Megan MacKenzie is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney in Australia. Her main research interests include feminist international relations, gender and the military, the combat exclusion for women, the aftermaths of war and post-conflict resolution, and transitional justice. Her book Beyond the Band of Brothers: the US Military and the Myth that Women Can't Fight comes out with Cambridge University Press in July 2015. http://www.cambridge.org/ee/academic/subjects/politics-international-relations/international-relations-and-international-organisations/beyond-band-brothers-us-military-and-myth-women-cant-fight?format=PB

http://meganhmackenzie.com/

Women’s Integration into Combat Stuck in a Physical Stalemate

Last week 60 Minutes ran a feature called Women in Combat: Cracking the Last All-Male Bastion of the US Military.  The segment, led by David Martin, focused on Marine Infantry Officer training. He finds that, although the Marines are required to integrate women as a result of the removal of the combat exclusion, no women have made it through the rigorous physical training requirements. This re-raises key questions around women in combat:
*Do women have what it takes to serve in combat? and
*Should the military adjust its standards to accommodate women?
Physical standards are- by far- the greatest sticking point when it comes to debates on women in combat. Opponents of gender integration have long argued that the average physical differences between men and women are proof that women are inferior. They also argue that any adjustments in the current physical standards would be tantamount to ‘softening’ ‘diluting’ or weakening the standards and thereby reducing military effectiveness. Focusing on whether women can meet the current physical standards maintains a stalemate in terms of their full integration into the US military and limit the military’s ability to develop standards that reflect modern warfare. There are three reasons for this:

1. Physical standards are out of date and disconnected from the job.
2. Physical standards are not as objective as we think.
3. There are no exclusive combat roles, and therefore no need for exclusive combat physical standards. Let me explain: Continue reading

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How to Work Effectively with a Research Assistant

So you’ve finally received research funding to hire a research assistant….now what? Attaining resources to get research support is a wonderful thing, but figuring out who to hire and how to work with them can be a challenge. While I have been very fortunate to work with some excellent research assistants, I’ve also experienced difficult situations where I’ve hired someone with the wrong skill set, or clearly not mentored or managed the relationship well. These different experiences have taught me a few things about working with research assistants that I hope others find useful. Since I’m relatively new at managing a research team, I’d also love to hear some of your suggestions on this topic. So, here’s my list of frequently asked questions about research assistants:

1. Who do I hire? Once you have funds to hire a research assistant (RA) it can be exciting- and daunting- choosing the right person. If you are new to an institution, or you don’t know anyone who isn’t already working at their max, it can especially be challenging. Before you can choose the right person, it is important to determine what types of tasks you are seeking an RA for. I used to think that the most senior graduate students would necessarily make the best research assistants. I assumed that they would have the highest level of skill and maturity, so it made sense to seek out available PhDs, if possible. While PhD students are often excellent RAs, there are several types of tasks that aren’t necessarily suited to advanced graduate students. I’ve found that simple work like data collection, editing, entering information, and organizing data is better suited to advanced undergraduates. This is a huge over-generalization, but undergrads can be much less grouchy about doing some of the the more tedious work that some of us need RAs to help with. PhDs often want to work on more macro-level thinking, which could include synthesizing data or writing briefs. This makes perfect sense. In some cases, it is useful to hire both an advanced undergraduate and a PhD student to work together on different aspects of a project. Both get to build skill sets that are useful, and you get the results you need in less time.

2. How can I mentor while I get research assistance? This question is linked to the first one. I see hiring a RA as a form of mentorship. If you can figure out what skills different potential RAs have, and also what skills they want to refine and work on, it can help you not only hire the right person, but also to mentor them. Students who are working on a Masters degree who are looking to work for an NGO, for example, will want to attain different skills than a PhD student who wants to be associated with a potential publication. I have found that if students feel they are being mentored, they work better and are happier than when they simply feel like ‘employees.’ Continue reading

ISA’s Sapphire Series – Is Blue the New White?

*This is a guest post by Cynthia Weber, Professor of International Relations at the University of Sussex

As the International Studies Association gears up for its 2015 annual convention in New Orleans, USA, an email announcing its Sapphire Series of panels was sent to ISA members. The email reads: ‘Introducing ISA’s new initiative THE SAPPHIRE SERIES. Covering key issues in the field and in international affairs, these talks will feature scholars discussing current world events, trends in academic research, and new challenges in teaching and learning’.

