Caging Confessions: My Womanhood in David Lake’s White Man’s IR

(A really long caveat): I have nothing but respect for David Lake. In the last few years, I have interacted with him professionally on a number of occasions. I have found him to be generous, open-minded, and self-reflective. I have found him to intend inclusion at every time possible. Many people in David’s position of privilege in the field either fail to reflect on the issues that David does or fail to take the risk of sharing their reflection. Many people in David’s position of privilege in the field fail to do the hard work to make the field better that David does every day. I have rarely met a more thoughtful leader, and appreciate the work that he does in the field. I think that the field is better off for David’s leadership, and significantly so. I say this because I think David’s piece is a brave thing to have done, and something he did not have to do – and it is important to note that the critique that comes here is only possible because David took that risk, and that my critique should be (and is) louder towards those who failed to take the risk. That said, I couldn’t read David’s confessional and not react. My reaction is partial – it is my experience and my confessional, rather than a full-scale engagement with the argument. Particularly, I didn’t comment extensively on the discussion of race in the confession, because I don’t think I would/could do that justice. Like David, I benefit from many of the discipline’s axes of power, and its important then to recognize that this critique can always be only partial. RelationsInternational would be happy, however, to publish both further discussion and any engagement David might want to have with this conversation.

David Lake’s White Man’s IR: An Intellectual Confession suggests that the exclusion of women and minorities from the field of IR results in intellectual convergence, “leaving other questions unasked because they do not appear relevant, other theories unexamined because they do not resonate with our intuitions, and other predictions untested.” Dr. Lake then suggests that he would be a better scholar, and IR would be a better field, if it had more a more diverse representation of scholars. As he critiques the “practices and privileges” that keep IR largely white and largely male, Dr. Lake admits to having been complicit in those practices and privileges, and benefitting from them. He then also suggests that little he writes about making the field more diverse is new, suggesting that “it is precisely as a beneficiary of the ‘system,’ however, that I hope my remarks might have some impact. I apologize nor for the lack of originality in this essay, only for my tardiness in understanding the issues and why they are important.” Lake goes on to recognize that disciplinary hierarchy and gate-keeping reify a lack of diversity, and should be questioned – “white man’s IR begets white man’s IR.” He suggests that, even when it is non-white or non-male scholars doing IR, they are constrained by disciplinary and job-related incentives.

This premise for the article, I think, is impressive: a recognition of the substantive need for diversity and an apology for not coming to that conclusion earlier. It is when Lake goes on to explain why he sees diversity as substantively important that I stop being on board with the article. His argument (paraphrasing here because this is likely already going to be a long blog post) is that lived experience shapes intuition, and intuition shapes theorizing. Because “the lived experience of white males in the US during the twentieth century, for instance, share similarities that are different from those for women, blacks, Hispanics, and other racial minorities,” their different lived experiences will cause them to contribute different theorizations.

It is true that lack of representational diversity makes for a lack of substantive (and, though not recognized by Lake, epistemological and methodological) diversity. But that realization does not necessitate an essentialist claim that women, blacks, Hispanics, and other racial minorities (either across groups, which could be read into the comments, or, more likely what Lake meant, within groups) necessarily have something in common. There’s a reason there aren’t a lot of standpoint feminists left in academia – because of the realization that there is violence in assuming that there is a standpoint which women have. That violence is three-fold: first, it suggests standards that legitimate (and therefore delegitimize) claims to womanhood exist and can be deployed; second, it suggests that biological sex is a clear and primordial thing; third, it suggests that gender maps onto sex one-to-one.

So, in one sense, I’m exactly the woman that Dr. Lake is talking about – someone whose intellectual interest is in gender, which is a topic that was traditionally ignored by the white men who constituted the field, and is getting more attention as the field gets more (but still embarrassingly not enough) diversity of scholars. On the other hand, my interest in gender in global politics comes less from being a woman than from being a person who was labelled a woman but felt intensely uncomfortable with that label itself and the expectations of femininity that come with it.

Why does that matter? Is it just that one confessional deserves another?

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What Happens When the Hegemon Abdicates?

