Seminar: Seeing the World through Indian Foreign Service Eyes – A Blueprint for ‘Diplomatic’ Fieldwork

June 25, 2009 § Leave a comment

Greetings from the Coombs Seminar Room A at The Australian National University where India specialist Kate Sullivan is presenting Seeing the World through Indian Foreign Service Eyes — A Blueprint for ‘Diplomatic Fieldwork’ in the study of International Relations (IR).

The talk and topic is particularly interesting to me in that the study readily lends itself to the application of Aspect-Oriented Thinking (a multidisciplinary methodology developed by Dr Shayne Flint) in tackling the integration of the necessary domain knowledge and structure.

In the first part of her talk, Ms Sullivan makes the following interesting points about IR study.

IR is not culturally-neutral: This affects the study of IR theories due to the following factors:

  • Complexity
  • Epistemology
  • Universalist assumptions
  • IR’s ‘debt to the West’

Reforming the discipline of IR study: These issues have been recognized by intellectuals and efforts are underway to reform the discipline, in particular the handling of culture in the context of

  • Foreign Policy Analysis
  • Strategic Studies

IR studies are obviously multi-, inter- and trans-disciplinary in nature, encountering issues which can to a large extent be ameliorated by exploiting interpretive contexts. This work presents interesting cross-cutting concerns with current research across The Australian National University by Ziyad Alshaikh in management of context, suggesting effective use of a Context Dynamics Matrix.

In the second part of her talk, Ms Sullivan visits the debate surrounding the narrative exploration in her research studies, successfully arguing a case for contextualizing the implicit nature of theories and methodologies in asking questions about India’s aspirations to be an institutionally recognized ‘global power’.

Finally, Ms Sullivan outlined the effects various drivers and forces governing Indian foreign policy decisions and their resulting outcomes. She argued that we should look at the context of the narrative concerns at a sufficient level of abstraction and detail and map it to an ethnographic effect. This entails a view of the Indian Foreign Service from a perspective of:

  • Data collection/study/interpretation
  • ‘Emic’ (insider) verus ‘etic’ (outsider) approach
  • Attempt to grasp the making of meaningful social behavior
  • Encourage reflexivity on part of the researcher

These research questions are not too different from the questions I seek to answer in the field of contextual concept workflow management (answering the four canonical questions of who, what, when, why), and the need to explicitize the context-tie-in.

Ms Sullivan also suggested that there is a progressive change in the sensitivity with which India has projected its image abroad and in the international arena. She discussed what makes the study of historical and current ethnographies challenging and how academic research could manage ‘in-the-field’ analysis of individuals who seek to inform public policy in international relations.

Finally, there was some time spent in general discussion and questions on issues affecting studies in International Relations. Points raised recognized the need to resolve cultural forces, challenges in marrying inconsistencies between theoretical and practical approaches and the academic material in the context of this research.

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