Great idea, it seems to me, so I click on the link to ‘Find Out More.’ This is where things get troubling. For the more I find out, the more troubled I become. On the ISA Sapphire Series page, I find descriptions of four up-coming panels – Epistemology in IR, The State of IR Theory: Questions Big and Small, Topics in Teaching and Professional Development, and Commentary on Breaking Current Events. So far, so good. Each panel is composed of prestigious members of the discipline, men and women. Again, so far, so good. Then things start getting weird.

Every IR scholar is from the Global North, which seems strange to me given the conference theme of ‘Global IR, Regional Worlds’ and given the post-colonial expertise and commitments to post-colonial scholarship of this year’s ISA Program Chairs. Then I see the profile pictures of each speaker embedded next to their description, and here I audibly go ‘huh?’ Because every one of the 17 Sapphire participants appears to be white. Again, I’m confused. For at ISA 2015 in particular – with its two Program Chairs who are variously racialized against standards of normalized whiteness and who contest racialized IR knowledges – how is it that seemingly superior Sapphire Series knowledge appears to be universally white? Continue reading

How to Lose a Conference in 4 Days: why we attend the ISA to miss the ISA

I can still remember my first ISA conference. I was a PhD student eager to present early work at the freezing Montreal conference (not the last Montreal, the one before that). I remember being gobsmacked hearing academics talking about how they were booked up with meetings and hadn’t attended a single panel. I thought: What did that mean?; What was this ‘other’ conference or set of meetings happening and why was it happening at the same time as the ISA?; How was it possible to attend the ISA, but not attend any panels? But several years later, as I look at my ‘ISA Schedule’ I’m struggling to carve out time to attend panels that aren’t my own. Don’t get me wrong- this isn’t going to be a post about how important I am, or how busy I am: I’m not, and I’m not. And, don’t get me wrong, I love attending panels. For me, there is no greater conference satisfaction than folding over pages, highlighting panels, and placing stars beside ‘must see’ roundtables. But conference creep happens! With four days of conference, and 4 panels a day, there are exactly 16 opportunities to attend a panel…in theory. Here’s how to loose those opportunities, one at a time.

1. Your own presentations. This is a no brainer- the average ISA-er is on 2-3 panels (based on my total guestimation- note that participants are technically only supposed to be on 4, but there are a whole host of ways that gets ignored…a good topic for another post). Let’s round up to 3. That means you only have 13 possible panels to attend.

2. After-panel creep. Continue reading

An Ebola Marshall Plan?: How to Stop Ebola and Salvage the Health System in Sierra Leone

This is a guest post by Dehunge Shiaka, a gender expert in Sierra Leone. This is post #3 of a series he has written on the impacts of Ebola in Sierra Leone (post 1, post 2).

How can we ensure that when Ebola ends, Sierra Leone’s medical infrastructure and economy doesn’t disintegrate with it? Yesterday Oxfam called for an Ebola Marshall Plan to help countries like Sierra Leone, which have been seriously impacted by the deadly virus. This would involve economic interventions in health, education, and sanitation- amongst other areas. But given the slow and late response to the Ebola crisis- is this realistic? Continue reading

Torture as War Victory: 'Zero Dark Thirty' and the torture reports

This post is the first of our ‘Throwback Thursday” series, where we re-publish an earlier post on a topic that is currently in the news, or is receiving renewed attention or debate. This original post was published February 23rd 2013 (right before the Oscars) but the main arguments about the utility and rational behind torture expressed in the movie may be worth revisiting given the recent release of the CIA’s ‘torture report.’

“This is what winning looks like”

I have to confess, I was late to watch “Zero Dark Thirty” (ODT). I read a handful of reviews and blogs about the movie, had arguments with friends about its message, and even wrote it off completely–all weeks before I bothered to watch it. I wasn’t interested in watching another American war movie, nor was I keen to see the lengthy torture scenes I had read about in the reviews. I figured I already knew exactly what the content was (are there every any real surprises in American war movies? and, didn’t we all know how this story ended anyway?) and that there was really nothing left to say. BUT, I think there is something left to say about the film.

