Category Archives: Voices

Enhancing Immigrant Integration through Social Connections: An Experimental Study in Sweden

February 7, 2024
By 28006

Olle Hammar’s (Uppsala University, 2020) Sylff Research Grant focused on evaluating a program aimed at promoting social inclusion of immigrants and refugees in Sweden. The project, involving a randomized controlled trial in partnership with an NGO, assessed the impact of contact with natives on immigrants’ social, economic, and cultural integration. Preliminary results suggest potential benefits, including sustained relationships and increased job opportunities for immigrants.

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Introduction

My project on “Social Networks and Immigrant Integration: Experimental Evidence from Sweden,” conducted together with Mounir Karadja and Akib Khan at Uppsala University, seeks to understand and enhance immigrant integration in Sweden, a country known for its progressive social policies but which is now grappling with the challenges of integrating its growing foreign-born population (Statistics Sweden 2019). The project began with a deep interest in understanding immigrant integration in Sweden. Intrigued by the pivotal role social networks can play, we aim to explore the impact of social interactions between immigrants and native Swedes on the integration process.

The study is conducted in partnership with Nya Kompisbyrån (New Friend Agency), a Swedish nongovernmental organization facilitating informal meetings between immigrants and natives in Sweden. Immigrants, predominantly from low- and middle-income countries, are matched with native Swedes, fostering opportunities for language practice, cultural exchange, and network expansion. Through a randomized controlled trial, we assessed the effectiveness of this program.

 

Nya Kompisbyrån operations manager Mardin Baban, left, and Mounir Karadja of Uppsala University’s Department of Economics.

The COVID-19 pandemic posed significant challenges to this project, temporarily forcing participants to shift from direct, in-person interactions to digital meetings. Thankfully, solutions to these challenges were facilitated by the SRG, which allowed for the implementation of a more structured and sustainable survey data collection approach.

Background and Methodology

Sweden has experienced a significant influx of immigrants from diverse backgrounds, and their social and economic integration has become a key issue (Statistics Sweden 2019). Our research focuses on evaluating the effectiveness of social networks in facilitating this integration by working closely with Nya Kompisbyrån, one of the largest NGOs of its kind in Sweden.

In this project, we use a randomized controlled field experiment to evaluate a novel program administered by Nya Kompisbyrån.

The methodology is based on the observation that, since more immigrants than natives sign up for this program, not all immigrants can be matched with a native Swede. As such, our evaluation uses a randomization design where two immigrants are selected as potential matches for each native, based on common interests, gender, and age.

One of the immigrants is randomly assigned to meet with the native, while the other is placed in the control group. Individuals in both groups, as well as the participating native Swedes, were surveyed by an external survey company (co-financed by SRG) during the implementation period between October 2022 and September 2023. Using this data and methodology, we are able to assess the causal effects of contact with natives on immigrants’ social, economic, and cultural integration.

While the data collection phase is now finished, which was the aim of the SRG-funded part of the project, our next step will be to analyze the data and assess the final results. Preliminary findings suggest large potential benefits for the participating immigrants. Most matched pairs continue to meet after their first contact, indicating that a large share of matches results in meaningful and sustained relationships. In addition, many of the job-searching participants indicate that they have received a job or internship through their native Swedish contact. The interactions also seemed to facilitate stronger social networks for participating immigrants.

Adapting to COVID-19

The pandemic posed significant challenges to our original plan of studying in-person meetings between the participants. We adapted to these circumstances by shifting to a more sustainable format of long-term survey data collection, which allowed us to continue our research without compromising the integrity of the participants or the depth of our analysis. The project had to be temporarily suspended when COVID-19 made in-person meetings impracticable, but we were able to continue conducting fieldwork thanks to SRG.

The project will potentially have broad implications for Sweden’s approach to immigrant integration. It examines the importance of social connections and cultural exchange in breaking down barriers and fostering a more inclusive society (Allport 1954). The findings will offer valuable insights for policymakers, demonstrating how initiatives promoting direct social interactions between immigrants and natives can enhance the integration process.

Another contribution of this project is its experimental attempt to evaluate an NGO-driven intervention for immigrant integration. Many NGOs are active in the field of integration across the globe and often have innovative approaches based on voluntary participation, as well as low operating costs (Lundberg et al. 2011). In Sweden, the government identifies civil society as an important actor for integration. Yet, despite public and private investments, there is a lack of knowledge on the causal effects of civil society organizations in this domain (Osanami Törngren et al. 2018). As such, this project also contributes to evaluating civil society’ broader role in immigrant integration.

Both Academic and Practical Benefits

This journey has been both challenging and rewarding. Adapting to the unforeseen circumstances posed by the pandemic while maintaining the integrity of our research project was a significant learning experience. We are very grateful for support from the Sylff Association in helping us quickly adapt to these changed circumstances. The SRG funding was instrumental in the success of this project, enabling us to navigate unforeseen obstacles and contribute significantly to the field. It has also allowed me to continue my collaboration with my research colleagues and the NGO, as well as other actors in the area of immigrant integration in Sweden and abroad.

The project has been pre-accepted for publication in the Journal of Development Economics (Hammar, Karadja, and Khan 2023), based on a pre-results review. This, we believe, is a testament to its academic significance and practical relevance. The insights gained from this research will contribute not only to the academic understanding of immigrant integration but also offer practical insights for NGOs and policymakers on the potential of social networks and informal meetings. It strengthens our belief in the power of simple human connections to bridge cultural divides and enhance societal cohesion.

Our next step will be to analyze and disseminate the final results of this project. Going forward, we will further explore the dynamics of immigrant integration in different cultural and societal contexts. Our research also highlights the need for more innovative approaches to policymaking in the realm of migration and integration.

 

Social integration through coffee?

References

Allport, G.W. 1954. The Nature of Prejudice. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Hammar, O., Karadja, M., and Khan, A. 2023. “Social Networks and Immigrant Integration: Experimental Evidence from Sweden,” Journal of Development Economics, Accepted (Pre-Results Review).

Lundberg, E., Brundin, P., Amnå, E., and Bozzini, E. 2011. “European Civil Societies and the Promotion of Integration: Leading Practices from Sweden, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Italy.” In Social Rights, Active Citizenship and Governance in the EU. Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft.

Osanami Törngren, S., Öberg, K., and Righard, E. 2018. “The Role of Civil Society in the Integration of Newly Arrived Refugees in Sweden.” In Newcomer Integration in Europe: Best Practices and Innovations since 2015.

Statistics Sweden. 2019. “Integration: En beskrivning av läget i Sverige,” Integration 13.

The Viability of Coproduction in South Africa’s Local Governments

January 15, 2024
By 28866

Leon Poshai (University of the Western Cape, 2020) used an SRG award to conduct interviews with both local leaders and residents in five South African municipalities to assess the extent to which coproduction—the formalized process by which local governments engage with citizens—can be used to address community problems and enhance the effectiveness of service delivery.

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My research sought to assess the viability of coproduction as a strategy for ensuring that citizens have a voice in the policymaking processes in the context of local governance in South Africa. Coproduction refers to the formalized process by which the government engages with citizens when making decisions that affect them (Khine et al. 2021). In the context of local governance, coproduction involves consulting and engaging with residents and their local leaders when reaching decisions on how services should be delivered. The process of coproduction has been regarded as a best practice for the cogeneration of actionable knowledge to address community problems (Osborne, Radnor, and Strokosch 2016).

The overall aim of the study was to assess the extent to which the coproduction model can be used to enhance the effectiveness of service delivery in South Africa’s local government institutions. In this regard, the research explored the various measures that local governments in South Africa are using or can use to ensure that there is regular engagement between local government leaders and residents as recipients of services. For example, the photo below shows ward councillors interacting with residents on community development, which can be seen as coproduction in action.

Citizen-government interaction forms the core of the process of coproduction, https://twitter.com/CityofJoburgZA, accessed June 16, 2023.

Through a qualitative research approach deploying the interview method, I was able to interact with residents and local government leaders in five cities in South Africa, namely, Cape Town, Mpumalanga, Pretoria, Limpopo, and Johannesburg. Their selection was based on the fact that they are major municipalities in South Africa, making them a rich social laboratory for the collection of diverse data from a larger population. I combined both convenience sampling and purposive sampling in selecting the participants. Both face-to-face interviews and telephone interviews were used, based on the availability of the participants.

Through the interviews, I managed to obtain a balanced overview of the utility of coproduction from both the residents and local leaders. I traveled to these cities to interact with residents and obtain an in-depth understanding of the issue investigated in its natural context. This enabled me to gain an appreciation of the need for coproduction as a response to the different service delivery challenges facing South Africa’s local governments.

The study was guided by the following research question:

  1. What are the current strategies for promoting the codesign of policy solutions to address local government challenges in South Africa?
  2. What can local government institutions in South Africa do to improve their citizen engagement methods toward the codesign of solutions to challenges confronting their communities?

The main findings of the study indicate that in local governance, coproduction is the glue that binds societies together, as it brings the governors (leaders) and the governed (residents) together in defining the problems affecting their communities and in designing appropriate solutions to address those challenges. The photo below shows the leadership-resident interface in a South African local government.

Deliberations between a local leader and residents on policy issues, https://twitter.com/CityofJoburgZA/status/1115171024973312000/photo/3, accessed August 21, 2023.

The study also revealed that coproduction enables the kind of regular interaction between the local leadership and residents that is crucial for local development, allowing for collaboration and idea transfer. Without coproduction, it is difficult for local leaders to know what problems are affecting residents and what solutions are needed to address the problems. Thus, the study found that the development of relevant policy responses to local problems hinged on the engagement or collaboration between the leaders and the residents, which is made possible through coproduction.

