Transcript: IASH Fellow Profile: Dr Annette Freyberg-Inan

My name is Annette Freyberg-Inan, I’m associate professor of political science. I’m affiliated with the University of Amsterdam, and my fields are international politics and political economy, European politics, and social science methodology. What I came to work on at IASH is on the psychological foundations of the theories of international relations.

Policy-makers go and make decisions about international politics, decisions about war and peace, development or lack thereof, so, decisions that have a real impact on people’s lives, and they make those decisions based on theories that – implicitly or explicitly – are drawn on to support their reasoning and therefore their conclusions. And we are in the business as scholars of international politics of providing those theories. And if those theories are based on biased and unrealistic assumptions about people’s motivations and the dynamics of social interaction, then we run the risk of delivering extremely bad policy advice. In our theories, we make assumptions about human actors: what motivates them, whether they’re rational or not, how they behave and how they behave with each other. And the assumptions aren’t really based on anything: in the best case, they’re based on some philosophical traditions. But the theories don’t take into account what we’ve actually learned in the past several hundred years about what people are really like, and how social relations between people really work. So what I want to do is import that knowledge that comes primarily from the field of social psychology, but also psychology, philosophy, anthropology, look at what’s there that is useful for improving the way we think about human beings in theories of international politics. And the mission is to move beyond the increments in ability in our biases of thinking about human nature.

This is really like an oasis for reflection and very high-powered writing, and I couldn’t think of a better environment than here to be extremely productive. The IASH community is above and beyond all my expectations, really. People are extremely supportive of one another here – both in a professional sense, of really being there to give advice, and give each other literature tips, and reading each other’s work, but also on a human level, just being ever-ready to have a chat over a cup of coffee or go for drinks after work. It’s a very close-knit community where very quickly you feel like part of a family.

I also found it very inspiring that status doesn’t really matter here. So, some fellows here are distinguished professors, and you also have postdocs and PhD students walking around, and there’s not really any sense of hierarchy or timidness in interaction between all the different people working here. It’s been a really pleasant environment to work in.

Being at IASH has reminded me, or it’s taught me, what the humanities are all about. And that is that no matter what work, in what discipline of the humanities, people are all interested in and united by the quest for empathetic understanding of humans at an individual level and at the collective level. Everybody, no matter if it’s in literary studies or any other section of the humanities of the many that are represented here is ultimately interested in learning about people, what makes them tick. But it’s also been useful as a motivational force for me to remember that that is ultimately also why I’m in this business: even though I have morphed into a social scientist, I’m driven mostly by the curiosity about the human being, so being here has really helped bring that out once again, and I think it will keep motivating me for a long time to come.

You can find the subtitled video here.