28 Mar

ISA 2016: Illustrating Human Rights in Conflict Zones: La Lucha and the Fight to End Violence Against Women in Mexico

The following is the abstract for the second paper I presented at this year’s Annual International Studies Association Conference:

The issue of human rights is often overlooked in the study of conflict, particularly those relating to individuals who work to defend human rights on a daily basis.  Similarly, certain ‘wars’ are afforded more time and attention than others, with regions that experience high levels of violence against women receiving far less attention.  La Lucha is a graphic novel that tells the story of the struggle for women’s rights in Northern Mexico, where Chihuahua and Juarez have consistently been two of the most dangerous cities in the world for over a decade.

This paper examines the use of the graphic novel form, taking the case of La Lucha, in representing the otherwise invisible work of women human rights defenders who risk their lives to promote justice.  In doing so the paper assesses the ways in which La Lucha seeks to engage storytelling as a means of educating and campaigning for human rights and of countering narratives that seek to harass and defame human rights defenders.  This paper argues that popular culture and storytelling offer important insights into world events and should not be overlooked in international studies.


Key words: human rights, violence against women, graphic novel, counter-narrative, Mexico

28 Mar

ISA 2016: Countering Online Violent Extremism: Revisiting Adorno’s ‘Education After Auschwitz.’

The following is the abstract from the first paper I presented recently at the annual International Studies Association Convention:

That violent organisations can target young people directly via social media platforms to spread extremist messaging is of concern.  Millions of Euros are being pumped into programmes to prevent young people being drawn into extremist activities.  Many of these use social media to counter online extremist material.  An increasing variety of actors are involved in this work, from governments and NGOS to former extremists, social media giants, and private companies.  Despite the significant policy and financial focus, little research has been carried out into such projects. 

A recent example, ‘P2P: Challenging Extremism,’ seeks to engage youth in this digital ‘war.’  Run by private company EdVenture, supported by the State Department, this project seeks to harness the power of millennials by working with university students across the world, and having them become ‘educated influencers.’  This paper considers such a project, drawing on the writings of Adorno regarding education, and suggests that it has serious implications not only in the area of CVE but also with regard to education more generally.

Key words:
social media, extremist messaging, education, mass media, Adorno

14 Jul

Research Funding

I recently received news that my PhD would receive funding from the Irish Research Council through its Postgraduate Scholarship Scheme.   Maybe I will finally be able to buy a new laptop…


My research has been changing and developing based on the methodology I am following and interviews with participants.  When using grounded theory the main concern of the participants is key.  While this leads away from preconceived notions and theories and ideas that the researcher may wish to uncover, it leads, hopefully, to a result that offers a theory suited to its supposed uses and usable in practical applications.

I will post a more detailed description of the various stages my research has gone through to get it to this point in the coming days.



05 Apr

Graphic Novels and Human Rights: Front Line Defenders release ‘La Lucha.’

La Lucha: The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights in Mexico




Front Line Defenders has released a graphic novel ‘La Lucha: The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights in Mexico.’  The non fiction graphic novel details the story of Lucha Castro and her colleagues who risk their lives defending human rights in one of the most dangerous areas in the world.  The story allows us to see the real lives of these human rights defenders and the faces behind the important work they do in the face of violence and intimidation.

It is the first in a series that documents the work of human rights defenders around the world.



Find out more about ‘La Lucha’ and Front Line here or buy a copy here.

La Lucha: The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights in Mexico
Drawn & Written by: Jon Sack
Edited by: Adam Shapiro, Head of Campaigns at Front Line Defenders
Published by Verso Books

28 Feb

Arriving in New Orleans

‘Y’all mind if I vape up here?’ the woman at the front of the bus hollered back at us.

The three of us left on the airport shuttle glanced at each other and mumbled something. I for one was simply too tired to care what she did. Tired and cold. It was raining.  A lot. I had been sitting beside that same woman on the flight into Louis Armstrong airport. She had warned me about the weather, explaining that that day’s ‘Fat Monday’ events had started early in an attempt to avoid the worst of it. She was right.

‘We’re arriving into some weather here, folks.’ The pilot as we came into land. I looked out at the slick runway, planes and airport buildings reflected in its shiny surface.

The woman at the front of the bus vaped, her legs crossed and resting on the seat in front. She continued her phone conversation, interrupting the driver every few minutes: ‘where we at?’, keeping her phone buddy up to date with precise updates of our slow progress through the aftermath of the day’s parades. She provided a running commentary of our trip from the airport to the guesthouse, with the promise she would be there soon to enjoy some hurricane cocktails.

The two men from Boston, who arrived preloaded with beer and beads around their necks, ready to party had also been keen to track progress to their hotel. While ‘cheering on the blue dot’ on their Google map they discussed their plans with the now vaping lady. ‘Oh my gawd. We’re having shots as soon as we get to wherever we getting to,’ said one of them.

‘They should serve alcohol cocktails through a bus straw from the sky,’ said his buddy.

‘I hope they’re having fun,’ I said, as I layered up in my pajamas and hoodie. Even the guesthouse was cold. I wondered what they were up to, feeling a little defeated. There was a time I would have arrived into a new city and headed straight out for cocktails. We wondered if we were the only ones in New Orleans not out celebrating. ‘Manana,’ I said as I curled up, secretly enjoying the new found wisdom that my mother assured me would come with age. And which lasted until exactly 3 o’clock the next day, Fat Tuesday, when we celebrated Mardi Gras in New Orleans with far too many hurricane cocktails.

26 Feb

ISA 2015: Animating Anti Extremism

Last week I presented a paper at the International Studies Association’s 56th Annual Convention.  The event took place in New Orleans from 18-21 February, tying in nicely with Mardi Gras.

