Category: Other (page 1 of 3)

Are the Kids Alright? The March for Our Lives as a Social Movement

Tom Nichols, he of Death of Expertise fame, raised a few hackles over the weekend when he said marches really hadn’t achieved anything since the Civil Rights Movement.

He’s not a fan of kids being coopted by adults for the adults’ pet causes, which evades the question of the agency of Parkland survivors and other young people to galvanize and lead a national movement. Social movement scholars, including me, took to Twitter to challenge Nichols’ assertion that marches and movements had not achieved much since the 1960s. Based on my work on transnational advocacy movements, I chided him in a Tweet thread:

The 1999 G-8 summit in Cologne, Germany where the Jubilee 2000 campaign ringed the summit in their successful effort to get the IMF, World Bank, and major donors to write off developing country debt relief. I noted the 2000 International AIDS Conference held in Durban, South Africa, where the Treatment Action Campaign along with international supporters helped galvanize support for AIDS treatment access that culminated in the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria and helped usher in an era of low-cost generic AIDS drugs.  Other examples came to mind, ACTUP and AIDS campaigners in the 1980s who challenged the medical establishment to fasttrack AIDS drugs in the developed word, the campaigns and marches to end apartheid, the Solidarity protest movement in Poland, among others.

Readers on Twitter asked what lessons does social movement theory have for the March for Our Lives march and wider gun safety movement. Here is my quick take from my work, which is more based on transnational advocacy movements rather than strictly the U.S. experience. Continue reading

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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Do Populists Kill Democracy? A Sympathetic Extension of Levitsky and Ziblatt

This is a guest post by Lucas Dolan, a PhD Student at American University’s School of International Service. His research deals with the transnational coalition-building of right-wing populist movements. For further information, see his website, or find him on Twitter (@mrldolan).

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt (L&Z) have accomplished something impressive. Their new book How Democracies Die (HDD) is a relatively condensed volume that—while clearly written for a popular audience—is also likely to become required reading for scholars interested in authoritarianism and democratic backsliding.  Indeed, my institution’s chapter of the 24 university “Democratic Erosion” consortium assigned the book even before it was released. It is a rare scholarly work that has generated substantial discussion in both the scholarly and policymaking communities immediately upon publication. The book draws from the authors’ extensive research on de-democratization in Latin America and Eastern Europe (as well as some instructive episodes of American history) to identify processes of democratic erosion and derive lessons for resisting such processes. These historical and comparative chapters are then used as benchmarks for evaluating the threat to democracy posed by President Donald Trump. Puzzlingly, the book omits a meaningful discussion of the role of populism in democratic erosion—despite one of the author’s influential work on that topic. In this review, I attempt to reconstruct how deeper engagement with populism might have fit with the book’s core contentions. I conclude that Levitsky’s own mobilization approach to populism lacks cohesion with HDD and that Jan-Werner Müller’s ideational understanding of populism interfaces more naturally with the mechanisms of democratic decline proposed by L&Z.

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The Myth of the Sacred Truce

Katie Couric, in a tweet last month about the Olympics , wrote: “I do think the Olympics is unique in that it transcends politics.” This view is pervasive in Couric’s formulation, but takes on a subtler tone in the argument that the Olympics is political only in circumstances of the “exceptional.” For example, writing for the Atlantic in 2012, Armin Rosen constructs a narrative of Olympic politics within the context of Cold War rivalries. For Rosen, the Olympics was not always apolitical: “the Olympics were once a particularly bright flashpoint in one of the Cold War era’s tensest geopolitical dramas.” This drama was the boycott of the games by twenty-eight African countries in protest of the New Zealand rugby team’s violation of the international athletic embargo on apartheid South Africa.

These takes on the Olympics are misguided on two fronts. First, it obscures the long political history of the Olympics. The idea of the “sacred truce”—a putting aside of politics during Olympic games for the purposes of friendly and fair athletic competition—is a myth. Second, this misunderstanding of the Olympic games is hazardous. It is more proof of what Carl Schmitt criticized as the death of the political: the increasing depoliticization of inherently political processes.

I suggest that a consideration of the Olympics as a political event, with political aims, cannot only help us understand the way that the Olympics functions as a site of international relations, but should also—from a normative angle—allow us to more broadly rethink exercise, fitness, and sport as a public activity. Following Arendt, this lack of understanding of things like sport-as-politics is indicative of a world where society has failed people; it “has lost its power to gather them together.”

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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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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!

