May 23 2019

Marco Lam blog prize winner 2019: Milton Wong

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.

Read more about Marco and the prize here

What does IR mean to you?

Milton Wong
BSc Politics and International Relations, 1st year

IR, to me, is about sense-making. This sounds abstract, if not overdone. But this is important to me because without understanding the world, meaningfully moving through it is impossible. Thus, IR is a sensibility for life. With it, even everyday mundanities come alive. I also begin to discover parts of myself I never quite grasped.

An IR sensibility makes me reconsider mundanities I took for granted. For instance, I began drinking tea when I came to the United Kingdom. It is what some call the “quintessential British experience”. But, is it? Upon inspection, tea drinking was a custom born in 3 millennia BC China, inherited by the British through international trade links. Perhaps this is a trivial example of what Edward Said referred to as exchanges, cross-fertilisation and sharing that animate human history? Yet, one might delve into a darker past, the historical baggage of tea – the infamous Opium Wars. An IR sensibility tells me to mark these unmarked histories. Upon doing so, I become equipped to share in the critique of a local exhibition, in the former British colony of Singapore, for curating the opium pipe as something the British produced to solve the trade imbalance caused by the high demand for Chinese goods in Britain. “Trade imbalance?” Might this caption trivialise those who lay addicted in opium dens, suffering on a side of history some pretend to forget?

Indeed, IR is a sensibility to help critique the academic syllabi we are engaged with studying in the LSE! It tells me that knowledge can be biased (most commonly summed up in the word “eurocentric”). It tells me to critique what I am told, about anything from the formation of states, to modernisation and democracy, to neoliberal capitalism, to ‘liberal’ feminism. Invigorating me to uncover other knowledges that were previously rendered unworthy, it nudges me to dig up my local scholarship, or the scholarship written elsewhere in the ‘Global South’ – a term I hesitate to use, believing it comes with hierarchical connotations against anything ‘non- Western’ – to challenge what we learn in school. These extend far beyond the IR discipline: the sensibility to discover empire’s legacy in claiming ‘legitimate knowledge’ can be applied to my courses in comparative politics, sociology, and, cheekily, even LSE100!

But IR as a sensibility also seeps into my introspective reflections. I know that my great grandfather died in the war, but this is something I can hardly understand when serving my own part in National Service (where, coincidentally, I experienced first-hand how international gender discourses are applied in powerful, toxic ways to bind armies!). Does that mean I have been unaffected by global events of the past? Or have the lenses I use to judge myself, like a piece of fractal glass, been coloured by international currents in ways I have yet to understand? I believe so. Coming to the LSE, it took me a while to understand my uneasiness in voicing my opinions in class. Upon reflection, perhaps I hesitated because I feared my accent. Having refused to tune my speech to the same tones as my Western counterparts, have I thought it plausible most people would not understand me? Might I have downplayed my contributions, or thought myself less worthy? I hasten to add I have very kind classmates, but I have only recently realised I might have internalised modes of thinking reminiscent of an imperial hierarchy. But where might this have come from? And how long has this been stuck with me? I continue searching for answers, but IR helps to illuminate some part of the way.

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