Interview with Sam Louden-Cooke

International relations expert discusses Western dominance of the field, what can be gained from amplifying new voices and balancing her academic work with being mayor of a small town in Warwickshire

September 1, 2022
Dr Samantha Louden-Cooke
Source: Samantha Louden-Cooke

Sam Louden-Cooke is a senior lecturer in international relations at the University of Gloucestershire. Her work focuses on gender equality and secularism in the Middle East and North Africa, with a particular focus on Egypt and Iran. She recently edited her first book, Non-Western Global Theories of International Relations. This explores how the field has been dominated by Western thought, predominantly by white men, and argues that there is a need to hear from a much wider range of voices. Alongside her academic work, Dr Louden-Cooke serves as mayor of the Warwickshire town of Kenilworth.

Where and when were you born, and how has it shaped you?
I was born in Kingston-upon-Thames in 1988, but I grew up in Cobham, Surrey and stayed there until I moved to Warwick in 2017. I was very lucky to grow up in the area I did. I didn’t necessarily realise it at the time, but the location, the people and the beautiful countryside make it unique. As lovely as Surrey is, however, the cost of living meant I was not able to stay there, and moving to Warwickshire has enabled me to explore the UK more and figure out who I am both personally and professionally.

Why should people care about your work?
Ensuring more voices are heard is how we develop more nuanced understandings about why things happen and why we respond in certain ways. It shows why we can’t apply a single, homogenous lens to issues such as the impact of war, what democracy is, how movements should be understood, and how we should be communicating. We are all pieces of the same puzzle and are therefore connected. But no one is the same; some have shared experiences and understandings, but ultimately we are all different – and that is why we should look everywhere, rather than relying on a dominant viewpoint when trying to understand the world.

The book is your first as editor, how did you find the experience?
Honestly, I really enjoyed it. I had a great team of people and contributors who were really supportive and responsive. I think the biggest challenge for me was figuring out the structure, but even then it was a puzzle and I love trying to solve things like that.

What do you think would change if international relations became less Western-centric?
I think we could learn a lot about responding to crises and how to best prepare for them – whether financial, environmental, medical or social. Communities support each other differently, and respond to situations in different ways; we just have to look at the ongoing Covid pandemic or climate change to see this. I also think the way things are organised would need to change; for instance, organisational structures or financial support requirements. The “West” has given us so much information and the means of obtaining more, but this one-size-fits-all approach is a lie.

What are the best and worst things about your job?
The best bit is definitely the students and that lightbulb moment when they get a concept or the unique perspectives they put on things. I have been absolutely blown away by them, and they have made me think about things in different ways, and I love that I learn from them, too. I also love the flexibility of the job and the independence I have to shape my research agenda. The worst bit is probably the commute, but it is much shorter than my previous one!

How important is it to you to also be active in politics at a local level, and does this ever inform your scholarship?
I first joined the Liberal Democrats in 2015 following the general election and decided I wanted to get more involved. It was quite daunting to begin with, but I am so glad I did it. I feel privileged to be a town councillor, and while these experiences and responsibilities are very different from my research, I have incorporated elements into my teaching. For example, I ran an extra session for students across all programmes about engaging with politics and got local councillors from different parties to come in and speak.

How different are the worlds of local politics and academia?
Everything is political, but the email loads are about the same at times, with lots of meetings and the diary filling up very quickly. There are always a multitude of different conversations happening at the same time, so remembering who you are talking to about what is a skill you need to develop quickly.

What keeps you awake at night?
Other than the heat? My ever-growing to-do list.

If you were a prospective university student now facing £9,000-plus fees, would you go again or go straight into work?
My thinking when I was applying was “if I don’t go now, I probably never will”, and I think I would still adopt that logic today. I had no idea what I wanted to do, and I know a lot of university students don’t either, but I really landed on my feet. So, yes, I would go again, but that’s what is right for me. Not everyone is compatible with university; not all jobs require a degree; sometimes hands-on experience is better; so it is all about the individual.

What divided your life into a ‘before’ and ‘after’?
On 1 June 2009 I had spinal surgery to replace my lowest disc with a prosthesis. This definitely marked a personal milestone for me and allowed me to see what my body, and thus I, was capable of. In the 13 years since, I have achieved more than I ever thought I was going to be able to.

tom.williams@timeshighereducation.com

CV

2010 BA in politics, University of Surrey

2011 MSc Middle East politics, SOAS University of London

2016 PhD in politics, University of Surrey

2015-17 Teaching fellow in international relations, Surrey

2017-19 Teaching fellow in international security, University of Warwick

2019-21 Lecturer and then senior lecturer in international relations and international politics, Liverpool John Moores University

2021- Senior lecturer in international relations and politics, University of Gloucestershire


Appointments

Michael Schill will be the next president of Northwestern University and will take on the role this autumn. Currently president of the University of Oregon, he was selected to succeed Morton Schapiro after original appointee Rebecca Blank, former chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was forced to withdraw by a cancer diagnosis. Before joining Oregon in 2015, Professor Schill served as dean of the law schools at the University of Chicago and the University of California, Los Angeles. He said he was “thrilled, honoured and humbled to join Northwestern, one of the world’s most prominent universities”.

Lesley Rigg has been appointed vice-chancellor of Brock University. Currently vice-president (research) at Western University, she will swap Ontario institutions this November. Previously she was dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Calgary and vice-president for research and innovation partnerships at Northern Illinois University. Brock has been led by provost Lynn Wells since Gervan Fearon stepped down in June 2021. Mark Arthur, chair of the trustees, said Professor Rigg’s “many accomplishments in labs and in the field” were “matched by her inspiring and well-demonstrated commitment to inclusivity and diversity”.

The National University of Singapore has announced two promotions: Andrew Simester to be dean of the Faculty of Law, succeeding Simon Chesterman, and Tan Kian Lee to be dean of the School of Computing, replacing Mohan Kankanhalli.

Mark O’Thomas has been named principal of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (Lamda). He is currently the University of Greenwich’s pro vice-chancellor for the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Rachel Fine has been named executive director of the Yale Schwarzman Center, Yale University’s centre for student life and the arts. She is currently chief executive of the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.

Mark Swindlehurst is joining the University of Cumbria as chief operating officer. He was formerly director of facilities at Lancaster University.

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