The study also revealed that when coproduction is not practiced, residents often resist the resolutions passed by their local leaders, sometimes leading to protests or unrest in the communities. Thus, citizens expect that they are duly consulted by their leaders in the decision-making process, and when this is not done, they feel that they are neglected. Residents will not support decisions made without their participation. Interactions with residents revealed that the main reason for protests in different South African municipalities was because of the imposition of decisions by their leaders without their input. Picketing at government offices occurs when residents feel that they are sidelined in the formulation of decisions that have a direct bearing on their lives, and this underscores the need for leaders to engage residents in the decision-making process and the need for coproduction. Interviewed residents highlighted that they feel valued if their leaders engage them before making decisions that affect them, and if this is not done, they will protest against that decision as reflected in the image below: 

Picketing because of poor government-resident engagement, https://www.groundup.org.za/article/tembisa-residents-meet-councillors-over-reblocking-demolitions/, accessed October 25, 2023.

Residents interviewed in Limpopo noted that coproduction is the only way in which they can share their grievances with their local leaders. They indicated that solutions for community problems should come from the members of the community themselves and not be imposed by their leaders. As such, residents indicated that they expect to be consulted by their leaders, such as mayors, councillors, and municipal managers, when decisions affecting their lives are made. The residents indicated that the main service delivery functions that they expect to be consulted on as part of the process of coproduction include issues of water provision, road construction and maintenance, sewer reticulation, waste management, and general good governance. The views shared by the residents emphasized the need for coproduction, which allows for regular engagement between local leaders and residents in designing solutions to problems faced in their areas.

Furthermore, the study showed that coproduction contributes to greater transparency in local governance. The use of local financial resources (local budget) can be done in a more transparent manner if there is open dialogue and communication between the leaders and the residents, which coproduction enables. In particular, transparency in financial resource utilization is achieved through agreements on the areas of resource prioritization. The existence of a pre-agreed strategic plan on the utilization of financial resources enables residents to monitor if the utilization process is in line with the agreed plans, and this helps to minimize the chances of corruption and abuse of public funds (Bandola-Gill et al. 2023). Interviewed municipal officials in Pretoria and Cape Town indicated that they consult and involve residents in developing local budgets and keep them in the loop regarding financial decision-making. This is a major component of coproduction, which creates a sense of transparency in the utilization of financial resources. The residents also concurred that they are consulted in the budget formulation process, and, as ratepayers, this helps them to check the extent to which their rates are being used for agreed priorities.

The research also established that coproduction is key to bridging the gap between governments and citizens. It represents the principal avenue for citizens and the government to engage on issues that matter most, particularly issues of service delivery, helping to build trust between the leaders and the residents. Trust is a fundamental pillar of sound governance, as it nurtures an honest relationship between the government and the citizens (Campanale 2020). Coproduction engenders dialogue between the government and the citizens, which helps in cosetting the local development agenda and policy priorities. 

The study revealed that coproduction should be promoted through public consultations, public opinion surveys, local hearings, and community engagement programs—activities that help provide residents with the necessary information in the decision-making process. Coproduction in South African municipalities creates an open space where residents can share their concerns, offer feedback, and develop proposals for action with their leaders. This helps to ensure that the decisions made by the leaders are resonant with the expectations and realities of the residents. The interview with community leaders in Mpumalanga indicated that the policy decisions made using the coproduction model are highly likely to be responsive to the challenges faced by the communities.

Scholars like Moallemi et al. (2023) have argued that coproduction enables the sharing of information on activities and programs being implemented by the government and helps raise awareness on policy issues. In addition, the process of coproduction leads to greater clarity on the roles that both leaders and residents must play in the efforts to resolve community challenges. Some residents indicated that information on government programs remains erratic, however, as most decisions continue to be made without their input. This raises concerns about the effectiveness of stakeholder engagement in the South African local government system. It has been argued that the disclosure of information allows citizens to gain an understanding of the issues that affect them. Thus, local government institutions are encouraged to promote the proactive disclosure of relevant information in a clear and timely manner.

The topic of coproduction was chosen because it enables an examination of the interface between the local government leadership and residents. The topic provided a formal way of demonstrating why collaborative engagement between the governors and the governed are important. The findings of this study can contribute to society by enhancing understanding of the need for government and residents to collaborate in defining problems and in generating solutions to address them together. These findings can help local government practitioners in different parts of the world develop strategies for engaging residents and formulate relevant solutions to the challenges facing contemporary local government institutions.

References

Bandola-Gill, Justyna, Megan Arthur, and Rhodri Ivor Leng. 2023. “What is co-production? Conceptualising and understanding the co-production of knowledge and policy across different theoretical perspectives.” Evidence & Policy 19(2), 275–298.

Campanale, Cristina, Sara Giovanna Mauro, and Alessandro Sancino, 2021. “Managing co‑production and enhancing good governance principles: Insights from two case studies.” Journal of Management and Governance 25(1), 275–306.

Khine, Pwint Kay, Jianing Mi, and Raza Shahid. 2021. “A Comparative Analysis of Co-Production in Public Services.” Sustainability, 13(12), 6730.

Moallemi, Enayat A., Fateme Zare, Aniek Hebinck, Katrina Szetey, Edmundo Molina-Perez, Romy L. Zyngier, Michalis Hadjikakou, Jan Kwakkel, Marjolijn Haasnoot, Kelly K. Miller, David G. Groves, Peat Leith, and Brett A. Bryan. 2023. “Knowledge co-production for decision-making in human-natural systems under uncertainty.” Global Environmental Change 82, 102727.

Osborne, Stephen P., Zoe Radnor, and Kirsty Strokosch, 2016. “Co-Production and the Co-Creation of Value in Public Services: A suitable case for treatment?” Public Management Review 18(5), 639–653.

Constructing Egypt’s Nineteenth-Century Criminal Identification System

December 6, 2023
By 26730

As part of their PhD thesis, “Hygienic Enclosure and the Construction of Modern Egypt,” Marianne Dhenin details some of the scientific theories and social forces that shaped the construction of a new criminal identification system in late-nineteenth-century Egypt. Their research was supported by a Sylff Research Grant (SRG).

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As a young man, Ragab el-Sayed moved from Minya to Cairo, where he earned a living shining the shoes of wealthier Cairenes and foreign tourists in the city’s bustling downtown. On July 14, 1896, at 19 years old, he was arrested, charged with committing vagabondage, and sentenced to seventeen days of imprisonment and six months of police surveillance. He spent his sentence in a local prison. Just before his release, Ragab was called to an office, where a man armed with a caliper took precise measurements of his left arm, hand, elbow, middle finger, and foot, the length and width of his head, the width of his face, the breadth of his chest, and his height. The administrator noted that Ragab had chestnut hair and brown skin with no distinguishing marks. ​​After noting these measurements and observations in careful detail on la fiche, a two-sided form with descriptors in French, the man pressed each of Ragab’s fingertips into a dollop of ordinary printer’s ink spread thinly and evenly across a copper plate and then onto the backside of the form. When Ragab was released, he left the local jail knowing that if he were ever arrested again, he could be recognized as a recidivist and receive a harsher sentence. His intimate anatomical data was now the property of the state.

The combination of measuring and fingerprinting used to catalog those convicted of crimes in Egypt was still new when Ragab was arrested in 1896. It was the pet project of Colonel George Harvey, who served in various positions in the Egyptian police during the British occupation, which began in 1882. He had observed a similar system being tested in England while on leave in London a few years earlier. “I was so deeply impressed with the adaptability of the system to [Egypt],” he remarked, “that, on my return, I at once took it up.”

What ensued was a years-long process of developing a new identification system for Egypt, which soon extended beyond the realm of the criminalized to become a broader regime of demographic control. This essay offers a glimpse into how popular scientific theories of the time, urbanization, and migration shaped the construction and rollout of the new system.

Theorizing Crime in the Nineteenth Century

When Harvey first encountered fingerprinting in England, the methods available for classifying fingerprints remained limited, so he chose to adopt a combined classification method using fingerprints and anthropometric measurements. This latter method was called Bertillonage, after Alphonse Bertillon, the police official who introduced it in France a decade earlier.

Both Bertillonage and fingerprint identification were developed with the rise of modern criminology and penology. These nascent fields of expertise placed new emphasis on the individual human body within a broader context of discussions about criminal predisposition and the increasing traction of eugenic ideas in the popular press and scientific and legal circles. Egyptians encountered these ideas in a rash of scientific periodicals, many headquartered in Cairo, that emerged with the rise of the Arabic press in the late nineteenth century. Their readers were concentrated in the nation’s cities. They mostly belonged to a newly educated middle-class political elite and the growing cadre of civil servants and administrators who staffed the nation’s burgeoning bureaucracy. While literacy rates were low in Egypt at the time, and the circulation of periodicals remained limited, many more Egyptians engaged with the ideas in newspapers and journals at collective readings and discussions in public squares, coffee shops, and homes.

The most militant theory emerging from the late-nineteenth-century drive to individualize the criminal was that of the born criminal, promoted by subscribers to Cesare Lombroso’s school of positivist criminology. Rooted in biological determinism, the theory held that criminal behavior was an expression of atavistic human traits, and every criminal act could be traced back to some original hereditary cause—in short, criminals were born, not made. This also meant that Lombroso believed that individuals carried physical markers of criminal proclivities. Thieves had “small, wandering eyes,” for example, while rapists had “sparkling eyes” and “delicate features.”

While Lombroso’s idea of the born criminal was widely discredited across Europe in the first years of the twentieth century, it still appeared in the Egyptian press decades later. It resurfaced during the trial of Raya and Sakina, a pair of Egyptian women eventually convicted for a series of murders committed in Alexandria and hanged in 1921. Photographs of Raya and Sakina were widely circulated during the investigation and trial, and at least one prominent Egyptian commentator reflected on whether their facial features marked them as born criminals. ʿAbbas Mahmud al-ʿAqqad published his opinion on the topic after seeing the women’s photographs in al-Ahram, writing that their faces showed signs of feeblemindedness and evil. A later article, published in 1929 in the Alexandria-based English- and French-language Egyptian Gazette, turned the theory of hereditary criminality against Egyptians at large, claiming that one had only to visit any criminal court in the nation to find that the prisoners and the audience shared visible criminal features.

