Tag: international relations (page 1 of 2)

The Value Alignment Problem’s Problem

Having recently attended a workshop and conference on beneficial artificial intelligence (AI), one of the overriding concerns is how to design beneficial AI.  To do this, the AI needs to be aligned with human values, and as such is known, pace Stuart Russell, as the “Value Alignment Problem.”  It is a “problem” in the sense that however one creates an AI, the AI may try to maximize a value to the detriment of other socially useful or even noninstrumental values given the way one has to specify a value function to a machine.

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Ideas, Norms and Nonmaterial Factors in International Relations: A response to Krasner

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of International Organization, the editorial team asked former editors of the journal to reflect on their time overseeing the journal as well as on the most significant articles published during their tenure. I recently read Stephen Krasner’s reflection and was surprised by a number of conclusions he draws regarding scholarship on ideas, norms and nonmaterial factors in international relations.

Starting with Peter Haas’ “Introduction: Epistemic Communities and International Policy Coordination,” one of the two most cited articles published during Krasner’s tenure as editor, Krasner argues that articles on nonmaterial factors

These papers, however, and others by scholars such as Martha Finnemore, Kathryn Sikkink, and Michael Barnett (who did not publish in International Organization during my tenure as editor but have under other editors), have not generated a research program, at least not in the United States, that is as robust as those associated with analyses of material well-being and power.

He continues

Given that ideology or beliefs that are not directly generated by concerns about physical power and material well-being play such a prominent role in many of the challenges faced by the United States and other industrialized countries, the relative absence of scholarly concern with such questions is striking.

These are provocative statements given that the authors he lists have generated scholarship that has spawned productive research agendas in numerous areas of international politics from the study of international organizations, to NGOs, to human rights and security. Let’s explore Krasner’s claims that research on nonmaterial factors is “not robust” and “absent” in international relations. Continue reading

Stanley Hoffmann’s approach to studying politics: in memoriam 1928-2015 .

[Note: This is a guest post by Peter Gourevitch, Founding Dean and Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California San Diego. He is currently Visiting Professor at the Watson Institute, Brown University.]

Stanley Hoffmann influenced the study of international relations greatly. From the 1960s on, generations of professors in training read his work. All were affected by doing so. Some reacted negatively, some positively, some indirectly, but all were affected because of its clarity and utility. He laid out argumentation in the sharpest way — stereotypical of the best part of French analytic training — defining all the variables, categories, dimensions, and their combinations. It was perfect for preparing comprehensive exams, or defining issues for a thesis prospectus or an article. Contemporary Theory in International Relations, (Prentice-Hall, 1960) and The State of War: Essays on the Theory and Practice of International Politics, (Praeger, 1965) were the most notable examples.

At the same time, Hoffmann did not like the trend toward social scientific theorizing of international relations. He believed in his French mentor Raymond Aron’s comparative historical sociology: the rich systematic comparison of situations in historical context, a kind of Weberian construction and comparison of ideal types. Some books were written following Aron’s approach, but not many. The field was moving against Hoffmann. Mostly the study of international relations went the way of most social science in those days, ever sharper definition of dependent and independent variables and their testing, or careful construction of deductive reasoning (think, game theory , Schelling, Waltz. ) That was not Hoffmann’s approach, so while he was widely read, he was not widely followed in a self conscious way. Continue reading

“The UN v. Skynet?” An ISA Teaser

As the gods of the International Studies Association have seen fit to place my panel at 8:15 on a Saturday morning, I decided to advertise my talk in the blogosphere in hopes of drumming up some attendees. Below please see the teaser trailer for my working paper this year, which explores the impact of science fiction on global policy making in the area of autonomous weapons.

The paper itself is not yet ready for distribution (research is still in progress), but I should be able to circulate later this year and feedback at the panel will help me refine my conceptual framework – so if you are interested in these matters please come join us in the Richmond Room at the Toronto Hilton this Saturday! The panel, organized by UBC’s Chris Tenove, is entitled “Representation Across Borders”: Richard Price is chairing and other speakers include Wendy Wong, Sirin Duygulu and Hans-Peter Schmitz. Panel abstract is below the fold.

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2nd Annual International Feminist Journal of Politics Conference

The International Feminist Journal of Politics announces its 2nd Annual IFjP Conference, May 17-19, 2013, University of Sussex, Brighton, England: (Im)possibly Queer International Feminisms

General Keynote: Lisa Duggan, American Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, NYU

Queer Film Screening: Circumstance (2011), Introduced by Director Maryam Keshavarzwith Q&A to follow

Conference Theme Keynotes: Jon Binnie, Geography, Manchester Metropolitan University, Vivienne JabriWar Studies, Kings College London; V Spike Peterson, International Relations/Gender Studies, University of Arizona; Rahul RaoPolitics and International Studies, SOAS

Other confirmed speakers:  Rosalind Galt, Film Studies, University of Sussex; Akshay Khanna, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex; Louiza Odysseos, International Relations, University of Sussex; Laura Sjoberg, Political Science, University of Florida

The aim of this conference is to serve as a forum for developing and discussing papers that IFjP hopes to publish.  These can be on the conference theme or on any other feminist IR-related questions.

Apply by January 31!

