Category: Academia (page 3 of 12)

Pinker’s Enlightenment and Liberal World Order

“There is not one civilized nation in the world that ought to rejoice in seeing India escape from the hands of Europe in order to fall back into a state of anarchy and barbarism worse than before the conquest.” ~Alexis de Tocqueville, in correspondence with William Nassau Senior in 1857, regarding the Sepoy Rebellion in India.

Psychologist Steven Pinker’s new book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, has caused quite a stir. The book itself provides the reader with an optimistic narrative about how the contemporary period is the best time to be a human; we have never lived in a safer, more joyful, period of human history. As in his monstrous prequel, The Better Angels of Our Nature, Pinker provides statistics and data as a way of demonstrating this fact, and draws a causal historical connection about the rise of Enlightenment-era ideas–especially ideas regarding science and the decline of religious beliefs–and our moment of “bliss.”

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Remembering Lee Ann Fujii, a Friend and a Fighter

This is a guest post from Erin Tolley an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto.

Professor Lee Ann Fujii passed away unexpectedly in Seattle on March 2, 2018. This loss is personal because it has robbed me of a brilliant friend and colleague, but it is also public because of all that Lee Ann contributed to the discipline and to her scholarly community.

Lee Ann was an expert on race, ethnicity, and political violence. Her first book, Killing Neighbors: Webs of Violence in Rwanda, focuses on the social context of the Rwandan genocide. She shows the importance of individuals and interactions, a thread woven throughout all her work. The book is a painstaking compilation of insights from interviews with non-elites. Lee Ann focused not on the planners of the genocide, but instead on the joiners. This was consistent with Lee Ann’s rejection of hierarchy and the cult of prestige. Killing Neighbors shows that those who engaged in the Rwandan genocide were not always motivated by hate. Rather, they were often recruited by local politicians with whom they had personal relationships, and they participated in the genocide because they feared the consequences of not doing so. As Lee Ann points out, however, once these joiners were engaged in the conflict, that involvement became a key part of their identity and contributed to their ongoing participation. Continue reading

Broken IR? It is worse than Walt lets on

As Josh has already noted,  grandee of IR Stephen Walt published a condemnation of US professional schools of IR, calling them broken and claiming that while there is superficial innovation the ‘rot runs deep’. After noting that we should expect US foreign policy (fopo) to be better than it is in the hands of foreign policy professionals—many of whom receive graduate education in institutions like Walt’s Kennedy School of Government at Harvard—Walt concludes that the schools of IR must share some of the blame . After this fairly breezy assessment, Walt goes on to outline five ways the ‘experience’ of graduate education in IR can be improved: Continue reading

Are IR Schools Broken? Nah.

IR program rankings are out in Foreign Policy. Discuss.

Steve Walt has a provocative column in the same issue that I’m sure he didn’t title that suggests “America’s IR Schools Are Broken.” The argument isn’t strictly the familiar one from him about methods but that scholars seeking influence in policy circles have rallied around conformist consensus positions:

But perhaps the biggest limitation in today’s schools of international affairs — at least here in the United States — is their tendency to reinforce the stale bipartisan consensus behind “liberal hegemony” and the necessity for “U.S. leadership…”

Instead of doing what academic institutions are ideally suited for — that is, taking an independent, critical look at contemporary issues and trying to figure out what is working, what is failing, and how we could do better — the desire to be closely tied to the policy world inevitably tempts most schools of international affairs to gravitate toward a familiar mainstream consensus.

I have a series of tweets that I’ve embedded below that are in the same vein of Frank Gavin and Jim Steinberg’s podcast with War on the Rocks in defense of the Blob (Gavin is also in this issue of Foreign Policy with a piece that bemoans past ways of teaching international relations but with more optimism about the future).

In my thread below, I make the argument that conformity in US foreign policy is hardly the fault of IR programs where there is considerable disquiet about US foreign policy adventurism of late but also a recognition that the liberal order is worth defending. Continue reading

On Writing the IR Dissertation

Partly in response to Steve Saideman’s post today with advice on dissertation topics, and partly also in response to a pretty enthusiastic discussion of advice to graduate students on Twitter yesterday, I thought I’d write a few things about getting started on the path of researching a dissertation in a field as unwieldy (and a job market as uncertain) as IR.

