Dec 3 2019

Cumberland Lodge Conference 2019

Cumberland Lodge is a beautiful old brick building in the heart of Great Windsor Park – only a short ride from LSE and the centre of London, unless you’re stuck in Friday evening traffic! The Lodge was bequeathed as an educational foundation by King George VI in 1947, as a place where young people could gather to discuss the moral and spiritual dilemmas of the day. Every year, the LSE IR department invites its faculty, Masters and PhD students to spend a weekend at Cumberland Lodge discussing pertinent issues in IR while getting to know each other in a more relaxed and social environment.

Students gather outside the Lodge on the last day


After a long but smooth bus ride out to Windsor, this year’s conference was kicked off by Professor Cornelia Woll from Sciences Po with her speech on “lawfare and the limits of economic globalization”. She argued that corporate prosecutions for bad behaviour increasingly reflect national interest and that law is now being used as a weapon of war, or, at least, interstate power plays for economic gains.

Cornelia Woll gives the keynote presentation on economic ‘lawfare’


With a new concept in hand most students headed to the bar, and the slightly strange but sound-insulated basement playground for adults with pool table, fussball table and a small dance floor, where everyone could mingle freely, meet new friends and get to know their classmates outside of the classroom.

The bar after midnight


Saturday morning started drearily with rain and mist in Great Windsor Park but the morning’s discussion on “Multilateralism and multipolarity: views from ‘the rest’” livened things up. Drawing on India’s history of international thought, Dr Martin Bayly talked about how socialist internationalism and the activism of Nehru intersected with ideas and practices of anticolonialism across the world. Professor Chris Alden argued that the global south has been and is “naturally” multilateralist — that these countries found opportunities in the Cold War to bind together and some are now employing hedging strategies to work with China while maintaining relationships with the US. In the Q&A section, Dr Bayly answered questions of how situating India’s international thoughts in a context of empire and anticolonialism could make a difference to the understanding of “the international”.

An entertaining chat about the history of IR and the LSE IR Department


The most entertaining talk this year was, surprisingly, about the history of IR as an area of study and about the history of the IR department itself. Three emeritus professors, (Mick Cox, Margot Light and Chris Brown) two of whom had studied at LSE themselves in the 1960s and 1970s (see the blogs by Margot Light and Chris Brown) brought a historical, personal and humorously detailed perspective to the study of IR and the culture and evolution of the LSE IR department.

Professor Tomila Lankina presents for the session on Protest, Resistance and the End of the Liberal World Order?


Conversations continued over lunch, after which we attended a session on “protest, resistance and the end of the liberal world order?”. The three panelists discussed the current state of the liberal world order and its relations to present-day protests and resistance taking place around the world. Dr Squatrito discussed the decline of the international liberal order arguing that although we are witnessing a backlash against it, its norms are expanding globally and there is persistence to these norms. The Paris Agreement is a prime example and many protests taking place recently are in pursuit of liberal norms, as we can see in Hong Kong. Professor Callahan argued that protesters in Hong Kong are not seeking independence but a return to “one country, two systems”, meanwhile Beijing has framed these protestors as violence, despite the majority of violence being committed by the state itself. In Professor Callahan’s view, this framing of the protests is a political act. Professor Lankina shared this opinion. She discussed the ways in which autocratic regimes are increasingly learning from each other, which is evidenced in the ways that they are using communication technology to oppress protests. Professor Lankina took Russia as an example where different framings are employed for protests against the government and against migrants.

Quiz night: “… hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, baby”


The highlight of the weekend may have been the quiz night, hosted by Dr Tardelli. After a controversial management decision not to award our team with a point for their answer to ‘who was the first man to cross the Atlantic Ocean’ (we’d written Charles Lindenberg rather than Charles Lindbergh), the Queens of Cumberland Lodge secured their victory by 1 point and a collective royal wave.

Enjoying some downtime before dinner: we may have escaped inner London but we’re still in England and the football cannot be missed!


Following a few more hours at the bar and in basement playground, we wandered back to bed, ready to wake for both a cultural and spiritual event at the Royal Chapel. The Anglican Church service had a few more jokes than was expected, a set of lovely songs, particularly those sung by the choir boys, and a view of Her Royal Highness the Queen as she walked past us outside, making banter about IR while we gathered around trying to look casual. [We were not allowed to take our phones to Church, please google image search ‘the Queen at the Royal Chapel’ for a sneak peek!].

The final session of the day was a genuinely interesting discussion about what IR theory is good for. Two new members of faculty, Dr Ellen Holmaat and Dr Ben Faude, and two PhD students, Marissa Kemp and Bruno Binetti, gave their perspectives and challenged the students to critique existing theories but also develop their own grand theories: even those theories that are widely dismissed give us the grounding from which to discuss, counter, and grow our understanding of the world.

The final panel asking ‘What is IR theory REALLY good for?’


At the end of the session we gathered to take photos, saying goodbye to Cumberland Lodge and the fresh (not quite) country air. It was a wonderful weekend away from London, a great opportunity to create and consolidate new friendships, get to know the faculty, and expand our minds beyond our current course list.

One last shot before we head back to London


Report by Asha Herten-Crabb and Rachel Zhou
PhD Candidates, International Relations 2019


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