Call for papers

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Historical International Relations: A Proposed Section for ISA

 Note: signatures are only valid for those who are members of International Studies Association at the time of review. Please do not sign if you are not, or will not, be an ISA member.

Below is a letter requesting support for a new section of the ISA on “Historical International Relations.” The section would be cognate to BISA’s Historical Sociology working group and APSA’s International History and Politics section. The idea came out of discussions among the co-signers of the letter below.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,
For a few years now, many of you will have heard us mention the need for a new section at the ISA, one in which there would be a room for historical pieces which engage with international issues in a broad sense. We hereby ask for your support for a new section at the ISA entitled Historical International Relations by signing the online petition at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/hir/, and forwarding this email to colleagues you think will have an interest in supporting the section. 

As you may all have noticed, there seems to be an increasing interest in historical scholarship in the discipline, an interest which is largely reflected in papers and panels presented at the conferences. However, these historical engagements appear in general in a host of different guises, sponsored (sometimes halfheartedly) by different existing sections. Some are sponsored by International Security, others by Diplomatic Studies, while more still have found shelter in the English School Section. While some may not see this as a problem, as it forces historical scholarship to engage with other sections of the discipline, we nevertheless think this situation requires a new section at the ISA. 

The idea of a new section is not for historical scholarship to colonize the ISA. We do not see such a section becoming one of the leading sections of the ISA. Rather, we see it as carving out a modest space for scholars who engage historically to work together, meet, and engage with each other’s work without having to pretend to be talking about something else. This common space would allow for conversations across sub-disciplinary boundaries, conversations which are difficult to carry out within many of the other sections of the ISA, and it should thus also increase the overall cohesiveness of the discipline. Rather than fragmenting the discipline, we think a Historical International Relations Section will contribute to increased intra-disciplinary dialogue. 

It is important for us to emphasize too that this is not meant to be a section for international history. What we think we have identified, is that to the extent that IR scholars engage historically, they do so as “merry amateurs” rather than professional historians. It is this spirit of collegial openness and inclusion as well as intellectual curiosity which we would like to foster by creating a new section. 

In short, we see the founding of a new Historical International Relations section as a way to create a space for this type of scholarship, but also legitimize efforts to address IR historically, as it would make these topics interesting in their own right, and not because of their potential relevance for the other sections.

Thank you for supporting the new section and for forwarding the email.

We look forward to seeing you at the inaugural section meeting in the near future. 

Best wishes,Benjamin de Carvalho, NUPIDaniel Green, University of DelawareHalvard Leira, NUPIDaniel Nexon, Georgetown UniversityAndrea Paras, University of Guelph

Transnational Politics, i(I)r(R) and the Information Age

Today I presented some thoughts on Henry Farrell‘s International Studies Association panel on “Transnational Politics and the Information Age.” The panel, which included Joe Nye, Dan Drezner, Marty Finnemore and Abe Newman, looked at the subject fairly broadly:

Public debates over the politics of the information age have been dominated by a battle between cyberoptimists, who believe that the Internet will lead to a fundamental transformation of social relations and cyberpessimists, who claim that the Internet will either have no effects or harmful ones. These debates partially map onto international relations arguments about the relationship between state power and globalization. Yet there is little work in international relations, which seeks to analyze the relationship between information flows and global politics. This is all the more remarkable given that information politics (whether the dissemination of sensitive government cables by Wikileaks, or the role of new media in the “Arab Spring”) seems to have direct, and sometimes dramatic consequences for central IR concerns. In this roundtable, we bring together scholars to examine in more depth the relationship between information technology and transnational politics. How has the rise of digital networks facilitated cross-border political organization or has it ultimately re-empowered the nation state? In either case, what points of variation exist in the political dynamics that have been unleashed? The distinguished participants offer a range of theoretical and empirical perspectives to this core debate concerning the relationship between information technology and global politics.

In honor of the conference theme, I uploaded my presentation to YouTube.

The discussion afterward ranged all over – topics included wikileaks, cybersecurity, pedagogy, etc. A fair amount of time was spent discussing Kony2012 though and one question that none of us really answered very well was what exactly makes videos go viral, and whether narrative structure matters. After the roundtable Michele Acouto sent me this TED video by tweet which I thought worth sharing.

In Social Science, You’re always Under-read, so How do you Choose ? (2)

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Here is part one, where I noted Walt, the Duck, and Walter Russell Mead as the IR blogs I read almost always despite the avalanche of international affairs blogs now. Here are a few more:
Martin Wolf: Here’s a grad school education in IPE, op-ed by op-ed, better day-to-day than either Krugman or the Economist. Not being an economist, but facing regular student questions for years about the Great Recession and the euro-zone crisis, I have found Wolf indispensible in explaining what happened in the last 5 years – and without that ‘bankers as masters of the universe’ schtick coming from CNBC, Bloomberg, and the WSJ. Wolf is a delight to read. Like Andrew Sullivan, he is measured, changes his mind when information dramatically changes, references theory but not as ideology or fundamentalism, and has a good touch for what can realistically be accomplished in actual democratic politics.
 
