Category: Academia (page 1 of 13)

A War On … Something?

This is a guest post by Linda Monsees who works as a Post-Doctoral Researcher at Goethe University Frankfurt and is the author of Crypto-Politics.

After wars on drugs, Christmas and everything in between, it seems that we people tend to call everything a war – everything despite a real war. But really, we are now in a ‘war on truth’? Politicians, companies, and countries start disinformation campaigns and lots of stories are shared that do not qualify as journalism.  And this spread of fake news got us in a ‘war’? I get it, we are still in the process of overcoming the shocks of certain elections that did not end the way many of us would have liked. Combine this shock with a natural technology-angst and this thing called fake news becomes a real threat.

But isn’t the task of a social scientist to take some distance, anaylse, explain and – dare I say? – even give guidance? So what about the ancient wisdom of ‘Don’t Panic’? I get the feeling that much of the academic debate reproduces assumptions about the impact on fake news rather than investigating them. A closer look at empirical research shows that the impact of fake news isn’t that big – fake news do not really seem to change people’s voting behaviour. And well, do I need to tell you that spreading false information for political or economic gains isn’t such a new phenomenon either? If you think about it, fake news are a form of propaganda. Of course, networked technology makes it possible that these news items spread faster than ever before. I am not denying that fake news are a thing, the public discourse might just overrate its impact. So, fake news are widely shared and it certainly shapes current political debates – but maybe not in the way most people think? 

Research on fake news has shown that people really do not seem to care too much about the veracity of the stories that they share. In the UK, more than a third of people sharing news admit sharing inaccurate or false news, an insight corobroated by other sociological research. While it surely is a problem when people (and I include myself here) cannot distinguish between ‘real’ and ‘fake’ news, people seem also be fine with sharing non-true stories. Acknowledging these insights then also means that ‘media literacy’ is not really a solution to the problem. danah boyd actually made this argument in a much nicer way, so check out her article over here. Focusing on media literacy does not acknowledge the underlying political and social problems that might be the source for the spread of fake news. Media literacy is considered to be the right tool to educate people about which kind of news they need to read. But this focus on education makes the problem of fake news one of young and uneducated people. According to this view, media literacy will help people who cannot distinguish between fake and non-fake news to become more educated.  Fake news is thus only a problem of ‘them’  – the young and uneducated. The underlying political economy, the importance of clickbait and legitimate political protest are covered up by such a focus on media literacy.

Fake news, post-truth, disinformation will probably just become part of our political vocabulary. This reflects changes in technology and the media culture and even though we feel uncomfortable about this we should maybe listen more to people who have actually done empirical research on this rather than repeating panicked judgements. 

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A Case for Nationalism

Sorry, clickbait! But admit, it, after an apology of race science in Quillette or “The Case for Colonialism” in TWQ you probably rage-clicked on the thumbnail to let me have it. Periodic IR Twitter flares over teaching “Stoddard light” (i.e., Huntington) also show that not all scholars are aware of racialized origins of world order, existing color lines in global capitalism, or even “race relations” pedigree of IR as a discipline. This post is about a case for teaching about nationalism because it seems like different versions of racist primordial rhetoric just won’t die.


As a blog post by John Jackson made it clear, race science is a vampire science that comes back every so often [Twilight joke edited]. I see from time to time some type of “IQ difference” and “levels of criminality” arguments coming up among students because these arguments are essentially polished up turds from the 19th century anthroposociology and Social Darwinism that keep stinking up even supposedly an academic debate through mainstreaming of far-right rhetoric around the world. If a “Leader of the Free World” can say that “Mexicans are rapists” and “they bring drugs and crime” on prime-time television while the news dutifully resort to both-sidism and place chyrons with direct quotes, is our last hope education?

I have taught a course on theories of nationalism for several years now and we always start with the primordial stuff: blood, speech, custom, region, and religion. At this point, I invite students to create a ‘fake nation” in groups. This usually yields a very fun and diverse set of nations from island matriarchate with coconut cult to unicorn-blooded mermaid atheists. This exercise, of course, does not reverse or heal all the prejudice that might have collected in the backs of the minds of students (I have another 13 sessions for that) but at least it gives them an opportunity to reflect on the artificial nature of nation-building projects.


Another important session is on the role of collective memory and politics of commemoration. Especially on the undergraduate level where high school memories are not that far off, it’s important to reflect what was chosen to remember and what was chosen to forget in history books, why certain public holidays make the cut, and how national projects begin in the everyday, often unnoticed practices of creating a “culture”. But, as Huntington’s resilience on the syllabi shows, “culture” still serves as an ontological category that elevates constructed differences to political ones. So, after 14 sessions of talking imagined communities, “scientific” racism, and ontological security among others, I rarely get the boiler plate “Western civilization” in the exam answers, but how do I know the vaccination against racism has been successful?

