A call for international dialogue: considerations of IR

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BISA conference reception 2023

A Call for International Dialogue: Considerations of IR

Marianna Charountaki, BISA Trustee

What does the trend of meta-globalisation mean for the International Studies field, who we are, and what we do? Answering this question is particularly necessary at a time when the academic community is re-evaluating its own identity given a range of socio-political forces at work to reshape the academic world. 

Primarily, this article positions academic colleagues and researchers (as individuals) – whether within university contexts or affiliated with other academic-adjacent institutions – at the centre of future disciplinary developments. This article calls for the creation of space to think off the beaten path, beyond formal research or technocratic and methodological approaches. Towards that charge, forums must be established that foster a collaborative environment for integrating theory and practice, bringing together different voices on a more frequent and regular basis. Through such actions, this article envisions a rejuvenated academic community, galvanised in pursuit of a more ambitious and enthusiastic engagement in the course of global politics.

The gatherings envisioned have three principal qualitative characteristics. Firstly, they would focus on debate and the problematisation of the International Studies discipline in the context of global politics. Secondly, they would provide opportunities for researchers operating in different contexts and sectors to become active participants in conversations that aim to develop understandings of the intersection of the academy and real world, on-the-ground problems. Thirdly, they would constitute an idea that moves beyond the state and directly focus on the ways globalisation transforms both global problems and the ways we engage with them as individuals, generally, and academics, specifically. These discussions would thus provide us with an opportunity to develop a broader strategy to shape a better future.

Hence, at this critical juncture for the academic community, there should be a role to play in solving the problems that face the globe. Such approaches will need to be flexible, varied and tailored to the circumstances faced in specific issue areas and physical localities. In this way, we can then argue that the academy continues to resonate with and shape the lives of international communities into the future.

So what? In practical terms, what does this mean?

Mary Hartford and Sarah Dorr, International Studies Association 

We argue that one role in this critical juncture can be played by professional organisations. As staff members of the International Studies Association who focus on virtual outreach and engagement, and as early-career scholars ourselves, we hold a unique perspective on the ways in which associations are uniquely positioned to connect various facets of the International Studies community.

Above all, professional organisations can provide space for mutually beneficial and multifaceted relationships both in person and virtually. For example, at ISA’s 2023 Annual Convention in Montreal, there were participants registered from 88 countries. At their 2023 BISA conference in Glasgow, BISA reported participants in attendance from 44 countries with around 1,000 participants. We do not mean for these figures to idealise the diversity of these conferences; on the contrary, ISA has acknowledged that too many participants faced unacceptable barriers in applying for visas. This figure is instead intended to show that the programming of professional organisations open spaces for global participation amongst the too-often-disconnected academic, government, and private sectors. In doing so, professional organisations create not just vague ‘environments’ but concrete opportunities for organic collaboration—vertically and horizontally; formally and informally. As more and more institutions transition to remote or hybrid work, in-person conventions are one of the remaining spaces for multidirectional networking to occur. This is one reason both BISA and ISA are working to provide multi-modal opportunities for interaction across the in-person and virtual spheres.

In this vein, professional organisations must balance in-person meetings with virtual initiatives in order to meaningfully support accessibility and inclusion. To put this in context, virtual programming has expanded tremendously in recent years. From January 2022 to July 2023, ISA hosted 127 virtual speakers and 840 attendees over the course of 44 public virtual events [i]. Topics ranged from breaking news to professional development—in both academia and practice—with the aim of bringing IR scholars into the conversation no matter their career trajectory or location. From January 2022 to July 2023, BISA reported hosting 75 virtual events with 1609 attendees. There were also 17 in-person events. The subject matter spanned across the 31 working groups, and included student experience events such as Model NATO, book launches and teaching seminars.

Looking forward, how does this speak to Marianna’s call above, in practical terms? We recommend that scholars maximise their involvement in the programs, courses, and specialty groups offered by professional associations, which facilitate pathways between knowledge, relationships, and resources. Put directly, professional organisations lower the transaction costs every individual confronts as they seek to develop their career. In this way, organisations like BISA and ISA simply make it easier to learn how to be a professional scholar and provide access to a multitude of activities unavailable to the individual on their own.

That said, we are also keenly aware that some larger professional organisations—however helpful—have bureaucratic structures that can be challenging to navigate, sometimes making it difficult to identify the opportunities within a huge infrastructure without a ‘user’s manual’. We call upon all facets of the international studies community to partner and initiate dialogue with other professional organisations - in essence - help us, to help you, help them.

We say this not as professional association staff, but as early-career scholars who once worked our way through a system that we now know need not be so difficult to navigate.

The opinions expressed here do not represent official positions of the International Studies Association (ISA) or its leadership.


[i] ISA’s numbers refer to discrete, entirely virtual panels and educational sessions held during the noted time frame. They do not include sessions from virtual conferences or virtual portions of in-person conferences. The same is true of the BISA figures that follow.