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Big Theory? The Past Is Not What You Think It Is

Today, Dan Drezner pulled on my chain more effectively than damn near any other scholar I respect.  I should keep quiet (not my strength) as I have an article* I am revising for resubmission that addresses this very argument–that big IR theory has gone away somehow.  But I cannot help but respond, partly because this article may not make it past the next stage and partly because by the time it does, people will have moved on (or not, as this argument keeps coming up).

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Is there a connection between the Northwest Passage and the South China Sea?

This is a guest post from Hannes Hansen-Magnusson, a Lecturer in International Relations at Cardiff University (contact by email: Hansen-Magnusson”at” or via twitter: @HansenMagnusson)

For centuries the political struggle over the legal status of global oceans was presented as one of mare clausum vs. mare liberum. These concepts concerned the possibility of movement as well as rights and responsibilities of seafaring nations and coastal states which had sometimes been the subject of small-scale physical confrontations at sea, such as the so-called Cod or Turbot Wars, but also of judicial processes, such as the Corfu Channel or Fisheries cases, which followed earlier conflicts. Overcoming confrontations such as these, progress was achieved after nine long years of negotiating the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) between 1973-1982. Since entering into force in 1994 UNCLOS has provided a constitution-like framework with which to quell physical confrontations and opened an institutionalized path for settling disputes and open questions through one of its three organizations (the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, the International Seabed Authority, and the Committee on the Limits of the Continental Shelf) or through the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Given these developments during the last two decades, it may be possible to speak of mare iudicatum or administratum as the new development towards a peaceful use of global oceans.

The point of this contribution is to remind ourselves as academics and practitioners that as progressive as this development may appear, it should be clear that the new order does not assert itself through an invisible force that is inherent in the provisions of UNCLOS and the procedural rules of different organizations charged with its implementation. Much depends on what happens in the day-to-day instantiation of it through the activity of seafarers and their states. Although these activities may be small-scale and local events, there is a chance of global reverberations, which is what this contribution is arguing: because in a global framework there can be no extra-ordinary events and localities, they all matter for the overall architecture.

In order to demonstrate this, I will revert to two current examples: the passage of the Crystal Serenity through the Northwest Passage (NWP), on the one hand, and politics in the South China Sea (SCS), on the other. Remote as they may seem in geographical terms and as they are treated as such by area specialists, there is a wider issue at stake which connects them, centering on the peaceful use of global oceans. Continue reading

Remembering 9/11: Open Thread

What were you doing 15 years ago on 9/11? What do you remember? How should we remember that day, given the momentous impact the event had on the direction of U.S. foreign policy and global politics?

I woke up in my Adams Morgan basement room in the house where I was living to the sound on the radio of a hip hop station. Suddenly, they broke into news about the attack of the first plane on the World Trade Center. And, given that this station’s morning programming was kind of joke-y programming, I was at first incredulous. I think I soon after turned on the TV and then woke up one of my roommates.

I don’t have specific memories of watching the towers fall. I have a faint sense that I was watching television when the second plane crashed into tower two, which confirmed that this wasn’t some kind of accident.

Even after I’d heard about the attack on the Pentagon, I don’t think the gravity of the events really sunk in. I was still in graduate school, and I was getting ready for the 2pm class I had at Georgetown with John Ikenberry on the Logic of the West. For some reason, I thought classes would go on that afternoon, and I got ready to ride my my bike to campus, which I think I did. Classes of course were cancelled. Continue reading

Unsolicited Job Talk Advice

Seems to be the time of year when folks post their advice for aspiring professors on how to succestressed-ducked at the job talk.   While there are other parts of the process–being interviewed one on one by various members of the department or getting grilled by a committee (something that happens far more in Canada than in the US), the most important (and probably not deservedly so)* part of the “fly-out” is giving a talk based on one’s research and responding in the Q&A.

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I Broke Up With Michel Foucault*

I broke up with Michel Foucault. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I sort of ghosted him. Let me explain.

When I was in grad school I fell in love with Foucault. He was just exactly what I was looking for- he made me see gender differently, and he helped me to finally piece together what I thought I was trying to say in my thesis. It was magical. He just really ‘got me.’ You know?

But then things changed. I was introduced to theorists like Judith Butler, bell hooks, Aimee Cesaire, and Frantz Fanon and I started to realise I just couldn’t be exclusive with Foucault anymore. He pretended class just didn’t exist and I hated that we could never talk about race. We would go out and talk abut gender with his friends, but when I took him to parties and my friends brought up patriarchy he got all weird. So I ghosted him. It’s awkward because he’s in so many old publications. I still call him sometimes, but we mostly don’t have anything to say to one another- he says I’ve changed, I say he hasn’t. Sometimes at conferences friends ask me about him. They’re like, ‘hey you’re close with Foucault, can you ask him x.’ And I have to politely tell them that Foucault and I don’t really talk anymore. I try to be nice and say ‘he’s great, but it was time to move on,’ or something like that. But what I really want to say is, ‘he’s really not that great. He turned out not to be as smart as I thought he was. And I got tired of everyone talking about him.’

