Workshop: Contested Narratives of the Global, 4 May 2018

Date: 4 May 2018, 2pm-5.45pm
Venue: Nuffield College SCR, Oxford
Organiser: Professor Andrew Hurrell, Montague Burton Professor of International Relation (Oxford)

This workshop seeks to examine how different parts of the world have understood the global, the impact of western globalization/globality, and the narratives that are told about how different regions, states and societies ‘fit into’ the global. Rather than bringing differently situated scholars into a conversation about the merits or demerits of an existing western conversation about global order, we aim to open up a far broader conversation in which authors uncover the production of differently situated accounts, narratives and stories about the global and its associated and related ideas and concepts.

Despite much active discussion within both International Relations and Global History, there is a frequent recurrence of the same rather stale set of critiques of eurocentrism, a continued framing of the problem in terms of the ‘West/Rest’ or Indian or Chinese or Islamic ‘perspectives’, and a retreat from the historicity of the modern global, both in terms of capitalist modernity but also the international political and institutional order. One attempt to move beyond critique is the project on Contested Narratives of the Global that Andrew Hurrell has been running with John Ikenberry at Princeton and Karoline Postel-Vinay at Sciences Po.

John and Karoline are coming to Oxford on 4th/5th May to talk about how this work might best be taken forward and developed. Cemil Aylin (whose recent book on The Idea of the Muslim World is very relevant to these questions) will be coming over. The idea of the workshop is to foster debate and discussion on exactly where the important intellectual space is, what this particular project might contribute, and where the broader research agenda might go in the future.

The core intuition that has underpinned Contested Narratives still seems to be right and worthwhile. So, the focus on narratives that purport to make moral and political sense of the global and that often carry immense emotional and political power. So, the plurality of narratives and of a range of narratives beyond a single western story, especially at a time when what had been the dominant version of the western narrative has come under such sustained challenge. So, narratives and their construction and historicization as a way of navigating between ahistorical globalism on the one hand and civilizational or national exceptionalism on the other. And then the global as something as something that brings both integration and division; hence the global as somewhere in which those who dominate and those who challenge are deeply connected (co-joined as Jeremy Adelman puts it). So not contestation from ‘challengers’ who are ‘outside’; and, finally, the global as deeply contested but where that contestation revolves around deeply held notions of space, time and movement through history. At the same it is important to sharpen the core questions, fill out the approach embodied in narratives, and explain more clearly both the intellectual context and why this project is important at this particular moment in time.

There will be four short talks but with a good deal of time for informal discussion. In order to have some substantive anchor for the more general discussion, and especially for those who have not been part of the previous meetings, the first session will run from 14.00 to 15.45 and we will open with Cemil Aylin, speaking on: ‘How did a particular Muslim narrative of the global order emerge in the age of imperial globalization of the 1880s and why did this narrative survive, despite its modifications, for more than a century?’ John Ikenberry will then speak on ‘telling the liberal narrative in a changing world’, which will look both at how the liberal narrative is adjusting to the very different world in which we now find ourselves and, more centrally to the project, at how the liberal narrative has adjusted in the past to very different historical conjunctures. This would give the audience two narratives that often are seen as both exceptionalist and internalist in the ways in which they are told; but which we would like to set within a different kind of frame.

Then, in the second part of the afternoon from 16.00 to 16.45, Karoline Postel-Vinay will speak to the broader narratives theme, giving particular emphasis to space, time and possibility and to constructions of the global. Andrew Hurrell will talk more about narratives, about the global, and about contestation, including the axes or dimensions of contestation, and the variety of very different kinds of narratives — ideologies, discourses, political performances, debates in the public sphere, elite understandings etc.

Participants: John Ikenberry, Andrew Hurrell, Karoline Postel-Vinay, Cemil Aylin (Chapel Hill); Tarak Barkawi (LSE); Jean-Francois Drolet (QMUL); Rana Mitter; John-Paul Ghobrial; Rosemary Foot, Eddie Keene; Todd Hall; Gordon Barrett; Yaacov Yadgar; Eduardo Posada-Carbo; Musab Younis; Ricardo Soares de Oliveira; Kira Huju; Tomas Wallenius; Eric Haney; Sharinee Jagtiani; Patrick Quinton-Brown.