Plymouth International Studies Centre Seminar Series
  • Room 406, Babbage Building

  • Room 117, Rolle Building

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PISC brings together scholars focusing on topical aspects of contemporary global politics. It hosts a seminar programme packed full of events throughout the academic year. 

PISC focuses on the issues in international affairs that concern us all: 

  • Why is the war in Syria continuing, and can anything be done to stop it? 
  • Who is responsible for the migration crisis, and what are the responsibilities of the European states? 
  • Is Russia a threat to regional stability, and how should the world respond? 
  • What are the challenges facing UK foreign policy in a post-Brexit world? 
  • Is the regulation of the global financial system fit-for-purpose? 
  • The global development path towards 2030 – a smooth run, or an uphill struggle? 

PISC continues to promote and enhance the research base of staff working in several disciplines and geographical areas. These include International Relations, Human Geography, US politics and US foreign policy, European Union studies, Middle Eastern and Africa studies. Each year, PISC plays a critical role in encouraging the exchange of ideas among our scholarly community and provides students with the opportunity to hear about the research being conducted by University of Plymouth academics as well as scholars from different universities in the UK and internationally. PISC seminars also feature practitioners from the political and policy communities who provide insights and first-hand experience of the political and policy machinery at work (or not working).

Scroll down to view events organised by PISC for University staff and students. 

Please contact Dr Lorenzo Cladi ( for further information.

Wednesday 21 March:  Kant's Political Theology of Perpetual Peace (speaker: Dr Sean Molloy, University of Kent)

Sean Molloy argues that Kant should not be read as a forerunner of Cosmopolitanism or Democratic Peace theorists, but as a thinker absolutely determined to square the requirements of political necessity and the commands of the moral law. Molloy stresses that the key to this process lies in Kant's articulation of a specifically theological way of conceiving political existence, one in which the "foul Stain of our species" is redeemed by the sacrifice of knowledge to faith.

Wednesday 16 May: Responding to planetary environmental change: geoengineering, Pachamama and ecopedagogy (speaker: Professor David Humphreys, Open University)

Options for responding to global environmental change range from the highly hubristic and technocentric proposal to control the Earth’s temperature through controversial and unproven geoengineering techniques, to the suggestion that a new jurisprudence be developed in which nature’s rights are central. Planetary change also raises questions about the role that should be played by educators.

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Today's events

Previous 2018 PISC seminars

Wednesday 14 February: Understanding India’s Partition Using Game Theory (speaker: Atul Mishra, University of Plymouth)

One of the puzzles of modern Indian history is the partition of India in the form it took in 1947. Jinnah accepted a 'moth eaten Pakistan' in 1947 which he had twice rejected before. Using elementary notions from Game theory we see how this became highly likely, if not inevitable.

Wednesday 7 March: The Multidimensional Kurdish Model and Unpredictable Season of Kurdish Geopolitics in the Middle East (speaker: Dr Omer Tekdemir, University of Leicester)

The so-called Kurdish question is an outcome of the imperial and colonised history. The Kurds, as an emerging power, are at a historic crossroads and redrawing the borders of the Sykes-Picot map. However, having a possible 'independent Kurdistan' and radical democratic autonomy in the 'new' Middle East created a hegemonic articulation, power struggle, and antagonism with the region's nation(alist) states (Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and Iran) and beyond.

2017 PISC seminars

Wednesday 8 February: Stronger than Strong. Perceptions and Misperceptions of Power (speaker - Jeff Bridoux, Aberystwyth University)

Addressing the question of decline or resilience of US power in the contemporary international system, this paper attempts to generate a reflection on how knowledge on power is generated by US foreign policymakers. Questioning the dominance of neoliberal rationality and positivist epistemology in knowledge production, the paper argues that, in addition to existing analysis of the material foundations of power, it is essential to also understand how power is perceived by US decision-makers. Going beyond classical neorealist analyses of perceptions of power, and inspired by Gramsci, the paper investigates the ideational and epistemological roots of such perceptions of power and seeks to answer the following question: How is knowledge on power produced and how does it affect its perceptions and misperceptions in US foreign policy-making?

Wednesday 15 February: Revisionist? Neo-imperialist? Anti-Western? Deconstructing Russia's policies in Ukraine and Syria (speaker: Dr Derek Averre, Reader in Russian Foreign and Security Policy, University of Birmingham)

Russia’s alleged breaches of international law following the Crimea annexation and apparent disregard for humanitarian considerations in its military support for the Assad regime have damaged Russia’s relations with the West to the extent that, according to one commentator, we are going through ‘not just a spell of bad weather but fundamental climate change’. Concerns have been expressed about a continuing ‘spoiler’ role for Russia in European security governance and a ‘sphere of interest’ extending from Russia’s western neighbourhood to Europe’s southern periphery. This paper offers a closer examination of recent developments and analyses the opportunities and constraints Moscow faces in its foreign policy.