Several methods of fingerprint classification were developed in the late nineteenth century. This sketch showing the outline of two palms with fingerprints is from Scottish scientist Henry Faulds, who devised one early system.
Henry Faulds: Dactylography. Source: Wellcome Collection (CC BY 4.0). https://wellcomecollection.org/works/hhd5ttpp?wellcomeImagesUrl=/indexplus/image/L0032694.html.

Migration and Urbanization

Migration and urbanization also drove the development of a new criminal identification system in Egypt. The nation’s cities experienced explosive growth between 1850 and 1880, as the country’s population was growing at an approximate rate of 12 per 1,000 per year. Some cities expanded faster than others, particularly those in the Delta, like Tanta, Mansoura, and Damanhour, affected by the cotton boom of 1861 to 1866. According to census estimates, Cairo and Alexandria grew by over 40 percent during the three-decade-long period. While significant urbanization was partly a result of local population growth and rural-to-urban migration, Egypt also experienced a rise in the number of foreigners in its population during this period. These trends fostered social friction and an apparent increase in crime, as convictions for murders, gang robberies, thefts with violence, and general crimes rose in the 1890s. Harvey later estimated that Cairo accommodated almost 71,000 immigrants between 1907 and 1917. He remarked, “There is but little doubt that these ‘immigrants’ are, for the most part, undesirables who have drifted in from the rest of Egypt and are of [sic] themselves of the Criminal Class.”

To catalog groups considered suspicious, like arriving migrants, fingerprinting in Egypt was soon expanded beyond those suspected or convicted of crimes. For example, the practice of registering native servants became law in Egypt in 1902. The law required would-be domestic servants to visit the police and register with an employment agency. Using fingerprints, the police would confirm that the applicant had no previous convictions and issue an identity certificate with which they could undertake lawful employment. Various other employers, including government hospitals, the Railway Administration, and the Tram Company, later adopted this process for “certain classes of their employees.” A 1916 law added cleaners, doormen, cooks, and gardeners to the list of those required to obtain identity certificates. It also allowed workers to obtain them directly rather than interfacing with an employment agency. Later amendments added carters, couriers, and public bath attendants to the list.

The desire for a new criminal identification system intensified at the turn of the twentieth century amid increasing urbanization. Shown here is a crowded street in Cairo in 1896.
“A Crowded Street in Cairo, Egypt.” Underwood & Underwood Publishers, 1896. Stereoscopic Photographs Collection, The American University in Cairo Rare Books and Special Collections Library. https://digitalcollections.aucegypt.edu/digital/collection/p15795coll8/id/30/rec/28.

The Twentieth-Century Future of Egyptian Fingerprinting

Beginning as little more than an ambition that struck a single police official while on leave in London in the early 1890s, the Egyptian identification system became one of significant repute in less than a decade. Harvey boasted in an 1897 report that “the system as it is practiced [in Egypt] is not only exact in its details but also of international utility.” To what extent the Egyptian system may have been used as a model elsewhere is unclear. Nonetheless, Harvey and his team were on the cutting edge of developing and deploying these new technologies in the late nineteenth century.

Their European contemporaries also praised their work. John George Garson, superintendent of Scotland Yard’s Anthropometric Office, conceded in 1896 that the work of the Egypt-based team was equal to that carried out in London or Paris. Garson also reviewed a selection of about a hundred fiches compiled by measurers-in-training in Egypt and wrote to Harvey that he had “never seen a more creditable piece of work than has been turned out by your men.”

The use of fingerprinting for criminal identification in Egypt would only become more entrenched in the twentieth century, with a standalone fingerprint department eventually established under the Ministry of Public Security. With its rapid upscaling as a criminal identification system and its eventual expansion as a technology used to surveil undesirable migrant groups and large swaths of the nation’s laboring classes, the Egyptian identification system became a regime of broader demographic control in the twentieth century.

References

al-ʿAqqad, ʿAbbas Mahmud. 2013. Al-Fusul. Cairo: Hindawy Institute for Education and Culture. 

Egyptian Gazette. 1902. “Crime and Village Government.” November 1, 1902.

Ayalon, Ami. 1995. The Press in the Arab Middle East: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cole, Juan Ricardo. 1992. Colonialism and Revolution in the Middle East: Social and Cultural Origins of Egypt’s Urabi Movement. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Elshakry, Marwa. 2013. Reading Darwin in Arabic, 1860–1950. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Harvey, George. 1917–1925. Note by Colonel George Harvey on his career, upon his resignation from the position of Commandant of Cairo Police. FO 141/781/1. The National Archives, London.

Harvey Pasha, C L. 1900–1902. Letters from Colonel Harvey Pasha, Police Commandant, Cairo, to Galton. GALTON/2/9/6/13/26. Galton Papers. Wellcome Libary, London.

Hecht, Jennifer. 2012. The End of the Soul: Scientific Modernity, Atheism and Anthropology in France. New York: Columbia University Press. 

Isa, Salah. 2002. Rijal Raya wa Sakina: ​​Sirat Ijtimaʿiyya wa Siasiyya. Cairo: Dar al-Ahmadi lil-Nashr.

Khalil, Mina Elias. 2021. “A Society’s Crucible: Forging Law and the Criminal Defendant in Modern Egypt, 1820–1920.” PhD thesis, University of Pennsylvania.

Lombroso, Cesare. 2006. Criminal Man, translated by Mary Gibson and Nicole Hahn Rafter. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Nizarat al-Dakhiliyya. 1916. Laʾiha al-mukhaddimin. November 8, 1916. https://www.laweg.net/framePlain.aspx?action=ViewActivePages&Type=6&ItemID=36401&NID=46078.

Nizarat al-Dakhiliyya. 1902. Laʾiha bi-shaʾn al-mukhaddimin. September 20, 1902. https://manshurat.org/node/22966.

Owen, Roger. 1969. Cotton and the Egyptian Economy, 1820-1914: A Study in Trade and Development. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Ruiz, Mario M. 2014. “Criminal Statistics in the Long 1890s.” In The Long 1890s in Egypt: Colonial Quiescence, Subterranean Resistance, edited by Marilyn Booth and Anthony Gorman. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Takla, Nefertiti. 2021. “Barbaric Women: Race and the Colonization of Gender in Interwar Egypt.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 53 (3): 387–405.

Celebrating Sylff’s Twentieth Anniversary at Jadavpur University

October 23, 2023
By 24646

The much-anticipated return of in-person gatherings in the Sylff community was spearheaded by Jadavpur University, which hosted a COVID-delayed LANS meeting in March 2023 to commemorate JU-SYLFF’s twentieth anniversary. Sritama Chatterjee (Jadavpur University, 2017) reports on the gathering of Sylff alumni, who explored key questions confronting scholars in the humanities and social sciences.

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How do we reimagine our scholarship and engagement with the public in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic? This key question was at the heart of the Local Association Networking Support (LANS) meeting organized by Jadavpur University on March 28, 2023. This was the third time that JU organized a LANS gathering to promote the spirit of collaboration, exchange, and community among Jadavpur fellows, who have become leaders in their respective fields around the world. The LANS meet offered a space for the fellows to rekindle intellectual networks, though the fellows have always made efforts despite the pandemic to stay in touch with one another. The occasion also marked the twentieth anniversary of Sylff at JU. We were honored to be joined by Mari Suzuki, executive director of the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research, on the occasion and for the Foundation’s continued support toward our work.

The presence of the JU-SYLFF executive committee at the meeting was also noteworthy. Each committee member, including our assistant pro-vice-chancellor and finance officer, offered encouraging words and pledged continuous administrative support for the work of the JU-SYLFF community. The LANS meeting began with Professor Shibashis Chatterjee, director of JU-SYLFF, welcoming Executive Director Suzuki, the fellows, and members of the executive committee to the meeting, followed by remarks from Professor Joyashree Roy, founder-advisor of JU-SYLFF, who recounted the history of how Sylff came to Jadavpur University in 2003. Faculty mentors present at the meeting—Professor Emerita Supriya Chaudhuri and Professor Kavita Panjabi—recounted how fellows over the years have gone on to make their presence felt in their distinctive ways.

As scholars in the humanities and social sciences, how we remember and document our institutional histories matter. To that end, we published the newsletter celebrating 20 years of Sylff at JU that carried articles and artwork of the members of JU-SYLFF community. The newsletter that I and other fellows—Moitrayee Sengupta, Sujaan Mukherjee, and Soumya Bhowmick—conceptualized and edited was the culmination of months of labor: writing a call for papers and multiple emails, reaching out to members of the community, writing an editorial, proofreading, copy-editing, and designing. Our hope is that the newsletter will serve to document the multiple interests and work that the JU-SYLFF community has done over the years and note the shifts and transformations.

Publication of the twentieth-anniversary issue of the JU-SYLFF newsletter.

The meeting followed a unique format featuring three roundtables focused on the themes of justice, governance, and public humanities. Questions developed by our faculty mentors and focused on these themes were shared with the fellows participating in the roundtable in advance so that the conversation could be streamlined and nuanced.

The first roundtable on justice was chaired by Professor Kavita Panjabi, and Sylff fellows Sreerupa Bhattacharya, Renee Lulam, and Sritama Chatterjee participated to consider the utility, limits, and potential of various modes of justice. Questions for this roundtable included: (a) Do you think restorative justice, which focuses on repairing the harm caused by the crime, can be a practical and effective alternative in contemporary times to retributive justice, which focuses on punishing an offence? Explain how or why not. (b) Do you think linguistic justice runs the risk of becoming a tokenism, whereby diversity accepted and even celebrated at the linguistic level may leave untouched a deep disdain for minorities and may even result in increased oppression in everyday life? To contextualize the roundtable, Professor Panjabi put forward various definitions of justice, such as restorative, reparative, and retributive, and referred to several Greek tragedies. In response to the questions posed, participants in the roundtable reflected on questions of accountability, the limits of the legal system, the #MeToo movement, and feminist ethics of justice.