First, let’s all be honest: most of us walked away from this movie saying to ourselves “did I miss something?” What about the film deserved all the Oscar hype, debate, and acclaim? By most standards, this was a classic, boring American war movie. In this case, the lack of plot and acting skills are made up with using violent torture scenes rather than expensive battle scenes. There is no emotional journey, no big moral dilemma that the characters are going through (I’ll get to torture soon), little plot twist (again, we all know how it ends after all), and no unique or interesting characters (don’t get me started on Jessica Chastain–what exactly about her stone-faced performance warrants an Oscar? perhaps she deserves an award for for ‘most consistent blank expression’). So what gives? Is this just another “King’s Speech”? Meaning, is this just another big movie that people talk about and get behind, but no one actually can put their finger on what was remotely interesting about it (never mind what was destructive about it)?

So I’m calling it. Not only was this movie soul-less, boring and poorly made, everyone seemed to miss the message (and it is easy enough to do). The real question about ODT is not whether or not it is condoning torture. Continue reading

Not Surprised is Not Good Enough: what soldier atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan can teach us about Ferguson

 

 

 

 

 

By some strange twist of fate I happened to watch the Kill Team, a documentary about the infamous US platoon that intentionally murdered innocent Afghan men while on tour. When, in 2010 the military charged five members of the platoon, the case drew international attention due to the graphic nature of the killings, evidence that the men mutilated the bodies and kept parts as trophies, and indications that the killings were part of a wider trend of ‘faking’ combat situations in order for soldiers to ‘get a kill.’ While the premeditated killing of Afghan civilians appears completely disconnected from the Ferguson grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson for the murder of unarmed Michael Brown, there are several common threads that deserve unraveling. Rather than characterise ‘Ferguson’ as ‘simply’ a case of police brutality, or localised racism, or isolated misconduct, such a comparison opens up space for counter-narratives. In particular, the comparison A) highlights the systemic nature of racist, militarized, and patriarchal violence across multiple institutions, including the police and the military; B) addresses the sanctioned killing of non-white men and women as a consistent feature of the national narrative; C) indicates the desperate need to both demonise a racialised other and to measure individual and national masculinity in terms of the control and suppression of this demonised other.

So, with that pleasant list out of the way, here are 3 ways that civilian deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq are similar to the murders of innocent civilian African-American young men.

1. Creating a dark and dehumanized enemy.
Whether it is at home in the US or overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is ample evidence of a generalised trend for police, soldiers, and the public to hold deeply racist views about the people they are meant to be protecting.

Continue reading

Locals Know Best: Community Action Is Game Changer for Containing Ebola In Sierra Leone

This is a guest post by Dehunge Shiaka, Researcher and gender expert in Freetown Sierra Leone

This is the second post in a series by Shiaka, which is meant to provide an insider’s perspective on living in Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis. The first one can be accessed here. To access our linkages posts on Ebola click here or here.

Hassan is a 35-year old youth volunteer working with the Sierra Leone Red Cross. In the thick of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak in Kenema, he led one of the burial teams in that town. Each day he as he came home to meet his family after work, Hassan went straight to the back of the house to change his clothes and shoe before using the bathroom. He also ensured a period of ‘social distancing’ among his own family members and between his family and neighbors, as is now the recommended norm within the Kenema township. That was some three months ago. Today, the infection rates in the districts of Kenema and Kailahun (where the first case was reported) seem to be dropping. In general, the trend shows that the rate of infection in those two districts as well as in the districts of Bonthe, Koinadugu, Kambia, Moyamba, Pujehun, Kono, Tonkolili and Bo are no longer spiraling.

While the international community fumbled at international conferences and deliberated as to how best to rescue Sierra Leoneans, we here in Sierra Leone have been developing innovative- and effective- mechanisms of survival. Now, as the international community finally wakes up to the magnitude of Ebola and begins arriving in greater numbers, they should pay attention, and plug into these community networks and structures. Doing so could provide the game changer for containing the spread of the disease in the country. According to Hassan, community mobilization has been a key element in slowing the destructive spread of EVD. In particular, youth groups have worked not only to spread awareness about the virus, but also to act as monitors, contact tracers and enforcers of bylaws throughout communities. These small-scale efforts have had big pay offs when it comes to reducing infection rates and saving lives. Continue reading

My 5 Secret 'Weapons' for Finishing a Book

There is all kinds of advice out there on how to write and finish a book. We are frequently advised to ‘Write everyday’, ‘write early in the morning,’ ‘workshop and present your work,’ among other things. Here is a great overview of 10 steps to writing a book and another fantastic post called “‘I’m writing a book no one will read’ and other reasons the PhD can get you down.'” It seems common knowledge that writers need time, space, and mental energy to complete any piece of work. But no one talks about the other types of daily tools that can be useful in getting words on a page. I’m no expert on writing books- in fact, I’ve only got one! But I’ve been hibernating for 8 months working on another project. Besides the obvious- coffee, sleep- here are a few unlikely ‘weapons’ I used to complete my recent book (unless I’m wrong, and I still have 2 chapters to write, which is a reoccurring nightmare)

