Category: Featured (page 1 of 138)

Lessons from Radicalization Narratives on Social Media

This is a guest post from Dr. Sybille Reinke de Buitrago, who is a Researcher and Project Manager of “VIDEOSTAR – Video-based Strategies Against Radicalization” at PolAk Nds, the Academy of Police Science and Criminology, Germany. Her research focuses on processes of identity, perception, emotions and discourse in security policy and international relations.

With the multitude of ‘stuff’ anyone can say online, why does it matter what someone says? It depends. When it comes to extremists posting content, we should be concerned, because spreading hatred online can incite actual violence. Radicalization narratives online then do matter. In the face of enormous challenges regarding digital communication, societal cohesion and political stability, we need to understand such narratives, and we need effective ways of countering them. 

Radicalization is a multidimensional process involving actors, ideas, political aims, means, and an audience. For extremists, social media has become a key tool to convey their ideas and ideologies, but also to recruit followers and to mobilize. Of course, offline contact remains important, but initial contact often comes online, and can be deepened there. Extremists want to create interest and attention; they offer strategic narratives that exploit tensions in society. Picking at those issues that are problematic, they target people who feel disillusioned or alienated from society. They also aim at emotions. They heavily color their claims and demands emotionally, utilizing emotional and identity needs we all have. The emotional framing does not only create interest, it also matters because the emotionalization of Self and Other – of ingroup and outgroup – is a tool to create dichotomy and antagonism between groups. 

How do extremists talk in social media?

An analysis of current radicalization narratives in YouTube focusing on Germany and Europe (Project VIDEOSTAR – Video-based Strategies against Radicalization) sheds some light on this question. The insights point to how extremists attempt to create division, antagonism, and feelings of threat. Islamist narratives tend to portray Europe and the West at large as negative and threatening places for Muslims. They frame the West as bad place to live in for ‘true’ Muslims and as threat to the Muslim community as a whole. The claim is that Muslims cannot be ‘true’ Muslims in the West. 

Islamist narratives heavily criticize Western media, and they portray state institutions as working to weaken a Muslim way of life. Narratives purposefully exploit discrimination experiences of Muslims, aiming to polarize and create antagonism. Such narratives reject any Western identity, and offer and appeal instead to a separate Muslim identity. Even topics of daily concern of young people are exploited, such as difficulties in school or with parents. For complex problems and for any issue of contention in society, Islamists offer as solution a simplified version of what they call the ‘true’ way of life for any Muslim. Linked is the call on all Muslims to defend their Muslim ‘rights’, community, and religion – according to the particular Islamist group’s narrative. 

Right-wing extremist/populist narratives, on the other side, focus on the claimed threat coming from refugees and migrants, and migration overall. Narratives portray refugees and migrants as threat to Europe, its culture, democracy and the Western way of life. An ‘Islamization’ of Europe is said to occur, with the Orient endangering the Occident. The framing is that this ‘Islamization’ threatens the European home and their populations, as well as liberal societies and values. ‘Native’ populations in Europe will supposedly soon feel as strangers in their own land. Narratives claim, for example, that in the case of Germany the German state is already catering to the needs of Muslims and other migrants more than to those of the native population. 

Another key theme of right-wing extremists/populists is the claimed threat for European women coming from Muslim men. By exaggerating instances of sexual violence by Muslim men in number and intensity, they aim to create fear and outrage, as well as mobilization for their ideas. Narratives also strongly criticize media and the state. All critical voices are subsumed under the so-called mainstream media that collude with state institutions. The state is blamed for the ‘chaos’ during the refugee crisis, for ‘out of control’-migration, and for not protecting Europeans. For example, due to its migration policy the German government is held responsible for the claimed new threat to German women. Narratives then call on German women to defend themselves. Not only migrants but also the state ‘become’ the enemy.

Thus, both Islamist and right-wing extremist/populist narratives heavily rely on the creation and use of dichotomies, and on manipulation to create fear. The focus on dichotomies is problematic. The absolute rejection of an identity that is more diverse or open, and the appeal to a more closed and homogeneous identity serve polarization and division. Whereas Islamist narratives call upon all Muslims to join an expanding Muslim community apart from mainstream society, right-wing narratives offer both nostalgic and modern versions of a homogeneous home closed to other influences. When narratives utilize dichotomies to spread fear and hatred, they can foster actual violence – as observable in recent events across Europe.

How can we counter extremist narratives?

