Prior to starting his PhD in Political Science, Antonio Alcazar III, from the Philippines, graduated magna cum laude with an MA in International Relations from CEU. Antonio is a Visiting Scholar at the Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals, where he is researching the entanglements of the EU as a trade power vis-à-vis the so-called “developing world” in global governance and interviewing European trade policy elites for his research, titled, “Everything but Arms: Interpreting EU preferential trade policy.” Beyond academia, he has worked as outreach consultant for the European Commission’s Support to European Business in Southeast Asian Markets (SEBSEAM) programme and served as advocacy officer at the European Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines.
We spoke to him on the occasion of his 2021 Presidential Scholar Award. This is an edited interview conducted on September 23, 2021.
What does this honor mean for you?
First of all, I'm very grateful to be one of the recipients this year and want to thank the donors Michael Ignatieff and Zsuzsanna Zsohar for setting up this award. I also wish to thank the Doctoral School, particularly Monica Lafaire and my supervisor Thilo Bodenstein for the nomination.
This award has been a tonic. It means a great deal to me as a PhD student from the global South. I find it thoroughly encouraging that my research is being recognized even if it operates outside the main currents of political science. In addition to the recognition, the award helps me a lot in practical terms. A commitment to field work demands considerable resources, not least when conducted in the global North. With the award, I can prolong my upcoming research stay in Brussels and Strasbourg and therefore advance my project, which is very important at this stage of my studies.
What was your route to CEU?
I learned about CEU at a higher education fair in Manila in 2015. At the time I was working for a European business organization and I was looking for universities with really solid programs in international relations. CEU is undoubtedly one of the best institutions in this field of study, so my anchor to CEU has been the MA program in International Relations whose 2015/16 cohort I was fortunate enough to join. Then, my research traced the influence of the EU’s trade diplomacy in Southeast Asia. Three years later, I find myself studying at the Doctoral School of Political Science where I am now taking a more critical approach to EU trade policy.
What drives you in your work?
My time in Manila at an EU-oriented organization has informed the thinking behind my academic work and shaped my experience as a Filipino who has been socialized into certain narratives at the workplace - that the EU is a global power acting as a “force for good” and affecting meaningful change not only in the EU, but in other societies, including in the global South. While working at the organization, that perspective had never really been unquestioned as the underlying basis of our policy work. Then later at CEU, I was exposed to more critical perspectives. For my PhD project, I am interested in unsettling some of the things that I used to take for granted in relation to the received understanding of the EU’s technocratic and depoliticized participation in global governance by way of trade. Problematizing this story through my research is what's driving me principally with a view to generating other ways to think critically about the EU as a global trade power.
More specifically, I'm studying how the EU’s trade policy erects new sites of neocolonial intervention in the global South. I'm particularly interested in the “Everything but Arms” regime, through which the EU claims to be helping the “most vulnerable economies” and lifting them out of poverty all in the name of development. To question these deeply political narratives, I turn to interpretivism, with an emphasis on critical policy analysis.
What advice do you have for others applying for this scholarship?
Sticking to the rigors of academic life is, of course, key. But I think a commitment to praxis, however modest or seemingly outside the microworlds of our research projects, is equally important. This could mean starting a research group from scratch, contributing to public consultations on policy issues that matter to you, volunteering for organizational roles within your department, writing op-eds, fundraising, and so on. While these efforts may not have any direct bearing on one’s dissertation per se, they could certainly add to the PhD experience.
What else would you like to express?
I would love to mention what we're doing within the South/South Movement initiative. I'd be the first one to say that CEU, compared to other institutions, is doing a pretty good job of making opportunities open to students from the global South to experience higher education, so hats off to CEU. And I say this as someone who has had the privilege of attending CEU, not once but twice.
However, I would point out that diversity in terms of who gets to be in CEU classrooms to share spaces of exchange and learn from each other is one thing. It's an entirely different matter to also think genuinely about how we teach and whose perspectives are being centered or maybe to some extent also silenced in the classroom. This is one of the reasons why our initiative, which is a joint effort by committed graduate students within and beyond CEU, aspires to do what we can to center global South research and researchers in the social sciences. It is a high mountain to climb, especially in the context of decolonizing higher education. I really do hope we can keep the conversation going.
The Presidential Scholars Fund was established by Michael Ignatieff and Zsuzsanna Zsohar. It supports four Presidential Graduate Research Awards for exceptional Master's and Doctoral students whose research shows promise for the next generation. The Fund also awards two scholarships per year to incoming bachelor's students demonstrating exceptional academic credentials and leadership promise.