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Discourse, Power, and Subjectivity in Global Politics

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Courtesy KKatek8/Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0

This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 18 November 2016.

How are some discourses more powerful than others? Why do some kinds of discourses resonate more widely than others? One need only look around at recent politics in the US and the UK, for example, to see the crucial importance of these questions. With the British public recently voting for “Brexit,” and considerable numbers of Americans reacting favorably to Donald Trump, it is imperative that International Relations (IR) scholars develop frameworks that are able to grapple with the complex politics of language, affect/emotion, and subjectivity. As the public debate surrounding “Brexit” often revolved around contestations over British national identity, and Trump’s heated rhetoric taps into strands of American nationalism, these and other contemporary debates often hinge on the processes through which collective subjects – the collective “us” – are produced through eliciting particular kinds of emotional responses. People become affectively attached and invested in the images of the national “we” that are presented to them.

Who we are – our identities as subjects – is intimately bound to the power of language. Although the study of identity and discourse has been a part of IR for some time (Campbell 1998; Hansen 2006), their relationship to emotional factors such as desire has largely been downplayed. This is key because desire is the basic dynamic driving the social construction process in general and the social construction of subjectivity in particular. In my book, The Politics of Subjectivity in American Foreign Policy Discourses, I develop a framework that analyzes how these factors interweave to produce political subjects – the collective us. Consequently, these factors underpin the power and effectiveness of political language. In doing so, the framework takes a useful step forward in IR theory because it helps to analytically pinpoint why certain kinds of narratives are more likely sources of emotional investment – and therefore more likely to be politically efficacious – than others. Consequently, the framework unpacks the key elements that sustain political notions that are taken to be “common sense.” That is, the framework highlights the emotional investments of desire in the constructs of identity that narratives of political “common sense” often offer.

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Cacophony of the Minsk Process

Painted battle tanks at the World War II Memorial, Kiev, Ukraine

Painted battle tanks at the World War II Memorial, Kiev, Ukraine, Courtesey of Wikimedia Commons, Loranchet

This article was originally published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) on 17 May 2016.

Western political leaders, the Ukrainian political authorities and Ukrainian society have very different perspectives on how to proceed. For European leaders, and for the United States, simulating a process appears preferable to seeking a new, more sustainable agreement based on an honest assessment of the role of Russia—perhaps the only party that finds the current agreement convenient.

Reports of pressure being put on the Ukrainian authorities to implement some elements of the Minsk II agreement that have little public support have perturbed parts of Ukrainian civil society. The process has also illustrated the challenge for Ukrainian politicians in a more open political culture if private diplomacy is needed to reach an agreement, but public diplomacy is needed to implement it.

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Think Again: In Adversity there is Opportunity for the International Criminal Court

Yellow police tape reading ‘Crime scene do not cross’, courtesy [puamelia]/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Institute for Security Studies on 19 April 2016.

On 4 April, the International Criminal Court (ICC) suffered the most significant setback in its nearly 14 years of existence.

In a majority decision, judges terminated the case against Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto and Nairobi radio executive Joshua arap Sang.

This brought to an ignominious end the court’s attempt to administer justice for the crimes committed during the post-election violence in Kenya in 2007/2008, during which over 1 300 people were killed and more than 600 000 displaced.

‘On the basis of the evidence and arguments submitted to the chamber, Presiding Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji and Judge Robert Fremr, as the majority, agreed that the charges are to be vacated and the accused are to be discharged,’ said a statement issued by the ICC. In a subsequent statement, the ICC’s prosecution team blamed a lack of cooperation from Kenya and widespread witness intimidation for its difficulty in obtaining evidence.

It didn’t help, of course, that Kenyatta and Ruto became president and deputy president only after the charges against them were lodged, greatly complicating the politics around the case. Against overwhelming opposition from Kenya, it was never going to be easy to make the charges stick.

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THINK AGAIN: Is Somaliland Still a Good News Story?

Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud Silanyo, President of Somaliland, speaking at a Chatham House Event on Friday, 26 November 2010. Image: Chatham House/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) on October 28, 2015.

In Somaliland, most politicians are known by their nicknames. So President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud is ‘Silanyo,’ which translates to ‘skinny lizard’ – a throwback to his youth when he was tall and slim. President Silanyo is not skinny anymore, however, and nor should he be president – his term in office was supposed to expire on 26 June 2015.

But after the scheduled elections were repeatedly postponed, Silanyo is still in charge, and no one is particularly surprised. Although Somaliland is famed for its regular, peaceful elections – an oasis of peace and democracy in a region usually associated with authoritarianism and conflict – almost every election in its history has been subject to lengthy delays. » More

CAR in Need of Stability as October Polls Loom

François Bozizé, a prospective candidate for the October 2015 elections. Image: UNDP/hdptcar/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 11 September, 2015.

Last month, violent clashes erupted in the Central African Republic (CAR) after the killing and beheading of a 19-year-old Muslim in Bambari, allegedly by members of the Christian and animist militias known as the anti-Balaka. One year after African Union efforts in CAR were rolled into a United Nations mission, sectarian violence remains common, pointing to the urgent need for reforms to ensure stability ahead of general elections in October this year. » More

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