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Reactionary World Politics

This is a guest post from Joseph MacKay,  a Research Fellow in the Department of International Relations at Australian National University, and Christopher David LaRoche, a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto.

Growing nationalist and populist parties and movements across the developed West and elsewhere are prone to a common nostalgic rhetoric: the political consensus of recent decades has eroded national boundaries, traditions, and identities. The past, they argue, was better than the present. And what is most needful now is a return to that ideal past in the name of a future that, like the past, can be “great again.”

Although its details and implications vary, this narrative draws on the long history of reactionary thought. Reaction is an attitude toward social and political life marked by political, sometimes militant nostalgia. Like liberal progressivism or Marxian radicalism, reaction amounts to a politicized position on how history works, over the long haul. When William F. Buckley declared that National Review would “stand athwart history yelling stop,” he marked himself as a reactionary.

IR theory, we argue, has few tools for identifying and assessing reactionary politics. Why has IR theory traditionally spent so little time thinking about it? In a new Theory Note (now ungated!) at International Studies Quarterly, we explore the lack of reactionary thought in international relations, and its implications for how IR thinks about reactionary world politics. We write not as reactionaries ourselves, but because we are concerned this inattention may have ill-prepared the field for our current political moment. This post summarizes the project, and considers its implications for the field. Continue reading

Does the U.S. Have a North Korea Strategy?

A Presidential summit in May is not a high risk / high reward scenario. It is Russian roulette.

Last November the media poked fun when inclement weather kept Trump from getting his opportunity to stare down the enemy at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea. While Trump was reportedly frustrated with being denied this photo-op, it is regrettable for us all that he never made it. Despite the pageantry that comes with these visits, I know from experience that there is something visceral about standing at the world’s most heavily militarized border. There is a certain tension that cannot be faked. And for a moment, you cannot help but think of the consequences if this precarious peace was broken. While no one can claim to know what Trump is thinking at any given moment, I would like to believe that such an experience would inform his decision to either stare down or embrace North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un in a possible meeting between the two leaders.

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Academic (S)mothering 

As a new mother of a baby boy I am enjoying a slightly different kind of golden shower than Donald Trump. So, between the 3 AM feeding and 4 AM diaper change I was scrolling through Twitter and stumbled on news about the Stanford white sausage fest that somehow qualified as a conference on applied history. Niall Ferguson managed to organize a conference and not feature a single woman or person of color. Let me walk you through some thoughts about why there aren’t more women in (political) science.

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Fear-Mongering about U.S. Power

This is a guest post from Clifford Bob, Professor and Chair of Political Science at Duquesne University. 

A free press is a major check on shoddy government policies and bad ideas, but if journalists refuse to think critically about government pronouncements, that civic function fails. Worse yet, if the media magnifies and exaggerates official errors, a veneer of objectivity is cast onto poor quality or biased government information.

We have learned this lesson many times in U.S. history, notably in the lead-up to the Iraq War. Robert Wright’s excellent Intercept article of last week makes this point regarding current New York Times’ reporting about Iran. Similar “media-abetted perceptual distortion” has been occurring with respect to Russia and especially “Russiagate,” as Wright suggests. A case in point is an article in Friday’s Times which included this scary headline near the top of its website: “Russia Could Have Switched Off U.S. Power, Officials Say.” The article itself is titled, “Cyberattacks Put Russian Fingers on the Switch at Power Plants, U.S. Says,” and in the print edition, the title of the frontpage article was “U.S. Says Hacks Left Russia Able to Shut Utilities.” Continue reading

The State of the Field in Climate and Security

After nearly fifteen years of study, what do we know about the relationship between climate change and security? I recently attended a Woodrow Wilson Center event organized by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) on the state of the field. Along with Geoff Dabelko, Halvard Buhaug, and Sherri Goodman, I offered my take on the field (the video is embedded below).

In this blog post, I wanted to focus on five different causal pathways that I think represent the frontier of research on the study of climate and conflict, which include agricultural production and food prices, economic growth, migration, disasters, and international and domestic institutions. The study of climate and conflict is a narrower view on the broader field of climate and security, but it is the one that academics have focused most of their energy on.

In most of these accounts, climate hazards or variability affect the likelihood of conflict either through the effects on livelihoods, state capacity, and/or inter-group tensions. In some accounts, extreme weather or variability lowers the rewards to agriculture and/or other livelihoods and makes rebellion or violence more attractive.  These same processes can also deprive states of tax revenue and undermine their capacity to suppress violence and provide public goods. They can also exacerbate tensions between groups.