Wednesday 8 March: The History of Human Rights and the Sovereignty of Ideas (speaker: Robert Lamb, University of Exeter)

The idea of human rights is key to contemporary politics and international relations, and yet there remains no scholarly consensus about its origins. In this paper, Robert argues that scholarly disagreement about the emergence of human rights can be explained through attention to problematic methodological commitments within historical narratives. He willI discuss two such narratives, explain where they go astray, and unpack an alternative approach to thinking about the history of the idea of human rights.

Wednesday 10 May: The Ages of History: Periodisation and 'Global IR' (speaker: Brieg Tomos Powel, Aberystwyth University)

In recent years, several scholars have sought to 'globalise' the discipline of International Relations by moving it away from its supposedly Eurocentric foundations. This stems in part from a call by Acharya (2014: 650) for more extensive coverage of ‘the ideas, institutions, intellectual perspectives, and practices of Western and non-Western societies alike’, grounding the discipline in world rather than selective histories. Yet whilst such work has recounted at length examples of Eurocentricity in IR, proposals for a means to decentre its history are harder to discern. This paper therefore aims to move the debate beyond criticism of the discipline’s Eurocentricity in search for a new, decentred, and global means of understanding the history of international relations, based on periodisation rather than a 'benchmark' approach to this history.

Tuesday 17 October - Failed States and the ‘Big Man’ Phenomenon: The Case of Zimbabwe (speaker: Marta Nowakowska)

Marta Nowakowska is our visiting ERASMUS scholar. She is an anthropologist of culture with a specialist ethnologist perspective in the culture. politics, economics, history and security of southern African countries. Her research focuses on post-1994 South Africa where she has published on the topic of ethnicity and identity in the Zulu population, problems of ethnic and cultural identity in sub-Saharan Africa and issues of culture security and migration in the region.

Wednesday 25 October - Brexit debate (speakers: Professor Mary Farrell, Dr Patrick Holden and Dr Lorenzo Cladi, University of Plymouth)

The UK is due to depart the EU on 30 March 2019, however there remains uncertainty over the terms of Brexit. With negotiations between the European Union and the UK having recently entered a fourth round, academics from the Department of Politics and International Relations within the School of Law, Criminology and Government take the opportunity to reflect upon what Brexit entails in their own areas of expertise. Lorenzo Cladi will share his insights on how Brexit is likely to affect NATO. Mary Farrell provides an overview on the UK government's response to Brexit from the initiation of Article 50 to the state-of-play in the negotiations with the European Commission. Patrick Holden will delve into Brexit and the resurgence of power politics in Europe, with brief case studies of trade and Anglo-Irish relations.

Wednesday 15 November - Britain as a Global Actor: in Search of a Post-Brexit Role (speaker: Professor Mike Smith, Warwick University)

This paper will analyse and assess the prospects for ‘Global Britain’ in the post-Brexit environment, within a framework of role theory. The first part of the paper will identify key elements of the ‘Global Britain’ discourse and will place them into the context of role theory, with particular attention to ideas of role conceptions, role performance and role impact. The second part of the paper will explore the implications of these ideas in four arenas of UK external action: trade, the ‘special relationship’ with the United States, the United Nations and the Commonwealth. The final part of the paper will identify and evaluate key constraints on Britain’s ability to perform the role of ‘Global Britain’ in the post-Brexit environment, in particular the vulnerability of the economy, continuing institutional constraints and the changing international opportunity structure.

Wednesday 22 November - Reactive Rearmament: The Instability of a Post-Nuclear World (speaker: Dr David Blagden, University of Exeter)

If a world multilaterally disarmed of its nuclear weapons was ever achieved, just how strategically stable would that world be? This paper begins from the premise that the scientific capability to reconstruct nuclear weapons can never be expunged. That being the case, an escalatory race towards nuclear reconstitution would always be possible during international crises between latently capable major powers. Crucially, moreover, unlike contemporary deterrence – which is stabilised by the survivability of the major powers’ seaborne nuclear arsenals – the facilities of rearmament would not be survivable, creating acute first-strike incentives and thus crisis instability. As such, the argument that conventional military aggression would be more likely in a world free of nuclear weapons may indeed be commonplace, and a risk that disarmament advocates are willing to bear. But this paper’s rationalist analysis demonstrates that nuclear aggression would also be more likely in a world that had dismantled its extant nuclear warheads, casting doubt on the desirability of the disarmament goal.

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