Tag: political science research

Either DA-RT Works, or It Does Not

This is a guest post by Theo McLauchin (@TheoMcLauchlin), Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Université de Montréal

When is a norm not a norm? I ask this question when I read Colin Elman and Arthur Lupia’s vigorous defense of the Data Access & Research Transparency (DA-RT) initiative in APSA’s Comparative Politics section newsletter. I think Elman and Lupia try to have it both ways. Their piece argues, first, that journals need to adopt norms of openness. It then argues, in defense of DA-RT against a series of concerns that it will bring the editorial hammer down on many different forms of work, that DA-RT doesn’t change anything. Editors always could implement whatever policies they wanted to. But of course if the norms change, then the content of that editorial discretion – what decisions are actually made where the submission meets the desk – changes with it. Either DA-RT has an effect or it doesn’t; either the norms change or they don’t; either some articles become newly unpublishable at some journals or they don’t. If they don’t, then DA-RT cannot have the effect its creators hope for it.

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New Journal: Political Science Research and Methods

Cambridge University Press has un-gated the inaugural issue of Political Science Research and Methods, edited by Cameron G. Thies and Vera E. Troeger. Thies and Troeger have implemented a textbook journal launch, complete with major names in the field and strong articles. Continue reading

It’s Not About #PoliSci, It’s About the #NSF

One point that I’d like to see made a little bit more clearly is that political scientists should try to reframe this. I doubt that we have much sympathy among members of other disciplines; that quote about “first they came for the X” is troubling precisely because, well, nobody stands up for the Xs as Xs. Besides, academics don’t have much sympathy for anyone outside of their discipline: would political scientists rally behind a struggling Anthropology? And the jerks at Freakonomics encouraged their readers to support icing both poli sci and sociology, so I doubt we can count on much deep help from the economists.


If there’s one thing we can do, it’s to point out that there is a risk that targeting poli sci could lead to an actual domino theory. Not so much in the Coburn-is-coming-for-you-next sense—my guess is that Dr. Coburn (R., Latveria) is not, actually, all that incensed by NSF funding for economists—but in the sense that Congress shouldn’t dictate the inner workings of the NSF on anything. If it’s not Coburn targeting economists, maybe it’s Rand Paul requiring the NSF to only sponsor non-Keynesian economics research. Or Jeff Flake banning research into evolution—or a requirement that all geological research consider the null hypothesis that the earth is 4,000 years old.

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Six Degrees of Securitization (F*@k you, Senator Coburn!)


Separated at birth? Seriously, Ole Weaver is a sexy motherf*@cker.


Ole Weaver is looking good.

Yesterday the Senate passed the Coburn amendment cutting off funds for political science research through the National Science Foundation. It was by a voice vote, which is another way of saying that it was so unanimous that no one bothered to even count hands. So that doesn’t bode well. I heard on NPR that the money will instead go to cancer research, which is a pretty clever move. Needless to say, APSA didn’t mention that in the press release. I must say that I would rather that the government spend money to help find a cure for the disease killing Aunt Millie than help Bueno de Mesquita advance selectorate theory.

But………  Coburn, who has probably trying to be too clever, left a weakness in the system as there is an exception for research that promotes “national security or the economic interests of the United States.” Dumbass, this is our bread and butter. We can “securitize” anything. In fact we learned how from you bozos. The bad news for large-N researchers compiling big datasets is that they are going to have to read a lot of Ole Weaver, which is going to be very hard for them. But if th at is the difference between a million dollars in grant money or rerunning the Correlates of War, I think I know what they will choose.

Let’s show you how easy this is by playing six degrees of securitization. You can take any political science problem and justify it on the basis of national security in six steps or fewer.

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The Politics of “Political Science”: Mushroom Cloud Edition

Mushroom CloudErik Voeten has a nice piece up about recent research on the benefits of nuclear superiority. Does nuclear superiority provide an advantage to states engaged in crisis bargaining?

In the most recent issue of International Organization (ungated version) my colleague Matthew Kroenig argues that in a crisis between two nuclear powers, the state that enjoys a nuclear advantage is willing to run more risk than its opponent. This gives the nuclear superior state greater “effective resolve,” meaning that the other state is less likely to think that the state with nuclear superiority will back down.