Whether climate changes and variability contribute to the increased likelihood of conflict has been the dominant focus of this literature, though I myself have a broader view of what constitutes security.  Continue reading

BPM (Beats Per Minute), AIDS Politics in France, and the Lessons for Resistance Today

This is a guest post by Michael Bosia, Associate Professor of Political Science at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont. You can find him on Twitter at @VTPoliticsProf.

In December 2001 – less than two months after the al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center and not even a month from the day US and UK forces invaded Afghanistan – I was with Act Up Paris as activists carried a banner emblazoned “AIDS: The Other War” to lead their annual World AIDS Day march.  Behind the banner, marchers raised signs reminding that more people were dying from complications of HIV every day than were killed on 9/11 in lower Manhattan: “SIDA: 10,000 morts par jour” (AIDS: 10,000 Dead Each Day”).  It was not the first time war as metaphor had colored the activist group’s rhetoric; in fact, their response to 9/11 is emblematic of how they combine as truth-telling both careful analysis and bodily provocation, often so unsettling, when confronting powerful elites and emboldened populists.  While the portrait of Act Up in the United States has been presented in the 2012 documentary and 2016 book How to Survive a Plague, the stories of Act Up Paris and the challenges French activists faced are largely unknown to the English-speaking public, but that is corrected now that “120 Battements par Minute” (“BPM (Beats Per Minute)” in English) is available to stream in the U.S.  This month named the César Best Picture and awarded the Grand Prix at Cannes last year, the fictionalized account depicts the early years of Act Up Paris.

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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

International Organizations and the Trump Administration’s New Budget Proposal

This is a guest post from Tana Johnson, an Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Duke University. She is the author of Organizational Progeny: Why Governments Are Losing Control over the Proliferating Structures of Global Governance (now available in paperback, Oxford University Press). Van Nguyen is an undergraduate at Duke University, majoring in Public Policy and Political Science. She is completing a senior honors thesis on inter-governmental institutions and immigrant integration.

Within its first year in power, the Trump administration has transformed the U.S.’s position toward several international agreements: it has exited negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), signaled its intent to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, and promised to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Full-fledged international organizations, like the United Nations or NATO, are numerous and costly – so, will they be next? If budgets are reflections of values, then the Trump administration’s new budget proposal provides clues. Here’s what you need to know. Continue reading

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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International Women’s Day: political crisis as windows of opportunity

As we prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th, Spanish women are getting their banners, pickets and hashtags – #yoparo (#Istop) – ready for a feminist general strike. The strike’s motto is “If we stop, the world stops” and it calls for all women to stop all professional activities during the day, all household chores and to restrain from buying anything and spending any money at all. There will also be marches at the end of the day in Spain’s main cities. The women associations who are organising the industrial action indicate that the strike is motivated by the fact that women are still doing the biggest chunk of unpaid labour, are for their most part in precarious jobs, and are paid less for the same job (from 14 to 30% less) in Spain, the glass ceiling and the ubiquitous sexual harassment. They also demand the government to put in place more and better measures for the eradication of sexual and gender-based violence. Strikers also demand public authorities to pass laws that help combat sexism in advertisement and to develop educational programs that teach children about equality and respect.   Continue reading

Heroes Aren’t Born, They’re Made.

This is a guest post by Ari Kohen, Associate Professor of Political Philosophy at University of Nebraska-Lincoln and author of Untangling Heroism. Follow him on Twitter here.

As someone who researches heroism, I can say without a second’s hesitation that President Trump absolutely would not have rushed into an active shooter situation in a high school and neither would 99% of the people to whom he made the comment on Monday. No chance.

I’m not saying this because I think Trump is a coward and I’m not saying it to get in another dig at him. I’m saying this because the vast, vast, vast majority of people won’t run toward gunfire; they’ll run away. And that number of people who’ll run toward gunfire goes down the more people are around.

Most people aren’t heroes. Most people would like to think that they would be heroic if the situation calls for it, as Trump did when he spoke to a group of governors at the beginning of this week. But wishing it doesn’t make it so. Training makes it so. And Trump doesn’t have any of the training that would make heroism more likely.

 

Even people with training didn’t rush in. That’s the lesson we ought to be learning from the Parkland mass shooting. Armed sheriff’s deputies who were there to protect the kids in that school didn’t rush in. Not because they’re bad or weak but because heroism is risky and situations requiring heroes are very scary.

We’ve spent the past week and a half (at least) with some percentage of our country pretending that heroism takes nothing more than a gun and psyching yourself up to go take out the bad guy. That’s why it seems acceptable to arm teachers and take potshots at the sheriff’s deputies for their inaction.