We are still learning about how we may effectively counter extremist narratives. Furthermore, the actual effectiveness of counternarratives is hard to measure. The insights above, however, point to some ways forward. There is clearly a need to deconstruct extremists’ interpretations. We need to deconstruct their claims, conclusions, and calls for action. Since extremists try to sow division in societies, policymakers and society must answer with a transparent and sober discussion of existing problems, and authentic solutions. False truth claims must be uncovered, interpretations of an issue from apparently logical responses disentangled, and the misuse of emotional and identity appeals illustrated.

Policymakers and society should engage in making extremists’ narratives and their strategies and objectives transparent. We also need counternarratives that reach various audiences, thus counternarratives in multiple approaches, formats, and aesthetics, even if there are always potential side effects of further marginalization. The use of humor is contested, but humor can be useful in illustrating contradictions in extremist narratives and behavior, and thereby weakening credibility. Effective counternarratives need speakers that transport authenticity, legitimacy and charisma. They should be an expert on the topic in question, or they may be someone popular in music or sports who can garner attention. 

Furthermore, it is significant that counternarratives address audiences on an emotional level. Whereas extremists try to build fear, counternarratives can work with positive emotions and offer an empowering reading of existing challenges. Research also shows that positive messages that are for rather than against something get a better reception among young people. We then need counternarratives within a liberal, democratic frame that speak to young people and that strengthen their sense of capacity and passion about issues.

Strengthening social media competence is a related area for action, as it would strengthen resilience against manipulation attempts. Social media users should be aware of how algorithms work, of the impact of their viewing behavior, and what an echo chamber is. User should be able to reflect when a discussion becomes limited and extreme, and how content is made to evoke emotions. Efforts to foster reflection and debate are also significant for pluralism and diversity. When discussing issues on social media, users should also check with how their friends in the offline space see those issues. Greater social media competence is not only significant vis-à-vis online extremism, but also for how we can address the challenges of social media and the transformations in public and political communication. 

Thus, in countering extremists’ messages and objectives, we can and should work with positive messages in order to foster engagement and participation in the solving of problems. Such efforts, when including all of society, can go some way against extremism. Efforts should also include active engagement of and discussions with young people themselves about what is important for them; this may be done in schools, for example. Mixed approaches of online and offline efforts that include all areas of society would seem to best foster tolerance and cohesion. 

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Agent. Foreign Agent

Warning! According to the law that the Russian parliament passed yesterday, this post might need to be prefaced with a disclaimer that the following text has been compiled by a foreign agent. An individual can be labeled as a “foreign agent” in Russia if they (1) distribute information, and (2) receive funds from sources outside Russia. I am ticking both boxes here, even as an academic working at a university, and the law intentionally left the “information spreading” extremely broad: you can literally post something on social media. It would be up for the Justice Ministry and the Foreign Ministry to decide who receives a “foreign agent” label. A specific procedure is yet to be established, but if an individual is deemed a foreign agent, they will have to create their own legally registered organization within a month in order to interact as a foreign agent with the Russian government. 

This iteration of the law comes as a sequel to the ‘amendments to the law on non-commercial organizations’ of 2012 that obliged Russian organizations to register as ‘foreign agents’ in case they were involved in ‘political activity’ (even through funding) and received funding from abroad. It has affected by now a large number of my colleagues, including the Sova Center for the Monitoring of Xenophobia that was forced to pay a large fine. As one of the defenders of the law stated on prime-time television and in line with the usual liberal anti-American narrative and a conspiracy theme: 

The purpose of the law is to reduce the influence of foreign countries on the policy. Thus, our law is much softer than the one in the US […]. And at the same time if you engage in politics, that means fighting for power, you must inform the Russian citizens. Those who oppose this law, do this for two reasons: the first – or they want to seize power in Russia in the interests of foreign states and against the interests of Russia, and the second – they get Western money and want to steal it.

Duma Member Sergey Markov

The law on foreign agents was passed in the same session with more restrictive legislation on public rallies undoubtedly taking the cue from Vladimir Putin who remarked during his Direct Line in December 2011 that he was sure that some of the people went to the protest ‘in a foreign country’s interest and for a foreign country’s money’. The notorious usage of the singular as opposed to the plural was telling – the country in question was not named, but it was clear for the audience that he was talking about the only country that could afford financing a protest in Russia, the USA. 

