From debates to processes: trajectories of intelligence oversight in the UK


On 17 October 2019, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) handed their report on Russian interference into the British democracy to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The ISC is a bipartisan committee mandated by the British Parliament to oversee the British intelligence services – replacing discussions with formal parliamentary procedures.

Following significant delays to its release, the report saw the light of day only nine months later. As a result, questions regarding the ISC’s ability to fulfil its brief have begun to be asked more loudly. This has only been exacerbated by the failed installation of Chris Grayling MP to committee Chairmanship  . With members of the ISC being nominated and not elected, and with recent events exposing the limits of the committee’s independence, how effective are current procedures of democratic oversight on holding intelligence services and their ministers to account? And is a nominated committee truly more efficient than open parliamentary discussions?

The 1984 controversy surrounding union membership for Government Communication Head Quarters (GCHQ) employees generated the first substantial debates on intelligence services and democratic oversight in Parliament. To illustrate this point, that year  there were over three hundred mentions of GCHQ in Parliament; in all its previous history there had been just fourteen. The rest of the decade continued this trend with increased attention for the intelligence services by parliamentarians. Here, debates frequently turned  to questions of the politicisation of security as well as principles of parliamentary and collective democracy.

Of those debates, the 1985 Interception of Communications Bill is notable for opposing parliamentary sovereignty and royal prerogative – that is, those powers held under sovereign authority but exercised by the executive. The legislation, as asserted in the chamber by former Labour MP Tony Benn, expanded the executive’s ability to deploy surveillance such that it undermined ‘parliamentary democracy.’ He argued that those executive justifications for wiretapping on the grounds of ‘national security’ stripped parliament of its central purpose of discussing and deciding national interests, especially its capacity to determine British security interests.  Benn’s assertion, that ‘security in Britain is controlled by the Prime Minister,’ seems to therefore echo the thought of later academic work regarding the instrumentalization of security  which, despite recent controversies over increasing surveillance through use of prerogative powers in line with Coronavirus measures, receives little mention in contemporary Parliaments.

Two years later, the 1987 House of Commons (services) debate, regarding the Speaker of the House’s decision to suspend Ronan Bennett’s parliamentary pass also centralises themes of security versus parliamentary democracy. Employed as a researcher for then backbencher Jeremy Corbyn, Bennett had been previously linked to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and had been convicted for the murder of a police officer – though this was overturned a year later. The decision to rescind his access was justified by advice received from the security services that Bennett was a ‘security risk,’ an accusation that quickly found its way into the media.                                                                 

The foremost issue that MPs took with this incident, other than asserting that it subverted their right to hire as they please, was that the Speaker had not questioned the reasoning for this advice and that the recommendation was not a matter of public record. As such, neither the accused, his employer, the House services committee, nor the issuer of the ban knew the justification for the advice to exclude Bennett. This led backbench MPs to articulate a broader critique of undefined ‘security risks’ as instruments used to claim authority and to construct boundaries to debate, all whilst avoiding transparency. Tony Benn in this debate raised such limits on open debate in order to critique what he saw as executive overreach, saying that ‘Members of Parliament are in danger of being licensed only to discuss what Ministers want them to discuss.’ Whilst Benn’s words again stand out for what Conservative MP John Biffen called his ‘characteristic zeal,’ upon looking at the debate in full its apparent that references to themes of democratic oversight and its tensions with security were habitual touchstones for this cohort of parliamentarians.

These two accounts highlight that amongst initial debates on the intelligence services, the problematisation of security and liberty, as well as contestations over principles of parliamentary sovereignty, were apparent. This stands in contrast to the belief that these themes are unique to our current moment or else only emerged following 9/11, the so-called “migrant crisis”, or the Snowden revelations. Indeed, these subjects which were evident in the 1980s persisted in parliament into the early 1990s, accumulating momentum such that the government was pressured to establish the ISC. With the creation of the committee, however, direct debates on the intelligence services have become limited to the yearly presentation of the ISC’s report or else to issues with a high public profile. Accompanying this drop in frequency has been a shift away from discussing the politicisation of security and principles of democracy. In their place, there has been a movement towards reflexively supporting intelligence activities and an increasing emphasis on vesting authority in procedures and professionalised bodies.

Whilst this shift has been gradual since 1994 a key case which illustrates a change is the 2013 debate regarding the operations of GCHQ. Held in the wake of revelations by whistle-blower Edward Snowden that the US National Security Agency (NSA) was operating illegalmass surveillance, the debate saw then Foreign Secretary William Hague address questions regarding active GCHQ-NSA cooperation and whether comparative GCHQ initiatives existed.Hague opened the debate by outlining what he saw as the three main issues raised by the controversy, these therefore can inform our reflections on how government positioning has adapted to the existence of the ISC.                       

Firstly, in describing ‘the action that the Government are taking in response to recent events’ the Foreign Secretary solely refers to the ISC. Saying that, they have ‘already received some information from GCHQ and will receive a full report tomorrow,’ and additionally that they ‘will be free to decide what, if any further action’ to take. His response here, barely longer than the included extracts is telling for two reasons. Centrally, Hague seems to equate action by the government with action by the committee or else he seeks to derive legitimacy from the committees presumed authority as a parliamentary body exerting oversight. Secondly, by sidestepping a commitment to substantive action by deferring to potential ISC scrutiny the foreign minister is pushing the discussion far into the future. Any ‘further action’ the committee could take would necessitate a long report process with the possibility of executive delay in publication.                                                     

The second issue raised by Hague, regards how intelligence services work ‘in accordance with UK law’ and democracy. His justification here being that agencies operate under 1994 and 2000 legislation and are therefore legitimate in their actions. Regardless of the flawed assumption that law is necessarily good, which tellingly was not challenged by other debate participants, his point is undermined by his own government’s 2013 Justice and Security Act, which imposed greater restrictions, later that year.                                                                                                     

Lastly, the Secretary’s third issue relates to how the law is upheld in international intelligence cooperation, which he acknowledges is regular between the NSA and GCHQ. He quickly outlines again that legislation alongside oversight by ministers and the ISC ensures adherence to the law, however in contrast to speakers in the 1980s, who might have interrogated the underlying rationalities for these agencies, Hague instead advocates for them through the prism of threat. In doing so he invokes physical and economic security, without a single mention of the preservation of life or democracy. As such, he displays an instrumentalisation of the authority the ISC is supposedly vested with as a scrutinising body, alongside an unreflexive prioritisation of the actions of the intelligence services.

Besides Hague’s statements what is also telling about this debate is what is excluded from the responses and questions to him. Of the forty-one MPs who spoke not one mentioned the word “democracy” nor “rights,” and of the three mentions of “liberty” two came as part of an exchange citing the paradox of Snowden’s invocation of the ideal from within the People’s Republic of China.

The final mention of ‘liberties’ came from former Conservative MP Rory Stewart wherein he urged Hague to focus not on the ‘legal problem’ of secret operations but instead on their repercussions for ‘balancing security and liberty.’ In what constitutes the only Benn-like elevation of the debate, Stewart went on to emphasise that the continuation of these operations relies on an informed public, who ‘through understanding, consent.’ Hague’s response to this assertionwas to offer agreement that the public should be engaged, though he hedged this commitment with a call-back to the greater importance of secrecy as a  guarantor of our security and the cooperation of our intelligence partners.

What is shown through these three debates is that there is no linear development of accountability for the intelligence services. Whilst the ISC provides a mechanism through which a select number of parliamentarians can access information the state has made secret; it has guaranteed neither substantive change in the powers afforded to Parliament nor multifaceted and nuanced debate. Moreover, the committee’s procedures provide ample excuses for governments to deflect or delay, as we have observed with the Russia report, and its annual sessions in parliament often do not receive great consideration. Whilst the executive retains the power of appointment and the ISC’s ability to launch formal investigations is limited, its capacity to achieve significant accountability is narrow.

This article was written as part of the King’s Undergraduate Research fellowship held in the context of the GUARDINT project, which is supported by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Joseph Jarnecki is a MA International Conflict Studies student at King’s College London and the Coordinating Editor for Strife blog. His research interests include the politics of knowledge production, the proceduralisation of democratic accountability, as well as violence and (in)security. He completed his BA in International Relations at King’s. You can follow him @Jarnecki.

