This interview is part of a series of interviews with academics and practitioners early in their careers. Current research and projects as well as advice for other young scientists are discussed in the interviews.
Frances Cruz is Assistant Professor at the College of Arts and Letters, University of the Philippines, Diliman, and Co-Convenor of the Decolonial Studies Program at the UP Center for Integrative and Development Studies. She is currently President of the Philippine International Studies Organization, Vice President of the European Studies Association of the Philippines, At-Large South and Southeast Asia and Pacific Representative of the Global South Caucus (ISA) and board member of the Inter-Asian Society for Cultural Studies. Your latest book, International Studies in the Philippines: Mapping New Frontiers in Theory and Practice, is co-edited with Nassef Manabilang Adiong and published by Routledge in April 2020.
What (or who) made the most significant changes in your thinking or encouraged you to pursue your research area?
It’s hard to remember a particular event, reading, or person that encouraged me to pursue my research areas. In general, I would say that my research is shaped by my academic and personal background. I received training in the humanities, linguistics and international studies and this led me to find common ground between the three. In addition, many of my thematic interests are shaped by the fact that I have to move between and between several regions, from my childhood in the Middle East to my apprenticeship in the Philippines and in Europe.
The Decolonial Studies where you are co-convenor is the latest research program from the University of the Philippines’ Center for Integrative and Development Studies. How does it differ from other research disciplines? How does the global discourse and research on international relations meet or call this decolonial approach into question?
Due to a number of events over the past few decades, such as the call for less Eurocentric curricula and cannons, the call for decolonization within science and between societies in general, and the struggle with race in structuring relationships between peoples and states keen interest in ensuring that Eurocentric paradigms do not lead to inappropriate or imprecise narratives, practices, guidelines, and analytical frames of events taking place elsewhere. These topics have a long tradition in research in the humanities and social sciences and draw on anti-colonial criticism, critical theory, post-colonialism, etc. However, we see that even after decades of calls for more pluralism in knowledge production, the canons have remained largely unchanged. Since many scientific disciplines were founded in response to questions and areas of study that responded to past events, the complexity of today’s world requires significantly more local nuances, transversal approaches, and interdisciplinary collaboration and synthesis. With this in mind, the program aims to make known and to address systemic and normalized practices and attitudes that are remnants of the colonial era and to reflect on an unjust, unreflective implementation, incompatible with local needs and contexts or simply unsuitable for the present Promote colonial problems.
I would hesitate to say that both perspectives critical of colonialism and its aftermath in politics and society have necessarily been neglected in international relations. The criticism is that, as with other critical or reflective theories, decoloniality and postcolonial perspectives are a challenge for mainstream approaches and methods, deal with empirical data and contribute more concretely to politics. Nonetheless, since at least the 1970s, there has been an abundance of science that has actively challenged Eurocentrism and has represented various forms of conceptual and theoretical views from the non-West and the Global South. There are many recommendations on how colonialism, its criticism and non-Western approaches can be integrated more concretely into the curriculum. The extent to which these are actively involved in pedagogy differs greatly from institution to institution and from region to region.
are decolonial perspectives and decolonization initiatives that challenge traditional IR to such an extent that traditional perspectives become obsolete? What foreign policy implications does a decolonial perspective have in international relations?
Caution is advised here as there are many approaches to claiming decolonization and there is a tendency to see decolonization synonymous with the decolonial option associated with the Latin American school, but that is an entirely different topic. It is unclear that decolonial perspectives necessarily encourage a collective effort to make “traditional perspectives” “obsolete” per se, and this type of zero-sum framing tends to impede meaningful dialogue. Rather, it is known for scrutinizing Eurocentric aspects of such perspectives and their practical implications (as this often has significant global, regional, and national implications).
For example, some scholars who want to decolonize IR advocate a greater plurality of sources of knowledge, while others advocate reflective and critical theories that encourage us to rethink concepts and experiences. Sociologist Syed Farid Alatas, for example, has promoted knowledge production that seeks to be independent from ideological and political centrisms, while initiatives by groups such as Inter-Asia Cultural Studies promote learning and knowledge production between societies and peoples in Asia. These are just a few examples of lessons that can be brought from other disciplines to study the international.
Even for those who associate the process of decolonization with more radical upheavals in society as a whole – and this could entail massive institutional transformations – intermediate processes such as deviating from the canon, diversifying curricula and decentring knowledge are suggested by Nayantara, among others Appleton. That’s not to say that there aren’t, or never will, theories trying to create new hegemony under the pretext of decolonization, which is a different matter. At least the spirit of decolonization should encourage scientists on the one hand to integrate reflective thinking about knowledge production – for example in which context knowledge was produced and what circumstances surround knowledge production – and on the other hand to recognize commonalities between them theories that are not the legacy of one specific culture or civilization, as Sally Matthews suggests. As a prefix de- suggests that decoloniality, decolonization and related initiatives contain the express claim to make themselves obsolete through social change.