The same issue of International Organization contains an article (ungated version) by Todd Sechser and Matthew Fuhrman, who claim that nuclear weapons are of no use in increasing the credibility of threats to seize territory or another asset. Moreover, using nuclear weapons is costly. Thus, they find that while nuclear weapons are extremely useful for deterrence, they do little for “compellence” (making a threat to force an opponent to take some desirable action). They show with a different data set of crisis bargaining that threats from nuclear states are not more likely to succeed than threats from non-nuclear states.

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The Minerva Project: Time for a Disciplinary Appraisal?

MinervaA little over four years ago the U.S. Department of Defense issued its first Minerva grants. These often substantial awards have produced a significant number of publications by some of the “best and brightest” (including long-term Duck of Minerva guest blogger Josh Busby) in the field and, whether directly or indirectly, shaped the nature of (at least) contemporary security studies. But it seems to me that we haven’t had anything resembling a robust discussion about consequent costs and benefits to political science, international relations, and security studies.

A brief search online doesn’t turn up much. Sean Kay has a piece in Defense Horizons that praises the program. An older news-style piece in Science by Jeffrey Mervis suggests both why the discussion matters (“That type of funding is on a scale most social scientists have only dreamed about”) and why it might be difficult to have. There’s–and I almost hate to say this–predictable nastiness about the whole thing from some anthropologists. But other than that….

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Why political science matters

 Some critics of academic social science, and political science in particular, have recently asserted that it’s difficult to see the benefit of what we do. To be fair, our output is less immediately tangible than the Hubble Space Telescope, treatments for HIV/AIDS, or the decoding of the human genome, to take only three visible and valuable recipients of federal funding for science in my lifetime.

To date, however, the defenders of political science have been a little less full-throated in their case for our discipline than one might have expected. It is all well and good that this recipient of some specific federal grant has advanced our understanding of the world, but that hardly proves (even at the rhetorical level) the notion that academic political science in general is good for America. Such a strategy is little different than our critics’ move of cherry-picking titles and descriptions of projects they find trivial to prove the negative.

Perhaps a comparison is in order.

Today’s Financial Times online Alphaville section contains a discussion of Chinese economics statistics–and particularly how unreliable and subject to political influence they are. I bring this up because the coalition for crippling the federal government’s ability to collect and disseminate accurate information about the nation’s population, society, and economy is quite similar to that which supports overriding the professional, scientific judgment of the NSF and de-funding political science.

Traditionally, free societies have believed in the freedom of information. That freedom is meaningless unless information is accurate, and quality information demands and deserves government spending. And one important check on the quality of information is the existence of adequately resourced and well trained social scientists who do not work for the government.

Why? Because social science matters. Social science literally defines the terms of the debates we have about the sources of economic growth, about whether elections are fair, about whether the United States is a hegemon or a declining power, about whether the West is a more open society than the Rest, about gender equity and income mobility and school quality and divorce rates and whether prettier candidates win more votes.

Social science is far from perfect. (See Skip Lupia’s 2000 PS article on this and related points.) We can’t cure dysfunctional societies. Our predictions are less exact than physicists’ and our prescriptions are usually less immediately practicable than clinical research. But as a whole society is much better off for having richer and more robust debates about the causes and effects of social phenomena than we would be without such debates. Indeed, the alternative to good social science is not no social science but bad social science.

What is galling about the attack on the NSF is the assertion–the certainty–that none of this is important. Or at least not important enough to justify tax dollars being spent on it.

This is what we need to discuss. This is what we need to impress on the Hill, on journalists, and on the attentive public at large. And it needs to be yoked to a broader movement to bring the open-access revolution to political science. If we receive public funds, our findings should be public.

But all of these quibbles are secondary to the larger point. We don’t care about the NSF’s funding of political science for any one given project, or even all projects considered individually. We have to consider them as a whole, and defend them as a whole. In the end, we should be arguing on behalf of the consumers of knowledge as much as the producers.

Information wants to be free. Congress wants it to be held for ransom.

