The International Relations Department is very pleased to announce the MSc dissertation prizewinners for the 2018/19 session (see below for summaries of each dissertation):
MSc International Relations Philip Windsor Dissertation Prize
This was awarded to Anna Rio for the dissertation entitled
“Reconsidering the Relationship Between Ethnography and International Relations”.
MSc International Relations Theory Fred Halliday Dissertation Prize
This was awarded to Uygar Baspehlivan for the dissertation entitled
“The International Memescape: How Internet Memes Make and Unmake the International”
MSc International Political Economy Susan Strange Dissertation Prize
This was awarded to Casimir Hesse for the dissertation entitled
“Buying into New Ideas: the ECB’s Evolving Justification of OMT”.
MSc International Relations Research Martin Wight Dissertation Prize
This was awarded to Lily Nellans for the dissertation entitled
“Genocide Studies and Its Queer Potentials”.
This was awarded jointly to Alexander Andreou and Aza Elgenied for the highest mark (75) in the IR410 International Politics core course.
See below for summaries of the above dissertations:
MSc International Relations Philip Windsor Dissertation Prize
Reconsidering the Relationship Between Ethnography and International Relations
In this dissertation I examine and reconsider the place of ethnographic methodology in International Relations. I primarily do this by elucidating three points of tension in the literature on ethnography in International Relations.
Firstly, IR scholars attempting to use the ethnographic method as an instrument in developing empirically grounded understandings of international practices have been criticised for not considering the reflexive methodological developments that have taken place within anthropology since the 1980s. This was one of the main points of tension in a series of articles published in Millennium, primarily by Wanda Vrasti and Jason Rancatore, regarding the so-called ‘ethnographic turn in IR’. Scholars such as Vincent Pouliot and Iver Neuman were criticised by Vrasti for this omission. I argue that there is value in moving on from such debates and gate-keeping practises and instead focus on how to develop an effective methodological framework for studying international relations ethnographically.
Secondly, I investigate how to overcome certain matters of scale. Claims have been made that ethnography is not an appropriate way to conduct research in IR since the method’s intrinsic ‘sitedness’ and focus on local situations entails an inability to capture world politics that operate on a ‘higher’ global level. It has been claimed that these processes cannot be precisely located. One of the main problems that I am attempting to approach in this regard is how to conceptualise the ‘international’ methodologically, or more specifically, ethnographically. I investigate the ‘multi-sited solution’ to this problem, and critically examine the implicit and explicit theoretical positions underlying this approach. I argue that by choosing to abandon the imaginary of totalities as a higher level, ethnography can enable important understandings of social relations that exist across scales of local and global. This is based on the notion that sensibilities to local practices can in fact inform theories of larger scales of interconnections and patterns.
Lastly, I investigate the practical problems related to doing ethnographic research in International Relations. For IR researchers doing ethnography on the level of international politics and states it is seen as challenging to find appropriate field-sites to conduct research. However, this problem is reliant on the idea that field-sites already exist as bounded locations or empirical units a priori. However, by engaging with some of recent scholarship on ethnography in anthropology, I find that it has become apparent over the recent decades that it is not particular sites and places that create the context of ethnographic research but rather specific topics or problems.
The main contribution of this dissertation is to challenge the impression that ethnography is not a suitable methodology for IR. From our discipline’s traditional state-centric and system-level perspective, the ethnographic task of focusing on local scenes and practices seems reductive and restrictive. However, I have attempted to introduce some complexity to this discussion.
The International Memescape: How Internet Memes Make and Unmake the International
This dissertation, in consideration of the emerging importance and impact of internet memes in social life, questions how we can understand memes in relation to global politics. In particular, it asks the following questions; how memes circulate internationally, and how does this circulation have a constitutive and/or disruptive impact on the international?
The main argument of this dissertation is that we can understand this new force as an emergent political space in which political, cultural and social meaning is contested, maintained, disrupted and/or (re)produced. It calls this space “the memescape”. The memescape as a space comprises a complex assemblage of humorous and ironic texts, images, ideas, songs, content-producers, content-consumers, websites, service providers and other elements that are produced, reconfigured and connected in various and shifting ways that create a zone of transgression and contestation. These connections and reconfigurations are made possible by the particular spatial features of the memescape.
