ROBERT A. SAUNDERS, Ph.D.

UPCOMING AND RECENT EVENTS 

SESSION CFP: Performing Anthropo(s)cenes: Politics of/with(in) Popular Culture (co-chairing with Gabriella Calchi Novati, C. G. Jung Institute - Zurich, Switzerland) at European International Studies Association's 14th Pan-European Conference on International Relations, "Power Politics of Nature," in Msida, Malta (delayed due to COVID-19; now scheduled for September 2021)
Call for Papers: A century after the foundation of the discipline, scholars of International Relations are only now awakening to the ramifications of global climate change and the sixth mass extinction. Unlike Geography, which rallied around the so-called Anthropocene as a unifying field of interrogation, IR has tended to keep planetary-level changes at the edges. Our section strikes from these margins, unveiling the impact of the Anthropocene on IR as it manifests through performances across the popular culture-world politics (PCWP) continuum. We seek submissions focused on imaginaries of post-apocalyptic/dystopian IR, far-right ‘environmentalism’, and eco-genocide/eco-apartheid, as well as human-animal interactions, North-South inequities, and indigenous/feminist critiques of climate change. Our call is transdisciplinary given the necessity of addressing such issues through a synergy of forces that cannot be achieved within IR scholarship alone. We invite proposals from researchers, artists, and activists for original papers, performances, and projects addressing the ‘power politics of nature’. Suggested themes:

- Filmic narratives (e.g. The Day After Tomorrow, Geostorm, Snowpiercer, What Happened to Monday, Mad Max: Fury Road, Blade Runner 2049, Annihilation).
- Literary visions (e.g. James’ The Children of Men, Windo’s The Feed, McCarthy’s The Road, Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and MaddAddam Trilogy, Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, El-Akkad’s American War).
- Political/social/ecological performances (e.g. the rising of Greta Thunberg’s international activism, speeches, and interviews, FridaysForFuture and Extinction Rebellion, the political figure of the climate refugee, Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Bolsonaro’s UN theatrics - paired with planetary untameable wildfires, unprecedented flooding, racing icecap melting, and the Insect Armageddon).

