Accepted Paper:

Putting the "I" Back in IR (International Relations): Understanding China Through an American Family's Experience  
William Callahan (London School of Economics)

Paper short abstract:

To explain China's growing power in a nuanced way, this film project reinserts the "I" in IR by explaining macro issues of imperialism, war, and development through an exploration of the micro issues of the personal experiences of three generations in my family in China (1924-present).

Paper long abstract:

How can one explain to a general audience the complex global politics of China's growing power without resorting to Orientalizing stereotypes? One way is to reinsert the "I" in IR to explain macro issues of imperialism, war, and development through an exploration of the micro issues of personal experiences in China. I aim to do this in my current book/film project, "Family Business: Three Generations of Americans in China," which traces the stories of my Great Uncle Chuck, who lived the high life in Shanghai as a businessman (1924-49); my father, who witnessed the Chinese civil war as a sailor in the US Navy in Qingdao (1947-48); and me, who saw the opening up of a closed when I studied in Beijing (1985-86). My family's peculiar affective experiences in China reflect, inform, and participate in the global structures and ideologies of empire, capitalism, and development. This nexus between family and global history inspired a combination of methodologies using observational cinema and archival footage to make a film that juxtaposes the testimony of these three characters with broader narratives of China's past to put personal experience in conversation with histories of the broader social and political context. The protagonists' cross-cultural friendships underline how person-to-person relationships can avoid the traps of hierarchical self/Other relations because they value difference more than demand sameness. Thus one's personal experience can become a vector for critically examining the rise of China in ways that appeal to a general audience.

Panel P26a
Empirical art: Filmmaking for fieldwork in practice
  Session 1