Associate Professor of Political Science Kevin Dunn was recently invited to be a keynote speaker at the 2009 Conference of the Association of Development Researchers in Denmark. The conference, titled “Bringing the State Back In: New Roles and Responsibilities of the 21st Century State,” was held in Copenhagen on May 12 and 13. The Association of Development Researchers in Denmark is an association of scholars, practitioners, government representatives, NGOs and various other people interested in development issues. Each year, the conference brings in experts in their fields from across the globe.
At HWS, Dunn teaches courses such as Introduction to International Relations, U.S. Foreign Policy, African Politics, and Theories of International Relations. He specializes in theories of international relations and United States foreign policy, though he is most interested in international relations regarding the Congo. His dissertation, “Imagining the Congo: Constructing and Contesting Identity in International Relations,” discusses the effects of Western policies and attitudes on the Congo. He is also the author of “Africa’s Challenge to International Relations Theory.“
Dunn’s keynote address at the conference was titled “There is no such thing as ‘the state’: discourse, effect, and performativity.” In his address he argued that although scholars often refer to ‘the state’ as if it were natural and recognizable, in reality there is no such thing as ‘the state.’
“I conceive of ‘the state’ as a discursively produced structural/structuring effect that relies on constant acts of performativity to call it into being,” he says. “I argue that beginning with the premise that there is no such thing as the ‘state’ forces us to stop and examine closely what it is we are actually seeing when we talk about ‘the state.’ Perhaps the most important aspect of my conception is understanding that what we regard as ‘the state’ is not an essentialized entity, but an ongoing process. Thus, instead of ‘the state’ I prefer to think about state-making practice.“
Dunn will share what he learned at the conference in the classroom. “I gained a greater familiarity with Scandinavian expectations and understanding of international relations and development which will no doubt enrich my teaching on these issues,” he says. “I will strive to show students how they as individuals and members of American society have an impact on the world around them, both positively and negatively. My desire is to help students generate a better sense of world affairs and their places within them.”