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.

Torture as Evidence-Based Policy Making? Race, War and Science

This is a guest post by Alison Howell, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Rutgers Newark

With the recent APA decision to prohibit their members from participating in enhanced interrogation, and the demise of the human terrain program earlier this year, the optimistic amongst us might be tempted to believe that the academy is once again purified of its collusions with torture and occupation.

The work to be done going forward, however, is not just one of holding individuals to account or raising the bar of individual ethical standards. We also need to find ways of holding academic sciences to account: of treating them not as dispassionate and apolitical ventures, sadly misused, but rather as formed within martial and racist cultures that shape their content and applications. This is as true for disciplines like Physics and Neuroscience as it is for social sciences like Anthropology, or, for that matter, IR.

In order to grapple with this complex state of affairs, we are going to have to begin by seeing the decision by the Bush administration to pursue torture for what it is: evidence-based policy. Continue reading


Guts, God and Mystery: how the women and combat debate is all about emotion

War on the Rocks published an exceptionally written piece by Lieutenant General (ret.) Gregory Newbold called “What Tempers the Steel of an Infantry Unit” that has gone viral. Here, Newbold eloquently draws out an argument that has tended to only be implied- or lurking behind much of the debate on women in combat for decades. The argument is simple: infantry units require a special, indescribable bond and dynamic that women spoil. Certainly this argument is not unique, but the beauty of Newbold’s piece that he boldly puts the emotional arguments- rather than physical ones– front and center. Newbold’s piece is somewhat enticing and romantic to read because he is recreating a familiar narrative and myth- that of the band of brothers. The band of brothers myths stems back to Shakespeare, Darwin and Freud, who all used the myth to help make broader arguments about male superiority and relationships. The myth has evolved through time and popular culture, but the general message of the myth remains the same: men form unique, mysterious bonds that render them superior warriors. What cannot be forgotten about this myth is that women’s exclusion is key to sustaining the mystery, bonds, and superiority.

In my recent book, Beyond the Band of Brothers: the US Military and the Myth that Women Can’t Fight, I argue that it is emotion- not logic, research, or evidence of women’s performance- that has always driven debates on women in combat. I summarize the common emotional reactions against women in combat in terms of their reference to guts, God and mystery. Continue reading

Image Voyeurism, Trauma Porn, and ‘Doing Something’…for Yourself

* Please note: I absolutely oppose publishing the image of Aylan Kardi on this website*

Since my name is mentioned- and our short twitter exchange highlighted in Annick’s previous post as potentially the inspiration point for her piece- I feel I need say something.

First, I’ll acknowledge that the image we are debating hit me somewhere deep because the boy is the same size and age as my son. Those points of connection made me look at the image differently and that difference in how I saw the image made me feel embarrassed, upset, and unsure what it meant about how I saw the whole ‘package’ of asylum seeker images. So I’ve thought a lot about the image, the ethics around the image, and why some of us care about this image more than the hundreds of- arguably- equally harrowing images of asylum seekers (not just the people trying to get out of Syria or into Europe, but also the people in boats trying to get into Australia or held indefinitely in detention centers by the Australian government).

My point about ‘doing’ something was not merely some liberal notion of ‘activism’ or just giving some money to an organization. It includes deep reflection on our own role in the asylum seeker crises today. Of course, that might include sharing a narrative- but, for me, sharing the narrative is only helpful if it is driven by a desire to make ourselves uncomfortable, to reflect on our complicity and role in global politics, and a commitment to move forward with different steps than led us to the story.

As I just said in a FB post- there is a FINE line between 1) Witnessing and sharing stories 2) Making ourselves feel good: ie looking and listening so that we ‘feel aware’/politically active and- overall- better about ourselves (this bleeds into comments people seem to be making about ‘thanking god’ and ‘hugging kids more tonight’). Such statements are well meaning but really don’t help asylum seekers AT ALL. They are practices/sayings that make us feel good about where we are in the world, what side of history we are on, and how privileged we are. Such comments make me wonder ‘do we need such shocking images in order to care about asylum seekers or do we need them to make ourselves feel better?’ 3) Simple voyeurism and trauma porn.  An image is trauma porn when we  look at ‘terrible’ images so that we can shock ourselves, and then enjoy the feeling that washes over us as we look away and get back to our lives.

