In hindsight: Former Chairholders on the impact of the tenure on their career and lives. #4 Dr Ali Bilgiç.
Professor Bilgiç was a Chairholder between 2017 – 2019. His work focused on the relations between migration and the ‘human security approach’ to understand migration more comprehensively as a social, political and economic process. Ali is now a Reader (Associate Professor) in International Relations and Security and Director of Global Engagement at the School of Social Sciences and Humanities at Loughborough University in the UK.
New work position and Chairholdership at the same time
Before starting his Prince Clause Chairholdership, Ali wasn’t aware about this Chair position. “I was contacted by Professor Des Gasper from the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in the Hague and he asked for a meeting. At the time I was working at Bilkent University in Ankara. The recruitment process wasn’t public at the time, so I wasn’t sure what the meeting was about, but of course I wanted to meet Professor Gasper. We met and we talked about my research and work. After the meeting he sent me an email introducing me to the Prince Claus Chair (PCC) and letting me know he and colleagues of his wanted to appoint me as the new Chairholder. After I did my research on PCC, I was very happy with this appointment because the vision and focus of the PCC was very much aligned with my work.”
But that wasn’t the only change for Ali. “At the same time I was moving to the UK for my current position at the Loughborough University so it was a big transformation period for me. The university supported me in this endeavor and that really helped make it work.”
Combining the 15th anniversary of the PCC with the inaugural lecture
It’s easy to identify a pivotal moment in Ali’s tenure. “The most important moment for me was the 15th anniversary of the Prince Claus Chair, which coincided with my inaugural lecture for the PCC on 12 April 2018. In the morning there was an event at the Royal Palace in Amsterdam. Her Majesty Queen Maxima and Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrix were in attendance in addition to several previous Chairholders. That event really made me understand the vision and objectives of the Chair. It was wonderful to meet previous Chairholders and learn about their experiences and how their tenure as PCC impacted their career so positively. It was a huge honor and privilege to join that group and it was also a big responsibility because previous Prince Clause Chairholders had done amazing things during their tenures and afterwards. So it was a combination of feelings. I was overwhelmed and also humbled.
The previous Chairholders also joined me when I gave my inaugural lecture that afternoon. It was very important for me as a scholar, as an intellectual to share my vision about migration and human security, which are I think very important, timely issues that we must deal with today. I think that day was very special for me for many different reasons, for academic reasons, for intellectual reasons, for emotional reasons.”
Being part of a cohesive research community
There’s one more memorable moment, or rather an experience, that Ali wants to share. “This is more about the scientific practice of social studies I experienced at ISS. I had firsthand experience of what diverse international research looked like and should look like. It gave me a very important experience at how I should do my research, how I should engage with an international audience. I deeply cherish this experience. ISS showed me what a collegial research environment looks like. People support each other’s work and making postgraduate students and doctoral researchers part of that research community. So it became such a good experience whenever I visited ISS – I was traveling back and forth between the UK and the Netherlands all the time – to engage with this community. I loved to spend time at ISS having intellectual academic conversations with professors and doctoral researchers and I came back to the UK as a renewed scholar. Whenever I get an invitation from ISS to attend an event I try to say yes to because I know that when I attend, I will learn.”
My time at ISS made me understand the dynamics and research issues that are specific to the Global South and how important for us it is to develop relations with non-English speaking researchers.
Conducting research in the Global South
Ali considers the lessons he learned by doing research in and for the Global South crucial in his development as a researcher. “Again, my time at ISS has been really important to me particularly because engaging with a very diverse group of researchers from different parts of the world, but overwhelmingly from the Global South, was a rewarding experience. This made me understand the dynamics and research issues that are specific to the Global South and how important for us it is to develop relations with non-English speaking researchers. My conversations and my research relationships with them made me understand that when I conduct research, when I ask my research questions, I should be more aware of my ethnocentrism as an academic. I should be more conscious and more open to different ways of doing things, different ways of talking about politics, different way of conducting research and different languages as well.”
As an example Ali mentions his research of the experiences of female asylum-seekers of detention in the UK. “When I was formulating my research on this subject I was talking to female asylum seekers from South Asia and from sub-Saharan Africa. I was aware that they were not my research subjects, but co-creators of knowledge. I knew that I should be more sensitive and more responsive to their cultural experiences; I should be more open to what they said and try to do more to understand their way of thinking,. The results of that research came out more insightful and were more influential as well, because the findings were published at the UK Parliament Women and Equalities Committee website as evidence to policy making.”
Visibility from the Chairholders position
“I also would like to mention is the platform and visibility the Prince Claus Chair position offered me. I’m from the Global South and International Relations is very Anglo-American oriented, and also Eurocentric, . In spite of all the efforts, it’s still an English speaking discipline and there is UK and United States dominance. The most important professional conferences are happening in these two countries and in Europe. Given these circumstances it’s not easy for Global South scholars to be visible and to be heard. There have been very important developments to break that hegemony and to be more diverse and inclusive as a discipline but there’s a long way to go.
The PCC-platform – and there are others of course – is so important because it provides lifelines to Global South scholars so they can be heard.”
This emphasizes the importance of opportunities like the Prince Claus Chair because they focus on scholars from the Global South. It really helps increase our visibility. People started to hear what I said and because of my Chairholdership I was invited to public lectures in Britain and in Europe and contacted by newspapers and TV. These media appearances wouldn’t have been possible without the visibility and the opportunities Prince Claus Chair offers. This platform – and there are others of course – is so important because it provides lifelines to Global South scholars so they can be heard.”
Global engagement as the way forward
As of August 2022 Ali’s been appointed as the Director of Global Engagement at the School of Social Sciences and Humanities at Loughborough University. As part of this role, he’s responsible for facilitating international engagement of the School’s teaching and research practices. “When I was interviewed for this role, I often referred to my time in the Netherlands and how much PCC enabled me to understand the role of international research. Since then I’ve been bringing my experiences and my lessons to this position. It’s so important, especially at the higher education to be globally engaged. We can’t afford to have a monotonal, national, homogeneous discourse dominating research and teaching environments. We can’t afford that anymore. It is wrong, academically wrong, and ethically wrong.”
It’s so important, especially at the higher education to be globally engaged. We can’t afford to have a monotonal, national, homogeneous discourse dominating research and teaching environments.