Pervyi Kanal, Russian state TV,  responded to the Direct Line with lightning speed and three days later on Sunday prime time news there was a segment on ‘the history and spread of coloured revolutions’, where it was stated that there is a special American think tank that is active in countries where the US ‘is interested in changing the regime’. One of the Pervyi Kanal’s experts emphasized that ‘there are many symbols and concepts, but the aim and the sponsor is the same – the USA’ (Pervyi Kanal, 18 December 2011). Thus, the Soviet frame about American dollars buying instability and wars was time and again re-articulated both by state officials and TV personalities.

Why pass this new foreign agent law now, one might ask? After all, who doesn’t like that goofball Donald and who is afraid of that barely competent State Department that can’t even fact check a TIME magazine cover? According to a Russian MP, it’s because of Maria Butina’s case:

Very recently, Maria Butina returned to Russia. She was sentenced to a year and a half under a similar law that’s in place within the United States of America because she failed to register as an individual ‘foreign agent.’ […] We’re talking about protection from direct foreign influence on the media market […]. Unfortunately, political forces in our country use tactics like these quite often in order to bring often unreliable and compromised facts forward for discussion.

Duma’s Vice Speaker Pyotr Tolstoy (United Russia party)

For starters, of course the American law is not that similar. Individual foreign agents in the US are supposed to be taking action in the interest of a foreign government or lobbying politicians. You know, like the convicted Michael Flynn or Paul Manafort. But lobbying effort is completely absent from the Russian law. While Butina was portrayed as another victim of “deep state” elite battles that ravage the American establishment, with the impeachment hearings kicking into high gear, who knows who will be the next President in the US and what kind of cookies the next State Department is going to distribute in Russia? In the meantime, “sovereign internet” is coming along and the laws are ready. 

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IR, it’s time to talk about what the “multiple comparisons issue” really is

As a reviewer and recipient of reviews, I’ve noted a recent trend among IR papers. A study uses cross-national data with regression analysis, and runs multiple models with different variables or sub-sets of the data. Sometimes the results are consistent, sometimes they aren’t. But often a reviewer will object to the study’s validity, pointing to the “multiple comparisons” issue. Multiple comparisons can be a real problem in quantitative IR studies, but I worry we’re mis-diagnosing it.

What do I mean? Imagine we’re writing a paper on interstate conflict. We could measure conflict onset, duration or intensity. We could measure intensity by an ordinal scale, the number of deaths, or other more complicated measures. We could include all dyads, politically-relevant dyads, dyads since 1945, 1989, etc. Ideally these choices would be based on our theory, but our theories are often not specific enough to specify such choices.

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Non-Academic Career Paths: The Dirty Secret of Academia?

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the academic job market is tough. Faculty openly warn political science PhD students that there are very few tenure-track jobs available, that they will be competing for those few positions against their most talented and accomplished peers, and that multiple publications and the imprimatur of an Ivy League school have become de facto pre-requisites for the top jobs. The academic job market has changed so rapidly that first-year professors often boast more publications than their tenured senior peers. From their first semester, students are steeped in a culture of scarcity that provokes fear and uncertainty (indeed, it’s not surprising that PhD students suffer from anxiety and depression at “astonishingly high rates”).

Over the past couple of decades, according to NSF’s Survey of Doctorate Recipients, the proportion of PhD holders who find careers in academia has declined precipitously in every field. In 2017, only 23% of PhDs in life and health sciences held a tenure-track or tenured position, down from 33% in 1997. Math and computer science have declined from 49% to 33% over the same period; engineering from 23% to 16%. In the social sciences and psychology, 30% of PhD-holders had a tenured or tenure-track job in 2017. 

Yet given all of this, it is also a universally understood truth that pursuing a non-academic career path as a PhD candidate in political science ought to be treated as a dirty secret, at worst, and a less prestigious alternative to winning a coveted tenure-track post, at best.

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Oh Say Can You Say

You never know when IR is going to bite you in the ass. One minute you are reading a children’s nursery rhyme and the other you realize that the spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry Ms. Zakharova read it too, but decided to use it in foreign policy discourse. The rhyme in question is by a Soviet children’s writer Samuel Marshak, a Soviet Dr. Seuss, if you will:

Don’t you stand too close to me

I’m a tiger, not a pussy

Yes, pussy has the same Russian translation and it has both meanings, the one that Marshak used back in the day denoted just a cat, but Ms. Zakharova built a whole Facebook post around the double entendre. The photograph above featured Ms. Zakharova in boxing gloves and the headline read “Don’t you stand too close to me, I’m a boxer, not only pussy”.  The comments to the post ranged between “yes, show those stupid Americans what we are made out of” to pearl-clutching about the use of the word “pussy” to questions whether Ms. Zakharova would attend the protests in Moscow “with the people”. Just so you know, she was planning to stay at home “with the people”.

