White Innocence in the Black Mediterranean

A guest post from Ida Danewid. Ida is a PhD candidate in International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her work focuses on decolonial theory, global ethics, and the politics of solidarity. She is the editor of Millennium: Journal of International Studies vol. 45, and the forthcoming special issue “Racialized Realities in World Politics”. This post is based on her article White Innocence in the Black Mediterranean: Hospitality and the Erasure of History which won the 2017 Edward Said Award.


On the evening of the 3rd of October 2013, an overcrowded fishing boat carrying more than 500 migrants sank off the coast of the Italian island Lampedusa. Amongst the 368 found dead was an Eritrean woman who had given birth as she drowned. The divers found her a hundred and fifty feet down in the ocean together with her newborn baby, still attached by the umbilical cord. Her name was Yohanna, the Eritrean word for “congratulations”.

Over the last few years the Mediterranean migrant crisis has provoked numerous responses and activism; ranging from Ai Wei Wei’s life vest installation to Pope Francis’s “day of tears”, from radical activist campaigns such as “The Dead Are Coming” to Jason deCaire Taylor’s undersea sculpture museum, from the silent minute in the European parliament to #AlanKurdi. Seeking to counteract the rise of populist, far right, anti-immigrant, xenophobic, and racist political parties, a variety of scholars, activists, artists, and politicians have called for empathy and solidarity with the fate of shipwrecked migrants. By recognising and publicly mourning the lives that have been lost, they seek to “humanise” those who, like Yohanna and her baby, are swallowed by the turquoise-blue waters of “Our Sea”.

Graffiti welcoming refugees in Dublin

In international theory, these expressions of solidarity have been paralleled by a growing interest in the question of who and what counts as human. A longstanding area of concern for post- and decolonial thought, poststructuralist and feminist theorists have increasingly begun to interrogate the normative frames that cast some lives as waste, bogus, and non-human. Responding to an era shaped by the global war on terror and securitizing discourses that figure the nation-state as a body under threat, thinkers such as Judith Butler and Stephen White have argued for a new humanism, based not on the rationalist sovereign subject central to liberal political theory, but on notions of loss, grief, relationality, and bodily vulnerability. Calling for a “reconceptualization of the Left” based on precariousness as “a shared condition of human life”, Butler argues that mourning and vulnerability can serve as the new basis of political community, enabling a “we” to be formed across cultures of difference. Applied to the context of the European migrant crisis, this is an ethic of hospitality that seeks to disrupt nationalist protocols of kinship and that points towards new forms of solidarity beyond borders. As the contributors to a recent special issue on “Borders and the Politics of Mourning” make clear, grief for unknown others—for migrants—offers a radical challenge to the xenophobia and white nationalism that underwrite the necropolitical logic of the European border regime.

My research interrogates what such critical humanist interventions produce and make possible—and crucially, what they foreclose and hide from view. Building on what some activists, artists, and academics have begun to call “the Black Mediterranean”, I argue that these responses are indicative of a general problematique, endemic to both leftwing activism and academic debate, which reproduces rather than challenges the foundational assumptions of the far right. By privileging a focus on the ontological—as opposed to historical—links that bind together humankind, these ethical perspectives contribute to an ideological formation that disconnects histories that are intimately connected, and that removes from view the many afterlives of historical and ongoing colonialism. Continue reading

Gender and Diversity in the IR Curriculum: Why Should We Care?

A guest post from Dr. Joanne Yao and Andrew Delatolla. Joanne recently received her PhD from the LSE’s International Relations Department. Previously, she received her MA in International Relations from Johns Hopkins SAIS and her BA in History and Political Science from the University of Chicago. Her research critically assesses international cooperation and environmental politics through an analysis of the first international institutions established in the 19th century to manage transboundary rivers. She is particularly interested in international cooperation, environmental history and historical institutionalism. Andrew is a final year PhD student at the department of International Relations at the LSE. Andrew has received his MA in Intelligence and International Security from King’s College London, a BA in Political Science from Concordia University, and a BFa in Drawing and Painting from OCAD University. His research is concerned with state formation and state building in the 19th and early 20th century with a focus on Turkey, Lebanon, and Syria. He is particularly interested in the sociological development of the state in the post-colonial regions and the Middle East regional state system.


