When Science Diplomacy Divides: Case Studies and Interpretive Frameworks


Matthew Adamson, McDaniel College
Sam Robinson, University of York
Simone Turchetti, University of Manchester


The concept of science diplomacy has gained traction in recent years, as the foreign offices of various nations have appreciated and begun reassessing the influence and importance of the soft power of science and technology. Scientists themselves are also recognising the diplomatic roles they have played historically and how they have contributed to global relations. This symposium (divided in three sessions), focusing on the history of science diplomacy, draw together a variety of scholars exploring different aspects of science, technology, and diplomacy at the international and transnational levels. Rather than merely echoing and reifying the scientists’ own accounts about the benign effects of science diplomacy, will challenge them with provocative case studies and newly proposed interpretative frameworks. In particular, these symposia aim to problematize received accounts by considering the following questions, as well as other pertinent questions and areas of interest:

• The diplomatic efforts of certain scientists can be treated as a “backchannel” activity that provides regional or global powers supplementary means to find common ground when other types of diplomacy proved ineffective or impossible. However, have historians overemphasized this sort of account to the detriment of other, more frequent instances when scientists and technologists locked into diplomatic roles have aided their countries in competition for geopolitical or commercial advantage, or for the purpose of gathering intelligence rather than reaching accord with fellow scientists?

• Science in diplomatic settings is often treated as a unitary activity, scientists working in peaceful cooperation when different countries or geopolitical blocs are nevertheless at odds. However, does the history of science diplomacy not provide us with numerous examples of something quite different: scientists from countries that are ostensible allies in competition (open or otherwise) for data, customers, etc.?

• Are there instances when we can observe international organizations and initiatives (IGY 1957-1958, the IAEA, UNESCO, ICSU, etc.) becoming—rather than platforms for cooperative efforts aimed at overcoming geopolitical divides or encouraging peaceful, collaborative international networks—grounds for competitive technoscientific efforts as well as intelligence-gathering?

Each abstract for individual papers should be no more than 500 words. We hope to have as many members as possible join us in London next September for these symposia as well as, of course, the first meeting of the commission itself. 

Anyone interested in submitting an abstract is kindly invited to do so no later than Friday, 1 December. (We must submit the full symposia and paper abstracts by 6 December.) 

Contact email
Deadline for paper submission

December 1, 2017