It’s not the first time that Ms. Zakharova posted something controversial. As a woman in a very male dominated profession (at least, in Russia), her posts and statements often feature metaphors that are not always deemed becoming of a diplomatic protocol – at least not something that I was taught to be appropriate at the same university Ms. Zakharova attended. Back in the day, professors at Moscow State Institute for International Relations (happy birthday, alma mater!), the Soviet and Russian diplomatic talent hotbed, would praise the eloquence and adherence to etiquette of the Russian civil servant upper class. Boys would be sent back home if they were not clean-shaven or didn’t wear a tie and a suit for some classes. And girls… well, we were told at the chair for diplomacy that future ambassadors need educated wives so why the hell not let women study here.

Enter Ms. Zakharova, one of the most high-ranking female diplomats in the Russian Foreign Ministry. She is obviously good at her job of “showing the Americans what we are made out of” and she can dance a fire “Kalinka” away. She is quick on her feet rebutting foreign press at Foreign Ministry Press briefings and has a killer emoji game on social media. Her whataboutist rhetoric is perfection and she can offer it in multiple languages, including Chinese. So, what if Ms. Zakharova talks about meetings that never happened and dabbles in anti-Semitism? In this day and age, who doesn’t?

After all, in the era of diplomatic communication a la “my button is bigger” and “don’t be a fool!”, who can blame Russia for a couple of smudges on the decorum.

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Duck podcast episode 1: Jelena Subotić

The promised reanimation of the Duck of Minerva podcast is now a reality. The incomparable Jelena Subotić stars in our first episode, discussing her forthcoming book Yellow Star, Red Star: Holocaust Remembrance after Communism. The podcast will hopefully be available on iTunes and Google Play shortly. If you want to listen now, head to https://duckofminerva.podbean.com/e/episode-1-jelena-subotic/ and if you are into RSS feeds, well, here’s that too: https://feed.podbean.com/duckofminerva/feed.xml

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Shaming without naming: Why is the international community not calling out human rights violators?

This is a guest post by Theresa Squatrito, Assistant Professor at the London School of Economics, Magnus Lundgren, Postdoctoral Researcher at Stockholm University, and Thomas Sommerer, Associate Professor at Stockholm University.

On May 6, 2019, former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, accused world leaders for failing in their defense of human rights.  World leaders, he claimed, are “weak, short-sighted and mediocre” and remain silent in response to some of today’s worst human rights violators. Given the prominence of human rights in contemporary multilateralism, Zeid’s remarks – if they are correct – would suggest a glaring mismatch between the ambitions and performance of multilateral organizations.

But is he right—do leaders fail to condemn actors for their wrongdoings? Our research which records every instance of public condemnation by 27 international organizations (IOs) between 1980 and 2015, sheds light on this important and pressing question.

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Climate change and the mission of higher education

On October 2, I sat in the audience of the first of six public events in what appears to be MIT’s semester of climate change. Introducing the great and good of climate science, MIT president Rafael Reif made a comment that struck me. To paraphrase, he argued (or at least I think he did, I was grading at the same time) that in an era of diminished federal and state funding for research, it is incumbent on universities to seek out funds to support climate research from private actors. Hard to argue with this statement, and yet…it seems to narrow the agency of universities to figuring out the best places to get money. In the aftermath of the Epstein mess, the perils of such a course are obvious.

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Want to fix peer review? Standardize appeals

It’s happened to all of us. You get that email “Decision on Manuscript…,” open it with a bit of trepidation, just to find a (hopefully) politely worded rejection from the editor. Sometimes this is justified. Other times, however, the rejection is due to the legendary “Reviewer #2,” a cranky, ill-informed, hastily written rant against your paper that is not at all fair. The details can vary–they don’t like your theoretical approach, don’t understand the methods, are annoyed you didn’t cite them–but the result is the same: thanks to a random draw from the editor’s reviewers list you’ve got to move on.

