Category: Academia (page 1 of 12)

Radical IR: approaches or implications?

Dillon Tatum had an interesting post here last week, calling for a “radical” international relations. As Tatum notes, “radicalism intervenes in the political domain with the goal of fundamental transformation” and IR could function similarly.

What would that look like? I think many would imagine a radical IR as radical in its approaches and methods. That is, scholars would critically examine biases and assumptions, uncover power structures and erase them. In this envisioning of critical IR, conventional methods—quantitative analyses, positivist qualitative studies—are part of the problem. They limit the questions we ask and the type of answers we accept as valid.

But is this really the case? Must IR reshape itself to push back on the common wisdom and make the world a better place? I’m not sure. Looking at music, Frank Zappa was certainly radical, in both approach and implication. But Brian Wilson, while adhering to standard pop sensibilities, used the “rules” to produce music with far-reaching, shockingly radical implications. Maybe it could be the same with IR.

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Toward a Radical IR

David Brook’s latest column in the New York Times, banging on the same themes about “the kids are just not right,” raises some questions about what it means to engage in radical politics in the Trump era. Brooks compares the younger generation’s belief “that the system itself is rotten and needs to be torn down” to accomodationist and gradualisms.  He continues on to speculate about how these new attitudes might affect older, more “pragmatic,” liberals who desire to work within the system. Brooks, as usual, uses a conservative argument to position himself in the “middle.”

I have been thinking a lot about this issue of “radicalism” contra arguments about working within systems that are unjust in thinking about liberal world order and its futures. It has led me to a question I am currently exploring in a work-in-progress about what the possibilities are of radicalism as a way of approaching international politics. Against arguments like Brooks’, and even more sophisticated arguments about agonistic democracy developed by thinkers like Chantal Mouffe, I think there is a place in IR for radical conceptions of transformation, order, and politics.

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What would Benedict Anderson say about Trump?

I’ve been watching the current debate over nationalism with some interest. Donald Trump identified himself as a nationalist in the run-up to the mid-term elections. He contrasted this with his foes, for whom he used the problematic term “globalist.” Many saw this as a concerning move, especially paired with Trump’s alarmist rhetoric over a caravan of Central American migrants. It also prompted a response from France’s President Macron, criticizing nationalism as a “betrayal of patriotism.” This got me thinking of my graduate studies, which involved a good amount of reading on nationalism (intended to help conceptualize religious contention). And it made me go back to one of my favorite books of all time, Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities

Imagined Communities is one of those books that is referenced more often than read. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen an article mention Anderson’s concept of imagined communities in passing without really engaging with it or even seeming to really understand. Anderson argued the nation is a modern concept, an “imagined political community..imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.” He argued it emerged from cultural and social developments that undermined the hold of the “religious community” and “dynastic realm” over individuals’ identities. So (a quick aside) no, it is not just an “imagined community,” it is a particular type of community with a particular conception of its place in time and space.

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Academic Smothering. Part II.

To illustrate this post, I would love to put that cute stock photo of a woman dressed in a taupe formal suit holding an adorable baby in a diaper, but it is just wildly unrealistic. For starters, the baby is horribly underdressed and the suit would have been covered in drool/spit-up/mysterious orange food rests in mere seconds. FYI, stock photo editors, working on a computer with a baby on your lap is also not an option, because in the end there will be one, and it will not be your computer.

Guilt ridden and severely sleep deprived (and by “severely” I mean no sleep stretches longer than 3 hours at a time for the past year) you are back at work. You have secured a coveted day care place for your adorable baby boy who now has to navigate about 3-4 languages in his head because as an academic you often do not live in your home country and you drag your better foreign half with you wherever the job market takes you. You are excited to be back… until you realize that daycare is great, but it also means germs and your baby getting sick and you taking sick leave to make sure the little one recovers. Hello, sleep stretches of one hour and carrying the baby upright for most of the day because the stuffed nose would not let him breathe properly. While we are on the subject of carrying, why does nobody tell you that the best preparation for having babies is heavy-weight lifting? German pre-war housing is sure lovely until you have to carry a 9-kg baby, a diaper bag, a laptop and a couple of books on everyday nationalism 4 flights of stairs.

