Naked Empire: New tools/old stories and the colonial inheritance of the rules-based order

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Marking 10 years since its founding, this year's Colonial Postcolonial Decolonial Working Group (CPD) annual workshop will take place at Queen Mary University of London on 7 November 2023, and will be followed by a public roundtable and retrospective with CPD’s past co-conveners (including Nivi Manchanda, Mustapha Pasha, Meera Sabaratnam, Robbie Shilliam and Lisa Tilley).

Workshop call for papers

The current debates surrounding the crisis of the ‘liberal international’ ‘rules-based order’ have allegedly been prompted by previously unseen shifts in global power, accelerated by changing demographics within Western nation-states and the new concentrations of wealth in the Global South (Financial Times, 2021). Yet, the fragility of these statements echo an enduring grammar, emblematic of the recurring crises of empire: the prophesying of ‘rivers of blood’, the designing of colonial policing and partition, and the launching of ‘the War on Terror’, each operating as cracks in imperial hegemony that leave its violences bare and raw.

In our contemporary moment, the cracks appear with warnings of ‘geostrategic challenges’ to both the United States and the broader economic and material power of the Western (supremacist) order. Once again, we are told that the United States and its European counterparts are the presumed benchmarks of civilization, serving as models for 'developing’ and ‘emerging’ nations to emulate. Ideologically, their theories on modernisation, humanitarianism, and democratic governance have been mobilised to establish liberal norms of global order as well as to confer legitimacy upon Western interventions under the banner of ‘civilising the Third World’.

However, with the relative decline of Western economic power vis-à-vis China and US departure from its liberal goals, the purported liberal norms and multilateral cooperation on which the global system found political stability and economic progress, are reportedly ‘in jeopardy’. This has led us once more to confront the omissions by proponents of liberal institutionalism: that this order remains structurally hierarchical, that its norms endorse a racialised extractivism and its established rules were formalised through an oppressive colonial inheritance, whereby its legal, constitutional and social institutions developed under formal empire transferred into the postcolonial arrangements of the present. Consequently, as anti-racist, anti-colonial and anti-imperial movements have repeatedly argued, inequity, rather than cooperation marks the prevailing global order. This inequity is particularly evident within the heart of the empire itself, as racialised poverty - and ensuing right-wing/fascist backlash - mark life across the Global North’s urban centres, as much as in cities of the Global South.

While the empire stands unmasked and exposed to contemporary IR (not for the first time), a different set of questions emerges for those whose lives have always been structured by (racial) violence and thus for whom these ‘cracks’ are always chasms. Each glitch in imperial hegemony shape but also erupt out of fissures made by old, new and evolving movements: From Abolitionists to anti-colonial struggles to postcolonial Third World Internationalisms, from anti-Globalisation to Land Back resurgent politics and Black Lives Matter, all have challenged and laid bare the imperial authority, capitalist circuits and racial inequality that maintain the global order.

And yet, as Stuart Hall famously reminded us, the Empire has always struck back, re-orienting, realigning and reaffixing its masks (but not before a particularly virulent wave of violence, against the system’s most vulnerable constituents). In this moment, then, with the empire naked and lashing back, we need new tools to understand and contend with this moment, but also a willingness to learn some old lessons, taking seriously our inherited scholarly legacies and struggles. In response, the workshop will be a space to consider the following questions as prompts for discussion:

  • What are the specific consequences of this moment of crisis in the global order?
  • In its nakedness, what is similar, contingent and different about this iteration of exposed empire and bare violence?
  • What can/do we learn from histories of movements that have revealed these cracks before - from scholars that have already warned of empire’s power to rethink and reshape itself; from the communities most impacted/most vulnerable to these bare moments, and who call it out as such; from our own experiences of racial/colonial violence and doing anti-racist work?
  • What do we yearn to understand better, so we can imagine and struggle for a different future?
  • What can be/is being done differently this time?

To participate:

The workshop will take place from 10am - 4pm on 7 November (and the public event starts at 6pm - a registration form will be circulated closer to the day) at Queen Mary University of London, with lunch provided. If you’d like to join us, please send us an email with a few thoughts about how your work/interests respond to these themes as well as a few lines about who you are.

CPD-BISA workshops are not organised around “paper-giving”, but rather each session is introduced by two to three, five-minute opening interventions. Therefore, if you are interested in attending please do also indicate whether you would like to provide one of these five-minute interventions and, if so, on what topic(s) (again, just a few lines will suffice).

We will try to accommodate as many of those interested as possible, prioritising our ‘early career’ and student participants.


We are hoping to have some funding available to support travel and accommodation for those without access to institutional support, so please can you also include the following in your email:

1) whether or not you need support and why;

2) the amount you think you’ll need (we cannot guarantee this - it is most likely that we will only be able to fund a portion of your costs, but this will help us to budget);

3) whether or not you’re a BISA member.

Please indicate your interest in attending no later than 1 October 2023 to:

The CPD Working Group has become an established community of scholars drawn from within and beyond IR – this interdisciplinarity has enriched the work and activities of the community as a whole. Our annual workshop is our most important event and provides a vital space for early career scholars to connect with more established academics working through the colonial question in their research. As in previous years, this will be an innovative and participatory event with a range of heterodox sessions.

BISA members attend free of charge. There will be a charge for non-members.


Image by Oshan Jayawardana licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.