1. IMG_3008‘Back in 5 or 45 minutes’ post it notes.
Ok, I’m outing myself to my colleagues on this one. I appreciate office socialization and I generally have an open-door policy and welcome staff and student drop-ins. However, when I start to get on a writing roll I try to get up, put up a ‘back in 5- or 45′ note, and close the door to ensure uninterrupted typing. Obviously, I don’t do this during office hours or other appointments. The result? I catch the inspiration while it is there, and open the door for chit chat when its not.

2. Retreats.
Over the course of this project, my partner and I organized 3 separate  writing retreats. They were scheduled at pivotal times (completing the theory chapter, writing the intro, and going over the complete manuscript a last time). I went to a Buddhist temple that has simple hotel rooms. There is not much to do besides write, meditate….and sneak in a few episodes of bad tv from the ipad. These blocks of time got me over major writing blocks and helped me get back on track when I had fallen far behind my own deadlines.

IMG_30103. Dragon Dictate (hands free microphone)
Sure it is a mega pain in the @ss to set up, but once you get the hang of using this program it can get you through some long days. It is particularly useful for ‘talking out’ sections of the manuscript, dictating longer quotes, or brainstorming ideas that you will go through and finesse later. Much of the conclusion chapter was ‘written’ by me pacing around my office with this plugged in my ear.

4. Grooveshark and Spotify. Namely, extended Prince playlists.

IMG_30095. New glasses. This seems obvious, but trying to write a book (or anything) with glasses from 3 years ago is not a good idea…as I figured out in month 2 of this project. These beauties make 8 hours of screen-staring bearable.

What are your weapons for getting work done? Continue reading

Experiencing the Ebola Crisis: a perspective from inside Sierra Leone

This is a guest post by Dehunge Shiaka, Researcher and gender expert in Freetown Sierra Leone

There has been increased international attention to the Ebola Viral Disease (EVD) and its spread in West Africa. However, for those living in the region, the reports, meetings, and fears associated with the virus seem to have come too late. The international community should send aid, supplies, and experts, but it should also listen to the experiences, advice, and wisdom of locals. Those living amidst the epidemic have a first-hand view of why the disease has spreading so quickly, and how it can be managed and contained. This post contains my own view about the current Ebola outbreak. Overall, the disease has slowed down much of our activities and movement and this is bound to spread hardship among the population, most of whom are poor already. Here, I focus on what I see as the number one reason as to why the outbreak has been difficult to contain, as well as a host of practical (and easy) mechanisms for halting the virus.

To start, it is useful to know that EVD first attacked some residents of Kailahun District in May this year. This is the same district where the 11-year civil war in Sierra Leone began in the early 1990s, along the border with Liberia. Today, the disease is present in 13 out of the 14 districts in the country (only Koinadugu District has yet to record any infected case). While the first hit districts of Kailahun and Kenema (the district I hail from) are recording diminishing infection rates, rather unfortunately, the districts of Bombali, Port Loko and the Western Area (where the capital, Freetown, is located) have increasing infection rates. This is because our health system appears to be buckling.

One of the greatest contributors to the spread of the virus has been misinformation and miseducation about the virus. Continue reading