It’s bad form to criticize other
disciplines’ journals based solely
on titles, but Annals of Tourism Research?
This is the sort of thing libraries
spend their budgets on?

Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) is trying to end taxpayer access to publicly-funded research. The article is worth reading, not least because it is the only time that you’ll ever see the term “powerful publishing cartels” in this age of disruptive new-media innovation.

And yet the academic publishing market really is different, as one UC-Berkeley professor argued last year. When Nature tried to extort a 400% subscription fee increase from the University of California system, there was very little to do except engage the nuclear option–that is, threaten to boycott the journals entirely. Academics, whose lives are shaped by publishing in journals, are at the mercy of those journals’ publishers. In such negotiating positions, it’s unsurprising that publishers have managed to steadily increase their yield from universities that–as you may have heard!–are otherwise struggling to get by.

In the long term, the disjuncture between stagnant or shrinking university resources and increasing fees for access will lead to a rather severe readjustment. The same thing will happen to the plethora of new journals that is happening to the plethora of newly-minted Ph.D.s. That is, they will starve, wither, and — well, only the journals will die. The Ph.D.s will move on to jobs in industry. (I hope.)

What could help, of course, would be a far-sighted policy that would guarantee that the fruits of taxpayer-funded research would be available to taxpayers. This utopian dream is easily oversold. Let’s be frank: the general public doesn’t particularly care or directly benefit from research. The indirect benefits are pretty good, but no single journal article is likely to matter much to the public, which is simply unable to read and evaluate the articles unless they get their union card earn their doctorate. But it’s reprehensible that universities, which even if “private” are tax-supported by their nonprofit status, are given federal money to produce research which is then given to private publishers which, in turn, take quite a bit of money from universities to let them see that research in slightly better-formatted versions.

The good news is that the publishing house Elsevier has managed to rent their very own congressperson for, apparently, only a couple of thousand dollars in campaign contributions. At this point, even academics can scrape together a few shillings and find a senator or two to champion our cause. But please: let’s stick to the small-state legislators. Their campaigns are cheaper and some of us have a pay freeze.

Taking David Cameron to School……(Literally. This guy is stupid.)

I get most of my European news from the Financial Times, which I admit does make for a somewhat skewed perspective on British politics. You all do still wear top hats and monocles, right? But apparently Britain’s Prime Minister is promoting, earlier than expected in the wake of the London riots, a tax credit for married or co-habiting couples with the belief that a two-parent family makes for a more stable home and fewer young thugs (or righteous freedom fighters railing against the system, either way) looting cell phone stores in the future. Politicians are so stupid.

Let’s take it for granted that the cause of looting lies in the failures of parents rather than of the social environment in which the poor grow up in. I actually do believe that a loving, two parent family is the best way to raise kids, even as it is by no means the only factor. But David Cameron needs a basic lesson in positivistic research design and causality. (Don’t do it, Patrick T. Jackson! Do not pull your hair out every time I use that word inappropriately in a way inconsistent with how science actually operates! It is not worth it! You have lovely hair!)

The causal logic behind this scheme is that two parents simply sleeping under the same roof leads to better-raised kids. If we simply create incentives for the father to stay in the house, surely good parenting will result. Obviously this is silly. It is the quality of parenting that matters. Having two good parents is better than one good parent. But having one good parent is better than two bad parents who hate each other, or two parents who don’t like one another or one good parent and one bad parent.

Generally when single mothers are raising children it is because the guy is kind of a d!&k to begin with. That’s why he left. Or if not, the mom and dad are ill-suited to one another — they fight like cats and dogs. In other words the fact of the single family is endogenous to the crappy relationship, rather than the exogenous cause of the f*&cked-up kid. The Tories are getting the causal relationship wrong. We see this all the time.

So how is providing a financial incentive to keep them in a loveless relationship or keep a deadbeat around going to make for better adjusted kids? Well, it isn’t, David. The key to better kids is better parents, which means some kind of social engineering at a young age to help them learn, ideally before puberty, to resolve conflicts peacefully, not act like they are the center of the universe, etc. Not to change sleeping arrangements.

