Social Distance in International Relations

In most studies of International Relations distance is reduced to geography. However, as it originates from social psychology ‘distance’ has an important socio-emotional dimension. In this project I combine new insights on social distance with earlier work on emotions in IR and study the extent to which social distance affects our perceptions of, and emotional and behavioural responses to, international events.

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action! On Febuary 4th, 2020, I learned I will receive an Individual Fellowship as part of the Horizon2020 Marie Curie Actions to further develop this project. Curious?

I assume the socio-emotional constitution of in-groups and out-groups brings with it inherent experiences of social proximity/distance and thus explore some of the micro-foundations that underlay marco-level international relations and state foreign policy practices. In its simplest form, I explore the two step argument that: a) how we perceive something depends on who we identify with; and b) that this in turn shapes our political priorities and (collective) engagements.

Besides my Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action, I earlier obtained a smaller grant from the Deutsche Stiftung Friedensforschung to conduct a pilot-study for this project together with Bernhard Zangl.

The UN Security Council debates – exploring automated topic modeling and discursive networks 

(with Micro Schönfeld, Steffen Eckhard and Ronny Patz)

I am part of a collaborative research effort exploring machine learning in political science. By means of supervised and unsupervised machine learning we are analysing vast amounts of data – UN security council speeches as text – in relation to UN resolutions and activities.

Download the full data-set on the ‘UN Security Council Debates’  from Harvard Dataverse. The paper introducing the data-set can be found on the arXiv.

Having taken the debates on the multi-lateral intervention in Afghanistan as a starting point, we study speech-patterns over time (2001-2017) and across different actors. We are looking at both the relative importance of topics (clustering) and the discursive networks (network analysis) that can be identified in the data. This way we can analyse how different countries spoke about the situation and ongoing intervention in Afghanistan but also where different groups of countries (EU- member states, ISAF-contributors) placed their foreign policy emphasis.

State use of Private Military and Security Contractors 

This project set out to explore and understand the relatively recent development towards the commercialisation of defence and the employment of Private Military and Security Contractors (PMSCs) by states. Different, however, from most earlier work on PMSCs I did so from a distinctly constructivist perspective: How do states ‘think about’ and perceive PMSCs and the option to contract out for military services? And does that matter for whether and to what extent states hire PMSCs to work for them in (post-)conflict zones and at home?

What interested me were not so much the pre-defined categories we as outsiders often use to understand or explain state behaviour – great military power, neoliberal, over-stretched armed forces – rather, I was interested in the differences as they are perceived within. I wanted to offer and understand ‘their’ answer to the question why, given their particular understanding of the world and their place in it, they decided to employ or not PMSCs.

Therefore, when I traveled to Canada, Denmark and Israel to study the extent to which these states employ contractors for military and support functions, part of my aim was to tease out how they perceived PMSCs and whether they thought outsourcing would be an appropriate solution to perceived problems.

To date three peer reviewed papers resulted from this project… but stay tuned for more!