Attending the International Studies Association Conference 2017 in Baltimore
Updated: Jun 1
This year the International Studies Association (ISA) Convention was held in Baltimore with the theme Understanding Change in World Politics. The name was apt from the perspective of this American citizen considering the state of turmoil the country has been in since the Trump election upset. To this point, the impact of the travel ban on who was able to attend or not was taken up by a reporter from Inside Higher Ed who came to the convention and also spoke to some ISA members who weren’t able to attend or chose not to attend as a boycott of the location for the convention. While in the past the bylines restricted ISA to only hold conventions in the US or Canada, this year they were changed to allow other locations.
My convention experience began with a pre-convention workshop with fellow Women, Peace and Security scholars and practitioners. I was especially excited to connect with Henri Myrttinen, Head of Gender in Peacebuilding, who shared with me a new report from International Alert “When merely existing is a risk: Sexual and gender minorities in conflict, displacement and peacebuilding.” It was fantastic to learn there are other folks concerned with refugees and the WPS agenda, a topic I’m just beginning to research for a possible chapter in my dissertation. I also got to see a hard copy of the Working Paper I wrote for the LSE Centre for WPS!
I was fortunate to be on and attend some fantastic panels about queer scholars and queer subjects in international relations. On Friday I presented my conference paper on the panel Queer Subjectivities: Human Rights, Identity, and Political Agency. This presentation was an early draft of a possible chapter for my dissertation that will pertain to how sexual orientation and gender identity matters to asylum seekers using the WPS framework as a way of looking at this question. I also attended a panel/workshop hosted by LGBTQA caucus about being queer in the academy and future work the caucus might take on to support LGBTQA faculty and students. The founders of the caucus Mike Bosia, Cai Wilkinson and Sandy McEvoy reflected on what it took to start the caucus at ISA and what it's like being openly queer in the current political climate. In addition to the panels and workshop I attended a number of the Feminist Theory and Gender Studies (FTGS) events including the business meeting and awards banquet. The FTGS section at ISA has been an incredible resource to me. I’m now serving on the Executive Committee and attended my first meeting with the group right before catching a plane back to Boston.
Due to the aforementioned post-election climate, at the last minute three panel sessions were added to the conference schedule to address questions of international studies in the age of Trump. I participated in the final of the three sessions. At this session, participants were particularly invested in findings ways to continue to have late-breaking panels like this at future conferences and to bring in local practitioners/activists to the convention which until this point has been a challenge or impossible. Throughout the conference in different sessions the question of how to engage with students in a time of increased hate crimes and discrimination was a topic from many scholars concerned with supporting students in this stressed environment. Faculty were able to share experiences and best practices they use on different campuses but it was clear most are overwhelmed and in need of more support for students.
After a few days of intense convention days I took an afternoon to explore Baltimore. I was able to check out the Baltimore Museum of Art that had a fantastic exhibit of Guerilla Girls art! A group of us also went to Red Emma’s Feminist Bookstore and Coffeehouse full of amazing books, activists and vegan food.
These conventions are overwhelming, but it’s always fantastic to have a chance to sit down with scholars who I otherwise only engage with through social media or academic email chains. I spent time with too many amazing people to list but every year I feel more welcome in a community of scholars doing important queer and feminist scholarship and I’m very much looking forward to seeing many of them again in San Francisco!