Also, are the type of people who shack up purely to get a tax write-off the kind of people we want having babies? This is a strange marriage of Reaganite/Thatcherite incentive economics and social conservatism. Those should be separated. Good parents need good values, not more money. Good luck!

How do we do that? I have no idea, but my guess would be education. Yes, that very education budget that is being slashed in the UK right now by the Tories. (That is true, right? Again, I just read the Financial Times, so I only know the market for yachts is stronger than ever. I’m serious– that was an actual article).

American Foreign Policy research and Wikileaks

There may not be a whole lot of diplomatic shockers in Sunday’s release, but this really has the potential to be a game changer for American foreign policy research over the next several years. I’m still not convinced we’ll actually see the full set of 250,000+ documents, but if we do, it will be big.

Most of American foreign policy scholarship evolves in subsequent waves over the course of 30 years or so. The first wave usually relies on press accounts, initial interviews with decision makers and other participants, and the quick turn-around journalistic books — on Iraq for example, we relied heavily on the books from Bob Woodward, Dana Priest, George Packer, Steve Coll, Seymour Hersch, etc…. All things being equal we are able to develop a pretty coherent factual basis in this initial wave.

The second and third waves — usually 5 – 20 years from the event/crisis — rely on those initial sources and subsequent secondary sources plus participant memoirs, more extensive interviews from a broader range of participants, field research, and an initial set of declassified materials through FOIA. These waves tend to branch into two streams – one that reinforces the initial conventional wisdom and a revisionist stream that re-examines alternative explanations, relies more heavily on counterfactuals, and exposes gaps or contradictions in the initial (conventional) explanations.

The fourth and subsequent waves — 20 and 30 years after an event or crisis — come after the release of archived materials. This usually begins with the initial declassification of documents through the Office of Historian at the State Department – the Foreign Relations of the United States Series (FRUS). Subsequent scholarship comes from the ensuing, declassification processes at the National Archives and various presidential libraries.

In short, by the time we see the raw,internal documents, we have a pretty good understanding of the context to determine the relative significance and importance of the classified materials to help us understand gaps in knowledge.

With Wikileaks we may be able to leapfrog the traditional 30 years process. On balance, I think this will contribute positively to scholarship on American foreign policy, but I do have a few concerns and warnings based on the initial press reporting and early blogging responses to the materials:

1. Sexy does not necessarily mean significant. The newspapers yesterday focused on the “raw” nature of the diplomatic discussions. Candid discussions are interesting to read, but not particularly enlightening in terms of the overall conduct of, and decision making in, American foreign policy. Such discussions are pretty standard stuff for anyone who has spent time in the archives or digging through FRUS. To the extent they are informative, they add a level of color about attitudes, but not necessarily much about substance of policy or strategy.

2. Don’t get seduced by classification. The documents released range from unclassified to Secret NOFORN. The tendency may be give more weight to more highly classified documents. As a former intelligence analyst and now a scholar, my sense is that unclassified documents and press accounts often add as much, if not more, to US government assessments and policy considerations than do many of the most highly classified documents. The classification – especially at the Secret level – is a reflection of the sources and methods used to collect the information or the specific sensitivity of an issue discussed. It is not a comment on the validity or significance of the substance.

3. Context still matters. It will be easy to jump to conclusions and cherry pick these cables. These are only a partial representation of U.S. policy deliberations. We can glean questions of interest to the US government from many of these cables, but to understand the dynamics of policymaking and deliberations requires more information. The FRUS series and the archives give us a much broader range on internal documentation ranging from CIA reporting, NSC deliberations, presidential memcons, etc…. This batch of Wikileaks documents are only a small representation of the overall internal documentary record. We’ll still have to wait 30 years or so for those documents.