From Reimagining Communities to Communities Reimagining

By Laura Zuber

It is the 13th of April 2021 and the the call for writing a blog article on ‘Reimagining Communities’ for this year’s Security Studies conference reaches me in a vulnerable moment in my research process: six months into the PhD, I made the decision to change topic. Roughly, my original plan consisted of comparing the UK’s crisis management during Covid-19 and the Second World War. Naturally, the question I would receive from many a person coming across my research would be: “Why these two?” Concretely, “What is your understanding of crisis that made you come up with comparing these two completely different phenomena?” The truth is, although I was mostly able to provide a satisfactory answer to those asking, I had to quietly confess that I was not able to provide a satisfactory answer to myself, to the point that the molehill became a mountain that blocked from my sight the further path of the project. 

A thought-provoking question. What do I mean by ‘crisis’? What does ‘crisis’ mean in general? This question came accompanied by a latent sense of shame, given that the word was prominently featured in my project title. Adding to this feeling, I did what most of us on the privileged side of the digital divide do in moments of fundamental ontological questionings of the world around us: I googled. Eventually, after hours of research, browsing through academic and various other sources, I still did not exactly know what, when and how a ‘crisis’ is, but I knew one thing: that it is tricky to figure out for others, too. 

Thereby, we encounter this notion in every other news article, attached to words such as health, climate, migration, food, housing, or the economy. Does the meaning of ‘crisis’ impose itself so naturally? “That, now that one is a sound crisis! No no, that one, not the other, the other one is just a huge problem.” Or is its inflationary use rather a matter of quantity than quality? “Hah, we simply have too many of them, there you go, Ma’am, catch!”

Even though the latter might be sadly true, I would like to reflect on the first aspect, specifically on the political implications of using this notion unquestioningly. My aim is not to advocate for a narrow definition of the word – on the contrary. Rather, I would like to invite the reader to a broader reflection on the dangers and potentials of handling a remarkably adaptable and ontologically hollow notion such as ‘crisis’; an excercise that might prove useful for the next time we stumble across this little word in the newspaper. 

To do this, I need to offer an outline of a much lesser known crisis phenomenon: Coming from feminist theory, my current research explores what is known, whithin feminist scholarship, as the crisis of reproduction. (Yes, that suspicious word again!) That is the increasing difficulty to engage in physical, mental, and emotional life-making and -sustaining activities within the microcosm of the everydays; from cooking, eating, sleeping, accessing potable water, to teaching, and giving and receiving care and love – activities that sustain ourselves and the extended community and kinship ties around us. According to Marxist and socialist feminists, the ultimate goal of these reproductive activities is to renew, day-to-day and generationally, the labour power we need to sell on the market to gain access to the finacial means to – again – reproduce ourselves and the capitalist modality. Life-making for profit-making. If this is part of the deal, why is the reproductive sphere in crisis, then? Ought it not be the most secure of all? 

Seen through a critical lens, capitalism, especially in its neoliberalised form, reveals itself as a cosmology, a value-system that acts with a parasitic, that is an expansive and extractive relationality on those within its reach, with the goal of infinite accumulation of profit. This extractive relationality furthermore has an explicitely colonial and heteronormative patriarchal quality, which shines light on why the global reproductive sphere is disproportionally made up by precarious Women and people of Colour – as opposed to the primary beneficiaries of this system. In order to sustain itself, capitalism then needs to extract more and more – theoretically infinitely more – from human (and other-than-human) regenerative life-forces that are by nature finite. Capitalism’s progressive eating itself through finite life-forces – unevenly across lines of inequality – is increasingly palpable even in Western heteronormative societies. And suddenly, the crisis of reproduction is everywhere and nowehere. 

The crisis of reproduction is everywhere, because it hides at the core of many of the crises we read and hear about in many a news article, talk and conference: the crises of climate, migration, debt, food or housing, not to speak of the manifold struggles brought about by the pandemic. The crisis of reproduction is seen nowhere, because the reproductive sphere and its racialised, gendered and precarious demography is produced as invisible. Because acknowledging the global reproductive crisis would mean declaring a (‘a’ – not ‘in’) crisis the current political-economic order, including the very colonial and heteronormative patriarchal relationships it is built upon and that permeate and uphold the insititutional grid of society. It would mean declaring a crisis competitive, hierarchical and cumulative systems of power and the way we organise life in them. It would mean for society to enter into a state of ontological insecurity.  

Turns out, the question what is deemed to be a crisis is not a trivial one. The way this word is filled with meaning has a strategic function for the ontological security of societal and global structures protecting capitalist – including colonial and patriarchal – modalities. It is also of utmost importance for the livelihood of everyone living in and with them day-by-day. The question what a crisis is and the dominant value-system in which this question is subsequently interpreted have concrete political implications as to which life-threatening situations will be problematised or normalised, and thus whose lives will be protected or sacrificed. Moreover, the question of who is ontologically constructed as being, and the subsequent affirmation of who is valued in the dominant value-system, will have concrete political implications as to when a situation is declared or taken seriously as a crisis; depending on whose lives are in danger.

“But during the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a revaluation of (white and Western) women’s reproductive activities, how does that fit in?”, some might wonder. While we cannot know with certainty what this revaluation might bring, feminist scholar Smriti Rao offers a rather disheartening outlook:

The terrible pandemic sweeping the globe caused capitalist accumulation to be temporarily suspended in order to address the threat to the production and maintenance of life posed by the virus. One could sense the impatience generated by this unprecedented move in an economic system that is designed to reverse that order of priorities. The suspension did not last long, precisely because of how poorly it fits our current political economy. From a feminist political economy perspective, this is a further reminder of the fundamental contradiction between a capitalist system that prioritizes profits, and a feminist ethic that prioritizes life-making or social reproduction. (Rao, 2021, p.18)

With this background, what should we reimagine communities for, given that they are the primary site of reproduction, whose struggle seems to be a lost case? To try to reproduce our labour-power better, until the ‘dragon’, as Audre Lorde named it, eventually devours itself and us? 

If the community in capitalist societies is, as Silvia Federici explains, essentially an assembly line that (re)produces workers and labour-power, then reimagining communities would mean: reimagining communities that produce something beyond that. The world we live in is materialised cosmology – it is nothing but materialised cosmology. Before we feed any Lorde’ian dragon with our labour power, we must feed that dragon with our collective belief  in it. Collective belief is the true source of ontological security. 

The micro-level of community, then, is the primordial site where the conditions of possibility for the world we live in – in all its ontological, structural and cultural facets – is produced. This is what ‘reproductive activities’ ultimately are about: they are world-making activities that set the stage for any cosmology to materially unfold.  Understanding the community as a site of world-creation shines light on why capital accumulation happens through a regime “in which all life forms are severed from the interdependence that nurtures life-making” (Hennessy, 2020, p. 5): severed, dismembered and alienated (or simply absent) communities cannot realise their full life-making, meaning world-making potential beyond the mere reproduction of labour power. The ontological threat is minimised. The community is stripped from its creative power that is free to be transfered to privileged political, economic and financial elites sitting on top of often violent hierarchies. These then appear as the only legitimate agents to endow such crucial notions as ‘crisis’ with meaning. Can we reimagine communities that are able to realise their full hidden potential? 

An investigation into the etymology of the word ‘solidarity’ reveals that the french word solidarité designates a community of mutual responsibility, and itself stems from the words solidaire, meaning ‘interdependent’ and solide, meaning ‘solid’. Can solidarity be the key to restore solid and interdependent community ties? If yes, solidarity and interdependence need to be based on a sense of mutual responsibility – not on coercive or exploitative relationships. As decolonial philosopher Enrique Dussel tells us, respect and responsibility for the Other is a precondition for reimagining and remaking: “it is an almost metaphysical activity. […] It is the metaphysical anteriority of the new or future order. It is anteriority to ontological openness to the world; it makes it possible; it is its real a priori” (1985, p. 60, italics in original). Solidarity, interdependence and mutual responsibility are reflections of each other. Reimagining communities as sites of rooted and actualised solidarity is the precondition for them to engage in the task that is theirs only: to reimagine a world – or worlds – we want to live in. Perhaps it is due to the crisis of reproduction that images of these worlds-that-could-be are haunting so many of us. I see the call for reimagining communities as the call for cultivating solid ‘haunting grounds’ for them. 

And here I am asking you, the reader of these lines: How do you feel? If everything and nothing can be a crisis, then what do you think is one? When did you have your last chat on ‘God and the world’, your pain, hopes and anger within a safe and nurturing community setting? Where do you wish for more of these settings, maybe in institutional and work contexts where ‘they do not belong’? Why don’t they belong? What could be done to challenge that? You don’t have time and energy for that? Why, where do they go? What is making you sick? What could be done to challenge that?