But that’s not how heroism works. I published a book about heroism a few years ago  I’m working on a new book in which my colleagues and I are interviewing actual, awarded heroes. I’ve spent time with heroes. My colleagues and I just published a paper on how ordinary people can train themselves so they’re more likely to be heroes.

Saying “I’m sure I’d be a hero” isn’t one of the things that makes you more likely to be a hero. 99% of people think they’ll do the heroic thing. But most don’t. Part of it is the Bystander Effect  part is the obvious risk; and part of it is the split-second nature of the choice.

One of the major reasons that some people do the dangerous, heroic thing is that they have specialized training. Trump doesn’t have it. Another reason is that they have a profound sense of empathy that includes people who might be considered unlike them. Trump doesn’t have that  Another predictor is having heroic role models. Trump has been asked about this. He doesn’t have it. Another predictor is having a heroic imagination, which some people refer to as experience-taking. You might read a novel, for example, and put yourself in the hero’s place, thinking about exactly what you’d do in that situation. From what we know about Trump, he doesn’t have that.

Heroes have to make a split-second choice and basically every one of them reports not even thinking about making a decision, just acting. The reason is they’re primed to act because of the factors mentioned just above. If you’re spending time thinking about what to do, it’s too late.

It’s easy to play Monday Morning Quarterback, as Trump is doing. But most people won’t do it because most aren’t wired like him. Most people will recognize that the sheriff’s deputies had an opportunity to be heroic and failed, and they’ll acknowledge it could happen to any of us.

What we need to do is get over pretending we’re all one bad guy with a gun away from being heroes. We’re not. We need, instead, to work on minimizing the chances that we’ll need to be heroes at all while maximizing the chances that more of us will be heroes if the need arises. That means enacting policies that actually make us all safer, not nonsense like arming teachers or making sure everyone is carrying concealed weapons at all times. It means commonsense gun regulations and it means not gutting programs that help people who need help in our society.

And it means talking to experts on heroism about giving you some hero training which is good for people even if heroism is never needed from them. Check out The Hero Construction Company if you want someone to come to your school, business, or organization to train you to be a hero. It’s worldwide. Can’t afford that? Just bring in someone to teach you CPR. That’s a great first step.

If you live in California, we’re putting on a conference in San Francisco in April. We’ve got another one in Michigan in October. Check out The Hero Round Table for more information. You don’t have to be Donald Trump to attend, and attending will make it more likely you’ll be the hero you hope you’ll be.

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A solid investment if you know what you’re getting: Why continued support for UN peacekeeping is good policy for the US

The following is a guest post by Jay Benson and Eric Keels.  Jay Benson is a Researcher at One Earth Future (OEF), with research focusing on issues of peacekeeping, civilian protection and intrastate conflict.  Eric Keels is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in Global Security at the Howard H. Baker Center and a Contractor with the OEF Research. His research focuses on international conflict management and democracy in post-war countries. 

During the first year of the Trump administration, the United States government has initiated numerous changes to the United States’ foreign policy. Since his first year in office, this new administration has signaled a 2020 withdrawal from Paris Climate Accords, backtracked on international efforts to sustain democracy, antagonized traditional US allies, and proposed a 23 percent cut in funding for the State Department. In addition to these radical shifts, the new administration has also been highly critical of international peacekeeping. United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley has consistently questioned the efficacy of international peacebuilding efforts in fragile countries such as Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The U.S. is not alone in this criticism, as new allegations of peacekeeper misconduct has drawn criticism of the management of UN peacekeeping operations. Given these critiques of international peacekeeping and peacebuilding, it is important to understand what benefits, if any, are provided by sponsoring these missions.

Given the current political climate’s increasing hostility to peacekeeping, what do we know about its efficacy in containing conflicts and protecting civilians? Continue reading

Re-Branded and Expanded: Visual Politics and the Implications of Guantanamo’s Make-Over

