Film in IR: Innerview with Michael Williams

Film and visuality have long been used as sources of text and political interpretation in the subject of International Relations (IR). Much more recent is the emergence of IR scholars as direct producers of films about topics of international politics. IR scholars from James Der Derian to Cindy Weber et al. have been at the forefront of this development. Using the theme of ‘Film in IR/Filming IR’, an ISA workshop held in San Francisco in 2013 (organized by Laura Shepherd and Rune Saugmann Andersen), and attended by TVM’s Roger Stahl and Seb Kaempf, tried to identify and address the intellectual opportunities and challenges of this development.

What are the challenges that emerge out of using the production of film in the context of the modern university? How does one legitimately evaluate film as a piece of academic work? How does this relate ethically to the political economy of the modern public university? And how creative do or should scholars become with film? How should scholars engage with students over the interpretation of film?

In this Innerview, Roger Stahl and Seb Kaempf talk to another attendee of this workshop, Professor Michael C. Williams (University of Ottawa), who – as a self-declared ‘sympathetic skeptic’ of this development – reflects upon the possibilities and intellectual challenges surrounding film in IR/filming IR. This video is intended as a platform to kick off further discussion of these themes within the wider academic and non-academic community. We would like to encourage you to express your views in the comments section below.

Filmed, produced and edited by Roger Stahl and Seb Kaempf. Interview held in San Francisco on 5 April 2013.

2 thoughts on “Film in IR: Innerview with Michael Williams

  1. Very interesting discussion. I’d like to add that I think that using film as a strategy for research is not just about shifting mediums from text to image. More broadly, it is about the question of academics ‘making things’ and its acceptance. I’m thinking of Ian Bogost’s argument (in Alien Phenomenology) that many academics outside of the social sciences and humanities are not only allowed but expected to make things as research outputs – whether machines or sculptures. This opens up a different mode of enquiry and for the testing of abstract ideas. This is important not only for conducting research, but also in the learning process. If students were engaged in the process of making things like films (as a way of ‘doing’ IR, rather than simply a means of information transmission), it would help to equip them to interpret and critique these objects in the sense that Williams raises.

    • Good points, Audra. I think it’s easier to include these options into teaching and into student activities. When it comes to academics making and producing media though, Mike’s points are quite pertinent: How do we judge/evaluate these works in International Politics or generally in disciplines that – unlike film studies, media making – have not seen such activities as valuable scholarly activities? Any views on this?


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