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Alison Carter - Blog editor

November 18th, 2021

2020/21 MSc Dissertation Prizewinners announced

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Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Alison Carter - Blog editor

November 18th, 2021

2020/21 MSc Dissertation Prizewinners announced

0 comments

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Congratulations to our MSc Dissertation Prizewinners

 

The International Relations Department is very pleased to announce the MSc dissertation prizewinners for the 2020/21 session (see below for summaries of each dissertation):

 

for the best 10,000 word MSc IR Dissertation

This was awarded jointly to:

Julian Erben

for the dissertation entitled
“From Improvisation to Attribution: The Changing Practice of Identifying Chemical Weapon Attacks”

and

Ana Lankes

for the dissertation entitled
“Why the Bolivarian Revolution has endured: The importance of inter-social dynamics in consolidating revolutionary regimes”

Read abstracts

 

Halliday MSc Dissertation Prize

for the best 10,000 word MSc IRT Dissertation

This was awarded to

Leonardo De Agostini

for the dissertation entitled
“The EEAS at 10 and the Headquarters-Delegation Nexus in the EU Foreign Policy Cycle through the lenses of Practice Theory: does the way towards a stronger EEAS pass through empowered Delegations?”.

Read abstract

 

Susan Strange MSc IPE Dissertation Prize

for the best 10,000 word MSc IPE Dissertation

This was awarded jointly to

Monica Jade Lung

for the dissertation entitled
“Cooptation of the Green Agenda: Accounting for Materiality and Discursivity in Global Environmentalism”

and

Sonja Schaefer

for the dissertation entitled
“Muddled Governance of Forced Labor: Multinational Companies, States, and Cotton from China and Uzbekistan”.

Read abstracts

 

Martin Wight MSc IR Research dissertation prize

for the best 10,000 word MSc IR(R) Dissertation

This was awarded to

Bingzhen Song

for the dissertation entitled
“The Dynamics of Discourse in the US-China Relations: A Case Study of the Hong Kong Debate”.

Read abstract

 

MSc IR IR410 Michael Donelan Prize

This was awarded to

Anand Sundar

for the highest mark in the IR410 International Politics examination.

 


 

See below for summaries of the above dissertations:

MSc International Relations Philip Windsor Dissertation Prize

Julian Erben
“From Improvisation to Attribution: The Changing Practice of Identifying Chemical Weapon Attacks”

The dissertation attempts to explain why and how six different multilateral bodies were tasked with establishing if and by whom chemical weapons had been used in the Syrian civil war since 2011.

A practice theory approach of International Relations is employed as a promising framework for understanding a specific social field, such as multilateral responses to chemical weapons employment. Since the existing theorising was found to be not sufficiently satisfying in answering the empirical puzzle, the study contains a theoretical intervention that provides a satisfying framework for explaining the research object.

The interventions main argument exposes an overly focus on subconscious processes in practice theory on change which lead to an undertheorisation of the role of conscious actor-driven change plays in the establishment and development of practices in international relations. While there is some theory on the reasons for conscious change there is very little theorising on the process of change. This leads to a lacking theoretical appreciation of the role of international law as a tool to enable, constrain and guide changes of international practices.

The theoretical framework developed thereby, explains why and how the practice(s) of multilateral investigations into (potential) chemical weapons attacks developed from its start as an ad-hoc measure in the 1980s, institutionalised under the auspices of the UN Secretary General and later transitioned to the OPCW.

Ana Lankes
“Why the Bolivarian Revolution has endured: The importance of inter-social dynamics in consolidating revolutionary regimes”

Venezuela has experienced the worst economic collapse outside of wartime in 50 years and the emigration of over a sixth of its population. The Bolivarian Revolution, which was initiated with the election of Hugo Chávez in 1999, has withstood multiple coup attempts, a rocky succession from Chávez to Nicolás Maduro, and changing relationships with the country’s ideological patron, Cuba, which moved closer to the US briefly under President Obama. How have the revolution and the authoritarian regime it bequeathed survived for so long, while the domestic situation implodes? This thesis uses an “inter-social” approach, drawing on the work of George Lawson (2019), to explain the role of international factors in generating and consolidating revolutionary regimes. An inter-social approach takes a historical view in which international events contain an interactive, relational dynamic with domestic outcomes. My thesis suggests that democratically-elected, populist regimes can hone revolutionary projects over time by creating counter-ordering institutions at home and abroad to circumvent hegemonic actors in international society, in this case the United States. Parallel institutions provided a shield around Venezuela that allowed the Bolivarian Revolution to radicalise domestically whilst exporting its tenets to other countries. The implication is that for mediation efforts to succeed, Venezuela must be understood not merely as a populist or authoritarian state, but as a revolutionary state, and international actors must be engaged much more thoroughly than they are now.