Reimagining communities is a security issue. In a crisis-ridden and self-devouring world, the community offers security of the most meaningful kind. Especially Indigenous, Black and postcolonial knowledges speak of this reality. 

For my part, I wish that one day, when we are haunted by fundamental ontological questionings of the world around us, instead of turning to google, we can turn to healthy, thriving, nurturing and sustainable communities for the knowledge and strenght to provide ourselves with aswers. And in case I should be  deemed mad for harbouring such heretic thoughts, I leave here the words of Black domestic servant Hanna Nelson: “I have grown to womanhood in a world where the saner you are, the madder you are made to appear.”

Laura Zuber (she/her) is a doctoral researcher at the War Studies Department of King’s College London. Her thesis explores the interrelation between the neoliberal crisis philosophy and the global crisis of reproduction. She furthermore researches into alternative philosophies and approaches to the governance of the reproductive sphere and its crises coming from social justice collectives. 

This blog entry excerpts ideas and phrases from an unpublished doctoral thesis; please do reach out to the author via if you wish to reproduce or cite.


Beier, F. (2018). Marxist Perspectives on the Global Enclosures of Social Reproduction. TripleC16(2), 546–561.

Bhattacharya, T. (2017). What is Social Reproduction Theory? Retrieved May 03, 2021 from

Bhattacharya, T., & Vogel, L. (eds.) (2017). Social Reproduction Theory: Remapping Class, Recentering Oppression. London: Pluto Press.

Dussel, E. D. (1985). Philosophy of Liberation. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books.

Federici, S., & Jones, C. (2020). Silvia Federici and Campbell Jones: Counterplanning in the Crisis of Social Reproduction. South Atlantic Quarterly199(1), 153–165.

Fraser, N. (2014). Behind Marx’s Hidden Abode: For an Expanded Conception of Capitalism. New Left Review, (86), 55–72.

Fraser, N. (2016). Contradictions of Capital and Care. New Left Review, (100), 99–117.

Grosfoguel, R. (2014). Epistemic Racism/Sexism, Westernized Universities and the Four Genocides/Epistemicides of the Long 16th Century. Tabula Rasa19, 31–58.

Gunn Allen, P. (1986). Who is Your Mother? Red Roots of White Feminism. Retrieved February 17, 2021 from

Harman, S. (2021). Threat not Solution: Gender, Global Health Security and Covid-19. International Affairs00(0), 1–23.

Hennessy, R. (2020). Toward an Ecology of Life-making: The Re-membering of Meridel Le Sueur. CLCWeb: Comparative Literature And Culture22(2).

hooks, b. (1984). Feminist Theory from Margin to Center. Boston, MA: South End Press.

Lorde, A. (2007). Sister outsider: Essays and Speeches. Berkeley, Calif.: Crossing Press.

Lugones, M. (2010). Toward a Decolonial Feminism. Hypatia25(4), 742–759.

Maldonado-Torres, N. (2007). On the Coloniality of Being: Contributions to the Development of a Concept. Cultural Studies21(2–3), 240–270.

Moore, J. W. (2015). Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital. London: Verso.

Online Etymology Dictionary. Solidarity. Retrieved May 03, 2021 from

Rao, S. (2021). Beyond the Coronavirus: Understanding Crises of Social Reproduction. Global Labour Journal12(1).

Sauer, B., & Wöhl, S. (2011). Feminist Perspectives on the Internationalization of the State. Antipode43(1), 108–128.

For the quote by Hanna Nelson see Nakano Glenn, E. (1992). From Servitude to Service Work. Historical Continuities in the Racial Division of Paid Reproductive Labor. Signs18(1), 1–43.

Intelligence and Oversight in British Parliamentary Records

by Jan Camenzind Broomby

For the purposes of my King’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship I assisted both Professor Claudia Aradau (KCL War Studies) and Professor Tobias Blanke (KCL Digital Humanities) in their research on intelligence and oversight in the UK parliamentary archives, with a focus on how questions of accountability and scrutiny have been raised in regard to the British intelligence activities. I was primarily tasked with cleaning the data that had been compiled thus far and conducting archival research to ensure that said data was relevant and correct. This involved harmonising the names of entities (the data that had been collected previously) under new names, discarding irrelevant entities, adding latitudes/longitudes for entities that referred to locations, and Wikipedia articles for entities that referred to events. This blog will discuss the methodology I adopted during my work and for the sake of clarity I have split this into several segments, each of which outlines a challenge that I encountered, and a solution I developed thereto. 

How to begin?

I began by working on cleaning the data in the smallest Excel file that had been sent to me. This ensured that any mistakes I might make would be contained to a smaller, more manageable Excel file and would thus be easier to rectify. It also ensured that the task appeared less daunting and enabled me to get to grips with what I was doing without being overwhelmed. From the sheer size of the data that I was dealing with, I knew that I would have to automate a portion of the work in order to ensure that I was able to work as efficiently as possible. I therefore began looking into the different Excel commands that might be of benefit to me and discovered that the IFS command could be used to automatically fill cells with the harmonised names that I had chosen. Using this command, I set about populating the ‘Harmonised’ column with the harmonised names for each entity. Having done this I wrote another IFS command that filled another column with relevant Wikipedia articles depending on the harmonised name that the article was to refer to. Given the small size of this document I was able to write an IFS command that included all unique entities. This sped the progress of work up considerably.

World War or Wars?

One issue I stumbled across early on was the decision of how to harmonise certain entities. This problem was particularly prevalent when I came across several entities that referred generally to ‘World Wars’. Unsure of what to do, I emailed my supervisors and was advised that I could either harmonise this entity under a ‘World Wars’ name or create two separate rows for both World War I & II. Having realised that there was no Wikipedia article for ‘World Wars’, and that whenever a speech referenced ‘World Wars’, they also referred to World War I & II separately, I decided I would create new entries for both World War I & II whenever I came across the entity ‘World Wars’. I adopted the same solution for any other such issues I encountered, searching first to see whether a relevant Wikipedia article could be found, and secondly determining whether the entity could be split into smaller sub-events.

Automating Efficiently?

Having finished the file that focused on events, I moved onto the file that dealt with locations. I noted that this file was far larger and would therefore require more automation to finish. I gave a cursory glance to the whole dataset and noted down which entities seemed to be cropping up the most. I took this list and, using the IFS command, automated the harmonisation of these entities. While this was a step in the right direction, I nevertheless noticed that there were several entities that came up frequently that I had failed to make note of when I first looked through the document, these therefore had to be harmonised manually which took longer than it otherwise might have done. 

Constituency or location?

The next issue I ran into was that a large portion of the locations that were included as entities were actually references to members of Parliament (who are often referred to by their constituency, rather than their names). These were unwanted as they generally did not refer to relevant locations, however the difficulty was that I could not be sure whether or not to discard the entity without checking each one within the Hansard archive.

I noticed also that the algorithm, when making reference to an MP, would often include their City, followed by one of the four cardinal compass directions (North, East, South, or West). The honourable member for Sunderland, South was, for example, often represented on the Excel sheet with one ‘Sunderland’ entity, and one ‘South’ entity following it. Given that there was a low chance that the South of Sunderland would be relevant to a GCHQ debate, and given that people colloquially tend to refer to areas with the compass direction first (one might say ‘the South of Sunderland’), rather than afterwards (one would not say ‘Sunderland, South’), I could thus remove pairs of entities that I knew followed this pattern of town, cardinal direction. 

To read or not to read? 

I then set about manually cleaning the remaining data but happened upon a further problem. When I went to check the Hansard archives to determine what was being referred to in the entities, I was often confronted with hundreds of different mentions of the entity. The entity might for example be listed as ‘West’ but upon searching within the Hansard archive I would find that ‘West’ had been referred to in the context of West Berlin, West Germany, The West, West Wales etc. and I could never be sure which of these ‘West’s was the one that should be recorded. The issue was that I had been checking the whole Hansard archive of each date, which meant that far more irrelevant results showed up.

I emailed my supervisors and they explained that the programme that had been used to extract entities from the Hansard archive material had only looked for locations, events and organisations in speeches that mentioned GCHQ, as well as 2/3 speeches before and after. This meant that I did not have to look through the entire Hansard archive. My supervisors also sent me a new filed named ‘gchq_speeches’. This massively sped up the process of manually checking entities as it allowed me to search within the gchq_speeches file, rather than searching on the Hansard archives website.