Glenn Greenwald: Walt turned me onto Greenwald’s work, which I think is just super. The surfeit of links helps guide the reader to lots of supporting material, which should be a model of rigor for all bloggers. The writing is sharp and insightful, and he has a feel for real case law that academics focused on theory will never have. So when you feel like drones and warrantless wiretapping are probably illegal, but you don’t know anything about relevant statute, Greenwald shows the way. But most importantly, Greenwald, more than any other serious high-profile figure, has courageously, thanklessly insisted on publicizing all the legal violations, non-combatant deaths, and other violations that have flowed from the GWoT. His humanity over the river of blood unleashed by the GWoT embarrasses the coarse, ‘we-don’t-do-body-counts’ American concern for only US combat casualties. I can think of no author more prominent who ceaselessly reminds of all the brown Muslims we have killed and carnage we have wreaked in the Arab world, and rightly chastises us for not giving a damn. No other writer has changed my mind about our ‘ghost wars’ as much as he had, and no one else I can think of takes the journalist’s code of adversarial oversight as seriously. You could dump the whole op-ed team of the Washington Post for Greenwald, and that would be an improvement.
 
What other blogs am I missing? And if you say Thomas Friedman, you are never allowed to visit this site again.
 
2. Basic News
For basic news, I get the daily newsletters from FP and CFR. Does anyone else use these? I find them very helpful, and vastly more time efficient that watching CNN or TV news. I get BBC here which is pretty good, and SK news is ok, but in general I get less and less from TV.

3. Journals
When I got my first post-grad school job, I finally had the money to seriously subscribe to journals on my own, and I thought it looked pretty cool to list all those associations on my vita. So I went overboard, getting some mix of IO, IS, EJIR, SS, RIS, FP, FA, APSR, ISQ, IRAP, WP, RIPE. But this costs a mountain of money (especially when you live outside the US), and within a year, I learned there was just no way to read anything even close to that amount of material. So they piled up unread on my office shelves (hopefully they look imposing to visitors). Now I get the ToC e-updates instead and wait for someone to tell me that I need to read this or that article. I almost never simply open a paper copy of a serious IR journal and browse it as if it were a copy of the Economist. Does anyone read the journals that way, or do you hunt out specific pieces?

Now, if there is an article I really want, first I google it or jstor it. If that doesn’t work, I email the author directly. Does anyone else do this? I was too scared to do something like that in grad school, but once I started doing it a few years ago, I found that people almost always send me their stuff, and then some. Almost everyone keeps copies of their pubs in PDF, and it’s surely flattering to get solicited. It’s also a nice way to meet someone you who’s interested in a roughly similar area. (Also, for Asia folks, two good journals – the Korean Journal of Defense Analysis and Global Asia [sort of an FA for Asia] – offer their stuff gratis.) So here’s another question is, do you pay for journals (other than those you get from a membership like ISA)? And if so, which ones? IS, WP and IO probably, right?

Finally, all this is why Brian Rathbun’s call to ‘read more, write less’ is one of my favorite posts on the Duck. I cite it a lot, and I would add a Roosevelt corollary – read slowly, at a desk, with a pen in your hand. IR theory is tough; it can get d— complicated and dry. There’s no way you can read something mind-breakingly difficult like Perception and Misperception or Hierarchy in International Relations quickly, and follow the argument (well, I can’t). If we read more and wrote less, what we did write would be so much better, and we could slow this ‘avalanche of undone reading’ problem.

NB: Fukuyama is blogging again.

Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog.

In Social Science, You’re always Under-read, so How do You Choose ? (1)

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If there is one constant to modern social science, it is that you are always under-read. There is always some critical book you missed, some article you never had time for, some classic of which you only read the first and last chapters in grad school. And this is just the modern work immediately relevant to your field. After college you all but gave up on reading the ‘great books’ in the Chicago sense – Plato, Augustine, Mill, Nietzsche, etc. That’s the stuff that really got you interested in social analysis – you’ve still got a marked up copy of Aristotle’s Politics somewhere – but if you cite these guys today, it’s usually just a lifted quote from someone else’s modern social science book that you are reading. Your own black-edged Penguin Classics are collecting dust. If it wouldn’t be so uncomfortable, it would be fascinating to hear what ‘obligatory’ IR classics Duck readers haven’t actually read and why not.

One good measure of this overload in IR is the Social Science Citation Index list – there are now 59 SSCI journals just in IR, 112 in Political Science, and 750 total. They are publishing roughly 4 issues a year, 6 articles per issue. This is just a crushing load: 59 x 4 x 6 = my head explodes like that dude from Scanners. In the end, the best you can do is follow the top ten or so, plus maybe one or two in your unique area. Then come all the books. Just in the last 6 months, you know you need to read Fukuyam’a new book on order and Pinker’s on violence (so long!), and who even wants to touch yet another laughably misnamed IR ‘handbook’ so heavy you could use it as a doorstop in a tornado?

And blogging just makes this worse. Now, on top of all those article and books you haven’t read and which will embarrass you at the next APSA, everybody’s got a blog. But blogging feels so much nicer than articles – the style is gentler and more readable, there is some humor (a cardinal sin in the SSCI), blog-posts are mercifully short, and you don’t need to read them with a pen in your hand. So you’d rather read blogs than read the latest ISQ – hence you get lost on the internet all day and fall yet further behind.

