ROBERT A. SAUNDERS, Ph.D.

UPCOMING AND RECENT EVENTS 

“The Political Culture(s) of European Crime Series: Place, Power, Identity,” EURONOIR: Producers, Distributors and Audiences of European Crime Narratives, Aalborg University, Denmark (September 30-October 2, 2019)
The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics defines ‘political culture’ as ‘the attitudes, beliefs, and values which underpin the operation of a particular  political system’. Necessarily broad in scope, this keynote will assess the ways in which televised crime series engage and shape various societies’ skills, knowledge, and attitudes about the operation of political systems, both within their countries of residence and across the European continent.  Recognising the existence of elite cultures and marginalised subcultures within national polities, as well as protean transnational political cultures that  ignore borders, I aim to expand the understanding of how television ‘scripts’ reactions to political events in different societies. I am particularly  interested in this phenomenon when it comes to societal cleavages such as populism, migration, securitisation, and neoliberalism. Moving beyond the   contention that popular culture represents a ‘mirror’ of world politics, this examination of televised crime dramas builds on my earlier work on the  premediation of politics via screened interventions, while also reflecting on popular culture as a key site for negotiating reality and projecting possible   futures. In terms of artefacts, I explore mix of recent and internationally-popular crime series which exist in specific national contexts but reflect  transnational concerns, including Taken Down (Ireland), Marcella (UK), Warrior (Denmark), Gomorrah (Italy), Ultraviolet (Poland), and Stella  Blómkvist (Iceland). Additionally, I investigate several series with a strong transnational component woven into the narrative, such as Pagan  Peak (Germany/Austria), The Tunnel (UK/France), and Bordertown (Finland/Russia). Filtering screened crime drama through the prisms of place,  power, and identity, my paper aims to interrogate the various ways in which crime drama is a modus for establishing, reinforcing, and challenging  geopolitical (b)orders in a European realm that increasingly defined by unfettered flows of goods, people, money, and ideas.
"Effigial Representation, Ritual & Resistance: Connecting the Mind and Body to Everyday IR" with Rhys Crilley, European International Studies Association meeting, Sofia, Bulgaria (September 13, 2019)
In the contemporary hyper-connected, globalised milieu, everyday actions are increasingly imbued with geopolitical meaning. Even the most banal undertaking – say drinking a beer or using the toilet – can engage different scales of world politics. In this paper, the authors expand on Saunders’ recent collaborative research on ‘effigial resistance’ in everyday IR, contextualising craft-beer drinking (Saunders and Holland, 2018) and urinal use (Saunders and Crilley, 2019) as quotidian rituals that construct and contest (geo)political knowledge, codes and visions. Subsequently, we move into deeper discussions of how (un)seen, every day/everyday interventions can support embodied, affective, and highly-individualistic aesthetic-intellectual projects with far-ranging ramifications for IR. By threading together political engagement with performative rituals, effigial representation and the politics of interoception, our aim is to push IR scholarship towards a better understanding of how seeing, doing and feeling ‘small’ things work together to produce larger outcomes, particularly when it comes to sense-making in world affairs. Our analysis responds to call for a need to be ‘curious about…mundane practices…[and] the most intimate spaces’ (Enloe, 2018), even going as far as to ask if what happens inside minds and bodies can affect world politics. Indeed, when it comes to (geo)political ritual, we will argue that IR scholarship needs to go beyond its historical remit, specifically into areas that have hitherto been the domain of researchers in the field of religious studies, neuroscience and cognitive psychology.
"ICYMI: RT and the Social Media Aesthetics of the ‘New Cold War’" with Rhys Crilley and Precious Chatterje-Doody, European International Studies Association meeting, Sofia, Bulgaria (September 12, 2019)
Following the revelations that the agents of the Russian Federation intervened in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to sew societal divisions, depress turnout and even influence voters, it is becoming increasingly apparent that popular culture - and more specifically social media - is now a major platform for geopolitical interventions. Unlike the overt propaganda that characterised the Cold War, Russia’s new tactics are allegedly ‘calibrated to confuse, befuddle and distract’ rather than promote a specific agenda or influence the audience’s ideological orientations (Lucas & Nimmo, 2015, 4). By utilising modes and aesthetics of pop-culture production in the West, such as social media sites and their content, such efforts effectively remove the ‘state’ from the process. This paper analyses the RT-backed ‘news’ platform ICYMI. The millennial-focused channel on YouTube, which is widely distributed via Twitter through its handle and hashtag ICYMI, features short, visual stories about the UK, EU, US and Russia. Hosted by RT international correspondent Polly Boiko, ICYMI offers up vignettes about major developments in geopolitics and international politics, with Boiko delivering sarcastic, youth-friendly informal analysis with a nod and a wink. We argue that ICYMI thus represents a paragon of the emerging aesthetic regime of IR, serving as an effective instrument for targeting Western young people who prefer parody and pastiche to ‘straight news’. We reflect on the importance of such ‘outreach’, suggesting that the Russian Federation is adapting to, and even mastering, novel forms of information management in what many have deemed a ‘new Cold War’. Following the revelations that the agents of the Russian Federation intervened in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to sew societal divisions, depress turnout and even influence voters, it is becoming increasingly apparent that popular culture - and more specifically social media - is now a major platform for geopolitical interventions. Unlike the overt propaganda that characterised the Cold War, Russia’s new tactics are allegedly ‘calibrated to confuse, befuddle and distract’ rather than promote a specific agenda or influence the audience’s ideological orientations (Lucas & Nimmo, 2015, 4). By utilising modes and aesthetics of pop-culture production in the West, such as social media sites and their content, such efforts effectively remove the ‘state’ from the process. This paper analyses the RT-backed ‘news’ platform ICYMI. The millennial-focused channel on YouTube, which is widely distributed via Twitter through its handle and hashtag ICYMI, features short, visual stories about the UK, EU, US and Russia. Hosted by RT international correspondent Polly Boiko, ICYMI offers up vignettes about major developments in geopolitics and international politics, with Boiko delivering sarcastic, youth-friendly informal analysis with a nod and a wink. We argue that ICYMI thus represents a paragon of the emerging aesthetic regime of IR, serving as an effective instrument for targeting Western young people who prefer parody and pastiche to ‘straight news’. We reflect on the importance of such ‘outreach’, suggesting that the Russian Federation is adapting to, and even mastering, novel forms of information management in what many have deemed a ‘new Cold War’.

