Saturday, 3 October 2015

Reflections on EISA 2015—Day 3

My Thursday at EISA started off with a panel on ‘Kinship in Historical International Relations and Beyond.’ This session was organised by the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI).

My notes are, once again, a bit sparse for this session and with the air-con on full blast (the room was sweltering) it was difficult to hear some of the discussion (my hearing isn’t the best, anyway)—plus there were some noisy aircraft making a nuisance of themselves overhead, preparing for the airshow the next day, which made negotiating the discussion-space even more interesting.

In any case, Iver Neumann, formerly of NUPI but now of the LSE, introduced proceedings by reflecting on matters of kinship in IR, particularly with regard to early state formation. Jan Harald Sande Lie gave a very short and very useful introduction to the history of kinship within anthropology. Ole Jacob Sending discussed how kinship is constitutive of international actors, drawing (to the best of my recollection) to a large extent on political theory circa Hobbes. Finally, and most usefully for my own thinking, Halvard Leira talked about kinship in diplomacy. He noted that diplomacy does not invent new forms of organisation but derives its rites and routines from the world around it. ‘Diplomatic culture,’ in other words, derives from the culture of the world(s) with which it is entangled. This is particularly apposite when considering how, before formalisation and professionalisation, ambassadors were quite often quite literal kin.

I am interested in the relationship between IR and anthropology in general and how these differing traditions and disciplines have intersected, are intersecting and could work together differently. Kinship is an excellent focal point for thinking this through and I’ll look forward to the book that is apparently forthcoming on the subject. As mentioned, I gave particular thought to Halvard’s paper. I wondered how European kinship traditions, as embodied in diplomatic institutions, functioned when coming into contact with non-European diplomatic cultures. Kinship was, for example, a key component in French North American colonial relationships with the Iroquois and Algonquian alliances. As Richard White has argued, lacking a common culture as such, Europeans and First Nations negotiated a ‘middle ground’ based not on mutual understanding so much as mutually beneficial misunderstandings. Differing conceptions of kinship, particularly fatherhood, structured the French and Algonquian relationship by providing a common (or rather ‘middle’) vocabulary with which to reach agreements (usually temporary, fragile and fleeting).

White’s book demonstrates diplomacy occurring on multiple levels at once: not only formal and institutional but also familial, sexual, cosmological and more. (This is something that I hope to explore in my thesis.)

I don’t have as much to write about Thursday as previous days (1.1, 1.2, 2), in large part because the two sessions I went to in the afternoon were roundtable discussion sessions and, consequently, didn’t have a structure or rhythm conducive to note-taking (also, I was beginning to feel somewhat fatigued at this point!). They were, however, very interesting.

After lunch, I went to the concluding session of a section organised by my new friends at Aberystwyth on methodological challenges in research. We talked about the epistemic and institutional difficulties in doing research, particularly as PhD students subjected to the often dogmatic Research Council-imposed demands of research training modules and the ever-emphasised need to have a ‘framework’ clearly distinct from (and sometimes even hegemonic over) what one is studying. It seems to me, and happily I am apparently not alone in this, that these ways of framing and carving up the research process place limitations upon what can be researched.

Against this, how can mess, as John Law has written about, be not only accepted as a legitimate methodological mindset but also recognised as an inevitable part of any research project and even as something that needn’t be covered up as though it were some dirty, unfortunate secret?

Writing styles and methods of textual construction were also mentioned, including matters of reflexive writing, which got me thinking about my own projects ahead. I enjoy writing and like to approach it, whenever and wherever possible, as a creative activity. While my research is primarily historical and philosophical (in roughly equal measure), I spent much of my journey home to Wales thinking about how to wrap my own authorial voice up into my writing, to locate my subject-position not just by way of preface (as is common practice) but throughout the process, and to take the experience of research itself as a creative, structural principle in writing. This is easier to do with ethnographic or similar forms of qualititative research as these, quite often, involve a literal journey (or journeys) of self- and other-discovery. But all research is a journey of sorts.

I am drawn back to the idea of theoria, which at the time of Herodotus meant a voyage abroad in search of knowledge. In Plato this meaning is also evident (particularly in the Laws) but also slips into what we recognise today as ‘theory’: when one no longer needs to travel or even to move because one apperceives Ideas, which are placeless, timeless and fundamentally external to any fallen, earthly derivation. Historians and philosophers also go on journeys, also move, also transform and are transformed. How can this not only be accepted as part of the mess of research but also be taken as a principle of narration—as a part of the very fumbling, stumbling world-bundling process in which we are engaged? These are things that I need to think through and experiment with.