Bad Advice on Making Academic Babies: opting in and out of heteronormative panic

What I remember most about my post-grad Gender and Politics seminar were the extensive discussions we had about having babies. It was 2004, and debates about babies vs careers, and whether women should ‘opt out‘ to raise families, were heated and divisive. Women were told in the 1980s and 1990s that the highest feminist aspiration was to wear oversize, terrible suits and work alongside men- as equals (or at least work alongside men, while accepting less pay and dealing with harassment). This was followed by the movement to denounce the double-day; the New York Times and Time Magazine led the charge in declaring that women wanted out of the work force, and were empowered by the choice to stay at home and raise children. Less than a decade later, it was declared that ‘women couldn’t have it all‘- the career, family balance was a loose loose choice. We had been duped. The opt out luxury was always ‘fiction‘ that only really applied to white middle-class women. Forbes pointed out that opt-out mom’s were unable to catch up in their careers and Al Jazeera concluded that women weren’t opting out, they were out of options. The opt out women ‘wanted back in‘ (are you confused yet about what *good* feminists should want??). Perhaps the culmination of this back and forth comes in Linda Hirshman’s book, ‘Get to Work…And Get a Life Before it is too Late.’ Hirshman calls ‘opting out’ a form of ‘self-betrayal’ (and also encourages women to only have one child).
Entangled within this debate were mixed messages about how to ‘time’ having children (note, there was no debate there about whether strategizing to fit children within one’s career plan was itself a problem).
One article I read back in 2004 encouraged women to ‘do the math’ and take control over the timing of children so that they didn’t ‘forget,’ have to rush to become a ‘last chance mother,’ or run out of biological time before they reproduced- ending up ‘single and childless‘.* The strategy went like this: pick the age at which you want to have a child (or your last child, if you want more than one), count back in years and account for how long you want to be married before you have children, count back more years and think how long you will date before you get married. The results- your long term birth plan.
Does it get more heteronormative that this? The article made several big assumptions, including: Continue reading

ISIS and Biological Weapons: Black Flag, But Not the Black Death

This is a guest post by Frank L. Smith III, lecturer at the University of Sydney and author of the new book, American Biodefense: How Dangerous Ideas About Biological Weapons Shape National Security.

The 2003 Iraq War aimed to stop rogue states from using weapons of mass destruction or giving these weapons to terrorists. Now we face ISIS, a terrorist organization that also claims to be a state. But what about WMD? Last week, Foreign Policy reported the discovery of an ISIS laptop that contained a jihadi fatwa on how “it is permissible to use weapons of mass destruction,” and, far more troubling, instructions on how to use biological weapons. So has the Islamic State become the triple threat that we supposedly invaded Iraq to prevent?

The laptop in question was captured in Syria earlier this year. Its previous owner was a Tunisian-turned-ISIS fighter who studied chemistry and physics at university. Along with a variety of other material on conducting jihad, “the ISIS laptop contains a 19-page document in Arabic on how to develop biological weapons and how to weaponize the bubonic plague from infected animals.”

This is clearly not good news. ISIS is bad enough already, and an Islamic State armed with biological weapons would be even worse. As the document on this laptop suggests, “the advantage of biological weapons is that they do not cost a lot of money, while the human casualties can be huge.” Plague is certainly contagious enough and infamous enough to fuel fear. Moreover, the spectre of WMD often creates considerable confusion to the detriment of sound policy – confusion that I explain in my book about “WMD” and other dangerously inaccurate stereotypes. Continue reading

If Gaza Isn’t a Genocide, What Is?: discourse as resistance

At the moment many of us are watching the news with bated breath. New sites,  facebook and twitter feeds are filling with images of civilian deaths and the leveling of Gaza. There is growing sentiment that the ‘targeted’ operations in Gaza by the IDF have been willfully indiscriminate- with example upon example of civilian safe havens being directly targeted (4 UN schools in 4 days, 46 schools in total, 56 Mosques and 7 hospitals). The UN has called for an investigation of war crimes by Israel, and there is a growing international public movement to protest the killings- in the face of almost universal silence by major world leaders on the issue.
One question that has not been consistently raised is why the term ‘genocide’ is not being used to describe the activities of Israel in Gaza. It seems that only ‘extreme’ activist groups or Hamas and the Palestinian Authority themselves would accuse Israel of genocide, with the rest of the international community preferring to qualify their criticisms using terms like ‘indiscriminate’ ‘disproportionate’ or ‘criminal.’ The politics of Israel and Palestine have become so muted, so tangled with discursive landmines that it is difficult to even pose such a question. Yet one does not need to be a radical to at least try to evaluate Israeli actions against the established UN definition of genocide. Serious questions about the end goal of the current military actions, along with longstanding Israeli policies and their impact on the ability of Palestinians to exist require attention.
It is worth quoting the following section from the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide- not only to assess whether the current military offensive constitutes a genocide, but also to reflect on the international community’s ‘punishable’ role as actors ‘complicit’ to a genocide.
“Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article III: The following acts shall be punishable:

(a) Genocide;
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide. ” Continue reading

What the Public Heard/Saw in the Headlines for the ‘Global Summit on Ending Sexual Violence’

