Research Projects

My research agenda beyond my first book project reflects my interests in South-South relations, security-development nexus, post-colonial theory, and post-Western International Relations. Some of the projects I am excited to be working on include theorizing International Relations concepts from Global South perspectives, and extrapolating from my work on China-Africa to understand post-Western perspectives on hegemony, development, and power relations.

Working Papers

Of Time, Space, and Affect: The Nostalgic Road back to China’s Pe(c)king Order.

Abstract

The study of International Relations has paid increasing attention over the last decade or so to the politics of memory, trauma, affect, and to a lesser extent time. Yet, nostalgic interpellation remains undertheorized in International Relations despite its potential for providing a powerful theoretical lens to explain rising power dynamics. Sitting at the intersection of time and space, of time and affect, and of past and present, nostalgia is a concept that can help capture the purchase of reviving and reconstructing the past for the making of foreign policy discourses and narratives about international development. This article uses the case of Chinese foreign policy makers branding China’s newest grand strategy, the Belt and Road Initiative by reviving narratives of the Ancient Silk Road to look at nostalgia in global politics. Particularly, nostalgia is useful to Chinese foreign policy makers because making associations to images of the ancient Silk Road produce positive messaging about what the future would like with an international order that (re)positions China at its center. By invoking the Ancient Silk Road, countries that sign onto the Belt and Road are constructed as participants in a grand vision and an initiative that is much bigger than bilateral infrastructure deals with China. Unpacking nostalgia, I argue, is central to understanding global politics at critical junctures such as the rise and fall of major world powers. 

Beyond Brick and Cement: Building Bridges Through Party-to-Party Exchanges in China-Africa Relations (under review).

Abstract

China became Africa’s biggest infrastructure contractor surpassing Europe and the U.S. since the late 2000s. Chinese state-owned Enterprises have won a variety of infrastructure contracts as diverse as highways, dams, housing units, hospitals and schools among other projects. Yet, Chinese foreign policy towards Africa goes well beyond construction projects and investments in mega-projects to include substantial funds allocated for professionalization training programs and technology transfers. Indeed, there exist several cases of infrastructure projects which have been completed but due to lack of appropriate training in maintenance, they go unused and quickly decay. Therefore, the goal of this paper is to look beyond buildings and seek to uncover the implications of China’s increasing investments in human resource development for Africans. It became evident from China-Africa summit action plans that Chinese foreign policy in Africa is interested in enhancing people-to-people exchanges, increasing student scholarships for African in China, and promoting governance and leadership trainings through Party-to-Party (P2P) exchanges. Although these might all fit under the so-called soft power umbrella, in this paper I argue that this kind of intangible investments in human capital are as central to China’s foreign policy making in Africa and through the Belt and Road. Building bridges between Chinese party officials and African counterparts allows for long-term networks and working relations with Africa’s future leaders in ways that outlast the lush of new infrastructure projects.

Power to the Guanxi? China’s relational productive power

Paper presented at EISA Conference in Barcelona September 15th, 2017 

Abstract

Do traditional conceptualizations of power in IR help us make sense of China’s foreign policy conduct in the Global South? Do all rising powers project their influence in the same (military/hard power) way? This paper assumes that the answer to these questions is ‘not necessarily.’ By examining China’s foreign policy towards African states, the paper centers on the role of guanxi (Network of relations) in projecting China’s influence in Africa. Guanxi, in this case, is created and nurtured through routinized Beijing-sponsored capacity building programs and technology transfer workshops. The paper argues that by taking power as productive and governance as based on relationality, capacity building programs for Africans are viewed as spaces for expert knowledge production and network expansion. It puts relations and relationality as a core characteristic of Chinese foreign policy conduct, and by doing so it demonstrates that China’s investments in capacity building programs for military officials, media experts, etc. are indeed more successful power projection mechanisms than ‘hard/military’ aspects of power. 

Ongoing Research

(with Dan Large) China’s Security Strategy in Mali (ongoing project)

Peacekeeping with Chinese Characteristics (ongoing project started May 2018)