By Gautam Sen
Susan Strange may, rightfully, be credited with institutionalising the discipline of International Political Economy. The following obituary for her was written by one of my former teachers at the London School of Economics.
Published in The Independent (London) on Wednesday, 9 December 1998
Susan Strange was one of the world’s leading scholars in international relations and the major European figure in its sub- discipline of international political economy (IPE), the study of the activities of states and transnational agents in their efforts to influence markets and political life.
For a generation she wrote prodigiously and lectured to audiences in dozens of countries, in every continent. She left behind a remarkable legacy that few can match. She was highly regarded by colleagues and students in Europe, North America, Japan and elsewhere, many of them occupying prominent positions in national and international professional and public life. Her impact is hard to overestimate.
Strange’s most enduring achievement was to institutionalise teaching and research into IPE in Britain. Many British universities that now boast flourishing graduate programmes in IPE have her to thank for establishing the first IPE graduate programme at the London School of Economics in 1984, against some robust opposition, it might be added. Ironically, the ability of the programme to attract high-fee-paying and high-quality foreign students silenced intellectual scepticism. In 1978 she was appointed Montague Burton Professor of International Relations at LSE.
She was also involved in the creation of several other graduate programmes, including one in Warwick University, and a generation of her former students holds teaching positions in all of them. Strange was one of the select few who enjoyed instant name recognition and easily filled large auditoriums. At the beginning of term her books are to be seen piled high in bookshops.
Susan Strange was born in 1923 and graduated with a First in Economics from LSE during the Second World War. She began a career in journalism, first at The Economist and then for The Observer, as the youngest White House correspondent of her time.
On her return to London in 1949, she also began to teach at University College, while she continued as The Observer’s economics correspondent and an editorial writer. In 1965 she became a research fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House and subsequently directed its acclaimed transnational relations project. While at Chatham House she wrote Sterling and British Policy (1971), one of a number of significant projects during Andrew Shonfield’s directorship of the institute.
Her intellectual contribution has been twofold and will endure, because its concerns have been absorbed into the mainstream of international relations thinking. The methodological issue of the failure of economics and international politics to engage with each other, as a matter of course and systematically, was addressed by Susan Strange in a justly famous paper entitled “International Politics and International Economics: a case of mutual neglect”. If the issue now seems dated, it is precisely because a small band of scholars like her drew attention to its half-heartedness in the first place.
The other central aspect of her investigations was the impact of power politics on market outcomes and international organisations, apparently pursuing uncontroversial technical goals. In a celebrated piece, in 1982, she reflected unsparingly on the allegedly benign consequences of international regimes associated with them.
In her work on IPE, she was one of the few mainstream writers who remained robustly critical of what she considered selfishly irresponsible US policies, that she felt were inimical to the health of the world economy. She maintained that domestic politics and US constitutional arrangements were particularly to blame for this unhappy situation. She also dismissed as self-serving the widely propagated lament of its decline, suggesting, instead, that the US retained a huge advantage.
Strange was an early participant in the debates at Harvard, Princeton, Columbia and LSE that turned into the tidal wave of IPE literature. This output has now become varied, often displays richness and taps into an important seam of policy-making issues, central to choices being made. Her book States and Markets (1988) was swiftly written and had its defects, but students bought it eagerly because the book provided an easily comprehensible unifying theme for the totality of IPE.
In 1986 she had already written Casino Capitalism, a prescient comment on the potential significance of increased international financial activity. Typically, she moved, on her official retirement, to a new career at the European University Institute in Florence in 1989. From there, she collaborated with John Stopford of the London Business School to co-author Rival States, Rival Firms: competition for world market shares (1991). It won the George Terry award for its contribution to management studies.
Susan Strange embodied a certain kind of quintessential Englishness that was striking to an outsider like myself, the first PhD student she supervised. She was an iconoclast and radical, a tradition that recalls a powerful theme in English culture and history. She was no revolutionary, but she questioned prevailing nostrums with ill-concealed glee.
And even when she missed the target she did so imaginatively. This was her great asset, to be interesting even when she was wrong, a welcome contrast to the solemnities of carefully footnoted pedantry, that often arouses a sinking feeling of deja vu. She belonged to a pedigree that echoed the Manchester School liberals, believing in the pragmatic possibilities of human improvement, although she had fewer ideological illusions. That she was the daughter of a renowned First World War flying ace somehow does not surprise.
Her life must also be judged remarkable for the many dimensions and qualities it combined. It remains a mystery how she managed to expand unforgiving time to be a mother to six children, a wife, write quite so much, lecture as well as travel widely. She married a fellow journalist at The Observer, Clifford Selly, in 1955, when she was already a career woman with two children. It was his sound judgement on the possibilities and limits of the real world in which she trusted.
The result was the outwardly contradictory synthesis in her work of imaginative analysis with caution in prescription. She had no time for any of the fashionable 1960s New Left Jacobinism, de rigueur for protest, in the period, against the ills of the world economy. Yet she held strong views against injustice, refusing to visit apartheid South Africa.
She was impatient of feminists carping about the unfairness of life, famously chiding them in her presidential address to the American International Studies Association in 1995; she was only the second non- American to hold the post. But she was also an exemplar of feminist success in the life that she led. Of men, she once said that they either belonged to cultures in which men liked women and enjoyed their company or they belonged to cultures that did not. She implied the need for a more complex standard for judging the first type in which men also seemed to evince greater interest in the female sexual persona.
Susan Strange was a good- humoured and fun person, willing to listen and cross swords good- naturedly with colleagues and students over a beer, never resorting to intellectual terrorism by wielding her authority. If she thought she had encountered an interesting idea she would yield with enthusiasm. What she did not suffer was self-pity. Perhaps, she was also a little too demanding of effort from those around her to fulfil their potential. There was not a lot in her own life that would have given her pause over such average human infirmities in this regard.
A fortnight before her death she published Mad Money, a sequel to Casino Capitalism. True to form, she had never actually quit, retiring a second time, at 70, to a professorship at Warwick University when she left Florence. She clearly did not relish what she regarded as petty- fogging bureaucratic proprieties. But in a final act of help to IPE scholarship in Britain she secured, by her presence, a major grant from the Economic and Social Research Council, for Warwick University to study globalisation.
Susan Strange, scholar of international relations: born 9 June 1923; Lecturer in International Relations, University College London 1949-64; Research Fellow, Royal Institute of International Affairs 1965-76; German Marshall Fund Fellow, London School of Economics 1976-78, Montague Burton Professor of International Relations 1978-88; Professor of International Relations, European University Institute in Florence 1989-93; Professor of International Relations, Warwick University 1993-98; married 1942 Denis Merritt (died 1993; one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1955), 1955 Clifford Selly (two sons, one daughter, and one son
Link to Original Article: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/obituary-professor-susan-strange-1190179.html
See, also, the obituary written by Richard Higgott and Roger Tooze.