The second roundtable focused on governance and was chaired by Professor Shibashish Chatterjee. Sylff fellows Sulagna Maitra, who travelled all the way from Dublin, and Sreya Mita were the participants for this roundtable. Questions addressed included: (a) How do we characterize the existing modes of governance in contemporary times? What are its normative goals? Your reflections on how modern capitalism and administration function would be very helpful. (b) How do we understand global governance and its challenges in the contemporary world order? What are the major issues involved? Is there a crisis of global governance at present? (c) Is governance a matter of justice or efficiency? What do existing practices suggest? Drawing on her expertise in humanitarian action, Sulagna Maitra reflected on the utility and limits of such action in the current geopolitical climate, while Sreya Mitra articulated her discomfort about the term “governance” itself: governance for what and for whom?

The conversations about equity and justice paved the way for the roundtable on public humanities and the value of the humanities in today’s world at a time of increasing anti-intellectualism. Chaired by Professor Emerita Supriya Chaudhuri, the roundtable saw Sujaan Mukherjee, Shubhasree Bhattacharyya, Sebanti Chatterjee, and Nikhilesh Bhattacharya speaking about the need for a more expansive understanding of what the humanities can bring to archival spaces, classrooms, and museum settings. The questions posed to the participants included: (a) One of the major concerns of public humanities is whether a humanities education itself can survive in an increasingly corporatized and managerial higher education system. What, in your opinion, is the role of the humanities today? (b) Should public humanities engage with the moral economy of well-being, debating questions of equality, access, freedom, and the need to formulate a concept of social justice? (c) How can public humanities go beyond narrowly human interests in order to address planetary concerns, such as inter-species relations, biopolitics, and environmental risk? In response to the questions about higher education, Shubhasree Bhattacharya reflected on a question that she was once asked, “What do you produce in the humanities?” While it prompted momentary laughter among all, it was a good reminder to escape falling into the vicious cycle of neoliberal models of academic productivity often demanded of scholars in the humanities and instead focus on work that will benefit communities and students, as stressed by both Mukherjee and Bhattacharya.

The LANS meet ended with a writing segment where participants reflected on their takeaways from the meet and with a group photo. As a JU-SYLFF fellow, I hope that the 2023 meeting will pave the way for more dynamic exchange and collaboration among fellows in the future.

Participants of the JU-SYLFF LANS meet 2023 pose for a group photo.

The Interdependence of Heritage Tourism and Peace: Media Treatment of the Destruction and Rebuilding of the Jahanabad Buddha Statue in Pakistan

October 6, 2023
By 30654

The tourism industry relies heavily on peace and security, so the destruction of heritage sites by terrorist groups represents a major threat. Farhad Nazir (University of Coimbra, 2022) undertook a study of media reactions to the defacement of a large, seventh-century Buddhist statue in Swat, Pakistan, and its subsequent restoration. This Voices article is based on a paper that was originally published in the International Journal of Tourism Cities.

*     *     *

There exists a significant historical connection between tourism and peace (Farmaki 2017, Farmaki & Stergiou 2021, Salazar 2006). With the exception of dark tourism and such categories as adventure and extreme sports, the majority of tourist activities are predicated on peace and security. A lack of social, environmental, economic, or political security is widely recognized as a significant obstacle to tourism. Nevertheless, due to precarious climatic conditions and rising political tensions, it is becoming increasingly difficult—at times almost impossible—to avoid encountering natural calamities, political upheavals, or terrorist activities.

This article seeks to analyze the links between heritage tourism and peace, drawing on a study in which I analyzed the content of 40 news sources to examine the demolition and subsequent reconstruction of the Seated Buddha of Jahanabad. The objective of the study was to explore the impact of peaceful conditions on cultural tourism.

Destruction and Reconstruction

Shortly after the application of Sharia law in Swat, Pakistan, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) launched an attack on the Jahanabad Buddha statue in 2007. The defacement of the statue was confirmed following two explosions, as depicted in Figure 1. To win popular support and elicit sympathy, the TTP employed the tactic of iconoclasm and proclaimed their attacks as a success over Buddhist idols (De Nardi 2017).

Figure 1. Statue after destruction, September 2007. Source: Italian Archaeological Mission in Pakistan.

The act of terrorism aimed at demolishing the seated Buddha statue in Jahanabad was meant to communicate a message to both the local population and the international community. It sought to persuade individuals adhering to the Islamic faith that there would be no space for remnants of cultural or historical significance unrelated to Islam, emphasizing that Swat is exclusively a territory regulated by the Sharia legal framework.

However, the examination of Islamic teachings in the Holy Quran, Hadith, Sharia, and works of Fuqaha through discourse analysis has consistently reaffirmed the recognition of the rights of those who do not adhere to the Islamic faith, including their property rights and the protection of their sacred places of worship. Nevertheless, scholars from many backgrounds have raised objections to Islam’s purportedly tolerant attitude towards individuals who do not adhere to its beliefs (Michel 1985). It is noteworthy that during the self-proclaimed rule of the TTP in the Swat valley, the act of demolishing the Buddhist monument was carried out on religious grounds. And to substantiate their motives, the militants employed an anti-idol manifesto.

The military operation conducted in Swat in 2009 successfully eradicated the presence of TTP terrorists in the Swat valley, thereby reinstating the authority of the state. The Italian Archeological Mission, in collaboration with provincial and federal archaeological organizations, the Pakistan army, and the local population, has initiated efforts to reconstruct the heritage sites that have been destroyed, specifically focusing on the restoration of the Jahanabad Seated Buddha (De Nardi 2017, Tanweer 2011, Olivieri et al. 2019). The local community enthusiastically engaged in the process of reconstruction, demonstrating a commitment to the deeply ingrained cultural values and transcending religious differences. The restoration phase of the Buddha statue was successfully concluded in 2016 as a result of these collective efforts (De Nardi 2017, Lone 2019). Thanks to the collaborative endeavors of several stakeholders, the restoration of this remarkable site to its original form has successfully been achieved, reinstating it as one of the prominent cultural landmarks in the valley (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Restored statue, 2016. Source: Italian Archaeological Mission in Pakistan.

Methodology

The study I and my colleagues at the University of Coimbra —Norberto Santos and Luis Silveiraconducted on the links between heritage tourism and peace employed a qualitative research approach, transcribing the textual and visual content of media news using the NVivo 12 interface. The data obtained consisted of two sets: media coverage of the demolition phase in 2007 and that of the subsequent rebuilding efforts from 2012 to 2016. Several national, regional, and international news agencies covered the destruction and rebuilding event. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Agence France-Presse (AFP), Arab News, Deutsche Welle (DW), Voice of America (VOA), Turkish Radio and Television (TRT), World Is One News (WION), and South China Morning Post were among the international and regional media outlets, while notable national media included the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP), Express News, Geo News, Radio Pakistan, Dawn News, The Nation, and Express Tribune. We employed a hierarchical approach to conduct thematic analysis, wherein nodes, sub-themes, and themes were identified.

The findings shed light on six different themes: peaceful imagery, heritage dissonance  against interfaith harmony, peace allegory via restoration, precursor of heritage sustainability, community heritage consonance, and heritage touristic valuation.

Implications

Our research findings have broad implications for various stakeholders as well as for the general public. From a commercial perspective, there exist possible pathways and opportunities for the revival of the tourism industry at this significant heritage site. Drawing inspiration from community activism, a similar approach may be employed to foster community stewardship of the Swat heritage sites, emphasizing their importance, value, and preservation. In addition, referencing the UN Sustainable Development Goals could enhance the significance of this innovation.

The study offers insights for both general readers and academic scholars, as it focuses on the physical and cultural aspects of Swat—a district with a Muslim majority population and heritage sites that are not associated with Islam. It examines the complex relationship between heritage, terrorism, peace, and tourism. The implications encompass several touchpoints involving site management authorities, the supplier sector, and entrepreneurs.

Our research also examined the strategies for protecting tourist destinations both before and after a destructive event occurs, with a focus on possible impacts on tourism activities. We hope that this study serves as a wake-up call for legislative players in terms of governance, prompting them to develop a counter-terrorism policy in anticipation of potentially disruptive activities.

Encouraging Further Study

The study surveyed the news content of a small number of national and international media organizations using a qualitative research paradigm. These limitations, though, can act to encourage future studies—extending the data collection portals to prominent social media sites, for example—to unveil new details about the issue under probe. Further, the inclusion of incidents at other national and international heritage sites could result in novel research insights. Comparative studies on similar issues in the regional and global context would also offer insights into the synergy of heritage, tourism, terrorism, and peace. 

This research received support from the Centre of Studies in Geography and Spatial Planning (CEGOT), funded by the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) of Portugal, under reference UIDB/04084/2020 and from the Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund, administered by the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research.

References

De Nardi, S. (2017). “Everyday Heritage Activism in Swat Valley: Ethnographic Reflections on a Politics of Hope.” Heritage & Society, 10(3), pp. 237–258.

Farmaki, A. (2017). “The Tourism and Peace Nexus.” Tourism Management, 59, pp. 528–540.

Farmaki, A. and Stergiou, D. (2021). “Peace and Tourism: Bridging the Gap through Justice.” Peace & Change, 46(3), pp. 286–309.

Lone, A. G. (2019). “The Scope of the Buddhist ‘Workshops’ and Artistic ‘Centres’ in the Swat Valley, Ancient Uḍḍiyāna, in Pakistan. In W. Rienjang & P. Stewart, eds., The Geography of Gandhāran Art (pp. 107–120). Archaeopress Archaeology.

Michel, T. (1985). “The Rights of Non‐Muslims in Islam: An Opening Statement.” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 6(1), pp. 7–20.

Olivieri, L. M., Marzaioli, F., Passariello, I., Iori, E., Micheli, R., Terrasi, F., Vidale, M., & D’Onofrio, A. (2019). “A New Revised Chronology and Cultural Sequence of the Swat Valley, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (Pakistan) in the Light of Current Excavations at Barikot (Bir-kot-ghwandai).” Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Section B: Beam Interactions with Materials and Atoms, 456, pp. 148–156.

Salazar, N.B. (2006). “Building a ‘Culture of Peace’ through Tourism: Reflexive and Analytical Notes and Queries.” Universitas Humanística (62), pp. 319–336.

