FPWG event photo

A year in working groups – 2020/21

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The BISA year runs from 1 April to 31 March, so we thought now would be a great time to take a look back at what our working groups have been up to for the past 12 months. Despite the pandemic, most of our groups have been extremely active. They have provided opportunities for scholars to present research, take part in debate, and gain new skills.

Africa and International Studies Working Group

The Africa and International Studies Working Group’s first event of the year was a well-attended online conference organised in September by Professor Julia Gallagher (SOAS): Architecture and Politics in Africa: making, living and imagining identities through buildings. The online format facilitated participation by several speakers and attendees based in Africa.

This was the first year that the group had a dedicated postgraduate representative, and in October our first rep - Tarela Juliet Ike (Teesside) – organised a very successful training event for PhD students led by Dr Jung Jidong: Beyond the PhD: Excursus on postdoctoral funding applications. This year also saw the launch of the working group’s blog, which will soon host the group’s first book symposia. Exciting panels and roundtables are planned for both the main BISA conference in June and as part of the PGR’s committee’s activities.

British International History Group (BIHG)

The Covid pandemic unfolding from March 2020 disrupted the work of the BIHG, as evidenced most notably by the cancellation of our planned September annual conference. However, in October 2020 we held our first ever online research event, a workshop on 'Great Britain and International Institutions' hosted by BISA and run using Zoom. Featuring stimulating presentations by Patricia Clavin, James Ellison and Gaynor Johnson, and a lively Q and A discussion, this was a tremendous success and underlined the possibilities of achieving productive intellectual exchange through virtual means. In November, we then co-sponsored a two-day online international conference on 'Great Britain, the League of Nations and the New International Order' organised by Edinburgh University and the National Library of Scotland. This conference had keynotes from Glenda Sluga, Peter Jackson, Michael Cox and Madeleine Dungy, in addition to multiple panel sessions, and was extremely well attended.

Looking ahead to 2021, the BIHG committee reluctantly took the decision that we would not organise an in-person conference in September 2021, since it was impossible to be confident that large-scale, in-person gatherings would be possible by that date, and we would risk a lot of wasted effort if we began to prepare for an in-person conference and were then forced to abandon it. We will instead continue to organise online events and are currently planning to hold a 'lightning talks' session for PhDs and ECRs in June, in conjunction with the Institute for Historical Research International History Seminar. We are also thinking about holding several virtual events in September, in lieu of our traditional in-person conference.

In September, we also expect to announce the winner of the Michael Dockrill Thesis Prize for the best international history thesis awarded by a British university during the calendar year of 2020. The deadline for submissions for this prize has just passed and a good crop of entries are currently under review.

We have also assisted the International History Review with the judging of applications for its annual research award; the outcome of this competition will be announced in the near future.

Colonial, Postcolonial and Decolonial Working Group (CPD)

2020 was an unusually quiet year for CPD as the conveners navigated the pandemic and its effects. Without funding and with restrictions in place, our activities were limited to occasional online events, such as our Black Lives and the International event featuring Dr Olivia Umurerwa Rutazibwa, Dr Adam Elliott-Cooper and Dr Kojo Koram. Otherwise, we've been keeping the community connected and growing via the mailing list which serves as a vital platform for CPD members to share their activities.

In addition, after four years of incredible work, building and supporting the CPD community, Nivi Manchanda (Queen Mary University of London), Kerem Nisancioglu (SOAS) and Lisa Tilley (Birkbeck) stepped down. We can’t thank them enough for everything they’ve done and modelled, alongside their predecessors. Jenna Marshall (University of Kassel), Sharri Plonski (Queen Mary University of London) and Heba Yousef (University of Brighton) will act as co-conveners until 2023, with the always wonderful Gargi Bhattacharya (University of East London) mentoring the working group. Find out more in their announcement.

Contemporary Research on International Political Theory (CRIPT)

In 2020, CRIPT organised two online workshops. The first event, held in October 2020, was a book launch event that celebrated – but also engaged critically with – three recently published books by immensely insightful international political theorists:

  • William Callahan (London School of Economics) presented Sensible Politics: Visualizing International Relations;
  • Philip Cunliffe (University of Kent) introduced his work The New Twenty Years’ Crisis: A Critique of International Relations, 1999-2019; and
  • William Bain (National University of Singapore) talked about his book Political Theology of International Order.

