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The Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Dispute: A MacGuffin?

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Traditional approaches to territorial conflicts would suggest that the value of a disputed territory—be it strategic, economic, religious, or historical—drives conflict. Standard explanations of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute often fit this trope, pointing to the military or economic benefits possessing the islands would confer upon the claimant states. This presentation takes a different view, arguing that it is not the value of the islands that drives the conflict, but rather the role of the islands as a tangible object of conflict that generates their value. Drawing upon the concept of the MacGuffin—a plot device in movies that serves to produce dramatic conflict between protagonists—this talk will examine the ways in which the Senkaku/Diaoyu island dispute has become the centre of a dangerous contest between Japan and the People’s Republic of China.


Prof Hall earned his PhD from the University of Chicago in 2008 and has held postdoctoral fellowships at Princeton and Harvard, as well as visiting scholar appointments at the Free University of Berlin, Tsinghua University in Beijing, and the University of Tokyo. Prior to joining the University of Oxford, Prof Hall held the position of Assistant Professor in Political Science at the University of Toronto (2010-2013). Research interests extend to the areas of international relations theory; the intersection of emotion, affect, and foreign policy; and Chinese foreign policy. Recent and forthcoming publications include articles in Asian Security, International Organization, International Security, International Studies Quarterly, International Studies Review, Political Science Quarterly, and Security Studies. Prof Hall has also published a book with Cornell University Press, titled Emotional Diplomacy: Official Emotion on the International Stage, which was recently named co-recipient of the International Studies Association’s 2016 Diplomatic Studies Section Book Award.

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