(by Manaíra Assunção)
After six method workshops since the beginning of the Marie Curie doctoral training programme, the final PRIMO workshop brought a practical reflection on how to build an inclusive perspective on international politics, specifically on analytical and methodological tools for research on rising powers and conducting field research in rising powers. The workshop was held at Saint Petersburg State University at the Department of World Economy, between 26th and 28th June 2017.
Under the heading “How to practice global IR?” the Marie Curie early stage researchers (ESRs) together with experienced researchers delivered an input and a discussion paper for each of the scheduled sessions. The overall goal was to bring concrete examples on how research has been conducted either in the context of the ESRs’ doctoral theses or of the research projects and professional experiences of the external experts. It was a hands-on debate on how to apply the respective approach or method, exposing its strengths and weaknesses, and outlining potential methodological and practical challenges whilst conducting field research.
Quick off was the session on Interpretative Policy Analysis (IPA) with an input paper provided by ESR Insa Ewert on the European Commission’s discursive practices towards China and with Dr. Xymena Kurowska (Central European University Budapest) as discussant. Between the different traditions within IPA the hermeneutic approach was stressed the most. Accordingly, meanings in policy making are not defined a priori but reconstructed from within the policymaking process whilst the researcher learns what is meaningful to the policy actors under investigation. Moreover, the implications when conducting research and exposing research results once conflicts arise in the process of data generation were discussed. In the afternoon session Prof. Dirk Nabers (University of Kiel) and ESR Mónica Rodríguez de Luna raised reflections on Discourse Analysis. Whilst Mónica placed emphasis on Critical Discourse Analysis and Post-structural Discourse Theory giving concrete examples from her research on climate politics in Brazil, Prof. Nabers presented the notion of “corpus linguistics” to inquire the structure, generation of meaning within discourses and dominant signifiers. Day 1 ended with a marvellous boat trip and a historical city guide, organized by Dr. Alexandra Koval and the University’s department hosting the event.
On the second day, Dr. Beatrix Futák-Campbell (Leiden University) comprehensively discussed the “bread and butter of social science” research: Qualitative interviews. Treating interviews as social interactions and showing examples from her research, she highlighted the implications for interview transcripts, as well, as the limitations concerning memory and generalizability if only relying on individual participant’s accounts. ESR Martin Pioch picked up questions with regards to expert interviews and the highly institutionalized settings these interviews take place, for example within his study on the BRICS and the WTO. Last but not least, ESRs Eleonora Tafuro Ambrosetti and Ali Lantukh talked about their experiences as young female researchers Conducting field research in the East of the EU. Through a discussion about how hierarchies and power dynamics have impacted the conduct of their research within PRIMO, as well as the particularity of handling research in turbulent and sensitive political moments, Eleonora and Ali provide some general guidelines for researchers. Dr. Berit Bliesemann de Guevara (Aberystwyth University) gave a valuable contribution incorporating her experiences conducting inquiry and making the most out of the information collected whilst recognizing the power relations of professional, educational, socio-economic and gendered nature. At the end of the second day, the panel “The impact of the Trump Presidency on global economy and international politics” was opened for the general public, with Prof. Sergei Sutyrin (Head of the World Economy Department), Prof. Cord Jakobeit (Coordinator of the PRIMO Programme), Prof. Hartmut Mayer (University of Oxford and one of PRIMO’s scientist in charge), Dr. Nikita Lomagin (St. Petersburg State University), Nikita Lisitsyn (CEO, Seismo-Shelf), and Irina Kozlova (Department of Cooperation with Foreign Representatives, Committee for External Relations St. Petersburg). The panel debated the continuities and ruptures that Trump’s office represents with regards to the focus on American national interest, the trade-first policy, and the impact on individual members of the international community, particularly the EU and the BRICS countries.
On the last day, Dr. Julian Eckl discussed the broad notions of Knowledge, practices and power in social science research. Placing emphasis on the different views of power and which implications the usage of “power over” has for empirical power analysis, he showed how ethnographic methods are useful tools to reveal social mechanisms through which power operates, and particularly addressing hidden cases of power in quotidian practices. ESR Manaíra Assunção highlighted the links between knowledge and power based on her study about experts from the South and their allegedly distinguishable role in international development cooperation. The Southern experts’ claim of holding a different type of knowledge when compared to Northern donors and which builds on their development experiences is assessed through narrative inquiry. Finally, ESRs Fleur Huijskens and Miklós Kornél Lázár made a panel presentation of their research results for a general audience. Fleur argued that despite the fact that China has become an active norm-shaper and even institution and initiative creator, China’s engagement with the changing ‘global, liberal’ order is selectively liberal and focused on domestic stability through development. Miklós’ presentation on “Private-Public Regulation versus National Capabilities?” addressed the resurgence of geopolitical arguments vis-à-vis the different types of norms and standards around the globe taking the example of noxious emission standards and the ways businesses enter emerging markets.
The workshop provided a valuable opportunity for the ESRs to discuss their methodological approaches and the difficulties when dealing with the study of rising powers. Indeed, the event also meant to be a preparation for the Final PRIMO Conference, to be held between 5th and 7th September 2017 in Brussels, in which the ESRs will present their research results to a general audience. Another potential outcome is a textbook gathering the analytical and the methodological tools that have been addressed by the workshop’s participants, and the Marie Curie early stage researchers in particular, based on the input and discussion papers currently under revision.