Photo of Dr Irene Fernandez-Molina

Dr Irene Fernandez-Molina

BA (Seville), MA (UCM), PhD (UCM)

Lecturer in International Relations

Amory A338

Irene Fernández-Molina is Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Exeter. Her research deals with the international relations of the Global South, subalternity and southern agency, foreign policies of dependent and/or authoritarian states, conflicts (frozen conflicts, contested/unrecognised states) and constructivism (international socialisation, recognition), with a regional focus on North Africa, as well as EU foreign policy and Euro-Mediterranean relations.

She is the programme coordinator of the MA Politics and International Relations of the Middle East at Exeter. She is also a fellow of the UK Higher Education Academy and a visiting professor at the College of Europe, Bruges campus.

She was previously a lecturer in Middle East Politics at Exeter, a research fellow at the European Neighbourhood Policy Chair of the College of Europe, Natolin campus (Warsaw), a Schuman fellow at the Directorate-General for External Policies of the European Parliament (Brussels) and a PhD research fellow at the Complutense University of Madrid. She obtained her PhD in Political Science/International Relations with a thesis on Moroccan foreign policy which led her to conduct fieldwork and stay as a visiting research fellow at various centres in Morocco (Centre Jacques Berque, Institut Marocain des Relations Internationales-IMRI) and France (Institut de Recherche sur le Monde Arabe et Musulman-IREMAM).

The projects she is currently working on deal with the transnational politics of recognition in frozen conflicts (Western Sahara) and civil wars (Libya, funded by a British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant for 2019-2020), contested state diplomatic practices and the political economy-foreign policy link in contexts of neoliberal subalternity.


Research interests

Irene Fernández-Molina is currently working on the transnational politics of recognition in frozen conflicts (Western Sahara) and civil wars (Libya), contested state diplomatic practices and the political economy-foreign policy link in contexts of neoliberal 'subalternity'.

Transnational Mechanisms of Recognition and the Dynamics of Frozen Conflict in Western Sahara

This project proposes a typology of causal mechanisms whereby transnational relations of recognition constitute conflict actors in frozen conflicts. While the agency of an emerging conflict actor manifests itself in ‘struggles for recognition’ motivated by experiences of ‘disrespect’, responses from different significant others vary in terms of motivations and pathways (mechanisms of recognition). Adapting Honneth’s tripartite division, the typology distinguishes between four forms of recognition: thin cognitive recognition, ‘respect’/rights, ‘esteem’/difference, and ‘love’/empathy. Three transnational corrections are made in order to include transnational relations of recognition, non-state actors, and unstructured social-relational forms of international/transnational recognition. The typology is applied to the conflict of Western Sahara, which has been reshaped by the rise of internal Sahrawi pro-independence groups (based inside the territory annexed by Morocco) as an increasingly relevant conflict actor, with their identity shifting from victims to human rights activists to activists involved in an unsolved conflict. This identity and social-status formation has been the product of transnational recognition from three significant others: the annexing state (Morocco), the contested state-in-exile (SADR), and the international community. The overall effect of intermingling recognition processes, including various instrumental initiatives deprived of mutuality, has been increased struggle and conflict complexity rather than ‘recognitional peace’.

The Transnational Politics of Recognition in the Libyan Civil War (funded by a British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant for 2019-2020)

The project will examine how different forms of transnational recognition have impacted on conflict dynamics in Libya since 2011. It is based on a non-dualistic and non-legal conceptualisation of transnational recognition drawing on Hegelian-inspired recognition theory. This provides a new angle to approach the transnational dimensions of civil war in primarily social-relational terms, besides domestic security dilemmas and political economy factors. The project will compile a dataset of reported acts/forms of recognition – including engagement – between external and Libyan actors in 2011-2019. This will be combined with interviews with diplomats and international officials appointed to Libya in order to build a typology of the causal mechanisms driving transnational recognition, e.g. framing, normative persuasion, strategic calculation and logics of on-the-ground practicality. The final stage will be to explore each form of transnational recognition’s contingent effects on conflict dynamics through the identity formation, legitimisation and/or empowerment of various Libyan conflict actors.

Contested States, Hybrid Diplomatic Practices, and the Everyday Quest for Recognition

This project examines the diplomatic practices of contested states with the aim to challenge structural legal-institutional accounts of these actors’ international engagement, which are unsatisfactory in explaining change and acknowledging their agency. Considering contested states as liminal international actors, their diplomatic practices stand out for their hybridity in transcending the state versus nonstate diplomacy dichotomy, as well as for their structure-generating properties in enabling social forms of international recognition—absent legal recognition. The concept is empirically applied to examine the everyday interaction between the representatives of Palestine and Western Sahara and the European Union (EU)’s institutions in Brussels. It is argued that there has been a renewal and expansion of the Palestinian and Sahrawi repertoires of diplomatic practices vis-à-vis the EU, which has entailed growing hybridization. Innovation originated in more “transformative” diplomatic practices capitalizing on the contested states’ own political in-between-ness, which established relations that contributed to constituting and endogenously empowering them in the Brussels milieu. The way was thus paved for more “reproductive” diplomatic practices that mimic traditional state diplomacy to gain prominence. The impact achieved on “high politics” demonstrates how bottom-up practice-led change may allow contested states to compensate for their meagre material capabilities and punch above their structural weight in international politics.

Project developed with Dimitris Bouris (University of Amsterdam).

Agency within Neoliberal 'Subalternity': Comparing the Political Economy-Foreign Policy Link in Jordan and Morocco

The aim of this research project is to investigate the multiple manifestations of agency that occur in the foreign policies and foreign economic policies of states occupying a subaltern position, both politically and economically, within the structural context of neoliberal global governance. The project will contribute to the empirical study of the foreign (economic) policies of the peripheral/dependent states of the Global South and to theory-building on the issue of subalternity in International Relations (IR). In empirical terms, the project will carry out a structured and focused paired comparison of Jordanian and Moroccan agency on different levels of foreign policy analysis (FPA) – from the domestic to the global – in the following five foreign (economic) policy areas: (1) foreign financing and debt, (2) trade liberalisation with the US, (3) trade liberalisation with the EU, (4) externally induced privatisation and anti-corruption policies, and (5) migration management. The time frame under consideration will be the nearly two decades elapsed to date since the 1999 monarchical successions that brought a new generation of leaders to power in both countries in parallel.

Project developed with Imad El-Anis (Nottingham Trent University), Anna Khakee (University of Malta) and Laura Feliu (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) in the framework of an exploratory symposium supported by the European International Studies Association (EISA) in November 2016.

The ‘Subaltern’ Foreign Policies of North African Countries: Old and New Responses to Economic Dependence, Regional Insecurity and Domestic Political Change

Special issue co-edited with Miguel Hernando de Larramendi (University of Castilla-La Mancha) in the framework of the project ‘The International Dimension of Political Transformations in the Arab World’, funded by a grant from the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness of Spain (CSO2014-52998-C3-3-P).

Modelling for a Living: Two-level Games and Rhetorical Action in the Foreign Debt Negotiations of Post-revolutionary Tunisia

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