Following on from that, the final session of the day for me was also the final session of a section on ‘Diplomacy and Symbolic Violence.’ The panel included Paul Sharp, Costas Constantinou, Alisher Faizullaev and Marcus Holmes.

Costas (who, incidentally, taught me at Keele University all of a decade ago and whose On the Way to Diplomacy is what inspires my inchoate thoughts on theoria, above) began by affirming that one needn’t represent a territory in order to be a diplomat; that we are all diplomats in our own ways as we all negotiate relations of otherness in a world without certainty, simplicity or readymade sovereignty. The discussion touched on formal diplomatic relations but also diplomacies (and symbolic violences) of the everyday.

I was left thinking (although, having only been to this final session and not the ones that preceded it, I should throw a caveat over this) that the concept of violence probably needs a clearer and more carefully considered articulation. It is very easy to expand the concept to such a degree that more or less anything can be understood as ‘violent.’ I would prefer to relate violence necessarily to a conception of harm. An act is violent to the extent that it is harmful. One thing that did come up was the indeterminacy of symbolic violence—something may or may not be intended to be violent; whether or not it is will depend on how it is received by an other; this gap, this fissure is ineliminable. Consequently, we might say that no symbolic act is without violence or that we can never discount the possibility of an act (symbolic or not) being violent; however, not every act that exerts a force need be violent to a notable degree and nor should all acts that do cause harm be lumped into one category as there are ranges and degrees of violence. I see little to be gained by this critical slippage.

In any case, it was another interesting day and one that I am feeling tired simply by recounting! By around this point in the week the weather was turning, getting cloudier and more humid. Practically everyone at the conference was covered by mosquito bites. Many had also quaffed a fair quantity of the hyper-plentiful local wine (sold by the litre) the night(s) before. The fact that the debate remained so engaging and energetic is testament to the stamina and determination of all those involved!

Friday, 2 October 2015

Reflections on EISA 2015—Day 2

The first panel of the EISA conference on Thursday morning (after the Wednesday plenaries) that I attended was ‘Geographies of Violence—The Political Ecology of Violence,’ chaired by James Andrew Tyner of Kent State University.

Connor Cavanagh kicked off proceedings by talking about the history of the Ugandan protectorate and the imperialist knowledge produced by the likes of F.J.D Lugard, an Indian-born British colonial administrator and author. Connor also mentioned the POLLEN political ecology network, which I will have to investigate in more detail.

Second, the chair himself, James, gave an outline of his project of “the biopolitics of geophysical transformation,” particularly looking at the agricultural and canal building projects of the Khmer Rouge. Against the stereotype of the Khmer Rouge as being anti-technology and absurdly naive with regard to the agricultural possibilities of the land, James showed the importance they placed on engineering projects as part of their Great Leap Forward and also that their overly optimistic expectations with regard to agriculture were based, at least in some part, on US and UN research.

Esther Marijnen outlined her work on the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and, particularly, the Oscar-nominated 2014 documentary film Virunga; tagline: ‘Conservation is War.’ She talked about conflicting perceptions of the work and position of the park’s director, the Belgian aristocrat Prince Emmanuel de Merode. Some see him as having appropriated the park but others apparently regard him as a saviour of sorts. She also reflected on her own position as a researcher, having been asked to go to Brussels to feed back discontent that local people were not able to communicate themselves, and on the difficulty of getting hold of the reports and documents being produced by international organisations.

Finally, Marijn Nieuwenhuis delivered a paper titled ‘Violence in the Air,’ which started off with Carl Schmitt’s definition of man as a “groundling,” that is, as essentially related to the earth (as suggested by the etymology of human). Interestingly for the work that I have been doing on environmental determinism, he then drew on the work of Paul Vidal de la Blache and argued for understanding eco- and geo-political relations through a conception of an emergent milieu rather than an Umwelt or environment. He concluded with a range of examples of how the air can be turned into an instrument of violence, through technologies such as tear gas and other bioregulators.

At every session there were at least 3 or 4 panels that I wanted to go to; however, next I decided to go  to ‘Environments of Violence,’ organised and chaired by Carolin Kaltofen of Aberystwyth University.

