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International Cooperation Against All Odds

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Headshot of Mai'a Cross

Mai’a K. Davis Cross

Professor Mai’a K. Davis Cross joined the College of Social Sciences and Humanities in 2013 and serves as the Edward W. Brooke Professor of Political Science, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, as well as the Director of Graduate Studies. Professor Cross’ expertise focuses on the European Union and international cooperation.

She is especially interested in the areas of European foreign and security policy, crises, diplomacy, and public policy. Her research stresses the synergy that exists between policymakers and scholars as they strive to foster a shared European identity and maintain the social stability of the EU, particularly in the context of challenges to democracy in recent years that have brought “Europeans more closely together, in acting autonomously from the U.S.” According to Professor Cross, the EU has drawn closer together recently as “member-states not only want to cooperate, they want to tie their fates together to act as one.”

In her current book project, The Ultrasocial World: International Cooperation Against All Odds,  Professor Cross draws upon interdisciplinary research, combining cognitive psychology, neuroscience and other disciplines to examine how human behavior influences state behavior. She hopes to highlight a new perspective in the discipline, albeit one that is rather taboo considering the current understanding of keeping political science separate from human nature, biology and evolution. Her perspective is that humans are more inclined to be cooperative than competitive, and that this can be used to understand the outcomes of international interaction. “We’re continually drawn back into an empathic vein,” Professor Cross explains.  She cites this as an occurrence during historical periods such as the beginning of outer space exploration where, contrary to common wisdom, cooperation was seen as more advantageous than competition.

From her research to the classroom, Professor Cross works to integrate the Experiential Liberal Arts model of research, education, and outreach.

These take form particularly in her EU class, which incorporates a simulation of European diplomatic negotiations, and one of the first pop-up courses ever taught at Northeastern on Brexit. In these courses, her students learn about the past and present of European politics to understand that no political outcomes can be examined in a vacuum. At the graduate level, Professor Cross mentors student research assistants who obtain invaluable experience in the field through assisting her with archival research, interviews, and participant observation. Above all, she strives to reinvent ways of analyzing state behavior and political outcomes in her teachings, as well as highlight wide-scale cooperation as opposed to just international conflict. “There is not enough attention paid to those outcomes,” Professor Cross says.

Professor Cross is teaching a graduate seminar on international relations theory in fall 2020.

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