4. Not all State Dept. cables are equal. I see at least three broad types of cables released so far: a) backgrounders and country analysis; b) memorandum of conversations between senior USG officials (SecDef Gates, Gen Petraeus, Adm. Mullins, and various assistant secretaries and ambassadors, etc…) and senior host government officials; and c) Congressional delegation conversations (CODELs):

a) The backgrounders and country analysis are not all equal. Some cables are written by seasoned political officers who offer candid and insightful judgment, but others are written by officers with only limited understanding of the country, the language, and US policy. Some cables are written by Ambassadors who are political appointees and may be highly ideological (e.g. see Eric Edelman’s cables from US Embassy Ankara) and some are written as part of on-going analytical feuds between the Embassy and the political appointees or the intelligence community back in Washington. In short, some are accurate representations of information that will be transmitted to the highest levels, many are not. Discerning the significance, the internal biases, and the quality of these cables requires more than a casual read.

b) The Memcons between senior administration officials and foreign officials. These can be the most valuable because they tend to demonstrate the range and prioritization of issues as well as the formal diplomatic positions. But many of these are already represented well in press accounts and may not shed all that much light on various subjects.

c) CODEL reporting tends to be a mixed bag and the relative importance of the discussions depends heavily on the interlocutors, the country in question, and the issues under discussion. Foreign government officials often see members of Congress as a different audience than administration officials and often shift their positions – sometimes as a calculated strategy to play Congress off the administration, other times it is simply to be polite or go through the motions of appearing to be interested in random members of Congress.

These documents reveal enormous amounts of information. But, quality scholarship will require commitment to traditional efforts – culling through the range of other primary sources, conducting interviews and field research, and more archival research. These documents are a great resource and, if used with a broader appreciation of process, sources, and context will almost certainly dramatically improve our understanding of American foreign policy of the past decade.

Web 2.0 and “Politics”

The Journal of Information Technology and Politics is offering free online access to its current Special Issue of Politics and Web 2.0, put together by Andrew Chadwick, just for the week of APSA. Here’s the table of contents:

“Guest Editor’s Introduction
“The Internet and Politics in Flux”
Andrew Chadwick

Research Papers
“Realizing the Social Internet? Online Social Networking Meets Offline Civic Engagement”
– Josh Pasek; eian more; Daniel Romer

“Typing Together? Clustering of Ideological Types in Online Social Networks”
– Brian J. Gaines; Jeffery J. Mondak

“Building an Architecture of Participation? Political Parties and Web 2.0 in Britain”
– Nigel A. Jackson; Darren G. Lilleker

“Norwegian Parties and Web 2.0”
– Øyvind Kalnes

“The Labors of Internet-Assisted Activism: Overcommunication, Miscommunication, and Communicative Overload”
– Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

“Developing the “Good Citizen”: Digital Artifacts, Peer Networks, and Formal Organization During the 2003–2004 Howard Dean Campaign”
– Daniel Kreiss

“Lost in Technology? Political Parties and the Online Campaigns of Constituency Candidates in Germany’s Mixed Member Electoral System”
– Thomas Zittel

“Internet Election 2.0? Culture, Institutions, and Technology in the Korean Presidential Elections of 2002 and 2007”
– Yeon-Ok Lee

“The Internet and Mobile Technologies in Election Campaigns: The GABRIELA Women’s Party During the 2007 Philippine Elections”
– Kavita Karan; Jacques D. M. Gimeno; Edson Tandoc Jr.

I notice two things about this line-up. One is that it’s great to see political scientists taking seriously the empirical study of social media. There is a dearth of articles like these in mainstream poli-sci journals.

Second the papers the ended up in the special issue represent a broad definition of Web 2.0 but a narrow definition of “politics”: looks like a lot of comparative electoral studies. That’s important of course, but I think there’s a lot of work to do examining the relationship of Web 2.0 to other aspects of politics: movements, understandings of copyright, framing processes, the law, international diplomacy. Also citizen-government interface, the boomerang effect, representation in politics, political satire and politics, to say nothing about the politics of everyday life.

Perhaps a Special Issue of Perspectives on Politics will take up some of these broader concerns down the line? Hint, hint.

Desertification between the rivers

The Iraqi people have suffered tremendously this decade — and are apparently suffering even more this summer. The LA Times is reporting today that Iraq’s latest calamity is an “environmental catastrophe.”

Decades of war and mismanagement, compounded by two years of drought, are wreaking havoc on Iraq’s ecosystem, drying up riverbeds and marshes, turning arable land into desert, killing trees and plants, and generally transforming what was once the region’s most fertile area into a wasteland.

