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Isolation in International Relations

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Since the end of the Second World War, diverse aspects of International Relations (IR) – including foreign policy, global governance, negotiation studies, and political economy – have been guided by an understanding that if markets were kept open, and states and their peoples interconnected, both prosperity and peace would stand a far better chance. In contrast, isolation – or its translation into a national strategy, isolationism – is often treated as a profanity in both the study as well as the practice of IR. In my Darwin lecture, I offer a different perspective. I argue that universal interconnectedness can no longer be treated as a rule-of-thumb for securing motherhood and apple-pie; indeed, sometimes, time-bound or party-specific forms of isolation may be just the cure for certain types of political and economic maladies as well as to achieve new and updated goals. I provide illustrations of cases where a move away from interconnectedness and towards (some) isolationism may be advisable, perhaps even necessary. The argument generates some interesting implications for research and policy.

Professor Amrita Narlikar is the President of the German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA). She is also a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in Delhi, and non-resident Distinguished Fellow at the Australia-India Institute at the University of Melbourne. In 2021, she was elected to an Honorary Fellowship at Darwin College, University of Cambridge. Amrita is the author/editor of 13 volumes, the most recent of which is the co-edited How-Not-To Guide for International Relations, which was selected as a special issue (September 2022) to mark the centenary anniversary of International Affairs (a top-ranked journals in the field). Prior to moving to Germany, Amrita was Reader in International Political Economy at the University of Cambridge. She read for her M.Phil. and D.Phil. at Balliol, Oxford, and held a Junior Research Fellowship at St John’s, Oxford. To read more about her research and policy engagement, see or follow her on Twitter @AmritaNarlikar.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Lecture Series series.

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