AHRC Research Network on the Presidency of Barack Obama
The Organising Committee (Prof. Inderjeet Parmar, Prof. Kevern Verney, and Dr. Mark Ledwidge) are delighted to announce the formation of an AHRC-funded Research Network on the presidency of Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the United States.
The 'AHRC Obama Research Network', which is composed of several partner institutions, aims to bring together scholars, students and practitioners to examine the issues raised by this development, to build a durable research network, and to publish the results.
We plan to organise several symposia and seminars from January 2011 to the end of 2012, straight after the next presidential election. Events are scheduled to be held at the universities of Edge Hill, Warwick, and Manchester, at the Rothermere American Institute at the University of Oxford, at the London School of Economics, the Eccles Centre at the British Library, and at the Roosevelt Study Center, Middelburg. Although our principal foci are Obama and Racial Politics; Foreign Policy and Wars; and Economic Crisis, we will also be considering domestic and national security politics more generally and in their historical context.
The Obama Phenomenon
A commonly-accepted matter now, but the election of Barack Obama in November 2008 will rightly remain a key moment in the history of the United States. It attracted enormous popular and scholarly interest not just in America but around the world. The inspirational ideas and rhetoric of the Obama campaign generated high expectations of change. Euphoric supporters believed that his election would bring an end to the discredited, unpopular, policies of the Republican administration of George W. Bush. At the same time Obama promised to break down traditional party lines bringing together members of both major political parties, Republicans and Democrats, in support of a new bipartisan political agenda.
On the international stage the 2009 award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the new President reinforced the hope that his administration would mark the start of a more enlightened era in American foreign relations. In particular that American diplomacy would place greater emphasis on 'soft power', the use of persuasion and positive incentives to achieve U.S objectives, combined with more sensitivity to the views of others, as opposed to over-reliance on 'hard power', embodied in hard-line rhetoric, the threat of sanctions and the use of military force. Moreover, Obama's own life experience encouraged the belief that, more than any of his predecessors in the White House, he would be able to empathize with the fears and hopes of Muslim and 'Third World' nations.
In sharp contrast to such high expectations the political realities confronting the new President could hardly have been more discouraging. From the outset his administration faced unprecedented domestic and foreign policy challenges, including the worst national and international economic crisis since the 1930s and involvement in two costly unresolved foreign wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan. The victory of Obama notwithstanding, race remained a divisive issue in society with African Americans and other ethnic minority groups continuing to suffer acute socio-economic deprivation, high crime levels and racial prejudice.
The success or failure of the Obama administration in addressing these problems will have profound implications not just for the citizens of the United States but also for governments and peoples around the world. This project brings together scholars from a range of academic subjects, including economics, history, international relations, media, politics and social science, to analyse the challenges facing President Obama and the impact and significance of the policies advanced by his administration to meet them. The project also incorporates leading spokespersons from outside the academic community, including journalists and diplomats, and participants will be drawn from Britain, Europe and the United States to ensure that discussion takes account of a diverse range of different ideas and perspectives.
A wide variety of important issues will be discussed. Does the election of Obama as the first African American President of the United States mark the end of race as a significant factor in U.S. political life or was it the result of a unique set of circumstances? To what extent are the challenges confronting the Obama administration comparable to those experienced in the 1930s, and what lessons can be learnt from the policies introduced by the then Roosevelt administration to meet them? Will Obama be able to maintain his bipartisan philosophy given the controversial nature of his proposed domestic reforms? Do such reforms, for example the economic stimulus package, provide effective remedies to the problems that they seek to address, and what will be their long-term impact on U.S. politics and society? In international relations does the Obama administration mark a decisive change in U.S. diplomacy or simply the use of new rhetoric to pursue existing policies?
Symposia and seminars
- Obama, Democracy Promotion and the Arab Spring," University of Warwick, 10 May 2012 | How to register
- Obama Network Symposium, Rothermere American Institute, Oxford, February 2012.
- Symposium on Obama and the Race Question in the United States, Edge Hill University, 28 January 2011
- Professor Melissa Harris-Perry challenges black American stereotypes
- Symposium on American Power Today, Eccles Centre, British Library 9 May 2011 | (Video-filmed event) | Mark Ledwidge - Barack Obama, the Tea Party and Domestic Dissent | America, Britain and Rising Powers featuring Joseph Nye, Michael Cox, Steve Burman, Lisa Aronsson, and Inderjeet Parmar.
- Middelburg draft programme
Other Obama network interventions
“Obama and the Declining Significance of Race Race, Politics, and International Affairs,” the Annual Convention of the International Studies Association, New York, USA February 2009..WMA
Dr Mark Ledwidge BBC Radio Five Live Steve Nolan