The second workshop was entitled Reimagining World Order and Transnational Democracy, Conflict, Contestation, Deliberation, and sought to develop new and original ideas as to how the current crisis of the liberal order opens up spaces for reimagining transnational democracy and, ultimately, the idea of a ‘just world order. The event took place in October 2020 and featured presentations by Sara Kermanian (University of Sussex), Camilo Ardila Arevalo (University of Edinburgh), Antje Wiener (University of Hamburg), and Christian Bueger (University of Copenhagen).

Critical Studies on Terrorism Working Group (CST)

In September 2020 CST held an annual conference: Critical studies on terrorism and counter-terrorism conference 2020. In December 2020 they held a book launch for Encountering Extremism (MUP, 2020)

The groups also held several ECR Cafés:

- November 2020 Publishing in CTS

- December 2020 CTS and fieldwork

- April 2021 Terrorism fieldwork and accessing the national security state

The group are also involved in International conferences and held a BISA-sponsored panel at ISA 2021. They will hold three panels at BISA 2021.

Environment Working Group

Our Environment Working Group is in the process of arranging a series of panels on politics, perception, and institutionalisation in climate diplomacy. It is anticipated that a diverse group of speakers will contribute their expertise in the run up to COP26, and an edited collection is planned.

Ethics and World Politics Working Group

On 25 November 2020, we held an online virtual event on 'Ethics in Conflict and Conflict Prevention'. Debates in the ethics of armed conflict often operate from within the just war paradigm. This panel brought just war thinking into conversation with wider and critical approaches to ethical issues that arise across multiple stages of conflict. Starting with conflict prevention, it explored the imaginations of world order that underpin and limit understandings of whether and how war should be prevented, and asked whether the responsibility to protect doctrine adequately addresses long-term and structural drivers of conflict. Moving to ethical questions arising in armed conflict, it addressed the ethics of political violence in relation to both ‘limited strikes’ involving force short of war, and in the context of resistance, asking the question of who can legitimately be targeted by resistance movements. Finally, it looked at ethical issues in relation to the termination of conflict, asking whether and under what circumstances states have a duty to surrender.

European Security Working Group

To compensate for the cancellation of our annual conference, the European Security Working Group organised a number of online panels held on 9 July 2020. The contributions and presentations included research on NATO and transatlantic security relations, Europe’s security relations with its neighbourhood and Europe’s security agenda in the twenty-first century. Despite the adjustments to the online set-up, this full day of events and presentations presented itself as a success with lively debates and intellectual exchanges.

In July 2020, the European Security Working Group also underwent a change of convenership. With the termination of the tenure of Helena Farrand Carrapico (Northumbria University), Arantza Gomez Arana (Northumbria University) and Jocelyn Mawdsley (Newcastle University), the new convenership by Andrew Cottey (University College Cork), Nele Marianne Ewers-Peters (Johns Hopkins University) and Antonia Niehuss (University of St Andrews) took over from July 2020, who will be in office for the next two years.

On 18 February 2021, the European Security Working Group’s 5th annual workshop took place online under the theme ‘Multilateral Security Cooperation Under Stress’. It included panels on NATO and multipolarity, the EU’s internal security crises and Brexit, and technology and European defence capabilities with presentations by a number of PhD students, ECRs and senior academics. The keynote was held by Professor Mark Webber (University of Birmingham), titled “What’s Wrong with NATO and How to Fix it”.

In addition, members of the group have been active in publishing research on numerous themes on European security issues that have been circulated through the mailing list. The conveners are now planning additional events for 2021

Foreign Policy Working Group (FPWG)

A follow up to the December 2019 event Foreign Policy Making Within Area Studies had been planned for BISA 2020, which was unfortunately cancelled due to the pandemic. However a special issue of a journal on the same topic will still go ahead.

FPWG elected a new Convener, Dr Marianna Charountaki, and a new Deputy Convenor, Dr Cornelia-Adriana Baciu, who took over from Dr James Strong and Dr Nicola Langdon in February 2021. FPWG continues its activities through a series of virtual events. First a networking event with the aim to bring its members together. Further, it has organised, and continues to organise, different events that discuss a wide spectrum of foreign policy issues. Above all, in these uncertain times, the FPWG is proud of its efforts to increase collaboration with other working groups, as well as other distinguished institutions such as BRISMES.  