Oh and since the break up a bunch of friends have tried to set me up with other theorists. They don’t understand that I’m happy just having solid friendships with a bunch of thinkers. Most of my Canadian friends tried to get me to date Georgio Agamben. ‘He’s amaaaaazing. Ask him about the camps and Zoe,’ they say. But we went out a few times and- between you and me- he’s a real misogynist jerk. Why do people love him so much? And don’t even get me started on Zizek. I’ve been set up with him a bunch of times by my white hipster friends and I finally had to tell them ‘yeah I know Zizek…and I’m just not that into him.’

So there it is. I ghosted Foucault and ended up happier for it. Sometimes at conferences I see academics with their theorist loves and I think they might be better off if they did the same.

*Inspired by the blog post ‘Fuck you Zizek

Global Environmental Governance Syllabi – Open Thread

As I blogged earlier today, climate change has not gotten sufficient attention from political scientists. Part of the problem is that few people teach graduate classes on the environment. I didn’t take one in graduate school and basically had to teach myself the topic. This past spring, I taught a full 15 week graduate class for MA students on global environmental governance, expanding a previous global health and environment class in to two separate classes.

There are potentially large start-up costs for someone who wants to teach a class in this space. So, I’m going to start an open thread and collect some syllabi, starting with mine.  If you know of good graduate or undergraduate syllabi on the global environment, post a link in the comments thread. I’ll edit this post periodically and feature them here.

My syllabus

Let’s hope that five years from now that there are more people teaching classes in this space, which I hope should generate some new interest in dissertation projects on the environment. Watch this space.

Climate Change and #APSA2016

With the G20 set to commence in Hangzhou, the United States and China today ratified the Paris Agreement, making it increasingly likely that it will enter into force by year’s end. This is a momentous occasion in climate diplomacy and speaks to the increasing political salience of this topic.

Yesterday, here at APSA, there was a fantastic roundtable on what political science has to say about this issue. The roundtable included some of the leading up and coming scholars writing about climate change including Jennifer Hadden, Johannes Urpelainen, Jessica Green, David Konisky, and Steven Vanderheiden.

Several of us Live-tweeted the event, which I’ve Storify-ied below. The panelists identified some of the important contributions in this space from David Victor, Matthew Hoffmann, Sikina Jinnah, Michelle Betsill, Robyn Eckersley,  among others.

They also identified big questions that merit more attention such as the need for more research on the politics of adaptation and maladaptation, studies of comparative domestic climate politics particularly in emerging economies, more research to leverage the extensive body of work on natural disasters, and understanding how public opinion can change and lead to behavior change.

The panelists also lamented how few scholars write on energy and the environment as their core issue. Jessica Green and Tom Hale have a forthcoming piece in PS that examines TRIP data to support these claims. Panelists talked about the challenges for PhD students to choose this line of work without senior faculty teaching and writing to pave the way and reliable funding to support academic work in this space. Interestingly, universities, other funders, and other disciplines are perhaps more interested than political scientists are in studying climate change.

The topic’s interdisciplinary nature and heavy start-up costs pose additional barriers to entry, but the discipline risks being left behind in what panelists regard as the overarching political challenge for the planet going forward. I hope junior scholars will see this is an opportunity for important research because this issue is not going away. See my Storify-ied tweets after the jump. Continue reading

Twitter auto-post attempt #2

Are we in business? Believe so. See you at APSA. Join us for the Tweetup!

APSA Tweetup

As has become a tradition, political scientists who are active on twitter are meeting up at the APSA: Thursday, beer rubber duck7pm at Pennsylvania 6, a nearby bar.  The idea is to get a chance to chat with people you may “know” online but have not met in person.   I hope to see you there.



Testing to Twitter

Hey, our auto-tweeter hasn’t been working so I’m trying to fix it. This is a test…

What Am I Reading? Inaugural Feature on Global Health #1

I’m on leave this year so my regular blogging might be a little scant, but I thought I’d introduce a new feature which is a periodic series “What Am I Reading?” I’d like to flag what I’m  reading on different topics, namely health, the environment, and foreign policy. This first one is on health.