First up was Jakob Zahora who outlined the early stages of his research into the new architectures of Israeli checkpoints, comparing them to other kinds of systematised, rationalised spaces, such as factories and slaughterhouses (he was careful to admit the care needed in constructing this argument!).

Next, Jesse Reynolds gave a very useful overview of a forthcoming article, co-authored with Joshua Horton, on geoengineering. He lamented the lack of engagement so far by IR scholars in this crucial topic. It was an even-handed presentation of the risks, costs and potential benefits of these technologies.

Marta Abegón Novella and Matilde Pérez Herranz investigated the possible extension of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) to environmental issues in a paper titled ‘On the Responsibility to Protect the Individual from Environmental Degradation.’ They argued that environmental factors are neglected within discussions of human security. They were careful to emphasise the risks associated with R2P discourse, particularly with regard to justifying military interventions, which, they stated, should only be used as a last resort.

Finally, Audra Mitchell took us to a much more speculative and philosophical place with her thinking on extinction, drawing on the likes of Claire Colebrook, Jean-François Lyotard, Ray Brassier, Quentin Meillassoux and Nigel Clark. She argued that, despite the popularity of discourses of extinction (e.g.), this is something that our received conceptual categories are currently unable to grasp. The philosophical relation between the ‘unthinkable’ and extinction was a thought-provoking one, although I think I’d need to read about it some more before I am quite convinced.

After lunch, I went to see ‘The Force of Lawyers: Authority, Lawyering and Expertise.’ I have no background in law but I wrote a little bit on it last year and am hoping to develop a project on it in the near future, so this was very useful for that. (I must admit that this session was in a very warm room, looking out onto the glistening Mediterranean and my note-taking noticeably waned as a result; however, I will see what I can recollect from the snippets.)

Gavin Sullivan of the University of Amsterdam (and soon, I believe, to be of the University of Kent) opened proceedings with a paper on ‘Global Emergency and the UN1267 Ombudsperson.’ Drawing on, among other resources, Annemarie Mol’s The Body Multiple, Gavin articulated a description of the actors creating the legal assemblage that constitutes the ombudsperson as a distributed entity. He particularly emphasised the role that some IR scholars have played in being branded as global security experts, playing a key part in the reconstitution of international regulatory regimes. Against some critical legal thinkers, he sees the processes he is researching as leading not to a loss of law but a jurisgenerative recalibration with regard to preemptive security logics.

Ioannis Kalpouzos talked about ‘New Weapons Technologies and the Administration of Violence,’ particularly with regard to the global administrative law of targeting. Immi Tallgren’s paper ‘The Birth of the Epistemic Community of International Criminal Lawyers’ wound a long and fascinating route between the many theoretical approaches that one might take in trying to understand the social and political place of the community of IC lawyers, settling, for the time being it seems, on the notion of the epistemic community.

Finally, Michelle Farrell and John Reynolds co-presented a paper on using linguistic and discursive analysis, understanding representative practices to be constitutive of legality. The first example they mentioned was the 'surgical strike' discourse of drone warfare. This immediately brought to my IR-trained mind works from the 1990s like James Der Derian’s Antidiplomacy: Spies, Terror, Speed, and War, which make similar arguments with regard to the representational techniques utilised in the 1990-91 Gulf War. As the discussant commented during the panel, it will be very interesting to see how this comes together in bridging IR and international legal points of view.

Finally, I attended a session run by more people from Aberystwyth University (my new institutional home from which I am typing these very words!) on ‘How methods shape how we know: The disciplining of knowledge production.’

Danielle Nicole Young and Andrew Davenport both presented papers on conceptualisations of history. Danielle asked ‘Where do you start?’, arguing that this question is crucial to the knowledge that results, particularly when it comes to origin stories such as, in IR, the infamous year of 1648. Her work comes out of training in medieval history but she is keen to stress that she is not interested in how to ‘do history better,’ as important as that question might be. Instead, she is interested in understandings of history as a construction that narrativises temporal experiences, opening and up and closing down various avenues of knowing.

