Tag: constructivism (page 2 of 2)

Krugman goes constructionist

Many years ago, I attended a talk by Michael Shapiro. He was doing something on memory and place, and showed a clip from some Steve Martin movie–Father of the Bride, maybe II–and a colleague of mine, ever the concerned young scholar, said Yes, but Professor Shapiro, over in Bosnia (which was going on at the time), people are dying, and here you are showing movies. What does this tell us that we should do to stop that?
And he replied: Who is this “we”?

In his current column, Paul Krugman channels his inner pomo and opens with a similar story:

A few months ago I found myself at a meeting of economists and finance officials, discussing — what else? — the crisis. There was a lot of soul-searching going on. One senior policy maker asked, “Why didn’t we see this coming?”

There was, of course, only one thing to say in reply, so I said it: “What do you mean ‘we,’ white man?”

His point–the “establishment” didn’t allow itself to see this coming, despite the fact that a number of critics and contrarians warned otherwise. Thus, this, “unprecedented” crisis “no one” saw coming.

Krugman makes a key point: that this economic event is constructed as a “crisis” rather than a natural correction that could have been (was) foreseen and for which we might have (should have) planned in advance (and a few did). An accepted wisdom of success is built around particular policy choices to make them seem “rational” and “logical” and when something doesn’t fit those, it portends a “crisis.”

This point is not all that new to the constructivist IR literature– Weldes pointed out, with respect to the Cuban Missile Crisis, that a series of events must be discursively constructed to be a crisis.

So to is an economic crisis. There are plenty who saw this coming, and some who saw this as a natural and needed corrective to an out-of-control market. They just don’t count as part of that “we.”


Introduction to constructivist IR theory: a video lecture

Having uploaded my quick-and-dirty video APSA presentation, I thought I might also upload some other movies I’ve made over the years relating to international-relations theory and topics. The four-part series showcased below is an extended video supplement I did for “Introduction to International Politics.” I’ve used the same lecture, more or less, ever since. If anyone cares, the content comes after one I posted a long time ago on typifications and social facts.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

FYI, the images are all credited at the end.


Global Norm Decline? Maybe Not.

Anthony Clark Arend at Georgetown University is blogging about Israel’s threat to bomb Iranian nuclear reactors if they do not desist. He worries that this latest brinkmanship is more evidence of a decline in the non-aggression norm, since the situation would not meet the criteria for preemptive self-defense against an imminent attack laid out in the UN Charter as an exception to the non-aggression rule:

If imminence is not the standard for using force anticipatorily, then what is? The mere fact that the other state is building a nuclear reactor? The fact that the other state is building a reactor and is hostile toward a particular state? The fact that the other state has a history of aggression? The problem is obvious. As fuzzy as the imminence criterion may be, if that criterion is relaxed, it is unclear what will replace it. And so, the door will be opened for more and more bogus claims of “legitimate self-defense.”

In other words, we’ll be back to plain old balance of power politics, a bad recipe in a nuclear armed world.

Arend’s discussion of the law on preemptive self-defense, and how it differs from the Bush doctrine, is extremely illuminating. I think he may be overestimating the damage being done to the norm itself here, however (much like those arguments I’ve heard that Guantanamo Bay “threatens the entire Geneva regime.”) I would say that in terms of norm decline, what matters is not what states like Israel or the US do, but how the international community reacts, since as Fredrich Kratockwil and John Ruggie long ago argued, “norms are counterfactually valid.”


John Stewart provides a constructivist analysis of Bush Administration policies

“With this administration, if a passenger blows up a plane, it’s a failure in the war on terror. But if the plane just blows up on its own — eh, it’s the market self-regulating.”

Click here to stream the full bit.

I watched this on my DVR and thought, gee, I ought to post it. But Kevin Drum beat me too it, hat tip to him.


Patriot games

In preparation for a conference paper (warning: large pdf) due in a couple of months, I’ve been carefully reading a number of academic articles about the failure of the public sphere (or if you prefer, the “marketplace of ideas“) to function effectively during periods of foreign policy crisis. The post-9/11 period featured limited debate about many foreign policy choices — leading to the Iraq war, for example.

Keep in mind that I’m a proponent of deliberative democracy and would like to see “the” public sphere function effectively in all political contexts. If national or global public spheres break down during periods of foreign policy crises, then there’s almost no hope of achieving a communicatively rational outcome. The discussion would simply be too distorted by power and barren of truly open and inclusive debate.

Political scientists Ron Krebs and Jennifer Lobasz have argued that political opponents could not effectively challenge the proposed Iraq war during 2002 and 2003 because the Bush administration had effectively fixed the meaning of 9/11 in the public debate. In other words, the “war on terrorframe was overwhelming and political opponents had been rhetorically coerced into acquiescence with it.

My ongoing research into counterpublic spheres potentially offers a means for public sphere theory to survive this challenge. Based on some recent research, even scholarly critique could offer a means to resist the hegemony of war and security frames.

However, much of the literature on foreign policy debate is quite pessimistic — the public sphere all-too-often seems threatened even during periods of normal (non-crisis) policy.

For example, interesting research published by sociologist Steven Clayman and colleagues, which examined presidential press conference questioning from 1953-2000, found that the press, which is an important institution in a functional public sphere, is generally much more deferential about foreign policy than about other issues. The scholars studied more than 4600 press conference questions through that time (Clayman and colleagues are only now updating their data to account for the post-2000 era).

The Columbia Journalism Review had a note about the study’s conclusion in May/June 2007:

White House journalists were twice as likely to be ”cautious and deferential”on foreign and military affairs as on domestic matters, a finding that held through periods of war and peace, recession and prosperity.

