Best Dissertation Award 2018

The winner of the EISA´s Best Dissertation Award 2018 is Frank Stengel for his thesis “Discursive Change and Foreign Policy: A Discourse Analysis of Germany’s Changing Stance on the International Use of Force”


The abstract of the thesis:

How is radical policy change made possible? How do taboos and norms sometimes weaken or vanish? What makes military violence acceptable for democratic audiences? The dissertation explores these questions from a discourse theoretical perspective, analyzing in detail the changing role of the military in German peace and security policy. It examines the dynamics of discursive change that made participation in military operations possible against the background of German antimilitarist culture. Once considered a strict taboo, so-called out-of-area operations have now become widely considered by German policymakers to be without alternative.

The dissertation argues that an understanding of how certain policies are made possible (in this case, military operations abroad as well as force transformation), one needs to focus on processes of discursive change that result in different policy options appearing moral, rational, appropriate, feasible, or even self-evident. Drawing on “Essex School” discourse theory, the book develops a theoretical framework to understand how discursive change works and elaborates on how discursive change makes once unthinkable courses of action not just acceptable but at times even seem without alternative.

Based on a detailed discourse analysis of more than 25 years of German parliamentary debates, the dissertation seeks to provide an explanation for: (1) the emergence of a new hegemonic discourse in German security policy after the end of the Cold War (discursive change), (2) the rearticulation of German antimilitarism in the process (ideational change/norm erosion) and (3) the making-possible of military operations and force transformation (policy change). In doing so, it also demonstrates the benefit of a poststructuralist approach compared to the naïve realism and linear conceptions of norm change so prominent in the study of German foreign policy and, if to a lesser extent, International Relations more generally.


The committee comment:

The committee truly enjoyed reading this dissertation in particular, and found it to be very impressive and ground-breaking in terms of theory, approach, and research.  Indeed, it is a truly remarkable work in terms of significance and originality. The use of poststructural discourse analysis in a highly operationalized and innovative way to examine over 25 years of archival documents for German parliamentary debates impressed the committee.  This account of how and why German policy-makers changed from being antimilitarist to willing to support military operations even outside of Europe was highly compelling.

About the Best Dissertation Award

The Best Dissertation Award recognizes outstanding work by young scholars in the field of International Relations. It is awarded to dissertations that make a highly original and significant contribution to International Relations based on rigorous research.


The call for nominations for this year’s EISA Best Dissertation Award is now open.

Please attach an electronic copy of the dissertation (pdf or docx file) with the nomination, which should be submitted electronically to by 31 October 2019.