Andrew, similarly, set out to explicate his critique of the use of history in IR. Particularly in his critical crosshairs was neo-realism and its systematic theorising. Drawing on Reinhart Koselleck, he is thinking about the invention of historical time and what happens at the intersections of other conceptual oppositions (inside/outside, time/space, agency/necessity, etc.) when notions of history are taken into account. His concluding words: “What relation to the past would a new global subject have?” I suppose everything hangs here on what is meant by ‘new.’ Undoubtedly, there have been subjects declared ‘global’—typically, one would assume them to be characterised by a self-conceived detachment from the past and an embrace of some sort of humanist universality. Of course, the word ‘global’ is also crucially enigmatic.

This was all fascinating for my own budding project, although I take a slightly different view of how modernist conceptions of history might be undone. I was left wondering what place the trace has within these understandings of history that place so much weight upon experience abstracted from the rest of the world. History is a narrative art, of course, but I would argue that what it draws together, ties in bundles and patterns and filigrees is not experience in the abstract but concrete, entropic, experienced traces of the past from books, archives, oral accounts and even, in some cases, tree rings and ice cores (mediated via the relevant sciences). That said, I have only heard about a very small part of these projects so far and I’ll look forward to hearing more over the coming months.

Finally, Laura Sjoberg and J. Samuel Barkin gave a preview of their forthcoming book on heterodox, critical and progressive uses of quantitative and mathematical methodologies (an article on this subject is available here [paywalled]), a most welcome and overdue endeavour in a discipline where methods tend to be divided up according to politics (to the detriment of both).

Having been away from IR as a discipline for a long time (since 2006, formally), this was a very exciting and reassuring day for me. While I am very glad to have received the studentship that I have and to have three years ahead of me in one of the best International Politics departments in the world, I did wonder how well my own interests, which have meandered rather a long way from traditional IR in the past few years, would fit into the state of this discipline today. I needn’t have worried.

By the end of day 2, I had realised that my epistemic idiosyncrasies were amply accommodated within what this discipline has become, at least in some quarters: an open-minded forum for ambitious intellectual work that is connected more by shared passions and concerns than by the strictures of method or domain. This conference was perhaps exceptional in this regard—by no means is everywhere so free-thinking! However, the fact that it happened and that it was so overwhelmingly successful (far more participants than previous years) was and is deeply reassuring.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Reflections on EISA 2015—Day 1, Semi-plenary

The second EISA 2015 event that I attended (after this) was a semi-plenary session that was run in parallel with two others. The panel featured Navnita Behera, Gurminder Bhambra, George Lawson and Arlene Tickner and was titled “After empire? New legacies for international thought.”

Navnita began by emphasising three problematic and interrelated Es: Empiricism, Epistemology and Eurocentrism. The phrase that stood out for me in her presentation, and that I noted down, was “every act of knowing brings forth a world.” She emphasised the multiplicity of cosmologies and the need to understand their heterogeneity from a non-hierarchical and non-hegemonic point of view. Who is entitled to know? How are knowledges produced? These, rather than the traditional epistemological questions of ‘what constitutes correct knowledge,’ are the questions that were urged to be pursued.

Arlene reflected on her complex status as a US academic working at an elite university in Colombia, as well as being a journalist and activist. Like Navnita, Arlene also emphasised the need to knock modern forms of rationality from their pedestal and to place them alongside, rather than above, other forms of knowledge. Against a “one-world reality,” in John Law’s words, should be posed a pluriverse of worldly, collective perspectives.

George, particularly usefully for what I’m trying to think about in my own work, articulated the need to reconnect and entangle forms of knowledge historically. He gave the examples of Hegel’s understanding of the revolution in Haiti and Adam Smith’s relationship to British trade networks. (This brings to my mind Simon Schaffer’s work on the crucial importance of British trade networks for gathering the data used to produce Newton’s Principia Mathematica.) He also affirmed very convincingly that no aspect of IR is without an imperial dimension and that imperialism should be researched more intersectionally in places where it is not generally recognised.

Finally, Gurminder spoke of the refugee crisis and the linguistic politics of posing ‘refugees’ against ‘migrants,’ noting the overwhelming absence of any consideration of how such movements of people are caused and how Western countries are complicit in these processes. She made a particularly interesting observation on the fact that in British political discourse it is often Ugandan Asians who are held up as the model for social integration and an example of British benevolence in immigration policy. Au contraire, the Ugandans were received grudgingly by the British authorities and only after much contestation. Against previous presentations, she argued for the necessity of a “single conceptual frame” rather than discerning between multiple cosmologies.

