The global neighbourhood approach, developed to analyze contact phenomena between hitherto unfamiliar actors, tries to understand the different and often contradictory views and missions of the “global neighbours” such as local communities, policy makers, investors, NGOs, human rights organizations, scientists et cetera - involved in the use of a particular territory, and wants to bring them together to discuss land use, mining, food security and agricultural production in the twenty first century, in order to find points of convergence and constructive solutions.
After having established the concept of cultural neighbourhood in the regional perspective of southern Ethiopia (Gabbert and Thubauville 2010), the application of the neighbourhood approach in a national and global context is an appeal to processes which are presently taking place all over the world when looking at the emergence of new global markets and economic policies.
In contrast to a familiar cultural neighbourhood, the impact and behaviour of unfamiliar, national or global neighbours, who have increasingly become realities in a spatial sense, like the state, missionaries, NGOs and international entrepreneurs etc., are less based on mutual respect and understanding, and are more characterized through asymmetry, especially concerning power relations. In the global neighbourhood approach, these various actors are called “neighbours” due to their spatial, economic and/or social contact. Methodologically, new neighbours first have to be examined as concerns their respective expectations, aspirations and positions to then be able to assess the potential future of their interaction within their new environment.
The relation of local populations to more virtual neighbours, i.e., national and international investors, poses a particular challenge to the application of the global neighbourhood concept as the politics, economies and fates of people who have never met are merged through the global economy rather than through human encounters. Investors often have never visited the territories in which their companies invest or work, yet, their presence can have an increasingly significant impact on people’s lives. Questions arise: Can these virtual neighbours develop understanding, knowledge and respect for each other? What efforts are made to face each other in spite of spatial distance? How do firm policies enable or encourage managers and migrant workers on farms to build a relationship with local communities? And, how can investment in agriculture become feasible taking into account land tenure systems that will be affected by changing land use?
The underlying principles for a functioning cultural neighbourhood, such as effort, time, interest, communication and mutual knowledge, help us to understand that conflict induced by new encounters in a changing global market is first and foremost inevitable. Realists would contend that it cannot be otherwise because without a history of communication, contact and exchange, there must be a lack of mutual understanding between new neighbours, which is partly caused by the limited time the two parties have had to get to know each other. This leads to an unpredictability of the “Other” on both sides, followed by misunderstandings and misbehaviours with inherent potential for conflict. Anthropologists have long-term experiences in these situations. Their integration into their respective host communities always includes challenging times of misunderstandings and embarrassment on both sides.
In my research, in the case of an oil company’s presence in the Woyto Valley, I looked at relations between new neighbours, their mutual fears, expectations, misunderstanding and efforts in the encounter with a special focus on the perception of the newcomers by the local community. While taking into consideration foci of the Department “Integration and Conflict”, such as forms of communication and identification, boundary making, conflict patterns and conflict resolution mechanisms, the research reveals insights concerning social order, cultural communication and security issues that arise when local and international actors and their ideas meet in changing constellations.