UFOs and the Hyperreal

On Saturday, the New York Times ran an investigative story that revealed a few significant facts about the US’s programs to study UFOs. There were some interesting findings in the article (and citations/paraphrases below are from the article, which can be found here):

  • A 22 million dollar program called “Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification” was operated at DoD from 2007 to 2012—and, in fact, the program continues today without an official budget.
  • The program produced documentary evidence of spacecraft hovering with no sign of propulsion.
  • A contracted company, Bigelow Aerospace, was given large sums of money to help operate this program, which included the maintenance of a storage facility in Las Vegas for unidentified metal alloys related to UFO events.
  • A Pentagon briefing summary from 2009 stated that “what was once considered science fiction is now scientific fact,” and argued that the US government would have great difficulty in securing itself against some of the technology the program had discovered.

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We Shall Overspread

While there is a big debate in the US about the old monuments, Russia is erecting new ones. Starting with the eye sore of a Kalashnikov statue in Moscow that had a bit of a glitch of sporting a German rifle instead of the famous Russian export and finishing with a “monument to manspreading” aka Russian Emperor Alexander the Third in Crimea’s Yalta. While manspreading is a great metaphor for the “Crimea reunification”, let’s put aside the Ukrainian side of the issue and take a closer look at the schmock du jour.

Alexander the Third statue is seated somewhat uncomfortably on what looks like a pile of manure, with his hands on a sword and the words “Russia’s only allies are its army and fleet” engraved on the base of the monument. During the unveiling ceremony that was attended by President Putin, the emperor was lauded as the “Peacemaker” who

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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

America’s Gun Crisis and the Politics of Securitization

It is not easy waking up in America these days. Sunday morning I woke up from a lazy weekend morning to see that a shooter had committed mass murder at a church in Sutherland Springs, TX. The shooter killed 26 people, including several children; the youngest victim was just fourteen months old (for latest updates, see here).

Besides my outrage as a citizen, as a social scientist I want to understand how we can explain why gun violence in the United States is not being taken as seriously as it should by both politicians and the broader public. Here are some stats on the scope of the problem in the US (sourced from here and here):

  • On average, 93 Americans are killed each day by guns.
  • There are nearly 12,000 gun homicides per year.
  • Guns, on average, kill seven children/teens each day.
  • Each month, 50 women on average are shot to death by intimate partners.
  • African-American men are 14 times more likely than white men to be killed by a gun.
  • The US has nearly 6 times as many gun homicides than Canada (per capita!) and 16 times as many as Germany each year.
  • There have been more than 1,500 mass shootings since the Sandy Hook Massacre in 2012.

These numbers should shock each-and-every American citizen.

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Liberal World Order, Redux

Earlier this year, I wrote a piece for Duck regarding “declinist” arguments about liberal world order under Trump. I don’t think these arguments are going away, and in fact—just this week—they are in the news, and on our blog/twitter feeds (including a great piece posted just last week here on Duck).

I want to reiterate, and elaborate on some earlier points I have raised about these kinds of arguments. In the first place, they deserve reiterating and elaborating. In the second place, I just got back earlier this week from an illuminating conference at University College Dublin called “John Dewey and Critical Philosophy for Critical Political Times” which touched on many issues related to the problems for democracy around the world in a time of right wing populism.

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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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You Are Fake News!

Yes, you have heard a lot about it. A German version of the ISA just featured a roundtable entitled: ‘Reclaiming the facts: analysis of international politics in the age of fake news and post-facts’. There has been a lot of panic over the new era of alternative facts.  Let me assure you: fake news and post facts are not new. Social networks are not new. We all have seen and read about them before. And they are not only as American as George Washington’s cherry tree. They are old and they are universal.

Here’s an example.

Once upon a time, there was a bankrupt opportunist from a notable family who urgently needed cash to pay his financier. No, he didn’t run to the Russian oligarchs (they were hard to reach at that point in time); instead, he decided to avoid the debt by killing his banker in the middle of 5th  avenue. When he was brought to court, his lawyer thought of a brilliant defense: instead of claiming that the accused was innocent, he went all the way to acknowledge the guilt of the criminal. The reason he killed the banker was allegedly his way to take revenge on the banker’s own nefarious deed of a child’s murder. The court was so baffled by this defense that the opportunist turned murderer walked free and the fake news about the boy’s murder assumed a life of its own. The year was 1150 and I am talking about the murder of William of Norwich, one of the first recorded accusations of ritual murder that still serves as an inspiration to Neo-Nazis and Anti-Semites around the world.

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What Just Happened in the German Elections?

This is a guest post by Hanna Kleideran assistant professor in the Department of International Affairs at the University of Georgia. She is currently on a research leave at the European University Institute in Florence. Her main research interests are comparative politics and political economy, with an area focus on Europe.

