Christian Bueger

The Diplomacy of Monsters

How do non-state actors participate in the games of international diplomacy? What strategies and tactics do actors, such as rebel groups, sub-state governments, governments in exile, diaspora, cities, or sports clubs employ when they act on the international stage? And in what way does this change or transform the practice of diplomacy? Those were some of the questions we discussed at a workshop from 29th to 30th of May which was hosted by the Wales Governance Centre and organized by the Department of Politics and International Relations.

To discuss the role of the diverse set of actors on the international stage we drew on the concept of “monsters”. The concept introduced to social theory by Donna Haraway is an attempt to theorize hybridity, tensions and transformations. Monsters live in borderlands, they are not at home in one space, but are the quintessential strangers in several spaces. Monsters fundamentally challenge classification systems. A zombie is neither dead, nor alive, he is neither human, nor animal. Monsters do not fit. They raise perpetually questions about boundaries, identity and belonging. For Haraway monsters have transformative capacity. Some of the monsters become naturalized, others resist over time. In either case they spur creativity and change. Non-state actors doing diplomacy can be understood as  monsters in two senses. Firstly they challenge the conventional classification systems of international relations theory and theories of diplomacy. The classical take is to give diplomatic agency only to actors representing states. Yet many actors doing diplomacy today do not represent states. Actors such as sub state regions, cities, sports clubs, rebel groups, unrecognized states, or indigenous groups are neither clearly state, nor non-state. They may have state like features, yet they are not states. They challenge our understanding of who is and can be a (legitimate) actor on the international stage. And they challenge our understanding of what the concept of “diplomacy” means. If grasping the agency of such actors raises problem for the categories of our theories, they, secondly, also raise questions about the changing character of diplomacy.  These actors do diplomacy, they have embassies and representations, they partake in international meetings and so on. They mimic traditional diplomacy. Yet, they cannot be diplomats in the traditional game, since this role is reserved for states. Their participation hence  raises questions about how the practice of diplomacy is changing because of their participation and their invention of new strategies and tactics. Speaking about diplomatic monsters hence is to ask for the contemporary meaning of both the concept and the practice of diplomacy.

Drawing on the concept of monsters allowed us to compare and contrast how different actors do diplomacy and how this has effects on the concept as well as the practice of diplomacy. The workshop included contributions by Peter Sutch (Cardiff University) on the rise of omnilateralism, Fiona Adamson (SOAS) on rebel diplomats, Simon Rofe (SOAS) on sports clubs, Christian Bueger (Cardiff University) on academic diplomacy, Michele Acuto (UCL) on cities, Holly Snaith (University of Copenhagen) on the European Central Bank, Fiona McConnell (Oxford University) on UNPO, Francesca Dickson (Cardiff University) on Wales, Paul Whiteway (independent Diplomat London Office) on the work of Independent Diplomat, and Cornelia Navari (University of Buckingham) with concluding reflections on the concept of monsters and the changing practice of diplomacy.

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