Final Automation:

I finally moved on to the second location file. This was much larger than the two files I had been working on so far. It thus required more automation to ensure that I could get the work done on time. I knew that it made sense to automate the harmonisation of entities that appeared most frequently, but I had yet to figure out how I could determine which entities appeared the most. While I could have used Excel’s COUNTIF function, this would have involved me manually inputting each unique entity to see how many times it appeared and would thus not have saved me as much time. 

I decided instead to use an online word occurrence tool. I quickly realised, however, that this tool counted each word separately. This caused an issue as many of the entities in my Excel file contained multiple words within one cell. I therefore found a different tool that would allow me to remove the spaces between the words in each cell. I could then take the output from the space removal tool and input that to the word frequency tool, which generated a list of the entities that most frequently came up in the file. 

This list of the most frequent words allowed me to automate the harmonisation of entities using the IFS command in Excel more efficiently than I had been doing before. I still, however, was limited by the fact that Excel only allows 125 tests within one excel command in a cell. This meant that I was only able to automate the first 125 unique entities. However, this was by far the most efficient way of cleaning the data, and it enabled me to sort through over 5,000 data points considerably faster than I otherwise would have done.


As is evident from this piece it took me several iterations and adaptions to reach a point where I was satisfied with my workflow. However, having finished my undergraduate fellowship, I am aware that there are still numerous areas that could still be improved upon. I suppose that there are several things I have learned from this experience. It has borne testament to the value of trial and error, persistence, and to the fact that, as my supervisor Professor Blanke pointed out to me, ‘most knowledge is serendipitous in its origins to a degree’. Challenges should thus not be seen as an immovable obstacle, but as an opportunity to learn, and adapting and overcoming these challenges is an important part of learning and of the research process. 

This article was written as part of the King’s Undergraduate Research fellowship held in the context of the GUARDINT project, which is supported by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Writing the Self, Writing as Care

by Lucy Thomas

Like many others, I am sitting at a table that, a few months ago, was our kitchen table, but that I now understand as my desk. Clearing away others’ books, cups of water, bike locks and assorted personal effects, I settle into the chronically uncomfortable white plastic Ikea chair, trying to concentrate while housemates enjoy a long Bank Holiday weekend. I write from lockdown during the COVID-19 crisis, a time that has warped and exploded our understandings of ethics, community, solidarity, and care.

In the face of so much death, struggle, and grief, there are many things to write on. Writing about writing might not be the first thing that comes to mind; nor might the connection between writing and care. But I want to use this space to think through how writing differently and writing otherwise can be an act of care within wider contexts of violence.

Much academic writing is eerily impersonal: individuality is exorcised in pursuit of the fiction of objectivity. Scholarship in the academy is so often divorced from the researchers’ personal circumstances; presented as a smoothed-out, clean academic production with a highly sanitised sense of the ways in which one’s thinking, knowing and being develops over years of intensive study. Stripping academic scholarship of a sense of self can be seen as an act of purification, mimicking the natural sciences’ predilection for a controlled and decontaminated workplace, unpolluted by external disorder.

We can understand this impulse for purification in academic writing as deeply implicated in coloniality. By coloniality, I refer to a matrix of power, one intimately connected to the political realities of formal and direct systems of colonialism, but exceeding them. Coloniality operates as a cosmology; a dynamic that structures our understandings of the what, the why, and the how of the universe. It is an analytic of power that exists in the present—we do not talk of a ‘legacy’ of coloniality, but rather, of coloniality of power in the present. Coloniality has many expressions: a field of knowledge, economic expansion and exploitation, cultural subjugation and elimination, the imposition of raciality, and so on.

One such expression of coloniality is a commitment to scientific ways of knowing. The European Renaissance, blossoming in fourteenth-century Italy within a context of crisis for the Roman Catholic Church, saw intelligentsia and philosophers of the day emphasise reason and humanism. The so-called Age of Reason, a time of ‘Enlightenment’ and unshackling from the supposedly old, pre-modern, barbaric, and backward ways, and of triumph for science, empiricism, and rationalism, characterised Europe from the seventeenth century onward. At the same time, Western European conquistadores set sail for the ostensible ‘New World,’ conquering, colonising, terrorising, and murdering swathes of Indigenous and Native peoples. Anthropology was established as the tool for extracting and making articulable knowledges and lands of these ‘new’ people for reporting back to the metropole. Between ten and twelve million African people were brutally captured, bought, sold, and disposed of as commodities in the Transatlantic slave trade.

The intellectual transformation in Europe and its colonialism of Africa, America, and Asia, are fused together. Far from simply occurring at the same time, one configured the other. The belief that one can ostensibly stand outside of politics, dispassionately and unethically observing, measuring, studying, is predicated upon acts of epistemological, physical, and ecological extractivism. In other words, scientific ways of knowing flow from European coloniser, self-defined as the standard-bearer of humanity, as they encounter the Other; a knowable object, existing independently of the knowing subject. This knowable object—be it people or land—can be mined for knowledge, labour, and resources, then disposed of: an encounter based on what can be extracted. This expression of coloniality continues, fairly undisturbed, for over five hundred years, into today’s established standards of academic writing. We are compelled to write as if we can step outside of our own skins, and into the subjectivity of a ‘researcher,’ encountering and extracting data from the world around us objectively and impersonally.

What if we began by acknowledging the falsity of our encounter with the Other and the world? By recovering ourselves in the act and the process of writing? By experimenting with academic writing as acutely personal? As an act of resistance, of liberation, of solidarity, of care?

Narrative works are presentations of the imbrication between the writer and how they move through the world: collisions between and blends of intellectual challenges and experiences of selfhood. They emphasise the unstructured, imaginative and fantastical ways that we encounter and experience the world; inviting us to know ourselves and the universe in a distinctly anti-scientific and a distinctly authentic way. Embracing these ways of being, knowing, and writing the world can teach us so much more about the human—and political—experience than sterilised scientificity. These alternative ways of knowing and writing acknowledge the simple fact that we exist in symbiosis with the political, colonial, modern, violent world: one in which we cannot stand outside of and observe dispassionately, unethically or neutrally.

Ways of writing that move away from the scientific, then, are anti-colonial. They resist the colonial violence of objectivity and extractivism; instead foregrounding our embeddedness in the world around us. In recovering the self, one who cannot escape coloniality, through writing respects and acknowledges the deeply relational nature of reality: we exist in, and in relation to, this world, not outside of it. It privileges the authentic, unsanitised experience of being subjects of and in colonialism, modernity, politics, and violence.

Many Black, Black feminist/female, and Indigenous scholars and scholars of colour have written on the ways in which this colonial world privileges whiteness, and, in doing so, destroys Blackness. As Ruha Benjamin puts it, “Vampirically, white vitality feeds on black demise … [for example] the extraction of (re)productive slave labor to build the nation’s wealth […] in these ways and many more, white life and black death are inextricable.” For those peoples dehumanised and placed in constant proximity to death in the context of this colonial world, recovering the self is an act of care.

Writing in Feminist Review, Azeezat Johnson begins her response to the COVID-19 pandemic in October 2017, upon learning that her cancer had returned. Fear of illness, cancer and COVID-19, meant “finding a way to love my body and life whilst still fearing (and in some ways, mourning) a death that always feels right around the next corner.” Johnson writes that “our bodies are objectified by the state as a problem worth a quantifiable amount of care.” Such care privileges whiteness: one need only think of enslaved Africans “thrown, jumped, dumped overboard in Middle Passage,” condemned to the depths of the Atlantic (Sharpe 2016, 19), or that per capita COVID-19 deaths among Black Caribbean Britons are three times that of white people, to grasp what is at stake when we speak of an ethics and a politics of care.

In entreating us to craft “an ethics of care that centres those who are continuously forgotten once disaster strikes,” Johnson reflects on the process of personal writing as care. “Staying silent, staying immobile” on her struggle means “erasing the experiences of those that are further marginalised [which] does nothing but divide us from one another.” The crucial connection is the one between the personal and the planetary: caring for/writing the self in the context of fighting for justice and for liberation for oppressed peoples. Audre Lorde, the Black feminist poet, wrote that “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” In our colonial world, where the marginalised “were never meant to survive,” caring for oneself and one another where the state refuses to, or where state care is violent, is an act of resistance.

Writing otherwise, then, is liberatory; it stands in resistance and in solidarity; it cares. Christina Sharpe, in her stunning opening chapter of In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, introduces her project with a gut-wrenching account of some of her family members’ deaths. Reflecting on the deaths at the hands of police, at the hands of another young man, at the hands of cancer, Sharpe “includes the personal here ‘to tell a story capable of engaging and countering the violence of abstraction.’” In confronting the deeply personal nature of colonial violence and slavery, and its afterlives, Sharpe calls on us to think of care “as a problem for thinking of and for Black non/being in the world,” and in doing so, think of care “laterally … in a different relation than that of the violence of the state.”