Engaging in election punditry is a tricky enterprise – it requires a good understanding of the issues that irk voters and a sense for what might drive them to the polls. Even then, pundits often miss the mark. I, for one, seem to be particularly unqualified for election punditry, which is why I have more questions than answers after these elections. Take the catastrophic results for the German Social Democrats (SPD) for example: The Social Democrats have been responsible for the most influential social reforms in the last four years: they succeeded in introducing a minimum wage, they fought for a fairer inheritance tax, and they introduced a retirement reform – all of these reforms are important in an increasingly unequal Germany. Last but not least, the SPD brought about marriage equality. These changes were pushed through singlehandedly against the will of their senior coalition partner, the Christian Democrats (CDU) including Angela Merkel, who opposed every single one of these reforms (an inconvenient fact perhaps sometimes overlooked by Merkel’s liberal fans around the world). Yet, the SPD received only 20.5 percent of the vote, a historically bad result. In the former East German regions, the SPD is now the fourth strongest party after the CDU, the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD), and the Left party (Die Linke). Neither the current SPD campaign slogan “It’s time for more social justice!”, nor its 2013 campaign against “the centrifugal forces in society” gained much traction with German voters. Rising income and wealth inequality just did not drive as many voters to the ballot box as some observers, including myself, would have thought.

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On Catalonia’s referendum: Groupthink and strategic essentialism as the enemies of democracy

Last Sunday, I was having a walk around the city centre of Cambridge when I saw a demonstration of around 50 people rallying for their right to vote in a referendum for independence from Spain. They were joining other demonstrations of Catalan separatists that took place all around Europe and in Spain on that same day. The Catalan government and a separatist majority in the regional parliament seek to organise a referendum on October 1st in order to decide whether Catalonia will become a republic independent from the rest of Spain. Non-separatists political parties oppose or criticize the referendum because they consider that it has been imposed unilaterally to half of the Catalan population that wishes to remain in Spain. Continue reading

Coffee and TV

I am (sort of) on vacation and visiting the Motherland. In the meantime, I allowed myself a couple of days of couch potato mode that included some Russian TV. A political scientist in me is never on holiday so while flipping through some mainstream channels I made a little Russian TV digest for the Duck. I am not repeating Gary Steyngart’s experiment of watching Russian TV for a week at the Four Seasons, mostly because early career researchers don’t have money for 5* hotels and my mum cooks better than Michelin restaurants. Let’s skip the morning shows that, fortunately, don’t include the benefits of urine therapy anymore and just try to persuade Russian women to wear high heels otherwise they won’t find a man and will never be happy.

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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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Swan Song – For Now

In some sense, it is with a heavy heart that I write my last permanent contributor blog post at the Duck.  I’ve loved being with the Ducks these past years, and I’ve appreciated being able to write weird, often off the track from mainstream political science, blogs.   If any of you have followed my work over the years, you will know that I sit at an often-uncomfortable division between scholarship and advocacy.  I’ve been one of the leading voices on lethal autonomous weapon systems, both at home in academia, but also abroad at the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, the International Committee for the Red Cross, and advising various states’ governments and militaries.  I’ve also been thinking very deeply over the last few years about how the rise, acceptance and deployment of artificial intelligence (AI) in both peacetime and wartime will change our lives.  For these reasons, I’ve decided to leave academia “proper” and work in the private sector for one of the leading AI companies in the world.  This decision means that I will no longer be able to blog as freely as I have in the past.   As I leave, I’ve been asked to give a sort of “swan song” for the Duck and those who read my posts.  Here is what I can say going forward for the discipline, as well as for our responsibilities as social scientists and human beings.

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Five Things Everyone Should Know about Totalitarianism

It seems that “totalitarianism” is everywhere these days. I suppose that is the point of totalitarianism. Nonetheless, the buzzword has seen a remarkable resurgence in popular usage and misusage in the context of domestic and international politics. The number of articles comparing Trump to a totalitarian ruler are not easily countable (though here and here are some examples). Some, have attributed current US foreign policy issues related to North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons as relating to a battle against a totalitarian regime. And others—notably from the conservative side of the political spectrum—have characterized certain political movements such as calls to remove Confederate statues and the so-called “Antifa” movement, forms of totalitarian ideology.

Totalitarianism is a part of political discourse in 2017. This raises several questions, one of which is the obvious: What does this term mean? And, related: How can this term be mobilized to condemn a wide variety of different political acts—from protests for social justice, to the Trump administration, to North Korea?

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