There is a certain theatre to the Global War on Terror (GWoT). From the opening sequence of 9/11 to the shock and awe campaigns projection of American sovereign power through the broadcast of the initial ariel bombardment of Iraq, to the dramatic headline declarations that we got him! after an elderly and disheveled Saddam Hussein was caught like a rat…in the bottom of a hole in Iraq in December 2003, the GWoT has played out as a highly dramatic production. As a part of the GWoT, Guantanamo Bay’s Camp Delta has featured too – making both dramatic appearances and disappearances from the frame since its 2002 inception. The most recent of these is the big reveal of the Camp’s make-over under the Trump Administration. Having canceled Obama’s 2009 Executive Order to close the Camp in January,  a selection of journalists were provided new ‘Media Ground Rules for JTF-GTMO‘, re-admitted to the Camp, and given a tour of detainee areas and quarters this month for the first time since a media black out was enforced in 2014 during powerful hunger strikes written about by both myself and Lauren Wilcox. In this short post I provide an overview of the Camp’s visual politics and some very initial analysis of reports and images emerging from Camp Delta this week. I argue that updated policy and practices, and new photographs emerging reveal dominant American bodies (Government and military in kind) becoming increasingly un-concerned with the maintenance and projection of a Liberal, biopolitical (life-centred and affirming) facade into the eyes of the international community and are therefore in the process of re-making America’s identity on the world stage.

On their 2002 arrival at Camp X-Ray, detainees – shackled, gagged, and clad in bright orange jumpsuits, mittens, blacked out goggles, and noise cancelling headphones – were paraded and photographed by their new captors, Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO). 

The Orange Series (2002)

These photographs – officially captured, sanctioned, and named the orange series – saturated the global media, burned into the public eye’s retina, made Camp X-Ray and its orange-clad detainees became hypervisible. In its boastful display of America’s subdued captives, the orange series speaks of retribution and revenge and in this way its 2002 global circulation worked (along with the broadcast of the shock and awe campaign) to reassert American sovereign power, project global American dominance, and as a means of global intimidation. The enemy had been captured and rendered powerless, at the mercy of the mighty American military. At the same time the orange jumpsuit itself became iconic as Elspeth Van Veeren so astutely noticed. Indeed, the orange jumpsuit in which detainees were paraded and photographed became iconic material objects that, imbued with American power, intimidation, and violence, went on in the years following 2002 to make several high profile appearances – un-sanctioned by dominant contemporary American bodies – to the American public eye and wider audience. Most notably, the orange jumpsuit clothed James Wright-Foley, an American journalist and video reporter, as he was filmed and beheaded by ISL in August 2014. 

In stark contrast to the orange series, the next time Camp Delta was made visible was in what is known as the white series. In these 2007 released photographs detainees remain effaced as their faces are never shown (See Van Veeren, 2011). Thus, opposed to demonstrating and projecting the sovereign power and violence of a dominant American body (JTF-GTMO) keen to appear supremely powerful over its captives (of which the orange series is exemplary), through the white series JTF-GTMO projects instead its biopolitical façade. The white series does this through capturing detainees at rest, play, and prayer. Moreover, the detainees featured appear to be free from pain and suffering; healthy and cared for. Thus, through the white series, dominant contemporary American bodies are seen to be acting in the spirit of the Geneva Conventions and in line with JTF-GTMOs  biopolitical aim to protect, preserve, and promote life.

The White Series (2007)

Camp Deltas detainees were then moved decidedly out of the sight of the American public eye and wider global audience through the media black-out imposed in the wake of the 2013 – 2015 hunger strikes. Thus, this week’s press tours are the first time a glimpse of life inside Camp Delta has been made visible under the Trump Administration.

With the Miami Herald’s Carole Rosenberg and NPR’s David Welna reporting similarly on the obvious signs of expansion, what is striking about the JTF-GTMO sanctioned images coming out of the Camp this year is their lack of polish and any overt staging.  In contrast to both the orange and white series’, the aesthetic projected is one of everyday banality. Moreover, featuring a distinct lack of detainees (there are currently 1,700 troops and contractors responsible for 41 detainees)  these most recent images suggests a detention Camp ready and waiting to be filled with fresh meat.

Any hunger strikers? “Not that I’m aware of,” replies the food operation’s officer in charge, though he adds, “there’s a couple that enteral feed occasionally.” (Welna, 20/02/2018)

Camp Delta, 2018

Finally, with Trump removing ‘legal’ and ‘transparent’ from Camp Delta’s Bush era imposed mission statement to provide safe, humane, legal and transparent care and custody of detained enemy combatants and  the above cited conversation between Welna and JFT-GTMO’s food operations officer revealing the normalisation of the ongoing torturous practise of force-feeding hunger striking detentions under Trump, future policy and practice at Camp Delta is likely to further undermine and degrade the Liberal, biopolitical,  facade now somewhat half-heartedly and feeble projected by dominant contemporary American bodies to the outside world under the present leadership. However, this goes on to the detriment of America’s historically carefully guarded and fastidiously maintained image as beacon of democracy and leader of the free world. The knock-on political, economic, diplomatic, and other effects of this American (re)invention in normative, ‘soft power’, ideational terms will surely be profound and therefore present themselves as important areas for future research along with the marked aesthetic shift discussed in this post.