Discussions of gender and diversity have become a hot topic by the proverbial IR water cooler, having increasingly gained attention at ISA through programs sponsored by the Women’s Caucus (WCIS) and the LGBTQA Caucus – amongst other groups and academics who have brought this topic to the table. However, such discussions are also prominent in scholarly inquiry, including Jeff Colgan’s work on course syllabi and Dawn Teele and Kathleen Thelen’s work. While most studies focus on the gender gap in PhD training or the ‘leaky pipeline’ problem – the problem that despite the gender balance at the graduate level, there are far fewer women in senior positions – we feel that the analysis should be expanded. Putting thought into action, we have embarked on a project of our own to examine not only gender but also diversity in IR pedagogy at the undergraduate, masters, and PhD. Unlike other studies of this type, we have sought to examine gender of authors (under the binary male/female assumption) but also diversity in terms of content. Although final results are forthcoming, our analysis has confirmed the 80-20 split between male and female authors across the IR curriculum as it exists at the London School of Economics and Political Science. With regards to diversity content, our preliminary results have shown that there is indeed a lack of diversity content overall, and especially with regards to content that discusses gender and race.

But why should anyone care? After all,  an 80-20 split with regards to gender reflects the gender gap of articles in top IR journals, while the lack of diversity content just means that there is ongoing research that needs to be done, and shouldn’t we have the ‘best’ quality material on our syllabi? Aside from the obvious circular logic surrounding what constitutes as ‘best’; the fact that the 80-20 split does not reflect the near 50-50 split in terms IR/Political Science PhD graduates; and there is no shortage of quality research that speaks to diversity content – we offer three arguments in favour of a more diverse IR curriculum:

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Militarism in the Age of Trump, Part II

Based on a paper I am co-authoring with Bryan Mabee. See Part I here.

Nation-statist militarism is the default (‘normal’) setting for militarism in international and global life.  Following Mann, this manifestation of militarism is characterized by some form of civilian control over the armed forces and a state-led economic and social mobilization of ‘destructive’ forces. (Alternative labels are ‘Westphalian militarism’ and even ‘Keynesian militarism’). In claiming the monopoly of legitimate violence, the nation-state prioritized territorial defence; planned, built and consumed from its own arsenals; and engaged in military recruitment practices that reflected and reinforced the prevailing social structures of the nation (whether professionalized or constricted).

This type subsumes what Mann refers to ‘authoritarian militarism’ and ‘liberal militarism’, his main examples coming from Europe–the absolutist polities and their twentieth century authoritarian descendants (e.g. Germany, Russia) versus the polities deriving from the constitutional regimes (e.g. Britain, France).  It even subsumes the militarisms of the post-1945 nuclear age, which include, in Mann’s terminology, sub-types like ‘deterrence-science militarism’ (‘techno-scientific militarism’) and ‘spectator sport militarism.’

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Militarism in the Age of Trump, Part I

Part I of a post based on a paper I am co-authoring with Bryan Mabee, Senior Lecturer at Queen Mary, University of London. Bryan is the author of Understanding American Power (Palgrave, 2013), The Globalization of Security (Palgrave, 2009) and co-editor with Alejandro Colás, Mercenaries, Pirates, Bandits and Empires (Hurst/Oxford University Press, 2010).  The paper is being prepared for “Militarism and Security,” a workshop organized later this month at the School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg by Anna Stravianakis (for her latest appearance on this blog see The Dissonance of Things No 3) & Maria Stern.

Update: Part II added on 18/03/17.

With Donald Trump as the president of the United States, militarism is once again becoming a hot topic. Trump’s appointment of right-wing generals to senior posts in both the White House and his cabinet legitimate militaristic policy discourses and positions, as do the president’s pronouncements about the need to “modernize” the country’s nuclear capability, put America’s enemies “on notice,” massively “rebuild” the military, hold “more military parades” in American cities, deploy the national guard to “restore order” (and possibly “hunt illegal immigrants”) and “streamline” U.S. defence exports.

And all of this is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. For one thing, the Trump presidency merely empowers an already deeply militaristic and militarized American culture, one that is forever in love with guns and prisons and forever reticent to acknowledge the inherently racialized dimensions of both. For another thing, Trump’s top advisor is the “ethnonationalist” Steven Bannon, who is so influential in the White House that some describe him, tongue only halfway in cheek, as the actual president of the United States. Apparently, Bannon reasons that war between the U.S. and China is likely, given the thorny nature of international disputes in the South China Sea. One could in fact say that beneath the visible iceberg lie powerful and long-standing militarized realities—most of which have been ignored, temporized or marginalized in the earlier, ‘normal’ periods.

