Who Gets to Be a Virtuoso? Diplomatic Competence through an Intersectional Lens

In: The Hague Journal of Diplomacy
Catriona Standfield Assistant Professor of Political Science, Department of History and Political Science, Worcester State University Worcester MA USA

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The practice turn in diplomatic studies has focused on how and when diplomats recognise others’ practices as competent. I argue that gendered, raced and classed power shape who is recognised as competent or virtuosic. Denial of recognition reveals how normative conceptions of competence reproduce inequalities in diplomacy. I trace the development and assessment of competence through the autobiographical narratives of Dame Margaret Joan Anstee, a British diplomat, diplomatic wife, international civil servant and then UN special representative in Angola in the 1990s. I find that developing social capital through education was key to allowing Anstee to transcend her working-class origins and enter the upper-class milieu of the post-World War II British Foreign Office. However, as the UN’s first female head of a peacekeeping mission, she struggled to be recognised as a competent actor, even as she took what could be seen as virtuosic action to resource the failing mission.

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