My research to date has addressed three interconnected challenges: first, developing new ways to conceptualize the creative role of emotions across a variety of practices associated with global politics; second, developing a more specific understanding of how moral sentiments and other emotional commitments affected foreign policy and international law in the wake of 9/11; and, more recently, theorizing the impact of new media technologies on diplomacy, humanitarianism, and global citizenship.
Theorizing Emotion in International Politics
My first priority has been to understand the complex and poorly understood role of emotions in international politics. I draw from research in microsociology, neuroscience, and cultural theory to develop a new and interdisciplinary understanding of emotions as “circulations of affect”—contagious and creative social forces that start locally and propagate to larger scales. My book, Mixed Emotions: Beyond Fear and Hatred in International Conflict (Chicago, 2014), applies and refines this framework through studies of counterterrorism policies, nationalist mobilization, and transitional justice. The book revisits familiar cases—from conflicts in Rwanda and Bosnia to the terrorist attacks on New York and Madrid—in order to showcase the creative effects of human emotion on political discourse and action. Mixed Emotions is among the first book-length studies on the topic of emotion in IR theory.
While working on Mixed Emotions, I published two articles aimed at assessing the challenge emotions present for traditional approaches in international relations theory. The first, “Coming in from The Cold: Constructivism and Emotions,” (European Journal of International Relations, 2006) shows how and why constructivist theories in IR are not especially hospitable to the study of emotions. I argue that prevailing frameworks rely on assumptions regarding the ontological separation of mind and body and the centrality of intentional agency, both of which obscure the multidimensional quality of human emotion and its creative role in political processes. The second, “Classical Realism, Emotion, and Dynamic Allegiances,” (International Theory, 2013) appeals to Hans Morgenthau and Reinhold Niebuhr for an account of the intimate connection between emotion and change. By tracing the way these early realists used this conceptualization to make sense of communism and liberal internationalism, I distill useful insights into the affective dimensions of several forms of contemporary transnationalism.
I have also recently completed a co-authored piece with Todd H. Hall (Oxford) that develops a conceptual toolbox for the study of emotion in international relations. The piece draws from current research in psychology, sociology, and some neuroscience to show that emotions are both individual and collective--and that both create the conditions of possibility for distinct forms of strategic political behavior. Titled "Affective Politics after 9/11," the article uses a discussion of affective responses to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 to demonstrate how neither rationalist nor constructivist theories can adequately capture the affective dynamics involved. The piece was published in 2015 in International Organization.
The Affective Politics of Humanitarianism
Growing out of my work in Mixed Emotions, I have several essays on the intersection of emotional commitments and legal practices associated with humanitarianism. The first, entitled "Exceptionalism, Counterterrorism, and The Emotional Politics of Human Rights," draws from critical legal studies and recent work on legal exceptionalism to make sense of the way the Bush Doctrine and other U.S. counterterrorism policies acquired public legitimacy from implicit affective commitments concerning the terrorist enemy. The piece is published in a volume Emotions in International Politics: Beyond Mainstream International Relations, edited by Yohann Ariffin, Jean-Marc Coicaud, and Vesselin Popovski (Cambridge University Press, 2016).
The second is a short essay on the affective politics of genocide in the age of global humanitarianism. I argue, first, that humanitarian sentiments give rise to a multiplicity of emotions, depending on context. Whereas “genocide” carries a specific legal meaning referencing the intent to destroy members of a cultural group, culturally the phenomenon sustains a multiplicity of contextual meanings—reverberating through a plurality of emotional responses across different constituencies. For human rights advocates, for example, it may elicit feelings of pride and tonalities of urgency; for foreign policy hawks, it can simultaneously engender disgust toward a foreign dictator associated with mass atrocity. Second, I propose the related contention that humanitarian sentiments are not naturally tied to humanitarian politics; the slack between sentiments and emotions, and the fluidity of emotional experience, allows humanitarian symbols to flow from one political project or cultural context to another. The political impact of genocide as a cultural symbol is therefore not confined to humanitarianism. This essay is slated for publication in an edited volume on emotion and mass atrocity.
The third piece develops a theory of implicit moral aspirations or “humanitarian sentiments” and assesses the specific properties these brought to public debate over the war in Iraq in 2003. Contesting standard ideas that “good” emotions might have only positive political and legal outcomes, I show that the ambiguity of humanitarian sentiments allowed for a slippage in the class of international conflicts to which they were directed—from the “humanitarian” conflicts of the 1990s to the neoimperialist, democracy-imposing interventions of the post-9/11 era.
Global Media Politics
Several years ago, I wrote a short, critical paper on the phenomenon of “anti-American hatred” (“Why They Don’t Hate Us: Emotion, Agency, and the Politics of ‘Anti-Americanism’.” Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 2010). The piece got me thinking about the role of communications technologies in sustaining geographically and culturally dispersed communities of affect. Mixed Emotions treated mediated communications as among the social practices that sustain circulations of affect beyond face-to-face interactions, but it did not theorize their specific properties or the effects they are having on political agency and authority.
My next book project, entitled Global Sensitivity: Empathy, Moral Protest, and International Politics after Digital Media, confronts these themes more directly. Recognizing that global politics is no longer centered on face-to-face diplomacy or the contributions of specialized experts, the book will assess the impact of new media on diplomacy, humanitarian advocacy, and global citizenship. I argue that, by embedding these phenomena within everyday communications, digital media are subtly transforming the way we apprehend matters of global public concern. As technologies such as social media and streaming video are assimilating global normative challenges into everyday digital practices, ordinary people now receive global challenges alongside their most pressing commitments and intimate attachments.
The book will examine the effect of these sensory-perceptual transformations on diplomacy (as leaders conduct face-to-face negotiation against a fluid backdrop of scandals, leaks, and popular experiments in digital politics); humanitarian advocacy (as social movements deploy video games and other technologies that translate human suffering into entertainment); and global citizenship (as digital media multiply vectors of empathy in ways that challenge conventional notions of inclusion and consensus). While there has been a surge of interest in information technologies and cybersecurity in IR, my goal is to combine a survey of various practices with theory from media studies, cultural studies, and neuroscience in order to capture new media’s deepest effects.