In the continuing pandemic, the IR department’s annual trip to Cumberland Lodge on the weekend of 26-28 November 2021, explored the theme of tracing intellectual genealogies and charting future courses of this umbrella discipline that we call International Relations. The overarching theme for this year’s conference was a reflection on the discipline and where it is headed.
The trip began with MSc students from International Relations and International Political Economy programmes boarding two coaches and being driven fifteen miles across the city to arrive in Windsor Great Park, where Cumberland Lodge is located. The Lodge itself has not been used as a Royal residence for over half a century, but it plays host to academic conferences from all over the world, with a stated mission to be a centre for facilitating dialogues for a free and open society.
This tied in beautifully with the theme of our first session entitled “Where did we come from?” in which Department faculty Peter Wilson, Pilar Elizalde, Federica Bicchi, and Victoria Paniagua, together with current MSc students Callie Lewis and Akshay Honmane, talked about their own stories that had brought them into this discipline. Dr Wilson kicked off the discussion with a very personal story of his Grandfather’s recounting of the tales of the Second World War and how they made him think about the causes of war as an academic enquiry. The rest of the panel then joined in with their own stories of how memorable events from life eventually led to their entry into the field, from global events like 9/11 to more personal events, before opening the floor to students to discuss their own motivations for studying the discipline.
Following breakfast on Saturday, the sessions focused on Frontiers of IR, and where the discipline is headed. The first session, conducted by Robert Falkner, featured a discussion between James Walters and Ellen Holtmaat on their own research in IR from religion to climate change.
It was followed by a second session on the theme led by Toby Dodge in conversation with Elisa Gambino, about foreign policy and International Relations, looking at the Middle East and China. The frontiers sessions gave us an opportunity to probe not only the diverse areas of research the Department is exploring, but also where the discipline is headed and expanding. This gave the MSc students insight into the myriad ways in which they can contextualise their research within IR. This was bolstered by the post-lunch session, which focused on brainstorming led by the students on their own reflections on IR’s frontiers and the possible directions their research could take. Students came up with innovative questions ranging from themes on Climate Change, to Sexuality and Gender, to more historical questions on Imperialism and the Post-Colonial world.
The evening was in marked contrast, with lighter events including a quiz hosted by Elisa Gambino. Staff and students both participated in the event with questions ranging from LSE and the IR Department’s 125 year history at Houghton Street, to the culture and history of London, and finally a more general round of questions testing knowledge of Taylor Swift songs, Harry Potter books, and even Downton Abbey. The post dinner scenes at Cumberland were filled with students enjoying drinks from the bar located in the main 17th century building, and a games room including billiards, and table-tennis.
The next morning featured a special attraction; a visit to the Royal Chapel within the Royal Estate. The day ended with Mathias Koenig-Archibugi leading a discussion session with faculty and student groups exploring the topics of their upcoming dissertations and how they solved certain problems they faced during their research.
After this the students sat in the Dining Hall of the Lodge for one last time for their lunch. The coaches then ferried the students back towards the bustling streets of central London in Houghton Street, as the Sunday afternoon sun set behind the towering buildings of concrete and glass.
Cumberland Lodge provides a unique opportunity for LSE’s staff and post-graduate students to interact and share ideas about their discipline in a relaxed environment, away from the bustle of Central London and office hours. It transports us into a different kind of aesthetic dominated by tapestries, stone towers, ornate drawing rooms adorned by grand pianos, and an endless stretch of wonderfully manicured Royal Park in Windsor. Sometimes the most mundane of conversations take on a discernible charm when set in the beauty of shimmering chandeliers and ornate furniture.
Report by Dipyaman Chakrabarti
PhD candidate, International Relations 2021