Tanweer, T. (2011). “Italian Archaeological Activities in Swat: An Introduction.” Journal of Asian Civilizations, 34(1), pp. 48–80.

Popular Identity of the Czech Political “People”

September 22, 2023
By 29662

Democracy rests on the idea of popular sovereignty, but how can the collective will of a social construct called “people” be accurately ascertained? Lukáš Lev Červinka (Charles University, 2021) used an SRG award to conduct a survey on Czech popular identity, finding unexpectedly strong identification with state actors and also some disturbing corollaries about ethnocentric nationalism.

*     *     *

All concepts of modern democracy regard self-governance by the people as a cornerstone of this system of government; without it, there is no democracy. However, even though democracy presupposes the existence of a “people” expressing its collective will, claims to represent such will are usually treated with caution, given that “good” dictators and authoritarian régimes want to assert that their policies reflect the general will (volonté générale) of the people.

People as a collective is an elusive beast whose nature is tricky to identify, but at the same time, it is generally assumed that if there is democracy, then there must be people as a ruling entity—a collective with a will, sense of membership, values, memory, goals, and everything else that is usually associated with a collective or group. However, how can we define “people” without succumbing to oversimplification, generalization, or even mythicization?

Research Focus and Objectives

My first goal in launching the Establishment Research Project,[1] supported by a Syllf fellowship, was to find a theoretical framework that would enable me to treat people as a collective and study its inner processes and values. This led me to the social systems theory of Niklas Luhmann,[2] the social imaginaries of Charles Taylor,[3] and the imagined communities of Benedict Anderson.[4] By adapting those theories, I have conceptualized “people” as an autopoietic organizational system—in other words, a social construct that is determined by its decisions. The people as a democratic sovereign is, therefore, not to be understood as individual citizens or inhabitants but as an imagined community of those who participate in its self-governance by making the decisions through which their identity as a collective is established.

In my Sylff-supported PhD thesis on Anti-Establishment Political Parties: Threat to Democracy or Chance for Its New Equilibrium, written at the Faculty of Law of Charles University in the Czech Republic and at Ca’ Foscari University in Venice, Italy, I concluded that the decisions that articulate the popular identity of a people are not only participation in elections, referenda, demonstrations, strikes, and, sometimes, revolutions but also appropriation of cultural products, such as songs and the constitution. Through these decisions, the “people” can manifest themselves as a collective body and create an identity that articulates their social demands and values.

To test the viability of this theory and determine whether it can be used in practice, I have conducted a survey, funded with an SRG award from the Sylff Association, to explore which actors articulate the popular image of the Czech people, what decisions determine their identity, and on which values this identity is built.

Observations

When surveying which actors articulate the image of the Czech people, the most positive score (the difference between the percentage answering that an actor articulates values of the Czech people and the percentage saying it does not) was +44.8 received by “scholars and scientists.” This is of little surprise, considering the technocratic nature of Czech society, which places a high value on formal education, academic titles, and expert knowledge. This is supported by the much lower score (+14.1) received by “experts outside of academia.” Quite striking, though, was the high scores received by actors of the state, such as “courts of justice,” “police,” “armed forces,” and the “president of the republic” (see table below).

How Well Do the Following Actors Articulate the Values of the Czech People?

Actor

Score

Political parties

−20.4

Scholars and scientists

+44.8

Religious organizations

−37.5

Experts outside academia

+14.1

Public media

+15.0

Private media

−18.9

Artists

+9.2

Trade unions

+1.4

NGOs

−5.0

Courts of justice

+31.1

Police

+37.7

Armed forces

+37.3

President of the republic

+45.0

Note: Scores are the percentage of respondents identifying an actor as articulating the values of the Czech people minus the percentage saying it does not.

 

Interestingly, the answers regarding the values represented by such public holidays as New Year’s Day, Czech Statehood Day, and May Day suggest not only a strong nonreligious (or even antireligious) nature of the Czech popular identity but also people’s strong identification with state actors—despite the fact they are often depicted as an enemy of the people in Czech pop culture. This demonstrates that the Czech state is considered a tool of the Czech people in articulating their social demands and defending their interests. 

 

An image generated by using the prompt, “Czech state-people intertwinning,” by Midjourney (https://docs.midjourney.com/).

 

The close relationship between the Czech state and Czech identity is not in itself bad, but survey results using the modified Bogardus social distance scale[5] showed some disturbing patterns. When asked whether they would allow a Czech citizen of Roma ethnicity to stand for the office of the president of the republic, only 82.1 % of respondents said yes. The results were even more worrying for a Czech citizen of Ukrainian ethnicity (65.5 %) and a Czech citizen who cannot speak Czech (51.1 %).

 

An image generated by using the prompt, “Ethnic-centred Czech people,” by Midjourney (https://docs.midjourney.com/).

 

Finally, when asked where to put the Czech people regarding their values, most of the respondents chose the Visegrad Group countries (Czechia, Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary), rather than the Euroatlantic space. This, unfortunately, supports the argument that the Czech people still find themselves inside the post-Habsburg space of conservative nationalism and bureaucratic étatism.

The SRG-funded survey revealed not only the usefulness of the theoretical concept of “people” as an organizational system and a living, democratic sovereign but also the disturbing, ethnicity-centred nature of the Czech popular identity and its deep intertwining with the structures of the Czech state.

 

[1] More about the project at https://establishment.cz

[2] Niklas Luhmann, Social Systems (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995) .

[3] Charles Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries, 2nd ed. (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2004).

[4] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London, New York: Verso, 2006).

[5] The Bogardus scale was adapted to show the social distance of excluded communities within Czech society, that is, those not regarded as part of Czech self-governance.

Has the Hindu Majority Developed a ‘Nazi Conscience’ in India?

August 28, 2023
By 28804

Emboldened by state support, Hindu nationalists have unleashed violent attacks on religious minorities in India, writes Amit Singh (University of Coimbra, 2020-21), leading to the development of a ‘Nazi conscience’ among the country’s Hindu majority.

*     *     *

Organized and sporadic violence by Hindu extremists against religious-ethnic minorities in India has shocked the world, particularly ethnic violence in Manipur. Under the Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, cases of mob-lynching and killings are becoming pattern in a religiously polarized Hindu India, targeted to minorities. The prominence of ethnic revival, large number of Hindu participations in such violence, and lack of their condemnation of these acts, all of these factors give rise to the question as to whether the Hindu majority has developedNazi conscience.’

Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. Photograph by the author

 
The idea of Nazi conscience was originally applied in the context of the genocide of Jews in Nazi Germany, where the Nazis, along with an ordinary Germans, morally justified the murder of Jews. A general apathy to the human rights of minorities, a lack of respect towards the life of ‘others,’ and normalization of violence against them are fundamental parts of the Nazi conscience. 

In the Indian context, Hindutva as a vehicle of Hindu nationalism has ignited a kind of Nazi conscience in ordinary Hindus that makes violence against religious minorities seem normal and justified. This includes witnessing daily violence against Muslim minorities and Dalits and not intervening in such acts.

The Hindutva’s political narrative of past invasions by Muslim rulers and their atrocities against Hindus in the middle ages and the partition of India in 1947 has made the Hindu majority hostile to Muslims. Constitutional privileges such as personal family rights for Muslims and religious grants anger the Hindu majority. They feel victimized and insecure, and Hindutva leaders manipulate these anti-Muslim sentiments for political victory.

Ideologically Justified Violence

The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), a Hindu militant organization, has shaped Hindu nationalism into a hegemonic ideology and propagates Hindu exclusivity of religion and culture. The Hindutva ideologue MS Golwalkar asserted that the country's minorities should be treated in the same way as the Nazis treated the Jews. With its political front BJP currently in power, the RSS has succeeded in influencing the collective Hindu psyche to take vengeance against Muslims.

These calculated attempts by the RSS have been instrumental in creating a militant identity and Nazi conscience amongst the Hindu majority against perceived foreign “invaders,” such as Muslims and Christians. With each passing ethno-religious riot, the Hindu collective self is gradually being desensitized and freed from collective guilt in the observation or killing of human life. For a person with a Nazi conscience, violence is now perceived to be morally righteous.

Violence has become essential for Hindutva politics, and in this way it could be said that the Hindu majority has developed a ‘Nazi conscience.’ The Hindus have lost historical sensitivity towards religious minorities with whom they have lived for hundreds of years. The use of ‘Hindu nationalism’ in post-colonial India has actually benefited the BJP in elections. However, at the same time, Hindu nationalism has done great harm to communal harmony of Indian society. Hindus have been turned against Muslims—although, in some exceptional cases, Hindus did save the lives of Muslims.

Modi’s Hindutva state has played a key role in this process. The state has granted impunity to those involved in the lynching of Muslims and has rewarded those responsible for inciting riots. And the State has constantly harassed those who have come out in protest against Hindu intolerance and Islamophobia.

In large-scale riots, such as the Gujrat riots in 2002 and ethnic violence in Manipur, the perpetrators were Hindu extremists and victims were primarily religious ethnic minorities. Big riots, moreover, usually happen with the complicity of the state machinery and the Hindu majority. So, the majority is not just a passive onlooker but a participant in the ritual of violence.

Rewarding the Islamophobic Leader    

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is notorious for his complicity in the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujrat in 2002. He has built his political career on the basis of communal violence and fear. And the Hindu majority reelected him in 2019. The Hindu majority bears deep resentment against Muslims. In fact, one study reveals that the BJP gains in the polls after every anti-Muslim riot.

Under the RSS-backed Modi’s regime since 2014, anti-Muslim narratives have been strategically propagated by the government. The mainstream media has consistently cultivated a deep animosity against religious minorities. This process of vilification has normalized violence against them. The ascendency of Hindu nationalism has given Hindus ‘the power to claim, and receive, impunity for violence from elected governments.’

Muslims and Dalits have been lynched by mobs of Hindutva fanatics; violence against them is normalized and seems to be supported by the Modi government. Vijay Narayan, a political activist in Varanasi, argues that the Hindu majority is influenced by the fascist ideology of Hindu nationalism.