The memescape is connected to traditional sites and discourses of politics that circulate among elite institutions and media channels, but it also has its authentic governing logics, cultures, and subjectivities that make it a political space on its own. To conceptualise this space, this dissertation employs critical thinkers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s concept of “the smooth space”. Smooth spaces are decentralised, multiple and open spaces within which meaning, and movement are less restricted and open to fluid and unexpected connections. This conceptualisation is employed to understand how the everyday digital space of the memescape opens up a space of discursive contestation and negotiation in which the boundaries and the borders of the international can be transgressed and/or (re)produced.
The dissertation explores the smoothness of the memescape through use of three Deleuzian concepts. Firstly, the memescape is rhizomatic by the virtue of its inter-personal and anonymous structure. Knowledge, in the memescape, unlike many other popular cultural and visual products, is not solely disseminated in a top-down manner; that is, from an active content producer (either a corporate, the state, an institution or a “professional artist”) to the masses as reactive cultural bodies. Rather, memes are intimately inter-personal; they propagate individually from one source to the other. Second, it is defined by multiplicity by the virtue of its inherent yet shaky heterogeneity. It allows for instantaneous, global and unexpected connections between a multiplicity subjects and elements that form affective communities around shared laughter. Thirdly, it is productive of nomadic meanings and subjectivities by the virtue of the playful and ironic content and culture that it promotes. These spatial functions, in return, the dissertation argues, make the memescape a relatively smooth space. It allows meaning to leak in unexpected ways and for it to be contested and reconfigured in new ways.
Then, I argue that we can locate two primary functions of this space as it relates to the bordered international. First, memes as maintaining and reproducing the border. Second, memes as challenging and transgressing the border. As bordering practices, I analyse the “first world/third world problems” memes and refugee memes. As unbordering practices, I study memes that circulate between indigenous people around the world and memes that connect global protest movements such as #Occupy in the United States and #DirenGezi in Turkey. In closing, I argue that increasing attention needs to be paid to politics of memes and the memescape as a political space.
Buying into New Ideas: the ECB’s Evolving Justification of OMT
In the early days of the euro crisis, the European Central Bank (ECB) adopted the ideas of Francesco Giavazzi and Marco Pagano (1990), Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna (Alesina 2010; Alesina and Ardagna 2009) as well as Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff (2010) to interpret the causes of the crisis and to provide policy solutions. According to these authors, the crisis was due to weak fiscal fundamentals and countries had to focus on fiscal adjustments to cut high debt levels, generate economic growth and squeeze sovereign risk premia. In my dissertation, I refer to these ideas as narrative of “expansionary austerity”. As the crisis progressed, however, the ECB shifted to embracing another crisis interpretation which originated in the writings of Paul De Grauwe (2011), Christian Kopf (2011) and Charles Wyplosz (2010). According to these authors, a loss of market confidence had triggered a cyclone of self-fulfilling expectations that drove sovereign risk premia and threatened to push countries into default. This diagnosis, which I call the “multiple equilibria” narrative, claimed that to prevent euro area (EA) countries from slipping into a bad equilibrium the ECB had to provide unlimited liquidity.
The ECB’s ideational change which anticipated Mario Draghi’s “whatever it takes” announcement is puzzling for three reasons. First, both narratives of the crisis were supported by viable empirical evidence and strong theoretical arguments. Second, the Maastricht Treaty enabled the ECB to apply either narrative due to a vague definition of the objective of price stability. Third, Germany is the most powerful EA government, yet it promoted ordoliberal ideas and German stability culture, thus preferring structural adjustment and austerity politics over providing unlimited liquidity. Hence, if neither driven by market developments, institutional arrangements nor German power, why did the ECB’s interpretation of the crisis shift?