If you haven’t read Pablo K’s piece on Angelina Jolie, celebrity, and the Global Summit on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict, you should. There has been some broader discussion about the pros (see ‘Hollywood can actually help solve complex global problems‘) and cons of celebrity ‘endorsement’ (the foreign secretary was ‘starstruck’) of humanitarian issues- the Angelina Jolie ‘effect’, if you will. One thing that is certain, the headlines were certainly all about Angelina. “Angelina Jolie hosts/says/opens/kicks off…” were the most prominent headlines, with the content, issues, debates of the summit largely left out. Out of curiosity, I created a wordle map of the headlines. I took a blunt method of taking the headlines from the first three pages of google news for ‘global summit on ending sexual violence.’ To cut out the obvious, I deleted ‘global end sexual violence summit’ and here’s what the headlines looked like:

angelina
Continue reading

Why Mass Shootings Make Gun Control Less Likely to Pass Congress

**This is a guest post by Dr. Christopher Neff, Lecturer in Public Policy at University of Sydney.**

This past week President Obama marked one year since legislative efforts at gun control failed in the Congress. He lamented at the normalization of school shootings in the United States, noting, “my biggest frustration is that this society has not been willing to take some basic steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who can do unbelievable damage.” What the President and his aides fail to realize is that mass shootings today make gun control less like to pass, not more likely.  Why? It’s all about emotional nature of the issues and the strength of the policy community, which is consistent with my research regarding policy responses to shark bites. Here’s how:

First, mass shootings and gun violence ‘turns off’ the wider public from the politics of ‘gun control.’ Mass shootings at schools create a series of aversive emotional conditions that cause emotional overload. These events become “temporally combined” (Linville and Fischer, 1991) in the minds of the public into one larger, more intense emotional event. For example, the shooting of each individual in a school tragedy get placed in the context of a larger event, such as “Columbine,”  “Virginia Tech,” or  “Sandy Hook.” We also see the public sharing lists and maps of mass shootings across the country in the past decade. The size and intensity of this emotional weight limits the number of people who have a capacity to engage. The natural response for the public therefore is to seek emotional relief from this condition and dreaded outcome. Simply put, people will not- and cannot- rally toward prolonged emotional distress. As a result, this limits the number of people who can compete with the entrenched gun rights lobby.

Secondly, the occurrence of mass shootings ‘turns on’ the support of gun rights advocates. Continue reading

The Unwritten Rules of AMERICAN IR? (or, things American IR scholars don’t always know about ‘doing’ IR ‘in the rest of the world’)

Laura Sjoberg recently wrote a post listing “The Unwritten Rules of IR.” While it is an interesting review of some of the power relations, maneuvering, and indeed game-playing that goes on in the field, it also captured a particular American (maybe even just a personal) experience of being an IR scholar. Of course this makes sense, since Sjoberg is an American doing IR in America…but it felt a little bit more like ‘Mean Girls- the IR Sequel’- like when Regina George (yes, I remember the main character/villain’s name outlines the ‘rules’ of the table….maybe the problem is the table, not the rules). My point is not to critique Sjoberg or the individual points she makes, but to consider what these rules tell us about how exceptional (I think) this experience is from those of us ‘doing’ IR in, well, the rest of the world (and maybe at other tables in the US cafeteria). I’m drawing from my experience working in New Zealand and Australia, studying in Canada, and completing a post-doc in the US. The post made me ask two questions:

  • First, is the American IR community really that shitty/petty/manipulative? (read, ‘why is everyone so mean!?’)
  • Do American IR scholars appreciate that their experience of the field is not, in fact, how the entire field operates? (read, ‘why don’t more US scholars abandon ship?!’)

I offer a few counter punches to those offered by Sjoberg in the hope of making my point:
1. Get over pedigree. Pedigree matters most to those who went to ‘the top 2/5/8′ US universities in the US. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not naive about the power of studying at Harvard or Yale. BUT pedigree only goes so far. And, especially outside the US, A) one’s publication record, and general contribution to the field outweighs pedigree. Full stop. B) perception about ‘good’ pedigree varies vastly across the world. There is an entire cohort of non- ivy league universities that seem to garner as much- if not more recognition- for producing incredible IR scholars, including: Aberystwyth, the University of Copenhagen, Science Po, and University of Southern California- to name a few. C) constantly name dropping your alma matter or PhD supervisor is annoying both inside and outside the US (the students of a few American IR dudes ‘icons’- who shall remain nameless- should just get t-shirts made for their students, to save them the hassle of declaration (it would be equally as annoying), or maybe there should be some pin that signals certain supervisors…now I’m just getting bitchy). Maybe this is my perspective because- from a pedigree perspective (what are we breeding, exactly) I’m the equivalent of a Shetland Pony/work horse bred with a thoroughbred racehorse. I’m sure the pedigree-police would recommend taking me out back and shooting me, but hey, I’ve managed ‘show’ in a few races and make my mark on the track anyway (ok, those are all the racing analogies I’ve got).
2. The HR pimp line, or the degree to which you brag about yourself as a scholar, that Sjoberg talks about is relative. Continue reading

