In the fields of observation
chance favours only the prepared mind.
Louis Pasteur (1854)
What is prudence? How does one go about being prudent? How can prudence inform statecraft?
Despite stressing the importance of prudence in foreign policy and grand strategy, contemporary international relations only thinks of prudence as moderation or restraint. In contrast to this thin conception of the virtue, I offer a thick understanding by drawing on multiples perspectives in international relations theory and the political theory.
I also develop the Prudent Judgment Approach - an original prescriptive approach for guiding strategic decision-making under uncertainty.
An application of these ideas is presented in my doctoral thesis, The Promise of Prudence: Deliberative Decision-Making in an Uncertain World. I have also presented this research at the 2019 general conferences of the Swiss Political Science Association in Zurich, the International Studies Association in Toronto, and the British International Studies Association in London. A working draft is available upon request, please feel free to email me.
How do states construct their self-perceptions? How do national identities affect state interests and behavior?
The Project assembles a constructivist intersubjective database of national identities for 10 major powers from 1950-2010. We use inductive discourse analysis to recover national identity categories from a range of elite texts, such as leadership speeches and history textbooks, and mass sources such as bestselling novels and blockbuster movies. We also construct quantitative datasets for each of the 10 countries, which provides fascinating insights into continuities and changes in national identities for each of these countries over time. All the qualitative and quantitative data is available in open source reports on the project website.
I'm working with Amit Julka on a book manuscript about India's national identity, tentatively titled Past Perfect, Future Tense: Discourses of National Identity, 1950-2020.
How do a state's identities, interests, and behaviour change as it becomes a rising power? How does the rise of new powers affect the existing international order?
My postdoctoral research investigates these questions in the case of India from 1980-2020. A project abstract is available here.
Previously, I was a research assistant with the project 'From Emerging Markets to Rising Powers? Powershift in International Economic Governance' led by Soo Yeon Kim at the National University of Singapore from 2015-2018.
We constructed an original dataset of which countries are identified as emerging markets and rising powers in private sector investment fund reports, and scholarship in Economics and International Relations. We also investigate the political and social globalization, along with economic fundamentals, as determinants for emergence and rise.
keywords: prudence, international relations theory, foreign policy decision-making, grand strategy
keywords: national identity, constructivism, qualitative methods, interpretivist research
keywords: emerging markets, rising powers, globalization, power shift
The Logic of Prudence (2020)
IR theory acknowledges several logics of action: consequentialism, appropriateness, practicality, and habit. These logics combine both the cognitive and the evaluative bases of action, i.e. whether actors think about what to do and the criteria they use for determining the value of alternatives. The reflective practical ethics of prudence, however, goes beyond the instrumental ethics of consequentialism, normative ethics of appropriateness, inarticulate know-how of practices, and routinized taken-for-grantedness of habits. I explore the logic of prudence and its consequences for political action, especially under uncertainty, drawing on Aristotle, Morgenthau, and Aron. I claim that the logic of prudence involves finding a balance between practical and representational knowledge by engaging reflective reasoning. Prudence is fed by habits and practices, considers the relative consequences of alternatives, and takes into account standards of appropriateness. Yet, as a cognitive process for informing successful action, prudence involves a distinctly situation-specific reflective logic of action. Conceived as a normative theory of how to think, the logic of prudence also offers a perspective on the cognitive basis upon which agents draw and identify the objects of their reasoning, and addresses remaining gaps in mainstream practice theory by returning reflective reasoning and action to the center of analysis.
The Prudent Judgment Approach: A Prescriptive Theory of Strategic Decision-Making under Uncertainty (2019)
Although how we think affects the quality of decisions and their outcomes, there are few prescriptive theories of decision-making in International Relations. To address this gap, I present a novel prescriptive theory called the Prudent Judgment Approach (PJA) based on the virtue of prudence. My empirical analysis of the John F. Kennedy administration’s efforts to make sense of the problem and select a policy response during the early days of the Cuban Missile Crisis demonstrates the potential value of this approach. This paper makes two important contributions. First, I offer a conceptualization of prudence that takes seriously its cognitive and practical elements. Second, I begin the process of building a plausible prescriptive theory of decision-making that promises to improve judgment and choice under uncertainty.
