In Memorium: Peter Berger (1929-2017)

In a 2014 interview, Nick Onuf argued that IR has lost coherence as a field and should instead be considered “as a species of social relations and [to] abandon IR theory for social theory.” Were that to be the case, the work of Peter Berger would certainly contend for space at the top of the list of required reading.

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Climate Change is remaking American Foreign Policy

We all know the traditional narrative in International Relations of the state as a unitary act. Despite substantial volumes of work in the foreign policy analysis subdiscipline as well as in IR theory, the common shorthand in IR scholarship is to say ‘China’ did X or ‘Britain’ bombed Y. At least in the case of the United States, climate change is going to force scholars and analysts to seriously reconsider those assumptions. Continue reading

Is the Liberal World Order Finished?

This is a guest post by Dillon Stone Tatum, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and Geography at Francis Marion University.

If the liberal world order isn’t dead, commentators have killed it. The recent explosion in analysis focusing on what Donald Trump, or broader populist movements, mean for the future of world order have already written both the eulogy and the obituary for liberal internationalism. Robert Kagan makes this argument most bluntly in suggesting “the collapse of the world order, with all that entails, may not be far off.” Kagan is not alone. Others like Stephen Walt express concern with the decline of a liberal order. And, John Ikenberry argues that this new order is already upon us—that “in this new age of international order, the United States will not be able to rule. But it can still lead.”

Rest in Peace, liberalism.

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Wait, what? Or, Trump through the looking glass

The Trump Administration’s foreign policy, if we can call it a policy, has certainly injected a degree of excitement into the foreign policy commentariat and IR classrooms around the world. Reading all the output is a full time job. But it is fair to say that most of the coverage has been, shall we say, less than favorable. Recently, Dani Nedal and Dan Nexon tackled the problems with Trump’s foreign policy unpredictability. Stephen Walt argued that Trump does not really care whether his foreign policy is successful. And the list goes on.


Which is why Matthew Kroenig’s recent piece in Foreign Affairs caught me by surprise. Continue reading

Learning to Live with Militias in America

This is a guest post by Ariel I. Ahram (@arielahram). Ahram is an associate professor in Virginia Tech’s School of Public and International Affairs and is the author of Proxy Warriors: The Rise and Fall of State Sponsored Militias (Stanford, 2011).

A few years ago the possibility that an American president would be complicit as armed supporters attacked members of opposition would have seemed far-fetched. Yet the alliance between president-elect Donald Trump and the so-called ‘alt-right’, a protean alignment of nativists, xenophobes, Christian identarians, and white supremacists, raises this distinct fear. Right-wing militias are among Trump’s most vociferous supporters. Jay Ulfelder, a leading researcher on political violence, after the election opined that

American civil liberties are values-blind. We live in a society that tolerates the overt organization of armed groups committed to fighting the state and hurting other people. In some places, the lines between those groups and the state blur. Under those conditions, it seems sensible to prepare against the worst. Continue reading

Trump, Brexit, and nationalist authority

In this, the first of a sequence of posts addressing Brexit in one way or another, I want to take a look at the shifting systems of authority in the current political climate and comment on how they might impact international relations into the future.

At the time of the Brexit vote, commentators and news reports drew parallels between the British decision to the leave the EU and the tumult of the US elections, particularly the rise of Donald Trump. Many pointed to the resurgence of nationalism, but here I want to argue that while the concept of nationalism as a practice of identity certainly sheds light on both Brexit and the rise of Trump, it also obscures some importance differences. In particular, part of nationalism is an aspect of governance, and in particular an embodied system of authority. In the case of Brexit, authority remained at the institutional level but shifted in aggregation, from the supernational to the national level. Continue reading

The Question of Quantum

Tough as it is to follow Charli’s excellent post on terrorism, somebody has to do it and so I might as well. If this past ISA is any indication, quantum is a big deal. The panel on Alex Wendt’s new book linking quantum mechanics to the social sciences was standing room only (from what I hear, I could not be there). James Der Derian has Project Q at the University of Sydney. One of the papers I read as a discussant at ISA invoked the term superpositionality, much to my surprise. So, Newtonian World out, Quantum World in (not sure where Einstein fits).