As Paul Musgrave noted, right-wing media tells me that I can turn my students into socialists, but my experience tells me that I can’t even make them do the reading. So, what can we as political scientists do to inoculate against racism and xenophobia? What should we encourage the students to read? Because I don’t want to see the vampire science rise again.


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Appetite for Self Destruction, or three suicides and a funeral*

Here’s my argument: Late 80s/early 90s Soviet Union. The United Kingdom in 2016. The United States 2016 to now. Three contemporary examples of international suicide that conventional IR neither predicted nor can account.

Ok, so perhaps suicide is too hyperbolic a concept and we should go with appetite for self-destruction . Certainly in the case of the Soviet Union any agential claim regarding the state is overdrawn. But either way I think there is a point here. All three states, and particularly the last two, undertook an internally driven diminution of international standing and capacity—dare I say, power.

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Plato and teaching Foreign Policy

I assigned Plato’s Theaetetus this semester in my foreign policy class. It was the very first thing we read in a course that included more standard text’s like Walter Russel Mead’s Special Providence, Tom Schelling’s Arms and Influence, and selections from Andrew Bacevich’s edited volume of primary sources, Ideas and American Foreign Policy. On first glance, reading a work of political philosophy—and one which is widely considered one of the more difficult texts in the Western canon—might seem like a poor fit. But, my experiment paid off and I may continue assigning the Theaetetus or similar texts in my courses on foreign policy in the future. Its theme is epistemology, knowledge, and specifically it challenges the idea that humans can actually know anything. I have plans to write something up for a journal, but in this piece, I want to explore how it might be used in the classroom should anyone feel ambitious enough to replicate.

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Clarifying Classic Confusions for IR students

An amazing series of tweets must be re-posted here so that IR profs everywhere can use them for syllabi and for the first day of class.  A grateful nation owes Herb Carmen, former naval aviator, a tremendous debt.
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Editors, we need to talk about robustness checks

It’s happened to all of us (or least those of us who do quantitative work). You get back a manuscript from a journal and it’s an R&R. Your excitement quickly fades when you start reading the comments. One reviewer gives a grocery list of additional tests they’d like to see: alternate control variables, different estimators, excluded observations. Another complains about the long list of robustness checks already in the manuscript, as it obscures the important findings. Sometimes both of these reviewers are the same person.

And it gets even more complicated if the article ends up rejected and you send it to another journal. Now that list of robustness checks–some of which were of questionable value–expands under a new set of reviewers’ comments. And those reviewers irritated by voluminous appendices get even more annoyed by all the tests included with little clear justification (“another reviewer told me to add this” not being an acceptable footnote).

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Winners of the 2019 Duckies!

This is a guest post from William Kindred Winecoff, Incoming Chair

and Brent E. Sasley, Outgoing Chair of the Online Media Caucus

The Online Media Caucus’s 2019 Duckies have come and gone. The reception celebrating Online Achievement in International Studies, generously sponsored by SAGE Publishing, included three fascinating Ignite speakers and the presentation of five awards to very deserving scholars.

Ignite speakers:

Meg Guliford, PhD candidate at Tufts University, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, spoke about “Operation Hedge of Protection,” which contains her strategies for dealing with trolls on Twitter.

Naazneen Barma, Associate Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School and Co-Director of Bridging the Gap, presented some ideas for thinking about best practices in online activity.

Paul Poast, Associate Professor at the University of Chicago, explained how and why he created a Twyllabus for his Introduction to IR course.

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Does IR really have a “culture problem?”

Is it a mistake to push back on a senior scholar (whose work you admire) right before ISA? Maybe. Is it overkill to post twice in one week? Probably (sorry Duck superiors). But I had to say something about this Christian Reus-Smit piece in Foreign Policy–based on his new bookclaiming IR doesn’t understand culture. It’s an example of the sort of well-meaning critique that fails to really engage with work being done in IR, which can divide and undermine scholars who should be working together.

Reus-Smit argues IR sees culture in an outdated manner, approaching cultures “as tightly integrated, neatly bounded, and clearly differentiated” entities that are “causally powerful.” He argues this misrepresents reality, ignores advances in other fields, and is a common failing across realist, rationalist and constructivist theories.

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Citation Conversation Continued

My post on citation got far more engagement than nearly all of the things I have posted over the years, so I thought I would return to the scene of the crime/post.  While many academics agreed whole heartily with my take, more than a few did not including folks I respect a great deal.  What were their perspectives?

