Vanessa Quince, a UW Ph.D. student in political science, is a recipient of the Jackson School Center for West European Studies Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship (FLAS). With this funding, she has spent the summer tackling something only the French language is able to unlock: the impact of race in France’s trade agreements dating back to colonial times.
Quince, who grew up in a Haitian-American household speaking Kreyol (creole) at home and taking Spanish classes at school, is on a new linguistic journey to enable her to understand the context and language of French colonial trade agreements. “When I hear spoken French, the words seem similar to Kreyol but I hesitate…because of the different pronunciation,” she said.
For her Ph.D. work, Quince has begun to investigate the role of race in international relations. In particular, she is interested in the role of race in how states sign international trade agreements. She argues that the lasting effects of slavery and colonization are seen today in how states negotiate agreements. She asks how states understand themselves as part of an “in-group or out-group” and how race is an important part of that distinction. “I believe that race could be important in the signing and drafting of international trade agreements. Whiteness is an identity of power, and power asymmetries are crucial in understanding how states interact with one another. “
While many scholars and economists contribute this imbalance to economic differences, Quince believes there are more nuanced reasons:
“Race functioned as a major justification for the slavery and colonization that was crucial for the economic development of some of the most powerful states…Despite this, [race] is largely understudied in International Relations scholarship.”
Quince also recognizes the importance of going to France to understand the wider impact of French colonial policies. “I need to go directly to the source. I cannot understand the role of race in Francophone countries without examining race in France itself,” she said.
Quince has spent her summer immersing herself in French language courses with plans to head abroad next year. These summer lessons have been intense, but she knows it will be worth it in the long run. She ultimately hopes that by learning French, she can pursue more research that examines race and identity in other Francophone countries in Northern Africa and the Pacific.