This is all fascinating. Quantum mechanics has been around for a while, and for a while physicists have struggled to reconcile the strange subatomic world, characterized by phenomena like superpositionality (the state or location of a particle are probabilistic and exist in multiple states/conditions at the same time, and according to one interpretation only collapsed to a point upon observation), quantum tunneling (when a particle passes through a barrier without having to surmount it) and quantum entanglement (quantum states of two particles are linked such that changes in one are immediately reflected in the other, regardless of distance), with the macroscopic world we see, which is characterized by none of these things. Continue reading

Is it possible to be a realist?

Some weeks ago, Stephen Walt lamented the absence of realist commentators in the American media space. What was striking to me at the time was Walt’s claim that realism is a ‘well-known approach to foreign policy.’ That claim—that realism is a foreign policy approach—makes sense in the context of Walt’s dirge, which focuses on the role of policy makers and media in shaping state behavior. But putting realism into a foreign policy context does not come without theoretical costs. Indeed, the grandee of modern realism in IR Kenneth Waltz rejected the idea that realism was a foreign policy framework.

By taking analysis down to the policymaker level, Walt (and others) introduce a tension into analysis that is irreconcilable. The problem lies in the objectivist foundations of realism. For Waltz, the strictures of the system were independent of human perception, beliefs, or ideas. Waltz is never quite clear how systemic forces actually produce state behavior—he discusses socialization, but who is socialized, how that socialization is carried through time, and how it translates into actual policy outcomes is never very clear (in modern parlance, his microfoundations needed work). But, for the objectivist ontology and epistemology that formed the lynchpin of a now ‘scientific’ realism (e.g. balance of power as a timeless law governing international politics), Waltz’s neglect of microfoundations was useful for reasons that I hope are clear by the end of this post.

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Climate Change and Rethinking Success

Last week, at the invitation of colleagues in the Center for European and Transatlantic Studies and the Center for International Strategy, Technology, and Policy I participated on a panel discussing the 21st Conference of Parties (CoP21) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the resulting Paris Agreement. My comments focused on thinking about the nature of success in international negotiations over climate change.

In a number of ways, if we go by the standard of previous environmental pollution treaties the Paris Agreement does not look like a notable success, hedging as it does in terms of a binding commitment on the part of the signatories. Continue reading

Climate Change and Rhetorical Entrapment

Late last month the New York Times ran an interesting piece about the power of language and climate change. Central to the story is the concept of a carbon budget. On its face, the concept is simple. Drawing on complex models of the atmospheric and energy effects of carbon dioxide and other heat trapping gases, climate scientists have proposed a global carbon budget: the amount of carbon dioxide (or, we should add, the equivalent in other gases which can be far more potent) that can be emitted into the atmosphere without breaking the two degree Celsius mark. Turns out the numbers are not pleasant (like just about everything else with respect to climate change). In the latest IPCC report (the fifth, 2013), climate modelers estimate that humans have a total carbon budget of about 800 billion tons, of which humans have used about 530 billion tons, which means we only have 270 billion tons left. Given the average emissions rate of 10 billion tons a year, looks like humans and the rest of the planet have a little less than 30 years left, and that assumes that carbon emissions stay constant. If they grow, of course, the time shrinks. Continue reading

The problem of authority

Josh’s excellent tripartite (1, 2, 3) discussion of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy record in conjunction with with the narratives of Putin’s strategic leadership accompanying Russian military involvement in Syria have me thinking about the concept of authority. Specifically, I do not think we as academics (and as a result, policymakers) have a very good set of tools for thinking about leadership and authority in the international system. In large part I suspect the materialist foundations of much of IR theory are central to this gap, and indeed are reflected in the narratives surrounding Putin’s action.

As the story goes, Putin is exhibiting global leadership and building international authority by dint of the fact that he is doing something in a very specific way—bringing to bear Russia’s military capabilities to bomb the enemies of the Assad regime. This produces very optical and material action and as such seems to satisfy an assumption that leadership and global authority are based on military, material impact (with healthy dose of masculinity). Remarkably absent, however, are feasible claims about how Putin’s actions will produce global authority and with whom. How does bombing Bashar al-Assad’s enemies produce a collective shift in how Russia is understood vis-à-vis the hierarchy of the international system? Continue reading

Put a DA-RT in it

If you have been living under a rock as I apparently have, then like me you may be unaware of the DA-RT controversy that is brewing in the American Political Science Association.* Turns out that some of our colleagues have been pushing for some time to write a new set of rules for qualitative scholarship that, among other things will require “cited data [be] available at the time of publication through a trusted digital repository” [This is from the Journal Editor’s Transparency Statement, which is what is being implemented Jan. 15]. The goal I gather is to enhance transparency and reproducibility. A number of journal editors have signed on, although Jeffrey Issac, editor at Perspectives on Politics, has refused to sign onto the DA-RT agenda.

