Discussing international institutions via the book “The Closure of the International System: How Institutions Create Political Equalities and Hierarchies”

This year among general discussions during the the 3rd St. Petersburg Conference on Inequality and Diversity (IDC – 2021), one stands out by being focused on the book and with the participation of its author herself. Oleg Korneev, the moderator of the discussion, shared the importance of the topic and gave a brief sneak-peek into the content of the panel.

Photo courtesy of Oleg Korneev

The session “Author Meets Critics: The Closure of the International System: How Institutions Create Political Equalities and Hierarchies by Lora Anne VIOLA” will be held on November 12 (Friday), 17:05 – 19:00 (MSK, GMT+3). Working language: English. You may register using this link.

– The panel discussion will be focused on the book “The Closure of the International System. How Institutions Create Political Equalities and Hierarchies” by Lora Anne Viola. Can you elaborate on the book content and its relevance in current circumstances?

– It is important to mention that this book by Lora Anne Viola has been the recipient of numerous prestigious international awards, including ECPR’s Hedley Bull Prize, ISA’s Chadwick Alger Award, ISA’s Diplomatic Studies Best Book Award, and APSA’s Alexander George Award. These are all very serious signs of recognition of a very serious work. Trying to summarize this kind of rich scholarly production is a challenging task – I am afraid to not do justice to the book.

However, I would probably be right to say that this book provokes, unsettles and, at the same time, pacifies academic communities interested in international institutions. On the one hand, it takes issue with widespread claims about opportunities that international institutions – be it norms or formal organisations of seemingly universal character – create for those who might be or feel marginalized and side-lined on the international arena. Lora Anne Viola does an excellent job in demonstrating how, in fact, international institutions act as gatekeepers and actors that sustain “international pecking orders” – a brilliant metaphor put forward by Vincent Pouliot in his monograph that won the inaugural ECPR Hedley Bull Prize in International Relations (2017). It is an important exploration of “social in the global” (Joseph 2012) that relies on the concept of social closure to unpack dynamics of exclusion and silencing in world politics. On the other hand, this wonderfully documented book can also be read as a call to avoid simplistic dichotomies and overemphasis on negative features and impact of international institutions inviting us for more careful consideration of their roles. It is, indeed, the complexity of the resulting picture that makes this book so relevant in my view.

What I find particularly important is that, in the era of often ahistorical and decontextualized Political Science and International Relations, this book intentionally takes a deeply historicized approach to the topic. It combines insights from historical sociology, (critical) international political economy, post-colonial studies and other important fields of social sciences and humanities to offer a remarkably colourful, albeit not necessarily pleasant, picture of the international system. I believe that it is very important to promote this kind of studies and related debates in Russia, Eurasia and beyond.

– Who will participate in the discussion?

– We are very lucky to have on board the author of the book – Professor Lora Anne Viola from John F. Kennedy Institute at the Freie Universität Berlin. She received her PhD and MA degrees from the University of Chicago and her BA from Columbia University. In addition to The Closure of the International System, she has a forthcoming book titled Trust and Transparency in an Age of Surveillance, and is co-editor of Historical Institutionalism and International Relations: Explaining Institutional Development in World Politics (Oxford University Press, 2016). Her research has appeared in academic journals such as International Studies Quarterly and Review of International Studies. I am very excited about this opportunity to exchange with her about the book and hear her views on related issues that might also be interesting for our audience.

My colleague Daniela Irrera will act both as a chair and a discussant of the book. Daniela is Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the Department of Political and Social Sciences, University of Catania and Visiting Professor of Political Violence and Terrorism at the OSCE Academy in Bishkek. She has served as Secretary General of the Italian Political Science Association (SISP) and member of the ISA Governing Council. She currently serves as member of the ECPR Executive Committee, President of the European Peace Research Association (EuPRA), Chair of the ECPR Standing Group on International Relations, associate editor of the Journal of Contemporary European Studies. She has been Visiting Scholar at several Universities and Research Centres in Europe, US and Asia. She has been awarded with a DAAD Fellowship at the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt and with a research grant at the European Union Center of Excellence, University of Alberta, Canada. She has been Associate Faculty at IBEI, Barcelona, teaching within the MUNDUSMAPP Erasmus Mundus program and Marie Curie Fellow at the Universidade Federal de Santa Caterina, Florianopolis, Brazil. This rich experience and deep involvement in leading professional associations in the field of IR make Daniela an excellent “critic” for this book discussion.

I am personally very happy because we will have as a discussant my former mentor Professor Larisa Deriglazova from the Department of World Politics, Head of the Centre for European Studies and Head of the MA Programme on EU Studies at the National Research Tomsk State University. Her main areas of expertise are international conflicts and European Union studies. Professor Deriglazova was a Kennan-Fulbright Fellow at Wilson Center for International Scholars in 2009. Since the 1990s, she has been involved in cooperation with Oxford University and Kent University (UK), Free University of Brussels (ULB, Belgium), Tampere University (Finland) and other universities across the EU. She has been Jean Monnet Chair (2012-2015) and Head of Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence (2015-2018). She is a member of EU-Russia Expert Network (ENREN), since 2018. She is also the author of Great Powers, Small Wars: Asymmetric Conflict since 1945 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014) that is, in many ways, a book about inequalities that we observe in the world. I believe that her academic experience and research expertise make Professor Deriglazova a perfect fit for this book discussion.

Beyond our panel of invited scholars, we are certainly hoping for diverse public coming from various walks of academic life, including both established researchers and students willing to learn from communication with someone who has clearly made a remarkable contribution to the field of International Relations.

– You have been a constant participant of the IDC. What do you value in the Conference? 

– One of the most important dimensions of the IDC is its strive for and loyalty to the ideals of interdisciplinarity. The conference allows to cross artificial disciplinary boundaries and promote conversations between scholars professing different methodological and theoretical approaches to studies of inequality and diversity be it at a micro-level of individual practices or at a macro-level of international institutions. Thanks to such a conference, we all have a chance to leave our ivory towers at least for a couple of days and face different kinds of “realities” seen and analysed by our colleagues. I am also happy to see that the conference has grown into a genuinely international event and that it has become an important venue for young scholars and students who are impatient to share their fresh, often unorthodox, views on topics that have been there for years and even decades.

–  What are your expectations for the Conference and panel session discussion?

– I would probably be too naive to hope for some eye-opening experience. In the end, we are still caged in our own little academic worlds full of hierarchies and inequalities. But I do hope for genuinely diverse discussions, for points of view that could challenge received wisdom, for questions that could help us come up with new meaningful research ideas for the future – both within the School and for potential international collaborations.

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