Thursday, June 2, 2016

Speech of Distinguished Honoree Amitav Acharya , Atlanta 2016

From Pressure Group to Peer Group
The Role of Global South Scholars in the Study of International Relations
Amitav Acharya
Slightly Revised Version of the Acceptance Speech of the ISA Global South Caucus (GCSIS) Distinguished Scholar Award
Atlanta 18 March 2016

It is a great honor for me to receive the ISA 2015 Global South Caucus Distinguished Scholar Award. I thank the Caucus for all their hard work during my Presidency 2014-15, including the holding of the highly successful Convention in Singapore. It was the first ever ISA event in Southeast Asia and a milestone in the ISA’s effort to expand its international activities.

In my remarks today, I will focus on the challenges facing Global South Scholars in general, and the GCSIS membership in particular and suggest ways to address them.

Broadly stated, the challenges facing IR scholars from the Global South are two-fold:
a. Institutional
b. Intellectual

They are not separate though. One needs institutional support or address institutional deficiencies to improve and advance on the intellectual front. But there is also a difference in terms of approach.

GSCIS needs to act as a pressure group on institutional matters.

Pressure groups are “collections of individuals who hold a similar set of values and beliefs based on ethnicity, religion, political philosophy, or a common goal. Based on these beliefs, they take action to promote change and further their goals.” ( A pressure group “actively seeks to promote its particular interests within a society by exerting pressure on public officials and agencies.” (

As a pressure group, the GCSIS should aim, among other things, to realize the following:

a. Increasing participation in ISA meetings by Global South Scholars. Travel grants (do 750USD discourage participation from Global South. Of course it does. But we have to have a debate over something that is so obvious)

b. Challenging discrimination and exclusion (from governing bodies, committees, editorial boards, special projects like ISA’s 2015 Sapphire series), conscious or unconscious.

c. Encouraging more people from Global South to seek out and join committee positions Demanding proactive change in the way ISA and other institutions do their business

The approach should be one of vigilance, protest, naming and shaming, just as transnational advocacy groups adopt to promote causes such as human rights and the environment.

But a pressure group role is not enough. While issues such as travel funding, panel slots, etc. are important, and keeping in mind that the Caucus is not a normal ISA section but a forum for dialogue and coordination of scholars with similar interests, it is still imperative that the GSCIS should aim for developing a serious intellectual identity and agenda. Let me quote from a Global South scholar (who wants to remain anonymous):

The most important thing for the northern ISA to do is read, discuss, assign, circulate, and cite scholars from the global south. These are the principal mechanisms of professional advancement in our area of work. When these things are done, funding will find these scholars…Funding… is no different than foreign aid, meaning it is always tied in some ways….A hundred years ago thinkers in India and elsewhere were able to produce the knowledge to defeat the British Empire (which after WWII Churchill was adamant would remain intact). (emphasis in bold original, email dated 25 May 2016)

Keeping this in mind, when it comes to intellectual agenda, the goal of the Caucus should be to act as a peer group.

Members of a peer group have common interests and they “have an influence on the socialization of group members.” Members of a peer group “are likely to influence the person’s beliefs and behavior.” (

Who is the peer group for the Caucus here? It is not the GSCIS members. It’s also not the other scholars who are not part of the caucus but study the Global South. Rather, it’s the entire community of IR scholars.

You should influence the beliefs and behavior of all IR scholars, not just those of the Global South, and socialize them into a more dynamic, open, inclusive approach to the study of IR. As I have said elsewhere, scholars from the Global South should aim not for an IR meant exclusively for the Global South, for they should be the vanguard for a Global IR.

Amitav Acharya, “An IR for the Global South or a Global IR?,” E-IR, OCT 21 2015. (

How to do this. The following comes to mind, although they are by no means exhaustive:

1. Going well beyond the signature Issues for Global South, such as underdevelopment, development, race, internal conflicts, etc., and getting involved in all the big issues and debates in IR, including climate change, security, global governance, etc. Part of this effort must be to develop theories and concepts from the Global South experience that are applicable not just to the Global South, but to the world as a whole.

Let me give an example. During the Cold War, scholars like Buzan, Ayoob, Korany, Ed Azar, and others did excellent work on Third World security. Their focus was on studying the distinctive security predicament of the Third World: how different it was from security of the Western nations. But their insights were meant to apply only to the Third World countries. This raised questions about the wider applicability of their ideas to security studies in general. What might happen when the Cold War was over, or when the idea of the Third World was less relevant as a “third Force? My own approach was to argue that the Third World is the whole world! The insights from Third World insecurity applies to global insecurity as a whole. This is new security studies. Old security studies was about military force, nuclear weapons etc., mainly in Europe and the central balance. New security studies is about ethnic conflicts, state failure, transnational terrorism, regional powers, rising powers from the South, etc. In other words, the issues of the periphery has become the core of security studies (My essay on: “The Periphery as the Core”, in Critical Security Studies) Insights from Third World insecurity is central to security of the world, or global security.

2. Embracing theoretical and methodological pluralism. This means analyzing the Global South’s role not only from the familiar lenses of Postcolonialism, Marxism, or Dependency, but also Constructivism, Realism, and Liberalism and other theories. For example, Realism has lot to say about non-European IR, as with Ayoob’s Subaltern Realism. Liberalism is the most deficient here, because its foundations are wholly European. But this should be challenged and broadened.

3. Bringing in scholars who are traditionally Western centric, but helping them to reorient through engagement.

4. Going beyond the discourse of marginalization and the mindset of victimhood to providing analysis and explanations of how the world works, to developing theories and concepts from the ground, from bottom-up that can be used to study IR as a whole.

Some examples, which I have discussed in my 2014 ISA Presidential Speech (published in International Studies Quarterly, 58, 4 2014), include the role of ASEAN in developing a successful non-European model of regionalism, the emerging modes of conflict management by the African Union, and Latin America’s human rights and democracy promotion norms. All these have a global relevance beyond the individual regions where they originated, and have contributed to global order.

I would also suggest the following ideas:

One is to have a book prize. Many ISA sections have book prizes. To the best of my
knowledge, 2015 was the first time the ISA book prize was given (on a shared basis) to a Global South scholar (Professor Tang Shiping from China), and it took some planning. Many Global South scholars simply don`t bother to submit their books knowing they might be ignored. So a book award (named Global IR Award or Global South Award) sponsored by the Caucus
that honors a book about (at least substantively about its place, role, and dynamics) the Global South by anyone, or an award by someone from the Global South (the choice will have to be discussed) will be timely to illustrate the GCSIS’ peer group role.

Another idea is to push our existing ISA journals to revising their mission statement to reflect the issues that are important to the Global South. They all now say that they are trying to get more submissions from Global South and we are familiar with the politics of how this is done (or sidelined) and obstacles to this. One strategy here would be to push ISA journals to have regular forums on Global South issues commissioned by the editors with contributions by Global South scholars (plus others).

A third idea is to have one of the books in the ISA compendium series devoted to Global South or Global IR that gives lots of space to Global South issues. Here, Global South oriented scholars will have more editorial control and seek contributions from Global South scholars.

In conclusion, thank you again for honoring me with your annual award. I do hope that I have encouraged you pursue both the “pressure group” and the “peer group” roles simultaneously, with passion and dedication, to end the marginalization of Global South scholars and Global South studies and help contribute to the development of a Global IR.