  • Last week I had a piece on the Monkey Cage in the Washington Post on the Zika virus, presenting some empirical work on what frames might generate public concern and, in turn, more impetus for Congressional funding for Zika control
  • My colleague Abigail Aiken finds a potential increase in demand for abortion in the Americas
  • There is growing pressure on Congress to fund efforts to combat Zika which have stalled
  • In addition to a state of emergency in Puerto Rico, there is now local transmission of Zika in Miami. CDC director Frieden suggests pregnant women stay away from Miami Beach and possibly Miami as well
  • Here a pregnant mother who lives in Miami pleads for action

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We Need More Metal! The Political Economy of Heavy Metal

The following is a guest post by Dr. Robert G. Blanton, Professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham


For as long as it has existed, heavy metal music has been associated with controversy – the aggressive nature of the music and lyrics arouses seemingly constant suspicion and often deep dislike, and metal bands have long been the target of controversies and even legal actions (some unfounded, some not). Somewhat ironically, there is an increasing awareness of the beneficial impacts of heavy metal for emotional well-being and possibly governance. Indeed President Obama famously noted, “Finland has perhaps the most heavy metal bands in the world, per capita…and also ranks high on good governance. I don’t know if there’s any correlation there.” Given these benefits of metal, the important question for scholars and policymakers is obvious – what factors facilitate the creation of heavy metal bands within a society?

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The Anglosphere, Dominance in Global Finance, and the Consequences of Brexit


This is a guest post by Jan Fichtner, Postdoctoral Researcher in the CORPNET project at the Department of Political Science of the University of Amsterdam.

So far, International Relations and International Political Economy have not dedicated much attention to analyzing the group of the Anglophone countries together (notable exceptions are Andrew Gamble, Jeremy Green, Kees van der Pijl, and Srdjan Vucetic). Instead, the vast majority of IR and IPE approaches treats the English-speaking countries and jurisdictions solely on the grounds where they are located geographically: the Unites States and Canada are grouped as ‘North America’, Australia and New Zealand are seen as part of ‘Asia-Pacific’, the British dependent territories of Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and the British Virgin Islands (which all act as important offshore financial centers) are usually categorized under the heading ‘Caribbean’, and finally most analyses treat Ireland and the United Kingdom as part of ‘Europe’ or the European Union. The latter is going to change in the coming years as a slim majority of Britons has voted for ‘Brexit’. Therefore, the UK will eventually leave the EU, although the details of this historic divorce are far from clear. This comes after many years of widespread skepticism against the EU and continental ‘Europe’, which has been fueled constantly by many British politicians and certain Australian-American-owned media outlets.

In a recent article in the Review of International Studies (free access through August 2016), I have argued that the Anglophone countries generally have much more in common with the other English-speaking states than with neighboring countries – Peter Hall and David Soskice as well as Bruno Amable have found indications that the Anglophone economies form one distinct socio-economic model. Moreover, the English-speaking countries are deeply integrated by their extremely close cooperation in the highly sensitive field of signals intelligence (the so-called ‘Five-Eyes’), which is unparalleled in the world. Thus, it makes sense to analyze the Anglosphere countries together. This is especially pertinent in the pivotal field of global finance.

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Gearing up for the Academic Job Market: Don’t Dabble

There are many things worth dabbling in: Pokeman Go!, the arts, alternative medicine, old films, astrology, gourmet cuisine….the list could go on and on.  I really like when people, including graduate students, tell me they are dabbling in these things or other hobbies.  It’s probably going to help both their productivity and their overall happiness.

As much as I like “dabblers” in those types of things, here’s one that I’m really tired of graduate students saying they’re dabbling in:

The Academic Job Market

Every year, I get students that contact me saying that they are planning to “dip their feet in” or “dabble” in the tenure-track academic job market this year. And, every year, I’m left wondering why the heck they would even bother.  This blog post is a sort of plea to graduate students: DON’T DABBLE IN THE JOB MARKET.[1]

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Retired Generals are People Too!

This is a guest post by  Christopher Gelpi, Chair of Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution and Professor of Political Science
Mershon Center for International Security Studies at Ohio State University


The appearances of retired Generals Michael Flynn and John Allen at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, respectively, have created quite a stir among those concerned with civil-military relations in America.  In one sense, the attention paid to these military endorsements is surprising, since the best available evidence suggests that the support of military officers has a substantial impact on the public’s willingness to support military operations, but little impact on their voting choices.

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Could the Olympics Help Human Rights?

Grab your popcorn – opening ceremonies for Rio 2016 are tonight! It’s my favorite part of the Olympics; I really could do without the whole “sport” thing that comes after.  And, one of my favorite parts of tonight’s opening ceremonies are when the various country teams get to be announced: the parade of nations. I love the outfits, the flags, the background stories, the family members crying, and the look on the faces of all the athletes who are in the midst of a dream realized. It’s too much and, much to my family’s chagrin, I probably will be crying by the end of it.