There’s a lot of speculation about what the incoming Trump administration will or won’t do in the realm of international relations and foreign policy. My friend Steve Saideman had an interesting piece on his blog recently suggesting – as most experts in the field are at this point – that if trajectories are left unaltered, things won’t go well.

Part of the discussion of any new Presidency is, of course, an analysis of the broader situation it finds itself in. While the newspapers are focused on the micro, we should remind ourselves as IR scholars that our work ranges from micro to macro levels, and that we should probably step back to look at the bigger picture. Structural realists have argued that individual leaders don’t matter very much; this is a good opportunity to test that hypothesis. So what kind of world is President Trump faced with?
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Hope: Rogue One and the Vocation for Politics

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. — Hebrews 11:1

I will confess that I had more than a little trepidation going into Rogue One. When the first trailer dropped, I complained to a Facebook group that it looked like an action flick that just happened to be set in the Star Wars universe, and didn’t seem especially Star Wars-y at all. I mean, I was sure that the production design people at Lucasfilm would do their usual commendable job building the “lived-in universe” and as such the film would look like it belonged in the world that the previous films had explored, and the folks in charge of overall continuity would ensure that the story would fit into the timeline. But what bothered me in the trailer was the absence of any obvious references to the Force, the Jedi, and the other parts of the central mythological backbone of the Star Wars saga. The soul of Star Wars, the thing that makes it different from basically any other outer-space adventure series, has always been the Force, and the eternal struggle between its dark and light aspects has always provided the engine that drives the overall plot.

Successive trailers and leaks about the film gave me a little more confidence that we’d still be in the space-fantasy realm in the final version of the movie, but I was still bothered by the apparent absence of anyone definitively Force-sensitive in the main cast of characters. When opening day finally arrived, I sat in the theatre with my family and watched an opening sequence that was about as un-Star Wars-y as I’d feared, despite the armored stormtroopers and the blue milk: no opening text crawl, no soaring theme music, and most jarring of all, after the quick flash of the movie’s title on screen, the name of a planet displayed as a way of explaining to the viewer where the action was taking place. Why was this last one so jarring? Because until this point the only on-screen text we’d ever seen in a Star Wars film was to translate some alien language. Identifying locations with on-screen text overlays is a typical science fiction convention, and Star Wars has never been science fiction; instead of having things explained, we were always dropped into the middle of the action and basically left to figure things out en route. Mystery, not explication — a trick that George Lucas learned from Akira Kurosawa.

Rogue One walks a very fine line between space fantasy and science fiction, and this presses the Star Wars franchise someplace it hasn’t gone on screen before. And as it does, Rogue One is able to do something no previous Star Wars film has been able to do: show us characters wrestling with the dilemmas of practical political action. Where previous Star Wars films were like sacred scripture, Rogue One is a story about the lives of the faithful. Which makes it a perfectly appropriate film for our times.

[From here on in this is not a spoiler-free zone. You have been warned.] Continue reading

TIFU: Gender, Justice, and the Wars in Iraq

TIFU … or 11 years ago, and I survived.

So I promised that my first post in this series would be of a piece of work with which I now disagree. It is – it is about my first book (and second publication), Gender, Justice, and the Wars in IraqI decided to write about this for a few reasons … in order: 1) the anxiety people have about sending something imperfect out for publication ; 2) the worry people have about early publications defining careers; and 3) the idea that people have that admitting weakness constitutes failure. I’m going to talk about all three of those in some detail, but, first, to what I don’t like about this book almost eleven years later …

Many people would tell me that the biggest mistake of this book is the publisher, Lexington Books – I signed a quick contract with a commercial publisher rather than wading through the difficulties of the University press revision process while a 1L in law school. While it might not have been the best move in terms of impressing those who might hire me, looking back at the reviews I got from University presses at the time, I don’t think that responding to them in depth actually would have fixed the problems I now have with the book. Others would wonder if it is the literature-review-like quality, or the immaturity of the writing, that make me now unhappy with it. While part of me does wish that I’d had a decade’s worth of academic experience when writing that book, I was 25 and 26 – and it sounds a little like that. That’s fine. My disagreement with it now is both better (that is, not an embarrassment over the outlet or writing) and worse (that is, substantive).