I would rather people- quite frankly- do nothing, than circulate an image or share a story of Alyan or any asylum seeker for their own personal gratification. To ‘do’ something political requires 1) engaging/reflecting on the politics of the image, the family and community it represents, and where we are positioned in relation to that family and community 2) asking ourselves how we benefit from borders, immigration quotas, policies that strip asylum seekers and relabel them ‘unskilled’ migrants or refugees + seeking ways that we can change our behaviors (not just our taxable donations). Continue reading

Understanding the Emotional Impacts of Ebola: moving beyond crisis and stats to stories

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

What are the emotional and psycho-social impacts of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa? With much of the media attention on the medical, international, and civil-military response to Ebola, this is a question that has largely been unaddressed. Yet it is inevitable that a virus that ravaged communities, halted economies, and killed thousands in a region would have multiple and lasting emotional impacts. Taking account of people’s extreme social and emotional reactions in emergency settings is vital to understanding the long-term impacts of Ebola. Moreover, a focused picture on emotion is necessary in trying to grasp the nature of the crisis and why resources should be dedicated not just to ‘eradicating’ the virus, but also to supporting communities struggling in a ‘post-Ebola’ era. This post provides a few examples of the emotional impact of Ebola and raises several questions about crisis, emotion, and the varying meanings of ‘impact,’ ‘virus free,’ and ‘security’ in relation to medical crises.

The first story takes place in Freetown, the capital, during the peak of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak in November 2014. It involved a one-week old baby who was found by the side of her dead mother. As part of the protocol at the time, the infant was driven in an ambulance to one of the holding centres for testing, but the baby was not immediately allowed in. Continue reading

Welcome New Guest Bloggers!!!

After much anticipation, nail-biting anxiety, rumors and speculation, we are finally able to announce our new team of guest bloggers!! Below are the eight amazing minds you will see posting regularly over the next six months.* Please make them feel welcome!!

Seth Weinberger is an Associate Professor in the Department of Politics & Government at the University of Puget Sound, where he teaches courses on global security, foreign policy, terrorism, constitutional law, and political philosophy. When not teaching, writing, or blogging, he can generally be found serving his canine master by repeated throwing a small, green, and felt round object.

William Kindred Winecoff  blogged at IPE @ UNC while in grad school, occasionally picking fights with Nexon, PTJ, and other Ducks. The transition to the faculty of Indiana University ate up spare time and reduced his blog-output substantially, but he’s eager to get back into the game and welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the Duck. For more information see his website ( and follow him on Twitter (@whinecough).

Wendy Wong is an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto and Director of the Trudeau Center for Peace, Conflict, and Justice at the Munk School of Global Affairs. Her research focuses on the study of NGOs and the importance of the variations between NGOs and the role of foundations in human rights.

Maryam Zarnegar Deloffre is an associate professor at Arcadia University. Her current work focuses on how humanitarian NGOs develop common standards and mechanisms for defining, monitoring, and regulating their accountability in the global sphere.

Tom Gregory is a lecturer at in the department of Politics & International Relations at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. His research focuses on contemporary conflict, critical security studies and the ethics of war.

Lord Mawuko-Yevugah is based in Ghana at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration. He started his career as a journalist, and has since gone on to focus on political economy and international development.

Cai Wilkinson is Senior Lecturer at Deakin University in Melbourne Australia. Cai’s research focuses on societal security in the post-Soviet space, with a particular focus on LGBTQ rights in Kyrgyzstan and Russia.

Annick Wibben is an Associate Professor at the Unviersity of San Francisco. Her research straddles critical security studies, international theory, and international relations. Her work especially focuses on methodology, representation, and narrative.

