Laureation address – Professor Timothy M Shaw

Tuesday 24 June 2014

Professor Timothy M Shaw
Laureation Address
Laureator: Professor Ian Taylor
Tuesday 24 June 2014

Professor Timothy ShawVice-Chancellor, it is my privilege to present Professor Timothy M Shaw for the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.

Professor Timothy Shaw is a pioneer in studying Africa’s place in the international system and the problems facing the ‘Global South’ more widely. The author or editor of over fifty books, Professor Shaw has made a distinct contribution to our understanding of the post-colonial condition. Based on his own personal experience and observations, Shaw has challenged classical approaches to IR Theory and continually emphasized the marginal and the unseen.

Born in England, he went to Thailand through the Voluntary Service Overseas scheme, or VSO. Following this he attended the University of Sussex alongside Thabo Mbeki, later to be President of South Africa. Professor Shaw then completed a Masters in International Relations at the then University of East Africa (now Makerere University) in Kampala, Uganda. Whilst there he rubbed shoulders with people such as Paul Theroux and VS Naipaul. Leaving Uganda just ahead of Idi Amin, Professor Shaw went on to do further postgraduate work at Princeton, culminating in a PhD.

It was whilst living in Thailand and Uganda that he first fully realised what the ‘Global South’ actually meant: ‘peripheral’ nations outside the centres of global trade and industry, lacking in both the wealth and power that are needed to exert political leverage. Locked in by the colonial experience and ongoing conditions of global capitalism, the continued exploitation of the South by the North (i.e. us) for raw materials and cheap labour turns ‘undeveloped’ countries into underdeveloped countries, unable to achieve genuine autonomy.

Professor Shaw has not restricted his analysis to a geographic definition of the Global South. Rather, through his work he has consistently pushed the conceptual framework further, arguing that there are in fact Global Souths (in plural) because the South is everywhere and cannot be restricted under today’s conditions of globalisation. Indeed, a theme of his latter work has been that there are Africas in Edinburgh, Paris or Brussels. These pluralities consist of culture, migration, religion, music – anything one may relate to with regard to what makes up a contextualised human being.

Professor Shaw is the epitome of a global scholar. For thirty years he held an appointment at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, and it was during his tenure there that Dalhousie became renowned as the place to study Africa in Canada. He subsequently took up a position as the Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London, where he remains Emeritus Professor. Returning to the developing world, he then took up the directorship of the Institute of International Relations at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago. Currently, Professor Shaw is the Graduate Program Director in Global Governance and Human Security at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

In addition to Uganda, Professor Shaw has also taught at universities in Zambia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and South Africa. It was whilst at Dalhousie and at these African universities that he developed an almost unbelievable network of former PhD students, reaching right around the world. Unlike many other Western academics who study Africa, Professor Shaw has given much more than he has taken. This is reflected in the fact that his former students include, apart from many now senior academics: The Kenyan Ambassador to the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation; the Ambassador of Tanzania to Saudi Arabia; the Head of Public Services of the Maldives; the Minister of Education, Cross River State, Nigeria; the Pro-Vice-Chancellor, National University of Lesotho; and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Mbarara University, Uganda.

Professor Shaw is in fact famed for the amount of time and effort he has put into helping promote academia in the Global South, and his contribution to Africanist scholarship in particular is almost unparalleled. For this and for his academic output, he was honoured as a Distinguished Scholar by the Global Development Section of the International Studies Association. As a junior lecturer back then, I attended the event and remember being impressed by not only how many of his ex-students were in attendance, but also in how the room was packed out by people wishing to pay tribute to him. This willingness to give and to help build intellectual capacity in Africa and elsewhere is quite exceptional.

Throughout his career it should be noted that Professor Shaw has enjoyed the active and continued support of his wife, Professor Jane Parpart, who is herself an internationally-recognised scholar on gender and development in Africa. The two have often published together and have always been a team.

Vice-Chancellor, in recognition of his major contribution to African and Development Studies I invite you to confer on Professor Timothy M Shaw the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.


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