Campus: San Francisco State University -- July 27, 2000


S.F. State Student Captures Top Award in National Student Research Competition on Foreign Policy

Recent San Francisco State University graduate Amy Skonieczny of Oakland has won the top prize from the scholarly International Studies Association for her foreign policy analysis of the 1993 passage of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Skonieczny's research paper titled "Constructing NAFTA: Myth, Representation and Discursive Construction of U.S. Foreign Policy" captured first place in the association's prestigious Alexander George Graduate Student Paper Competition in a field that included graduate students nationwide.

"Amy's paper is a path breaking analysis about how ideas change collective psychology," said Sanjoy Banjeree, associate professor of international relations at S.F. State and Skonieczny's adviser. "Amy asks how the standard American image of Mexico as a backward country could have allowed public opinion to swing from opposition to strong support of NAFTA during 1993. She finds that supporters of NAFTA did not directly challenge the standard image of Mexico. They instead recast the U.S. itself as a confident world leader capable of bringing others up. Amy's methodology for demonstrating these processes is pioneering."

The 28-year-old Skonieczny just graduated from S.F. State in May with her master's degree in international relations and next month will begin studies on a doctorate in political science from the University of Minnesota after winning a coveted MacArthur Fellowship, which will pay her expenses over a five-year period.

Skonieczny, who worked as a student research assistant in S.F. State's America Reads program, plans to continue her research on how popular opinion can affect foreign trade policy. "It is very exciting to win such as an honor for my paper, but it also pushes me to find out more about how foreign trade policy can be influenced by the use of myths when presenting arguments to the public," said Skonieczny, who wants to become a college professor.

In her paper --- also a prizewinner at the California State University (CSU) Research Competition last year --- Skonieczny examined numerous newspaper ads to look at how support grew for NAFTA, a proposal that apparently few Americans knew about or cared about in early 1993.

The public discussion on NAFTA, she said, was soon framed as a debate on the American dream. One side, led by President Clinton, said passage would open new markets for American goods and expand the U.S. economy. The other side --- with Ross Perot as the most visible spokesman --- said the country would lose manufacturing jobs to Mexico, creating that "giant sucking sound" as he put it in one presidential debate.

"I think it was interesting to note how both sides were using myths and stereotypes to gain public approval for their arguments," she said. "It was a little like a campaign for public office, but what I think is surprising is that we are talking about setting foreign policy, which has long lasting implications," she said.

NAFTA took effect January 1, 1994, but the high profile push for its passage has lessons for us all, Skonieczny explained.

"People should think twice when forming an opinion on foreign policy based on paid ads and sound bites; really analyze what is being said on both sides," she said. "Foreign policy is becoming more important as the world gets more interconnected and issues surrounding globalization become as important as domestic issues such as health care or Social Security."

Skonieczny next wants to look at U.S. trade policy and China in the 21st century.


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