For more information and to submit a paper, please click here.
"IR in Ruins: Imagining Global Power in the Coming Apocalypse," Cosmologies of the End workshop at the 7th European Workshops in International Studies (EWIS), Thessaloniki, Greece (delayed due to COVID-19; now scheduled for July 2021)
Apocalyptic fiction is one of many ways to envision a world where an anthropogenically-wrought ‘end of us’/end of the U.S. emerges. In such cosmological narratives, American power is often ruined by climate change, causing a once-proud nation to resort to the most horrific forms of foreign policy to maintain a semblance of dominance on a radically-transformed world stage. Using two recent cli-fi novels as tools to think with – Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl (2009) and El-Akkad’s American War (2017) – this intervention engages with the harsh realities of the so-called Anthropocene era and the challenges it presents to American (geo)power. Employing planetary thinking as a modus for remapping contemporary geopolitics, I interrogate Bacigalupi and El-Akkad’s respective built-worlds, both of which are set in ruined spaces, the former being Bangkok (with Thailand emerging as a great power after the global ‘calorie wars’) and the latter being the American Deep South (following a Second Civil War over fossil-fuel use). In both novels, Europe is absent while the U.S. government is a remote, opaque source of power, floundering in a world ravaged by rising seas, food and energy scarcity, invasive species, eco-terrorism, pandemics, and economic collapse. Confronted with catastrophes of its own making, a mutated, broken republic strays into dark territory as humanity’s mastery of the geos wanes. Reflecting upon these questions, reflections of a future IR come into focus allowing us to see and even plan for how disintegration, decay, and ruination will shape global governance in the centuries to come.
“Towards an Aural Cosmology of the Anthropocene: Ways of Listening to and Learning from ‘Nonlife’” with Gabriella Calchi Novati, Anthropology and Geography: Dialogues Past, Present and Future at British Museum/ SOAS University of London/Royal Geographical Society, London, UK (September 14-18, 2020)
In The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (2016), Indian writer Amitav Ghosh claims that in the age of the Anthropocene, the arts and humanities are presented with a tremendous challenge. His argument is that ‘the climate crisis is also a crisis of culture, and thus of imagination’, and more importantly that climate change is proving peculiarly resistant to artistic practices. In agreement with Ghosh’s claim, we propose to engage with the panel theme via sound, in order to imagine ways of listening to and indeed learning from the so-called Anthropocene, so as to initiate a change that resounds. By working towards an aural cosmology of the Anthropocene, we offer an alternative way to hear and feel the ‘hereness’ of the language of nonlife (Povinelli 2016). Building on our previous work on ‘sounding’ the Anthropo(s)cene, we present ways of ‘listening to ice’ by critically engaging with two complementary compositions: the documentary Chasing Ice (2012) and Ludovico Einaudi’s Eulogy to the Arctic (2016). While the former unapologetically screens calving glaciers, compressing years into seconds and thus capturing ancient mountains of ice in motion as they disappear at a breath-taking rate, the latter is an aural meditation on the impact of white colonialism and its dramatic consequences on the environment. We claim that a critical examination of the ways in which anthrophonic, biophonic, and geophonic events – always already combined with silence(s) – can produce a different set of knowledges able to sculpt sensorial imaginaries of our collective future anterior.
"The False Hope of the ‘Green Place’: The Political Ecologies of the Ruined Landscape in Contemporary Apocalyptic Cinema,"  Dimensions of Political Ecology Conference (DOPE 2020) at University of Kentucky (February 27 – 29, 2020)
Contemporary apocalyptic film frequently screens landscapes of extreme ecological degradation to convey the inevitability of an Anthropogenically-wrought ‘end of us’, while ironically employing such imagined vistas to present a space for hope to emerge amongst the ruins of a devastated Earth. From the intrepid green spouts cast against mountains of garbage that frame the end of Wall-E to the final scene of The Road, which reveals the survival of at least one non-human species (Canis lupus familiaris) against a dead ocean, Hollywood provides us with an ideological canvas upon which to explore the (false) dichotomies of pristine versus ruined nature in the era of the so-called Anthropocene; indeed, it is only rarely that such fare makes space for a merger of the two, with the recent film Annihilation being a notable exception. In this paper, I interrogate the geopolitical codes associated with cinematic depictions of ‘ruined’ ecologies in big-budget films such as Children of Men, Blade Runner 2049, Snowpiercer, Terminator Salvation, and Mad Max: Fury Road, as well as those referenced above. Drawing on the notion of the ‘wasteland’ as the inevitable outcome of human terraforming of the planet, this paper aims to problematise the disciplining gaze of apocalyptic film with regards to the political, economic and social factors that contribute to environmental degradation. This is accomplished by critiquing the hopeful messaging of ‘lives in ruins’ by examining the ways in which humanity’s persistence in the face of planetary ruination works against ecological activism, therein abetting - rather than challenging - the effects of peak liberalism on the ecosystem.
"Screening the Nordic City: The Politics of Place and Space in Contemporary Crime Series,"  hosted by MEDEA & Malmö University’s Institute for Urban Research at Panora, Malmö, Sweden (December 10, 2019)
For many people outside Northern Europe, what they know about Malmö comes what they see on their television screens. The worldwide success of the Swedish-Danish crime drama Bron|Broen has come to serve as the main source of information about Sweden’s ‘southern capital’. Professor Robert A Saunders (State University of New York) will speak about his research on the imagining of Malmö via the series, and how other internationally-successful Nordic noir series such as the Bordertown (set in Lappeenranta, Finland) and Dicte (set in Aarhus, Denmark) shape international perspectives of Norden and its lived spaces.  Focusing on various aspects of the ‘city’ – including history, economics, architecture, culture, etc. – his talk will critically assess the pros and cons of being seen as a zone of murder and mystery, regardless of the day-to-day realities of the typical Nordic city. The discussant in this Medea Talk is Annette Hill, Professor of Media and Communication at Lund University. Gabriel Flores Jair, who plays the pathologist in Bron/Broen, will also take part in the conversation. For more information, click HERE. As part of my guest researcher position at the Institute for Urban Research at Malmö University, I also gave an interview to Sverige Radio and Sydsvenskan about The Bridge and the imaginary of the city though the lens of the series.

Additionally, I gave a talk entitled 'Getting over Borat: Exploring the (After-)Effects of Parody in the Post-Soviet Realm' at Russia and the Caucasus Regional Research (RUCARR), which looked back at my research on Sacha Baron Cohen vs. Kazakhstan while also looking forward to the increasingly fraught geopolitics of laughter with regards to the former Soviet Union.

PAST PRESENTATIONS AND SYMPOSIA 

"Sounding the Anthropo(s)cene: The Passion of the Geos in Contemporary Planetary Politics," with Gabriella Calchi Novati, Touching Sound: Passion and Global Politics, Aga Khan University, London, UK (October 11, 2019)
“The Political Culture(s) of European Crime Series: Place, Power, Identity,” EURONOIR: Producers, Distributors and Audiences of European Crime Narratives, Aalborg University, Denmark (October 2, 2019)
"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)
"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)
“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)
“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)