Research Spotlight: Nicole Jackson

December 16, 2022

Getting to know Nicole

Nicole Jackson is an Associate Professor of International Studies at Simon Fraser University (SFU) and has been conducting research in Russia and in post-Soviet Central Asia since 1994. Her research interests lie at the intersection of foreign policy, domestic politics, and security studies, and her regional focus is the former Soviet space, primarily Russia. As an expert in post-Soviet Central Asia, she’s been a powerful voice offering insight into the ongoing war in Ukraine, and recently testified before the senate of Canada on the matter.

Jackson attributes her interest in international studies to her parents, who were passionate educators and researchers who focused on a range of political and international issues. “Initially, that attraction was primarily to Western Europe, as I had attended schools in Berlin, Paris, Vienna, and Canberra,” Jackson explains. “However, I was also fascinated with Central Asia, having visited the district around the Khyber Pass and Peshawar in Pakistan which was, even then, a refuge for Afghans.” From an early age Jackson did her best to understand and reconcile different global perspectives, and she would go on to study language, culture, history and politics when she began her undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto (U of T).

Jackson’s time at U of T also coincided with the fall of the Soviet Union, an event that would cement her interest in security studies and post-Soviet Central Asia. “It was a momentous time, with enormous geopolitical repercussions for peoples and states,” she says. Jackson took courses on Soviet politics and policies, and was fascinated to see how Russia would evolve and develop their independence as the Union collapsed, a topic that she is still unravelling today.

Driven by a desire to examine Russia’s evolving politics and foreign policies from a globally engaged perspective, Jackson went on to earn her master’s of science at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). “I wanted to develop deep context, but also learn how to hold governments accountable and to help shape more equitable and effective policies.” Jackson elaborates, “LSE was somewhat of an anomaly at the time. Elsewhere, it was quickly assumed that the ‘new Russia’ was no longer worthy of sustained scholarly and policy interest”.

Partway through her MSc, Jackson was approached to do a PhD with expert historian Dominic Lieven and well-known foreign policy and international relations theorist Margot Light. From there she began years of Russian language training, splitting her time between London and Moscow where she lived with Russian families and in university dorms, all while making contacts with Russian politicians whom would become key voices in her research later on.

“The mid 1990s were very exciting years in Russia when many ideational, political and economic alternative paths seemed possible,” Jackson recounts. “I was drawn into an increasingly rigorous and free political debate, and was fascinated to watch as Russians began a partial push away from empire and towards alternative political, economic and foreign policies.”

Jackson’s research examined how Russia was exerting its political, economic, military and ideational influence, why and how identities, ideas and policies were changing over time, and what justifications the state was giving for all these changes. These lines of inquiry would eventually lead Jackson to her first major project and early field work, which focused on the Russian state’s multifaceted involvement in civil and separatist wars in the former Soviet Union, ultimately, informing her research interests going forward.

Jackson explains, “Over time, I have continued to write about Russia’s involvement in wars in the former Soviet region, investigating the dramatic narrowing of political debate and more extreme ideas that have dominated the discourse and informed and justified Russian actions.”

Other major lines of inquiry in Jackson’s work include the role of ideas and security perceptions on the evolution of Russia’s identities, and scrutinizing Western responses to Russia. “I began work in this area because as a Canadian expert on Russia, I believe I have an obligation to also understand and critique Canadian and Western foreign policy.”

Throughout Jackson’s work she aims to contribute to academic debate and contextualized empirical studies. Additionally, she intends to offer context on existing and alternative policy options with the hope of creating a more secure and peaceful world. Jackson shares her parents’ passion for teaching and continues to incorporate insights from her research and theory into her courses.

“My dream is for the School for International Studies to become a preeminent home for open-minded research which embraces multiple traditional and alternative perspectives and engages with, and contributes to, local and global communities as well as policy and practitioners worlds.”

Curious to lean more about Nicole Jackson? You can read an in-depth interview with her here.