Research update

So far this summer I have spent a lot of time traveling, as well as many, many hours dealing with technical and bureaucratic headaches associated with a new IT system at my university. It has been challenging not just to find time to write meaningful and interesting blog posts here, but also to get research work done. I did update an entry I wrote on foreign aid in the International Encyclopedia of Geography, and it’s a good thing too because re-reading it, I found that the original version was quickly approaching the end of its shelf life after just four or five years. I also was able to revise and resubmit a  manuscript co-authored with my research assistant, but since it’s still under review I can’t say much about it. Once it’s published (hopefully) I will drain a bit more of what’s left in my SSHRC funds to make it open access, and enrich one of the world’s largest publishing companies with more money from a publicly-funded research grant.

In any case, a few weeks ago I just finished up the third annual research report as part of my yearly attempt to provide a summary of the past year’s research to those who participated by allowing me to interview them, and to detail trends and next steps. I am near the close of my particular project on the CIDA-DFAIT amalgamation, though there are potential options forward beyond my current focus on the institutional changes associated with bringing those two formerly independent units under one departmental roof within Global Affairs Canada. In the past year, I did turn my attention to the issues of recruitment and training the foreign service and GAC more broadly; the informal and formal codes and practices shaping notions of professionalism and work in the department; and the geographic patterns of rotationality in diplomatic work. The first and last of these will occupy me this final year of funding, and I am currently, along with one of my research assistants, working on developing further some of the ideas around embassies and diplomatic work. There is surprisingly little in the geographic scholarship on embassies, consulates, and associated sites such as official residences as spaces of state power, diplomatic labor, and social life and reproduction. One has to turn to diplomatic history and architectural history to get at some of these points, so we are hoping to develop more fully a political geographical analysis of diplomatic spaces and rotationality, i.e., the condition of work in the foreign service where one moves periodically between foreign posts as a representative of one’s government. I also was able to complete another embassy visit this past spring, this time at a Canadian post in Sub-Saharan Africa, to accompany one I did a couple of years ago in Latin America. Embassies are not uniform spaces, and the intersection of architectural design, labor practices, ideology, and international relations strongly shapes the space of the embassy and its physical context, layout, function, and evolution.

I am also hoping to more fully expand on an ‘expanded’ or ‘extensive’ concept of diplomacy, looking particularly at the role of diplomatic spouses and families in rotational systems and spaces. There is a growing body of critical and often feminist research on this dating back at least to Cynthia Enloe’s work in the late 1980s on feminist theories of international relations, and it is important, I think, to address within the Canadian foreign service. The department has worked to diversify its personnel in gender terms, but this runs into a lot of other obstacles, including the narrowness of geographic sources and educational networks from which new officers are drawn, and the need to consider more than gender in the composition of the foreign service, trade commission, consular service, and development officer corps. There is a lot to be done on this, and it will probably extend well beyond my current dwindling grant funding, but I have a lot more to think about not only in terms of what questions need to be asked and how to answer them. Classes start in just a few short weeks as well, so I will (very slowly, probably) develop more on the blog here with a post on my early summer travel to Spain, and one on the changing nature of Windsor as demonstrated by the growing speculative nature of the local housing market.