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Dr Catherine Owen

Senior Lecturer in International Relations

I am Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Exeter's Penryn Campus in Cornwall and Visiting Professor at the Institute of International and Area Studies, Tsinghua University, Beijing. Between 2017 and 2021, I was British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, also at the University of Exeter.

I am an ethnographer of governance processes in Eurasia, and have lived, worked and conducted fieldwork in Russia, Kyrgyzstan and China. I am interested in the way in which global trends in public sector management are reproduced and reconfigured at the local level in these contexts, creating new mechanisms for citizen participation. My work explores the political subjectivities produced through these mechanisms; I think that moving beyond a focus on the presence, absence or distortion of elections is important for understanding both how political participation is curated and experienced, and how broader policy processes work, in Eurasia.

This observation has led to a second research interest, namely the politics of knowledge production in the Social Sciences, non-Western approaches to knowledge production and the relationship between Area Studies and International Relations. I am especially interested in how the social and cultural context of scholars shapes the knowledge they produce about world.

Links to my publications can be found on my Academia page.


Research interests

 I have two main research interests:

* Participatory governance in non-Western contexts.

This work builds on my PhD thesis and my British Academy postdoctoral fellowship and explores the ways in which citizens are encouraged to particpate in local policy-making and delivery in Russia and China. My work shows how grassroots participatory mechanisms enable citizens to shape, to a limited extent, the policy processes in these countries. Currently, I am exploring participatory budgeting initatives in St Petersburg and Shanghai, examining the way they are experienced by participants and how they relate both to wider city governance archecture and wider regime dynamics. 

* Decolonial and non-Western approaches to knowledge production in International Relations

Here, I study the ways in which scholars and researchers around the world produce knowledge about Politics and International Relations, foregrounding the inequalities and barriers faced in different contexts, and examining how these limitations shape the production of knowledge.


Research supervision

 I am glad to supervise projects relating to any of the following themes:

- The governance of Russia or China
- Civic participation in Eurasia
- the politics of knowlege production in International Relations

Please contact me by e-mail to discuss your ideas.

Current PhD students:

Sean Hotung (co-supervised with Dr Richard Edwards)
Zhanat Myrzabekov (first supervisor, Prof John Heathershaw)
Caice Jin (first supervisor, Prof David Lewis)

Other information

I act as reviewer for the following journals: Slavic Review, Europe-Asia Studies, Journal of International Relations and Development, Government and Opposition, Social Movement Studies, Asian Journal of Comparative Politics, Polish Political Science Review, Chinese Journal of International Politics, Communist and Post-Communist Studies, Perspectives on Politics, Central Asian Survey, Higher Education, Third World Quarterly, East European Politics, Problems of Post-Communism, Conflict, Security and Development, New Perspectives, International Journal of Human Rights, Regulation and Governance, Pacific Review, International Relations, and Journal of Urban History.

I have also acted as grant proposal reviewer for the German Foundation for Peace Research and book manuscript reviewer for Palgrave MacMillan, Oxford University Press and Routledge.

I am Research Associate at UK based think tank, the Foreign Policy Centre.

I was Ambassador in Europe 2020 - 2022 for the Fudan Development Institute (FDDI), Fudan University's premier global-facing research institute.

In August 2022, I taught an intensive two-week course entitled 'Understanding and Researching the Emergence of Managed Civil Society in Eurasia' at the German-Kazakh University's annual summer university in Almaty, Kazakhstan, funded by the German Academic Exchange Service.


Following my Bachelors at Durham University in Modern European Languages (French and German), I spent two years in Berlin working as a translator, journalist and historical guide, and in St Petersburg working as an English teacher and volunteer with the Russian human rights organisation, Memorial. These experiences forged in me a deep interest in the politics and lived experiences of post-communism.

I returned to academia to undertake, first, an MA in International Relations and then a PhD, both at the University of Exeter, the latter which was awarded in 2015. The thesis examined Russian state discourses and social practices of civic participation in local governance during the Putin era.  During my PhD, under the supervision of Prof John Heathershaw, I developed an interest in local governance in Central Asia, and spent time volunteering in the suburbs of Bishkek.

Upon completion of my PhD, I moved to Xi'an, China, and spent two years working as Lecturer in Central Asian Studies in the Department of History and Civilization, Shaanxi Normal University, where I remain affiliated as a Visiting Professor.

In September 2017, I began a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship based at the University of Exeter, which allowed me to build on my PhD research and explore participatory governance in Russia and China from a comparative perspective. I was promoted to Senior Lecturer at the University of Exeter's Penryn Campus in February 2021. In September 2023, I began a two-year joint appointment between the University of Exeter and Tsinghua University, during which time, I will spend 50% of my time based at the Institute of International and Area Studies, Tsinghua University, Beijing.

I have held Visiting Fellowships at the European University at St Petersburg (2012), Fudan Development Institute, Shanghai (2017), the St Petersburg branch of the Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (2018), and the Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki (2019).

In January 2020, I became a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA).

I speak fluent French, German and Russian, and intermediate Mandarin Chinese.

When not at the university, I can probably be found on my bicycle somewhere along the back lanes of Devon and Cornwall. 

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