PAST PRESENTATIONS AND SYMPOSIA 

“Sensing the Future of IR, or Call for a Sensorial Turn in the Discipline,” IR and Discourse Re-visited in Light of the Turns workshop, European Workshops in International Studies, Kraków, Poland (June 26-29, 2019)
“Screening the ‘Crisis’: European Television Fiction, Geographical Imagination and Mediated World-Building,” 8th Nordic Geographers Meeting, Trondheim, Norway (June 18, 2019)
“Radio Free Sweden: Satirical Anti-Feminism, Danish National Identity and the Very Un-PC (Geo)Politics of Jonatan Spang,” invited keynote at Comedy and International Relations: The Rise of Humour in the Global Public Sphere, University of Warwick, UK (May 8, 2019)
“A Critical Analysis of the Political Geographies of Black Panther,” invited keynote at Headington College and Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability workshop, University of Oklahoma (March 26, 2019)
“Nordic Television Drama, Screened (Geo)Politics and the Refugee Crisis,” Reimagining Norden in an Evolving World, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark (March 8, 2019)
"Geopolitics at the Shoreline: Representing Coastlines as Zones of Transgression in Dramatic Television Series” at On the Edge: Rethinking and Innovating Tourism in a Coastal City workshop, Aarhus University at Hvide Sande, Denmark (February 28, 2019)
“Extending the Katechon: Religio-Civilizational Vectors in Russia’s Intervention in the Levant,” Striking from the Margins Conference: State, Disintegration and Devolution of Authority in the Arab Middle East, Issam Fares Institute – American University of Beirut, Lebanon (January 17, 2019)
"Screening the Regions: Framework for Studying the Geopolitical Aspects of Television Drama Series across Europe” (with Anne Marit Waade), 7th European Communication Conference, Lugano, Switzerland (November 3, 2018)
"Pissing on the Past, or the Urinal as a Space of Effigial Resistance" with Rhys Crilley (Open University, UK) at the Millennium Conference on Revolution and Resistance in World Politics, London, UK (October 27, 2018)
"Why Norden? Why Now? - Nordic Noir, (Geo)politics, and Neoliberalism" at Nordic Noir, Geopolitics and the North ReNEW workshop, Aarhus University, Denmark (October 4, 2018)
"Who Gets to Imagine the Community in Cyberspace? A Reflection on the Past(s), Present, and Future(s) of Digital Nationalism" at the Nations in Cyberspace conference, hosted by the Nationalism Studies Program, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary  (June 28, 2018)
"Screening the North: A Call for Geocriticism in Critical Television Studies," Visual Perspectives on the North and the Arctic, part of The Changing Environment of the North project, at Tampere University, Finland (June 15, 2018)
"Scandinoir’s Border-Crossings/Crossers: The Geopolitics of Nordic Transnational Television," Transnational Television Drama at Aarhus University, Denmark (June 8, 2018)
"#Geopolitics: Diplomacy in the Age of Twitter," School of International Relations at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia (April 27, 2018)