On top of this course, you want have a life – your spouse couldn’t care less about the difference between counterforce and countervalue, and, truth be told, you care a lot more about the degenerative ad hoc emendations of Star Wars on disc than of some IR paradigm (realism as structural, offensive, defensive, critical postpositivist, whatever, I don’t know anymore).

So one thing I’ve wondered about since grad school is how other people in IR manage the massive data/research flow. What are you strategies for sorting through this huge flood of writing that is worth your time, a flood that is only increasing with the proliferation of IR blogs? I feel just overwhelmed, so here are my 3 lesson-learned to date:

1. Blogs

I get lots of RSS feeds but, like everything else, they’ve proliferated so much, that I blow through most of them now. Hence the inevitable culling toward just a few that I find regularly reliable/important:

Walt at FP: I guess everybody read this, right? Its very high-profile; he’s the chair of the best political science department in the world; he’s a great scholar; and the blog is really good. Eve if you disagree with him (I thought he was very wrong on Libya), I almost always find Walt worth the time.

Duck of Minerva: I guess since I write for this site, this is expected, but I think the stuff on the Duck is actually quality IR; sometimes it feels like grad school all over again. Laura Sjoberg, e.g., used to write long, theory-heavy posts so good that I got headaches. And I don’t think there are too many other strictly IR theory blogs. There are lots of blogs on international affairs generally understood – everybody wants to be Fareed Zakaria. But how many blogs written solely for IR theory, and written with its assumptions in mind, are there?

Walter Russell Mead: I think Mead is the best conservative intellectual writing about foreign affairs on a blog. He’s not a neocon, ideologue, red-state evangelical, American exceptionalist, militarist, or suffering from any of the usual military-industrial complex-worshipping, rightist pathologies that undermine the writing of people like Kaplan or the Kagans, much less Kristol, Krauthammer, etc. Mead also usefully insists on analytically stressing religion and culture, which IR should do more of. Finally, he’s also got a nice grounding in history – American, British, and classical – that gives his work real depth.

More in a few days.

Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog.

The Cultural is Political

Recently, Mike Innes tweeted playfully that he feared the Duck had become a “creative writing” blog due to the proliferation of satirical posts about pop cultural topics. This tweet was in response to my refutation of Brian Rathbun’s (also satirical) assertion that nerd / metal-head subcultures in US society are mutually exclusive, a post which also included critiques of the genre-specificity of pop cultural research in IR, commentary on a recent documentary about heavy metal music (itself quite political) and a satirized commentary about the strictures of institutional rules and norms on the identities and research agendas of political science professors.

Admittedly, the post did not deal with any foreign policy issues per se.

Mike’s implication (confirmed in a second tweet) appeared to be that blogging about pop culture, or blogging as pop culture (that is as satire rather than as serious analysis) is not “real” political blogging. However much he may have been teasing, this got me thinking about what we mean as political scientists when we think or write or teach about popular culture as opposed to policy processes, and especially when we produce ‘creative’ products ourselves as political scientists versus what we consider ‘scholarly’ political science outputs. (Because apparently a blog post is ‘scholarly’ if it reflects a certain style of writing or addresses certain themes but is ‘creative’ if it deals with other themes or with similar themes using satire rather than social science jargon.)

In this post, and later this Spring at the International Studies Association Conference, I will argue that culture is politics; and that analyses that blend attention to culture with concern over conventional political and policy issues are particularly appropriate on blogs precisely because they are relatively neglected in the discipline (though, this is changing). However, in thinking through this claim, and in watching the comments thread on Megan’s fantastic gender-violence-fetishism post, I realize that one can mean very different things by “culture is politics.” Taking cultural products seriously, examining the politics by which culture is produced, and creating cultural products ourselves are three different roles political scientists can play as bloggers.

For example, taking culture seriously as a carrier of political values and norms is supremely important to what we do, and has been at least since the “cultural turn” in IR in the late 1980s. Of course by “culture” IR scholars used to mean things like nationalist narratives, religion, or gender norms. Feminist IR scholars have long shown how the stories societies tell themselves and representations they create not only about war and peace but also about more mundane things like sex and soup shape not only society but also foreign policy. And it wasn’t long before the lens was turned toward pop culture as well by the work of Juttes Weldes and others: literature carries these narratives, cartoons and comics do, but so too does TV, film, and music.

(The intersectionalities of creative writing, political action and policy processes these have a politics and a history, often forgotten. Take Dr. Seuss for example: we remember him for his children’s books, which have helped carry American values both throughout our culture and globally, but he got his start drawing political cartoons: World War II in some respects created him as a writer and artist.)

Today, classes on “Film and Politics” are proliferating in political science departments, and with good reason: political scientists are rightly interested not only in how cultural products like films and cartoons represent politics, but also in the causal and constitutive impact of those representations on actual political processes. While there has been less research (that I’m aware of) by political scientists into musical genres and politics, this only suggests a new niche for aspiring political scientists that needs to be filled – like other cultural niches whose political implications have been insufficiently explored, like fashion (but see Cynthia Enloe‘s work on militarism) or food (but see Ansell and Vogel’s work on beef) or sports (but see Tomlinson and Young on national identity and international sports events.)