  1. Citations are a lousy measure, one with much bias, of academic relevance/achievement, etc.
  2. People would rather be contacted so that they can provide the latest version of the paper, rather than something that might be half-baked, wrong, or incomplete.
  3. People worry about being scooped or plagiarized.
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The slow death of realism in IR

It seems like good times have come around again for realists. After decades in the theoretical and empirical doldrums (getting end of Cold War wrong, opposition to war in Iraq, terrorism and COIN) realism is back. The most recent U.S. National Defense Strategy renews a focus on great power competition, specifically with China and Russia. The Pentagon has offloaded MRAPs and is stocking up on boost phase interceptors, hypersonics, and other weapons platforms not all that useful against insurgents but great for peer competitors. Oh, happy days for the balance of power!

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How Not to Get Cited

by Steve Saideman

Put “do not cite, do not circulate” on your paper.  I received a paper for the upcoming ISA which had that instruction on it.  I yelled at (ok, I mocked) my students last week for doing the same thing.  In the olden days, folks would put “do not cite” on their papers because they wanted to polish them before submitting, that they didn’t want to have errant results widely circulated.  Perhaps there is a fear that if a paper is circulated, it might get scooped.

But  NO!!!!

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Social Media/Engagement: Why Do It?

by Stephen M. Saideman

I teach a 3rd year PhD workshop that is mostly focused on getting students through their dissertation proposals (a roadmap for their dissertation research).  Along the way, we cover other topics, like how to get on conference programs, what kind of non-academic employment there is, and, yes, social media.  Last night, we covered the latter category, and I was surprised at the response: why don’t I make money off of it?

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Your Publons Profile and Extra Credit in the After Life

What’s the right amount of reviews to do in a year? For my university’s annual performance review, I went through and counted how many I did last year, which included some grant and book proposals. I topped out around 40, which seemed like a high number to me.

How many is too many?
Is that actually a high number though? Perhaps that is just the price of seniority and being in the business for a good number of years. In my case, I get a lot of requests for reviews from journals outside political science, since I write on climate change impacts and water.

Is it fair?
We know that the reviewing processes is skewed and inequitable. Some people submit but won’t review much or at all and are regarded by journal editors as bad citizens. But most people simply do not get many review requests. Paul Djupe’s 2015 paper in PS found that my 40 reviews would be well above the norm:

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Duckies Reminder

This is a guest post from Brent Sasley, Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Arlington and chair of the ISA Online Media Caucus.

Just a reminder that nominations for the Duckies (Online Achievement in International Studies) will close February 1, but we are still accepting nominations until then! Send nominations to onlinemediacaucus@gmail.com. Self-nominations are welcome.

The categories are:

  • Best Blog (Group) in International Studies
  • Best Blog (Individual) in International Studies
  • Best Blog Post in International Studies
  • Best Twitter Account
  • Special Achievement in International Studies Online Media

Please note that award nominees or their designated representatives MUST be present at the Duckies.

The Duckies will be presented at a reception at the ISA convention in Toronto, hosted by the Online Media Caucus and sponsored by SAGE Publication, on Wednesday, March 27 at 7:30. 

If you have any questions, please contact 2018-19 OMC Chair Brent Sasley (bsasley@uta.edu).

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IR Theory After Trump: A First Image Renaissance? Part II

This is the second of two guest posts ]by Eric Parajon, Richard Jordan, and Marcus Holmes. The first can be found here.

In our last post, we explored recent TRIP survey data illustrating that International Relations scholars overwhelmingly blame President Donald J. Trump for a perceived decline in America’s international respect. We also detailed how this individual level explanation seemed at odds with a reluctance over the past three decades on the part of IR scholars to publish articles focusing on the role of the individual or the “first image”. We closed our piece with some possible explanations for the divergence between what scholars study and what they say is important. In this post, we further detail what we see as the most compelling explanation, that scholars have correctly assessed Trump’s importance, but how they study the world does not mirror how they see the world. 

It is absolutely true that IR scholars research the second and third images almost exclusively–but it is also likely true that very few think the first image unimportant. It may be that the discipline has simply not known how to study individuals systematically, and this confusion masquerades as disinterest.

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IR Theory After Trump: A First Image Renaissance? Part I

This is a guest post, the first of two, by Eric Parajon, Richard Jordan, and Marcus Holmes. Eric Parajon is a recent graduate of William & Mary and currently a Project Manager for the Teaching, Research, and International Policy Project. Richard Jordan is an assistant professor at Baylor University. He researches game theory, security, and leadership. Marcus Holmes is an associate professor of Government at William & Mary. He recently published Face-to-Face Diplomacy: Social Neuroscience and International Relations.

