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  • Writer's pictureSorina I. Crisan, PhD

5 Book Recommendations: Insights on International Relations & Politics from Our Interviewees

During the month of August, we would like to suggest the inclusion of two noteworthy book chapters and three books on your summer reading list. The following five books which are recommended in this article either feature at least one chapter or have been exclusively written by five distinguished individuals interviewed in our Persuasive Discourse series. These books have been published between 2018 and 2022, and focus on the fields of International Relations and Political Science. They address a wide range of significant themes, such as: ethical considerations surrounding torture, effective strategies in countering violent extremism, the intricate dynamics of dissent and repression, collaborations and challenges faced in peacebuilding endeavors, the transformative role of spatial factors in achieving reconciliation, the moral complexities inherent to torture, empirical research pertaining to extremism, strategies for resistance, the successful forging of partnerships in peacebuilding efforts, and the influence of physical and spatial factors on peacebuilding outcomes. Furthermore and most importantly, each book recommendation is accompanied by a link providing access to the interview we conducted with the respective author, between October 2021 to November 2022, which delves into their comprehensive body of work and illuminates their career trajectory so that readers may learn from them or find inspiration for their own professional journeys.

Summer book recommendations written by 5 Persuasive Discourse interviewees.

1. Permitting the Prohibited: Reconsidering Torture as a Contested Concept

Dr. Jonathan Luke Austin contributed one chapter called, “Why Perpetrators Matter,” to the book titled: “Permitting the Prohibited: Reconsidering Torture as a Contested Concept.” You may read Dr. Austin's chapter here and/or you may purchase the entire book here.

One quote, among many, that stood out to me from Dr. Austin's chapter is his answer of the following question: Is torture trained for?

“The idea that torturers are trained is common. But the roots of this claim

are located in several particularly prominent cases that are not more widely

empirically evidenced. This most notably includes the suggestion that the military training programmes established at the so-called School of the Americas

(SOA) were used by the United States to train troops in torture techniques

during its dirty wars across Latin America (Blakeley 2006; Kuzmarov 2012).

However, even these cases are less clear-cut than it is assumed. While the

manuals distributed at the SOA were indeed used to train troops in violent

counterinsurgency techniques, the manuals in question also repeatedly note

prohibitions on torture and even quote the Geneva conventions (Austin 2017a,

163–65). In fact, where it occurs, training in torture is very rarely explicitly

supported by manuals or PowerPoint slides. Instead, it is more usually carried

out informally during, say, cigarette breaks where soldiers brag of the techniques they have used or through simple mimicry (where one torturer’s practices are copied by another person present)” (Lang, T. Faye, D. & Cox, R., 25).

To learn more about the overall work and career path of Dr. Austin, please read the Persuasive Discourse interview we conducted with him, in October 2022 (link here).

2. Researching the Evolution of Countering Violent Extremism

Fabien Merz wrote one chapter called, “Improving National PVE Strategies: Lessons Learned from The Swiss Case,” in the book titled: “Researching the Evolution of Countering Violent Extremism.” You may download or read the entire book here.

Merz starts the chapter he wrote by describing the Swiss context, as follows:

“During the post-9/11 era, Switzerland has, for different reasons, been less affected by so-called jihadist(1) activities than most of its European neighbors (Vidino, 2013). Furthermore, the country has so far been spared a jihadi attack on its soil. Despite this, Switzerland has been affected by the global wave of jihadist radicalization and the corollary phenomenon of so-called “foreign terrorist fighters” (FTFs). This was mainly caused by instability in Syria and Iraq and the concomitant rise of the group known as the “Islamic State” (IS) from around 2013 onwards (Merz, 2016). The number of FTFs departing from Switzerland (93 till November 2019, according to the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service) might seem small in absolute numbers compared to the many hundreds who left other European countries such as France, Belgium, the UK, and Germany (Barrett, 2017). However, in relative numbers, for example, regarding the ratio of FTFs per capita, Switzerland only seems to be slightly less touched by this phenomenon than countries like Germany and more affected than countries like Italy (Eser et al., 2019). Consequentially and reflecting the assessment of most European intelligence services, the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service (FIS) assesses the threat emanating from jihadist FTFs as heightened since 2013 (Situation Report FIS, 2013). Since 2015, it has recognized the issue of FTFs as a “flashpoint” and considers the threat emanating from IS as a major area of concern (Situation Report FIS, 2015).

Prompted by this new threat landscape, Switzerland published its first federal Counterterrorism Strategy in 2015 (Federal Council, 2015). One of the main areas of activity listed in this strategy relates to the preventive dimension of counterterrorism, which also comprises the prevention of radicalization, commonly referred to as the prevention of violent extremism (PVE). Building on this strategy, Switzerland has not only developed the Foreign Policy Action Plan on Preventing Violent Extremism (2016) but also published the domestic National Action Plan to Prevent and Counter Radicalization and Violent Extremism in 2017. This domestic action plan, which is to be understood as the country’s national PVE strategy, is informed by the recommendations made in the Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism (PVE) of the UN Secretary-General (2016), which is itself based on the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy (2006).

The domestic action plan proposes preventive measures that are adapted to the Swiss context and aimed at curbing different factors that enable radicalization. These measures are grouped into different areas of activity, such as, amongst others, the enhancement of cooperation and coordination between relevant actors, the enhancement of international cooperation, and the enhancement of knowledge and expertise on the phenomenon of radicalization and violent extremism. The latter area of activity also comprises measures aimed at “organizing research projects and studies on radicalization and violent extremism in Switzerland” (Swiss Security Network, 2017, p. 13).

