17 October 2017

Anne Saab works on law, fear, hunger and climate change


Anne Saab, Assistant Professor of International Law at the Graduate Institute, is among others an expert on climate change, agriculture and human rights. She shares with us “bits” of her intellectual journey through international law.

What are your current research interests?

There are a number of things I have been working on and continue to work on. My biggest project at the moment is the monograph I am writing on the basis of my PhD thesis. Its (provisional) title is Narratives of Hunger in International Law: Feeding the World in Times of Climate Change. Anne_Saab.jpgIn this book I explore two seemingly contradictory narratives of hunger, the dominant “neoliberal” narrative and the oppositional “food sovereignty” narrative. My main interest is to highlight the role that international law plays in constructing prevailing understandings of hunger in the face of climate change. The conclusion of my exploration is that both narratives of hunger are based on a number of fundamental assumptions, and that these assumptions must be questioned if we are to conceive of different – and arguably better – ways of addressing hunger.

I have two shorter pieces that will be coming out soon. One is on the legal regulation of genetically modified foods, which will be included as a chapter in the Oxford Handbook on Comparative Environmental Law (edited by Jorge Viñuales and Emma Lees). The other is an article on food regime analysis and international law, which will be included in a forthcoming issue of the Leiden Journal of International Law.

What will your next research project be?

My work-in-progress at the moment relates to fear and international law. I am working on a piece about fear and human rights law in climate change discourse, as well as a general piece on fear and international law, the latter together with Andrea Bianchi. I would like to extend this research to a larger project on emotions and international law.

What are the “classic” academic articles or books that you would like everybody to read?

I don’t believe in any limited number of “classic” pieces. It’s important to read as widely as possible, not only works in your own narrow (sub)discipline.

What books are currently on your nightstand?

The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Do Not Say We Have Nothing, and Ali and Nino

Do you have any special memory related to your thesis supervisor that you could share?

My thesis supervisor told me (before I began my PhD) that the starting point of any research project should always be something that interests you, that makes you curious. That might seem very trivial now, but it had an impact on me. I still follow that advice, which might explain why I keep venturing off into eclectic fields and am not keen to identify a few “classic” works. There are simply way too many things that interest me and that make me curious, and they are not limited to what many might consider the traditional confines of international law. Researching things that you are passionate and curious about makes the hard work so much more enjoyable.

You teach a course on “Research Design and Methodology” for PhD students. Given that you like to “venture off into eclectic fields”, what is your advice to students who want to successfully venture off like you into those type of fields? What are the challenges they are facing in a field with a strong normative component?

The reality of academic research – and I guess of life itself – is that there is a strong urge to put people into categories. You have to be either this type of scholar or that type of scholar; reading these particular authors or reading other particular authors. This is absolutely normal.

What I think is important for early-year researchers is to recognise these categories and groups, and be self-reflective about where they situate their own ideas and research, and why. I also think it is important to stay true to your own interests and passions, and avoid subscribing to academic “cults” that unnecessarily limit your perspectives.

In my view, you don’t need to be wholly and uncritically dedicated to any single approach or theory. The most interesting scholars are able to move between groups. It is, of course, much easier to just pick a group and stick with it. But the easy way is hardly ever the most interesting or genuinely innovative.