Among IR scholars, research on the role of individuals in world politics, or the “first image,” has languished for three decades. With the dominance of structural and rationalist approaches in the late 20th century, combined with skepticism individuals can be studied in a systematic, rather than idiosyncratic way, the first image has largely been neglected. Data out of the Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) project at William & Mary illustrate the point. Over the last thirty-five years or so, only 12.5% of the articles analyzed, in a wide-swath of IR journals, featured any engagement with the first image:

Figure 1: Proportion of scholarly journal articles utilizing each image approach (Grouped by year)

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New Year. New Intentions.

I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions, but I just listened to Pod Save America’s resolutions podcast. Ana Marie Cox was a guest and talked about her approach to New Year’s resolutions. She talked about “intentions” rather than resolutions since resolutions have the air of failure about them: you either completed the task or you didn’t. Intentions has a quality that is less judgmental and more aspirational.

Aside from some discussion of self-care (which I think is generally good), the podcast focused on time management and our interaction with technology, which resonated with me. Several of the Pod Save crew talked about how they hoped to approach Twitter and social media more generally differently, whether it be only re-tweeting articles they actually read, never scrolling on Twitter before reading a few articles, or just avoiding amplifying outrage on the platform.

More broadly, I have given a lot more thought about how I use social media, who and how I interact with people, and how I manage time more generally.

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2019 Duckies

This is a guest post from Brent Sasley, Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Arlington and chair of the ISA Online Media Caucus.

ISA 2019 is coming up fast, so it’s time to start thinking about the Duckies! A lot has happened in the last year, and scholars and researchers have been more active than ever in trying to help us figure it all out. Let’s recognize their efforts!

The Online Achievement in International Studies Reception and Awarding of the Duckies will take place on Wednesday, March 27 at 7:30pm, hosted by the ISA’s Online Media Caucus (OMC). We will first listen to our wonderful and popular Ignite speaker series, and then present the awards in our five categories. OMC would like to recognize the generous support of SAGE Publishing for the reception and for OMC’s work in general.

Please send in your nominations for the 2019 Duckies in the categories below. Be sure to include hyperlinks. Send nominations to onlinemediacaucus@gmail.com by February 1, 2019. Self-nominations are welcome.

Please consider submitting a nomination in the following categories:

Best Blog (Group) in International Studies

Best Blog (Individual) in International Studies

Best Blog Post in International Studies

Best Twitter Account

Special Achievement in International Studies Online Media

Please note that award nominees or their designated representatives MUST be present at the Duckies.

Once the due date for nominations has passed, the Online Media Caucus leadership board will assess the recommendations and determine the final recipients. If you have any questions, please contact 2018-19 OMC Chair Brent Sasley.

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Dear Political Science, it is time for a SELF-REFLEXIVE turn!

This is a guest post by Lahoma Thomas, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto. This piece on reflexivity and positionality emerged from a panel she organized at APSA 2016, titled: “Race in the Field: Understanding How Identity Frames Field Research”and has evolved as one of her primary research agendas. Follow her on Twitter at @LAHOMAthomas.

The issues of reflexivity and positionality have been prominent features of my academic career, especially throughout my doctoral studies in political science. Reflexivity entails a critical reflection on one’s own interpretations and their influences. It requires one to consider that one’s positionality—that is one’s location in the society’s system of social stratification— informs the way one sees and makes sense of the world, and shapes the way one engages and conducts oneself within it.

I came to the discipline as a social worker, where my professional praxis demands an awareness of my own positionality, along with ongoing self-reflexivity concerning the impact of my interventions on the lives of those I work with. The discussions and ethical considerations with which I was familiar, contrasted with those I experienced in the political science classroom and the broader political science literature on methodology. As a doctoral student, I experienced the absence of this awareness especially in the scholarship on fieldwork. Continue reading

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Radical IR: approaches or implications?

Dillon Tatum had an interesting post here last week, calling for a “radical” international relations. As Tatum notes, “radicalism intervenes in the political domain with the goal of fundamental transformation” and IR could function similarly.

What would that look like? I think many would imagine a radical IR as radical in its approaches and methods. That is, scholars would critically examine biases and assumptions, uncover power structures and erase them. In this envisioning of critical IR, conventional methods—quantitative analyses, positivist qualitative studies—are part of the problem. They limit the questions we ask and the type of answers we accept as valid.

But is this really the case? Must IR reshape itself to push back on the common wisdom and make the world a better place? I’m not sure. Looking at music, Frank Zappa was certainly radical, in both approach and implication. But Brian Wilson, while adhering to standard pop sensibilities, used the “rules” to produce music with far-reaching, shockingly radical implications. Maybe it could be the same with IR.

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