Dillon Tatum is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science and Geography at Francis Marion University. His research and teaching focuses are at the intersection of international relations and political theory—with a specific interest in the international liberalism, military intervention, and global ethics. He is currently working on a book manuscript titled Liberalism and Transformation: The Politics of Violence in World Politics, which is a critical history of international liberalism’s relationship with military intervention from the nineteenth century to present. He can be found on twitter at: @dstonetatum
I was fascinated by a brilliantly written, and well-thought out, guest post here on Duck, by Hannes Peltonen, posted over the weekend. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, you won’t be disappointed. Peltonen presents an argument that digs into recent debates about the seemingly ubiquitous “anthropocene” and its relationship to world politics—and particularly the ways that IR theory should approach issues relating to humankind’s interconnectedness with natural/planetary processes.
I’d like to take the opportunity to engage with Peltonen’s argument, with an eye toward extending the discussion into a few new directions. Specifically, I think the issue of the anthropocene paints an even grimmer picture for the future of IR.
It is not easy waking up in America these days. Sunday morning I woke up from a lazy weekend morning to see that a shooter had committed mass murder at a church in Sutherland Springs, TX. The shooter killed 26 people, including several children; the youngest victim was just fourteen months old (for latest updates, see here).
Besides my outrage as a citizen, as a social scientist I want to understand how we can explain why gun violence in the United States is not being taken as seriously as it should by both politicians and the broader public. Here are some stats on the scope of the problem in the US (sourced from here and here):
- On average, 93 Americans are killed each day by guns.
- There are nearly 12,000 gun homicides per year.
- Guns, on average, kill seven children/teens each day.
- Each month, 50 women on average are shot to death by intimate partners.
- African-American men are 14 times more likely than white men to be killed by a gun.
- The US has nearly 6 times as many gun homicides than Canada (per capita!) and 16 times as many as Germany each year.
- There have been more than 1,500 mass shootings since the Sandy Hook Massacre in 2012.
These numbers should shock each-and-every American citizen.
Earlier this year, I wrote a piece for Duck regarding “declinist” arguments about liberal world order under Trump. I don’t think these arguments are going away, and in fact—just this week—they are in the news, and on our blog/twitter feeds (including a great piece posted just last week here on Duck).
I want to reiterate, and elaborate on some earlier points I have raised about these kinds of arguments. In the first place, they deserve reiterating and elaborating. In the second place, I just got back earlier this week from an illuminating conference at University College Dublin called “John Dewey and Critical Philosophy for Critical Political Times” which touched on many issues related to the problems for democracy around the world in a time of right wing populism.
“In the first place, we don’t like to be called ‘refugees’.” ~Hannah Arendt
This past weekend was a weekend full of birthdays. Hannah Arendt’s 111th birthday fell on Saturday (October 14th), and—in an interesting coincidence—Michel Foucault and Friedrich Nietzsche share a birthday (October 15th). I teach and write about Foucault and Arendt, and there is a Nietzschean spirit in both, though Arendt’s engagement with his work ended abruptly with her death.
In honor of all three, I want to make some notes—sketches really—of what it means to write in exile, and, by extension, to teach in exile. I take this term from an excellent edited volume put together by the dramaturgist Marc Robinson titled Altogether Elsewhere: Writers on Exile, in which Arendt’s obscure 1943 article, “We Refugees” was reprinted. The volume collects essays from a variety of expatriate authors writing about the experience of writing about the trials, joys, and oddities of writing from a place “altogether elsewhere.”
After the horrific attack in Las Vegas on Sunday, 1 October, the question of knowledge should be key to our understanding of this event. What do we know? What can we recall? The first thing that comes to mind is likely numbers, statistics, values attributed to life. We know now that the death toll is at 59. The injured number 527. The killer had 18 guns at his home. He shot from the 32nd floor at a rate of 400-800 rounds per minute (6-13 rounds per second). We know numbers.
Surely, this quantification of death gives us important information, but what does it do in regards to the way we relate to violence? Does it make us conceptualize mass shootings as just another data point, as a blip on a graph? Does it help us establish trends? My own experience with this shooting is different than most. I grew up in Las Vegas; I lived there for twenty years. My closest friends live there. Half of my family still lives there. Monday was a day of terror for me. Much of the day was spent texting or calling friends to make sure they were safe, seeing frantic posts on social media from friends trying to locate family that had not checked in yet.
My heart sank at seeing the news that someone I knew from my high school class was killed in the shooting.
Numbers could not capture my experience, or my friends’ experiences, or the experiences of the victims, the families, and onlookers. In a broader way, this raises an important question about how scholars in the fields of political studies, international studies, and cognate fields teach about death and violence.
The past week has seen a boiling-over of controversy regarding a publication by Bruce Gilley entitled “The Case for Colonialism,” appearing in the journal Third World Quarterly, leading some to even begin petitions to the journal to retract. As of the writing of this post, the journal has not retracted the article.
In this post, I would like to reflect on this piece as both a part of a scholarly conversation: showing how its claims are the result of poor methodology, a bad reading of the existing literature on colonialism in political science and other fields, and a general glossing-over of a wide literature on post-colonial theory. If I had reviewed this piece, it would have received a hard “reject” recommendation. Perhaps more importantly, I’d like to reflect briefly at the end of this post on what this piece as a textual artifact tells us about political science’s—and particularly IR’s—colonial present. This is certainly, in my view, the most disturbing aspect of the article.
It seems that “totalitarianism” is everywhere these days. I suppose that is the point of totalitarianism. Nonetheless, the buzzword has seen a remarkable resurgence in popular usage and misusage in the context of domestic and international politics. The number of articles comparing Trump to a totalitarian ruler are not easily countable (though here and here are some examples). Some, have attributed current US foreign policy issues related to North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons as relating to a battle against a totalitarian regime. And others—notably from the conservative side of the political spectrum—have characterized certain political movements such as calls to remove Confederate statues and the so-called “Antifa” movement, forms of totalitarian ideology.
Totalitarianism is a part of political discourse in 2017. This raises several questions, one of which is the obvious: What does this term mean? And, related: How can this term be mobilized to condemn a wide variety of different political acts—from protests for social justice, to the Trump administration, to North Korea?