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Inertia is the strongest force in international relations

Details continue to trickle out about the horrific assassination of Saudi dissident and writer Jamal Khashoggi. This has captured the attention of foreign policy experts, who have questioned the alliance’s importance and suggested ways to punish Saudi Arabia. Concern about this incidents has spread beyond experts, however. My students and I have frequently debated what will happen to the US-Saudi alliance. And I recently appeared on WCAX in Burlington to discuss what comes next. To both audiences–and in contrast to some commentators–I gave the unsatisfying answer of “not much.” Time after time on the  issues I follow dramatic transformations seem about to occur, only to fade as the world moves on. As a result, I’m increasingly convinced that inertia drives international relations.

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Blogger’s Block: The History of the End?

I have had trouble blogging this past year. It’s a challenge to think about academically informed observations on contemporary global politics when the world is in some places literally on fire and democracy appears to be in retreat. From a normative standpoint, it’s been a hard thing to step back from with some sense of analytical detachment that blogging on this platform typically requires.

In a special section of PS last year, I wrote about how to deal with these times on social media. In addition to blogging, I sought on social media to engage folks who thought differently from me about key issues I care about. In that piece, I talked about how a collegial and civil tone might be the key to a different kind of political discourse, one that I thought was sorely needed in the United States and elsewhere.

I think that approach to political discussion is correct both normatively and instrumentally if were living in a persuasive moment (and here, I suppose I’m something of a Habermasian or, in IR parlance, have affinity for the “Let’s Argue” approach by Thomas Risse).

But, I don’t think we are in a persuasive moment, but a mobilizational one.  Continue reading

Congress, Trump, and Internationalism in U.S. Foreign Policy

This post comes from Bridging the Gap co-director Jordan Tama, Associate Professor at the School of International Service at American University. 

American presidents have typically been more internationalist than the average member of Congress. For instance, many presidents have struggled to persuade Congress to approve important international agreements or increase spending on diplomacy and foreign assistance. Scholars of U.S. foreign policy have provided a compelling explanation for this pattern: since voters hold presidents more accountable than members of Congress for the country’s overall welfare and security, presidents have a stronger incentive than lawmakers to advance broad national interests through overseas engagement.

Under Donald Trump, however, this pattern has been stood on its head. As Trump has sought to advance his “America first” agenda by pulling back from international commitments, Congress has at times become the country’s strongest voice for maintaining and deepening overseas ties. This has been evident in the rejection by Congress of Trump’s proposals to cut the State Department’s budget by one-third, the reaffirmation by Congress of the U.S. commitment to NATO, and the restriction by Congress of the president’s ability to withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea.

Yet simply labeling elected officials as internationalist or the term’s opposite (nationalist or isolationist) fails to capture a lot of the nuance in their foreign policy positions. In a terrific new Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) report, Beyond the Water’s Edge: Measuring the Internationalism of Congress, a team led by Kathleen Hicks, Louis Lauter, and Colin McElhinny looks under the surface of recent foreign policy debates to explore congressional internationalism in depth. The report is based on an impressive set of original research, including case studies of recent congressional activity in several foreign policy issue areas and detailed profiles of a representative sample of 50 members of Congress.

Importantly, the study finds that internationalism is more widespread in Congress than one might think.  Continue reading

What the UAE’s detention of a UK graduate student means for Middle East studies

I feel like I should say something about the disappearance—and likely assassination—of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. This tragedy was enabled by America’s permissive stance towards Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US support for other horrific Saudi policies (like its bombing of Yemen). I’ve expressed concern on Twitter and in personal conversations, and have been writing about Yemen for years.

But to be honest, I don’t think I have anything new to say at this point. Most Duck readers will already know, and be upset, about this situation. Instead, I want to raise another concerning human rights abuse by one of our Persian Gulf allies: the detention of UK graduate student Matthew Hedges by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

A few months ago, reports spread of a UK man detained in the UAE on espionage charges; he was rumored to be an academic doing research in the country. These reports were later confirmed as the UAE announced it had charged Hedges with espionage for trying to obtain classified information and gain access to confidential archives. Hedges is a PhD student at the University of Durham, and was studying the UAE’s post-Arab Spring foreign policy. He has been held in rough conditions and there are concerns about his physical and mental health. Continue reading

Do we need to teach the IR paradigms at all?