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MSc International Relations Theory Fred Halliday Dissertation Prize

Leonardo De Agostini
“The EEAS at 10 and the Headquarters-Delegation Nexus in the EU Foreign Policy Cycle through the lenses of Practice Theory: does the way towards a stronger EEAS pass through empowered Delegations?”

After ten years from the establishment of the European External Action Service (EEAS), and the consequent transformation of EU Commission Delegations in third countries into fully-fledged EU Delegations (EUDs), this research evaluated their role in European foreign policy, trying to place them in the EU foreign policy cycle. One big lack stood out in the academic literature: a missing inquiry on the reality of the impact of Delegations in policy-making, in their coordination with Brussels headquarters (HQ). Specifically, questions regarding whether the added value of having an important – in size- diplomatic service, with 144 Delegations in third countries, was really fully exploited by the EU and its foreign policy apparatus. This research used an approach based on practice theory to analyse where things stand at the moment.

Drawing inspirations from the recent ‘practice turn’ in EU external action studies, the tenets of practice theory were applied to what I have called the ‘Headquarters-Delegations Nexus’ (HDN): theorised as the system of coordination that allows the exchange of policy inputs between Brussels HQ and EU Delegations in third countries. Practice Theory helped illuminating everyday (bottom-up and informal) practices in the ‘making’ of EU foreign policy, but only when put in conversation with new institutionalist approaches – by means of a ‘sociological leeway’- it helped creating a broader framework accounting for the big picture of EU foreign policy. I have therefore suggested that the case of the HDN could be an example of how practice theory can be put in fruitful conversation with these approaches, reanimating the debate within the field.

The analysis revolved around an original dataset of 11 semi-structured interviews with high-ranking EU officials, which findings shed light on the working practices within an evolving EEAS, in which the role of Delegations might be the foundation for its transformation into a fully-fledged policy entrepreneur. The HDN was the Bourdieusian locus for analysing this evolution. From the analysis, emerged that the Delegation’s role in the policy cycle evolved: they are now capable of impacting policy-making in its early stages. In the broader context, this more proactive role for Delegations might be crucial in the evolution of the EEAS: by enhancing coherence in EU’s external action. While it is clear that attempts of reforming the EEAS are being made, if they will succeed it is too early to say.

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MSc International Political Economy Susan Strange Dissertation Prize

Monica Jade Lung
“Cooptation of the Green Agenda: Accounting for Materiality and Discursivity in Global Environmentalism”

The concurrent and escalating climate and ecological crises have induced a proliferation of environmental policies and multilateral environmental agreements in recent decades, with environmental sustainability rising to the forefront of public policymaking. Yet, despite increasingly sophisticated data on these environmental crises and near unanimous political consensus concerning their existential threat, mitigation efforts remain inadequate relatively to the scale of emergency – both in commitment and practice. Many theories – including suggestions of coordination problems, international competition pressures, adjustment costs, and scientific uncertainty – have been put forward to explain this striking dissonance between scientific awareness and political action which manifests in political-economic shallowness within ‘green’ strategies. However, these perspectives uncritically assume that the rate and scale of the climate and biodiversity crises can be resolved under the status quo system of capitalist extraction and accumulation. Meanwhile, Marxist concepts of capitalism’s boundless profit drive, alienation from nature, and metabolic relationship with ecology provide a salient foundation for understanding how capitalism is fundamentally incompatible with meaningful greening of the economy, as capital requires continual self-expansion and the reduction of nature to exchange value. Nonetheless, eco-Marxism itself is unable to explain capitalism’s persistent ideological supremacy in the global economy in the face of multi-faceted existential crisis. Borrowing from Gramsci and Foucault – namely, the concepts of cultural hegemony, disciplinary power, and power-knowledge – helps to fill this gap and makes clear the role of knowledge formation in capitalism’s cooptation and subversion of green efforts.