Falling agricultural production means that Iraq, once a food exporter, will this year have to import nearly 80% of its food, spending money that is urgently needed for reconstruction projects.

“We’re talking about something that’s making the breadbasket of Iraq look like the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma in the early part of the 20th century,” said Adam L. Silverman, a social scientist with the U.S. military who served south of Baghdad in 2008.

While most Americans probably think of Iraq as a desert, much of Iraq was previously known as Mesopotamia, which literally means “land between the rivers.”

Indeed, the Iraqi area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers used to feed much of the Middle East. No more.

[Iraq’s] Agriculture Ministry estimates that 90% of the land is either desert or suffering from severe desertification, and that the remaining arable land is being eroded at the rate of 5% a year, said Fadhil Faraji, director-general of the ministry’s Department for Combating Desertification.

Some of the environmental damage to Iraq was the fault of Saddam Hussein, and much of the damage has accrued over a 10 to 20 year period. That doesn’t make the damage to Iraq’s marshes, for example, any less devastating:

“We’re talking about an area about the size of Lake Ontario that has been reduced to about a tenth of its original size,” says Dr. [Barry] Warner [of University of Waterloo]. “So, if you can imagine Lake Ontario disappearing, that’s essentially what has happened to the marshes in southern Iraq.”

Nor does this history of mismanagement relieve the U.S. of its responsibilities here.

In IR, much of the research on ecology and security has focused on the possibility that “environmental scarcities” contribute to the outbreak of violent conflict. It would appear as if additional research should focus on the environmental harm of war itself — and the difficulty of making critical green choices in a war context.

Modeling Torture, and the Ethical Dilemma of the Results

A few months ago fellow NYU inhabitant Joshua Tucker of The Monkey Cage asked what, if any, social science research had been done on the effectiveness of torture in obtaining valuable intelligence? Josh’s primary question was an ethical one, that being if a researcher had a personal objection to the use of torture, but through an empirical analysis of data found that it in fact did extract valuable data, should the researcher attempt to get it published despite his or her personal objection? This touched off a very interesting discussion among Monkey readers, and I recommend it to all.

Today, Josh revisits the topic, but this time with a bit of relevant research in hand. In “Interrogational Torture: Or How Good Guys Get Bad Information with Ugly Methods,” John Schiemann presents a theoretical model of an interrogation.
Briefly, the model has two players, the detainee and the state, where the state is uncertain about the value of the detainee’s knowledge and the detainee is uncertain as to the state’s willingness to use torture. The state moves first, by either asking leading questions (uninformative signal) or objective questioning. The detainee must then decide to send a valuable message, or not. Finally, the state evaluates this message to ascertain the detainees type, and from this decides whether to use torture to extract additional information (for a full description of the game see the paper).

In approaching this research, Schiemann struggled with the exact ethical dilemma hypothesized by Josh in his first post, and after deciding to research the the topic he concluded:

…even in a worst case scenario in which torture is shown to be effective under some limited circumstances, we would want to know that. What is the alternative? The alternative is to do nothing and help preserve a status quo in which torture is unrestrained. As difficult as it would be to swallow a result showing some limited effectiveness of torture, I’d rather live with that than what the U.S. has been doing – and perhaps is continuing to do.

There are two interesting points of discussion that fall from this discussion. First, do we believe the model presented above is an accurate or useful interpretation of the decision process of a state to use torture? One weakness to note is the presumed equality of uncertainty between the players. The state is rarely completely uncertain as to the value of a detainee’s knowledge. Presumably some amount of intelligence collection went into the decision to capture and interrogate a detainee, therefore, the state can (and does) have the ability to rank the value of detainees. Likewise, unless a detainee is the first of a given conflict, the game is clearly repeated; consequently, all subsequent detainees will be able to update their beliefs about a state’s type. It may be more valuable, and easier to model, to make this a repeated game of one-way uncertainty, where a state is known to use torture, but the type of detainee is unknown by adding noise to the intelligence collected on a detainee prior to capture.