We all seem to agree this is a problem. Peer review is finicky, and often relies on gate-keepers who can fail to objectively assess work. The pressure to publish for junior faculty and grad students is immense. And editors are over-worked and overwhelmed. Dan Nexon provided a great service recently by writing a series of posts on his experience at International Studies Quarterly. This gave a lot of insight into this often opaque process, and got me thinking about what to do with the above situation.

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A rabbit hole of links on Impeachment

This post will be quick for me to write, but may suck up the rest of your morning. caveat lector.

Rachel Navarre—my friend from grad school, who works at Bridgewater State—compiled what was then an up to date collection of links on Impeachment. As she notes, keeping up with the latest developments is a full time job, and most of us already have full time jobs. But she has links to background as well as some of the most recent developments.

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The Decision Letter, Part II

Public Domain

The basic principles that should guide letters and their RFDs hold across every kind of decisions. However, we need to recognize important differences between, say, a rejection and an R&R. In this post, I lay out my thoughts about letters for the types of decisions that we made at ISQ. Not all journals use the same categories or mean the same thing. For instance, a (rare) “reject and resubmit” at ISQ meant that we would consider a revised version of the paper as an entirely new submission; at some journals, a “reject and resubmit” is equivalent to “major revisions” R&R.

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The Decision Letter, Part I

Public Domain — From Pixabay

For caveats and background, see my introductory post.

Editors write a lot of decision letters. At high-volume journals, editors write so many decision letters that it can become a tedious grind. For authors, though, the information communicated in decision letters matters enormously. It can affect their job prospects, salaries, and chances of advancement. Of course, authors, especially in the moment, overestimate the significance of any single journal decision. But receiving a rejection, revise-and-resubmit invitation, or an acceptance can certainly feel like a defining event. This is especially the case for graduate students and junior academics, who are less experienced in, and more vulnerable to, the vagaries of the review process.

This makes decision letters the single most consequential way that editors communicate with authors. The same is true for referees. We don’t spend a lot of time teaching academics how to craft referees reports. There is, at best, limited consensus about what makes for a good review. So decision letters also become an important way to send cues to referees about the quality of their reports.

If you think about it, all of this places a heavy burden on editors. That burden only seems heavier when we consider how arbitrary and capricious the peer-review process can be

Yeah. Okay. I’m being a bit melodramatic. Editors don’t perform literal surgery. They don’t design airplanes. The stakes are what they are. But I stand by the underlying sentiment: editors have a responsibility to take decision letters very seriously.

In this post, I’ll focus on general issues. In Part II, I’ll elaborate on them in the context of the specific kinds of decision letters.

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Scary Dragon or Cuddly Panda? Why Role Change Matters for Hegemony in Asia

The following is a guest post by Dr. Daniel Nicholls. Daniel Nicholls is an adjunct professor of IR at ESADE and the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. His research looks at the interplay between relational structures, roles and hierarchy.  

In an interesting piece on the Japan-South Korea spat in Foreign Affairs, Bonnie S. Glaser and Oriana Skylar Mastro argue that by failing to mediate the dispute between the keystones of its Asian alliance system, the US risks losing regional influence to a fast-moving and wily China. In short, if Washington doesn’t jump in as a relationship counselor, then China will. Whilst the arguments are couched in terms of diplomacy and strategy rather than IR theory, it doesn’t take an elbow-patched journal editor to spot the clear theoretical subtext of political influence as a consequence of relational ties and role-structures.

In line with network approaches, if China can intensify relational ties around itself, it will pull US allies towards it, leaving the US relationally isolated, at least in relative terms, and this will affect Washington’s scope for influence. It is, after all, difficult to convince people of your worth when they’re all listening to someone else, and by buddying up with its East Asian neighbors, China will be more involved in decisions on who does what in the region. US security guarantees are still highly coveted, so nobody is likely to start turning down dinner invitations from their neighborhood security guarantor just yet. But Asian states do find it increasingly difficult to square their desire for US security with their quest for Chinese market access, and Washington’s aloof approach to intra-regional dynamics may generate switching effects which nudge its dazed allies a bit further down the road towards China’s embrace.

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What Is . . . and Isn’t . . . a Norm?

The Norm Concept

This post, part of the Bridging the Gap channel at the Duck, comes from Michelle Jurkovich, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is a 2019-2020 Public Engagement Fellow with Bridging the Gap and an alumna of BTG’s International Policy Summer Institute. During 2017-2018, she was an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology fellow working in the Office of Food for Peace at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

We talk about norms a great deal in international relations (IR) scholarship — but what are the edges of this crucial concept? In a recent article in International Studies Review (“What isn’t a norm?” – ungated until September 21), I argue that in using the term in increasingly flexible ways, scholars have blurred important differences between norms, supererogatory standards, moral principles, and formal law.

