Evaluation Cultures in the Political Risk Industry

  • Gilbert, Paul (PI)

    Project Details


    This project was supported by a British Academy/Leverhulme Trust Small Research Grant, and approaches the political risk industry as a particular form of ‘area studies’. It explored how the institutional context in which political risk analysis is carried out affects the form and content of ‘regional expertise’.

    In political geography, critical interest in how area studies knowledge is produced has recently been revived. However, the place of the political risk industry in the evolution of area studies has not yet been examined.

    In this project, perspectives from political geography were integrated with approaches from science and technology studies to examine the evaluation cultures of political risk analysis. The research involved historical analysis of political risk reports (1980s to 2010s) focusing on Bangladesh and South Africa, interviews with key figures in the political risk industry, and short periods of participatory research at global political risk summits. The project improved understanding of how regional expertise is cultivated outside the university sector, and the influence this expertise has on decision-making in transnational business.

    Responding to concerns that universities in the UK are facing a crisis in area studies that threatens the cultivation of regional expertise, political geographers have begun to highlight the existence of ‘third wave’ or 'critical' area studies This third wave takes account of transnational migration, and of postcolonial critiques of the regional units established by the first wave of Imperial area studies - designed to foster forms of regional expertise that could aid in the colonial project - and the second wave of social scientific area studies that was institutionalised in the USA during the Cold War.

    However, most work on the history of area studies has not engaged with the political risk industry, where firms produce maps, briefings and advice for transnational business operators, and which is now seen as a ‘growth industry in its own right’. While there was early interest in the in-house political risk capacity of US firms operating in newly independent postcolonial nations, this work did not address the form or content of regional expertise directly.

    This project sought to address a gap in the geographical literature by exploring regional expertise in the growing political risk industry. It did so by asking four inter-related questions:

    > Who produces regional expertise in the political risk industry, and what kind of regional experience and linguistic competency is required?
    > What demands are placed on the form taken by regional expertise in the political risk industry, and how do these relate to the institutional context in which it is produced?
    > How do regional units or areas become stabilised or associated with political risk through the circulation of political risk analysts in global forums and summits?
    > What constitutes a political risk, and how do political risk analysts contribute to the propagation of particular models of geopolitics and ideal relationships between state, society and transnational corporations?
    Effective start/end date1/04/1731/10/18


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