That is, I now think that the argument is wrong. Particularly, I think that there are two serious issues that I did not see at the time: 1) that just war theorizing may well not be worth saving; 2) that the problematic relationship between jus ad bellum and jus in bello means that I see just war theorizing as self-defeating if not war-justifying. This post probably is not the time for deep discussion of either of these points, but a couple of sentences will help show the depth of my current disagreement: at the time, a memory of classics classes in college and an interest in religious philosophy made me think that just war theory was a-ok, and just needed feminism to make it better. The question of whether it was fixable or not never occurred to me. Which brings me to the second one: the idea of a just cause, and of levels of justice of a cause, seems to me, in ‘real war’, to inspire unjust in bello behavior proportionate to one’s conviction about the justice of one’s cause. That is – just war discourse, I think, is complicit not only in inspiring wars but in inspiring their brutality. I’ve written a little about this with former graduate student Jessica Peet.

The point isn’t whether 2006-me or 2016-me is right. In fact, I’ve found more people susceptible to convincing by a refined version of the older argument than by the newer one. The point is having published something with which I now have both serious intellectual and serious normative issues – is that a bad thing? How do you look forward? What do you do? Does this mean I should sit on other ideas I have rather than put them out there? What does it mean for professional development. I have some ideas …

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IFjP Call for Editors

This is me shamelessly using IR to post the IFjP Call for Editors. Think about running IFjP. We’ve had a blast of a six years.

Why TIFU?

So why a series of posts on a political science blog called TIFU (inspired by the subreddit of the same name)? I, and others, have written about failure recently (in a liberal, failure-conscious definition of recently), inspired both by everyday life and by Johannes Haushofer’s post of a CV of failures. But I’ve decided that’s not enough.

It started on a panel hosted by the committee on the status of women at the Southern Political Science Association in Puerto Rico, which addressed navigating networking and other professional development musts. I was giving a talk on the best practices for networking, and many of the people in the audience looked intimidated. Then I realized a lot of professional development talks on best practices suggest there is not room for error. But I (and almost everyone I know) have learned at least some of the lessons about what to do by screwing it up – by doing the wrong thing first, and then learning, or by being put in my place by someone who knew better to begin with. I never think to say that in a professional development talk (or rarely), though, because its about imparting what I’ve learned that works. That, combined with being socialized to hide weaknesses in professional settings, means that it can seem like the people giving professional development hints got to where they are by walking some sort of tightrope perfectly. I had to let that audience know I’d screwed up (a lot) and it’d still turned out ok. And I think some of those stories (not all of them, of course, because I still have some dignity, I think) might contain useful professional lessons as well. Some of my TIFU’s (which seems more sanitary than fuck-ups) in networking and professional socialization will be a part of this post.

Then the CV of failures thing came around. Part of me loved that move because it said – these things did not work out for me, and yet stuff all worked out. My initial reaction was more piecemeal and tangential – that I was interested in the failures that I couldn’t put on a CV of failures. Sure, I’ve had a lot of rejections for journal articles and books and jobs and stuff – and those could go on a CV of failures – but that my biggest failures (and the hardest to overcome) have been failures of anxiety, failures of willingness to show my voice and be seen – failures that are even more invisible than rejections and even harder to show. I still think that this is an important point, and want to write more about several elements of academic failure. First, I want to write more about those quiet, anxious, personal failures. Second, I want to write explicitly about rejections and the lessons one should (as opposed to the lessons one often does) take from them. But third, and perhaps more importantly, I want to write about how to deal with the notion that it might not all be ok in the end. The CV of failures came from someone who made it, as do most of the stories of things that got fucked up or lost or messed up along the way that others in the profession read. My stories are – and can be – no exception – so far, this career thing is turning out just fine for me, and even were something to stop that – my writing would still be from a position of enormous privilege. Still, it is important to acknowledge that stories where it all turns out ok are not representative. Some of the posts in the TIFU series will be about all three of these things – personal failures, rejections, and grappling with stuff that might not turn out ok.

