Geographies of professions: neoliberalization and the foreign policy apparatus

Authors: Merje Kuus*, University of British Columbia
Topics: Political Geography, Economic Geography, Social Geography
Keywords: geopolitics, state, diplomacy
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Chairman's Boardroom, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The impact of neoliberal ideology on various spheres of social practice is documented in geography and related fields. Most of the work focuses empirically on particular places or policies. This paper adds the profession of diplomacy as an empirical case. It links the work on neoliberalism in geography with the sociology of professions in sociology. The effort is not to analyze how diplomacy advances particular neoliberal policies; the effort is rather to investigate how neoliberalism has affected the profession itself. Diplomacy is interesting firstly because diplomatic knowledge is geographical knowledge: it is knowledge about places. We need to understand how diplomacy problematizes places. The profession is interesting secondly because it has an image problem even among civil servants: diplomacy is seen not as a profession but as a lifestyle. To be a diplomat is, in that view, to travel well, dine in high-end establishments, and attend plush receptions at tax-payers expense. As a diplomat, one practitioner of the trade—his term—observes, one does a job that, in the minds of many people, ‘does not exist’. The effort in this paper is neither to confirm nor to deny that view of diplomacy. I rather draw on primary fieldwork material in over half a dozen European cities to examine what the neoliberalization of foreign services means in daily diplomatic practice. I highlight how my findings speak back to the literature on neoliberalism and professional fields in geography and beyond.

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