Ultimately, a joint materialist-discursive approach to the political economy of environmental protection is better able to inform on the influence of more sedimented factors of power struggles as well as the capture of unfixed and negotiable cultural elements of society. Marxist materiality and elements of discursivity are not only compatible but also mutually-reinforcing: hegemonic ideas of the superstructure emerge from and reflect the priorities of the existing mode of production, while also serve to further maintain the economic base through its exercise of disciplinary power and its exclusion of alternative, more ambitious counterhegemonies. As a result, knowledge-power proves able to insidiously direct ‘sustainability’ strategies towards the further reification of capitalist production, as affirmed by an examination of discourses advanced by prominent international organisations. Indeed, an analysis of discursive trends in 46 materials published by the IMF, OECD, UNCTAD, UNEP, World Bank, and WTO exposes a near ubiquitous reinforcement of a particular framing of the environmental problem structure, growthism ethics, and range of potential solutions which effectively solidifies existing market logics.

Concerted environmental action thus requires the substantive denaturalisation of current economic relations as historically-contingent, socially-created, and discursively-sustained. The success of global environmentalism will ultimately depend on the profound ideological destabilisation of the principles and imperatives which perpetually sustain capitalism’s relentless expansionist mode of production.

Sonja Schaefer
“Muddled Governance of Forced Labor: Multinational Companies, States, and Cotton from China and Uzbekistan”

Forced labour is prohibited by the International Labor Organization 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, United Nations Guiding Principles, United Nations Global Compact, Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, numerous domestic laws, and voluntary standards. Yet, forced labour persists in our modern global value chains.

This study grapples with how interests—that of the states and multinational companies involved in forced labour—shape private governance outcomes.  Two case studies of state-imposed forced labour in cotton production stemming from China and Uzbekistan depict a range of influences on the private governance conducted by multinational companies. These case studies show how context-specific differences in state-imposed forced labour regimes impact private governance with regard to the continuation or eradication of forced labour in global value chains. Specifically, this study utilises the political science boomerang model to analyse the structural power of multinational companies and collective action of multi-stakeholder initiatives and third-party programmes to evaluate their influence on eradication.

I argue that states that contest the existence of state-imposed forced labour shape and politicise private governance, exacerbating governance challenges. Particularly, I find that a large disputing state lowers the salience of the labour violation to multinational companies given profit and sales concerns, in turn, inhibiting private eradication efforts and muddling eradication outcomes. Building on the stream of international political economy research regarding how interests complicate private governance effectiveness, I expose a gap in the literature on the impact of state-imposed forced labour and illuminate global ramifications.

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MSc International Relations Research Martin Wight Dissertation Prize

Bingzhen Song
“The Dynamics of Discourse in the US-China Relations: A Case Study of the Hong Kong Debate”

The mainstream scholarship about the US-China relationship has made significant strides towards one direction: understanding the material, tangible, and security-related aspects of this relationship and proposing predictions as well as policy prescriptions accordingly. The mainstream approach to studying the US-China relationship has produced, and largely dismissed, a dominant discourse in which the ‘US’ and ‘China’ exist with particular sets of attributes and capabilities for certain actions. Trailblazing works in Poststructuralism scholarship have found that the US discursive construction of China as a threatening Other, i.e., the ‘China Threat’ narrative, risks creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In this dissertation, I follow the trailblazing works in Poststructuralism scholarship and take a step back from the mainstream International Relations (IR) perspectives to critically analyse the process through which the entities ‘US’ and ‘China’ are produced as part of our knowledge system. Notably, I conduct critical discourse analysis (CDA) on both the US and Chinese diplomatic narratives around the Hong Kong controversies. The version of CDA adopted in this paper draws inspiration from seminal works by Lene Hansen and Roxanne Lynn Doty. The combined approach relinquishes presupposed subjects and takes seriously the intertextual influences of the texts. Additionally, in studying both the Self and the Other, this dissertation creates a unique opportunity to advance our understanding of the dynamics of discourse and performatively remedy the Eurocentrism problem in the IR scholarship.

Through a case study of the Chinese and US diplomatic narratives around the Hong Kong controversies, I find that the dominant discourses from both sides have constructed the ‘US’ and ‘China’ as subjects in binary oppositions, i.e., free/tyrannical, civilised/barbaric, good/evil, foreign/domestic. The security framework is prominent in both dominant discourses, and subjects are assigned adversarial roles of the ‘aggressor’ and the ‘defender’. I also find that the discursive constructions follow reoccurring cycles, where each side co-opts the other side’s discursive constructions into their own dominant discourse as newly interpreted evidence, which is followed by escalations in intensity. Through the empirical observations and critical analysis in this study, I conclude that the dominant discourses limit policy imagination of the US-China relations on both sides, diminish the non-adversarial space in the US-China relations, and escalate the diplomatic tensions. By revealing the discursive production of the Self and Other in the US-China relations, this paper admonishes against and, hopefully, disrupts the uncritical continuation of these discursive practices.

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Alison Carter - Blog editor

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