Bergdahl and the Band of Brothers Dilemma: understanding the ‘patriot’/’traitor’ debate

Let’s be honest, the circumstances surrounding the ‘prisoner swap’ between Bowe Bergdahl and five high-ranking Taliban prisoners in Guantanamo Bay just don’t add up. The initial narrative President Obama pitched of the prisoner swap as a signal of successful negotiations, a necessary response for a fellow soldier whose health was in jeopardy, and further evidence that the ‘war’ in Afghanistan is indeed drawing to a close, has completely disintegrated as waves of questions continue to be raised about the facts, legality, and implications of the exchange, including:
Did President Obama break the law by not giving Congress 30 days notice of the prisoner swap?
Was Bergdahl a prisoner of war? If he deserted, is he still a prisoner of war?
What’s with Bergdahl’s father- his obvious beard, and evidence he has been, studying Pashto (he used it in the recent press conference, sparking deep discomfort among some) and trying to learn about his son’s captors?
What is Qatar’s role as an intermediary? How will keeping these 5 detainees in Qatar ensure American safety, as Obama claims?
If Bergdahl was a prisoner of war, and this was a prisoner swap, how does this impact the US classification of Guantanamo Bay detainees as ‘enemy combatants’ for over a decade? If they are now prisoners of war, do they get prisoner of war rights….finally?
In addition to these questions, discussions about Bergdahl are now largely centered around 1) the legality of the swap, and 2) the circumstances surrounding Berdahl’s initial disappearance from his base 5 years ago. The former debate is playing out between lawyers, politicians, and the media. At the same time, the latter debate has taken on a life of its own- it seems to be a sort of public trial and judgement on Bergdahl’s character, and whether he is ‘worth’ the efforts made to return him to America. As the discussions descend into a “bumper-sticker debate,” characterized by cliche claims and concerns,  the following questions dominate the debate: Is he a deserter and traitor, who felt “ashamed” to be a soldier and was disillusioned with the war in Afghanistan? Or, is he a patriot, who served bravely and ‘suffered enough’ as a prisoner of war? What is more interesting than the ‘facts’ surrounding the story, is the frame being used. This is a classic band of brothers problem.
The band of brothers narrative has been used in reference to the US military for decades- and has become particularly salient during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Ideals of the ‘special’ bonds of soldiers, comradeship, and the need to put one’s brother first have all become such embedded cliches that we hardly question them. It helps that the HBO TV series Band of Brothers spoon fed us the key elements of the band of brothers myth: war is primarily about combat, the ‘real’ story is the bonds between the men- not the politics of the war itself, the non-sexual bonds and relationships between men are exceptional- romantic in their own way, and essential to warfare. So here we are, with Bergdahl, who represents a band of brothers (BOB) problem. In fact, the ‘patriot’/’traitor’ debate is informed entirely by the band of brother myth and its implicit messages about soldier and national identity. Continue reading

Discourse Analysis of Internet Trolls?: the whys and hows of analyzing online content*

Online mediums can be perceived as attracting wacky ranters unrepresentative contributors and exchanges and, therefore, forums or chats are often treated as if they do not provide an effective picture/sample of political discourse. But since over 80% of Americans are online, 66% of American adults have engaged in civil or political activities with social media, and about half of those who visit discussion groups post/contribute, isn’t this an interesting- and increasingly relevant- medium for a discourse analysis? Why cut out such a vast political resource? What is different about ‘doing’ a discourse analysis of online content? How would you even start such an analysis? And, why aren’t those like myself- who blog and engage in political discussions as part of my daily/weekly activity- doing more to treat online content as part of what we consider to be ‘legitimate’ political discourse? Well, I think it comes down to methodology. Here is a very brief intro to some of the opportunities and challenges to conducing a discourse analysis of online content (PS getting students to do such an analysis is a great assignment).

