“Why is there no learning by the state?” – SGPIA Prof L.H.M. Ling

Published on May 30, 2017

Screen-Shot-2017-03-29-at-9.52.10-PM-210x300The latest issue of the Georgetown Journal for Asian Affairs features a fascinating interview with SGPIA Professor L.H.M. Ling. Professor Ling is a pioneer in critical International Affairs theory whose work has pioneered the theoretical framework of Worldism.

In this interview, which seeks to widen the discussion of International Affairs theory, Prof Ling takes us on a fascinating journey from her childhood and the politics of language, through the relevance of International Relations theory, to the current state of Western politics and policy.

Beginning with a question that addresses the motivation for her career trajectory, Prof Ling immediately ties her theoretical framework to her childhood.

During my graduate studies, I often thought of this grocer who owned a small shop around the corner from our house in Bangkok. He probably had no more than an elementary school education. Nonetheless, he spoke several languages fluently: Thai, Burmese, Laotian, Mandarin, Minnan Chaozhouhua, and a smattering of other local dialects. He used all these languages daily to buy and sell goods. He also needed them to get along with neighbors. My circumstances differed from his quite a bit, but I still felt our lifeworlds matched. I, too, needed multiple languages to survive in multiple worlds.

Answering a later question, Prof Ling connects this childhood experience with the notion of “the Other,” and explains why this concept remains relevant in 21st Century International Relations and Political Science theory.

History affirms that suppression and eradication won’t work. There is no brutality that can compare with the genocides of the conquistadores in the New World or the Belgians in the Congo. Yet, as the Andean activist Humberto Cholango declared in a letter to Pope Benedict XVI in 2007: “We are still here.” The world—and International Relations—needs to take note.

The other Other—Nature—also suffers. Conquerors and captains of industry alike have justifed “taming” and “harnessing” Nature supposedly to benefit “mankind” but, really, for their own pockets and profiles.

The interview explores her views on post-colonialism, including the notion that most International Affairs theory remains a Western discipline, specifically calling it “an American social science,” that emphasizes “a hypermasculinized West and a hyper feminized East.”

If states like North Korea refuse to abide by rules set down by the “international community,” then they are conveniently coded as hysterical, unruly females. They are “backward,” “rogue,” or “failed” states that require manly supervision. “See,” the West shrugs, “we have no choice but to intervene.”

The conversation ultimately ends with an examination of the current right-wing nationalist movement in the West and Prof Ling explores the motivators behind it.

Some on the Left claim that Trump and Brexit merely represent extensions of the past. That is, the Westphalian-capitalist state welcomed immigrants only in so much as they could provide cheap labor for booming economies. Once the economy stops booming then the national attitude of hospitality towards Others also ends. This argument, however, doesn’t get to the heart of the matter: that is, why is there no learning by the state?

Read the full text of this fascinating conversation here.


Permission to reproduce segments of this interview were grated from the Georgetown Journal of Asian Affairs.

Read the most recent full issue here and stay up to date with their work by following them on Twitter: @asianstudiesgu

Stay up to date with what SGPIA faculty and staff are doing by following us on Twitter: @newschool_ia

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