Over the weekend, fellow guest contributor Luke Perez had an interesting post on whether we need to include the grand paradigms of international relations  (realism, liberalism, and constructivism) in foreign policy classes. He makes some good points on how to customize courses for foreign policy students; be sure to read it if you haven’t. I’d like to go further and ask whether we need to teach these paradigms at all.

I’m coming at this from a different perspective than Perez. I teach at an undergraduate focused institution. So I’m preparing students for a broad array of potential political science careers. But the issue with the paradigms’ importance transcends any single realm of higher education.

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Syllabus Musing—can we teach foreign policy without paradigms?

As a new postdoc to the Kinder Insitute, I have the good fortune not to be teaching this semester. In addition to working on my book manuscript—more on that later—I have been spending a good deal of time thinking through my class on U.S. foreign policy. This has been a good experience even at this early stage because it has forced me to think about what students really need to know about foreign policy, and it has provided me the spurring I needed to begin distilling my graduate training into a systematic framework.

Writing a syllabus poses several challenges, not least of which are what the students should learn. Although it would be nice to have some aggregate data, at this time I am unaware of anything like the GRaduate Assignments Data Set (GRADS) on graduate readings in IR. And although it would be nice to have data on what approaches work best, I have a hunch that most of what we do does not actually train students to think about foreign policy in a serious way.

My own survey of syllabi, both from GRADS and my own smaller collection, suggest that the plurality of courses in foreign policy begin with a brief survey of the paradigms, maybe some introductory concepts like the agent-structure problem, research programs, some methods, and then finally about half way through a semester or later, finally get into the meat of specific issues and themes. And sure, maybe its an exaggeration to characterize foreign policy and IR courses this way. But my growing hunch is that a lot of the explanation for teaching foreign policy this way stems from the tension between foreign policy and IR. The former, I think, looks at international politics from the vantage point of the state or politician’s view of the international system; the later looking at states like the old familiar billiard ball. There are strengths to each, and there are great ways of teaching foreign policy without relying on IR approaches as the primary lens through we introduce students to foreign policy.

Can foreign policy be taught without reference to the paradigms of realism, liberalism, and constructivism? Can be taught without weeks of theoretical and conceptual throat clearing? If so, how so? Continue reading

This Blog Post is About Conference Program Selection

This is a guest post from Jonathan D. Caverley, Associate Professor at the Naval War College and Research Scientist at MIT, and Monica Duffy Toft, Professor at Tufts University, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

The program for the 2019 International Studies Association (ISA) meeting has been released, and International Relations Twitter has feelings about it. The stakes of inclusion on the program are not small. Presenting a paper at ISA is frequently an essential step towards publication in the field’s refereed journals, these meetings provide valuable networking space, travel funds are often predicated on a paper being accepted, and ISA often takes place in great cities…as well as Atlanta (we kid!). Because of the value of these slots and their growing scarcity, we believe a little more transparency about how decisions are made in accepting participants onto the program is helpful. We therefore write this post to share lessons we have learned as the co-chairs of the ISA’s International Security Studies Section (ISSS) program for the 2019 Annual Conference.

We do not think we have the last word on how to do this, which is one of the reasons we are writing this. Since both of us have, like most program chairs, vowed to never (ever!) do this again, this blog post seeks to lay out some ideas for future chairs. We write this with the understanding that so much of the knowledge of how the process works is unavailable to many scholars, particularly junior ones. We realize our fortune in having received great mentorship at a top American PhD program, and having had jobs at well-resourced and networked departments since. Collectively we have been in this business for several decades. And yet we still came to the process with little idea of the many elements of conference program selection and management we actually encountered.

