The School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

Students Archive

Ben Coulson

Project title: Identity, Capital, Geopolitics: US Presidential Discourses of China from 1844 to 2016

This thesis analyses US presidential discourses of China from 1844 to 2016. Provoked by the contemporary trope of the ‘rise of China’ and Barack Obama’s ‘pivot’ to the Asia Pacific, I demonstrate how specific US discourses of China have emerged over time to condition how the US thinks about and acts towards China. Through an interdisciplinary analytical framework, motivated by a poststructural ethos, appreciative of the contributions of political economy and inspired by the methodological approach of Michel Foucault, I conduct an intertextual discourse analysis and genealogical critique of US Presidential discourses towards China.

By focusing on ‘official’ sources, predominantly the speeches and statements of US Presidents, I analyse US discourses of China from the 1844 Treaty of Wangxia up until the end of Barack Obama’s Presidency in 2016. Through this genealogical discours e analysis I argue that three logics, of identity, capital, and geopolitics, emerge over time and are predominant in shaping US foreign policy towards China. I do not take these as pre-existing assumptions but inductively conceptualise them through a hermeneutic engagement with the history of US Presidential discourses regarding China. These logics function to frame, organise and limit what is politically possible and subsequently perceived as necessary, in US foreign policy towards China.

The logic of capital addresses the need for US capital to reproduce itself by expanding internationally. The logic of geopolitics functions primarily as the organising principles for the logic of capital and US foreign relations specifically in relation to China. The logic of identity functions as a conditioning limit on the logics of capital and geopolitics. From this, I conclude that US anxiety over the ‘rise of China’ is a manifestation of historic US conceptions of its identity, its geopolitical imagining of the Asia-Pacific, and the perceived imperatives of contemporary capitalism.


  • POL1046 Order and Disorder: 2013/14 and 2016/17 - seminars and essay marking
  • POL2078 Critical International Politics: 2015/16 - seminars, essay marking and one lecture
  • POL2078 Critical International Politics: 2016/17 Module leader, lecturing, seminar leading, essay marking, office hours
  • POL3104 The Fall and Rise of China: 2014/15 -2015/16- 2016/17 - seminars and essay marking

MA level

  • POL8041 Thinking about Global Politics – 2015/16 one seminar week, essay marking and one lecture on liberalism

I have also supervised a number of UG dissertations and research projects to completion.


Conferences Presentations:

  • May 2014 Politics PGR Conference - House of Cards and the Yellow Peril in Obama's America
  • June 2014 Aberystwyth War and Intelligence Studies - The ‘Rise of China’ in US Geopolitical Thought under Obama
  • June 2014 Nottingham Politics Without Borders Graduate Conference - China in the US Imagination
  • June 2014 Durham Empire Conference - The 'Rise of China' in the US imagination
  • June 2014 Manchester The Politics of Anxiety Conference - The 'Rise of China' and the Neo-colonial legacy in US Anxiety
  • June 2014 Warwick What is Space Workshop - Sloterdijk, Space and US foreign policy
  • September 2014 BISA USFP Conference LSE - The 'Rise of China' in the US Imagination
  • September 2014 BISA Historical Sociology Workshop LSE - Modernity and the ‘Rise of China'
  • October 2014 POSTPONE workshop Kings College London - Genealogy, US Foreign Policy and the 'Rise of China'
  • February 2015 ISA New Orleans - Game of Thrones, Mimesis and Critique
  • April 2015 Politics PGR Conference – “Okay, so what about China?”
  • May 2015 Aberystwyth-Lancaster Graduate Colloquium - Anxiety, Identity and US Imaginaries of China


  • 2012 ESRC 3.5 PhD Studentship
  • 2014/15 AHRC International Placement Scheme - 4 month Fellowship at the Library of Congress 
  • 2017 Teaching Excellence Award for the ‘Postgraduate Student Who Teaches of the Year’

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