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UC Conference Spotlights a New Generation of International Relations Scholarship

April 19, 2024
Paddy Ryan


Scholars from seven UC campuses convened on Friday, April 12, 2024 for the 7th annual UC Conference on International Cooperation (UCCIC). Hosted jointly by UC Santa Barbara and IGCC, junior and senior international relations (IR) faculty from across the UC system met to engage in community building and share research in progress related to new and long-term challenges facing the international community at the intersection of security, climate, technology, media, and civic engagement.

“The UCCIC conference has quickly become a critical institution for UC scholars researching international relations,” says Neil Narang, the lead organizer for the 2024 conference and an associate professor in the department of political science at UC Santa Barbara. “Not only does it provide a forum for receiving feedback and advancing new research from UC scholars across the system, but it has also evolved into an important forum for mentorship by more senior scholars to more junior scholars. It’s hard to overstate the value of this mentorship, on everything from the tenure process to navigating careers inside and outside of political science.”

Narang, who serves as IGCC research director for U.S. and global security initiatives, opened the day by speaking to attendees about the importance of UCCIC in providing a forum for IR researchers to come together as a UC community. Lindsay Shingler, IGCC’s associate director, gave remarks on IGCC’s partnership and interest in developing the next generation of UC international relations scholars.

The opening presentation was given by Aila Matanock, an associate professor at UC Berkeley, whose research explores the phenomenon of “invited intervention” where leaders in nations with low state capacity invite interventions from other sovereign states to defend against internal and external threats to their rule. Matanock examined the history of such interventions in Africa, such as Angola’s invitation of Cuban forces in 1975, who foiled a coup while also battling paramilitaries backed by South Africa and Rhodesia. Arthur Stein, distinguished research professor at UCLA, provided guidance for Matanock’s ongoing research.

Next, Kai Thaler, assistant professor of global studies at UC Santa Barbara, presented his research on the role of militaries during episodes of democratic erosion. Thaler presented a typology for six roles militaries may take amid constitutional crises, showing the varying degrees to which they can support or oppose democratic backsliding, examining divergent cases including the 2021 and 2023 post-electoral insurrections in the United States and Brazil, respectively. Etel Solingen, distinguished professor and Thomas T. and Elizabeth C. Tierney chair in peace and conflict studies at UC Irvine, offered advice for Thaler’s continued research.

After, Heidi Hardt, associate professor of political science at UC Irvine, presented her research on NATO’s adaptation to climate threats, a project funded in part through a competitive grant from IGCC. Despite significant costs to NATO’s military equipment and bases, the alliance is doing little to adapt to climate change compared to other international organizations. Hardt delivered a novel argument that suggests that NATO allies would publicly promote areas of adaptation closest to NATO’s core task of collective security, while quietly implementing adaption in areas less proximate to that core task. Alison Brysk, distinguished professor in the department of global studies and political science at UC Santa Barbara, provided comment.

After a short break, the afternoon opened with Andrew Shaver, assistant professor at UC Merced, who shared his analysis of how media coverage affects the perceptions of U.S. international affairs elites. Shaver explained that while most academics and U.S. government officials rely on media for information on global events, news coverage fails to adequately capture the magnitude, duration, or even existence of such events. Comments were provided by Barry O’Neill, professor of political science at UCLA, which initiated a lively conversation on the purpose of journalism.

Next, Erin Lockwood, assistant professor of political science at UC Irvine, shared her research on how international economic organizations are responding to artificial intelligence (AI)-related risks. Lockwood differentiated between familiar risks—such as the labor market and inequality implications of AI—and novel risks, such as misinformation, deepfakes, and the replacement of human judgement. Lockwood looked at how international economic organizations frame the AI challenge along this dichotomy to guide their response. Steven Liao, assistant professor of political science at UC Riverside, offered guidance for further research.

Juan Tellez, assistant professor at UC Davis, delivered the final presentation, which explored results from a field experiment in Ethiopia that aimed to increase youth civic engagement amid ethnic conflict. The intervention—inviting youths to “tolerant engagement forums”—increased civic participation but did little to change participants’ levels of ethnic tolerance. Participation itself sometimes took place within Identitarian groups. Daniel Masterson, assistant professor in the department of political science at UC Santa Barbara, provided comment.

To conclude the conference, Narang and Stephan Haggard, research professor at the UC San Diego and research director for democracy and global governance at IGCC, brought the question of the future of UCCIC to the floor, and whether it will convene again next year. The scholars gave a unanimous response of approval, citing the value of unifying a community of IR scholars within the UC system and the networking and funding opportunities that the conference presents. IGCC looks forward to partnering on the 8th annual UCCIC next year.

UCCIC was founded in 2016 by Christina Schneider and Leslie Johns for the purpose of connecting junior and senior scholars of international relations across the UC system. Supported by IGCC since 2020, the conference aims to cultivate a community of scholars who work in areas such as international security, foreign policy, international political economy, and international organizations, to increase academic dialogue and to support the next generation of IR scholars. Conference hosting rotates to a different UC campus each year. This year’s 7th annual UCCIC was made possible thanks to generous funding and support from IGCC and UC Santa Barbara.

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