Understanding differences among these concepts enables us to better analyze the social and normative environment in which important international actors are working. Enhancing the conceptual toolkit we use to make sense of the social world to encompass more than just the “norm” also helps to highlight potential areas of conceptual stretching, which, as Sartori (1970) warned, may lead to false equivalence. 

The article is a conceptual piece, but it was driven by a desire to understand some important real world challenges. Why is it so difficult to effectively use shaming strategies around some global problems (like hunger or homelessness) that everyone agrees are morally repugnant? While many human rights are codified in law, are all human rights codified in law also governed by norms? And if they aren’t, how can we make sense of the social environment around them? (My forthcoming book Feeding the Hungry: Blame Diffusion in International Anti-Hunger Advocacy with Cornell University Press tackles these issues with greater depth.)

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Early lessons from a survey on bias in family formation in academia

The following is a guest post by Leah C. Windsor and Kerry F. Crawford. Windsor is a Research Assistant Professor in the Institute for Intelligent Systems at The University of Memphis. Crawford is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at James Madison University. To take their survey, visit: https://tinyurl.com/drparentsurvey

This is the first in the series on changing the field of international relations. #IRChange

Academic families – especially dual-career spouses – with young children are struggling in more specific and remediable ways than we thought when we first launched our “Bias in Family Formation in Academia” survey last year. As parents of young children ourselves, we have a front row seat to competing demands of the early career and early childhood years.

We vastly underestimated the pervasiveness and ubiquity of obstacles, and the repetitive nature of the stories other academic parents wrote. We kept encountering the same problems: departmental and institutional refusal to accommodate legally-mandated family leave requests; hostile and toxic work environments for parents, especially mothers; and the unobservable emotional and physical toll of becoming parents, like fertility challenges, tough pregnancies and post-partum phases, and complicated adoptions.

The survey is part of a larger book project that recounts personal narratives of parents – mostly mothers – in their full-time roles as doctor and mom. Much has been written on the “leaky pipeline” whereby women exit the profession at higher rates than men, and on the “work-life balance” with competing suggestions of leaning in, tenure time-outs, and the (in)ability of women to “have it all.” We think of the pipeline as more of a “chutes and ladders” board game, where benefits of mentorship and supportive institutions can improve gender parity in the profession, elevating parents up the tenure-track ladder.

While there is good reason to believe that overall the situation is improving, what we find is that too many of the solutions focus on individual-level fixes, rather than addressing the systemic origins of the problems. Policies about family formation should be ubiquitously, transparently, and equitably communicated to faculty, and FMLA provisions should be considered the bare minimum in order to achieve a culture change of supporting academic families.

The following are themes and lessons – generally about U.S.-based institutions – we have identified through the 100-question survey of academic parents:

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Ranking Tenure Candidates? No Thanks

Sunday mornings are for tenure reviews.  Huh?  I am reading stuff to evaluate a scholar for whether he/she is worthy of tenure.  This is a standard part of the tenure process–to have outside scholars read a bunch of a candidate’s work and then indicate whether they have made a significant contribution and whether they are likely to continue to do so.  As I have written elsewhere, this is a fair amount of work, almost always unpaid.  So, I have gotten a bit cranky when I do it these days.

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Moscow in the Meddle

Between the burning Amazon and burning Siberia, Brexit clustercoitus and Hurricane Dorian, there is still some space in the tired news cycle for the tear gas in Hong Kong and broken limbs in Moscow protests. Elections to the local parliament in Moscow have proved unexpectedly difficult for the ruling vertical: by refusing to register oppositional candidates for made-up reasons, the election committee and the Mayor’s office drastically underestimated mobilisation capabilities of the opposition. Result: over a month and a half of “unsanctioned” protests in the city center, police brutality, several high-profile arrests and mass prosecution of random bystanders who happened to be in the melee. 

The protests in Moscow are a very local thing, but they are also indicative of a growing dissatisfaction among the Russian population that has manifested in region-specific unsanctioned protests that usually start with seemingly unpolitical issues: landfills in Arkhangelsk and Moscow region, a mall fire in Kemerovo, church construction in Yekaterinburg. Unlike the 2011-2012 protest wave that spread all over Russia, or the more recent pension reform outcry or anti-corruption rally against Prime-Minister Medvedev in 2017, these protests are about several oppositional candidates to the local Moscow parliament – a body with relatively little clout. Moscow electoral committee consistently refused to register oppositional candidates citing allegedly falsified citizen signatures, while the ensued brutal crackdown of the protests only added fuel to the fire. 

