“You really should read this”

This week, we’ve asked our academic staff to shed some light on what they do, and what they are interested in, by giving us their reading recommendations. Below, teachers from some of our most popular courses recommend one of their own publications, and one by someone else from the field of politics. We hope this list will broaden the scope of reading among newcomers and experts alike, and we welcome your recommendations and feedback in the comments section.

Adam Swift, Teacher in PO134: Justice, Democracy and Citizenship and PO301: Issues in Political Theory

The 3rd edition of my book Political Philosophy: A Beginners’ Guide for Students and Politicians (Polity) came out at the end of last year. It presents the ideas of academic political philosophers in a way that is accessible to students (and even to politicians!) and emphasizes the political relevance of their work on social justice, liberty, equality, community and democracy.

I also recommend Michael Sandel’s Justice: What’s the Right Thing To Do? (Penguin, 2010). Based on his famous course at Harvard (which is delivered in a theatre and involves lots of audience participation), the book covers a good range of issues and does a great job of connecting contemporary concerns with the ideas of great philosophers like Aristotle, Kant and Mill.

Julia Welland, Module Director for PO231: International Security

My article, ‘Militarised violences, basic training and the myths of asexuality and discipline’, Review of International Studies (2013), 39(4): p. 881-902 introduces readers to some of the research I engaged in during my PhD.

I think every scholar of international security would benefit from dipping in and out of (or reading from front-to-back), Rethinking the Man Question: Sex, Gender and Violence in International Relations (Zed Books, 2008), edited by Jane Parpart and Marysia Zalewski. For anyone who thinks gender isn’t intimately tied to the ways in which we engage and think about security and international relations more broadly, this text gives a taster of the multitude of ways gender continues to shape the world we live in. This is exciting work by exciting scholars, and particularly worth reading if you’ve just dismissed this suggestion.

Stuart Elden

My book The Birth of Territory (University of Chicago Press, 2013) takes one of the fundamental concepts of modern politics and international relations – the idea of the exclusive state ownership and control of a portion of the earth’s surface – and asks where it came from. It examines a range of texts and practices in ancient, medieval and modern eras to trace the emergence of this concept, using this to help a better understanding of territorial disputes and geopolitics today. Some of the implications of this are discussed in my earlier book Terror and Territory: The Spatial Extent of Sovereignty (University of Minnesota Press, 2009).

I also recommend Louise Amoore’s remarkable book The Politics of Possibility: Risk and Security Beyond Probability (Duke University Press, 2013). Amoore shows how politics since September 11th 2001 has been governed not so much by an event being probable, but being possible. States now act on the basis on the unlikely, the uncertain, but the inherently highly risky. Through an examination of a range of sources – from government documents to works of literature – she traces the calculative politics of our modern era.

Joao Nunes, Teacher in the MA module PO967 New Security Challenges

One of the most interesting books I have read in recent weeks is Mark Mazower’s Governing the World: The History of an Idea (Penguin, 2012).  It offers a broad, yet detailed, history of the ideas and institutions underpinning contemporary global governance.  It will be of interest to those who want to know more about how we came to be governed in this way: how the ‘international’ and the ‘global’ emerged as spaces in need of ordering; why global governance has taken its present shape; and what alternative views did not succeed.  A fresh and fascinating perspective into world politics.

I also recommend my recently published book Security, Emancipation and the Politics of Health: A New Theoretical Perspective (Routledge, 2013).  This book examines the intersection between health and security in the international arena.  Drawing on three case studies – the ‘health hazards’ of immigration; colonial medicine; and the idea of ‘health as a bridge for peace’ – I discuss how health and disease have been constituted as sites of anxiety and intervention, and how the concern with health has shaped politics as we know it.  This book also relates to security studies, insofar as it advances a novel theoretical approach based on the idea of security as emancipation – that is, security as the alleviation of structures and relations of inequality, vulnerability and harm.

Dina Rezk, joint Module Director (with Richard Aldrich), PO382: Vigilant State: The Politics of Intelligence

My chapter, ‘Seeing Sadat: Thinking Nasser’ in the co-edited book Scripting Middle East Leaders: The Impact of Leadership Perceptions on U.S. and UK Foreign Policy (Bloomsbury, 2012) makes an important contribution to the Orientalist debate. This chapter explores the evolution of Anglo-American perceptions of Egyptian President Anwar el Sadat through the prism of recently declassified diplomatic and intelligence assessments. It deconstructs the spoken and unspoken assumptions in these documents to expose how the political elite, producing ‘knowledge’ for policy makers, regarded the Arab ‘Other’. In contrast to the prevailing historiography on Anglo-American relations with Egypt, the chapter suggests that ‘Nasserism’ seems to have captured the admiration of analysts in a way that Sadat’s pro-Western pragmatism never did.

I also recommend ‘Introducing Social Media Intelligence’ (Intelligence and National Security Journal, 2012) by David Omand, Jamie Bartlett and Carl Miller. This highlights the breadth of opportunities and challenges that social media communication provides to intelligence services and details a framework in which the potential gains can be managed in a liberal democratic society unwilling to forgo privacy. The authors call for a new, applied academic discipline, ‘social media science’, to deepen our understanding of this valuable resource.

Shirin Rai, Programme Director of the MA in Globalisation & Development, Convenor of PO353: Gender and Development and PO901: Theories and Issues in International Development 

My chapter, ‘Analysing Global Governance’ in the co-edited book Global Governance: Feminist Perspectives (2008, Palgrave) outlines the key debates on global governance, gives feminist critiques of the mainstream literature on global governance, and puts forward a framework of how best to study global governance from a feminist/postcolonial perspective. This alternative reading of global governance highlights the importance of gender regimes, and critiques the global governance literature that does not take into account the importance of both gender and the cultural/affective economy of the everyday.

I also recommend Penny Griffin’s Gendering the World Bank: Neoliberalism and the gendered foundations of global governance (2009, Palgrave), which examines the World Bank’s governance strategies to argue that these neoliberal strategies ‘socialise human bodies into a global system of neoliberal economic productivity’. She suggests that without taking gender as a key analytical category we cannot understand the complexity of global governance.

John Parkinson, Director of Research Degrees, Director of the MA in Public Policy, and Module Director of PO107: Introduction to Politics

It’s hard to pick my favourite read last year but probably top of the list was Nannerl Keohane’s 2010 book Thinking about Leadership (Princeton) – it’s one of those rare books in which a political philosopher steps outside the prescribed limits of her field, aided in part by the fact that she has herself been an academic leader. She thus brings some intellectual rigour and insight to a field dominated by glib generalisations, feeble methods and “how to” manuals. It’s also eminently readable.

Meanwhile, my own Democracy and Public Space comes out in paperback later this month and there is a Kindle edition too. I argue a somewhat contrarian line – that democracy cannot move entirely online because we are still physical beings who take up physical space, compete for physical resources, communicate with physical rituals and symbols; and because even online media rely on pictures of physical events to a surprising degree. All sorts of implications for protest, legislatures, the symbolic resources of cities and more follow from that. Hardly orthodox, but I think that’s the point of being an empirically-minded theorist – challenge orthodoxy wherever you can.

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