Substantive Aspirations beyond the Process: Meanings of Democracy in Brazil, India, UK, and US (2020)
(with Isabella Franchini)
Contemporary democratic backsliding has renewed interest in the fundamental question of whether liberal democracy is possible in plural societies. Here, we take seriously the claim that the fate of democracy depends on the consolidation of democratic principles among the public. Building on constructivist arguments about identity, we propose a discourse analytical approach to inferring the degree of adherence to the liberal principles of participation and contestation. We suggest that commitment to democratic principles is more likely to endure if these become strongly associated with shared national identities and are reflected in daily practices. We use an original interpretivist database of the national identity discourses of countries – Brazil, India, the UK, and the US – to systematically ‘overhear’ how the democratic identity is described in each of them over time (1990–2010). Our analysis confirms that the dominant discourses in all four countries consider procedural aspects such as elections and rule of law essential components of the democratic regime, indicating the consolidation of electoral democracy. However, we find counter-discourses emphasizing substantive gaps in democratic outcomes, which have contributed to participation and/or contestation deficits in these polities, indicating erosion of the supporting bases of liberal democracy. Together, our findings suggest that material factors and procedural institutions are necessary conditions, but a balanced relationship between the practice of democracy and shared identities and perceptions is crucial for sustaining the consolidation of liberal democratic principles over time.
Rising Power Identities and Role Performance: Brazil and India in Global Environmental Governance (2020)
(with Isabella Franchini and Simon Herr)
Rising powers from the global South are increasingly challenging the Western-led liberal international order. In this paper, we ask how these rising powers form and perform their roles in the interactions that shape global governance structures. Although the interests and behavior of states in international institutions and negotiations are well documented, existing scholarship has neglected their microfoundations in the formation of national identities. We argue that the identities and self-perceptions of rising powers affect how these actors perceive and perform their role in global governance. As a plausibility probe, we map the distribution of national identities for two rising powers – Brazil and India – and their role perceptions on to their negotiating behavior. We focus on how Brazil and India’s national identities influenced negotiation outcomes at four key moments in the history of international environmental governance: the 1987 Montreal Protocol, 1997 Kyoto Protocol, 2009 Copenhagen negotiations, and the 2015 Paris Agreement. In doing so, we develop a constructivist account of how transforming national identities constitute rising power role self-perceptions, which in turn allows evaluating both the kinds of strategies and outcomes these actors are more likely to pursue and the kinds of roles they are willing to assume.
Emerging Markets and Rising Powers in the International Economy: Liberalization without Globalization? (2017)
(with Rajeev Arumugam, Soo Yeon Kim, and Florian Winkler)
Despite the growing importance of ‘emerging markets’ and ‘rising powers’ in shaping global outcomes, especially since the outbreak of the 2008 financial crisis, we lack fundamental knowledge about the composition of these groups beyond the BRICS. We also know little about their common attributes – political and social – that go beyond levels of economic growth and development. This study seeks to address this gap. We introduce an original dataset of countries classified as emerging mar- kets and/or rising powers from three different sources: scholarship in International Relations; scholarship in Economics; and materials from private sector investment funds dealing with investment in emerging markets. We identify which countries are referred to as emerging markets and how often across these sources, so as to evaluate the prominence of particular countries as emerging markets in our current state of knowledge. The empirical analysis examines the importance of political and social globalization as well as economic fundamentals as determinants of these memberships. We find that while emerging markets are well-integrated into the international economy through trade and investment linkages, many of these countries exhibit low levels of social and political globalization. This suggests that emerging markets may still lack the political will and embeddedness in international society to achieve prominence as influential actors in global economic governance.
All content and pictures are ©Manali Kumar, 2021.