In recovering the self through writing, Sharpe and Johnson perform an act of care; they “tend to the living and the dying.” For those forced on the edge of being in this colonial world, writing for and of oneself and writing for and of one another’s lives, struggles, and deaths, is a form of liberation and resistance; an “act of political warfare.”


Lucy Thomas is a PhD candidate in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London as part of the ESRC-funded LISS Doctoral Training Partnership. She holds an MA in International Conflict Studies from King’s College London, and an MSc in International Relations from the London School of Economics, both with Distinction. She is currently a Research Associate with the Policy Institute at King’s.

This blog post excerpts ideas and phrases from an unpublished doctoral thesis; please do not reproduce or cite without the author’s permission.



Ahmed, Sara (2014) ‘Selfcare as Warfare,’ Feminist Killjoys blog. Accessed:

Benjamin, R. (2018) ‘Black AfterLives Matter: Cultivating Kinfulness as Reproductive Justice,’ Boston Review blog. Accessed:

Kušić, K. & Záhora, J. eds. (2020) Fieldwork as Failure: Living and Knowing in the Field of International Relations, E-IR Publishing. Accessed:

Johnson, A. (2020) ‘Covid-19 and Cancer: Following Audre Lorde,’ Feminist Review blog. Accessed:

Platt, L. & Warwick, R. (2020) ‘Are some ethnic groups more vulnerable to COVID-19 than others?,’ briefing note, Institute for Fiscal Studies. Accessed:

Rutazibwa, O. (2020) ‘Hidden in Plain Sight: Coloniality, Capitalism and Race/ism as Far as the Eye Can See,’ Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 48(2), pp. 221-24

Sharpe, C. (2016) In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Duke University Press)

Smith, L.T. (2012) Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, 2nd ed (Zed Books)

Tilley, L. (2017) ‘Resisting Piratic Method by Doing Research Otherwise,’ Sociology, 51(1), pp. 27-42

Walsh, C. E. & Mignolo, W. (2018) On Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics, Praxis (Duke University Press)


Solidarity in Military Courts: Crimean Tatars in Global History, Politics and Practices

By Alvina Hoffmann

What kinds of transnational or global strategies can local activists mobilise for themselves to generate international attention and solidarity? This is a central question for many Crimean activists as they face criminalisation and incarceration of Crimean Tatar men in Crimea since its annexation by Russia on 18 March 2014. Based on the ongoing military court trials of Crimean Tatar men and how as a response women have emerged as central activist voices, I propose to explore three different but closely linked global struggles in which Crimean Tatars are implicated: the global history of indigenous peoples’ rights which was already mobilised by Crimean Tatar political leaders long before the annexation of Crimea; the global politics of extremism legislation as part of counter-terrorism efforts which has been employed arbitrarily and overly harshly to criminalise and defame activists; and a reading of the on-going trials of Crimean Tatars as part of global practices of incarceration.

© Alina Smutko

Mass Arrests Transforming the Social Fabric of Crimean Tatar Communities

Since Russia annexed Crimea over six years ago, the social fabric of the local Crimean Tatar communities has been profoundly changed. To this date, over 60 Crimean Tatar men have been arrested in 10 groups in various cities around Crimea, the latest of which was in March 2020 (see here for a graphic and list with pictures of arrested men, including additional individual cases). All these men have either already received or are anticipating very long and harsh prison sentences – 10, 15, or 20 years in a penal colony in mainland Russia – on the basis of terrorism charges, created through an overly harsh and arbitrary application of Russian extremism legislation. The men are said to belong to the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir which is deemed a terrorist organisation in Russia but legal in Ukraine of which Crimea was an autonomous region before its annexation. With so many
imprisoned men, fathers, husbands, and brothers, Crimean Tatar mothers are turned into single mothers and left to raise their numerous children by themselves. However, activist Mumine Saliyeva – whose husband is also facing terrorism charges – created a project entitled ‘Crimean Childhood’, supporting mothers like herself and now nearly 200 children growing up without their fathers (see here for an interview with her). What stood out when interviewing local activists is the great number of primarily female activists who have been taking centre stage in Crimea’s activist and dissident circles.

The trials take place in a military court in Rostov-on-Don, like all terrorism-related charges in Russia. Rostov-on-Don is around 700 km away from Crimea in the Russian oblast of Rostov, which the activists and affected wives who graciously found time to talk to me all highlighted as an impediment for on-site support and mobilisation. Nonetheless, this is an obstacle which won’t stop them from travelling there by bus, embarking on long journeys to show solidarity and be present for their community. Trials in Rostov are open to public audiences but closed in Crimea where they are treated as state secrets, showing how
different, often arbitrary rules apply in Crimea compared to mainland Russia. However, as one of the leading activist voices Lutfiye Zudiyeva notes, it is much easier to mobilise a great number of people in front of the courts in Crimea than Rostov. Nonetheless, still 90 to 100 Crimean Tatars travel to Rostov whenever trials take place there.

In light of this, Lutfiye Zudiyeva recalled a fascinating story. During one hearing, many Crimean Tatar supporters had travelled to Rostov but were not allowed into the small court rooms. Being left outside on the corridor, they noted that in the neighbouring court room, men from Ingushetia, a Russian oblast in the Caucasus, were tried on the same charges with close to no audience. Being moved by a shared Muslim religious identity, the Crimean Tatars sat down in the audience and supported the Ingushetian men on trial. According to the activist, this left a deep impression with the Ingushetian community, noting that other people can build on this example of solidarity and self-organisation.

© Alina Smutko

Local Activism and Global Patterns: Making Connections

In the remainder of this post, I want to generalise from this account and identify three different and interlinked global processes through which the Crimean Tatar struggles can be understood. The first is the global history of Indigenous peoples’ struggling for their rights. The Crimean Tatars have long before the annexation pursued this strategy in relation to the Ukrainian state. Crimean Tatars identify themselves as Crimea’s Indigenous people and share common memories of the first annexation of Crimea by Russia in 1783. Previously, Crimea was ruled by Crimean Tatar rulers who established the Crimean Khanate from 1475 onwards  which was under Ottoman tutelage (see hereand here for more in-depth historical studies). Another central and dramatic event was the deportation of Crimean Tatars to Central Asia under Stalin in 1944, for their ‘ostensible collaboration with German and Romanian forces during’ World War II (see Greta Uehling). The most recent annexation, then, becomes part of this broader history and memory passed on to generations. Their Muslim religious identity, customs and language are shared practices and allow people to self-identify as Crimean Tatar.

© Alina Smutko

The Crimean Tatars were given a special political representative organ, the Mejlis, by the Ukrainian state, but no special rights were enshrined in the constitution. When the UN passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, Ukraine abstained from signing it despite encouragements from the Crimean Tatars. Finally, a few months after the annexation in 2014, the Ukrainian state signed the Declaration and is leveraging the Crimean Tatar’s minority and Indigenous rights in international courts, for example in the most recent ICJ ruling in which Ukraine refers to Crimean Tatars as the Indigenous people of Crimea.

Second, the legal machine that continues to criminalise and incarcerate Crimean Tatars, and other vocal dissent voices, is part of a broader global practice that states mobilise in their counter-terrorism policies. A 2020 report by Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, UN Special Rapporteur on protecting human rights while countering terrorism, analyses widespread uses of anti-extremism policies, in particular in contexts which lack a human rights-based approach to these questions. T These policies are problematic as they lack a precise legal definition of extremism, potentially leading to mass violations of human rights in many contexts. The report traces how ‘violent extremism’ entered into international policy agendas on counter-terrorism in the mid-2000s, underlining governmental approaches to combat terrorism by using hard military power as well as other ‘soft power’ approaches. At the UN level, the language of extremism entered in 2010 in a Security Council resolution. In a field visit to Kazakhstan, Special Rapporteur Ní Aoláin encountered similar questions of extremism legislation used, and potentially abused, to counter terrorism. Crimean Tatars, then, become part of a broader global politics of extremism legislation used to criminalise, defame and incarcerate activists and other local dissidents.