The FPWG has now created its own Newsletter with the aim to update its members and share their achievements. Sign up by emailing fpwg.group@bisa.ac.uk

Global Health Working Group (GHWG)

The GHWG has had a good year, despite (or rather because of) the current challenges. As conveners, we have initiated several activities to raise the profile of the group and engage people in debates on global health:

  1. We held our first pandemic-related event on 25 February, on The role of IR in a pandemic. This was very successful, with three excellent speakers: Dr Simon Rushton, University of Sheffield, Dr Tine Hanrieder, LSE and Dr Owain Williams, University of Leeds. More than 30 people attended, and the feedback was that it was an enjoyable and thought-provoking event.
  2. Our second pandemic-related event took place on 7 May, on Health diplomacy in times of pandemic. This was jointly organised with the Foreign Policy Working Group. The speakers were Professor Stefan Elbe, University of Sussex and Dr Daniela Irrera, University of Catania. A recording will shortly be available on the BISA YouTube channel
  3. We shall be hosting two sessions at the annual conference in June, a Round Table on ‘The UK’s role in global health security and COVID-19’ and a Panel on ‘The prioritisation of health: national, regional and international perspectives’.
  4. We wrote a piece for the BISA website highlighting all the ways our members are contributing to research on the COVID-19 pandemic. We had a very good response to our call for contributions from GHWG members. Professor Sophie Harman’s guide to supervising COVID-19 dissertations was also featured on the BISA website.
  5. The official GHWG mailing list has a strong presence once again, as we send out regular emails with calls for papers, events, jobs, teaching aids and other opportunities relevant to our members.

Global Nuclear Order Working Group (GNO)

The Global Nuclear Order Working Group ran a series of online events in 2020. In June, one of the working group sessions planned for the annual conference - ‘The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at 50’ organised by Dr Megan Dee – ran as a virtual roundtable. In August, our online event on ‘Emerging research in global nuclear politics’ brought ECRs together with established scholars to discuss the innovative work being done by junior scholars. In December Prof. Andrew Futter, Dr Bleddyn Bowen and Dr Josh Baker at the University of Leicester hosted our online annual conference ‘A Global Nuclear Order in Flux? Surviving the Next 75 Years’. This had 85 registered attendees and a keynote from former UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Angela Kane.

Also in 2020, Dr Hassan Elbahtimy stepped down as a convener after several years of excellent work (thank you Hassan!) and Dr Patricia Shamai and Dr Nicola Leveringhaus joined Dr Laura Considine as conveners.

Historical Sociology in IR Working Group (HSIR)

The Historical Sociology in IR (HSIR) working group has a new co-convener, Dr Maïa Pal (Oxford Brookes University). With Dr Clemens Hoffmann (University of Stirling) they are organising a workshop entitled 'Who still wants to be a historical sociologist?’. The CFP is now closed and we received eight strong submissions. We will be holding the closed workshop online on Friday 14 May 2021 with a full day of panels.

International Law and Politics Working Group (ILAW)

During 2020-21 the ILAW WG convened a roundtable event, sponsored by BISA, at ISA 2021 (April 2021), titled 'Making Sense of International Law and Politics in the 21st Century'. This meeting focused on the extent to which developments across economic, environmental, health, human rights/humanitarian, and security-related spheres give rise to concern as to the resilience and future prospects of international law as an instrument of international governance. Participants comprised:

-          Mikael Rask Madsen (Chair, Professor of law and Director of iCourts, Centre of Excellence for International Courts, Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen)

-          James Gow (Professor of International Peace and Security, Department of War Studies, KCL)

-          Yuna C. Han (Fellow, Department of International Relations, LSE),

-          Henry M. Lovat (Lecturer in International Law and Politics, University of Glasgow),

-          Kurt Mills (Professor of International Relations and Human Rights, University of Dundee)

-          Victor Peskin (Associate Professor, School of Politics & Global Studies, Arizona State University)

ILAW WG has planned a joint seminar with the Foreign Policy WG on 'Foreign Policy and Genocide' on a date tbc in 2021. The workshop will feature Nadia Murad, Nobel Peace Prize winner UNODC Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking as well as Professor James Gow and Dr Maria Varaki (both Kings’ College London).

International Relations as a Social Science Working Group (IRSS)

Over the past year the working group focused on fostering a sense of community among its members. To achieve this, we actively fed the Facebook page and the group’s Twitter account. This initiative has proven successful as the number of followers of the working group’s Twitter account doubled this year to 820.