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

Trauma in Common: US Gun Violence and Violence in Armed Conflict

This is a guest post by Betcy Jose, Assistant Professor of Political Science at University of Colorado-Denver

“This is a really good school, and now it’s like a war zone.” This is how one parent reacted when picking up his son from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL after a shooter murdered 17 students and staff. It is a description often used in the aftermath of mass shootings. At first blush, it seems a remarkable comparison to make, especially given that the United States is not embroiled in anything resembling a traditional armed conflict within its borders. The International Committee for the Red Cross, the international community’s expert on war and war law, states only two types of armed conflicts exist in international law. One is an international armed conflict that includes “all cases of declared war or of any other armed conflict which may arise between two or more of the High Contracting Parties, even if the state of war is not recognized by one of them.” The other is a non-international armed conflict, one that involves, “protracted armed confrontations [reaching a minimal level of intensity]… between governmental armed forces and the forces of one or more [minimally organized] armed groups, or between such groups arising on the territory of a State…” Even with tragically high rates of mass shootings in the United States, the kind of violence it experiences domestically would not legally qualify as a state of war.

But what about from the point of view of the victims of gun violence? Do their experiences, particularly those of victims of mass shootings, resemble in any way the experiences of civilians in legally recognized war zones? Here, the answer may be surprising if we focus on at least two issues related to gun-violence victims and war-affected civilians: the violence and harms they experience and their efforts to protect themselves from those harms and violence. Continue reading

Crimea River

One of the most predictable elections is just around the corner: even Google has already proclaimed Putin the winner of the presidential race of March 18th 2018 in Russia. The only marginal hiccup for the authorities might be a low turnout, but a couple of viral videos are already scaring the bejesus out of the electorate: if they don’t show up and vote for you-know-who, somebody else will be elected and they will make each family house a gay man in pink pajamas in their apartment!

Surprisingly enough, Putin will have a wee bit of competition on the ballot after all. Pavel Grudinin [I am very tempted to translate his name as ‘boobilicious’], a candidate from the Communist Party, has managed to gain an unexpected amount of support – around 10%. With other candidates polling between a margin of error and about 5%, Grudinin’s rating seems unexpected. The head of the company “Lenin’s Sovkhoz” is popular not just with Russia’s pre-baby-boomers, but also with millennials! And if the Kremlin wants to blame somebody for this, they should be kicking themselves for Grudinin’s success. Millennials like the communist candidate because of governmental idealization of the Soviet past.

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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

Women Also Know, International Relations Edition

Layna Mosley is Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research investigates the politics of sovereign debt, and the effects of global supply chains on worker rights. She joined the WAKS Editorial Board in November 2017. Website: laynamosley.web.unc.edu/ or find her on Twitter at @thwillow.

Duck of Minerva readers may have noticed Max Fisher’s recent New York Times Interpreter piece, addressing Taliban attacks against Afghan civilians. On Twitter, Fischer reported that he “made an effort to quote only women in this.” Six of the seven experts quoted were women; Fischer’s conclusion was that this “made the piece stronger.” He encouraged other writers to make similar efforts.

A couple weeks later, Fisher and Amanda Taub noted, in a piece on the Times’ op-ed page, that quoting women was only the tip of the iceberg: that the challenge of locating women experts in the fields of international politics, national security and foreign policy reflected deeper structural biases, ones that required much more than journalists diversifying their sources.

Fisher and Taub mentioned several studies that have become familiar to those involved in conversations about implicit bias in academic settings – for instance, that women’s research is cited less often than that of their male counterparts; and that women are asked to assume greater service responsibilities in their departments and in the profession. To these, they might add that women are often underrepresented in course syllabi, at the graduate as well as undergraduate level, and that women receive less professional credit for co-authored work.

These problems are not limited to women in international relations (or, more broadly, to women in political science). Indeed, we might comfort ourselves in the knowledge that things may be worse in other disciplines.  And problems of bias, implicit or otherwise, affect not only women, but also persons of color and LGBTQ-identified individuals.  Indeed, in this current moment, it is hard not to be discouraged by problems that numerous, deeply rooted and very difficult to rectify.

But here’s one thing all of us in international relations can do: promote and publicize the research and expertise of women-identified scholars. This is the mission of Women Also Know Stuff: the initiative, launched in February 2016, seeks to promote women’s work, both in the academy and in the media (for links to news coverage of WAKS, see https://womenalsoknowstuff.com/news).

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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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