Finally, inspired by Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s ground-breaking work on the massive expansion of the prison system and incarceration rates in California since 1982 despite a falling criminality rate, I want to conclude this post by reflecting on the group arrests of Crimean Tatars in light of global practices of incarceration. The choice of incarceration itself as a means to ‘punish’ dissidents is not surprising given the context. But relative numbers reveal just how wide-ranging the practice of incarceration as a solution to social problems is in Russia. While noting a downward trend in its prison population, falling by 45% since 2000, in 2018 Russia recorded a prison population of 402 per 100,000 people, the fifth most of any state after Rwanda (464), Thailand (526), El Salvador (604) and the United States (655). Many factors need to be considered when analysing incarceration practices and the vast system that upholds this machine. This ranges from lengths of sentences, lengthy pre-trial detention in which people are held over long periods of time – some Crimean Tatars for example are held over several years before their official court hearings begin – and the legal system itself and by whom it is enforced. As a few interviewees noted, many judges and other civil servants retained their posts in Crimea even after the annexation and now need to deal with, enforce and interpret a completely new legal system they were not trained in. Crime legislation has profound effects through the ways in which it governs, classifies and divides society. Finally, geography itself matters, as already pointed out above in interviews with activists. Once sentenced, the prisons could be similarly far away from Crimea, on the margins of society, putting serious constraints on visits and continuous social integration of criminalised groups.

Questions of solidarity and care for communities are of vital importance to the Crimean Tatars, as shown by their grassroots mobilisation and activism. They allow us to see connections and links with other struggles which would remain obscured in geopolitical or foreign policy accounts in which Crimea is merely an object of great power interest.

© Alina Smutko

Alvina Hoffmann is a PhD candidate in International Relations in the department of War Studies, King’s College London, funded by LISS DTP. Her research examines rights claims from the perspective of those who claim to speak with authority on behalf of social groups or a cause. She is a research assistant for the ERC funded project Security Flows and previously worked at Millennium: Journal of International Studies as the review article editor, social media officer and member of the editorial board.


Special thanks to Alina Smutko for her beautiful photographs from Crimea, Lutfiye Zudiyeva from Crimean Solidarity and Mumine Saliyeva from Crimean Childhood, two brave, generous and tireless activist voices, and Alyona Savchuk who generously connected me to local voices. Thanks also to Kerry Goettlich, Andy Li and Alireza Shams-Lahijani for great comments.


Crimean Solidarity (2020) ‘Political prisoners – cases’, accessed 21 May 2020 at:

Alona Savchuk (2018) ‘How Russia’s security services target Crimean Tatars as “Islamic terrorists”’ Open Democracy, 19 June, accessed 21 May 2020 at:

RFE/RL (2020) ‘Abductions, Torture, ‘Hybrid Deportation’: Crimean Tatar Activist Describes Six Years Under Russian Rule’ RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, 17 March, accessed 21 May 2020 at

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Hakan Kırımlı (1996) National Movements & National Identity Among the Crimean Tatars (1905-1916). Leiden, New York & Köln: Brill.

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Jenna M. Loyd, Matt Mitchelson, and Andrew Burridge (2012) Beyond Walls and Cages: Prisons, Borders, and Global Crisis. Athens & London: The University of Georgia Press.


Bringing the Personal (Back) In

By Hannah Goozee

This reflexive blog post considers what happens if we, as researchers, listen to our emotions. Drawing on six months of research in South Africa, I reflect on two emotional moments I experienced and consider what they reveal about my role and responsibility as a researcher.

“And so it begins. I land in Johannesburg in twenty minutes time, and I am terrified. I have no idea what I’m doing, except stepping into an abyss. Underqualified and underprepared. What right do I have to be here; to do this research?” (Personal journal, 1st February 2019)

The very first entry in my journal is both surprising and unsurprising. It is surprising given that I had spent the previous 16 months reading and fine-tuning my methodology, undergoing a rigorous ethics process and internal exam. Arriving in South Africa, on paper I had a clear and well-defined research methodology, developed from studying various methodological texts. This included scholarship on ethics, reflexivity and ethnography, and sensitive research in conflict-affected settings (e.g. Wood 2006; Vrasti 2008; Iphofen 2009; Rancatore 2010; Fujii 2012). I planned to undertake qualitative research with an interpretivist lens, forming relationships with local gatekeepers in order to carry out semi-structured interviews and focus groups with local residents. Supplemented by archival and institutional research, this would provide me with sufficient data to answer my research question.  I had a plan. But my first journal entry is also, as any researcher knows all too well, very unsurprising. At first, I thought that my ability to undertake research in South Africa relied on preparation and skill. Quickly, however, it became clear that such a methodology relied far more on me as a feeling individual than the literature had prepared me for. It not only took time for me to feel comfortable in my surroundings, it took endless courage to make cold-call after cold-call, reaching out to potential gatekeepers and organising interviews. Often, I did not have that courage. It was in this early contradiction between my careful methodological plan and felt experience that I became aware of the central role that emotions play in research.

Whilst there is now a variety of literature on emotion in International Relations (IR) – from anthropological-inspired accounts (e.g. Brigg and Bleiker 2010; Dauphinee 2010; Löwenheim 2010; Inayatullah 2011; Hamati-Ataya 2013; Beattie 2019) to theoretical readings of emotion and international politics (e.g. Crawford 2000; Ross 2006; Fierke 2013; Bleiker and Hutchison 2014; Mercer 2014; Hutchison 2017; Pin-Fat 2019) – I was not sure what to do with mine. In her feminist analysis, Megan MacKenzie reflects that whilst the growing research on emotion in IR considers the appropriate methods with which to study emotion, “the question avoided by this concern relates to the epistemological bias within IR, which values rational, objective research and assumes that ‘distance’ between the researcher and the research subject is essential” (Sylvester et al. 2011, 681). With the benefit of hindsight, I believe that in South Africa, my emotions were an insight into this distance.  Anxiety, fear, and discomfort demonstrated that despite my intellectual and personal commitments, this epistemological bias remains an insidious force within the academy and within me.

“Today feels like a turning point, and it terrifies me. All I want to do is lay in the dark. A strange silence has settled, in the house or in me. I’m not sure which.” (Personal journal, 21stFebruary 2019)

Thinking back to my time in South Africa, I still experience a surge of anxiety; a tide turns in my stomach. My journals, four in total, confirm that much of my time there was marked by anxiety. The first month I spent in Johannesburg consisted largely of futile attempts to track down archival materials and make contact with gatekeeper organisations. Finally, after repeated calls and emails, on 21st February 2019, I made contact, and a meeting was set. I record in my journal: “And then she calls, we will meet next week and a weight has been lifted. But I am pacing, I’m nearly crying – after setting one meeting. Maybe I’m not made for this” (Personal journal, 21st February 2019). Fear and anxiety scream out from the lined page. What is telling from this extract is that I automatically interpreted the emotions I felt as a personal fault. Whilst recent scholarship has documented the central role that fear and anxiety play in fieldwork (Davies and Spencer 2010; Kušić and Záhora 2020), at the time I believed that my emotional response to a seemingly simple task meant that I was fundamentally incompatible with research. I had internalised the division between emotion and reason that feminist researchers have long identified; a strategy keeping women and the feminine out of political spheres (Tronto 1993; Åhäll 2018).  In doing so, I overlooked what my anxiety was saying – precisely what MacKenzie identified – the epistemological bias and expectation within IR to produce of rational, detached, and masculinized research. Intellectually I was committed to reflexive, embodied research, but in practice how I responded to my emotions in South Africa exposed the insidious nature of this epistemology.

So, what did I do with this fear and anxiety? In short, I ignored it. When it came to undertaking interviews, I disconnected from my emotions, seeking to carry out my tasks guided by the professional ethics and rigour that I had internalised – carefully referring to my information sheet and consent form. The epistemological framework had succeeded in dividing my personal, my body, and the political which I was studying (Åhäll 2018). Reflecting now, it appears that I was also committed to my research plan at the expense of my emotions because I knew that this data was my original contribution; that gathering this personal information from gatekeepers and local citizens would give me the advantage when it came to publication, to experience, and ultimately to my career. As Kušić and Záhora note, “the imperative to turn our fieldwork into ‘successful’ publications again points to systemic issues of the academic industrial complex” (2020, 10). Even in my sensitive, ethical, and reflexive research agenda, the masculine neoliberal academy prevailed. Ignoring my emotions meant that I did not see this, and that I missed the warning signs. The pressure and economy of the neoliberal academy meant that I pursued a research agenda despite knowing, had I stopped to listen to my emotions, that I risked carrying out research that would lead to abandonment, betrayal and exploitation (Stacey 1988). Indeed, that I would perpetuate the colonial extraction of knowledge – and once back in the UK, be unable to fully engage with the people that I had benefitted from. My emotions were signposts of what I was overlooking in order to meet the expectations of a neoliberal academy – questions of ethics, community, and care. With hindsight, fear and discomfort revealed to me that

“no matter how welcome, even enjoyable the fieldworker’s presence may appear to ‘natives’, fieldwork represents an intrusion and intervention into a system of relationships, a system of relationships that the researcher is far freer than the researched to leave. The inequality and potential treacherousness of this relationship seems inescapable” (Stacey 1988, 23)

My experience in South Africa revealed the hugely emotional task of fostering an ethical and responsible research relationship, beyond intrusion and exploitation. Ignoring my fear and discomfort, seeking to evade and restrict them, I failed to do so.

