Best Graduate Paper 2021

The winner of the EISA´s Best Graduate Paper 2021 award is Jan Eijking for his paper "Intervention from nowhere: Technocratic internationalism and the Suez Canal, 1856-81".


The abstract of the paper:

IR has yet to fully make sense of the nineteenth-century relationship between
internationalism and the empire-system. Prevailing functionalist “origin stories” of global
governance have a hard time doing so—in part, this paper argues, because they assume expertderived depoliticisation to be a fait accompli: the by no means automatic outcome of a contentious
process is fixed as a given analytical assumption. Examining a surprisingly neglected, pivotal case
of international cooperation—the making of the Suez Canal—the paper makes the case for a
historicised alternative to such views. Technocratic internationalism, a set of ideas and practices
that guided the canal project, introduced a supposedly impartial idiom that both masked and
enabled informal empire in the shape of “intervention from nowhere”. The Suez Canal is an
emblematic case of this, and a key space in which the parameters of an internationalism
compatible with empire were envisioned. Imperial power relations were so extensively taken for
granted that an apparently cosmopolitan project like technocratic internationalism could be
turned into an argument in favour of empire. The paper argues that, first, technocratic appeals to
internationality facilitated large-scale infrastructure projects that actually constituted aggressive
economic and political interventions; and second, that technocratic internationalism evolved as
part of a new informal repertoire of empire-system practices. It was through technocratic
internationalism that empire-system logics, assumptions, and hierarchies could be sustained by
being held constant as neutral, unproblematic aspects of modern global governance.


The committee comment:

This well-written and argued paper takes the reader on a historical journey around the imperial politics of the certification, construction, and contestation of the Suez Canal in the 19th century. Criticizing the IR’s functionalist and depoliticized characterization of technocratic and expert governance, the paper introduces the concept of technocratic internationalism and illustrates the entanglement of infrastructure projects and imperial visions. It offers an excellent historization of the Suez Canal by unmasking the empire-system logics, assumptions, and hierarchies that shaped the politics around the Canal as unproblematic aspects of efficient governance. The paper does so by presenting a compelling story that links global historiographies and critical political thinking in a self-reflective way.

About the Best Gradaute Paper award

The Best Graduate Paper Award recognizes and supports the contribution of PhD students to the development of the field of International Relations. The paper awarded with this prize must be an original  contribution to existing debates in the field and offer a careful, convincing and rigorous analysis. The recipient will be chosen from the contributions of graduate students to the annual EWIS workshops.