Professor Helen Drake

Professor of French and European Studies and Director of the Institute for Diplomacy and International Governance

Helen Drake

Helen is the Director of the Institute for Diplomacy and International Governance (IDIG) at Loughborough University London, and also holds a Chair in French and European Studies at Loughborough University.

She has been an academic at Loughborough University for over two decades and in 2017 left the Midlands for London to establish IDIG, drawn by the opportunities of Loughborough’s London campus to combine her academic and entrepreneurial interests.

Academic background

Helen received her first-class BSc Honours degree in Linguistic (French and German) and International Relations at the University of Surrey (UK). She followed this with a two-year contract teaching English to (reluctant) trainee French engineers in northern France before returning to complete an MSc in European Management at the Cranfield School of Management (Cranfield University, UK). She then headed back to the world of work for a short but instructive period employed as an international marketing executive for the UK IT company ICL. That took her all around Europe exploring the telecommunications markets before she was lured back to the university sector, first as an administrator (running study abroad programmes) and then into her first academic post as Lecturer at Aston University where she completed, part-time, her PhD in political science (on the subject of political leadership).

Helen seeks opportunities to extend her academic activities beyond academia. In 2010, she was named Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques by the French government for her services to French culture and language. In 2017 she received the University of Kent’s Innovation in Academia (Arts and Culture) prize, and between 2012 and 2018 she chaired UACES – the UK’s academic association for contemporary European Studies – through interesting times, including Brexit. Between 2013 and 2016 she used her Jean Monnet Chair in European integration (funded by the European Commission) to support her research and teaching. Alongside her role at Loughborough, Helen regularly offers lectures and teaching support to other students, most recently at Sciences Po Lyon, and ESSCA Management School Lyon, both in France. Helen is committed to connecting her students to professional experts as well as other academics. She regularly invites outside speakers to participate in her lectures and seminars, and she uses debates, simulations and other exercises to ensure that students can apply their learning to real-world professional settings.

Current research and collaborations

Brexit, the UK and the EU

Between 2016 and 2019 Helen led two ESRC-funded research projects into the UK’s departure from the EU, aka Brexit. One looked at the multi-stakeholder negotiations that characterised Brexit, organising a number of 'Brexit cafés' to bring those stakeholders together in low-risk situations. Helen worked alongside Dr Nicola Chelotti, Dr Elena Georgiadou and Borja García García from Loughborough University, and Stijn van Kessel from London's Queen Mary University. Their various real-time blogs can be found here, and their academic publications feature in numerous journals including the British Journal of Politics and International Relations, and the International Journal of Information Management. The other project invited sixth-form school pupils in the Midlands and the southeast of England to simulate real-world, post-Brexit decisions on EU citizenship and freedom of movement between the EU and the EU27.

Contemporary France

Helen is also actively engaged in research into contemporary French politics. Together with academic colleagues Vincent Tiberj from Sciences Po Bordeaux in France, Sophie Meunier from Princeton University in the USA, and Alistair Cole of Hong Kong Baptist University, Helen has recently edited (and written in) a volume bringing together cutting-edge research into French politics following the election of President Macron (Palgrave macmillan, Developments in French Politics 6, forthcoming 2020). She is also working on the second edition of her book Contemporary France and is developing a new research project on the Franco-British bilateral relationship with leading international scholar Professor Pauline Schnapper of the University of Paris-3, Sorbonne nouvelle. Helen has previously collaborated with different colleagues on varied research questions regarding France. Publications include her work with Saskia Huc-Hepher on the contemporary French population in London, and with Dr Aidan McGarry (also of IDIG) on the security discourse still stigmatising the Roma population in France.

Political leadership and diplomacy

Helen continues to be fascinated by questions of contemporary political leadership. She has recorded a short video on the subject, with specific reference to the Covid-19 pandemic. She recently applied the political anthropological concepts of 'charisma' and 'trickery' to a study of French president Emmanuel Macron, having previously explored the possibility that 'disruption' could be a political leadership style as well as a business strategy – with the same risks. Most recently, and alongside several colleagues from Loughborough’s London and Midlands campuses, she is developing a research network connecting the many dots (digital, commercial, business, sports…) that make up the real practices of diplomacy in today’s world.

Current PhD / research supervisions

Helen has supervised several PhD students to successful completion across a broad range of subject areas relating to the study of the EU. She is currently co-supervising students in the following subjects: public policy regarding radicalisation and extremism in the UK; the Europeanisation of Northern Ireland and political identity; public and cultural diplomacy and women as agents of change in Ukraine; myths and narratives of Polish-Russian relations; the UK and post-Brexit experimentalist governance. She has examined numerous PhDs around the world.

Interests and activities

Helen is a member of the conseil scientifique (advisory board) of Alliance Europa (a consortium of universities and non-university partners for research, innovation and training, based at the Université de Nantes, France); and a member of the Board of the University of London Institute in Paris (ULIP). She was a visiting professor at Sciences Po Lyon, France, in 2017 and will be returning in 2021.

To keep up to date with Helen's latest research and related activities, you can follow on her on Twitter at @FrancoBrit.

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