Catastrophic Comparisons

Catastrophic Comparisons: International Relations Through Elsewhere (PhD Thesis, London School of Economics 2023) is a study of comparisons in International Relations. Yet, it is not a comparative study in the conventional sense. This research is less concerned with using comparison as a particular technique of gathering, analyzing, and assessing information about the world than with understanding comparison as a way of intervening into that world. By excavating how and why people compare situations of political catastrophe, this study positions comparison as part of the equipment that actors in international relations draw upon in their worldly engagements.

To investigate how comparisons do not simply capture but intervene in international relations, this study is based upon an ethnography of comparisons. Through ethnographic fieldwork and interviews, it analyzes how Palestine becomes compared to other sites of political contestation, focusing specifically on Ireland, South Africa, and Turtle Island (an Indigenous name for ‘North America’). These places have historical linkages with the Palestinian movement, and the Palestinian experiences of occupation, settler-colonialism, and repression continue to resonate deeply today.

By exploring the ‘catastrophic comparisons’ that are drawn between these political contexts, this study argues that comparisons translate political experiences, (re)draw political relations, and (re)compose political issues in international relations. It traces the chains of matter and meaning that link everyday comparisons to the grander workings of international relations. Through comparison, Palestine becomes an amalgamation of heterogenous elements, a product of international multiplicity, composed of local trajectories as well as histories and futures elsewhere.