A second strand of “pop-cultural” analysis here at the Duck (and in the discipline, as a few of the cites above suggest) concerns the politics of cultural industries – rather than analyzing representations in cultural products (like Harry Potter or Game of Thrones) we sometimes analyze, for example, representations in culture-industrial sites (like the Grammys or the Browncoats movement) or we sometimes look at the intersection of the two: how culture-industrial actors sometimes function intentionally as political actors through celebrity diplomacy of different types. In the field of IR, there is more and more literature across methodological divides that deals with these topics – from John Street’s conceptual treatment of ‘celebrity politicians’ to Huliaris and Tzifakis’s case studies on celebrity activism to James Fowler’s elaborate empirical analysis of the Colbert Bump.

But finally there is the manner in which, especially on Fridays, bloggers at the Duck post more light-hearted or creative cultural products of our own loosely related to the topics we study – our version of casual Fridays which manifest at other blogs as pictures of cats, children or squid. Here at the Duck you won’t find squid, but you may find polar bears. Sometimes this is truly “casual” blogging and sometimes we put significant creative effort into playfully blending cultural critique, political analysis and satire. It’s true that it’s sometimes hard to tell where political science leaves off and tomfoolery begins. But then, isn’t the very definition of ‘tom-foolery’ socio-politically constructed? Yes.

Though I don’t often give it much thought, if asked to think about it I guess I’d tend to be a fairly loose constructionist myself on which of these roles most befits political science bloggers any day of the week, but I suppose there is room for disagreement there. What do readers think?

Toward Pracademia

Among the assigned readings for my new doctoral seminar in Human Security this week are a number of pieces from last year’s International Studies Review Theory v. Practice Symposium. There are numerous fascinating pieces here, including Dan Drezner’s case study on the evolution of “smart sanctions,” Roland Paris’ discussion of “fragile states” as a case study in epistemic agenda-setting, and Kittikhoun and Weiss’ debunking “The Myth of Scholarly Irrelevance for the U.N.”

In particular, a quote from Jentleson and Ratner’s contribution jumped out at me:

“The profession-based incentive structure and other aspects of academia’s dominant organizational culture… devalue policy relevance. Doctoral students are cued early on that their program of study is more about the discipline than the world. Curriculua tend to feature courses on formal modeling, game theory and statistics far more than ones on policy areas, history or states/regions. Then when it comes time ot hit the job market, search committees give far more weight to a dissertation’s theoretical question than policy significance, and readily ignore, if not look down upon, policy oriented publications outside of the scholarly peer-reviewed domain. It thus is quite individually rational for so few graduate students to take on policy-relevant dissertations – rational for working within the system as it exists, but cumulatively irrational for the intellectual diversity and professional pluralism that a discipline such as political science and field such as IR should manifest. It is also out of synch if not in denial of job market realities… not preparing graduate students for this wider range of options borders on malpractice.”

We are beginning the term by thinking about “bridging the gap” for three reasons:

1) “Human Security” is, if neither a paradigm shift nor “hot air,” usefully understood as a specific policy domain, and human security policies of all kinds are being shaped by causal understandings percolating out of the academy

2) Therefore the course is based on understanding the classic empirical research on key human security topics (human rights, humanitarian affairs, humanitarian intervention, the laws of war, peace-building, etc) with a view toward understanding how to transmit the empirical insights of those literatures to policy-makers in those domain, as well as an appreciate of why this is so challenging

3) This pedagogy is in both respects a deliberate yet already uncomfortable attempt to buck the trend Jentleson and Ratner correctly identify. Doctoral students need both the skills to do policy-relevant, practitioner-oriented work if they choose AND the ability to write for comprehensive exams / compete in academia. The trick is going to be teaching both simultaneously, so I figure the first step is helping them to understand the difference.

Will be reporting back on my attempts through the course of the term. Meanwhile, pedagogical suggestions are highly welcome.

Pop Culture and World Politics v5.0

Pop Culture and World Politics v5.0
9-11 November 2012
Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Geneva, NY 14456 USA
What do zombies have to do with world politics? How might the Twilight sagas inform and illuminate our way of understanding world politics and changes in the global political economy? In what ways do videogames, the sales of which now exceed those of music CDs and DVDS combined, shape the identities and political understandings of frequent players? Is visual media destined to replace print as the primary source of news and entertainment in advanced industrial societies and how might this affect the construction of meaning of world affairs? As a means of communication readily available to an ever-expanding number of individuals and groups, how might the internet offer paths of resistance to corporate and Western news and entertainment hegemony? How can tango dancing make the world a more peaceful place?
This conference explores the multiple ways of investigating the intersections of world politics and the production, circulation, content, and consumption of various popular cultural forms. Engaging a range of disciplines and practices in the social sciences, humanities and the arts, the conference encourages participants to question what terms such as ‘global,’ ‘popular,’ and ‘culture’ mean both in isolation and when used in conjunction. It asks in what ways and with what effects popular culture has become a series of sites at which political meaning is made, where political contestation takes place, and where political orthodoxy is reproduced and challenged. The conference provides a highly-focused and interdisciplinary environment in which the increasing numbers of scholars that are engaging in culture-related research can present their work and participate in the kind of extended discussion that larger conferences do not permit. The conference aims to provide an intimate forum at which debates about interdisciplinary methods and theoretical approaches can be developed to facilitate debate across disciplines that share interests in world politics and culture. We welcome proposals for performances, screenings, panels, or individual papers, on any aspect of world politics and popular culture.
Building on the precedingfour PCWP conferences, version 5.0 will be held on the campus of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, a small liberal arts institution located in the beautiful Finger Lakes (wine-making) region of western New York state.
Inquiries should be sent to PCWP@hws.edu
The deadline for proposals is 15 July 2012