Then there was a panel at ISA-Northeast on navigating the profession as a woman, organized by a lot of junior women. At that panel, another panelist opened up about something personal that had been difficult, and I shared something personal that I’d only told a few people in the profession. The reaction in the room suggested relief at both the admission of something less-than-positive and a sense that it helped understand some contexts and stuff like that. I’m being vague because that’s not a thing I’m ready to share with the internet as a whole (or even the small, five-digit part of it that sometimes reads Relations International) – but I learned at that panel that some people ignore your weaknesses when they can’t figure them out and others attribute a reason for them – but, when possible, admitting them might increase understanding. It also might increase online trolling. So I’m not advocating it as a solution for everyone, and it may be a mistake for me. But some of the TIFU series of posts will be about explaining weakness to provide context.

At that very same panel at ISA-Northeast, there was a discussion of nervousness about sending out pieces of work for review and publication that might not be perfect, or might not be right, or something like that. I’ve always been a big advocate of the strategy of write stuff down, then send stuff out – but that strategy does risk getting reviews that suggest that you are wrong, or being silly, or have missed something; it also risks, on the flip side, publishing something that is wrong, silly, or has missed something. I’ve often told stories at professional development panels about stuff that I wrote and presented at conferences but never sent out because it had some terrible flaw that I hadn’t seen in the writing. But I’ve never talked about published work that I’m not sure about in hindsight. Some of the TIFU posts will talk about the former in more detail – when writing stuff down ends up showing that its not any good. But the very first one (coming soon) will talk about the latter – a piece of my published work with which I now disagree – and how that is/can be situated professionally.

In sum, the (forthcoming) series of posts about things I’ve screwed up over the years is meant to think about, intellectually and emotionally, professional imperfection, and how that does (or should) factor into professional development.

The State of Relations International – Changes Afoot!

Dear Readers,

I have been a terrible lead blogger over the last year. Terrible. I’d understand it if you didn’t read this post because you’ve forgotten Relations International except for the great posts that Brandon and Patrick have made in my absence. I’m hoping, though, now that you’re reading this post, you’ll keep reading, because 2017 will be a better year for Relations International than 2016 was. Here are some reasons why, in order of importance:

  1. The addition of Patrick Thaddeus Jackson as a permanent member of Relations International. Patrick and I have been blogging together for a long time, and Patrick is not only a brilliant scholar and an interesting person to talk to and hear from, but his blog posts have a great and unique voice on global politics, popular culture, professional development, and all things worth reading. If you haven’t read is recent posts on Marillion (and progressive rock more generally) and the passing of John Shotter, you should – both are creative, interesting, heart-felt, and well worth the read. Relations International is lucky to have Patrick with us, and looking forward to his contributions! He will definitely be an asset.
  2. My father won’t die this year. For those of you who don’t know, I had spent most of the last couple of years living with and taking care of my ailing father. It had become my normal, and I was writing from, blogging from, and even teaching from his house and his location. Both the last few months of his life in the Spring and the familial circumstances that surrounded his passing made it impossible for me not only to do this but really to do any work at all except around the margins. I miss my father every day, and will always – but am truly humbled by how much a confluence of circumstances around that disrupted my professional life. Relations International, which I have almost completely neglected for most of this year, has been one of the biggest casualties. But its been dormant, not dead – and almost every conference I go to, someone tells me something that they like about the posts here. So that makes it worth pursuing, now that I can. Expect a new set of posts from me, including but not limited to another series of posts, adding to series on book publishing, on professional development the hard way, and on feminist IR 101. This series will be called “TIFU” (inspired by the subreddit of the same name), and will talk about the good reasons for discussing and thinking about particular academic failures, both in terms of the quality (or correctness) of scholarship and in terms of professional development.
  3. Donald Trump won’t get elected in 2017. Ok, this one is mostly tongue-in-cheek, because he will most likely become president in 2017, and that is actually much worse than him getting elected. But, actually, I had trouble finding something to say about it, and about politics when it was happening. Unlike many others, I knew it was going to happen. And I couldn’t talk about it then. I don’t know if it was a lucky guess or my finger on the pulse of American politics; but since I’m writing this, I’m going with the latter. But even I was surprised by the sudden change in everyday micropolitics that came with it – the different ways that it felt to interact with local law enforcement, local politics, etc. That pulse that I (think I had) picked up on subtly in the undertones became acceptable, ok, everyday in a very visceral way that felt very dangerous to many of the people I know and love (but discernibly not to me) and I didn’t (and still don’t) have something to say about that. But more than a month later, I feel like maybe I can talk about other stuff. Maybe. 🙂

