We are pleased to announce the winners of the inaugural Marco Lam Prize. In honour of the late Kuan (Marco) Long Lam, the Department established this prize for outstanding blogging.
Marco was an outstanding student and a keen blogger and we are happy to be able to commemorate him through this prize.
First place was awarded to Milton Wong (1st year BSC Politics and IR) and the runners-up are Jad Baghdadi (2nd year BSc IR) and Tetsekela M. Anyiam-Osigwe (3rd year BSC Politics and IR). Each of these blogs provides a unique perspective on what IR means; touching on the heritage of the field, its application in current conflicts and cultures, and its influence on them personally.
What does IR mean to you?
Tetsekela M. Anyiam-Osigwe
BSc Politics and International Relations, 3rd year
Nearly 5 years ago, I chose to conduct an independent study assessing the vision and performance of the African Union. At the start, I did not immediately recognise the link with International Relations as a discipline. In exploring themes including global governance, democracy promotion, regional (in) security and pan-African identity, I became more immersed in learning about transnational processes on the continent, and especially the role of “Afromats” – African diplomats – in shaping these processes. What started out as a curious enquiry into an international organisation that I had heard of, but did not really know much about, became the foundation for my interests in IR as both a field of study and as practice.
More so than it was five years ago, today’s social, economic, political and security challenges and opportunities are no longer within the purview of domestic politics. Almost every aspect of everyday life and politics has taken on a global dimension or perspective. To me, then, IR, both as practice and as a field of study, represents a unique opportunity. On the one hand, IR means having a multidisciplinary lens to make sense of the world and cultivate problem-solving solutions to confront very diverse regional challenges as well as global crises. From Somalia’s delicate diplomacy as a casualty in the Gulf crisis to the US’ decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement and to Europe’s response to the migration crisis, it becomes evident that these cannot be understood from a narrow perspective. IR practitioners – the diplomats, staff at international organisations, security officials, international negotiators – all have to draw from cross-disciplinary perspectives to proffer viable solutions to global challenges. It is therefore unsurprising that IR courses offer modules ranging from political economy, security and law to the environment and the international politics of culture and religion. To me, IR consequently means a repertoire of knowledge and skillset necessary to be a positive change agent in a world constantly confronting new and complex problems. It is not a coincidence that the last two UN Secretaries General studied IR.
On the other hand, IR means making meaningful enquiry about the global order as it is and as it could be. It borrows from history to use the experiences of the past to offer insights into the present and the future. It accommodates confrontations with the shortcomings of existing theories in making sense of the contemporary world, through constant reinterpretations and innovations. Though often criticised for its Euro-centrism, it increasingly does not shy away from it. What started off as calls coming from the field’s periphery for more inclusion and consideration were in fact reflected in the International Studies Association’s (ISA) 2015 convention theme, ‘Global IR and Regional Worlds.’ More importantly, as someone from a continent that has much been overlooked in the theoretical study, IR, to me, means a unique opportunity to contribute to making sense of and demonstrating the centrality of the experiences of the African continent. Whereas the Cold War saw her as a strategic chessboard for superpower rivalry, the post-cold war period pushed her further off to the margins of the international stage. Yet, as an increasing number of IR scholars have noted (Thomas Tieku, Karen Smith, Tandeka Nkiwane, Timothy Shaw, and Kevin Dunn, among others), there is a great scope for advancing IR theory through contributions that transcend non-Western or post-Western IR categories. IR, to me, therefore also means an open academic space to incorporate regional lessons, area studies and comparative approaches, into what should be a truly global discourse.