Dr Benedict Docherty

Benedict PictureUniversity Teacher in International Relations

Contact Details:
Telephone:0114 222 1674
Room: Elmfield 1.1
Email: b.docherty@sheffield.ac.uk
Website: benedictdocherty.com
Office Hours:(term time): Tuesday 15:00 - 16:00, Friday 15:00 - 16:00


I joined the Department of Politics at Sheffield in September 2017. My PhD research – ‘Liberal vanguards and the sustainability of the solidarist international society typified by the Responsibility to Protect’ - was funded by a POLIS Award (2012-2015) as well as British International Studies Association Founders’ Fund Award (2015). Broadly speaking my research interests are the English School, Intervention, the Responsibility to Protect, the United Nations Security Council and Great Power diplomacy.

I have been an active member of the British International Studies Association having served two terms as a Co-convenor of the Postgraduate Network (2013-2015) and as the PGR representative on the Intervention & R2P Working Group (2015-2016). During 2013-2016 I worked with colleagues on an ESRC funded seminar series, ‘The Responsibility to Protect and Prosecute: The Political Sustainability of Liberal Norms in an Age of Shifting Power balances’ and subsequently assisted with the launch of the European Centre for the Responsibility to Protect in December 2016.


Hedley Bull wrote that: ‘It is better to recognise that we are in darkness than to pretend that we can see the light.’ (1977: 320). As a teacher I see my role as conveying this to students while developing their critical understanding of the literature and their ability to apply it so as to gain greater insight into the everyday realities of international relations. In addition to supervising undergraduate dissertations and research projects, my teaching for 2018-19 includes:


My research examines how the P3 states (France, the UK and USA) practically resolve tensions between their liberal preferences for or practices of intervention, and the humanitarian solidarism of contemporary international society typified by the Responsibility to Protect (2005). I specially examined the crises in Côte d’Ivoire, Libya and Syria (2010-2012), as cases in which there was a tension between intervention and interference, between humanitarian intervention under the auspices of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and liberal intervention combining civilian protection/mass atrocity prevention with democracy and human rights promotion.

I am especially interested in international society’s sense of where legitimate intervention becomes illegitimate interference. I attempt to examine (using documentary evidence from UN meetings and interviews with diplomats) how such tensions play out in practice and the consequences for the sustainability of the solidarist society typified by R2P. That is, how states – especially Great Powers – practically navigate the boundaries of legitimacy and consensus in difficult cases of mass atrocity prevention with regard to the norms of the R2P normative framework: sovereignty, humanitarian intervention, non-interference, limits on the use of force and multilateralism.

Within the English School framework I developed the original concepts of ‘sustainability’ and ‘liberal vanguardism’ so as to argue that the sustainability of the solidarist international society typified by R2P is threatened if powerful liberal states behave in practice as liberal vanguards. Applying the work of Hedley Bull (1977) and Ian Clark (2005, 2009, 2009) I argue that the society of states is sustained by everyday discourse and iterative practice by states with regard to its principles of legitimacy and their commitment to international consensus both horizontally (among the great powers) and vertically (between them and the rest of the society). Based in part on the work of Barry Buzan (2004, 2010) ‘liberal vanguardism’ conceptualises how liberal states respond in practice to dissonance between their values/goals and the norms of international society by considering how they interpret international norms, source legitimacy and approach international consensus.

Essentially my research is motivated therefore by a sense that often, the more the P3 states try to do – liberal forms of intervention – the less international consensus there is, so how have or how should they respond to this? I suggest – to paraphrase Robert Burns (1786) – that the P3 would do well "to see ourselves as others see them", and recall that whilst international society needs to adapt to remain legitimate and effective, liberally probing its limits of legitimacy – the existing humanitarian solidarist R2P framework of international society – and acting on such interpretations in practice, regardless of any ensuing international discord, can threaten the sustainability of the solidarist contemporary international society typified by R2P.


Ben is currently working on drafting articles emerging from his PhD research.

Back to topBack to index of Academic Staff