It is in light of this provision that a team of researchers from different Swiss institutions of higher education were, in mid-2018, mandated by Swiss authorities to conduct a study on different areas relevant to the prevention of violent extremism in Switzerland. Besides briefly summarizing the results in section 2, which can be found in full detail in the study report (Eser et al., 2019), this paper will also seek to take up key observations that were made during the process of working on this project in section 3. Section 4 will present solution approaches in order to address the shortcomings identified” (Atamuradova, F. & Zeiger, S., 21-22).

To learn about the overall work and career path of Fabien Merz, please read the Persuasive Discourse interview we conducted with him, in August 2022 (link here).

3. Contentious Compliance: Dissent and Repression under International Human Rights Law

Dr. Emily Hencken Ritter and Dr. Courtenay R. Conrad wrote the book titled: “Contentious Compliance: Dissent and Repression under International Human Rights Law.” The book may be purchased here.

To spark your curiosity in this book, here it the abstract:

“Do international human rights treaties constrain governments from repressing their populations and violating rights? In Contentious Compliance, Courtenay R. Conrad and Emily Hencken Ritter present a new theory of human rights treaty effects founded on the idea that governments repress as part of a domestic conflict with potential or actual dissidents. By introducing dissent like peaceful protests, strikes, boycotts, or direct violent attacks on government, their theory improves understanding of when states will violate rights-and when international laws will work to protect people. Conrad and Ritter investigate the effect of international human rights treaties on domestic conflict and ultimately find that treaties improve human rights outcomes by altering the structure of conflict between political authorities and potential dissidents. A powerful, careful, and empirically sophisticated rejoinder to the critics of international human rights law, Contentious Compliance offers new insights and analyses that will reshape our thinking on law and political violence.”

To learn about the overall work and career path of Dr. Emily Hencken Ritter, please read the Persuasive Discourse interview we conducted with her, in November 2022 (link here).

4. The Interaction between Local and International Actors in Peacebuilding: Partners for Peace

Sara Hellmüller wrote the book titled: “The Interaction between Local and International Actors in Peacebuilding: Partners for Peace.” The book may be purchased here.

To give you a glimpse into the book here's a quote where Hellmüller describes the main argument:

“This book argues that the interaction between local and international peacebuilding actors influenced the way in which their programs contributed to peace in Ituri [DRC]. This is related to the nature of the conflict they addressed. The book shows that the issues around which the conflict in Ituri broke out were not distinctively local, national or regional, but were influenced by aspects on all these levels. Thereby, it builds on the insights about the co-production of violence by different factors, as mentioned above. However, it provides a novel way to analyze such milti-layered conflicts. Rather than seeing the conflict issues as specifically local, national or regional and drawing a clear distinction between them, it deconstructs them to show that they can often not be assigned to one specific geographical level, but are influenced by aspects on different levels at the same time. For example, while land is usually seen as a local issue, governance as a national issue and natural resources as a regional conflict issue, this book argues that they are not distinctively assignable to either of this level, but influenced by aspects on all of them” (Hellmüller, S., 7).

To learn about the overall work and career path followed by Dr. Hellmüller, please read the Persuasive Discourse interview we conducted with her, in January 2022 (link here).

5. Peacebuilding and Spatial Transformation. Peace, Space and Place

Dr. Annika Björkdahl wrote a book together with Stefanie Kappler which is called: Peacebuilding and Spatial Transformation. You may purchase the book here.

To help spark your curiosity, here is the book's abstract:

“This book investigates peacebuilding in post-conflict scenarios by analysing the link between peace, space and place.

By focusing on the case studies of Cyprus, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Northern Ireland and South Africa, the book provides a spatial reading of agency in peacebuilding contexts. It conceptualises peacebuilding agency in post-conflict landscapes as situated between place (material locality) and space (the imaginary counterpart of place), analysing the ways in which peacebuilding agency can be read as a spatial practice. Investigating a number of post-conflict cases, this book outlines infrastructures of power and agency as they are manifested in spatial practice. It demonstrates how spatial agency can take the form of conflict and exclusion on the one hand, but also of transformation towards peace over time on the other hand. Against this background, the book argues that agency drives place-making and space-making processes. Therefore, transformative processes in post-conflict societies can be understood as materialising through the active use and transformation of space and place.

This book will be of interest to students of peacebuilding, peace and conflict studies, human geography and IR in general.”

To learn about the overall work and career path of Dr. Björkdahl, please read the Persuasive Discourse interview we conducted with her, in October 2021 (link here).

Thank you for reading.

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Austin, J.L. (2022). “Why Perpetrators Matter,” in Permitting the Prohibited: Reconsidering Torture as a Contested Concept, Lang, T. Faye, D. & Cox, R. (Eds.), London: Routledge. [PDF]

Björkdahl, A. & Kappler, S. (2017). “Peacebuilding and Spatial Transformation. Peace, Space and Place,” Abingdon and New York: Routledge. [Available to purchase here]

Hellmüller, S. (2018). “The Interaction between Local and International Actors in Peacebuilding: Partners for Peace,” Cham: Palgrave Macmillan. [Available to purchase here]

Hencken Ritter, E. & Conrad, C. R. (2019). “Contentious Compliance: Dissent and Repression under International Human Rights Law,” Oxford University Press. [Available to purchase here]

Merz, F. (2021) “Improving National PVE Strategies: Lessons Learned from The Swiss Case,” in Researching the Evolution of Countering Violent Extremism, Atamuradova, F., Zeiger, S. (Eds.), Abu Dhabi: Hedaya Center, 21-​40. [PDF]

Illustrations by: The main article illustration shows in the background a photograph taken by Robert Anasch, courtesy of photo gallery, which is overlapped by five images of each book cover discussed here.

Now it is your turn! Like and share this interview with your community. And, let us know your thoughts, in the comments section below.


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