Here is where my perspective comes from. I finished my dissertation in 2016 and got a job. I am preparing to have a publishable version of the book emerging from the dissertation ready to market to publishers in the next few months. I teach in a department that has a bachelor’s degree in political science, so I do not have graduate students of my own. So—my perspective comes as someone for whom the job market and dissertation process is fresh and who is still working with the research question I started with in 2013 (oh dear—time flies!).

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Beware of Irrelevant Topic? Advising Phd Students to Surf the Wave

In the past couple of days, an academic issue has played out on twitter: are advisers doing a disservice to students and to the creation of knowledge by warning them off of topics that are deemed less relevant, less in the moment?  Damned if I know.

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Happy New Year

If anybody is planning to collude with some Russians for New Year’s (but not in order to swing an election), I compiled a brief checklist. Originally, I wanted to take apart an article from a prestigious newspaper that described “a Christmas encounter with a Russian soul”, but then I decided against it. After all, if you don’t buy “the case for colonialism”, then you probably also won’t think that “Russians do not share the ethical heritage of the West, but moral intuition exists everywhere, and is able to be inspired”. But enough with the narcissistic white bigotry, let’s learn about Russia!
  • In good ol’ orientalist tradition let’s start with drinking. No self-respecting Russian ever says “na zdorovie” while toasting. Ever. You drink for something – “za”.  Want to impress some Russians, say either “vashe zdorovie” or “budem!” – both are correct equivalents to “Cheers”.
  • Another important thing, New Year is THE winter holiday in Russia. Not Christmas. You prepare for it in advance, buy presents, decorate a tree, have a massive meal and get together with the family. Atheist Soviet traditions have stuck pretty well and the reflex of cutting an Olivier salad on December 31st is hard to suppress.
  • What the hell is an Olivier salad I anticipate you’d ask. It’s a Russian New Year staple food that originally included hazel grouse, crayfish, and a bunch of other expensive ingredients concocted by a French chef in mid 19th century, but gradually became a potato, pea and mayonnaise based delight that you enjoy by the ton.
  • So what about Christmas (you might wonder)? Most Russians celebrate Christmas (if they do) on January 7th thanks to the power squabbles with the Catholic Church back in the Middle Ages. While after the Revolution Russia moved almost two weeks ahead (hence the Great October Revolution celebration on November 7th), the Russian Orthodox Church stayed behind and insists on celebrating all Christian holidays based on the Julian calendar. Some even celebrate Old New Year on January 13th!
  • Also, Christmas trees. Again, in a post-Soviet mind – a fir tree is a totally secular New Year tradition that has nothing to do with Christmas. To be fair, they have much more to do with Saturnalia than with Christmas anyway. You know how in America people make fun of those who take down their Christmas lights in February? Try keeping your tree until March!  
  • Last but not least. Russians also have a type of Santa – his name is Father Frost (Ded Moroz), he brings presents, rides a sleigh and he is assisted by his granddaughter Snowmaiden (Snegurochka). Despite his somewhat dubious origin story and unclear family tree (where is his wife? Or Children?!), his is still a far cry from the controversy caused every year by Zwarte Piet in the Netherlands.

I am off to cut the Oliver and obsessively check the statuses of submitted manuscripts. Remember, despite the condescending orientalist horse crap that you might read in the Wall Street Journal, Russians are like everybody else. They just want acceptance with minor revisions.

Happy New Year!

2018 Duckies

This is a guest post from Laura Seay, among other things chair of the Online Media Caucus for ISA.

It’s Duckies time! ISA 2018 is right around the corner.

The Online Achievement in International Studies Reception and Awarding of the Duckies will take place on Friday, April 6 at 7:30pm.  We’ll feature three speakers in the ever-popular Ignite series and enjoy honoring our winners together.  The ISA Online Media Caucus (OMC) appreciates the generous support of SAGE Publishing in sponsoring the awards.

Now is the time to submit your nominations for the 2018 Duckies.  Send your nominations to onlinemediacaucus@gmail.com by December 15, 2017.  We award Duckies in the following categories:

Best Blog (Group) in International Studies

Best Blog (Individual) in International Studies

Best Blog Post in International Studies

Best Twitter Account

Special Achievement in International Studies Online Media

As is our custom, these awards go to English-language international studies blogs and bloggers whose online output has significant scholarly content.  Award nominees or their designated representatives MUST be present at the Duckies.