Perhaps the most memorable moment of this session was a passionate, indeed angry, intervention by a Turkish scholar from the floor during the Q&A. To paraphrase: How can we be talking about cosmologies when people are drowning in the sea and being herded around like cattle? The point was well made that those of us already settled in Europe are only talking about these people because they are “pushing”; because they are making an issue of themselves by walking thousands of miles and passing through the various precarious bottlenecks of the geographies that Fortress Europe hasn’t been able to close off altogether.

This certainly goes right to the heart of questioning what an academic conference is for and what responsibilities academics have to their matters of concern. I mentioned in my previous post that I found it thought-provoking that the conference was held on the edge of the Mediterranean, the sea that has so occupied news cycles recently. Is this ‘thought-provocation’ not a little pretentious and withdrawn from concrete political struggles, looking at it from a point of view of abstract intellectual interest rather than urgent, pressing need for activism? Perhaps. I plead guilty to over-fondness of abstraction and too little engagement with practical politics.

That said, this intervention also provoked me to think about the need for care and specificity with regard to the agenda for ontological and cosmological thinking in relation to geopolitics. In some circumstances these approaches are perhaps not so useful. However, in others I think that they are. For example, the missionaries who attempted to completely eradicate native cultures and turn the people into, to all intents and purposes, European Christians—a form of imperialism still in evidence in various forms today and touched on by at least two of the panelists in this session. Without understanding the clashing of cosmologies, we miss much of the mass of matters geopolitical. It is questionable whether such modes of thought would help to understand the refugee crisis; however, that should not, in my view, detract from the many situations where these factors are of considerable relevance.

Where all of that leaves my own thinking (and, perchance, acting) I’m not sure.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Reflections on EISA 2015—Day 1, Plenary

We were greeted in Sicily by glorious, blazing sunshine. As I write this, the lights are flickering and thunder is growling in the distance. The good weather did not last but this was, nevertheless, a wonderful venue for a conference. Sandwiched between the Mediterranean sea and the volcanic Mount Etna, the town and resort of Giardini Naxos was peculiarly quiet before the conference got going—bars and cafes packed with bright lights and blaring music but few customers. The town's cracked pavements and peeling paint suggest faded glories and a context of regional poverty. However, this did not by any means detract from the experience. Likewise, when, on Saturday, the Italian aircraft display team, the Frecce Tricolori, rattled the windows and drowned out moments of the last few presentations, this, if anything, made the venue an even more interesting match.

These elemental and techno-political interventions gave me the feeling that the venue was almost building us into a box of matters of concern—the deep, deadly sea, the monstrous looming geology, the crumbling edifices of poverty and the soaring spectacle of the military-industrial-entertainment complex: all contributed to a swirlingly texture-rich and undeniably pertinent place to discuss the conference theme ‘The Worlds of Violence.’

Wednesday 23/09 was given over to registration, a plenary speech and several parallel semi-plenaries. The main event, titled ‘What We Do,’ was delivered by Nicholas Onuf, Professor Emeritus at Florida International University.

Onuf, one of the principal innovators of social constructivism within the discipline of International Relations, introduced his talk as a reflection on 50 years of scholarly practice. Particularly, he was delighted that this conference had attracted such a substantial proportion of younger scholars and wanted to pass on what he had learned in his time.

He began with a consideration of culture—“the link between us and the world”—and with C.P. Snow’s famous ‘two cultures’ diagnosis. Beyond the cultures of the artists and scientists, Onuf, reflecting on his father’s experiences as an academic engineer, added a third: that of the practical arts and applied sciences. Next to the artist and scientist should, for Onuf, be placed the craftsperson.

What then followed was an exquisitely detailed philosophical reflection, drawing largely on Kant who, it was claimed, “got it mostly right.” Starting with individual sensory impressions and the fact of speech as a social activity, cognitive faculties were argued to be inseparable from their public exercise. Onuf's practice revolves, then, around “variously institutionalised social faculties.” Particularly:

1) Imagination
2) Understanding
3) Judgment

The discussion of these faculties was very rich and greatly exceeded my note-taking ability (and perhaps my attention-span). However, the overarching point seemed to be that no faculty is ever mobilised in a pure state. Scientists and artists are crafty; even mathematicians have their practical tricks and techniques. The pursuit of understanding—the scholarly endeavour—must, therefore, be linked to techne, to techniques and to the complex, overlapping, always public rules that mediate and enable any and all discursive achievements. Rules are unavoidable—even artists have their rules of thumb. The pressure to codify rules is intrinsic to the rationalising, professionalising and bureaucratising projects of modernity. Against formalism, we should recognise, through intensive self-reflection, the crafty character of our epistemic practices and thereby engage more seriously with the functional foundations of our rules and ways.

