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Professor William Brown

Profile summary

Professional biography

I have worked for the Open University for over twenty years and am currently head of Politics and International Studies at the University. Before joining the OU I lectured at Portsmouth and Leeds Universities. I gained my PhD from Leeds University in 1995 and an MA at Leeds in 1991. My first degree was in Sociology and Politics at Sheffield University.

Professional affiliations 

I’m a long-time member of the British International Studies Association (BISA) and a founder member of the BISA Africa and International Studies Working Group

Research interests

My research is in International Relations with a particular focus on Africa and the international politics of development co-operation and aid. One area of current work is on UK policy towards Africa in particular the UK Labour Party’s international development policy. I wrote about this in a chapter in Beswick, et al (eds) Britain and Africa in the twenty first-century MUP (2019) and am working on another journal article tracing Labour Party policy changes. 

This work forms part of a broader interest in contemporary and historical relations between Britain (and the West more broadly) and African states. I’m exploring some of this through the theory of ‘uneven and combined development’ including in a book chapter ‘Navigating uneven and combined development: Britain’s Africa policy in historical perspective’ in Alex Anievas and Kamran Matin’s (2106) edited volume Historical Sociology and World History as well as a contribution I wrote for a special issue of Third World Thematics on Frederick Cooper’s concept of ‘gatekeeper states’ (‘Still one size fits all: U&C Development and African gatekeeper states’ Third World Thematics 3(3) 2018). I am currently working on a book exploring these areas in more depth. 

I’ve also had an interest in the role of sovereignty in aid relations ('Sovereignty Matters' African Affairs, April 2013) and African agency. The latter included the book, African Agency in International Politics co-edited with Sophie Harman (Routledge, 2013) and an article 'A Question of Agency: Africa in International Politics' Third World Quarterly 33(10) 2012.

PhD supervision

Possible areas of PhD supervision include Africa's international relations; relations between western aid donors and Africa and UK international development policy. 

A repository of research publications and other research outputs can be viewed at The Open University's Open Research Online.

Teaching interests

I have taught in politics and international relations at the OU for many years. Most recently I worked with Eddie Wastnidge and other colleagues in POLIS to create our MA in International Relations (F94) which launched in 2023. I am also currently working on a new undergraduate degree in International Relations which includes two new modules (D228 and D322) which launch in 2025 and 2026 respectively. 

Before that I led the production of the level 3 module DD313: International Relations: continuity and change in global politics which won the BISA Excellence in Teaching International Studies prize in 2016 and served as the Qualification Lead for International Studies for over ten years. I have also worked on modules in Political ideas (DD316); international environmental policy (DD319) and international development. 

I was awarded Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Authority in 2018. 


Still one size fits all? Uneven and combined development and African gatekeeper states (2018)
Brown, William
Third World Thematics: A TWQ Journal, 3 (pp. 325-346)

In from the margins? The changing place of Africa in international relations (2013-01)
Harman, Sophie and Brown, William
International Affairs, 89(1) (pp. 69-87)

Sovereignty matters: Africa, donors, and the aid relationship (2013)
Brown, William
African Affairs, 112(447) (pp. 262-282)

A question of agency: Africa in international politics (2012-11)
Brown, William
Third World Quarterly, 33(10) (pp. 1889-1908)

Editorial: New Directions in International Relations and Africa (2009-06)
Brown, William; Harman, Sophie; Hurt, Stephen; Lee, Donna and Smith, Karen
The Round Table: Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, 98(402) (pp. 263-267)

Reconsidering the aid relationship: International relations and social development (2009)
Brown, William
The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, 98(402) (pp. 285-299)

Debating the Year of Africa (2007-03)
Brown, William
Review of African Political Economy, 34(171) (pp. 11-27)

Africa and international relations: a comment on IR theory, anarchy and statehood (2006-01)
Brown, William
Review of International Studies, 32(1) (pp. 119-143)

The Commission for Africa: results and prospects for the West's Africa policy (2006)
Brown, William
Journal of Modern African Studies, 44(3) (pp. 349-374)

The World Bank, Africa and politics: a comment on Paul Cammack's analysis (2003)
Brown, W.
Historical Materialism, 11(2) (pp. 61-74)

Restructuring north-south relations: ACP-EU development co-operation in a liberal international order (2000-09)
Brown, William
Review of African Political Economy, 27(85) (pp. 367-384)

The Eu structural adjustment support: the case of Zimbabwe (1999-03)
Brown, William
Review of African Political Economy, 26(79) (pp. 75-91)

The European Union and Africa: the restructuring of north-south relations (2001-11-22)
Brown, William
Library of International Relations
ISBN : 1860646603 | Publisher : I.B. Tauris

Labour, international development and Africa: policy rethinking in opposition (2019-07-11)
Brown, William
In: Beswick, D.; Fisher, J. and Hurt, S. eds. Britain and Africa in the Twenty-First Century: Between ambition and pragmatism
ISBN : 978-1-5261-3413-4 | Publisher : Manchester University Press | Published : Manchester

Navigating uneven and combined development: Britain’s Africa policy in historical perspective’ (2016-09-01)
Brown, William
In: Anievas, Alex and Matin, Kamran eds. Historical Sociology and World Politics: Uneven and Combined Development over the Longue Durée. Global Dialogues: Developing Non-Eurocentric IR and IPE (pp. 149-169)
ISBN : 9781783486823 | Publisher : Rowman & Littlefield | Published : London

African agency in international politics: an introduction (2013-03-11)
Brown, William and Harman, Sophie
In: Brown, William and Harman, Sophie eds. African Agency in International Politics. Routledge Studies in African Politics and International Relations (pp. 1-15)
ISBN : 978-0-415-63353-6 | Publisher : Routledge | Published : London

From uniqueness to uniformity?: An assessment of EU development aid policies (2004-01-29)
Brown, William
In: Arts, Karin and Dickson, Anna K. eds. EU development co-operation: from model to symbol (pp. 17-41)
ISBN : 719062985 | Publisher : Manchester University Press | Published : Manchester, UK

African Agency In International Politics (2013-03-11)
Brown, William and Harman, Sophie eds.
Routledge Studies in African Politics and International Relations
ISBN : 978-0-415-63353-6 | Publisher : Routledge | Published : London