I find it interesting that critical theories in particular often ask about the foreign policy implications of a decolonial perspective in IR, and on the one hand I understand this because there is a wish that IR can be implemented in practice immediately. On the other hand, it is more than just a question of pragmatic solutions when it comes to rethinking approaches, this is where many critical theories come into play. One example is the Nelson Mandela lecture by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, in which he speaks of a new social contract. Rethinking a social contract has ramifications beyond foreign policy and requires fundamental changes in institutional mandates, priorities, practices, governance, etc. Furthermore, the shortsightedness of pragmatism sometimes neglects larger issues – focus on the Dealing with political responses and restrictions on refugees, for example, leaves out the broader narrative of why there are refugees. These causes and assumptions are things that decolonial projects want to question. That is not to say that decolonial perspectives have no foreign policy application, but that policies that tie in with the general spirit of decolonization or that can create an effective platform for it are not always as explicit as the 1955 Bandung Conference. Policies that include solidarity, for example Promoting knowledge sharing and different practices between indigenous peoples can possibly be described as decolonial, but there are also policies that use the vocabulary of decolonialism while merely adopting the idea of neo-imperialist or status quo politics. Knowing exactly when and how something like this happens is an important characteristic of critical science – co-opting a narrative to maintain an ideological status quo or to introduce new centrisms or hegemony. In our book, for example, we tried to examine how relations between states in the South can be optimized, but also how non-state actors can be strengthened in the practice of international relations. This may not go so far as to cause upheaval in current relationships, but it does explore various ways in which overlooked groups can negotiate, contest, and express their own power.
Your newest book depicts new horizons of non-western approaches in the Filipino experiences of international relations. Can you tell us more about this book and its significance in the broader context of Southeast Asia?
In this book we talk a little about the limits of prevailing paradigms, Euro- or West-centered framing in the Philippines, while we focus on local and regional perspectives in international studies. The book gives an insight into the efforts towards a domestic conceptualization in International Studies and possible connections between International Studies and Area Studies as well as aspects of the international that tend to be overshadowed here in the literature at hand. In the first section of the book, for example, Gamas writes about the mandala as a form of international order in pre-colonial Southeast Asia, before nation states as we know them today existed. Chong, on the other hand, tries to learn from the lessons of the writings of José Rizal, a Filipino intellectual who explored the paths of adaptation and revolutionary change in his various writings. The subject of extrapolation of concepts and sociopolitical thinking relevant to the IR is similarly taken up in Calata’s chapter on Renato Constantino, a historian who wrote about the malformation of Filipinos. The Lopez and Elumbre chapters use language or the reinterpretation of the curriculum to connect local and regional concepts and stories with the unfolding of globalization and transnational exchanges and movements. The exercise can highlight approaches for projects in other parts of Southeast Asia that seek to achieve similar goals in terms of curriculum international studies and interdisciplinary collaboration with IR – one example that comes to mind is the 2019 book International Relations as a Discipline in Thailand: Theory and Subareas, edited by Chanintira na Thalang, Soravis Jayanama and Jittipat Poonkham.
If you have a background in languages and linguistics, would you say they play a role in the indigenous theory of IR?
I will try to combine the two in such a way that there are classes for IR. In 2015, Wigen introduced the concept of “conceptual entanglement” in an article on how the translation and adoption of the word and term “civilization” from French was operationalized during the Ottoman Empire. Chen and Hsu (2018) have published work on the articulation of the concept of human rights in China, while the literature on norm diffusion has suggested forms of localization and interpretation of “global” practices and gives the grassroots more room for maneuver. Since languages are a way of classifying and naming objects and states, similar to taxonomy, they are crucial in finding a vocabulary for concepts that are outside of the dominant languages and associated philosophies and theories. Of course, this is not a new venture. English, a dominant scientific language, has inherited many words and concepts from other languages itself, and this means that there is scope for the generation and dissemination of new concepts through serious engagement with language.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am currently working on using text mining and interpretive methods to investigate the securitization of Muslim identities in traditional and social media in the Philippines. The first half of the project examines how minorities in the Philippines were represented in colonial politics and in newspapers and to what extent this demarcation of identity is linked to the structure of the Filipino nation and at the same time sets the tone for expectations of ontological security. Then I examine continuities and discontinuities between these historical narratives and politics and recent developments in the context of identity and international politics, such as the relationship between the Global War on Terror and incidents in the southern Philippines, such as the clash of Mamasapano and the Marawi Siege.
What is the most important advice you can give young scientists?
At the risk of it sounding simple, we could start with the premise that IR has long been associated with levels of analysis, particularly with regard to systemic behavior. While this is a simplified characterization of IR, it is still difficult to imagine an IR program that doesn’t refer to it in one place or another. At the same time, the appreciation of international relations – ie their practice and not necessarily the discipline – requires a deep appreciation of the forces at the system level, but also the consideration of historical and ontological aspects of nation states and civilizations. The concept of the international therefore requires that one delves deeply not only into literature, but also into oneself, one’s context, one’s needs and that which determines one’s position in the world. My advice to youth in IR will always be to read with empathy, understanding, and a spirit of collaboration and knowledge transfer beyond your discipline. Not only does it make you a more versatile scholar, but it hopefully makes you a more versatile member of humanity as well.
Further reading on e-international relations