Failed Secularism

After the bloody partition in 1947, secularism was introduced as an alternative to Hindu nationalism to protect Indian society from communal frenzy and religious fanaticism. Indian secularism, unique in its kind, is associated with religious tolerance. Yet, ironically, the Hindu majority has never abandoned the idea that India is a Hindu nation. It has rejected traditional Hindu tolerance, an idea that enabled communal harmony among India’s diverse population.

Indian secularism has failed to prevent the rise of Hindutva and the communalization of the Hindu masses. As long as the public institutions and the mainstream media are under the influence of the Hindu nationalist government, the process of Nazification of the Hindu majority cannot be checked. Alarm about the possibility of an impending Muslim genocide is already being sounded. To achieve communal harmony, the state must rid itself of Hindutva and follow constitutional secularism. This seems almost impossible under the present Hindu nationalist government.

If the influence of Hindutva on the Hindu majority and the Hindu religion increases, the general state of human rights, especially freedom of expression and rights of religious-ethnic minorities, and secularism is likely to deteriorate. However, we must remember that religious tolerance and resistance is a part of the India’s ancient secular traditions that challenged Hindu fundamentalism thorough the various periods of Indian history. In the longer run, there is a possibility of resistance to Hindu religious bigotry that could weaken the influence of Hindutva on Indian society. It can bring secular democratic change stalling the process of the Nazification of the Hindu majority and preventing them from becoming a Nazified Hindu.

This article was originally published in The Loop and is reprinted here following slight modification by the author. The views presented here are of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Sylff Association.

Performance of ESG Investment Strategies: Evidence from the 2015–2020 Bull Market and the Impact of COVID-19

June 2, 2023
By 30810

Máté Fain is a 2022 Sylff Fellow (Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungarian Academy of Sciences Group). For this dissertation, he explored whether environmental, social and governance (ESG) investment strategies are compatible with boosting the corporate “bottom line.” He concludes that good ESG may not always generate superior returns under adverse market conditions such as a pandemic. However, combined with traditional styles, it might yield positive outcomes.

* * *

What do oil, soybean, gold, and water have in common? The answer, at first, may be surprising: in late 2020, water joined these well-known commodities on Wall Street: Californian farmers, hedge funds, and municipalities can now purchase water futures to hedge related risks. Besides water, weather derivatives are another type of commodity responds to environmental challenges but has a more mature market: the Chicago Mercantile Exchange introduced the first exchange-traded weather futures contracts and corresponding options in 1999, mostly tracking cooling or heating days. Some studies have gone even further and explored designing and pricing air-pollution derivatives.

More importantly, these market developments and scientific initiatives on risk management draw attention to sustainability. Sustainability challenges are getting more severe as life-sustaining natural resources become scarce worldwide.

Fostering environmental, social, and economic dimensions of sustainability is an urgent challenge to society. The Paris Agreement signed in 2016 to mitigate climate change or the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established in 2015 with a broader scope on environmental and social concerns underscores the inevitability of addressing sustainability.

Stakeholder theory argues that dealing with stakeholder claims – from customers, employees, local communities, shareholders, and even the natural environment – is imperative for companies to fulfill their mission. Meanwhile, advocates of the trade-off hypothesis contend that resource reallocation to sustainability activities does not pay off; instead, such activities raise operating costs due to the internalization of externalities. Consequently, I examined if, it is possible to reconcile sustainability with companies’ financial objectives.

The Research Question: Does "Doing Well While Doing Good" Prevail?

Alignment with sustainability goals might be assessed from as many angles as stakeholders exist. I focused on shareholder wealth and examined sustainability from an asset-owner perspective: is it possible to boost the bottom line by implementing sustainable corporate practices? Does the “doing well while doing good” concept prevail? If so, investors, as influential stakeholders, may drive sustainable economic growth.

Studying the impact of sustainability on shareholder value-added may manifest in several forms. Firstly, the analysis might cover accounting profitability, respond to how equity markets price sustainability, and identify the potential risk-adjusted excess returns for investors. My research intended to explore the last case.

In the investment literature, environmental, social and governance (ESG) is a broad umbrella term for firms’ sustainability . A wide range of ESG-conscious investment strategies exists, from exclusionary screening to direct shareholder engagement. My research concentrated on the ESG integration approach (applying ESG scores ranging from 0 to 100 of corporations to compile stock portfolios) and ESG-themed investing (equity portfolios that use megatrends such as energy efficiency, aging population, water scarcity, and cybersecurity). ESG integration is exceptionally popular, with US$25,000 billion in total assets under management, while thematic investing is the most significantly rising strategy, with a 2,250 per cent increase in 8 years.

Figure 1. Global growth of sustainable investing strategies
Note: AUM stands for “assets under management.” Source: GSIA (2020, p. 11)

For the ESG integration strategy, I applied separate environmental, social and governance ratings, and every stock belonged to one of the following portfolios: leaders, followers, loungers, laggards, and not rated. Thematic portfolios covered nine UN SDG-related challenges, such as water scarcity, aging population, and cybersecurity concerns. Each thematic portfolio fitted environmental, social and governance megatrends and encompassed firms with business models addressing critical sustainability challenges.

In compiling the ESG portfolio, more than 100 different investment styles, industries, and country exposures were controlled for to filter out secondary factor effects. Altogether the database included more than 15 million data points. The methodology followed a factor portfolio construction procedure: stock weights and returns were derived from extended Fama-MacBeth cross-sectional regressions (Fama, 1976; Fama and MacBeth, 1973). The time-series analysis of ESG factor portfolio returns applied the Fama and French (2018) right-hand-side approach.

Contribution

This research contributes to the existing investment literature on sustainability in several ways. Firstly, it complements the active debate about the role of ESG in general, which is far from settled (i.e., it is still an open question if it is possible to achieve significant extra returns with ESG, or, on the contrary, these investments are underperformers causing loss to investors). Secondly, to the best of my knowledge, no one has yet applied a stakeholder-based conceptual model that differentiates “organizational” and “global” sustainability. Originally Garvare and Johansson (2010) drew the distinction between organizational and global sustainability. ESG integration is consistent with organizational sustainability, while ESG-themed investing corresponds more to global sustainability.

The dissertation emphasizes the megatrend concept and integrates signaling theory into the stock selection processes. It also introduces a new mathematical formula for measuring megatrend exposures. Using the right-hand-side approach in the ESG framework is a novelty as well. Further, ESG-themed investing is a relatively new strategy, having shorter history than other strategies, such as negative screening, which was the pioneer sustainability investing strategy; hence, it is under-researched in the literature. Finally, the database used is unique and comprehensive, making the data suitable for measuring the pure performance of ESG factors.

Empirical Results in a Nutshell

The analyses revealed some remarkable findings. Investors allocating resources to ESG leaders and thematic portfolios achieved returns in the longer term commensurate with risk. Further, in the ESG integration strategy, a nonlinear relation prevailed, which contradicts the literature’s most common findings that there is either a positive, negative or neutral relationship between financial and ESG performance (non-linearity means that financial performance does not increase proportionally with ESG performance, as there is a “peak” after which increasing ESG performance does not come with significantly higher financial performance; sometimes financial performance even decreases, suggesting an inverted-U graphical representation of the ESG-financial performance relation), supporting diminishing marginal returns to ESG (law of diminishing returns: a firm will get less and less extra output – here, financial returns – when it adds additional units of an input – here, better ESG compliance). Next, during the exogenous shock of the COVID-19 pandemic, the figures did not corroborate the literature’s “flight to quality” concept (i.e., investors begin to shift their assets away from riskier investments into safer ones). Finally, no sufficient evidence was found for ESG factors to complement Fama and French models (Fama-French models detect factors such as firm size and investment policy that could explain stock returns; if a new factor is found, it could be added to the previous ones).

In summary, in most cases, investors could realize at least fair returns with sustainable investing. This finding is consistent with the efficient-market hypothesis, i.e., share prices reflect all public information, stocks trade at their fair market value. In other words, although there is only a slight chance for investors to gain superior risk-adjusted returns, they could contribute to the higher goals of sustainability without sacrificing returns.

Implications

The empirical results imply that most ESG portfolios yielded non-negative excess returns, even after accounting for transaction costs up to 25-50 basis points per annum. Higher transaction costs, as is the case for some exchange traded funds (frequently abbreviated ETFs) with expense ratios reaching 80-100 basis points per annum, may indicate two things: ESG-themed megatrend investors are willing to sacrifice approximately 25-50 basis points of annual return to remain aligned with sustainability targets, or the expense ratio may well decline in the future (nowadays, the average expense ratio is around 0.60 per cent).

Portfolio managers who integrate sustainability in their investment portfolios undertake a dual optimization process that combines ESG strategies with fundamental valuation. The proposed ESG pure factor portfolios might be utilized as smart beta indices to measure investment portfolios’ ESG factor exposure. This method is superior to calculating the overall ESG rating of investment portfolios currently commonly used by asset managers, as it separates the performance contribution of ESG from the secondary factors such as geographical, industry, or style effects.

ESG portfolios allow asset owners and managers to align their investment policies with the requirements and targets of international standards and regulations. According to a representative of the central bank of Hungary, whom I interviewed, both strategies are consistent with the EU Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation requirements. Thematic investing might be aligned with the Taxonomy Regulation and can be flexibly adapted to the SDGs and the climate goals of the Paris Agreement.

These results do not provide sufficient evidence for “flight to quality” during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic regarding ESG leaders, which contradicts Albuquerque et al. (2020), Broadstock et al. (2021), and Ding et al. (2021). One possible explanation might be that secondary factor effects substantially influence good ESG portfolios. Once these secondary effects are considered and filtered out, the otherwise observable outperformance disappears.

In summary, good ESG is not necessarily a panacea to generate superior returns during adverse market conditions such as a pandemic. However, combined with traditional styles or sectors, it might yield positive outcomes.

