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The 2016 Latin American Studies Association conference is right around the corner, and I am looking forward to participating. This year, I will be giving a paper called “The United States and Latin America Decline of power or decline in interest?” on a panel on Sunday at 2:30. The panel, organized by Laura MacDonald of Carleton, is called “The Role of External Actors in Post-Hegemonic Latin America.” My paper (abstract below) sort of starts with asking, “how ‘post-hegemonic’ is the Western Hemisphere?” I am also discussant on a panel Sunday evening on “Contentious political issues in contemporary inter-American affairs: from (non)insurgency to international security and trade policymaking,” which includes my friend and superb young scholar Mariano Bertucci of Tulane.
Abstract: It is commonly asserted that the United States no longer holds the dominant position it once did in Latin America. This decline is credited to several factors: a global decline in U.S. power, lower levels of U.S. attention to the region, the entrance of new extra-hemispheric challengers, and more “assertive” Latin American leaders. This paper seeks to test these claims of U.S. decline. First, using a variety of metrics, it will ask whether U.S. power in the hemisphere has declined relative to regional and extra-regional actors. It assesses recent, frequently cited U.S. struggles to exert influence Latin America—that is, relational power—in comparison to the more distant past. The paper concludes that U.S. decline has too often been assumed instead of demonstrated, that when evidence has been provided it has often been anecdotal, and that this evidence actually demonstrates significant continuities. U.S. decline, both relative to extra-hemispheric powers and in regards to states within the region has been overstated, in part because of a tendency to exaggerate U.S. power in the past, a focus on changes, and an underestimation of the continued depth of U.S. military, economic, structural, and ideational power in the region. There have been real changes in the geographic concentration and nature of U.S. power, as well as in the economic role of China. However, these changes are often outweighed by the continuities of relationships that are still defined by asymmetry.
I spent last week at the 2016 International Studies Association conference in Atlanta. I am finding every ISA a little more beneficial, as I move away from being a grad student who feels like a bit of a supplicant to being an established “early career” scholar. That is, it is much nicer to be able to refer to past publications and ongoing projects than to always be talking about one’s dissertation and hoping to meet people on hiring committees.
ISA was particularly useful this year, my first traveling from the UK to participate. On the one hand, it gave me the chance to catch up with many Washington contacts, which was professionally beneficial and personally gratifying. It’s wonderful that American University has such a presence. ISA feels a bit like homecoming, and that’s special when you are an ocean away. On the other, I had a great excuse to introduce myself to people from all over the UK, with whom I might be able to collaborate, but whom I might not usually meet here. The Bridging the Gap project has provided another, related, home at ISA. I am bumping into BtG folks wherever I go, and the community active and welcoming.
ISA is truly international, and I had many useful conversations with colleagues from CIDE and ColMex in Mexico City, from Los Andes in Bogota, from PUC in Rio, to name just a few. The Latin American participation appears to be growing (though I would love to see some numbers), despite some pretty obvious currency and fiscal pressures for many institutions there. I think there is growing interest in IR in Latin America and an increasing quality and professionalization at many Latin American universities (something in great evidence at CIDE, of course). The grad students I met from Latin America were also top notch. Perhaps the largest crowd for any panel I attended was for an 8:15 am panel on Latin American foreign policy. The papers were great and the discussion even better.
I presented a paper on asymmetry and small states in International Relations, with the great privilege of having many of the key authors I was citing (and at times arguing with) on the panel and in the audience. Again, it was a productive engagement that I think will lead, most directly, to a follow-up panel and, a bit later, to additional collaboration.
In grad school, I was a bit of a conference-skeptic, but at this point, I am already looking forward to ISA 2017. I assume the call for papers will go out in about a week…