Best Dissertation Award 2022

The winner of the EISA´s Best Dissertation Award 2022 is Joseph Leigh from the The London School of Economics & Political Science for his thesis “The Emergence of Global Power Politics: Imperialism, Modernity and American Expansion, 1870-1914”


The abstract of the thesis:

While the discourse of great power politics is an intellectual commonplace of International Relations theory, its roots in nineteenth-century conceptions of imperialism have rarely been the subject of any sustained historical analysis. Rather, the prevailing literature on great power competition relies on transhistorical theoretical claims about the permanence of geopolitical rivalry under anarchy, in conjunction with a common imaginary of early modern Europe as the birthplace of modern international politics. In contrast, this thesis locates the origins of a specifically modern condition of global power politics in the strategic and ideological conflicts which drove the New Imperialism, c.1870-1914. With a particular focus on the evolution of the American Empire, it traces the international, societal, and geopolitical transformations which made possible the flourishing of imperial ambitions for world power in the century after the first Industrial Revolution (1780-1815). On this basis, the thesis makes three overarching contributions to the study of International Relations. First, to the debate over the origins of modern international politics, it contributes a sociohistorical account of the novel conceptions of grand strategy, empire, and geopolitics associated with the nineteenth-century transition to modernity. Moving beyond the so-called ‘Westphalian narrative’ of international modernity, it locates the production of a distinctively modern conception of national-imperial expansionism and civilizational hierarchy in the lived unevenness of industrialization and colonialism. Second, to the literature in historical sociology and international security, it contributes an intersocietal approach which challenges the conventional ‘states-under-anarchy’ framework and links power-political competition to the unevenly experienced constraints of global social structures. In so doing, it explains how the international pattern of the industrial revolution — the uneven and combined development of an empire-centered world economy and international order — interacted with emergent ideologies of social progress to shape and legitimize imperial projects of political order building. More generally, the thesis recovers the nineteenth century experience of a globalized struggle among empires as a critical counterpoint to apolitical accounts of globalization.


The committee comment:

"Joseph Leigh has produced a very ambitious thesis, offering a superb account of how the processes of modernity were crucial in shaping contemporary global power politics. His work invites us to revisit our approach to standard concepts of IR, notably when the modern concept of sovereignty actually became prevalent and meaningful. Leigh further argues that our understanding of the term "international" in fact primarily expresses overlapping relations between a range of social formations – societies, polities, and socio-symbolic resources. Combining interdisciplinary elements of history, sociology, and IR, Leigh’s archival work excavates patterns of imperial competition across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. His findings offer a novel means by which we can interpret contemporary geopolitical tensions."

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