References

Albuquerque, R., Koskinen, Y., Yang, S., & Zhang, C. (2020). Resiliency of environmental and social stocks: An analysis of the exogenous COVID-19 market crash. The Review of Corporate Finance Studies, 9(3), 593-621. https://doi.org/10.1093/rcfs/cfaa011  

Broadstock, David C., Kalok Chan, Louis T. W. Cheng, and Xiaowei Wang. “The Role of ESG Performance During Times of Financial Crisis: Evidence from COVID-19 in China.” Finance Research Letters 38 (2021): 101716. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.frl.2020.101716.

Ding, Wenzhi, Ross Levine, Chen Lin, and Wensi Xie. “Corporate Immunity to the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Journal of Financial Economics 141, no. 2 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jfineco.2021.03.005.

Dodd, E. Merrick, Jr. “For Whom Are Corporate Managers Trustees?” Harvard Law Review 45, no. 7 (1932): 1145–63. https://doi.org/10.2307/1331697.

Fama, Eugene F. Foundations of Finance: Portfolio Decisions and Securities Prices. New York: Basic Books, 1976.

Fama, Eugene F., and Kenneth R. French. “Choosing Factors.” Journal of Financial Economics 128 (2018): 234–52. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jfineco.2018.02.012.

Fama, Eugene F., and James D. MacBeth. “Risk, Return, and Equilibrium: Empirical Tests.” Journal of Political Economy 81 (1973): 607–36. https://doi.org/10.1086/260061.

Garvare, Rickard, and Peter Johansson. “Management for Sustainability – A Stakeholder Theory.” Total Quality Management & Business Excellence 21 (2010): 737–44. https://doi.org/10.1080/14783363.2010.483095.

Global Sustainable Investment Alliance. Global Sustainable Investment Review 2020. GSIA, 2020. http://www.gsi-alliance.org/trends-report-2020/.

 

Combatting Sexual Violence in the Metaverse: A Comparative Legal Analysis

May 25, 2023
By 30587

Disturbing reports of sexual assault and harassment in the metaverse have raised questions about how users and society—particularly minors—can be better protected from exploitation and how offenders can be punished. To shed light on this issue, criminal law expert Sou Hee Yang (Waseda University, 2021) used an SRG grant to analyze how various jurisdictions are addressing the problem of sexual violence in the metaverse within the framework of their legal systems.

*   *   *

The metaverse is “a virtual space that other users can create, explore, and meet without having to be in the same space in real life” (Setiawan et al. 2022). It provides a platform where individuals can adopt diverse personas through their avatars to interact with people from around the globe.

An image generated by using the prompt, "metaverse avatars hanging out together," by Sifted via Starryai (https://starryai.com/app/create).

I had no particular interest in the metaverse, which seemed like a digital realm frequented only by tech enthusiasts, until I came across an online news article recounting a researcher’s claim that her avatar had been sexually assaulted in a metaverse (Soon 2022). I was both intrigued and puzzled by this claim. How is it possible to be sexually assaulted in a virtual world?

So I did some research and discovered that sexual violence does take place on virtual platforms in various ways; examples include groping another person’s avatar, sending unwanted, explicit messages, and approaching minors with the purpose of sexual exploitation (Frenkel and Browning 2021). The range and seriousness of such acts vary, with certain types, such as grooming minors, warranting strict countermeasures (Hinduja 2023).

There are many challenges to punishing acts of virtual sexual violence, however. First, it can be difficult to identify and prosecute the perpetrators, given the borderless nature of the metaverse. Second, sexual violence in the metaverse usually does not involve physical contact and is thus not subject to the same kind and degree of criminal punishment as real-world transgressions. It is important to recognize, though, that cyber violence can cause great psychological harm, leading to depression, anxiety, stress, and post-traumatic stress disorders (Cripps and Stermac 2018).

Being a legal researcher specializing in sex crimes, I was intrigued by these findings and wanted to explore how various countries—namely, the United Kingdom, the United States, and South Korea—are addressing this problem within the framework of their legal systems and whether they had provisions to punish sexual violence in the metaverse. More specifically, I reviewed and compared the laws related to the three most frequent forms of violence: virtual groping, sending unsolicited sexual messages, and making sexual advances toward children. My findings, based on the study, are as follows.[*]

First, users with female avatars often experience virtual groping: that is, the sexual parts of their avatars are touched without consent by another user’s avatar. Punishing such acts can be challenging, though, since sex offenses under criminal law are premised on physical contact (Cho 2022). Virtual reality headsets and haptic gloves already give users a degree of sensory feedback from events in the metaverse (Kim et al. 2022). If technology is further developed to enhance such sensations to a level closely approximating real life, virtual groping may arguably constitute “touching” for the purpose of criminal punishment.

There are two shortcomings to this argument, however, namely, that virtual sensations are still not the same as physical contact and that users can immediately stop unwanted sensations by simply removing their gear. Concerning the latter, though, it is possible for users to experience “tonic immobility”—a state of involuntary paralysis during sexual assault thought to be a natural survival reaction (Kalaf et al. 2017). Further research will be required to elucidate whether victims of cybersex crimes can also experience tonic immobility and, even if so, whether virtual groping would be subject to criminal punishment under British, US, and South Korean law.

A man with a virtual reality headset and controllers by SHVETS Production via Pexels (https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-man-with-a-virtual-reality-headset-and-controllers-7562023/).

Second, a user can be punished for harassing another user in the metaverse by sending sexual messages. In South Korea, if it can be shown that the user made comments to “arouse or satisfy his/her own or the other person’s sexual urges” and may cause “a sense of sexual shame or aversion,” the user can be punished under Article 13 (Obscene Acts by Using Means of Communications) of the Act on Special Cases Concerning the Punishment of Sexual Crimes. In the United Kingdom, acts of harassing someone by sending sexual messages in the metaverse can be punished under Section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act, but only if it can be proven that the user sent “indecent or grossly offensive” messages with the purpose of causing “distress or anxiety” to the user on the receiving end.

In the United States, where freedom of speech is more strongly protected, the threshold for penalization is higher. For example, threatening sexual messages intended to place another user “in reasonable fear for his or her safety” is punishable under Section 653.2 of California’s Penal Code. However, to apply Section 653.2, it also needs to be proven that the user sent the threatening messages with the purpose of “imminently causing that other person unwanted physical contact, injury, or harassment.” This purpose is difficult to prove for most interactions in the metaverse, as they are generally anonymous. The laws demonstrate that making extremely offensive sexual comments in the metaverse may result in criminal sanctions, but the laws vary in their nature, requirements, and purpose.

Lastly, making sexual advances toward children in the metaverse is punishable in the United Kingdom, the United States, and South Korea. For example, a British user can be punished under Section 15A of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 for sending a sexual message to a user under 16 with the purpose of “obtaining sexual gratification.” Moreover, the Online Safety Bill, currently in the committee stage in the House of Lords, if passed, will provide more robust protection against child users in the metaverse (UK Parliament 2022).

Among many forms of making sexual advances to children in the metaverse, asking children to send sexual pictures of themselves is considered a serious offense. For example, in South Korea, a man was arrested on charges of sexually grooming minors when he asked child users to send sexual pictures of themselves upon befriending them through his “charming” avatar and gaining their trust by giving presents to their avatars (Kim 2022). As in this example, the acts of approaching children, building trust, and inducing reliance with the purpose of making sexual advances at them are called “grooming” (Lorenzo-Dus and Izura 2017). Online grooming is a serious problem, particularly in the metaverse, because adult users can use their avatars to make child users believe that they are speaking with a friend their own age and thereby lower their guard. While the laws of the United States vary by state, some form of online grooming is punishable in most states. For example, knowingly seducing or enticing a minor to engage in unlawful sexual conduct can be punished under Florida Statute § 847.0135(3). Approaching children online with intent to meet them or to engage in sexual conduct is considered a more serious crime because such acts put children at real risk of sexual exploitation.

The results of this study indicate three key legal considerations. First, before considering penalization of acts of sexual violence in the metaverse, it is necessary to categorize different forms of sexual violence based on their nature and the severity of harm, both to victims and society. Secondly, it is desirable to enact laws that can at least punish some acts of sexual violence in the metaverse that causes serious harm to the victims, such as grooming of minors. Finally, there should be continued social debate on what kind of sexual conduct warrants punishment under criminal law. For example, in Japan, where I reside, there is an ongoing movement to amend sex crime laws, including the enactment of laws that punish acts of grooming and sharing of sexual images of a victim without consent. One amendment proposal was written with the participation of various stakeholders, including leaders of victim support groups, psychologists, and legal experts (Legislative Council, n.d.). Such active discussion involving various stakeholders is desirable as a means of reaching a social consensus on what the types of metaverse-based sexual violence that should be punished.

This study demonstrates how criminal laws of various countries address sexual violence in the metaverse. In addition to legislative efforts, tech companies are introducing policies to strengthen the safety of their virtual spaces. These are important measures in preventing and managing sexual violence in the metaverse. However, it should be remembered that sexual violence will inevitably manifest in virtual worlds as long as it persists in the real world. Only by addressing the problems of sexual violence in reality can they be resolved in the metaverse.

 

References

Cho, S. 2022. “Sexual Assault in Immersive Virtual Reality: Criminal Law Must Keep Up with Technology.” Harvard Undergraduate Law Review, September 6, 2022. https://hulr.org/spring-2022/sexual-assault-in-immersive-vr.

Cripps, J., and L. Stermac. 2018. “Cyber-Sexual Violence and Negative Emotional States among Women in a Canadian University.” International Journal of Cyber Criminology, 12(1): 171. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.1467891.

Crown Prosecution Service. 2023. Social Media and other Electronic Communications, March 17, 2023. https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/social-media-and-other-electronic-communications.

Frenkel, S., and K. Browning. 2021. “The Metaverse’s Dark Side: Here Come Harassment and Assaults.” New York Times, December 30. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/30/technology/metaverse-harassment-assaults.html.

Hinduja, S. 2023. Child grooming and the metaverse: Issues and solutions. Cyberbullying Research Center, March 21, 2023. Retrieved April 8, 2023, from https://cyberbullying.org/child-grooming-metaverse.