What follows are ten facts and lessons that jumped out at us. We hope that this will trigger a discussion and the generation of other lessons. Continue reading

Reflections on a Hoax

Last week, an article published in the online outlet Areo revealed a hoax that involved ideologically motivated academics writing fake papers in the realms of what they characterized as “grievance studies,” and trying to place them in humanities journals—the idea being to demonstrate that such research is meaningless and not rigorous. Besides the fact that the hoaxsters were mostly unsuccessful in this endeavor—only four papers out of the twenty authored were published—the fact that this endeavor has been used as a tool to discredit a wide-range of scholarship in the realms of , inter alia, gender, race, and sexuality studies has caused a stir in academic circles.

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MbS made USCIRF smile: Gatekeepers and Norm Erosion

For many, Saudi Arabia finally went too far. Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi went missing after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul; reports suggest he may be dead. Pundits who gave Mohammed bin Salman—Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, also known as MbS—a chance to prove his reformist credentials have become critical. In the midst of all this, a commissioner of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom—(USCIRF) a government-affiliated human rights watchdog—announced…that Saudi Arabia is making great progress on protecting religious freedom? At first glance, this is confusing, but it may be an indication of the powerful role of strategic framing and policy gatekeepers in eroding international norms.

In “Bono made Jesse Helms cry,” international relations scholar (and permanent Duck of Minerva contributor) Joshua Busby discussed the dynamics through which activists can influence states’ foreign policy; his article also inspired the title for this post. Activists can intensify the appeal of their moral arguments by strategically framing their campaigns to match the cultural value of targets. And when they specifically target “policy gatekeepers,” who provide direct access to the relevant policymaking tools, their appeals can change states’ behavior.

Most assume this dynamic is a positive one, a way for activists to spread altruistic ideas and get states to adopt them. But what if it could be used by states themselves to undermine human rights norms?

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Welcome New Ducks

The school year is off to a great start, and we wanted to thank our previous slate of guest Ducks and welcome some new guests. Thanks to all of our guests from last year.

Lisa Gaufman and Dillon Tatum are staying on as guests, and we are delighted that our partnership with Bridging the Gap will continue with the BtG channel.

We also have a fantastic slate of new guests Ducks including Jill Hazelton, Peter Henne, Sahar Khan,  Luke Perez, and Kai Thaler.  We have a strong slate of security-minded guests this year. They cover a range of topics from counterinsurgency to religion and the Middle East to civil-military relations and South Asia to grand strategy to civil conflict and state building.  Short bios and links to professional webpages and Twitter handles are below.

We also invite folks who want to write individual guest posts for us on other topics and geographic areas to send posts to any of the permanent contributors. Continue reading

Ignorance of the Ivory Tower: What Do the Profs Know About the Military

I woke up to find a piece that castigates the academic world for being ignorant about the armed forces.  My reaction was:

Tom Ricks, who posted this questionable piece, pushed back:

I will try to be concise, but it will be hard.  I will first address Professor Adrian Lewis’s claims about the state of the military these days.  I will then address the larger problem–that this generalization about academics and their expertise about the military is so very flawed.

  1. Sure, the US armed forces are smaller than during the Cold War. I can’t insta-survey professors who study International Relations, but my guess is that most would already know that.  The real question is: do we have the right force at this moment?  Do we need to be spending ever so much more money on the US military?  There are good and reasonable arguments to be had on both sides of this question.
  2. War is awful, sure. Deterrence is far better than war.  But what does it take to deter American adversaries?  It could cost less than we spend given how much money is wasted in defense procurement, that the money spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have not produced lasting outcomes, etc.  So, saying that our current force is cheaper than war says nothing about whether we are spending the right amount now.
  3. Ah, the spinoff argument. An oldie but a goodie. The question is not whether there are great spinoffs from military research, but whether money invested elsewhere might be as or more productive.  I have no idea since I am not a technology prof, but, again, I am sure we can find studies on either side.
  4. Who is arguing that military stuff doesn’t wear out and/or become obsolete?
  5. Defense industries employ lots of Americans and? I would like to think that the US spends money on defense to defend the US and its allies and not as a jobs program.  I have expressed elsewhere my annoyance about justifying Canadian defence spending via jobs.  Lots of ways for governments to create jobs–military spending just sells better politically.  It is not necessarily better.
  6. Sea lanes.  Sure, who is arguing that the US do away with a blue navy?
  7. Lewis mentions that the allies have “outsourced their security to the US”, which I think is a particularly biased and relatively ignorant way to put it.  Do most spend less than the US?  Sure. Is it in American interests to foster stability in Europe and East Asia? Yeah.  Have the NATO allies bled and died for American causes? Hell yeah.