Addressing this puzzle, I draw on the political economy of ideational change. I argue that the ascendency of the “multiple equilibria” narrative evolved in three steps which are (1) the pre-crisis existence of “multiple equilibria” ideas, (2) the Knightian uncertainty of the euro crisis and (3) its strategic advocacy by normative entrepreneurs. Building on Chwieroth (2010) and Baker (2013), I argue that the norm entrepreneurs’ strategic advocacy (stage 3) was successful due to four Is: (a) an indicative reference point which ensured cohesiveness, (b) the increasing credibility of its norm entrepreneurs, (c) their institutional positioning and (d) the intellectual sensitivity of policy makers to the new narrative. The theoretical contribution of my paper is to place policy makers’ intellectual sensitivity more centre-stage than existing accounts and to expand the constructivist literature on the euro crisis which until now has largely claimed that ideas didn’t change (Blyth and Matthijs 2018; Crouch 2011).
This dissertation proceeds in three sections. First, I develop my conceptual framework by justifying my theoretical decision for the political economy of ideational change and then review it both in general terms and with special regard to the euro crisis. Second, I elucidate the ECB’s ideational shift and the component parts of the narratives which structured it. For this analysis, I deployed a thematic network analysis (Attride-Stirling 2001) which is a type of qualitative text analysis. In a last step, I combine the findings of my text analysis with the results of five expert interviews I conducted with De Grauwe, Kopf and Wyplosz, Olivier Blanchard and Daniel Gros. By applying my conceptual framework, I provide an explanation for the ECB’s ideational change and the evolving justification for OMT.
Genocide Studies and Its Queer Potentials
Since the end of the country’s genocide in 1996, life has been difficult for queer people in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Anecdotal evidence gathered throughout my travels in the country suggests that homophobia has steadily worsened since 1996. People I spoke with linked the increasing violence to an uptick in nationalism following the genocide. However, there is no way to even begin to confirm their suspicions because little research on the connection between queerness and genocide exists. The research that does exist focuses on whether violence against queer people constitutes genocide. While this is a worthy discussion, it is not the one that interests me most. Instead, I am interested in how queerness interacts with and is implicated in more ‘traditional genocides,’ i.e. those directed at racial, religious, national, and ethnic groups. As such, in this dissertation I ask: How can Genocide Studies benefit, if at all, from the inclusion of queer theory concepts? To answer, I deconstruct existing Genocide Studies texts using three distinct, but related, concepts from queer theory: queer intellectual curiosity, heteronormativity, and reproductive futurism. I conclude that Genocide Studies can benefit empirically, analytically, and normatively from borrowing ideas from queer theory. Deploying queer theory concepts in Genocide Studies ensures the field is more attentive to queer life, something all academic disciplines should strive for, and moves the field’s understanding of genocide as a phenomenon forward.
First, I contend that Genocide Studies should pay more attention to the empirical experiences of queer people during episodes of genocide. I argue that genocide scholars have built the disciplines’ most important scholarship from empirical research. More recently, scholars have begun to disaggregate experiences of genocide according to various differences, including sex/gender. I contend it is time to build upon these methodological norms in the discipline and empirically investigate queer experiences of genocide. The existing empirics, drawn from Nazi Germany, suggest this research would contribute much to the field of Genocide Studies.
Next, I argue that when we deploy heteronormativity as an analytic in Genocide Studies, we can improve our understanding of how genocide unfolds and what makes it possible. Drawing upon empirics from the former Yugoslavia and Spike Peterson’s theory of nationalism as heterosexism, I argue that it is reasonable to believe heteronormativity makes possible genocide and that we can better understand how and why genocide works when we examine both genocide as a phenomenon and individual cases through a heteronormative lens. And if heteronormativity enables genocide, then, perhaps, queerness contains strategies of prevention and mitigation.
Finally, I utilize Lee Edelman’s understanding of reproductive futurism to critique definitions of genocide that obscure and deemphasize queer life. Edelman argues that the Child that heterosexual couples produce holds the most privileged position. Our politics and social order are designed to benefit this future and imaginary Child. Many genocide scholars define genocide as interference with biological and cultural reproduction. I apply Edelman’s concept to these definitions of genocide and critique them for erasing queer people and other people who are or are perceived to be non-reproductive, namely the impoverished. As a result, Genocide Studies normalizes, though unintentionally, an understanding of genocide that reifies genocidaires’ logic, deemphasizes queer lives, and contributes to heteronormative reconstructions of post-genocidal societies. It is time to have a much-needed discussion about re-defining genocide in a more inclusive and queer way.