By Aidan Craney
The biennial Oceanic Conference for International Studies (OCIS) was held in the first week of July on the beautiful grounds of the University of Queensland, Brisbane.
Bringing together scholars and practitioners from the International Relations and related fields, the conference offered a wide range of opportunities for insights into the challenges facing global actors, many of which spoke directly to emerging and recurrent development themes.
Elizabeth Thurbon, from UNSW, spoke of her recent work looking at the developmental mindset driving South Korean financial activism. Drawing on the work of Chalmers Johnson, Thurbon spoke of the positive influence leaders can have in countries where they aim for an acknowledged goal for the common good. Since the financial crisis of 1997-98, Korea has achieved positive developmental growth and social change, largely attributable to successive ruling regimes supporting state-owned enterprises, trade initiatives and a green growth agenda that promoted financial and social well-being.
Morgan Brigg, Mary Graham and Martin Weber from UQ discussed indigenous identities and customs. Screening a large map of Australia’s indigenous nations they spoke of the understanding that borders were not about ownership nor did they exist to deny people’s crossing them, but they signified connection between people and country. Their research offers timely food for thought considering the global issues of sovereignty, state boundaries and asylum seekers. It also left me thinking about the need to not only seek to understand but to appreciate non-Western perspectives to IR and how these can be localised.
I was fortunate to present work on behalf of one of the Institute’s research partners, the Pacific Leadership Program. This paper discussed the core concepts that can be drawn from PLP’s analytical framework to identifying drivers of change – leaders and coalitions they view as holding potential as developmental influencers whom PLP can support. This paper was received warmly by the audience and prompted discussions about local ownership as well as how private sector relationships begin with the worker asking the client what their needs are, while still too often in development the worker tells the community what they can offer – a discussion this blog hopes to add to in the near future (watch this space).
Greg Fry, from ANU, bridged the IR-development gap by discussing the ‘New Pacific Diplomacy’. His latest edited book discusses the challenges faced by Pacific states in an ever-globalised world and what this means for concepts and actions such as regionalism and maintaining tradition in a region that remains heavily dependent on the development aid of its neighbours.
The final session assembled some of the most esteemed minds of the conference to address ‘The greatest challenge for world politics and the single ray of hope’. It seems like a sign of the times that the challenges discussed focused largely on issues of sustainability rather than conflict. IR-types have a reputation for talking about nukes and submarines, but the impacts of climate change on under-resourced communities and correlatory issues such as food and water security dominated the debate, with a touch of Trump-style populism thrown in for good measure. As for the ray of hope, the consensus seemed to be around more information, better communicated and trusting in the capability of humans to make the right decisions when needed.
With over 200 papers presented, it is impossible to give an insight into every one discussed. Suffice to say, developments are being made at an incredible pace in the understanding of how the world works and how this understanding can be used to promote the common good.
Aidan Craney is a PhD Candidate at La Trobe University investigating Pacific youth livelihoods and a development consultant advising the Pacific Leadership Program‘s research methods and outputs.