This may be a rather loose and incomplete paraphrase of Onuf's argument but this is what I took away from it.

Although not entirely intending to go first, I did put up my hand to ask a question and was, as it happened, the first in line. My question, perhaps best described as impertinent, asked what Kantian social constructivism could do for the matters of concern that are pressing upon us ‘youngsters,’ as we were called, today.

The geography of the conference venue, as mentioned, seemed to me a poetic illustration of the need for a thorough reconsideration of the ontological and epistemological categories that focus scholarly attention away from matters of ecology, geology and climate. More pointedly, I stated that “the last thing that IR needs is more Kantian social constructivism”—perhaps I could have worded this a little less confrontationally but it is a sentiment that I stand behind. Others in the audience also asked searching questions; several of these questions were informed by a sense that this was a rather apolitical vision of ‘what we do.’

Although I should speak only for myself, my feeling is that we ‘youngsters,’ however keen we may be to learn from the experiences of those in whose academic footsteps we are following, cannot find much but complacency in such visions. We are a generation riven with anxieties and uncertainties about the future. Of course, so were older generations (what can someone too young to ever know the fear of obliteration by The Bomb know about anxiety?). However, to disconnect a consideration of ‘what we do’ from the issues and entities that surround and motivate us misconstrues not only the political purpose of scholarship but also, I think, its day-to-day practice.

Onuf’s response to my provocation emphasised modesty: no, he admitted, not much can be said of such issues from this point of view. A more gracious reply than my comment might have received. It perhaps indicates the importance of pluralism—no mode of thought can deal with everything and nor should it be expected to. However, this nevertheless leaves me quite dissatisfied.

First, there is the question of the proverbial baby and bathwater—the sheer sophistication of the (broadly) Kantian principles are inspiring but I struggle to see how they can be sufficiently disentangled from their profound and inbuilt (one might say even purpose-built) limitations to achieve much of a conversation with more anthropocenically-sensitive and materialist points of view. It would be a conversation worth having but there has been little progress on that front, as far as I can see.

Second, Onuf's talk, although touchingly well-intentioned and kind-hearted, failed to sufficiently recognise its own situatedness as issuing from a position of authority. Believe it or not, we ‘youngsters’ are already encountering such modes of thought—indeed, they are “variously institutionalised” in such a way that they constitute a substantial portion of the rule-scape that we are obliged to navigate in order to justify the very existence of our own intellectual endeavours. In other words, the downwardness of this wisdom-transmission must be recognised. And the weather down here might be a bit different to how it is up there…

“World-making is collective and continuous,” said Onuf in conclusion. I certainly would not disagree and it is a point worth repeating. However, the range of entities admitted to that term ‘collective’ is contested—and, we might say, some entities are more ‘collected’ than others. That is, not every craft-doer gets to fashion the world with the same weight of privileges. This, too, is variable—and habitual ignorance of this fact is one among a vast litany of problems that have been handed down, alongside the rest of our inheritances. Indeed, amidst such a deep, dark sea of generationally-imposed problems, the wisdom we are grateful to receive can appear as little more than an island, perhaps even sinking beneath the waves.

Perhaps such dismissiveness stems from the arrogance of youth but, if so, it is an equal and opposite reaction to the arrogance of age. If only the former requires justification in relation to the disciplinary rule-scape in which we are embedded, well, that really proves my point.

A busy couple of weeks

A busy couple of weeks—but in a good way.

On Friday 11/09 I finished up the job that I’d been doing for nearly five and a half years. The following Wednesday, I upped sticks and moved from Bristol to Aberystwyth, five days before the start of term. No sooner had I registered and attended the welcome events on the Monday than I was leaving for Sicily and the 9th Pan European Conference on International Relations in Giardini Naxos. The conference finished on Saturday but, before I head back to Aber to unpack all the boxes and suitcases that are still piled up all around my new abode, I have a couple of days to compose my thoughts (and catch my breath).

I’ll be writing a few posts summarising the conference day by day, sharing snippets of the many fascinating sessions that I was able to attend, before reflecting, rather more egocentrically, on my experience and what I’ve taken from the conference in general.