The second point of interest are Schiemann’s thoughts on how social scientists should approach researching ethically sensitive topics (for his full remarks see the Monkey post). My opinion is that all finding should be disclosed; first because it is a fundamental principle of scientific endeavor, but more to the point, it can expose false assumptions and promote more accurate models to be built and explored. For example, the model above is an excellent first step toward building a theory of how a state decides to use torture. As we can clearly see, however, it is in no way the definitive model on the topic. If the results from this model show that torture is effective that does not mean it should be used. On the contrary, it means that under the assumptions of this particular model, in some cases, it is shown to be effective. Improving the model, and generating new results, may alter the conclusion completely (or not). This iterative process is the only way to contribute valuable knowledge to a discipline.

I am interested in other’s thoughts, both in terms of the model, but also how to approach research on these kinds of topics. Particularly from practitioners (not necessarily of torture) within the defense community. How is this model getting at the dynamics of interrogation, and where does it fail? How might it be improved? Also, as consumers of social science research, how do you think the community should handle these ethical concerns?

Photo: Wikimedia

Joking cousins

The most recent Utne Reader includes a short piece from Katie Krueger about the practice of “joking cousins” in Senegal:

This means that whenever we meet, as a sign of friendliness, we insult each other without hesitation. Every ethnic group in Senegal has at least one or two joking cousin groups, so meeting one is rare enough to be a delight but common enough that it is protocol.

Professor Brett O’Bannon of DePauw University (a former graduate student of mine) has written an academic paper arguing that such “joking relationships” are threatened by the forces of globalization. Yet, he notes, these localized relationships ordinarily play important roles in maintaining peaceful order in some societies.

In a short blurb describing his academic work, O’Bannon explains that the “joking relationship”

“binds families, clans or even whole ethnic groups into ties of imagined kinship. For example, when two people of the Ndiaye and Diop families (quite common family names in the Senegambia) meet, they are required to ‘dis’ each other. That is, they insult each others’ family heritage, eating habits, you name it. It’s pretty funny stuff, actually. The important thing is that they are not only required to engage in these insulting exchanges, but they are equally obligated not to take offense.”

“For one, these fictive relationships have been known to bring an end to quite serious conflicts. I document an instance in which a rebel group in southern Senegal actually released a carload of hostages because the driver successfully pleaded for their lives in the name of the Serer-Diola joking relationship. The Serer and Diola are two ethnic groups bound by a mutual pact of non-aggression, so to speak. The rebels in question are mainly from the Diola group and the terms of their joking relationship prohibit the spilling of the other’s blood. The potential for these kinds of indigenous institutions of self governance is significant.”

Apparently, the practice is fairly common throughout Africa — though O’Bannon’s field work (like Krueger‘s travel) has been based in Senegal.

In the Occasional Paper, O’Bannon views joking relationships as “quintessential indigenous governance institutions,” particularly important because rural Senegal faces conditions consistent with state collapse. Farmers and herders, for example, find themselves increasingly in conflict over natural resources. O’Bannon explains that neoliberal economic policies have wrought changes in rural Senegal that impose barriers between herders and ranchers that did not previously exist — individual property rights claims, for instance, which limit access to land. In his words, “the ties between these putative cousins are fraying.”

I find this practice an interesting supplement to my ongoing work on the comedy of global politics. In Medieval and other historical contexts, the court jester was similarly allowed to make jokes at the expense of the king — without fear of retribution. I see these as important elements in critical IR theory.

Note: the Krueger story originally appeared at World Hum.

I also fixed the typo in the title. Blogger doesn’t seem to identify spelling errors in the title.

Child: Labor

Perspectives on Politics just published a depressing assessment of the prospects for women in the academy, placing much of the blame for the glass ceiling on the “intractable tension between professional success and family duties.” The section of the article concludes:

“Virtually every woman with children [interviewed] noted the difficulties in balancing career and family. Mary and Gale remind us that family versus career is a human problem, not just one with which women wrestle.”

Hear, hear. While the authors conclude that there is little evidence that society or political science as a profession is taking it seriously as such, one might make the same argument about the study itself, which looks at women in the profession, rather than parents in the profession, including fathers, for whom – at least for that small but growing percentage who takes on half the work at home – may be even more disadvantaged career-wise. (It would have been great to see the sex-disaggregated statistics.)