Live footage of violent arrests, an absolute insane number of police forces and National Guard that most likely outnumbered the protesters in spades, repressive measures by the universities (!) whose students were arrested for the rally organization, did not make Moscow or Russia look good. Moreover, there is an important difference between Hong Kong and Moscow: Russian protesters are consciously trying not to block public transportation routes and the work of governmental buildings or shops, so the accusation of “mass riots” and property damage that is supposed to justify the “yellow vest” level of police brutality is especially galling. 

What do Russian media cry? They cry wolf. I mean, West. For starters, the American Embassy allegedly published the protesters’ route and thus was involved in the organization of the rally. The provocateurs obviously strived for a “brutal and striking image” for domestic audience and for the politicians in the West. And most protesters are “not registered in Moscow” anyway, “were educated in the American young leader program” and were “controlled by their curators in social media”, “many from Ukraine” in order to organize a “Maidan” in Russia. Also, didn’t you know that you have similar protest legislation in Sweden and the UK?!

The problem with this narrative is that it is quickly falling apart. Some arrested protesters were let go. Some independent candidates got registered. Even some of Putin’s allies are saying that not letting real opposition run in the Moscow election is dangerous, which probably means that the cliques in Putin’s circle haven’t agreed on one course of action in the face of growing popular discontent.  There are no burnt cars or smashed shop windows, but there are distraught parents of arrested students standing in one-person pickets in front of the Mayor’s Office. And that’s one brutal and striking image. 

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Pompeo’s New Commission on Unalienable Rights Falls Short, But Represents a Real Opportunity

The following is a guest post by Dr. Ryan M. Welch. Dr. Welch is Assistant Professor at the University of Tampa who specializes in human rights institutions and is a former member of the Maricopa County Human Rights Committee.

Recently, the State Department created a human rights commission called the Commission on Unalienable Rights (hereinafter: the Commission).  Like an oil industry lobbyist heading the Department of Interior, a climate skeptic atop the EPA, and a charter school advocate running the public education department, most believe this another cynical instance of an institution being used to dismantle its own raison d’être .  Pompeo’s statements and the appointed chair’s research agenda suggest those worries are well-founded.  Specifically, most worry that the Commission will be used to redefine rights through a natural law lens that will limit LGBTQ+, reproductive, social, and economic rights.  I tend to agree.  Given the adminstration’s relatively poor human rights record, it is incumbent upon them to prove us wrong.  If it wishes to do so, the current Commission can do what other domestic human rights institutions do when they are serious about human rights – comply with the Paris Principles.   Doing so would not only better protect human rights, but also enhance the U.S. international standing.  Below I outline how the Commission as currently conceived stacks up to the Principles.

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Thoughts on making the most of APSA for the alt-ac attendee

Graduation Cap and Diploma on White with Soft Shadow.

C/o Bluestocking, 2008 Uyen Le

APSA is nearly upon us again, and I thought I should write something profession-related as I got back into blogging. My first thought was to make fun of annoying questions, but I already did that (six years ago…but still relevant). And there is a lot of advice floating around for grad students or others on the market. Instead, I thought I’d focus on an area where my experience is more unique: navigating academic conferences while working outside academia (or alt-ac*) and–in my case–trying to get back in.

For just a little context, I am currently in a tenure-track job but had always been on the policy-academia border. I worked in the defense industry in DC before grad school, and continued working part-time after I started (as I attended school in DC). I then switched to the think tank world (working part-time with the Pew Research Center). After graduating, I went on the academic job market but ended up getting policy jobs–first with the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Responses to Terrorism (START) and then full-time with Pew. After a few years out, I decided to try the academic job market again, and got my current job.

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The Enemy’s Gate is Down

During my ten days this past summer on the El Paso border, some of the most interesting conversations I had were with the gate guards at a notorious detention facility, Paso del Norte.

