MSc International Relations Philip Windsor Dissertation Prize
MSc International Relations Research Martin Wight Dissertation Prize
MSc International Political Economy Susan Strange Dissertation Prize
This was awarded to Etienne Lepers for her dissertation entitled The Neutrality Illusion: Biased Economics, Biased Training & Biased Monetary Policy: Testing the Role of Ideology on FOMC voting behavior.
MSc International Relations Theory Fred Halliday Dissertation Prize
* The title quote comes from Jack Valenti, the former president of the Motion Picture Association of America. Responding to a question at the opening of the Institute for Creative Technologies which develops military and creative technologies, Valenti said, “I would like to illuminate a central truth to the gentleman – everything leaks, in Hollywood and in Washington.”
The advent of the War on Terror has made it clear, if it was not so before, that security politics and the visual are fundamentally intertwined. The significance of the visual has not gone unnoticed by scholars of international relations. Indeed, given the emergence of several different theoretical approaches that attempt to address the relationship between the visual and international security in international relations, it seems fair to say that the discipline is experiencing a visual turn. The theory which appears to have found most traction within the international relations community is visual securitisation. In this dissertation I examine three of the problematic axes on which the Copenhagen School’s securitization theory hinges – the performative utterance, intention and identity – and argue that the theory, and by extension visual securitisation, gives an impoverished account of how global security narratives such as the War on Terror are constituted and of the unique role that the visual plays in this constitution. I then argue that exploring security through the prism of popular culture rectifies these problems, offering a more direct encounter with the political, the visual and the dynamic relationship between the two and thus providing a richer and more textured understanding of the processes though which broad security narratives such as the War on Terror are constituted.
International norms of state sovereignty and self-determination are often depicted as gifts of European political and intellectual history. One line of redress to this Eurocentric assumption has been effectively to say that, if International Relations over-privileges ‘Western IR theory’, then we must include more ‘non-Western IR theory’ in the discipline’s remit. But this split between ‘Western’ and ‘non-Western’ thought is problematic when the goal is to understand these norms as truly international, and fails to reckon with colonial history in the constitution of international moral order. Between 1930 and 1962, international order went from norms which supported or tolerated colonial empires to one which opposed them in favour of sovereign nation-states. This process was not initiated by French or British imperial authority, but came about through asymmetrical struggle between imperial authority and theorist-activists from the colonies, within an international context transformed by WWII. I draw on the lives of two African diaspora theorist-activists to make this case: George Padmore and Léopold Sédar Senghor. Neither Padmore nor Senghor were initially motivated by the prospect of sovereign power. Their aim was to eradicate the norm of imperial sovereignty and replace it with a universal norm of self-determination. They contributed significantly to a discourse that brought about the normative shift from empires to sovereign states, but they were not motivated by some discretely African history and theoretical tradition, but by their own experiences with empire, as well as intellectual traditions which were already the result of a socio-political and intellectual history shared with Europe.
It is in times of crisis and consequent uncertainty that hard and risky policy choices have to be taken. As a result it is in these times that the contrasts sharpen and deep divides reemerge: between conservative and innovative, between theorists and historians, between laissez faire and interventionists, between hawks, doves, owls and seagulls … The recent Global Financial Crisis has been a case in point. Both fiscal policy (whether stimulus was and is still needed, whether it worked or didn’t work, whether it didn’t worked because it was too small or because it couldn’t work) and monetary policy (raising the rates earlier or later, use unconventional tools or not) have been subject to raging debates and divides in academia as well as in policymakers’ circles.
This dissertation has tried to shed light on two myths that are usually widespread: the first one being the idea of the academic economist as a neutral scientist finding uncontestable consensual truths thanks to uncontestable empirical methods, the second the idea of the central banker as a Weberian neutral bureaucrat setting aside personal beliefs to act mechanically for the common good.
Deconstructing this ‘neutrality illusion’, we argued that economics is actually a divided and ideologically marked discipline despite its aim at natural-science-type-legitimacy. We argued in a related discussion that such ideological bias also impedes a purely neutral conduct of monetary policy, undermining the very idea of central bank independence.
Linking these two arguments, we argued that graduate training in economics is the first place for the formation of biased preferences, because of the substantial ideological sorting that exists across universities. We test this idea on a specific topic (preferences about inflation) and in a specific case and country (the voting behavior of FOMC members) through an updated database on votes at the Fed. Despite unavoidable caveats, we find robust evidence of a systematic impact of the ideological features of their alma mater on FOMC members’ voting behavior – impact that we found more important than the other traditional determinants of central bankers’ actions.
As Rodrik nicely puts it, “Policymakers operate under certain working assumptions about how the world works. Their worldviews shape their perception of the consequences of theirs’ and other’s actions. (…) Cognitive and other limitations force political agents to live in a world of Knightian uncertainty with respect to their understanding of causal relationships”. From such a perspective, disagreements among economists, and different preferences on the optimal monetary policy shouldn’t be seen as a problem or failure of the discipline, but exactly as a healthy element. Rodrik rejoins Hayek, calls for humility and warns against the “Pretence of knowledge”.
In a 1987 issue of Millennium, Mark Hoffman declared Critical Theory (CT) to be the next stage of International Theory. Speaking at a moment where the discipline was considered to have undergone a significant shift away from a neo-realist paradigm, Hoffman signaled a moment of opportunity for the discipline of International Relations (IR) to reorient the study of the international. Despite Hoffman’s proclamation, however, it appears that the Frankfurt School CT tradition has not fulfilled this ambitious prophecy. Perhaps it is no surprise that it was never able to gain a solid foothold in the United States, where the optimism of the post-Cold War moment allowed a shift toward a liberal-constructivism (Barder and Levine 2012; Wendt 1992) but remained hostile to critical traditions. But in Europe and Australia, where there has been more receptiveness to critical approaches, the CT tradition has been decried as Eurocentric, gendered and a liberal defense of society than a critique of it (Jahn 1998; Pasha 2012; True 2012). A question emerges then: How is it possible that a tradition that was originally intended to be a ‘ruthless critique of all things existing’ (Marx 1978b) and is seemingly suited to uncover techniques of domination under a neo-liberal world order, has been decried as a toothless apology for that world order?
This paper attempts to confront this issue from the perspective of epistemology and reification. Using Theodor Adorno’s ‘negative dialectics’ I conduct an immanent critique of Habermasian IR to show that it rests on an untenable subject based epistemology that leads to what Adorno calls ‘identity thinking.’ I trace this epistemology to the privileging of the subject over the object that originated in Habermas’s use of Kant that has subsequently been taken up by CT in IR. Without an objective material moment forming a constitutive role in Habermasian epistemology, there is nothing to check the slip into reification. Tracing this epistemological problem to the meta-theoretical and theoretical assumptions of ideal speech and progress in Habermasian communicative action reveals the inability for Habermasian CT to sustain its critical element. Instead Habermasian CT results in a defense of the status quo. Challenging the epistemology of Habermas, this paper argues that the project of CT in IR should be repositioned by deploying the resources of Adorno’s ‘turn to the object.’ CT should shift away from highlighting the possibilities for intersubjective communicative action and instead use Adorno’s principle of non-identity that draws on embodied physical suffering to highlight the disjuncture between what society purports to be and what it is in reality. True to Adorno’s critique of idealism, however, the problem of reification cannot merely be overcome by a renewed epistemological perspective. It must be accompanied politically by a resistance to the material status quo of capitalist exchange, for reification and ideology are mere symptoms of a false whole.