Science Fiction and International Orders

Today at the LSE there are two fabulous (read: fabulously nerdy) events on Science Fiction and IR. Even better, it’s full of ducks! The event was organized by Chris Brown and features Dan Nexon and Prof PTJ.

The first event, chaired by Chris Brown, features three prominent Science Fiction authors: Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Paul McAuley, Ken McLeod. The second event features several prominent academics who will be discussing the implications for IR. Chaired by Barry Buzan, it features our two ducks and Iver Neumann.

My only regret is a lack of female voices. So, in an attempt to rectify this, I will (read: attempt) to live-blog these events here at the Duck which start at 1:15pm GMT (8:15am EST – you’ll have to work the rest out for yourselves).

It promises to be an entertaining (read: fabulously nerdy) day! (There may be a pod cast of both events as well. I’ll post ’em if they got ’em.)

Taking it Personally

Earlier this year, all eyes were focused on Iceland in a very negative way for the second time in 18 months. First their banks collapsed in 2008 which caused many in Europe who had savings accounts there to take a rather substantial financial hit. For example, in the UK local councils were estimated to be at risk for up to £840 million in cash. And secondly, as is pretty well known, the Icelandic ash cloud basically paralysed Europe for the better part of April. (There’s the whole “whaling” thing too – but that’s relatively long-standing.)

The Icelanders, for their part, couldn’t do much. While their government may have been able to do something about the first problem, there wasn’t much they could do about the second: a fact not lost on the Eurovision this year. But still, people directed their anger at the island nation, who single-handedly destroyed weddings, reunions, holidays and possibly Swindon Council’s ability to pick up its recycling.

Making the international personal ain’t exactly a new thing. I know many Americans who wanted to keep a low profile in Europe during the George W. Bush years lest they become the object of a drunken rage on Iraq. Similarly, Israelis, regardless of their political persuasion, get blamed for the policies of their government. Germans of my generation still face WWII jokes – particularly around World Cup time.

But the way the British media has been going on about the criticism of BP, you’d think that Obama had basically taken a giant dump on a portrait of Elizabeth II. The rhetoric, they suggest, is anti-British. Americans and Obama are personally blaming this green and pleasant land for causing the worst oil spill in history.

I’m kind of surprised that this is the case. While there is always much worry about British brands and how the UK is perceived in the world, no one in my mind has ever really gone out of its way to slap the Union Jack on BP (whose name is formally “BP” and no longer “British Petroleum”). Certainly the case isn’t helped that possibly the worst spokesperson in history speaks with a posh British accent – the same posh British accent that every politically correct villain has today in a Hollywood movie (well, maybe other than a Texas accent.)

But the Brits, stiff upper lips and all, are proving to be a sensitive lot. As if Obama could not get mad at a British person without the whole country taking it personally.

But there may be other motivations at stake. Pension funds (probably including mine) heavily invest in BP. Policies which force the country to dole out billions of dollars over the next decade or so could seriously going to hurt a lot of those with retirement plans…

But other than my pension contribution, this raises an interesting question – when is it right to play the international blame game? Does blaming a corporation automatically imply blaming its host country? Does the criticism of BP imply a latent American hostility to Britain? Or should the UK just make itself a pot of tea and calm down again?

After all, regardless of who is to blame, the Gulf is still a mess, BP is in it for billions and Hollywood’s inclination to cast individuals who can put on a good Oxbridge accent as villains, is seemingly well justified.

“What to Read on Gender and Foreign Policy”

Over the break, Foreign Affairs posted my picks on which gender literature the foreign policy community should take seriously. Here’s how the piece begins:

Feminists have long argued that it is wrong to ignore half the population when crafting policies meant to secure a stable world order. Now foreign policy experts are beginning to grasp a different point: a “gender perspective” is relevant not only to those concerned with making the world better for women, but also to anybody who cares about military effectiveness, alliance stability, democracy promotion, actionable intelligence, the stem of pandemic disease, or successful nation building. The following sources are essential reading for anyone interested in the connections between gender relations — norms and assumptions about men and women, masculinity and femininity — and the practice of foreign policy.

You can argue with how I framed it or which works I chose out of the volumes of good scholarship on gender and IR. But if you ask me, it’s fabulous that FA is starting to include gender issues among its must-reads – and, if the latest issue is any suggestion, mainstreaming them in its print edition. Go check it out and tell me what you think.

