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Always a great definition of political economy analysis

Political economy analysis is therefore essentially concerned with the interaction of political and economic processes in a society. It focuses on the distribution of power and wealth between different groups and individuals, and on the processes that create, sustain and transform these relationships over time.

Sarah Collinson 2003

You can read more here

Photo credit: Brian Wertheim on Unsplash

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On the ways of learning by Mary Catherine Bateson

I am reading the Peripheral Visions: Learning along the Way by Mary Catherine Bateson. What a wonderful book.

A book of travels and of reflections about the multiple ways of learning, in particular learning from experiences.

Here few quotes I have underlined so far:

‘Sometimes change is directly visible, but sometimes it is apparent only to peripheral vision, altering the meaning of the foreground. While our society puts a premium on specialization and devotion to one pursuit at a time, narrowly focused attention tends to limit our learning and hamper our ability to make meaningful connections between different life experiences’.

‘Insight, I believe, refers to the depth of understanding that comes by setting experiences yours and mine, familiar and exotic, new and old, side to side learning by letting them speak to one another.’

Arriving in a new place, you start from an acknowledgment of strangeness, a disciplined use of discomfort and surprise. Later, as observations accumulate, the awareness of contrast dwindles and must be replaced with a growing understanding of how observations fit together within a system unique to the other culture. Having made as much use not as possible of the sense that everything is alien, you begin to experience, through increasing familiarity, the way in which everything makes sense within a new logic. Eventually an ethnographer will hope to develop a description of a whole way of life that will convey this internal consistency, in which the height and placement of a chair, the adult response to a crying baby and to voices raised in dispute, and the rules about when to relax and the rhythms of the day can be integrated, although never perfectly. The final description should deal with the other culture in its own terms. Yet it is contrast that makes learning possible.’

‘To become open to multiple layers of vision is both practical and empathic, to practice the presence of God or gods and to practice wilderness. Learning the traits of human culture, we are attentive to the undomesticated outdoors and the essential wildness spinning on in subatomic spaces, forever generating new patterns.’

‘This is a book of stories and reflections strung together to suggest a style of learning from experience. Wherever a story comes from, whether it is a familiar myth or a private memory, the retelling exemplifies the making of a connection from one pattern to another: a potential translation in which narrative becomes parable and the once upon a time comes to stand for some renascent truth. This approach applies to all the incident of everyday life: the phrase in the newspaper, the endearing or infuriating game of a toddler, the misunderstanding at the office. Our species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories. Many tales have more than one meaning. It is important not to reduce understanding to some narrow focus, sacrificing multiplicity to what might be called the rhetoric of merely’

‘Because learning is the most basic of human adaptive processes, we hope that it will lead toward a relationship with the rest of the biosphere that is both satisfying and sustainable.’

‘Ambiguity is the warp of life, not something to be eliminated. Learning to savour the vertigo of doing without answers or making shift or making do with fragmentary ones opens up the pleasures of recognising and playing with pattern, finding coherence within complexity, sharing within multiplicity.’

‘… and most learning is not linear. Planning for the classroom, we sometimes present learning in linear sequences, which may be part fo what makes calssroom learning onerous: this concept must precede that, must be fully grasped before the next is presented. Learning outside the classroom in not like that. Lessons too complex to grasp in a single occurrence spiral past again and again, small examples gradually revealing greater ad greater implications.’

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Capitalism without competition

What a podcast episode from The Daily @ The New York Times: Who do You Want Controlling Your Food?

Since 1980s and Ronald Reagan, a continuous process of mergers and market consolidation in the food industries ash left small producers are the mercy of giant corporations. When small producers try to innovate to reach consumers directly they are crushed by corporations. In this episode, you can hear the chilling words of Ronald Reagan; that the wholesale meat market in the US is an oligopoly controlled by just 4 corporations; the lack of power of small farmers and ranchers towards these corporations.

Most of all, the political system, administration after administration, has either supported this lack of competition or has proven not to have the will and power to address it.

From The Daily site: “During the pandemic, the price of beef shot up. Wholesale beef prices increased more than 40 percent — more than 70 percent for certain cuts of steak. Yet ranchers reported that the profits weren’t trickling down. The conventional wisdom was that price increases simply reflected the chaos that the coronavirus had caused in the supply chain. But there’s evidence that they were in fact a reflection of a more fundamental change in the meatpacking business. We speak to ranchers about the consolidation of the industry and explore what it can show us about a transformation in the American economy — one much bigger than beef.”

Photo credit: Febiyan on Unsplash

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“Food policy as doing.” An example from the 1970s from Finland of how to solve a complex social and economic problem with a system approach.

Thank you to Adam Kremeia for sharing with me this Guardian Long Read about the failing food systems in the UK and for pointing me to the experience from Northern Karelia in Finland.

The article is titled We need to break the junk food cycle’: how to fix Britain’s failing food system. It is a very concrete example of a complex and interconnected problem that requires a systems approach (including the political will) to try to solve it. The example from Northern Karelia in Finland from the 1970s is a concrete example of how a systemic approach to finding solutions works in practice.

“Recent English obesity policies have spoken endlessly of “action” to help people eat healthier diets, but what they deliver, often as not, is another raft of patronising diet information leaflets, such as the bright yellow Change4Life diet pamphlets handed out in schools and GP surgeries. (One uninspiring gem: “If you’re shopping for packaged snacks for your children, try sticking to 100 calorie snacks.”)”

“For three decades, Theis and White found, successive governments have repeatedly proposed “similar or identical policies” and then not done anything to see them through. What counts as an obesity policy could be anything from a plan of action to a statement of intent. Whichever party has been in charge, the most popular policies have been ones placing high demands on individuals to make personal changes (such as the 5 a day campaign) rather than meaningful reforms such as restricting the sale of unhealthy foods, or subsidising fruits and vegetables to make them more affordable. Most of the ideas for structural interventions – for example, that the food industry should reformulate its unhealthiest products – were voluntary. Unsurprisingly, compliance was not high. “

“Decades of research show that obesity is determined to a large extent by environmental factors such as socioeconomic inequality, the rise of ultra-processed food and the way that cities are built to facilitate car use. But policymakers of England have stayed wedded to the idea that weight is all about personal responsibility: just eat less and move more.”

“But it’s also worth remembering that food cultures are not static, and just sometimes food policy can succeed in changing cultural attitudes for the better. In the 1970s, the region of North Karelia in Finland had some of the worst rates of fatal heart disease in the world. A visionary young public health official called Pekka Puska implemented a whole range of measures to address cardiovascular health, all at once. Puska worked with women’s groups to encourage people to cook new versions of traditional dishes, with more vegetables and less meat. He supported dairy farmers in diverting some of their land from butter to berries. He persuaded local sausage producers to take out some of the fat and replace it with mushrooms. And he recruited an army of local people to act as advocates for the new diet to their friends and neighbours. Puska also instigated smoke-free workplaces. By 2012, cardiovascular mortality among men in the region had dropped by 80%. Policy experts still debate which of Puska’s various measures made the greatest difference, but in a sense it doesn’t matter. This was food policy as doing, not talking, and it worked.

A good food policy is one that actually makes it beyond the announcement and gets carried out, with adjustments along the way for anything that doesn’t work.”

Photo credit: Robin Stickel on Unsplash