Philosophy Student Presents Research at Undergraduate Conferences

Mackenzi Barrett
UA junior Mackenzi Barrett

Mackenzi Barrett, a junior majoring in philosophy and economics, took her research on an impressive tour around several undergraduate conferences. To kick off the tour, Barrett presented her research paper On Self-Determination, Territorial Rights, and Coercion: A State’s Right to Control its Borders at the Great Lakes Philosophy Conference from April 9-11. The purpose of her research was to determine whether or not countries have a right to control their borders based on rights to autonomy. Barrett ultimately concluded that a country’s right to control its borders is very limited.

Barrett took Dr. Rekha Nath’s “Philosophical Issues in International Law” course last spring. The class read Christopher Heath Wellman’s 2008 article, Immigration and Freedom of Association, which articulated countries’ prima facie right to control their borders. Barrett wrote her term paper about the article, and after attending UC San Diego’s Summer Program for Women in Philosophy last summer, she became inspired to dig deeper in the literature and write a more comprehensive and thorough response to Wellman.

Defending a state’s right to design and enforce its own immigration policy, Wellman argued that a state has a right to self-determination, which includes a right to freedom of association. Further, freedom of association entails a right to refuse association with others, including all potential immigrants. However, this conclusion is based on a conception of self-determination as self-composition, which means that states have a right to control who is a member of the state. Barrett argued that the correct conception is that of nonintervention and self-rule, which governs interactions between states and state-like actors, not states and individuals, and thus, Wellman’s conclusion does not follow.

When she began her research last fall, Barrett’s plan was always to write an article and publish it in a journal and/or present it at a conference. “Presenting your research has many benefits. The most important ones are improving your presentation skills (practice makes progress) and the chance of receiving thought-provoking questions or comments from your audience. Chances are that someone is going to think of something that you didn’t, which may lead you to dive even deeper into your research,” said Barrett.

For students interested in presenting their own research, Barrett encourages them to contact someone in the UA Office for Undergraduate Research, as well as talking to professors in their discipline. Barrett advises, “Present your research to someone outside of your discipline. If you are able to successfully communicate your research to them, you most likely will be able to successfully do so to those within your discipline.”

To end the tour, Barrett presented at the Mid-Atlantic Undergraduate Philosophy Conference at Johns Hopkins University on April 11 and the Pacific University Undergraduate Philosophy Conference on April 18. Her paper is also being published by Johns Hopkins University’s philosophy journal Prometheus.