Lewis concludes by saying that the his school and some of its faculty greatly support the armed forces, so #notallacademics.  So, let’s start there: is it the job of academics to support the armed forces?  I don’t think so.  Indeed, one of the big challenges of the past 20 years or so is that the mantra of “support our troops” has perhaps prevented us from asking critical questions about the performance of the US military (and the same applies to the Canadian armed forces and those of many democracies).  Only very recently have people started raising questions about the annual declaration made by the general exiting Afghanistan about how well that war is going.

Are academics ignorant of the US armed forces?  Well, which academics?  I would not expect chemistry professors and creative writing professors to know much.  But how about those who study International Relations?  How about those who study Civil-Military Relations? One of the things to note is that Lewis is a Professor of History, which is significant as military and diplomatic history has been on retreat for quite sometime in the History discipline, so that might be a source of his frustration.  In Political Science and International Relations, however, civil-military relations and the study of security is on the rise. The last few conferences have seen more and more panels on civ-mil, and the last two decades have seen a big growth in the number of journals focusing on security issues, which means more people studying military stuff.

Almost two years ago, I was pushed by Tom Ricks to list good, relevant work that should be of interest to those who read military history, and I came up with a short list easily.  There is plenty of expertise on the US armed forces and those of other countries.  To give a related example, I am currently working on a major grant application that would fund a network that would bring together Canadian scholars who study defence (c for Canada) and security issues with the Canadian Armed Forces, the Department of National Defence, research centres across Canada, think tanks, and other actors.  It involves over 100 professors, and, yes, Canada is 1/10th the size of the US.  Can we extrapolate to suggest that a similar network in the US might have 1000?  Is there more interest in the US military in the US than the Canadian military in Canada?  Probably since, as Professor Lewis argued, there is a hell of lot of money and activity involving the US military.

My twitter feed has already gotten the usual pushback that privilege veterans as having exclusive or superior expertise to academics who have never served in the armed forces.  Now that is an ignorant argument, as it denies the expertise that can be generated through extensive study and analysis. A tree might have a really great understanding of itself and its immediate neighbors, but it will not have a great understanding of the forest or of other forests.

While veterans on twitter complain about academics not having military experience, I have met (anecdotal data!) many senior officers who search out for academic expertise because they know that knowing more is better than knowing less.  When Admiral (ret.) Stavridis was SACEUR, he passed around the PDF of the Dave and Steve NATO book because it shed light on what his officers were experiencing in Afghanistan.  Officers have this obsession with reading lists, including the retired general who was known as the Warrior Monk, because they understand that repeating old mistakes is a bad idea.

Which leads to the big question: who has the time and the incentive to systematically study the armed forces?  Not military folks who have day jobs.  Retired veterans may have the time, but do they have sufficient experience beyond their MOS and sufficient training to think and research rigorously?  Academics have the time, the training, and the curiosity to study the US (and other) armed forces. But not all academics, just those who are focused on this stuff.  It is a great tragedy that military history may be devalued these days, but, after meeting so many young civ-mil scholars over the past couple of years (check out the Naval War College for a secret stash), I can say that the present and future of the political science of the armed forces is in great shape.

Quack! Quack! Quack! A Call for New Guest Ducks

The fall semester is upon us, and with APSA in the rear view window, we’d like to bring on a new slate of guest Duck bloggers to continue to bring IR-related insights to bear on important real world problems, to explore important debates in the academy, and to do some professional introspection.

We’re especially keen on having gender balance and increasing representation of voices from beyond North America and other important perspectives.

Here is the general policy for guests and our wider set of policies (such as they are).