[cross-posted at LGM]

Melowdrama, thy name is Schweller

The opening of Randall Schweller’s latest article for The National Interest:

CONTEMPORARY INTERNATIONAL relations is moving toward a state of entropy. Chaos and randomness abound. Now, the story of world politics unfolds without coherence, unfettered by classic balance-of-power politics, a plotless postmodern work starring a menagerie of wildly incongruent themes and protagonists, as if divinely plucked from different historical ages and placed in a time machine set for the third millennium. We live in an era in which unprecedented globalization and economic interdependence, liberal-democratic hegemony, nanotechnology, robotic warfare, the “infosphere,” nuclear proliferation and geoengineering solutions to climate change coexist with the return of powerful autocratic-capitalist states, of a new Great Game in Central Asia, of imperialism in the Middle East, of piracy on the high seas, of rivalry in the Indian Ocean, of a 1929-like market crash, of 1914-style hypernationalism and ethnic conflict in the Balkans, of warlords and failed states, of genocides in Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur, and of a new holy war waged by radical Islamists complete with caliphates and beheadings reminiscent of medieval times. In short, we live in a Thomas Pynchon novel.

The increasing disorder of our world will lead eventually to a sort of global ennui mixed with a disturbingly large dose of individual extremism and dogmatic posturing by states. It is the result of the unstemmable tide of entropy. A world subsumed by the inexorable forces of randomness, tipped off its axis, swirling in a cloud of information overload. Who would have thought a mere half decade ago we would be turning to physics for the answers to international politics.

Well, considering that IR scholars have been heavily influenced by theoretical physics for decades I don’t think it is all that hard to imagine. It’s just that Schweller’s application is off the mark.

The international political system is no more “closed” than most social systems (Patrick–come in, Patrick…). If one looks to complex adaptive systems theory (which I did very early in graduate school) you’ll find that entropic systems will reorganize and settle into a new equilibrium and demonstrate a period of stability until the process repeats itself. You’ll also find that no system is truly ‘closed’. I think this is more applicable to social systems than the classic physics model–no system is ever free of potential perturbation and reorganization. We cycle through various new equilibriums and entropic states. (Would love to hear more from Drew Conway, etc, on this point.)

To be fair, there is a lot of interesting commentary and thought in Schweller’s piece. However, it does seem a bit over-the-top. Furthermore, given that his preferred paradigm is neo-classical realism (with its emphasis on how domestic politics can disrupt the theoretically predictable workings of the international system) I am surprised that he would focus on the international realm as closed. The thing I like about neo-classical realism is that it (implicitly and explicitly) emphasizes how the domestic system can act as a perturbation for the international system (and vice versa).

Rugby Now An Olympic Sport

Yes, the other big news story of the day. (OK, of yesterday.)

Is IR Really a Science? Let’s Find Out

Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber alerted me to the fact that 3 Quarks Daily has instituted a quarterly award for the best blog post in the areas of science, politics, arts and literature, and philosophy.

Starting next month, the prizes will be awarded every year on the two solstices and the two equinoxes. So, we will announce the winner of the science prize on June 21, the arts and literature prize on September 22, the politics prize on December 21, and the philosophy prize on March 20, 2010.

About a month before the prize is to be announced we will solicit nominations of blog entries from our readers. The nominating period will last approximately one to two weeks. At the end of this time, we will open up the process to voting by our readers. After this period, we will take the top twenty voted-for nominees, and the four main daily editors of 3 Quarks Daily (Abbas Raza, Robin Varghese, Morgan Meis, and Azra Raza) will select six finalists from these, plus they may also add a wildcard entry of their choosing. And finally, a well-known intellectual from the field will pick the winner, runner up, and third place finisher from these, and will write some short comments on the winning entries.

Just for fun, the first place award will be called the “Top Quark,” and will include a cash prize of one thousand dollars; the second place prize, the “Strange Quark,” will include a cash prize of three hundred dollars; and the third place winner will get the honor of winning the “Charm Quark,” along with two hundred dollars.

Well, I don’t know if posts here at the Duck or on other IR blogs would widely be considered science, politics, arts and literature or philosophy (though frankly, I suspect some of PTJ’s might count as all of the above.) But the way I see it, IR is a science, which means IR blog posts should qualify for next month’s contest.

So, since we haven’t yet gotten around to establishing our long-discussed Duck of Minerva “Top Quack” award for IR blogging, if it strikes your fancy head on over to 3QD to nominate an IR blog post of your choosing in the Science contest before June 21. It will be interesting to see which disciplines are ultimately represented among the science awards.

The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe


Princeton University Press officially released The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe: Religious Conflict, Dynastic Empires, and International Change last week, but copies have yet to arrive at online retailers.

However, you can preorder the book from Amazon right now, at a significant 27% discount, which brings the price down from $29.95 to 22.01 [update at 21h10m: currently 33% off at $20.21; gotta love that algorithm]. Plus, if you order through the Duck, you will automatically contribute to my daughter’s birthday fund!

Why should you purchase a copy? I can offer a veritable plethora of reasons. It has a very pretty cover, comes complete with artfully crafted original maps by Andrew Rolfson, and will change the way you think about international relations. Also, every copy sold makes it more likely that I’ll receive tenure.

Okay, I lied about the last two. But if you want to see what the blurbs say, read on….