In all seriousness, to our faithful readers who have put up with our sporadic nature, we’re going to do better. To those who could be tempted to return, give Relations International another shot. To those who are new here, most of our posts don’t talk about death or fascism. And when they do, they’re interesting. Give us a try and see how it goes!

Thoughts on the passing of an intellectual interlocutor

I suppose that one of the inevitable consequences of getting older is that more people whom you have known, either personally or through their work, shuffle off this mortal coil and move on to whatever comes next. 2016 seems to have been a bad year for musicians whose work I (and many others) have known and appreciated: David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Maurice White, Greg Lake, Keith Emerson, Glenn Frey…the list goes on. But although I’m an amateur musician myself, my appreciation for folks like these is primarily as a member of the audience, part of the fan base, someone who was touched by their music and mourns the loss of a great talent that may have had more to give the world but now won’t be able to. They were people whose work I admired, but not peers: they were in a very different line of work, so I do not feel like I learned anything from them, although they provided the soundtrack to a lot of my life and the fact that they won’t ever be producing anything new that I can listen to is heartbreaking.

It’s different when someone you personally connected with dies. Continue reading

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Melt Our Guns

Or, “in which PTJ attempts to use some reflections on the aesthetics of progressive rock to flesh our a way for international studies scholarship to ‘go on’ in these turbulent times.”

Our wide eyes
Aren’t naive
They’re a product of a conscious decision
The welcoming smile is the new cool
The key left in the outside of the unlocked door
Isn’t forgetfulness
It’s a challenge to change your heart
There’s always a price to pay
Living in f e a r is so very dear
Can you really afford it?

The band Marillion is probably not one that you are familiar with. Outside of a very passionately committed fan base, most people have either never heard of them or have vague memories of their song “Kayleigh,” which was a #2 hit in the U.K. in the summer of 1985, a top-10 hit in Ireland, Norway, and France, and made it to #74 in the United States later that year. Since that period of popular success, and after replacing their lead singer due in part to the traditional problems of a successful rock band (ego, drugs, and the pressure to repeat their triumph), the band has recorded 15 additional studio albums, played numerous shows all over the world, and generally continued to make compelling melodic “neo-progressive” rock music. If Bob Dylan set out with “a red guitar, three chords, and the truth,” Marillion persists with a lot more than three chords, numerous synthesizers and keyboards to go along with several guitars including a 12-string, and a preference for longer, more complex musical arrangements than are common in mainstream popular music.

Marillion’s latest album is entitled FEAR, which is an acronym standing for “f*** everyone and run.” That latter phrase is a lyric from one of the album’s songs, “The New Kings,” which deals with the lives of the world’s super-rich elite and the impact that the wealth gap has on the daily lives of the rest of us. The album opens with a long suite entitled “El Dorado” that links the pursuit of gold with militarism, global poverty, and various forms of violence. On their current concert tour, Marillion is playing both of those songs, and not playing the less explicitly political tracks from the new album: “The Leavers,” about a band on tour, and “White Paper,” about a relationship that ends because the narrator can’t find a way to be content given all of the horrible things going on in the world. From the new album they are also playing a song entitled “Living in FEAR,” which lead singer Steve Hogarth introduces at the live shows as “the antidote to our new album.” While “El Dorado” and “The New Kings” indict and lament the current state of things, “Living in FEAR” presents an alternative way that we could choose to live:

We’ve decided to risk melting our guns as a show of strength
We’ve decided to risk melting our guns as a show of strength
As a show of strength!
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