My name is Lauren C. Konken. I earned a Ph.D. from the Department of Politics at Princeton University in May 2023, focusing on international relations. I study the design of international trade agreements, focusing on the textual design of multilateral and preferential trade agreements (PTAs) and whether those choices foster long-term cooperation or non-compliance.
My book-style dissertation evaluates the causes and consequences of linguistic ambiguity in preferential trade agreements (PTAs), the 1947 Havana Charter and General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and the 1994 Marrakesh Agreement founding the World Trade Organization (WTO). The negotiating practice of “constructive ambiguity” – defined as the deliberate use of ambiguous language to address a sensitive issue in a negotiation – is widespread in the design of international trade law but varies significantly. I argue that when state leaders won’t tolerate negotiation failure, but state preferences are irreconcilable, negotiators will rely on ambiguous language to facilitate agreement in the present, knowing they can return to the negotiating table in the future.
While the field of international relations argues that uncertainty in treaty commitments between countries erodes cooperation, my research shows many circumstances where the opposite is true: by introducing uncertainty, constructive ambiguity fosters cooperation that sticks. I find that if or when states introduce greater certainty over the meaning of treaty terms through definition (via negotiation) or interpretation (via courts), they often threaten to unravel the essential compromise that fostered agreement in the first place. As a result, ambiguous agreements tend to last until the economic and political costs of upholding commitments outweigh the benefits of cooperation.
My research has been supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada, the Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance, the Princeton University Center for Human Values, and the Princeton-University of Geneva EUROCOMPLEX Partnership. I have presented my work at several major academic conferences, including the American Political Science Association (APSA), the International Studies Association (ISA), The International Political Economy Society (IPES), the Political Economy of International Organizations (PEIO), The Midwestern Political Science Association (MPSA), the Pacific International Politics Conference (PIPC) online conference series, and the Virtual International Political Economy Society (VIPES).
Before pursuing my Ph.D. I received a Bachelor's Degree (BA), with distinction, in Joint Honours Political Science and History from McGill University in 2014, followed by a Master of Arts (MA) in Political Science from McGill University in 2016, concentrating on international relations. I also have an intermediate-level knowledge of French.
Alongside my academic work, I am passionate about teaching and issues of access, diversity, and inclusion, especially for first-generation, low-income (FLI) students. Growing up in a working-class community outside of Vancouver, BC, I didn't understand the benefits of, or aspire to, a college education until my family moved to the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) when I was 13. A trio of high school teachers encouraged me to apply to university, wherein I was lucky to find several friends and mentors who ushered me through the hidden curriculum.
Outside of academic life, I am a hobby rower with the Carnegie Lake Rowing Association (CLRA), a photographer, and an amateur baker. Walking my dog Luna, a Great Pyrenees/Bernese Mountain Dog mix, is one of the highlights of my day every morning.
You can contact me at lkonken[@]princeton.edu.