New Working Paper Series on India, Brazil and South Africa

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LogoIn this blog, the co-editors of a new working paper series on IBSA tell us about their project. SJ Cooper-Knock, Indrajit Roy and Cintia Kulzer Sacilotto are all based at the Oxford Department of International Development. You can find the first paper in the series, on the politics of sustainable development, here.


In recent years, emerging powers have received increasing attention, both in the media and in academic circles. In 2001, Jim O’Neil famously wrote a report for Goldman Sachs entitled ‘Building Better Global Economic BRICs’, which focused on the rising economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China.[1]  This nifty acronym quickly slipped into common usage, shaping perceptions across the globe and also encouraging an alliance of sorts between the countries themselves, who gathered for their first BRICs summit in 2009. One year later, South Africa slipped into the acronym and the group have been keen to demonstrate their collective and individual political-economic power, recently re-stating their intent to launch a development bank and a currency stabilisation fund to cater to the needs of Southern states. Meanwhile, analysts have continued to play ‘geo-political boggle’ (Cooper-Knock and Jain 2013) penning acronyms like CIVETS (Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa) and MIST (Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea and Turkey) in an attempt to predict and describe other rising economic blocs (UNDP 2013:44).

Comparative work on these emerging powers has been fruitful, and research into BRICS in particular has expanded greatly in recent years (Becker 2013; Budd 2012; Brutsch and Papa 2013; Graham 2013; Muller 2011). Ultimately, though, the latter has been limited by the vast differences between these four powers. Even just in economic terms, they diverge greatly: South Africa’s GDP, for example, is only equal to that of China’s sixth largest province.[1] Future growth prospects across the four countries also look radically different.

In this set of working papers, we have chosen to focus instead on IBSA – India, Brazil, and South Africa. As the papers in this series will demonstrate, there are much stronger comparative threads between these multi-ethnic, multi-cultural democracies and emerging economics than there are between the wider BRICS group (although the complexities and problems of cross-country comparison are also highlighted within the series). Furthermore, we shift the focus of discussions from primarily economic issues to primarily political ones, which have received far less attention in the comparative studies of emerging powers to date.

The working papers in this set each provide rich, insightful, but succinct comparative perspectives on central and contentious issues, including: formal politics, parties and elections; sustainable development; everyday politics and social movements; and the politics of mega-events. All of the papers have been written by three authors, each of whom is a specialist on one of the countries in question. These groups initially presented on panels together as part of a weekly ‘IBSA: comparative perspectives’ seminar series that ran in Queen Elizabeth House during Trinity Term 2011. The analysis that you read in the papers is the outcome of ongoing discussions between the authors over how best to make fruitful comparisons across the three countries. Comparisons can, of course, take very different forms – they may be technical, descriptive, analytical or theoretical – and the papers in this set play with these divergent forms of evaluation. They also continue to question the degree to which such comparison are feasible and desirable.

We hope that this set of papers will make an important contribution to the nascent comparative literature on emerging powers, and studies of IBSA in particular. As Series Editors, we would like to thank the Oxford Department of International Development for generously funding the initial ‘IBSA: comparative perspectives’ seminar series in Trinity Term 2011, and for their ongoing support since. We would also like to thank the team of anonymous reviewers within the department and beyond for their time and their insights. Of course, our final thanks go to the contributors, without whose analysis, commitment and patience, this set of papers would not have come to fruition.


IBSA Special Issue Contents

The Politics of Sustainable Development

Formal politics, parties, and elections

The politics of mega-events

Everyday politics and social movements

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