This was a failure; but not a failure to run from. Rather, as Laura Sjoberg has taught us, it is an opportunity to re-evaluate systems and values (2019). Why I failed to engage with my emotions raises important questions regarding the normative expectations, boundaries, and limitations of our discipline; questions that we all must continue to explore.

Hannah Goozee is an ESRC-funded PhD candidate in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. Her doctoral research explores the politics of trauma in post-conflict environments, with a specific focus on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission



Åhäll, Linda. 2018. “Affect as Methodology: Feminism and the Politics of Emotion 1.” International Political Sociology 12 (1): 36–52.

Beattie, Amanda Russell. 2019. “The Reflexive Potential of Silence: Emotions, the ‘Everyday’ and Ethical International Relations.” Journal of International Political Theory 15 (2): 229–245.

Bleiker, Roland, and Emma Hutchison. 2014. “Introduction: Emotions and World Politics” 6 (3): 490–491.

Brigg, Morgan, and Roland Bleiker. 2010. “Autoethnographic International Relations: Exploring the Self as a Source of Knowledge.” Review of International Studies 36 (3): 779–798.

Crawford, Neta C. 2000. “The Passion of World Politics: Propositions on Emotion and Emotional Relationships.” International Security 24 (4): 116–156.

Dauphinee, Elizabeth. 2010. “The Ethics of Autoethnography.” Review of International Studies 36 (3): 799–818.

Davies, James, and Dimitrina Spencer. 2010. Emotions in the Field: The Psychology and Anthropology of Fieldwork Experience. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.

Fierke, K. M. 2013. Political Self-Sacrifice: Agency, Body and Emotion in International Relations. Cambridge Studies in International Relations 125. Cambridge: University Press.

Fujii, Lee. 2012. “Research Ethics 101: Dilemmas and Responsibilities.” PS, Political Science & Politics45 (4): 717–723.

Hamati-Ataya, Inanna. 2013. “Reflectivity, Reflexivity, Reflexivism: IR’s ‘Reflexive Turn’ — and Beyond.” European Journal of International Relations 19 (4): 669–694.

Hutchison, Emma. 2017. Affective Communities in World Politics: Collective Emotions after Trauma. First paperback edition. Cambridge Studies in International Relations 140. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Inayatullah, Naeem. 2011. Autobiographical International Relations: I, IR. Interventions. London: Routledge.

Iphofen, Ron. 2009. Ethical Decision Making in Social Research a Practical Guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kušić, Katerina, and Jakub Záhora. 2020. Fieldwork as Failure: Living and Knowing in the Field of International Relations. E-International Relations.

Löwenheim, Oded. 2010. “The ‘I’ in IR: An Autoethnographic Account.” Review of International Studies 36 (4): 1023–1045.

Mercer, Jonathan. 2014. “Feeling like a State: Social Emotion and Identity” 6 (3): 515–535.

Pin-Fat, Véronique. 2019. “‘What’s Love Got to Do with It?’ Ethics, Emotions, and Encounter in International Relations.” Review of International Studies 45 (2): 181–200.

Rancatore, Jason P. 2010. “It Is Strange: A Reply to Vrasti.” Millennium – Journal of International Studies 39 (1): 65–77.

Ross, Andrew A. G. 2006. “Coming in from the Cold: Constructivism and Emotions.” European Journal of International Relations 12 (2): 197–222.

Sjoberg, Laura. 2019. “Failure and Critique in Critical Security Studies.” Security Dialogue 50 (1): 77–94.

Stacey, Judith. 1988. “Can There Be a Feminist Ethnography?” Women’s Studies International Forum11 (1): 21–27.

Sylvester, Christine, Sandra Marshall, Megan H. Mackenzie, Shirin Saeidi, Heather M. Turcotte, Swati Parashar, and Laura Sjoberg. 2011. “Emotion and the Feminist IR Researcher.” International Studies Review 13 (4): 687–708.

Tronto, Joan C. 1993. Moral Boundaries: A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care. New York ; London: Routledge.

Vrasti, Wanda. 2008. “The Strange Case of Ethnography and International Relations.” Millennium – Journal of International Studies 37 (2): 279–301.

Wood, Elisabeth. 2006. “The Ethical Challenges of Field Research in Conflict Zones.” Qualitative Sociology 29 (3): 373–386.


The Ethics of Solidarity, Community and Care

By Leonie Ansems de Vries

I am very happy to introduce this short blog series on The Ethics of Solidarity, Community and Care, which is part of the International Relations and Ethics theme contribution to the School of Security Studies Virtual Research Conference on Global Shocks. In addition to the blog series, IR and Ethics theme members have contributed to a short video in which they reflect on what the ethics of solidarity, community and care means to them and how it features in their research. The video will be shown as part of an interactive panel discussion on the same theme.

Global shocks such as the Covid-19 pandemic highlight the structural social, political, and economic inequalities that put some people more at risk than others, raising important ethical questions. Yet, we have also seen the emergence and renewal of communities of solidarity and care, locally as well as transnationally.

This blog series comprises three thoughtful and thought-provoking contributions on these broader themes of violence, inequality, solidarity, and care, by Hannah Goozee, Alvina Hoffmann and Lucy Thomas respectively. Indeed, one of the things that struck me when I first read the pieces is that all three approach the ethics of solidarity, community and care by addressing questions of violence and exploitation – political, economic, historical, social, personal, structural and epistemic. Moreover, all three pieces weave together the local with the global, the present with the historical, and the personal with the structural and the planetary.

This focus on personal experiences, local and global struggles and practices and structures of violence and exploitation might seem surprising for a set of reflections on community, solidarity, and care. In turn, the focus on these themes might be unusual for a Security Studies conference. Yet, grounded in critical and self-reflexive approaches, the three pieces show that these issues are closely connected; that questions of community, solidarity and care are highly contested and imbued with relations of power and structures of violence. Shifting away from the presumption of institutionalised units such as the state as the starting point for thinking about community and solidarity – as is so often the case in Security Studies and International Relations scholarship – they bring to the fore more marginalised voices and communities, as well as more personal reflections on knowledge production in academia. In addition, the contributions show the importance of taking seriously intersectional issues such as, but not limited to, gender, race, and class.

Rather than thinking about practices of solidarity and care within a realm that is pre-established, and/or implies a preconceived idea of who belongs, the focus is on struggles. This resonates with my own research, which seeks to dig deeper into practices and structures of power and violence whilst remaining attentive to the entanglements of struggles and practices of resistance and what these seek to contest (e.g. Ansems de Vries 2016; Ansems de Vries et al 2017). Communities of solidarity – and a sense of who I am/we are – come into being through struggle, rather than being pre-existent. Moreover, as Coleman and Rosenow (2016) note, an understanding of what the struggle is about emerges through struggle.

For me, the politics of struggle is not only a matter of looking for and listening to what has been silenced and a question of how we amplify the struggles of those who are marginalised; it is also about remaining reflexive of the impact of our interventions and positionalities (Ansems de Vries 2020a). Relatedly, an ethics of solidarity and care means being open to being cha(lle)nged in the process, and in ways that might be uncomfortable and/or unknown. This requires different ways of looking, and, importantly, of listening, as well as developing more affective approaches to knowing, as Goozee and Thomas also write in their contributions.

I will end with a brief overview of the three contributions. Firstly, in her piece, Bringing the personal (back) in (published Wednesday 3 June 2020), Hannah Goozee asks what happens if we, as researchers, listen to our emotions. In this very personal reflection of the felt experience of conducting ethnographic and archival research in South Africa, Goozee writes that research methods are not abstract but very much bound up with who she is as a feeling individual. Much of her time in South Africa was marked by fear and anxiety. She relates this personal reflections to broader epistemological biases in International Relations and the colonial extraction of knowledge. Rather than understanding her efforts to ignore her emotions during her research as a personal failure, she suggests, with reference to Laura Sjoberg (2019), that the realisation of the importance of emotions can also be seen as a political moment: it offers the opportunity to re-evaluate broader systems and values.

