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Dr Fiona McConnell    
University of Oxford
Philip Leverhulme Prize

Hidden geographies of diplomacy

Fiona McConnell’s innovative work on diplomacy and geopolitics among non-state entities combines theoretical sophistication with empirical rigour and has been influential within the diplomatic community 

UNPO delegation outside the European Parliament, July 2015. Photograph: F McConnell.

Despite conflicts and human rights abuses increasingly affecting non-state actors there is a problematic diplomatic deficit: of the over 6,500 peoples, nations and ethnic groups in the world fewer than 200 are represented in the United Nations. Much remains to be done in analysing how such marginal geopolitical actors – diaspora groups, unrecognised polities, indigenous communities – engage in international politics, play a role in conflict mediation and can shape alternative geopolitical futures. This is particularly pertinent in an era when the geopolitical landscape is changing rapidly. Existing scholarship in history, political science and international relations has charted the history of diplomacy, narrated biographies of influential diplomats and examined how diplomacy is changing in the digital age. What is missing is a geographical analysis of diplomacy that turns attention to the everyday spatial practices of diplomacy, the forging of transnational alliances and the politics of marginalisation. 

As a political geographer I have been interested in examining both the barriers faced by stateless communities and the innovative strategies they use to make their voices heard on the international stage. I have worked closely with representatives of stateless communities who do advocacy at the UN and the European Parliament and have sought to understand and document their experiences, diplomatic practices and goals. I plan to use my Philip Leverhulme Prize to develop this work in a number of ways. I will map hitherto hidden geographies of diplomacy, establish unique archives of the foreign policy strategies of stateless communities and establish new ways of thinking about diplomacy as an inherently spatial practice. Methodologically the research will combine approaches from social and geographical sciences to examine stateless diplomacy at three scales: the international, inter-regional alliances and experiences of individual diplomats. I will undertake network analysis and mapping to examine stateless communities attending and seeking to speak at the UN, drawing on UN records, reports of NGOs and interviews with stateless representatives. I will also work with diaspora representatives of stateless communities to establish unique archives of their foreign policy strategies. Such communities often have records relating to foreign relations (letters, speeches etc.) but struggle to keep these materials both secure and accessible. Through analysing the hitherto unstudied diplomatic strategies of these communities I will document a hidden corpus of diplomatic knowledge production and map and analyse emerging transnational alliances.

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