“With this book, Daniel Nexon brings an assertive and iconoclastic voice to an already vibrant conversation among international relations theorists about how the modern international system took shape in early modern Europe. His stress on the combustible power of religious ideas and his innovative model of power and authority amount to a sophisticated and creative explanation of the international politics of this period and indeed of any period–including, he arrestingly argues, our own.”–Daniel Philpott, University of Notre Dame

“Daniel Nexon has woven a magisterial account of the impact of the Reformation on international politics. Using network theory and institutionalist analysis, he deftly crafts a composite theory that is relevant not only to the understanding of international change but also to the study of composite polities, empires, and nation-states. His study, furthermore, suggests how religion and institutional change can braid together to produce fundamental challenges to the existing international order. In so doing, he not only provides insights into the past but illuminates contemporary processes as well.”–Hendrik Spruyt, Northwestern University

“In its depth of theoretical insight and subtlety of reasoning, few recent books in international relations and history rival what Daniel Nexon has accomplished in this impressive piece of scholarship. The book’s fresh conceptualization opens new vistas on the past experiences, present conditions, and future trajectories of international relations. No theoretically inclined student can afford bypassing Nexon’s challenging ideas.”–Peter J. Katzenstein, Cornell University

“This is an extremely impressive book. Nexon not only illuminates a crucial and controversial moment in the history of international relations, but he does so in the context of making a vital theoretical and methodological contribution to the field. This is a very important study, and a superb piece of work.”–Richard Little, University of Bristol

“This book makes a significant contribution not only to international relations theory, but also to comparative politics. Nexon develops an innovative and productive way of viewing changing patterns of international relations, and he helps us to transcend the often-artificial divide between domestic and international politics. He also successfully transcends the debate between materialists and idealists. This book should be of interest to a broad audience.”–Mlada Bukovansky, Smith College

And you know that people asked to write endorsements never, never, ever exaggerate the quality of the product.

So what are you waiting for? Go justify my advance and increase the size of my daughter’s bloated playmobil collection.

“Overheard” on Political Science Job Rumors

Direct from the website that makes us all ashamed to be Political Scientists, I bring you this gem from a discussion about eliminating Political Theory to conserve resources in Political Science departments (yes, that’s a not an uncommon sentiment in the field, PTJ’s views notwithstanding).

The whole discussion between realists, constructivist, etc. has dissapeared from the top journals (IO, World Politics, etc.) since the 80s

I can only sigh, even though the poster is one of those who seems supportive of political theory.

A quick JSTOR search suggests that the first use of the term “constructivism” (or “constructivist”)–at least in the way we now use the term in the field—in a major IR journal occurred in Review of International Studies in 1991. The occasion? Alex Wendt’s review of Nick Onuf’s World of Our Making. This should come as little surprise, since Onuf is responsible for our current use of these terms.

Also in 1991, Peter Haas edited a special issue of International Organization (IO) on “epistemic communities.” In his introduction, he noted that a “limited constructivist” view informs most of the articles in the issue. The next reference appears in Alex Wendt’s 1992 IO article, “Anarchy is What States Make of It,” which many scholars believe was the defining moment for the emergence of the label to describe “the big tent” of the new culture turn.

The three-cornered “paradigm wars” pitting realists against liberals against constructivist simply did not exist, as such, in the 1980s. Many of the arguments were already there (via, in very different forms, scholars such as John Ruggie and Richard Ashley), but there was, at the time, no self-identified “constructivist” movement to struggle against realism and liberalism.

I suppose a charitable reading of this remark would be that “since the 80s” is more of a claim about trajectory: that this particular variant of the paradigm wars has been in decline since the 1980s. But that too is impossible to reconcile with accurate disciplinary history: the paradigm wars peaked in the 1990s. Katzenstein’s The Culture of National Security only came out in 1996. I remember Iain Johnston telling me about the project’s “road show” when I was an undergraduate at Harvard.

The wars really only began to ebb within the last half-dozen or so years, in no small measure because constructivism effectively established itself as a legitimate activity, i.e., constructivist work is now more or less insulated from being rejected out of hand in the US.[*] And, in consequence, the impetus for the paradigm wars began to dissipate.

Another major factor has been the proliferation of journals and the general fragmentation of the field. It is difficult to have big theoretical struggles if no one bothers to seriously engage with anyone doing anything different from what they do.

Indeed, the consensus in the field seems to be that the “paradigm wars” are better left behind. In some respects, I agree. Most of the theoretical aggregates (to borrow a phrase from the Elmans) we called “paradigms” really didn’t qualify as such, and treating them in Kuhnian or Lakatosian terms created real problems for the field. But the “paradigm wars” also prevented the field from devolving into a landscape composed of little islands without much intercourse between them, and I would not say that the growing trend in that direction comprises a positive development.

Finally, the increasing availability of fast and cheap computers over the last two decades has been lowering the barriers to doing advanced quantitative work… and thereby ushering in the current triumph of “mixed methods” as a dominant “paradigm” in IR, even if its proponents don’t recognize it as such.

*But a number of people who were on the front lines of that fight still bear the scars, and continue to operate like part of an embattled movement. I should also note that, at least in the US, constructivist approaches are much less established in International Political Economy (IPE) than in other subfields. US-based IPE refects what my colleague, Kate McNamara, calls a “monoculture” of econometrics and formal models.

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