Once the nominations deadline has passed, the Online Media Caucus will judge the nominations and determine finalists for public voting.  Self-nominations are encouraged. If you have any questions, please contact 2017-18 Online Media Caucus Chair Laura Seay.

The emperor has no clothes moment for realism

Earlier this month the Washington Post ran a piece detailing increased efforts by Charles Koch’s eponymous foundation (hereafter CKF) to fund foreign policy programs in the United States (h/t to Josh for posting to Twitter). Notwithstanding one’s perspective on the Koch brothers’ politics, increased money for academia is a good thing, right? And all the CKF wants is to “ask questions about America’s proper role in the world and how we move forward”…to ‘broaden the debate’ about US foreign policy. All noble aims, and so I am sure the CKF is distributing money to institutions large and small to give faculty opportunities to take students on study abroad programs, bring in policymakers and thinkers to foster discussion, and other mechanisms to provoke reflection and debate.

Except, by all appearances, the CKF is not doing these things. Continue reading

Pondering Planet Politics: A Response to Peltonen

I was fascinated by a brilliantly written, and well-thought out, guest post here on Duck, by Hannes Peltonen, posted over the weekend. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, you won’t be disappointed. Peltonen presents an argument that digs into recent debates about the seemingly ubiquitous “anthropocene” and its relationship to world politics—and particularly the ways that IR theory should approach issues relating to humankind’s interconnectedness with natural/planetary processes.

I’d like to take the opportunity to engage with Peltonen’s argument, with an eye toward extending the discussion into a few new directions. Specifically, I think the issue of the anthropocene paints an even grimmer picture for the future of IR.

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The ultimate guide to stop procrastination

I must confess. I have not been very productive this last month in the Duck of Minerva. I have been thinking about the topic for my next post and postponing it “till tomorrow”.  I have been procrastinating. Procrastination comes from the Latin pro, meaning “forward, forth, or in favor of,” and crastinus, meaning “of tomorrow”. The Oxford English Dictionary defines procrastination as a postponement, “often with the sense of deferring though indecision, when early action would have been preferable,” or as “defer[ing] action, especially without good reason.” According to psychologist Pychyl, procrastination is fundamentally a visceral, emotional reaction to what you have to do and that you consider hard, boring or overwhelming. Continue reading

The Book Nook: The Authority Trap: Strategic Choices of International NGOs

Our second Bridging the Gap Book Nook entry comes from Sarah Stroup of Middlebury College and Wendy Wong of the University of Toronto, who discuss their new book The Authority Trap: Strategic Choices of International NGOs (Cornell, 2017).

Emotions, Unconscious Bias, and Publishing

This is a guest post by Jana von Stein, Senior Lecturer, Political Science and International Relations Programme, Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand)

The recent scandal surrounding Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual abuse and harassment of dozens of women has gotten me thinking about an experience I had not too long ago. To be sure, there are differences: what happened to me was not sexual, my suffering was short-lived, and I sought justice. But there were at least two important similarities: my experience was deeply gendered and offensive, and I didn’t tell many people. Why? Because I worried about the career implications. I didn’t want the many good and decent men in my field to perceive me as a male-basher. Continue reading

Writing in Exile: A Belated Birthday Card

“In the first place, we don’t like to be called ‘refugees’.” ~Hannah Arendt

This past weekend was a weekend full of birthdays. Hannah Arendt’s 111th birthday fell on Saturday (October 14th), and—in an interesting coincidence—Michel Foucault and Friedrich Nietzsche share a birthday (October 15th). I teach and write about Foucault and Arendt, and there is a Nietzschean spirit in both, though Arendt’s engagement with his work ended abruptly with her death.

In honor of all three, I want to make some notes—sketches really—of what it means to write in exile, and, by extension, to teach in exile. I take this term from an excellent edited volume put together by the dramaturgist Marc Robinson titled Altogether Elsewhere: Writers on Exile, in which Arendt’s obscure 1943 article, “We Refugees” was reprinted. The volume collects essays from a variety of expatriate authors writing about the experience of writing about the trials, joys, and oddities of writing from a place “altogether elsewhere.”