There are a number of reasons to doubt that the DA-RT agenda will solve whatever problem it aims to address. Many of them are detailed in a petition to delay implementation (which I have signed) of the DA-RT protocol, currently set for January 15, 2016. To explore how posting data is more or less an optical solution that does little to enhance transparency or reproducibility, I want to run through a hypothetical scenario for interviews, arguably the most prone of qualitative methods to suspicion.

Regardless of the subject, IRBs nearly always insist on anonymity of the interviewees. Which means that in addition to scrubbing names and identifying markers, recordings of interviews cannot be made public (if they even exist, which many IRB decisions preclude). Therein lies the central problem—meaningful transparency is impossible, and as a result reproducibility as DA-RT envisions it is deeply impaired. Even if someone were interested in reproducing a study relying on interviews, doing so would be hindered by the fact that s/he would not be able to interview the same people as the person(s) who undertook the study (this neglects of course that the reproduction interviews could not be collected at the same time, introducing the possibility of contingency effects). In this very simple and nearly universal IRB requirement, there is fundamentally nothing to stop a nefarious, ne’er-do-well academic poser from completely fabricating the interview data that gets posted to the digital database DA-RT requires because there is no way to verify it (e.g. call up the person who gave the interview and ask if they really said that?!). Continue reading

Zen of teaching

There are a lot of really great aspects of professorial teaching. It at the core of education, and thus at the core of universities as institutions of higher education. Professors have the opportunity to watch students grow through discovery and skill building. Professors and students through the practice of teaching build a shared connection of knowledge and inquiry. For many faculty and (hopefully) students, teaching raises new perspectives and forces reconsideration of established ideas. Teaching has economic benefits for students, notwithstanding recent debates. All of this and more is well known, particularly to colleagues outside major research universities, where teaching is sometimes seen as a task to be endured rather than embraced.

Having just seen a TedX talk on the link between happiness and living in the moment, another benefit of teaching occurs to me that I have not see discussed. It turns out that when our minds wander, we report being substantially unhappier than when we remain focused and in the moment. Continue reading

“There was something missing from scholars’ models of political and economic life: ideas”

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a longish write-up on Pinar Dogan and Dani Rodrik’s efforts to exonerate Dogan’s father after he had been caught up in then Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s efforts to push Turkey’s generals out of the political arena. At the heart of this effort was the publication in 2010 of documents detailing an alleged plot—Operation Sledgehammer—by Turkish military leaders in 2003 to overthrow the government by undertaking a massive campaign of state terrorism. Dogan’s father was a general in 2003 and was, according to the documents, the leader of the coup that did not happen. Rodrik and Dogan undertook to demonstrate her father’s innocence and, in the process, pretty conclusively showed that the documents detailing Operation Sledgehammer were fake.

So far, just an interesting example of an economist venturing over into politics. Continue reading

Prediction: For whom the bell tolls?

The idea of prediction in the study of international relations has been a persistent thought in my head for some time. Ostensibly, in our (mostly) non-experimental discipline, prediction represents the preeminent demonstration of a theory’s veracity. Of course, this perspective derives from simplistic conceptions of science as practiced in the natural sciences and as a consequence fit poorly with IR. Regressions struggle to develop models that ‘explain’ more than a small percentage of the variance in the dependent variable(s)—making prediction of outcomes nearly impossible. Our discipline defining structural theories also struggle to make more than vague predictions about systemic patterns—Waltz after all rejected the idea that structural realism is a theory of foreign policy, which would commit the theory to a much more exacting level of prediction. Nonetheless, despite the problems with prediction, my sense is that remains with us as an ideal. Continue reading

Securitization Forum: End, or Beginning?

