The International Studies Compendium is a field-defining project of somewhat epic proportions. According to its architects, it “will be the most comprehensive reference work of its kind for the field of international studies” – a group of literally hundreds of 10,000 word, article-length, peer-reviewed literature reviews – published in hard copy in its entirety, online with updates, and in subject-specific edited volumes. In the two years this project has been going on, it has inspired massive amounts of frustration, even more hard work, and the occasional Compendium voodoo doll. I am blogging about the Compendium tonight both because I think it is worthy of a post on a blog at least partially about the structure of the field of International Relations, and because my brain cannot think of anything else!

The Compendium is organized largely by section of the International Studies Association. The International Studies Association has 23 sections, which focus on different substantive areas in IR (for the most part). They include: Active Learning in International Affairs; Comparative Interdisciplinary Studies; Diplomatic Studies; the English School; Environmental Studies; Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Migration; Feminist Theory and Gender Studies; Foreign Policy Analysis; Global Development; Human Rights; Intelligence Studies; International Communication; International Education; International Ethics; International Law; International Organization; International Political Economy; International Political Sociology; International Security Studies; Peace Studies; Post Communist States in International Relations; Scientific Study of International Processes; and Women’s Caucus. That’s 23, right?

The essays are supposed to be comprehensive literature reviews, subject to the process of peer review. The authors are not paid for their contributions.

Bob Denemark (University of Delaware) is the General Editor; Andrea Gerlak (who works for ISA) is the managing editor, and each section has a Section Editor that works on a group of essays about topic of the section’s specialization. There is also an Editorial Advisory Board with 27 past or present ISA President members. I come at this from the perspective of an “insider” to the Compendium – I helped write my section’s list of topics, followed it through the peer review process, helped identify authors, served as an “Associate Section Editor” for ten essays in my subfield, and, about two months ago, took over the Section Editor duties for my section. So I write this as the Section Editor for the Feminist Theory and Gender Studies Section (FTGS).

The Feminist Theory and Gender Studies Section has 54 commissioned essays in the Compendium; 28 of them made the late June deadline to be a part of the “International Studies Encyclopedia,” (ISE) while the rest of them will now strive to be a part of the “International Studies On-Line” (ISO) internet version of the Compendium along with the original 28. The 28 essays that made the deadline went through a first draft, peer review, Associate Section Editor critiques, second drafts, and, in many cases, re-review and third and fourth drafts. The remaining essays remain somewhere in that process.

What I have been doing for the last few days is drafting the introduction to the FTGS essays in the print version (and I thought edited volume introductions were complicated!). This has brought up a number of thoughts that I’ve had about the Compendium in the almost three years I’ve been working with it in some capacity, and I’ve decided to share some of them.

The first thought I had about the ISA Compendium was a post-positivist rejection of classifying knowledge in the ways encyclopedias do. That’s why its called the “Compendium” even though its major printed project is called the “Encyclopedia” – because (I’m hoping) its architects knew the problems associated with constructing encyclopedias that straight-jacket disciplines, but (I’m guessing) met with the publisher’s desire to call it an encyclopedia so they could sell more of them. The process of playing a fairly serious role in the editing for a portion of the project has shored up that conviction: who decides what gets “in” to defining the discipline, and what doesn’t? What if someone writes an essay defining a part of the discipline in a way that excludes others that think they are a part of it, but the author disagrees? If the question “what is IR?” is fundamentally contested, how can it be contested in an encyclopedia setting? How do we at once tell “the story” of IR and IR’s many stories?

This is complicated further by the structure of the Compendium around sections. Let me explain a bit of my problem with this, and then try to circle around to how it impacts the above point. The second thought that I had about the Compendium was that organizing it around sections might be fundamentally problematic generally (since the sections arose organically, overlap, and aren’t subject to regular review for continued relevance) and specifically for the FTGS section. I don’t want to speak for my whole section – but one of my goals for my section is its obsolescence. It won’t happen anytime soon if it ever happens, but I would like to see Feminist Theory and Gender Studies be a transformative force and an integral part in Active Learning in International Affairs; Comparative Interdisciplinary Studies; Diplomatic Studies; the English School; Environmental Studies; Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Migration; Foreign Policy Analysis; Global Development; Human Rights; Intelligence Studies; International Communication; International Education; International Ethics; International Law; International Organization; International Political Economy; International Political Sociology; International Security Studies; Peace Studies; Post Communist States in International Relations; Scientific Study of International Processes; and Women’s Caucus. Its not like “Intelligence Studies” is a different substantive area than “Environmental Studies” (while they do have some overlap), it is that “Feminist Theory and Gender Studies argues that its work should change the other “parts” of IR such that they take account of gender issues as fundamental to international politics. My first reaction, then, was that it was my goal to have as many essays in other sections’ parts of the Compendium mention or focus on gender as I could. I actually still have no idea how successfully or unsuccessfully that quest went (I guess I’ll see when it is published). My second reaction was to think about the implications of both the organization and potential overlap. For example, I wrote an essay on Feminist Security Studies for the FTGS section. Someone else wrote an essay on the same topic for the International Security Section. The essays will follow each other in the alphabetically-organized print version of the ISE. I’ve read both essays, and they go well together – but I’m sure this isn’t the only situation in which that happened. But fundamentally – which section gets to define their overlap? And what message do potentially conflicting interpretations send? This is the point linked to the discussion above – what are the narrative and counter-narrative functions of section organization?

This concern has been foremost on my mind as I have been trying to write the introduction for the FTGS section. It is an interesting task. First, one has to summarize and relate 28 essays (and can’t know about/talk about related ones outside the section). Second, one has to talk about those essays as if they are the complete offering of the section (because they are for the purposes of the ISE), while still not marginalizing the 26 topics that will be included in the later ISO. But the most interesting challenge is writing the statements that define and describe your subfield – delineating what it is and (perhaps more importantly) what it isn’t.

Is International Studies the sum of the 23-section-parts of ISA? If not, what’s missing? If so, how do we get a clear sense of the identity of those 23-section parts? Somehow I doubt the published ISE will tell us …. but maybe it will start the debate.

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