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National Security Generalists and Learning the Lessons From Lost Wars

A friend posted this piece on facebook: “Why Nerds Should Not Be In Charge of War.”  It draws from the new PBS Vietnam War documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick to argue that it happened because of the prominent role played by “generalists.”  Yes, Robert McNamara and his gang of Whiz Kids are mighty arrogant, and they have much blame to share for the war.  Indeed, McNamara, unlike certain other arrogant former SecDefs, has spent the time since trying to grapple with what he had wrought.  There is something to the idea that we need folks involved who are regional experts.  Indeed, there has been much debate about whether we political scientists did area studies wrong by insisting on generalizable theory and advanced methods.

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Teaching about Death and Violence: Thoughts from a Professor Who Calls Nevada Home

After the horrific attack in Las Vegas on Sunday, 1 October, the question of knowledge should be key to our understanding of this event. What do we know? What can we recall? The first thing that comes to mind is likely numbers, statistics, values attributed to life. We know now that the death toll is at 59. The injured number 527. The killer had 18 guns at his home. He shot from the 32nd floor at a rate of 400-800 rounds per minute (6-13 rounds per second). We know numbers.

Surely, this quantification of death gives us important information, but what does it do in regards to the way we relate to violence? Does it make us conceptualize mass shootings as just another data point, as a blip on a graph? Does it help us establish trends? My own experience with this shooting is different than most. I grew up in Las Vegas; I lived there for twenty years. My closest friends live there. Half of my family still lives there. Monday was a day of terror for me. Much of the day was spent texting or calling friends to make sure they were safe, seeing frantic posts on social media from friends trying to locate family that had not checked in yet.

My heart sank at seeing the news that someone I knew from my high school class was killed in the shooting.

Numbers could not capture my experience, or my friends’ experiences, or the experiences of the victims, the families, and onlookers. In a broader way, this raises an important question about how scholars in the fields of political studies, international studies, and cognate fields teach about death and violence.

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The Poverty of Style in IR

As one of the new Ducks, I will from now on be posting diversely on a range of topics including political violence, the status of critique in IR, and professional issues that will be of particular interest to early career scholars and PhD students. For my first post, however, I want to write about the style of writing IR and/or Political Science. This is something that has troubled me for some time now and on which – I think – I depart slightly from the mainstream view of things.

To begin, let me quote the author’s ‘style’ guidelines for the ISA journal International Studies Quarterly:

  • Favor short, declarative sentences. If it is possible to break up a sentence into constituent clauses, then you most likely should do so.
  • Avoid unnecessary jargon. Define, either explicitly or contextually, necessary jargon.
  • Favor active voice, the simple past and present, and action verbs.

Favoring ‘clarity’ and ‘accessibility,’ the guidelines go onto state that “it is unreasonable to require readers and reviewers to read many pages into a manuscript before encountering its basic claims. It is unrealistic to expect that readers and reviewers are skilled in Kabbalah and therefore able to decode esoteric writing.”

These basic words of guidance are common across journals in IR and in the advice we give to our students, the reviews we write of articles, and the words we ourselves attempt to write. We seek to be clear. To the point. To report what we want to say and nothing more. This is the dominant ‘style’ of IR today.

I want to argue that the too-rigid enforcement of this Anglo-Saxon writing style creates problems for IR and – in fact – impoverishes its diversity, enjoyment, and ultimately its relevance to the world in several ways.

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The Book Nook: The CIA and the Politics of US Intelligence Reform

Today we begin the Bridging the Gap “Book Nook,” a series of short videos describing new books by scholars in the BTG network. For the first entry, our very own Brent Durbin discusses his book, The CIA and the Politics of US Intelligence Reform (Cambridge, 2017).

(We hope to do a bunch of these, and we would welcome any thoughts on how to improve the format!)

Decolonizing IR: A Response to Gilley

The past week has seen a boiling-over of controversy regarding a publication by Bruce Gilley entitled “The Case for Colonialism,” appearing in the journal Third World Quarterly, leading some to even begin petitions to the journal to retract. As of the writing of this post, the journal has not retracted the article.

In this post, I would like to reflect on this piece as both a part of a scholarly conversation: showing how its claims are the result of poor methodology, a bad reading of the existing literature on colonialism in political science and other fields, and a general glossing-over of a wide literature on post-colonial theory. If I had reviewed this piece, it would have received a hard “reject” recommendation. Perhaps more importantly, I’d like to reflect briefly at the end of this post on what this piece as a textual artifact tells us about political science’s—and particularly IR’s—colonial present. This is certainly, in my view, the most disturbing aspect of the article.

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