I presented a paper ‘Animating Anti Extremism’ as part of the panel: Aesthetic Visions of International Relations – Comics and the Comic.  The panel included papers on comics and geopolitics in the case of the Cheonan sinking (by David Shim); editorial cartoons in response to 9/11 (by David Mutimer); the link between cartoons and international relations, with the role of cartoons in South Africa discussed (by Peter Vale); and cartooning the Holocaust (by Alister Wedderburn).

The panel offered an interesting insight into various roles that cartoons, comics and animation can and do play in international relations.

Here is the abstract for my paper:

Comics, graphic novels and animation have become increasingly popular ways of depicting and disseminating interpretations of political violence, yet remain overlooked in international studies. Changes in cultural production have resulted in a shift of emphasis from text to the rising importance of images, while the visuality of terrorism underscores the important role of visual media in representing and interpreting political violence acts. The popularity and the increasingly didactic aim of many works is being recognised within a key policy area – Countering Violent Extremism (CVE). Counter-narrative is a major preoccupation within CVE, with billions of Euro earmarked for projects in the EU alone, coming as a direct response to the spread of jihadi narratives in different formats, including graphic imagery-based content. Taking the example of Abdullah- X, a series of animated shorts developed specifically with CVE aims, this paper explores the use of this form within a CVE framework. By analysing the work, investigating the context of its creation and locating it within the broader spectrum of comics/animations that have dealt with such issues, this paper investigates the ways in which this form is being used in the area of CVE.

07 Feb

Theatre of War – Creating Rights: Tread Lightly for You Tread on My Realities

Here’s a link to a piece I wrote with Dr Andrea Breslin for ‘Creating Rights.’

A Theatre of War – Setting the Stage for a Critical Reflection on human Rights Violations in Armed Conflict.

Inspired by the recent Theatre of War Symposium at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, the piece explores the theatre as a space to critically reflect on human rights violations in armed conflict.


04 Dec

PCWP 7.0

Popular Culture and World Politics 7.0, a mutidisciplinary conference seeking to explore the ways in which pop culture reflects, (re)imagines, and disturbs the production, consumption, interpretation, and understanding of the political world, took place in November at the University of Ottawa.  With panels on video games, art, movies and social media (among many others) a fascinating mixture of subjects were discussed.





The following is the abstract from the paper I presented at the conference:

Comics and Propaganda – Animated Responses to Extremist Messaging

Comics, graphic novels and animation have long been recognized for their power to inform and persuade.  Governments and political and extremist organisations from far right to extreme left have used these forms as propaganda to further their aims, yet they remained overlooked in international studies.  The increasingly sophisticated spread of extremist messaging, particularly jihadi narratives in different formats, has seen an increasing emphasis placed on counter-narrative within countering violent extremism (CVE) policy.  Animated works that seek to counter this messaging have been receiving attention.  Pakistani children’s series The Burka Avenger won a 2013 Peabody award for its positive messaging in providing a role model for young women, and for promoting ‘justice, peace and education for all.’  Similarly, The 99 has been recognized for its work in the creation of positive role models and story lines with superheroes born of Middle Eastern history, and Islamic archetypes that possess values shared by the entire world.  Abdullah X, a series of animated shorts, has been developed specifically with CVE aims in mind.  Taking the idea that narratives and identity are key to understandings of ourselves and our place in the world, this paper looks these works and the messages they contain, examining the role the animated form plays in countering extremist messaging, locating the research within the wider use of this form as a propaganda tool and form of soft power.





23 Nov

Never Lonely in Iran

As per my previous post, the following is an adapted extract from the story I wrote for A Girls Guide to Travelling Alone: Inspiring true tales from solo women travellers.  

Never Lonely in Iran
Always pack a spare top when heading out for the day in Iran. Today’s lesson, I thought, as I danced at the party. I was baked. My heavy beige long sleeved knee length shirt thing and five euro baggy Tesco trousers were not made for an occasion like this one. I looked at the brightly coloured tunics and the elegant dancing of the women around me, a rainbow of discarded headscarves on the rug. I felt decidedly frumpy. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Clothes to wear to a party hadn’t been on the list of items to squeeze into my rucksack.  Not for a solo trip through Iran and Central Asia. Torch – yes, medication – yes, toilet roll – yes. Nothing about packing for a party.

If they could see me now. With better clothes on, of course. They had reacted in pretty much the same way when I told them what I had planned:

‘Iran? Why?’
‘But, Iran? Alone?’
‘Ah jaysis.’ (My dad).

As I danced I wondered how I would be able to describe my experiences in Iran to everyone at home. How to tell them about party I was at. Do it justice. The food, the dancing, the laughing. How to put it into words. Words that wouldn’t sound hollow and meaningless. Words that would bring it as alive as I felt then, being part of that evening.  The way I had felt
so often in Iran. The people were oh so kind. So generous. Really lovely. Fascinating. So many stories. A sound bunch of lads. Great banter. Lots of laughs. The craic was mighty. You just had to be there. I knew that with every attempt at description, a part of it would be lost to me. The magic would be chiselled away.

‘Do Irish men dance like that?’ the woman beside me asked, bringing my mind back to the party.

I watched the men move gracefully and thought about parties at home. I pictured my male friends doing the ‘pointy finger dance,’ the ‘air guitar dance,’ or the ‘lepping about like an eejit dance.’

‘Em. Not really. I don’t think Irish men like dancing,’ I said.

‘Iranian men are emotional,’ she said, laughing. ‘I think that is why they like dancing like this.’

I showed her how Irish men dance. She laughed. I smiled. So what if this moment, gossiping about men with a new friend in Iran, couldn’t be captured. It didn’t matter. The moment was mine.