Cai’s post brings to an end our two week exploration of securitization theory and its scholarly audience in the United States and elsewhere.  We thank all of the distinguished contributors for generously donating their time and energy to this project.  This has been an extraordinary experience for us and we hope the Duck community has benefited as much as we have from the result.  We also thank the powers that be at the Duck for allowing us to run this experiment.  While the forum comes to a close, we hope that it lives on: through discussions in comment sections of the various posts; in classrooms and PhD seminars as a pedagogical tool; and in discussions between scholars in Europe, the United States, and beyond.  And perhaps, as Cai suggests, American scholars will reconsider securitization theory and their engagement with it.

Many thanks for reading.


Eric Van Rythoven and Jarrod Hayes

Securitization Forum: Follow the Money and the Mentality

This is the twelfth contribution to our securitization forum. Clifford Bob is professor of political science and Raymond J. Kelley Endowed Chair in International Relations at Duquesne University. His books include The Global Right Wing and the Clash of World Politics (Cambridge, 2012) and The Marketing of Rebellion: Insurgents, Media, and International Activism (Cambridge, 2005).

Illuminating as this forum has been, it has tip-toed around one uncomfortable but potentially significant reason that securitization theory has failed to be taken up by the American IR academy. It runs counter to dominant political and social incentives that we all face. These keep many American scholars within a narrow range of opinion, most of it tracking closely the conventional wisdom of political and military power-holders. Securitization theory, whether or not there is strong evidence to support it, challenges this conventional wisdom. It therefore holds little appeal to most IR scholars. There are also strong material factors keeping many scholars from testing or adopting securitization theory. Continue reading

Securitization Forum: Geopolitics of Securitization Theory

This is the eleventh contribution to our securitization forum. Can E. Mutlu is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the Bilkent University. His research interests are located at the intersection of technology, security, and political sociology of global mobility regimes with a particular focus on practices, technologies, and materialities of border security and mobility. His recent research appears in Comparative European Politics, European Journal of Social Theory, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, the Review of International Studies, Millennium Journal of International Studies. He is the co-editor of Critical Methods in Security Studies: An Introduction. He writes for the Disorder of Things blog as a regular contributor.

When Jarrod Hayes and Eric Van Rythoven approached us to answer a set of questions on related to the “why Securitization Theory has had so little traction in the United States, and why it has been so valued elsewhere,” I was unsure what I was supposed to say. I believe that while these are thought-provoking questions, they are a bit confusing. Continue reading

Securitization Forum: Scholars’ agency in securitisation: a leap forward

This is the tenth contribution in our securitization forum.  Clara Eroukhmanoff is a PhD candidate at the School of International Relations at the University of St Andrews. She recently published an article in Critical Studies on Terrorism on “The remote securitisation of Islam in the US post-9/11: euphemisation, metaphors and the “logic of expected consequences” in counter-radicalisation discourse.”

The scholarly impact of securitisation theory (ST) cannot be overstated in Europe. I would argue that this differs from US scholarship if and when scholars situate ST within the linguistic turn. As Oren and Solomon observe in this forum, linguistic approaches in the US are either ignored, or misunderstood. I suggest that if scholars wish to approach ST in this way, their agency needs to be re-established. Continue reading

Securitization Forum: The theory gap and securitization as a form of identity politics

This is the ninth contribution in our securitization forum. Scott Watson is Associate Professor in International Relations at the University of Victoria, Canada.

In their initial post, Jarrod and Eric nicely demonstrate both the incredible influence of the securitization framework and the relative paucity of securitization scholarship among American IR scholars. As they convincingly show, the success of securitization is evident by the growing number of citation counts and the spread of securitization to fields outside of IR. From my perspective, the strongest indicators of the success of securitization theory are less empirical – it feels as though it has re-energized the subfield of security studies, opening it up to a more diverse range of scholars, and providing a launching point for new avenues of inquiry. Indeed, its greatest impact may be measured by how often it is used as a departure point for novel forms of inquiry, into: affect and emotion, visual imagery, the politics of security, and bureaucratic practices, to name a few. While securitization theory certainly has limitations, exclusions, and blind spots, on the whole the framework lends itself to critical reflection and inclusion of multiple perspectives – it is a vibrant research programme. Testament to its success is that securitization is now often used as the ‘foil’ against which new studies seek to differentiate themselves. Continue reading

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