complexity cannot be specifically identified in the archaeological record, although it can be said that it occurred sometime before the Levallois technical innovation ~500 ka, and well before the innovations at Klasies River Mouth and the burials at Kebara Cave. It is important to note that the events that led to the emergence of symbolic behavior are not entirely genetic, for the status of symbolic behavior as reproductively advantageous is determined by a social environment. This non-genetic component of symbolic behavior deflates arguments that claim that human evolution was strictly genetic.

            Many cognitive archaeologists are reluctant to place a date on the emergence of any cognitive ability, understandably, for any ability would have a slow and gradual genesis, and so naturally it is almost impossible to isolate a specific point of origin. Moreover, those who do assert dates for an emergent ability–especially one as critical as symbolic behavior–are overly modest, for no evidence exists that excludes the possibility that symbolic behavior had a very ancient origin. I propose that symbolic behavior began emerging sometime after the frontal lobe widening and parietal expansion that began ~1.5mya, and sometime before the Levallois innovation that occurred ~500ka.

[1] Jean Benoist’s comments within Holloway’s “Culture: A Human Domain.” (1969)

[2] Geometric morphometric analyses include the traditional methods, “multivariate statistical procedures

to collections of distances, angles, or distance ratios,”  and the more recent Procrustes methods, “which are based on the least-squares estimation of translation, rotation, and… scaling parameters that optimally, in the least-squares sense, align sets of landmark coordinates” (Slice 263). Basically, geometric morphometric strategies are methods of exact measurement and shape analysis that utilize the geometric relationships within a space. For more information, see Bookstein et al. 1985, Gower 1975, and Dryden & Mardia 1998.

[3] “Variation and distribution of the ratio between frontal width and maximum endocranial width for the three human groups (HE ¼ H. erectus sensu lato; HN ¼ Neandertals; HS¼ modern humans). As the ratio gets larger, the endocranium appears more ‘squared’ in superior view, because of the frontal relative widening. Box and whiskers plots show the non-parametric descriptors (maximum and minimum, interquartile, and median). Differences between HE and the other two groups are significant” (Bruner and Holloway 141).

[4] Hominoid refers to apes, humans, and their ape ancestors; hominid refers to humans and their near relatives, extant and extinct; hominin refers to the same set that hominid refers to, but is within a different system of classification.

[5] Meninges are layers of dura matter that surround the brain. The vessels that run through the meninges provide blood circulation, and reticulation refers to the branching of these vessels.


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