1. What makes a discourse analysis of online content different from an analysis of printed text?
First, (and probably somewhat obvious) online material uses multiple modes of expression, including emoticons, hyperlinks, images, video, moving images (gifs), graphic design, and color. This multimodality adds complexity (and, I argue, richness) to a discourse analysis- but the researcher must be aware of how particular signals are used, (for example, ‘iconic’ or popular memes or gifs (like feminist Ryan Gosling or the Hilary Clinton texting image begin to take on particular meanings themselves). Second, online content is unstable, instant, and edited in ways unavailable to print (even the use of striking through signals ‘editing’/alternative meaning/irony etc- but this requires interpretation). Also, articles, conversations, and posts, can be published, responded to, retweeted, then retracted or edited all within a few hours. Continue reading

5 Degrees of Internet Procrastination (or, from Al-Jazeera to Perez Hilton in 5 clicks)


It is nothing new to say that the internet is a major distraction. But I’m particularly amazed at how well-intentioned online searches lead to bottom-feeder-celebrity-gossip trolling. How does a quick writing break to check the news end in mindlessly clicking through the best-dressed list at Cannes? I’ve got a theory: procrastination requires a certain level of mindless surfing. Our initial news hits don’t satisfy the urge, so we are forced to go deeper and deeper into the internet until we hit the ‘zone out’ level. Here’s how it happens:

Stage One: Most procrastination stints start out in earnest. Al-Jazeera, New York Times, Democracy Now, Washington Post, Guardian headlines are scoured, we catch up on what’s going on in the news. We feel virtuous because we are in fact multi tasking, and learning about the world, not procrastinating. Stage two: From here, there are easy distractions, like “most emailed” articles (that might include an interesting op ed, personal news about a particular politician etc). Next thing you know, you are on the Huffington Post trying to read more about Tony Abbot and what an idiot he is. The Huffington Post is like a vortex that takes you from news to gossip in .5 seconds. Massive headlines about Putin’s abs or Hilary Clinton’s pantsuits suck you in with supersonic force. Stage Three: The article on Putin’s abs takes you to websites you would never admit to visiting during the workday. No, I don’t mean porn. I mean People.com. Yes, you are on People.com reading about Putin’s abs….and now its time to get to Stage Four: pure celebrity gossip. At least the Putin article had some political relevance…sort of. From here you are one click away from learning about Jenny McCarthy’s wedding ring (she got a sapphire, not a blood diamond…doesn’t that knowledge count as political?…shit, how do I know Jenny McCarthy has a sapphire engagement ring!!). And now you are here, at Stage Five- the guts of internet procrastination, reading about yet another season of the Bachelorette, looking at ‘who wore it better’, doing quizzes about what 90s rock star you would be, and reading your horoscope (FB is in another league of procrastination). Don’t worry, it happens to all of us. Continue reading

Polio and the International Politics of Eradication: CIA Vaccination Ruse, Vaccine Trust, and DNA as a Tool of War

[Please note: this is a guest post by Alison Howell, Rutgers University- Newark]

The recent WHO designation of polio as a ‘global public health emergency’ has reignited debate as to whether the spread of polio is the result of reduced vaccine trust due to the CIA vaccination ruse in Pakistan. The vaccination ruse in Pakistan was part of the CIA’s apparent aim to get Osama bin Laden’s family DNA. In 2011 the Guardian first reported on the ruse and global health experts began to express concern that this would lead to vaccine refusals in Pakistan. There, major efforts were underway as part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which was launched in 1988 and inspired by the success of the eradication of smallpox (a campaign very much tied up with Cold War politics, but that’s another story…). The Taliban opportunistically seized on the moment to ban polio vaccinations until the US stopped its drone strikes, and in 2013 at least 26 polio workers were killed.

With the WHO’s report of a rise in polio, the worst fears of a link between the CIA ruse and polio seemed to be confirmed. Yet, as reported in the BMJ, the WHO previously asserted that it did not expect the ruse to have a major impact on polio eradication. Despite the inconsistency, some media outlets have made a direct link between the CIA activities and this rise in polio. These arguments are understandable not only because they draw our attention to the serious and growing problem of the spread of polio, but also because they seem to point us to yet another major cost of the post- 9/11 wars. This is a tempting association, but there are at least three problems with it:

First- It is unclear that the issues at stake best captured by the frame of ‘vaccine trust.’ Continue reading

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