These conversations reminded me of something I read as a teenager in a famous science fiction novel. In Orson Scott Card’s famous book Ender Game, in which squads of young boys are trained for battle in zero gravity arenas, protagonist Ender Wiggin realizes that fighting in a new situation (zero gravity) using conventional spatial perspectives could only confuse and disorient. Instead, Ender’s “army” takes advantage of others’ disorientation to achieve a tactical advantage. He has his men shift their perspective to think of “down” as wherever the enemy gate is. They launch from their own gate into the zero gravity arena feet forward instead of face forward, offering smaller targets. But more importantly, this shift helps them adopt a mental perspective of always owning the high ground.

Citizens aiming to combat Trump concentration camp policy need a similar shift in perspective to augment the many ways we already resist. First, much like a zero-gravity situation, the Trump administration has deliberately sought to disorient any resistance and knock the American public off balance, wondering how to resist. By creating and then constantly changing the rules and regulations, Trump makes it difficult for immigration attorneys to help their clients. By establishing and then abruptly closing facilities, Trump makes it difficult to track where detainees are. By unrolling a slew of human-rights-violating policies in drips and drabs, rather than all at once, they keep the opposition off balance.

Because Americans who believe in the rule of law are defending our Constitution in zero gravity, our standard rules of engagement are no longer enough. A combination of adversarial protests and court proceedings are important, and we all must keep calling our congress-people daily. But these strategies also maintain a safe distance from the guards – the actual foot-soldiers in Trumps concentration-camp-industrial complex. The ones whose resignation or refusal to carry out orders may be the one thing that could truly gum up the gears of Trump’s concentration-camp-industrial complex. Americans need to think about expanding our repertoire of direct actions.  

In my travels at the border this summer I found lots of efforts are taking place. But one thing I don’t see citizens doing enough is actually approaching these detention facilities and politely asking the guards to explain and justify themselves. In my new article in The American Prospect, I talk more about what happened when I did just this.

I discovered their definition of a “refugee” is a bit different from what’s codified in the Refugee Convention. “These people’s countries are not at war, so they’re not refugees,” one guard told me. “Maybe they’re fleeing ‘violence’ but there is violence everywhere. You could get murdered in your own community.” Most of all I learned what mattered to these guards: To be seen as upholding an oath to protect the nation, to be able to convince themselves and hopefully all Americans that they were on the right side of history.

Americans can engage these guards and remind them of the Nuremberg principles. We can remind them they are vulnerable to prosecution if they follow orders, but have power—and moral courage—when they resist. Activists can laud heroes like former CPB agent-turned-activist Jenn Budd, who resigned her post due to the cruelty she witnessed and has been speaking out ever since. Citizens can consider the other kinds of assistance that would make it easier for people working in these places to speak out—or turn in their badges— rather than remain loyal to a regime bent on violating the human rights of civilians fleeing conflicts in their home countries.

The simple surprising truth is that these enemies of the people have their gates down. It’s disarming to them when people show up to talk respectfully, rather than protest. What you hear is that they want to be seen as law-abiding citizens, and that gives ordinary citizens room to maneuver.

“We’re just enforcing the law,” they might say.

 “Are you familiar with the Refugee Convention that the United States signed?” I asked. “Are you familiar with Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, that you swore to uphold, which says treaties are the supreme law of the land?” 

“That’s for Congress to decide. Our job is to follow orders,” one of them might say.

“My brother is a US Marine serving in a combat zone in Africa. He would resign or go to prison before obeying an unlawful order to violate a civilian’s human rights. I know you’re as brave as he is. I think you just didn’t know the law before. Am I right?”

“Well, I’ll admit I don’t have Article 6 of the Constitution memorized…”

“Well, I know you’ll check it out once I’m gone.”

This strategy of engaging gate guards, like Ender’s change of tactics in zero gravity, can use a change in perspective to create a tactical advantage. It seizes the moral high ground by turning their role as law enforcers back on them, reminding them they are also bound by law. Showing up for interpersonal dialogue rather than in a mass with cameras shrinks one’s targets space – like entering an arena feet-forward – making it harder for them to fire or arrest and easier for them to disarm. One guard said to me, “It’s pretty innocuous when you come in here with no camera and can just have a conversation as two human beings without yelling and screaming.”  

But when they lie, as I describe at TAP, it leads them into traps.

Above all, interpersonal dialogue with perpetrators works. It reminds them that America is a nation of immigrants who by and large wish to welcome refugees, whose grandfathers bled to defeat the Nazis. That even individual foot-soldiers have legal and moral responsibility. And that so long as there are concentration camps on our land, we will keep asking questions and insisting the law be followed. We’ll keep walking through the gate. 

Read the whole article here.

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