Alvina Hoffman’s contribution Solidarity in military courts: Crimean Tatars in global history, politics and practices (published on Thursday 4 June 2020) discusses the criminalisation of Crimean Tatar men after the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, linking local and global struggles and practices. She does so by asking how local activists seek to gain international attention and solidarity and by connecting these local practices to three global struggles in which Crimean Tatars are implicated: the global history of indigenous peoples’ rights; the global politics of extremism legislation as part of counter-terrorism efforts; and global practices of incarceration. The question of gender is also raised, as women become actively involved in activism as men are incarcerated.

Finally, Lucy Thomas, in her piece Writing the self, writing as care (published on Friday 5 June 2020), reflects on how writing differently and writing otherwise can be an act of care and resistance within wider contexts of violence. Her contribution also addresses the epistemic bias according to which academic writing is regarded as detached from the self. She shows how this cleansing of academic writing is deeply implicated in coloniality. The Enlightenment, the intellectual transformation of Europe during which dominant conceptions of ‘objective’ scientific ways of knowing became established, is inextricably bound up with the colonisation of Africa, America and Asia and the extraction of data from ‘the Other’. She concludes that, for those marginalised in the colonial present, ‘writing for and of oneself and writing for and of one another’s lives, struggles, and deaths, is a form of liberation and resistance.’

Leonie Ansems de Vries is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations and Chair of the Migration Research Group at King’s College London.



Ansems de Vries, Leoine (2016) ‘Politics of (in)visibility: Governance-resistance and the constitution of refugee subjectivities in Malaysia’, Review of International Studies 42 (5):876–94.

Ansems de Vries, Leonie (2020a) ‘movement – becoming – violence: two’, Arts Cabinet, available at

Ansems de Vries, Leonie (2020b) ‘movement – becoming – violence: three’, Arts Cabinet, available at

Ansems de Vries, Leonie, Lara Coleman, Doerthe Rosenow, Martina Tazzioli, Rolando Vázquez (2017) ‘Collective Discussion: Fracturing Politics (Or, How to Avoid the Tacit Reproduction of Modern/Colonial Ontologies in Critical Thought)’, International Political Sociology 11 (1):90–108.

Coleman, Lara Montesinos and Doerthe Rosenow (2016) ‘Security (Studies) and the Limits of Critique: Why We Should Think through Struggle’, Critical Studies on Security 4(2): 202-20.

Sjoberg, Laura (2019) ‘Failure and Critique in Critical Security Studies’, Security Dialogue 50 (1): 77–94.

Knowledge under attack: message of support for Fariba Adelkhah, Roland Marchal, and Kylie Moore-Gilbert

Dear Fariba, Roland and Kylie

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We wish to let you know that we held a meeting on the 17th February 2020 in Bush house King’s College London and that we have created a branch of the Support Committee in London for the three of you.

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day we can’t stop thinking about you and your ordeal. At the meeting there were old friends of yours; academics who have read your books and articles; Doctoral and Master’s Students who are inspired by your examples of courage and lucidity about the situations you have described; previous detainees who have known what you are suffering now; were all gathered together to sign this postcard. We hope you will have an opportunity to read when you come home.

We, professors and scholars of King’s College London, Oxford, Birkbeck, Goldsmith, Cambridge and Queen Mary, are all asking for your immediate and unconditional release from prison.  Your detention is legally and ethically unjustifiable.  It poses a threat to all academics and to academic freedom in general. Iranian society values knowledge, it’s universities and academics, as do we. It is in that spirit that we are calling on the regime to implement your release with immediate effect. We will continue to mobilise both within our institutions and beyond in your support.


Signed by Vivienne Jabri, Mervyn Frost, Nick Michelsen, Didier Bigo, Susan Martin, Aggie Hirst, Pablo de Orellana, Claudia Aradau, Sarah Perret, Leonie Ansems de Vries, Emma Mc Cluskey, James McDougall, Ramon Sarro, Ricardo Soares de Oliveira, David Styan, Evelyn Ruppert, Christopher Clapham, Elspeth Guild, Engin Isin, Christine Cheng, Ziad Elmarsafy, Stacey Gutkowski, Alvina Hoffmann, Kerry Goettlich, Andrew Brown, and many other participants


UPDATE 5 March 2020

today Fariba Adelkhah and Roland Marchal have been condemned to 9 months of imprisonment. Click here for more updates. We do not forget them.


UPDATE 17 March 2020

“Is research getting more dangerous? Roland Marchal’s plight suggests so” in African Arguments. click here for article


UPDATE 20 MAY 2020

Fariba Adelkhah sentenced to prison in Iran, listen here on BBC


UPDATE 8 June 2020

Message from Professor Alain Dieckhoff, Director of CERI Sciences-Po Paris: here.


A one-day workshop examining the rise of nationalist ideas and movements around the globe in recent years. Drawing together scholars addressing nationalist ideas, events and movements of the last two decades through a variety of interdisciplinary theoretical and analytical perspectives and methods, this workshop seeks to establish a forward-looking research agenda for the study of contemporary nationalisms, and to disseminate it though an edited volume (under contract).

Saturday 29th June 2018, KCL Research Centre in International Relations, King’s College London, UK. To submit to the workshop, please email an abstract and 5-line biography to by 15th May.

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A one-day interdisciplinary workshop exploring the crossover between IR and Art History, common concerns, and interdisciplinary advances with a view to establish a productive conceptual, methodological and analytical agenda for IR and Art Historical research. With the support of the BISA Poststructural Politics Working Group.


30th June 2018; Department of War Studies, King’s College London, UK

Event rationale:

The nexus between the study of International Relations (IR) and Art History is ripe with conceptual, analytical, and empirical opportunities for critical understanding. Art History has long counted on and developed methods and concepts for the study of specific aesthetic functions, including conflict and identity. Likewise, areas of IR scholarship have addressed in various forms the relevance, function and power of the aesthetic, and has long sought to account for the role of such expression in politics. The ‘Aesthetic Turn’ literature has sought to make this crossover productive. However, scholarship between these fields suffers from a lack of aggregation, particularly examination of clear conceptual links and reflection on analytical objectives shared and contested by both disciplines, and the tensions therein. Though valuable contributions have been made, its analytical promise needs to be revisited. How do IR and Art Historical analyses differ and what are the conceptual and methodological reasons for this? Where can they meet? What might such an interdisciplinary crossover look like in the specifics of each discipline and concrete research and analytical goals?

This one-day workshop seeks to open an interdisciplinary space for new dialogue between IR scholars and Art Historians working on issues of art and conflict. The core objective is to understand and map what constitutes the shared space between art and IR, its tensions, and the concepts and methods necessary for its interdisciplinary engagement and analytical research productivity. The event will bring together key scholars that have experience of this interdisciplinary space and a range of IR and art practitioners.  We are grateful to the BISA Postructuralist Politics Working Group for the grant that made this event possible.


Submissions will be sought that relate to

  • Theory, methods, and analytical strategies in both IR and Art History
  • aesthetics and ethics
  • knowledge, power, categorisations and aesthetics
  • images and the dilemma of ‘high art’
  • sites of art and conflict
  • conflict over visibility/invisibility
  • nexus of transnational art world, institutions and its localities
  • aesthetic analysis and its development
  • gendered aesthetics
  • hierarchy and power in aesthetic analysis
  • locating the politics of art as theory and methodology
  • examining aesthetic language
  • postcoloniality in aesthetics and decolonising aesthetics
  • making art international
  • practices and institutional as well as individual power
  • agency between art and IR
  • the body and art in IR and/or conflict


Selected papers presented at the workshop to be developed and submitted as a special issue to Review of International Studies. This special issue is to be edited by Vivienne Jabri (KCL), Laurie Benson (SOAS) and Pablo de Orellana (KCL).


Event format:

Convenors: Dr Pablo de Orellana, King’s College London,, Co-Chair of the KCL Research Centre in International Relations; Dr Laurie Benson, School of Oriental and African Studies, London,; Prof Vivienne Jabri, King’s College London

Funding: There is some limited funding available to contribute towards travel expenses, priority will be given to postgraduate students and early career scholars. Please note that BISA will only reimburse the travel expenses of BISA members. Please detail your funding needs in your submission.

Submissions: All submissions to attend the workshop either presenting a paper or for attendance to be emailed to by 1st March 2018. Abstracts for papers (200 words max) due 1st March 2018 (midnight) — Applications for attendance due 1st March 2018 (midnight) — Papers due 10th June 2018 (midnight)