Until quite recently, I hadn’t really thought about all the interesting international relations topics that are connected to the Olympics.  As someone who isn’t athletic and has never really paid attention to any competitive sporting event, the Olympics were just something that took over my regularly scheduled programming.  However, I’m now coming to realize that there are a myriad of IR puzzles and possible research questions connected to these sporting mega-events and to the international sporting organizations (ISOs) that run them.

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A General Arms Race in US Conventions: Not Great But Unavoidable

LTG (retired) Mike Flynn has become a Trump advocate and appeared at the Republican National Convention.  General (retired) John Allen surprised many by not just speaking at the Democratic National Convention but giving such enthusiastic support to Clinton.  The big question is: is this problematic to have recently retired military officers take such public positions in the middle of a national election?  Yes.  But what can you do?

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Trump, Brexit, and nationalist authority

In this, the first of a sequence of posts addressing Brexit in one way or another, I want to take a look at the shifting systems of authority in the current political climate and comment on how they might impact international relations into the future.

At the time of the Brexit vote, commentators and news reports drew parallels between the British decision to the leave the EU and the tumult of the US elections, particularly the rise of Donald Trump. Many pointed to the resurgence of nationalism, but here I want to argue that while the concept of nationalism as a practice of identity certainly sheds light on both Brexit and the rise of Trump, it also obscures some importance differences. In particular, part of nationalism is an aspect of governance, and in particular an embodied system of authority. In the case of Brexit, authority remained at the institutional level but shifted in aggregation, from the supernational to the national level. Continue reading

A (Un)Dead Letter?: Zombies, Feminist Theory and the IR Classroom

It’s always exciting to see articles on pop culture gracing the pages of mainstream political science journals. And it’s always good to see international relations scholars being encouraged to engage more deeply with questions of gender in the course of their teaching. This issue of PS: Political Science and Politics gives us both: an article by Rebecca Susan Evans, taking Daniel Drezner to task for excluding feminist theories of international politics from his 2011 Theory of International Politics and Zombies:

[Drezner’s] light-hearted use of popular culture appeals to students, who appreciate his concise and witty summaries. Yet Drezner dismisses feminist perspectives on international relations theory in a way that indicates he does not understand them. Consequently, students are trained without any knowledge of feminism and with the impression that they do not need feminism.

If we were living in 2011, I’d be the first to say it’s a fair argument.

There’s just one massive problem however: Drezner already fixed this mistake a full two years ago in TIPZ: Revived Edition (2014) which already does everything Evans is criticizing him for not doing. 

Indeed, both the revised product and the process of scholarly engagement behind it actually demonstrate best feminist-friendly practice by a conventional mainstream scholar, not the reverse!  Continue reading

The Chilcot Inquiry on Civilian Casualties

The publication of the long-awaited Chilcot Report on Britain’s role in the Iraq War last week produced a flurry of activity, with journalists desperately skimming through the 2.6m words within the three hours they were allocated prior to full publication. Perhaps not surprisingly, much of their attention was focused on whether or not Tony Blair could be held legally and morally culpable for the chaos that has ensued since the invasion back in 2003. And despite fears that it would be a whitewash, the report was pretty damning in its assessment of both the justifications for war and its execution. Amongst its key findings, the report found that Blair deliberately exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, the case for war was presented with ‘a certainty which was not justified’, the intelligence was flawed and often went unchallenged, advice about the possibility of sectarian violence was ignored and post-war planning was described as being ‘wholly inadequate’. Crucially, the report also concludes that the ‘peaceful options for disarmament had not been exhausted’ and the war was ‘not a last resort’.

Reactions to the report have been pretty incredible, with The Guardian describing it as ‘an unprecedented, devastating indictment of how a prime minister was allowed to make decisions by discarding all pretence at cabinet government, subverting the intelligence agencies, and making exaggerated claims about threats to Britain’s national security’ and The New York Times arguing that the ‘inquiry’s verdict on the planning and conduct of British military involvement in Iraq was withering, rejecting Mr. Blair’s contention that the difficulties encountered after the invasion could not have been foreseen’. But what has been largely ignored in all the furore is the inquiry’s scathing critique of the government’s attitude towards civilian casualties. Given that the discussion on collateral damage is the last section of a twelve volume report, nestled between a chapter on the welfare of service personnel and an annex on the history of Iraq from 1583 to 1960, it is perhaps not surprisingly that there has been little discussion of its findings. But it is well-worth looking at its conclusion because they reveal a lot of about how civilian casualties were framed, why the government was so reluctant to count the dead and how it perceived the data collected by other organisations, such as the Iraq Body Count.

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