The authors aren’t alone: a new Caucus within the ISA that is seeking to address family issues within the profession calls itself “Mothers in IR,” reifying the idea that parenting is primarily a women’s issue; at my insitution, the Child Care SubCommittee lobbying for more family-friendly policies is subsumed under the Gender Equity Committee rather than mainstreamed into the Benefits and Welfare process. No wonder the issue isn’t taken very seriously.

In my mind, all this is a huge part of the problem. That’s why, on Father’s Day this week, I was happy to see the New York Times report in-depth on families, mostly working professionals, who have come up with creative arrangements for splitting child-care 50/50 in order to support one another’s careers. The article presents a balanced view of the impacts of equal parenting on the career choices of both men and women, as well as many examples of how it can work and what employers can do to make it easier for fathers and mothers.

But. Even here, it matters quite a lot how you define “work” versus “fun” in child rearing. Dr. Sampson Lee Blair, a sociologist who studies work/family dynamics at University of Buffalo is quoted in the NYT article:

“The social scientist’s definition of child care “is attending to the physical needs of a child — dressing a child, cooking for a child, feeding and cleaning them,” Blair says. It doesn’t include the fun stuff, like playing and reading and kissing good night.”

Hello: I say, reading at night is work, too, for three reasons.

A) It is of value to the kid; it doesn’t matter whether it’s fun or not – I also love my job as a teacher, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t get paid.

B) Sometimes, it’s not fun, lying in bed with a book at 8pm when you’re exhausted but know you need to get back up to troll around on blogs watch the Daily Show prep for class and have to struggle to stay awake while you do it – that can be work.

Part of the problem is that society wants to exclude from the definition of “work” anything that society thinks we’re supposed to want to do unconditionally out of love, regardless of how hard it is or what its actual economic value. This assumption needs to be challenged of caring work done by both sexes. My husband may love to garden and fix things, but that doesn’t mean I should discount these contributions to our household as “hobbies.”

In her (once again, inaptly titled) book The Price of Motherhood, Ann Crittenden offers a better definition of the the economic value of the labor it takes to raise children well: the price you would have to pay someone else to do the work for you.

What if we calculated the cost of this labor of child rearing as a percentage of GDP?

The Politics of the DH

Today, I read an interesting article linking baseball and political science — “The Etiology of Public Support for the Designated Hitter Rule,” (warning: pdf) by Christopher Zorn and Jeff Gill, published in the Quarterly Journal of Political Science. Despite the jargon, the piece is quite readable.

Zorn and Gill report evidence that baseball fans are far more likely to embrace the designated hitter (DH) if they are Democrats:

Most important, and consistent with our expectations, we find that self-identified Democratic Party members are more likely to support the DH rule than are either independents or Republicans; the odds ratio of 1.90 suggests that, on average, Democrats are 90 percent more likely to support the rule than are independents. This implies (we think) that the values that draw the respondents to the Democrats are linked to those associated with supporting the rule. At the same time, the reverse is not true: Republicans are no more or less likely to support the DH rule than are political independents.

Their explanation for this finding makes intuitive sense.

As Zorn and Gill explain, the DH is arguably the greatest rules change in the history of baseball — and Democrats are more accepting of “socio-political” changes.

Younger fans like the DH a bit more — each year of age decreases support for the DH by 1.3%.

The also find a gender gap. Women are three times as likely to support the DH as men. All respondents were self-identified baseball fans, included in a larger CBS News survey taken in 1997.

Interleague play did not engender the same sort of socio-political division.

I know that Peter (Indians), Patrick (Yankees) and I (Royals) all grew up as fans of American League teams, which the authors hypothesize makes us more accepting of the DH. They could not fully test this relationship because of limits in the data (i.e., the pollsters didn’t ask the right questions).

Note to Zorn and Gill in regard to footnote 18: There may not be data showing an increased Japanese-American fan base, but there is evidence of increased interest in American baseball in Japan — thanks to the U.S. success of Nomo, Ichiro, Matsui, et al.

Hat tip: I learned about Zorn and Gill from my colleague who works with quantitative data about American public opinion and political behavior, Jason Gainous.

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