Meet the lecturer: Dr Emel Akçalı

Each month we chat to a university lecturer about their passion for their subject – and for teaching

Emel Akçalı was a resident fellow at Aix-Marseille University and assistant professor at the Central European University, Budapest, before becoming senior lecturer in international relations at Swansea University. Her areas of interest include social movements and upheavals, globalisation and ethno-territorial conflicts.

Did a specific event foster your interest in international relations?

As a high school student in Tarsus, Turkey, I was chosen at 15 to be a delegate at the Model United Nations (MUN) in the Hague, representing Senegal. Learning about West Africa while preparing for MUN, alongside the Yugoslav wars continuing in the background, aroused my interest in studying international relations. So did the event itself, meeting international students of my age, simulating diplomacy between countries I hadn’t even heard of.

COP 26 showed us, once again, that not even the world’s biggest existential threat can trump national interest when it comes to directing states’ actions. Can this be overcome?

A report by watchdogs apparently indicated that 500+ attendees at the summit were either from countries with major oil and gas industries, or work for organisations lobbying on behalf of the fossil fuel industry. More than national interests, it seems that the fossil fuel market’s interests were at stake there. These firms need to be convinced that the world is facing an existential threat, but this means that their existence and the globalised economy will be challenged. Hence, the need for restructuring the ways in which national and global economies work. Without that, the climate change goal will be a tough call.

“As a high school student in Tarsus, Turkey, I was chosen at 15 to be a delegate at the Model United Nations in the Hague”

In terms of international relations, what should the West learn from its largely failed bid to cast the rest of the world in its neoliberal image?

To create a genuine vision and common goals in international politics, the dominance of a single currency of one major economy – serving as the major reserve asset in the global system – needs to be contested. This currency was the British pound before the US dollar took on this role. This is a major problem for developing countries because they cannot use their own currencies to pay for imports. Instead, they must export goods in return for hard currencies – the dollar, pound, euro, yen, etc – and then use these to pay for imports. This perpetuates the vicious circle which has created the socio-economic, political, racial inequalities and hierarchies between the East-West-North-South, as well as deterrents against the formation of solidaristic bonds between nations to deal with global issues.

What is the secret to teaching international relations effectively, and what have been your most rewarding moments?

I find the decolonisation of the curriculum efforts noteworthy, especially for black, Asian and minority ethnic and other minoritised – eg disabled and LGBTQ – students. I have promoted efforts for inclusion and visibility in my department to create an epistemic community around this issue, while colleagues are re-exploring their resources and joining reading groups around the subject. The decolonisation of international studies was one of the main themes discussed during face-to-face study groups with students when we returned to campus last year. I have included the most recent sources on the concept of race and security studies in my critical security and international relations theory modules, and prepared a lecture/seminar on the issue which stimulated much heated discussion. I have advised colleagues to do the same, which led to the inclusion of at least one woman scholar in security studies on their required reading list; previously, most lists included male scholars only. This approach has encouraged our international and minority students during lectures and seminars, diversifying their dissertation and essay topics, such as ‘To what extent do sexual and gender minority asylum/refugee organisations face disadvantages’ and ‘An in-depth analysis into the lack of female participation in UK government and the barriers to equal gender representation’. I feel gratified to have stimulated such endeavours for a more progressive and pluralistic campus life.

Follow Emel on Twitter @EmelAkcali777

You might also like: Meet the lecturer: Dr James Weinberg

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