Universiteit Leiden

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Karen Smith

University Lecturer

Dr. K. Smith
+31 71 527 1737

I am a South African IR scholar whose research interest is questioning Western-centric narratives and making sense of international relations from the perspectives of the global South, particularly Africa. Before joining Leiden University in 2017, I was based at the University of Cape Town, where I remain an honorary research associate. From 2019 to 2021, I served in a part-time capacity as special adviser to the UN secretary-general on the responsibility to protect.

More information about Karen Smith

Fields of interest

  • International relations
  • theory
  • Global South
  • foreign policy
  • culture and IR
  • (South) Africa


My research interests cut across the following broad topics:
1) Global South understandings of international relations;
2) foreign policy analysis (particularly of emerging powers and regional powers in the Global South);
3) changes in global order and implications for global governance.

I am particularly interested in innovative research that explores how non-Western and non-traditional (e.g. cultural) sources can provide us with new insights into existing challenges, as well as raise new questions. I am currently working on a co-authored book that explores how to ‘globalise’ IR in practice, and on a project that draws on the work of African scholars to think about questions of (cultural) difference and universality in relation to IR.

Teaching activities and supervision

I supervise mostly in the MAIR Politics and Culture track (with a preference for topics that challenge Western-centric approaches and explore IR from the perspectives of the global South, and/or investigate the connection between culture and IR). For the BAIS, I supervise students focusing on Africa’s international relations, specifically African agency. I have also supervised or am supervising PhDs in the following areas:
• Queer IR and South Africa’s position on SOGI rights
• The role of the Global South in outer space
• The application of psychoanalytic theory in foreign policy analysis
• South Africa's developmental foreign policy
• The US policy of ‘constructive engagement’ towards South Africa
• The relationship between US energy and climate change policy
• A Coxian analysis of India’s role in the global climate change negotiations

My teaching specialisation is in International Relations, specifically global South approaches to IR, foreign policy, IR theory, and international organization/global governance. Besides teaching in the MAIR, BAIS and LUC programmes at Leiden, I have been a visiting professor at Sciences Po Paris and the University of Vienna, and teach in the Dubrovnik Atrocity Crimes Prevention and Human Rights School (see https://iuc.hr/programme/1755)

I have also regularly taught the following short courses:
• Africa and Global Transformation: The Rise of Emerging Powers and New International Order (London School of Economics/University of Cape Town July School)
• Introduction to South Africa’s Political History (University of Stellenbosch Winter School)

Key publications

(2022) “Challenging the illusion of theoretical ‘internationalness’ in Allan Layug and John Hobson (eds) Globalizing International Theory: The Problem with Western IR Theory and How to Overcome It. London and New York: Routledge.

(2021) with Vineet Thakur, “Introduction to the Special Issue: The multiple births of International Relations”, Review of International Studies, 47: 5, 571–579.

(2020) with Arlene Tickner (eds) International Relations from the Global South: Worlds of Difference. London and New York: Routledge.

(2018) “Reshaping International Relations: Innovations from Africa” in All Azimuth: A Journal of Foreign Policy and Peace, vol.7, no.2: 81-92.

(2018) “South Africa: still an ambivalent (sub)regional leader?” in Daniel Flemes and Hannes Ebert (eds) Regional Powers and Contested Leadership. London and New York: Routledge.

(2016) “South Africa in Africa and the world: the foreign policy strategies of a global regional power” in Jacqueline Braveboy-Wagner (ed.) Diplomatic Strategies of Leading Nations in the Global South. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp.125-151.

(2009) “Has Africa Got Anything to Say? African Contributions to the Theoretical Development of International Relations” in The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, vol. 98, issue 402: 269-284.

University Lecturer

  • Faculty of Humanities
  • Institute for History
  • History and International Studies

Work address

Johan Huizinga
Doelensteeg 16
2311 VL Leiden
Room number 1.16A




  • No relevant ancillary activities
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