A Student's Account of the AGS International Conference

Thursday, 09 May 2019

claire_alden_eiffel_tower_400x300.jpgBy Claire Alden, Global Studies 2020, University of New England, Biddeford, Maine

Study Abroad semester at the American Graduate School in Paris

As an undergraduate student enrolled in a graduate program for a study abroad experience, I find every day positively challenging and intellectually stimulating. American Graduate School in Paris’ 14th annual graduate student conference was no different. This year’s theme “Globalism vs Populism” offered an educational approach to the new landscape of international relations. Both the panels and the keynote presentation provided detailed analysis about the various fronts of “populism,” a broad term that can be interpreted variously in the international arena, and “globalism,” which has been trending long before the new rise of these populist fronts. With President Trump, Brexit, European anti-establishment leaders and similar populist parties in Latin America and Asia, everyone seems to be talking about populism these days. The presenters laid a foundation for a narrower perspective of growing populist rhetoric that is caused in part by failures of globalism in states around the world.

AGS International Graduate Student Conference 2019The first panel began with Burak Bulkan (University of Essex, UK), who spoke about various rising populist parties in Europe and offered a broad idea of populism that laid the groundwork for the rest of the conference. Bulkan’s presentation, titled “Economic Sources and Divergence of Populist Parties in Europe” discussed the attention that populist rhetoric has received in Europe specifically, France, Hungary, Spain, and Greece, where a rise in populist parties is challenging the larger project of European integration. In southern Europe, Bulkan explained, populist parties are left-wing, while in northern Europe, they are right-wing. He continued with a discussion on why populism is not an ideology as much as it is a “strategy.”

This rhetoric drove the discussion into the next speech, Ivana Jordanovska’s “Love Thy Captured Neighbor: An Analysis of the Effects of State Capture on Populist Rhetoric, Evidence from Macedonia and Serbia.” A Macedonian Fulbright Fellow, Jordanovska (New York University) presented the audience her paper on the rise of populist rhetoric in Serbia and Northern Macedonia. She used content analysis to explore “state capture,” a type of corruptive political influence that involves private interest impacting a state’s decision-making process, and that contributes to authoritarian populist leaders.

Fatimaah Menefee (American Graduate School in Paris) offered an engaging presentation of her study of two middle powers: South Korea and South Africa. Her presentation discussed the possibility for South Africa could use the branding policies of South Korea to enhance its own “soft power.” Gabrielle Childs (American Graduate School in Paris) discussed in an informative and compelling talk the “desiccation” of Lake Chad. This complex environmental and political crisis, which has dried 90% of the water supply, threatens the lake’s surrounding population with famine. Childs proposed the possible movement to create a major water project to divert flow from the Congo River through the Central African Republic and Nigeria to Chad to replenish the lake.

The second panel focused on how specific nationalist discourses underpin rising populist trends. Olga Gheorghiev (Charles University, Czech Republic) gave an in-depth explanation of the case study of EU enlargement to central Europe. She claimed that this expansion has been shaped by an civic discourse of “justification,” which has been countered by a violent “critical” populist rhetoric in central European countries. Olivier Sempiga (American Graduate School in Paris) followed with a detailed presentation on Western aid and democracy, based of his doctoral dissertation, to be defended at the end of May. He showed how tied aid from the US and EU failed to promote Western-style democracy while it succeeded in contributing to economic growth and regime stability in post-genocide Rwanda. These findings prompted thoughtful discussion among the audience as Rwanda remains in the spotlight as a progressive state, especially in terms of development.

Kaitlin Junod (American University of Cairo, Egypt) gave a fascinating talk about nationalism and new “alt-right” discourses on immigration in America. Junod’s presentation added further context to why nationalist discourses are laying foundations for a rising populist rhetoric. Using a mass communications model she explained how populist politicians, mass media, and right-wing US audiences feed upon one another’s identity in a “propaganda cycle,” full of skewed thinking and false interpretations and bias, tapping into audience emotions through slogans and images or selecting information by censoring facts.

Dr Olga McLean kept up the discussion of right-wing nationalism and populism in the United States. McLean (University of Hamburg, Germany) used theories of American political culture to explain Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential elections. Her conclusion was that Trump’s victory was not a surprise nor an anomaly, but reflected a deep-seated ideological discourse of individualism in American political culture. It is almost impossible, especially in relation to President Trump and the United States, to talk about populism without mentioning nationalism or neo-nationalism and individualism. McLean’s presentation connected these terms with the 2016 U.S. election and made the audience ask themselves how embedded individualism really is in American culture.

The keynote speaker Dr. Clara Rachel Eybalin Casseus (Doctorate, University of Poitiers), an independent researcher in issues related to migration, diaspora, and identity politics, concluded the conference with a presentation based on her latest book The Geopolitics of Memory and Transnational Citizenship: Thinking Local Development in the Global South (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2019). Her research grew out of a desire to fill the current gap in literature on Haiti, which is often concerned with literature more than it is with social science. She used “globalectics,” a theory developed by David Hart (2017), to argue for a way of thinking and relating the world by embracing interconnectedness. Dr Casseus used this theory to argue that a common memory of “neocolonialism” (American) and challenges posed by “globalism” (China) continue to affect migrants in both the Caribbean and Europe. Her doctoral research on Haitian migrants in France and Jamaican migrants in Britain led her to travel to both island nations and explore how identity and memory are related through ethnographic fieldwork. “The interaction between place, space, and memory has led to heritage tourism by members of the diaspora,” Dr Casseus explained, speaking of how she has related state and memory in her fieldwork: “To annihilate a set of people, the initial step is to erase their memory,.” To drive home her point, she discussed her efforts to conduct the process of “de-colonial mapping”, which she used to explore a Jewish Haitian community’s five-hundred-year-old history. This is a history that is unknown, but to Dr. Casseus it reflects the “very deep power of memory” among a diasporic community. Her brilliant presentation closed out the day, connecting the themes of each conference panel by delivering her perspective on the treatment of migration in relation to diasporic policies as characterized by nationalist approaches.

Globalism’s inclusion of ideas, peoples, and livelihoods is creating a split between and within states. Just as analogous splits have in the past, politics today are polarizing into hard left versus alt-right. Now, new political and social affiliation are being thrown into the mix. The conference agenda looked at how new political affiliations such as populism is challenging globalism.

As an undergraduate student and Global Studies major attending my very first conference, I found each presenter provided a clear understanding of the drivers of globalism and populism as well as compelling arguments as to how populism is challenging globalism and how the tension between them is affecting international affairs. I left at the end of the day with a deeper understanding of the relationship between globalism and populism which I will use to analytically approach this growing rhetoric in the future.



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Laura-Lee Smith USA
M.A., School of International Relations
Class of 2009

quote leftAs citizens of the world community, AGSers share a deep will to improve international state of affairs. This drive for change translates into prescriptive discussion between students and teachers, not simply criticism. I most admire this quality about AGS and know that because we have the will to improve the system, we are the way for change.quote right

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