Kalaf, J., E. S. F. Coutinho, L. M. P. Vilete, M. P. Luz, W. Berger, M. V. Mendlowicz, E. Volchan, S. B. Andreoli, M. I. Quintana, J. De Jesus Mari, and I. Figueira. 2017. “Sexual trauma is more strongly associated with tonic immobility than other types of trauma: A population based study.” Journal of Affective Disorders, 215: 71–76. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2017.03.009.

Kim, D. 2022. 메타버스서 미성년자 11명 성착취물 만든 30대 남성 구속. The JoongAng, April 14, 2022. https://www.joongang.co.kr/article/25063475#home.

Kim, J., Y. Kim, and H. D. Cha. 2022. Study on the sexual crime and criminal regulation in metaverse: Focusing on the direction of revision of the act on promotion of information and communication network utilization and information protection, etc. Contemporary Review of Criminal Law, no.75, 1–33. https://doi.org/10.23026/crclps.2022..75.001.

Legislative Council, Subcommittee on Criminal Law (Sexual Offenses). n.d. Ministry of Justice of Japan. Retrieved April 7, 2023, from https://www.moj.go.jp/shingi1/housei02_003011.

Lorenzo-Dus, N., and C. Izura. 2017. “Cause ur special”: Understanding trust and complimenting behaviour in online grooming discourse. Journal of Pragmatics, 112, 68–82. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2017.01.004.

Setiawan, K. D., A. Anthony, N. Meyliana, and N. Surjandy. 2022. “The Essential Factor of Metaverse for Business Based on 7 Layers of Metaverse – Systematic Literature Review.” 2022 International Conference on Information Management and Technology (ICIMTech). https://doi.org/10.1109/icimtech55957.2022.9915136.

Soon, W. 2022. A researcher’s avatar was sexually assaulted on a metaverse platform owned by Meta, making her the latest victim of sexual abuse on Meta’s platforms, watchdog says. Business Insider, June 1, 2022. https://www.businessinsider.com/researcher-claims-her-avatar-was-raped-on-metas-metaverse-platform-2022-5.

UK Parliament (Second Reading, Online Safety Bill). 2022. April 19, 2022. Retrieved April 24, 2023, from https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2022-04-19/debates/F88B42D3-BFC4-4612-B166-8D2C15FA3E4E/OnlineSafetyBill.

 

[*] This study was made possible by an SRG grant in 2022, which allowed me to access the court cases of different countries and to review academic and legal reports and articles related to sexual violence in the metaverse. I was also able to hire two competent research assistants to assist me with legal research in various languages.

 

Powering Up: How Electric Buses are Paving the Way for a Greener Tomorrow

April 17, 2023
By 27797

Bus fleets are increasingly transitioning from diesel to electric. Jônatas Augusto Manzolli, a 2019 Sylff fellow who conducts research on “Adaptive Energy Management Strategies for Electric Bus Fleets” with a Sylff Research Grant (SRG), discusses the challenges of electric bus fleets and ways to mitigate them, as well as their possibilities for a more sustainable future.

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“The answer to these problems is not less transport—it is sustainable transport. We need more systems that are environmentally friendly, affordable, and accessible.” —Ban Ki-Moon, former UN secretary-general, when asked about transportation solutions for the future

The era of diesel-spewing buses congesting our streets is a thing of the past. The future of public transportation lies in electric buses, which are no longer just a pipe dream. Reports indicate that by 2040, most buses on the road could be electric.[1] But transitioning to more sustainable and efficient buses is not an overnight process. It poses significant challenges that must be overcome to achieve a sustainable future.

A sizable electric bus fleet in Bogotá, Colombia. (Photo: BYD Colombia)

As a researcher, I focus on enhancing the implementation of electric buses in our communities to create healthier urban environments for everyone. In this article, I will address the four major obstacles in the electrification process of bus transit and share the strategies I am implementing to mitigate them.

Grid Resilience

To truly grasp the magnitude of integrating large fleets of buses into the grid, we can examine the city of Shenzhen in China as an example. Shenzhen phased out all of its diesel-bus fleets and replaced them with electric ones, which has resulted in a massive demand for charging energy.[2] The new fleet requires 2,000 megawatt hours, equivalent to the energy needed to power 1.2 million homes for one hour. This staggering figure underscores the urgent need for improved planning and operation of electric bus fleets to prevent grid disruptions. Upgrading the grid or adopting smart charging techniques are viable solutions, but decision-makers must explore all alternatives to establish dependable and secure electric bus networks.

An electric bus fleet in Shenzhen, China. (Photo: Green Energy Futures, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, via Flickr)

 Electricity Market

The transition from diesel to electric bus fleets for public transportation operators presents challenges and opportunities, particularly regarding the electricity market. By synchronizing charging times with bus operation schedules, smart charging techniques can potentially exploit better electricity prices during the day, reducing operational costs and improving efficiency. Furthermore, electric bus fleets can act as virtual power plants and provide ancillary services to the grid. A prime example is the BUS2GRID project launched in London, where 28 state-of-the-art double-decker buses are equipped with technology to generate over 1 megawatt of power for the grid.[3] But for buses to become reliable grid auxiliaries in the future, their operation must meet the energy requirements of the grid.

A BUS2GRID trial site in London, UK. (Photo: SSE Energy Solutions)

Operation under Uncertainty

Waiting for a delayed bus can be frustrating. This unfortunate situation happens due to the stochastic nature of bus fleet operations—different driving conditions, uncertain traffic, and unpredictable weather. While this can pose challenges for diesel fleets, it becomes even more complex when dealing with electric bus fleets. The stochastic behavior of electric buses can lead to unpredictable charging patterns and unexpected disruptions in operation, causing grid issues and buses running out of energy mid-route. To tackle these issues, it is essential to develop robust operation and planning systems using advanced planning tools, control algorithms, and real-time data analysis. Accurately forecasting energy needs, reducing operational costs, and ensuring a reliable and efficient electric bus service can be achieved by implementing these systems while minimizing the risk of unforeseen disruptions.

A bus stop in Curitiba, Brazil. (Photo by Sasha Aickin)

Battery Degradation

Battery degradation is a significant challenge when implementing electric bus fleets, with electric buses having a lifespan of only 10 to 12 years due to battery aging.[4] Charging strategies must consider such factors as charging speed, frequency, and temperature to minimize battery aging, while public transportation operators must assess the impact of ancillary services on battery degradation. Developing strategies to mitigate battery degradation is crucial for decision-makers to ensure the reliability and longevity of their electric bus fleets.

Solutions

At INESC Coimbra of the University of Coimbra (Portugal), we are currently developing an intelligent charging model for electric bus fleets that aims to reduce operational costs by 30–40% while simultaneously increasing the battery life cycle of the buses.[5] Our model considers vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology for energy trading and battery degradation, allowing for a comprehensive analysis of the batteries’ lifespan and ensuring an extended battery life cycle. By optimizing the charging process, we can significantly reduce operational costs.

The electric bus fleet used as our case study in Coimbra, Portugal. (Photo by Paulo Amaral)

Through sensitivity analysis tests, we have discovered that energy trading is not currently advantageous but could become economically profitable soon. To improve battery lifespan and the operation time of bus fleets in cities, we conducted laboratory tests at the e-TESC Laboratory, University of Sherbrooke (Canada), to study the battery degradation behavior of buses under shallow temperatures. We have published a paper detailing our preliminary results in this regard.[6]

 

Battery laboratory tests in Sherbrooke, Canada.

Our ultimate goal is to provide a tool to assist public transportation operators in making informed decisions regarding the electrification of their bus systems. Through our research, we hope to drive the transition toward a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future.

Final Remarks

In summary, adopting electric buses in our communities is a significant milestone in our journey toward sustainability. However, we must acknowledge that this transition is not without its hurdles, and we must overcome them by employing cutting-edge technologies and inventive strategies. By using smart charging techniques, for instance, we can optimize the operational efficiency of electric bus fleets and reduce operating costs while ensuring that charging patterns are predictable and stable, thereby minimizing disruptions to the grid. We can also leverage V2G technology to trade energy with the grid and extend the battery life cycle of buses. Furthermore, we must invest in research and development efforts, such as those that we are undertaking at INESC Coimbra and the e-TESC Laboratory, to improve battery degradation behavior under extreme conditions and ensure that electric buses have a long and sustainable lifespan. Ultimately, our goal should be to provide public transportation operators with decision-making tools and resources to electrify their bus systems successfully and move toward a greener and more eco-friendly future.

[1] E. Mulholland and F. Rodríguez, “The Rapid Deployment of Zero-Emission Buses in Europe,” The International Council on Clean Transportation, September 19, 2022, https://theicct.org/publication/the-rapid-deployment-of-zero-emission-buses-in-europe/.

[2] B. Crothers, “This Chinese City Has 16,000 Electric Buses and 22,000 Electric Taxis. ” Forbes, February 14, 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/brookecrothers/2021/02/14/this-chinese-city-has-16000-electric-buses-and-22000-electric-taxis/.

[3] SSE Energy Solutions, “BUS2GRID Project: Smart Electrification for Electric Bus Fleets,” https://www.sseenergysolutions.co.uk/file/bus2grid-brochure.

[4] T. McGrath, L. Blades, J. Early, and A. Harris, “UK Battery Electric Bus Operation: Examining Battery Degradation, Carbon Emissions and Cost,” Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment 109 (August 2022), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trd.2022.103373.

[5] J. A. Manzolli, J. P. F. Trovão, and C. Henggeler Antunes, “Electric Bus Coordinated Charging Strategy Considering V2G and Battery Degradation,” Energy 254, Part A (September 2022), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.energy.2022.124252.

[6] Manzolli, Trovão, and Henggeler Antunes, “Optimisation of an Electric Bus Charging Strategy Considering a Semi-Empirical Battery Degradation Model and Weather Conditions,” 2022 11th International Conference on Control, Automation and Information Sciences (ICCAIS), Hanoi, Vietnam (2022): 298–303, https://doi.org/10.1109/ICCAIS56082.2022.9990180.