Conference: Latin America in the Liberal International Order

A research conference co-convened by the Latin America in a Globalizing World Initiative, Johns Hopkins University & the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies, American University

November 14 and 15, 2019
JHU Homewood Campus, Baltimore

The rise of Trump, the Brexit vote, and the resurgence of right-wing populism around the world have produced anxieties about the decline of a “Liberal International Order” (LIO), prompting a host of new studies about its origins, nature, and possible futures. Rejections of economic openness, multilateralism, and even democratic norms in Europe and North America, as well as the rise of China’s authoritarian capitalist model and its expansionist policies around the world have led some to question whether the Liberal International Order is in a terminal crisis.

As scholars have sought to study the LIO historically and theoretically, both advocates for and critics of the notion of an LIO have noted the centrality of asymmetries of power—economic, ideological, and military—to the functioning of the order, particularly as it structures North-South relations. But, as Tom Long (2018), recently noted, Latin America has largely been left out of debates on the Liberal International Order, despite the fact that diplomats, jurists, political figures and theorists from the region actively participated in the creation of key institutions of the LIO, and continue to grapple with the maintenance of its norms and practices in a changing world. Because the countries of Latin America were, for much of the 19th and 20th centuries, formally sovereign but economically and politically weak, the region could serve as an ideal terrain on which to study the tenets of a Liberal International Order and to examine how hegemonies are constructed, both historically and theoretically—to study how the world comes to be, in practice, ordered and disordered.

Most analysts, however, have tended to endorse a narrative that characterizes Latin America as a norm taker, passively participating in the LIO either as a victim of decisions made by more powerful actors, or even as an irresponsible stakeholder, impeding solutions to the problems that the order faces. Inadequate analyses of the participation of Latin America in the development of the LIO therefore underestimate the region’s role in its configuration and maintenance, and lead to one-sided conceptualizations that exclusively examine the actions and ideas of diplomats, political figures, theorists and non-state actors based in developed countries. Existing analyses, then, fail to fully theorize the processual, iterative processes through which the countries that Long calls the “North Atlantic core” have constructed and maintained their hegemonic power. The lack of attention to the region is a lacuna not only in mainstream approaches to the study of international relations, but also for scholars in other disciplines and schools, both critical and supportive of the concept of the Liberal International Order, whose analyses have similarly relegated Latin America to a secondary status. Further, scholars of Latin America have only rarely grappled with the questions posed by theories of a Liberal International Order, relegating their work to “regional” or US-Latin American relations frameworks.

This colloquium aims to take up the research agenda suggested by Long, to produce an interdisciplinary conversation around Latin America’s role in the design, development, and transformation of the Liberal International Order. We will ask: What can we learn about the LIO and asymmetries of power by studying the Latin American experiences with the order? What role have Latin American actors played in theorizing, implementing, and criticizing the shape of the Liberal International Order? How has Latin American contention—rather than the region’s presumed acquiescence—changed the nature of the norms and practices that constitute the LIO? What does the Latin American experience tell us about both the temporality and the spatiality of the Liberal International Order? What do historical and present deviations from the norms of the LIO—such as economic nationalism, military dictatorships, or persistent violence—tell us about the concept and its application not only in Latin America, but perhaps more importantly, in the historical core of the LIO?

This international research conference will take place across two days, November 14 and 15, 2019, at Johns Hopkins Homewood campus in Baltimore. Information on participants, working papers, and our public plenary session can be found using the links on this page.