ABC News

Can Critical Security Studies (CSS) help us illuminate militarism in the age of Trump? On one level, yes. Militarism is central to the field’s go-to framework on securitization—meaning, the scrutiny of the ways in which constitutional or ‘normal’ politics are transformed, via speech acts, into ‘exceptions’. The above image, Trump signing the Executive Order banning immigrants, dual nationals and US residents with citizenships from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the country, suspend refugee admission and bar all Syrian refugees indefinitely, can be said to capture ‘exceptionalist militarism’ at work. Yet, beyond theorizing this one form of militarism, CSS has mostly been silent on the ‘classic’ concern of the literature on militarism—its sources, consequences, and the changing character.

In this two-part post we build on insights from historical sociology to develop a typology of militarism that CSS schools could consider as they try to make sense of political violence today.

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‘You are fired!’ Towards the Hegemony of Neoliberal Hypermasculinity

This is the final post in a series of posts by several guest authors  for The Disorder Of Things symposium on Ali Bilgic‘s new book Turkey, Power and the West: Gendered International Relations and Foreign Policy, released in late 2016. In this post, Ali Bilgic responds to the previously published posts and makes some concluding remarks. The full series is collected here.


He is signing a document. Men standing behind him are all serious, looking over the shoulder of the one who he is performing the ceremony, a TV show par excellence. One of them passes the black folders; one after another, one signature after another. When he signs, his eyebrows rise a little, probably to see better. In this moment, it is possible to notice the blankness in his eyes that complements the expressionless face of the new Commander-in-Chief: there is no sign of affect in them, a staunch wall, like the one to be built on the border with Mexico, or the one in Palestine/Israel.

US President Donald Trump signs an executive order in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, January 23, 2017.
Trump on Monday signed three orders on withdrawing the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, freezing the hiring of federal workers and hitting foreign NGOs that help with abortion. / AFP / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

One expects he would abruptly say ‘You are fired’; one wonders whether he has learned and practised this masculine emotionless performance during his years in the world of entertainment: in a reality show where young men and women wildly competed against each other to prove themselves to the neoliberal finance capitalism. Otherwise, they are fired, they vanish, do not exist anymore, neither for the audience nor for the market. This kind of decision requires rational thinking; in other words, a solid emptiness, a wall.

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Of Malls and Mosques

This is the fourth post in a series of posts by several guest authors The Disorder Of Things on Ali Bilgic‘s new book Turkey, Power and the West: Gendered International Relations and Foreign Policy, released in late 2016. The full series is collected hereAida A. Hozic is an Associate Professor of International Relations at the University of Florida.


The publication of Ali Bilgiç’s book Turkey, Power and the West: Gendered International Relations and Foreign Policy in 2016 could not have been more timely. There are few historical moments in our recent history when politics of gender and race have been so forcefully pushed to the front and center of global conversations. Conflicts, refugee flows, uprisings, coups and counter-coups, populist blowbacks and rising authoritarianism – all seem to be written through, with, and over racialized, gendered bodies of men, women and children, justifying the persecution of some and advocating protection of others. Turkey, as the events (and the trail of bodies) of the last few years tragically confirm, sits at the crossroads of all these trends; civilizational cliché that it is the country where “East meets West” can no longer suffice to explain (and perhaps never could) multiple fissures and violent contradictions of its polity.

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Turkey, Power and its Eastern Others

This is the third post in a series of posts by several guest authors The Disorder Of Things on Ali Bilgic‘s new book Turkey, Power and the West: Gendered International Relations and Foreign Policy, released in late 2016. The full series is collected hereClemens Hoffmann is a Lecturer in International Politics at Stirling University, UK.


Ali Bilgic’s book is a timely and sophisticated contribution to the analysis of Turkish foreign policy as well as gender theory in IR. It combines a convincing analysis of the puzzle that is Turkish Foreign Policy (TFP) through an analytically as well politically original lens: that of gender. It identifies and problematizes practices of gendering underlying the relationship between the ‘West’ and the ‘Non-West’, of which Turkey is held to be a part. Apart from its rich and sophisticated historiography, its major contribution lies in analysing a ‘non-Western’ society from within, offering a rich and original narrative, which, no doubt, will benefit future generations of Turkish foreign policy and feminist IR scholars alike.

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