*please note that these bloggers were chosen after we put a general call out for guest bloggers several months ago. We did receive some applications from excellent graduate students; however, we have a policy of not including grad students as regular or guest bloggers on the Duck at this time (please see our ‘policies’ for more info). Continue reading

Female Service Members Need Easier Access to Abortion, Not a Wider Range of Birth Control

Pregnancy has consistently been treated by the US military as a costly inconvenience, and proof of women’s weak, unreliable and unpredictable bodies. In particular, there are concerns about the exceptionally high rates of unplanned pregnancies amongst service members, and the logistics and costs associated with such pregnancies (research indicated service women may be 50% more likely to have an unplanned pregnancy). In an attempt to address these issues, the current defense policy bill that was passed by the House on Friday includes a provision that would force military clinics and hospitals to carry the full array of contraception methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration.  Regardless of whether the bill passes (it’s not looking good), this birth control provision misses the mark when it comes to addressing pregnancy- and unplanned pregnancy in particular- within the US forces. The elephant in the room in this conversation is the way in which service women’s access to abortion has been whittled away over the past years- to the point at which even those women who are pregnant as a result of rape have difficulty attaining an abortion at a military facility.

But first, let’s get through some facts about military pregnancies. Continue reading

The Olympics of Returning to Work After a Baby

I had no idea what to expect when I became a parent (who does?), but I was somehow even more baffled by the balancing act/sh@t show involved in transitioning back to work after parental leave. I’m sure my experience isn’t unique, and I don’t think I was any worse off than other parents or carers, but I was not prepared. Looking back, I realize there are a few key olympic-worthy skills I needed- and attained to make this transition possible. In no particular order, here they are:

Hotel Hallway Shuffle: Pacing conference hotel halls with a jet-lagged baby in flannel pj’s and trying not to make eye contact with anyone coming off the elevator.

Day Care Dash: Dashing to childcare with grapes, elmo, child, bag, rain cover, and shoes perfectly balanced…only to discover that your kid has fallen asleep in transit. The second phase of this event requires you to try to answer emails in a coffee shop while your child sleeps because you feel too guilty to wake them up and drop them off.

10 Minute Prep Sprint: Putting a 10 minute cartoon on in the morning and trying to shower, get dressed, stuff toast in your mouth, and brush your teeth before the credits roll.

Pumpathon: Using a breast pump at your desk while you try to watch youtube videos of Jimmy Fallon.

Cold Pretzel: Taking power naps on the office floor with a yoga mat as a blanket because you’ve been up since 4am.

Big Mistake: Taking a child solo on an international flight to a conference- against everyone’s good advice- and trying to attend your panels with clean clothes, no tears, and something reasonably coherent to say (this is perhaps the hardest event).

In the end I have new skills, thicker skin, and better time management skills…and a healthy kid that finally sleeps longer than 2 hours at a time. Gold Medal!! What were/are your parenting events?

There is No Lone Wolf Terrorism: but there is anxiety about brown men, loneliness, and mental illness

There’s something about ‘lone wolf terrorism’ debates that stinks. I can’t quite find a singular source of the smell, but after further investigation, it seems the relatively recent surge in the use of  the category ‘lone wolf’ to describe individual acts of political violence draws on extremely rank racist, sexist, and alarmist logic. When you compare the sparse literature on lone wolf terrorism and the slough of articles on the topic, one thing is clear: definitions of lone wolf terrorism are “fuzzy”, disparate, and often rely on contradiction and assumptions about mental health and motivation. The defining feature of the lone wolf terrorist is his or her (actually it is almost always a male) lack of wolf pack (I can’t get past the Hangover reference either, but stay with me). They are loners, committing political violence. Below, I raise several questions about the literature and discussion on lone wolf terrorism in the hopes of inviting dialogue and debate about why this term has such political purchase.

1. Is it possible that ‘lone wolves’ are neither lone nor wolves? The problems with definition:
The US Government defines terrorism as “premeditated politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.” The overarching argument is lone wolf terrorism differs from ‘regular’ terrorism in that it is orchestrated by an individual. Yet the existing definition of terrorism seems to include agents as well as groups. So what purpose does ‘lone wolf’ serve? If ‘lone wolves’ are defined as acting politically, doesn’t this assume- by definition- the affiliation, or at least association, with a larger group? Recent research into 119 lone-actor terrorists in the United States and Europe, concluded that the individuals clearly expressed their beliefs and grievances to others, primarily family, friends, or an online community. This seems to indicate that ‘lone wolves’ aren’t that lonely. Continue reading

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

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

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