Crisis, Continuity and Change

  • How do crises originate?

  • How do they impact on socioeconomic and political practices?

  • How do we theorize about crises in their own right?

These are some of the questions addressed by the research project Crisis, Continuity and Change (3C).

‘Don’t waste a good crisis’

This statement suggests that crises, for many observers, have multiple dimensions.

Apart from signalling a rupture in established patterns of behaviour, crises also provide opportunities for change and improvement. Recognizing the combination of various elements of crisis, scholars from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds have analysed the genesis, unfolding and impact of crises.

Historians, sociologists, political scientists, economists and scholars of international relations have contributed to helping us understand the various facets of the crisis concept.


Rethinking our understanding of knowledge regimes

The numerous crises engulfing the world today are arguably very different from the ones famously studied by Karl Polanyi in his seminal book The Great Transformation. Yet, there is little doubt as to whether these current crises entail a great transformation or not.

Far from being mere changes to the existing world order, classically depicted by the rise and fall of particular hegemonic states, the current crises appear to be more structural in their nature forcing us to rethink the manner in which we understand capitalist, financial, regulatory, security, environmental and knowledge regimes.

An omnipresent sense of crises is not strictly confined to the above-mentioned, events based, time-space configurations. These crises have also elicited epistemic challenges to a variety of scholarly debates situated in various disciplines in the social sciences and in law.

For example:

  • Classical debates in International Relations (IR) theory about declining American hegemony and the changing nature of liberal internationalism have been further intensified in the wake of the recent crises (Ikenberry 2009; Keohane 2012; Moravcsik 2011).
  • In International Political Economy (IPE), the bulk of the literature has appeared to alternate between two discussions. Firstly, scholars have focused on the impact of the current financial crisis on the US (Krugman 2011; Rodrik 2010, 2012) and the EU (van Appeldorn 2012; Ryner 2012), and secondly scholars have analysed the nexus between recurrent crises and emergent new forms of capitalism(s) around the globe (Boyer 2010, 2012; Nolke 2012).
  • In the field of Public Administration, the policy orthodoxy of ‘New Public Management’ has been challenged by arguments centering on the return of the ‘State’ as a way to address the multiple crises (Colebatch 2009; Peters 2011).
  • In the field of Development Studies, notions of ‘good governance’ have been contested by the rise of new development paradigms connected to the increased presence of ‘emerging economies’ in developing countries. At the same time, the credibility of modernization-oriented notions of state-building as the proper response to situations of ‘state fragility’ and outright state collapse have been questioned.
  • In the field of public international law, the normative liberal and positivist orientation of legal discourse has gradually given way to a critical discussion about the politics of justice and international law, particularly in the face of global crises (Koskenniemi 2009; Nouwen and Werner 2010; Marks 2008).

Why is this research relevant?

The objective of this research project is to bring together a group of scholars across various social sciences disciplines and law who are currently working on this important topic. 

The C3 understanding here does not only entail a scholarly analysis of how crises have originated and how they have had an impact on a whole array of socioeconomic and political practices.

This project is also concerned with the manner in which we theorize crisis in its own right. In other words, this project seeks to deepen our understanding regarding the conditions under which crises are conducive for the creation and/or facilitation of change, continuity or change-continuity interactions.

Investigating the interaction between analyses of crises in their own right and crises ‘in/ of’ something

The project suggests a set of operational questions, which will explicitly delve into the nexus between political change and crises. Such questions include:

  • Can crises be windows of opportunities for political change? Or are they conducive towards restoration and continuity?
  • What do we mean by political change and who defines these terms?
  • To whom is this change directed, and by whom? Does political change need crises in order to materialize?
  • Why do certain interests use crises to promulgate continuity while other interests manipulate crises to introduce change?
  • Are crises permanent or recurrent?

The contribution of the C3 project lies in its emphasis on the mutual interaction between analyses of crises in their own right and crises ‘in/ of’ something.

The focus of the C3 project will therefore be first and foremost on the political implications of crises, which are manifested in the attempts to manage crises and adapt to the major implications that crises have for political, social and economic institutions, regimes and arrangements.



Dr Karim Knio

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