Unfortunately, the conveners have now finished their second mandate and we have not been able to find a new convenorship to ensure the future of the working group despite advertising through mailing lists, the BISA newsletter, social media and the group’s own pages. If no convener is found the group will close on 11 June.

Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding Working Group

2020 marked the second year of the Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding Working Group and membership had grown to 150. Some 35 papers and two roundtables had been submitted to our section for BISA 2020 which was set to take place in Newcastle. In early February 2020, we were fortunate enough to hold a final face-to-face event before the pandemic hit: a two-day conference entitled ‘Peace operations in global context: national and regional interpretations of intervention’, hosted by the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at the University of Coventry. The conference was attended by 35 BISA members and led to new collaborations and networking opportunities. The working group picked up from where it had left off prior to the first lockdown in early November 2020 when we hosted a virtual roundtable discussion entitled ‘Indiana Jones and the temple of scholarly doom/eternal light: Navigating peace and conflict fieldwork’, attended by over 100 people. While we were not able to accept all the submissions for BISA 2021, we will instead be organising a series of webinars and workshops for our members in 2021/22 to make it as inclusive as possible. The first event was the webinar ‘The meaning of ‘Stabilization’ in peace operations’ held on 7 May.

South East Europe Working Group (SEE)

The South East Europe Working Group has continued to provide space for discussion on politics, economics, and social transformation within the region. In January 2020, Lydia Cole, Çağlar Ezikoğlu, and Katarina Kušić took over from previous convenors Catherine Baker, Maria-Adriana Deiana, Daniela Lai, Natalie Martin. Since then, the convenors have been busy planning events and panels to facilitate connection between scholars in the UK and beyond. In October, we hosted a virtual panel on Memory and South East Europe – with speakers Ana Milošević (KU Leuven), Jelena Đureinović (University of Vienna/ Humanitarian Law Center (Belgrade), and Jasmin Mujanović (Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and co-host of Sarajevo Calling) – which explored the local, regional, and global currents of activism and contestation.

Still to come this year, we host two roundtables at the upcoming BISA Conference – ‘Within/Without: Strategies and possibilities for cultivating knowledge with the Global East’ and ‘The Art of Forgetting IR: Aesthetics, Creative Methods and the Politics of War and Peace’ – and plan a workshop for postgraduate researchers which addresses the practical and ethical questions that emerge in the context of research on South East Europe at the end of May 2021.

US Foreign Policy Working Group (USFP)

Unfortunately we were unable to hold our regular September conference in 2020 or 2021, but the US Foreign Policy Conference will return in-person in 2022 at the University of Reading.

The working group continues to be active online, promoting members’ research and activities on social media, and running virtual events: a new US Foreign Policy research seminar series, led by Francesco Silvestri of the University of Nottingham, launched in 2021; we also hosted a roundtable webinar on Biden’s first 100 days in April, led by Eugenio Lilli at UCD.

War Studies Working Group

Co-Conveners Dr Patrick Bury and Dr James Rogers

As a new working group, we have sadly not yet been able to meet in person or hold in person sessions, yet we are proud to have grown to 112 international members. We were able to convene two online events on ‘Security in an ice-free Arctic: interdisciplinary perspectives on Arctic geopolitics’ and ‘Militarisation in the Sahel: old security practices in a new war theatre’. These two sessions have been two of the most watched on the BISA YouTube with 126 and 349 views respectively. Our call for papers for BISA 2021 went well, indeed beyond our expectations for the online format. This left us in a position where we had to turn away over 65 per cent of those who applied, but we are looking forward to sessions on ‘Reprising the Relationship between War and Technology’, ‘Critical friendship or critical distance: Engaging with the military in research’, and ‘The State of War: From the Strategic to the Tactical’. We were also happy to help arrange the keynote address to be delivered by Dr Agnes Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International and former UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings. This will be chaired by our co-convenor, James Rogers.

In the year to come we will be holding a number of events (many of which we hope to be in person, should the pandemic allow). Please contact us to get involved.


The majority of our other working groups also hosted one or more online events between April 2020 and March 2021, some of which you can find on our YouTube channel. A new working group – Religion and International Studies was approved early in 2021.

All our working group conveners are volunteers and we are extremely grateful for the time and energy they devote to them.