Guest Bloggers: Guest Bloggers get posting privileges for a period and a temporary place on the masthead. We invite IR specialists with a PhD, some active policy or area studies interests, and a penchant for online writing to apply for regular guest blogging stints at the Duck. Guest bloggers should be prepared to post at least 200-500 words, at least once a week, in their area of expertise. Stints generally rotate after a semester or so, but are renewable if we like your work! If you are past graduate school and would like to join us for awhile, send any of the permanent contributors a letter of interest and we’ll get back to you shortly.

Some folks might post a little less frequently but write a bit more per post. Please email me or any of the other permanent members with a note of interest, specifying your general area of expertise. If you have some creative ideas for new content or multi-media/podcasts, we’re open to new ventures to build in to the blog as well.

The most frequently used ranking of IR journals is heterogeneous

This is a guest post by Andreas Pacher who initiated the Observatory of International Relations (OOIR), a website which tracks Political Science and IR journals to continually list their latest papers. Follow OOIR on Twitter: @ObserveIR.

You may have noticed that the Impact Factors of IR journals are sometimes followed by a statement that it ranks “nth out of 85 journals in the category ‘International Relations’”. For instance, International Organization ranks “1st out of 85 journals in the category ‘International Relations’”, while Alternatives ranks “76 out of 85 journals in the category ‘International Relations’” (in 2017 rankings).

The ranking and categorization are based on Web of Science’s Journal Citation Reports. Now, have you ever wondered about the composition of this category which allegedly comprises 85 IR journals? At a closer look, one finds a club of scholarly journals from various issue areas – from a multitude of academic disciplines whose cultures follow different publication paces and citation patterns, making them qualitatively distinct entities. In other words, the ranking is heterogeneous. Does it not raise the question whether it compares the incomparable? Continue reading

The Academic’s Dilemma: Being a Good Citizen and Managing Time

Tis the season for academic navel gazing so here are some things I’ve learned the hard way. This is primarily a piece for folks on the tenure track. I know that I come at this from a position of immense privilege as a tenured professor at an R1, layered by being a white guy. I know that some of the advice I’m going to give won’t be all that helpful to folks in more vulnerable positions as adjunct faculty, but I still think this advice needs to be said for new tenure track faculty. I hope others find it useful.

Jealously Guard Your Time
You are low man or woman on the totem pole. There will be many demands on your time. New course preps. Departmental meetings, committees. Hopefully, senior faculty will be looking out for you and try to shield you from more onerous tasks, but don’t count on it. You might need to say no, though might not feel like you are in a position to say no. Continue reading

No reading list is perfectly inclusive. Here’s one small step I’ve learned to address that.

This is a guest post from Zoe Marks. Zoe Marks is currently Director of the Global Development Academy at the University of Edinburgh and Program Director of the MSc in African Studies; in September 2018, she will join the faculty at Harvard Kennedy School. Her research focuses on peace and conflict, gender, and inequality and has been published in various outlets, including African Affairs and Civil Wars.

As Steve Saideman wrote here last week, August is a time of dashed summer dreams, finding consolation in looming stability, and scrambling to get syllabi in order for the new academic year. Whether you are a new or seasoned professor, August is rarely a time to “perfect your class”. However, in the name of progress-not-perfection, I also try to remember that August is no time to forsake rigor and inclusivity in course design. Good intentions aren’t enough to address race, class, and gender biases in research and teaching.

An impressive — and sobering — array of academic research has emphasized the need to change the status quo in order to equitably publish, cite, recognize and reward women and non-white academics, colleagues in the Global South, and researchers from other marginalized and underrepresented groups. If you are one of the growing numbers of faculty trying to tackle this, you have probably come to suspect that expanding your reading list is not a magic bullet. (Paulo Freire and bell hooks warned us.) As we start a new academic year (in the Northern hemisphere) and incorporate new authors and topics into our courses, one small change can be a shot-in-the-arm for more rigorous and inclusive teaching: simply require students to cite underrepresented scholars in their written work. Continue reading

Advice for the New Professor

As August accelerates and academics panic as their summer dreams/plans meet the harsh reality that one usually does not get done all that they want to do, it is time to give unsolicited advice to the new folks.  For great advice on how to manage one’s mental and emotional well-being, see this thread.  I have some more tactical advice about expectations and getting through the first year, as I remember making the same mistake three times on the first day of teaching.

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