Another blurb about the Clayman et al study appeared in Utne in the November-December 2007 issue. This note speculates on possible explanations for the failure to question presidents on foreign policy:

while economic developments, such as spikes in unemployment, have historically spurred journalists to ask adversarial questions, administrations’ edicts on foreign policy tend to go unchallenged. The researchers speculate that journalists’ timidity might stem from their limited access to independent information on foreign affairs, or it could be that their patriotism has a tempering effect.

While my own work on transparency speaks to the secrecy issue, I’ve linked also to an academic article by Jane Kellett Cramer, which finds that “norms of militarized patriotism” served to limit debate in the leadup to the Iraq war.

Cramer suggests that a “militarized political culture” was established in the US during the cold war era (receding somewhat during the Vietnam era), which means that virtually all foreign policy debate in the US was artificially limited for decades — whether during crisis or not.

And now this form of militarization is arguably back.




Help Wanted

An actual job description currently posted on the website of a major government contractor:

The Policy Analyst would focus primarily on projects investigating the creation and evolution of subnational identities within and across states, focusing on the construction and interpretation of narratives, contestation, and negotiation with hegemonic discourses, and the temporalization of values, ethics, and ideals. In the project, analysts conduct research on reiterative social interaction between an object group and other groups, discursive practices of political and religious leaders, modes of cultural learning and knowledge acquisition, contemporary uses of collective memory and cultural repertoires, and the implication of culture on attitudinal perspectives of other groups, the state, regional states, and international actors.

The project seeks to understand how these created identities are constitutive of systems of authority, religion, and kinship; how they affect attitudinal perspectives of other groups, the state, regional states, and international actors; how they affect the manner in which members ascribe meaning to specified themes, messages or events; how they inform the organizational cultures of militaries and other security providing institutions; and how they influence military effectiveness.

The Policy Analyst would conduct literature reviews, assist in structuring research design, analyze secondary sources, and assist in structuring and conducting primary research, and write final deliverables. The Policy Analyst would focus on studies involving the Philippines and other countries as required.

Master’s degree or enrolled in a doctoral program in anthropology, sociology, history, political science, government, area studies, and/or strategic studies required. The candidate must have excellent research, writing, and communication skills.

A background in social constructivist approaches to cultural identity is desirable as is experience conducting fieldwork or living and working abroad. Language skills – particularly Arabic or Southeast Asian languages (Tagalog, Bahasa or others) – are a plus.

1. So who says that my ‘airy-fairy’ constructivist training isn’t policy relevant now?!?! Take that all you realism is the only policy relevant theory people. Ha!

2. What does it mean to do discursive analysis of sub-national identities for “the man”? Sell out, practical application of knowledge in service of better policy, or merely a legitimation claim to further what policies we’re already doing?

3. Should I apply for this job? Would you apply for this job? (Balance your ethical comments against the roughly 85K salary the job is rumored to have. Plus benefits.)

4. What are the odds that the person who wrote that reads this blog?



Why the Pentagon Can’t win the Long War

David Brooks, in his Sunday NYT column (requires Times Select to read), gives out awards for great magazine articles of the year. He recognizes two outstanding articles on how the Pentagon is fighting in Iraq and terrorism. In his article, Brooks makes a fundamental and vital insight that needs to become part of the emerging Grand Strategy Debate.*Brooks writes:

There was also a sense that we were losing ground in Iraq. One of the best magazine writers on that story, George Packer of The New Yorker, tended to profile American dissidents who were trying to change the way we fight that war.

In an April essay, “The Lesson of Tal Afar,” Packer followed Col. H. R. McMaster, who argued that the Iraq war was as much a psychological and anthropological problem as a military and political one. Then, in December, his “Knowing the Enemy” appeared, about freethinkers in the Pentagon and elsewhere who were studying how Hezbollah and the Iraqi insurgents create narratives that demoralize their enemies, energize believers and create a sense of historical momentum.

One gets the feeling from his articles that America’s enemies are playing a different game. They’re waging an open-source campaign for cultural symbols, while we’re oblivious to anything we can’t drive over or kill.

Spot on, David Brooks. This is, perhaps, the single biggest reason that “more troops” cannot and will not “fix” Iraq. Its why Hezbollah is gaining power in Lebanon even after a major military defeat. Its why the US military can win each and every tactical encounter with Iraqi Insurgents and yet still lose the war. Its why the war in Afghanistan is no longer “won.” “Knowing the Enemy” is particularly insightful on this account, spending lots of time talking about why the Pentagon needs more Anthropologists.

It also suggests why Patrick’s point about Drezner’s point is rather insightful. All of these grand strategies are motivated by underlying theories of International Politics. They, however, must now encounter a world where the threats they purport to address also have grand strategies, Constructivist Strategies. For example, Lynch reveals Al Queda’s constructivist turn. Drezner suggests Iran’s constructivist gambit. These actors, and others are and will continue to create discourses that make sense of US power and military actions in ways rather detrimental to achieving the intended outcome of those actions. For any of these US grand strategies to “work” they must contain a component that creates a narrative of how US grand strategy works, successfully, and tell that story as the US goes about its foreign policy. That was the Cold War. See Patrick’s book for the full story.

This also suggests a significant and perhaps vital “policy relevance” for an entire vein of constructivist and post-structural scholarship emerging in International Relations, and reveals the potential seeds of failure of realist and liberal-institutionalist policy advice.

*One aside, the Cold War was often conceived as a war of ideas– Capitalism vs. Communism– and as a result, the US invested heavily in cultural exchanges, funding scholarship, and USIA and lots of other things to produce the discursive space in which the grand strategy of containment made sense. Compare with how the Bush Administration is fighting the GWOT–homeland security, intelligence, military. The war of ideas element is given a lot of lip service, but generally ignored. When was the last time you saw Karen Hughes do anything at all, let alone anything interesting?

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