Author Archives: Laura Sjoberg

About Laura Sjoberg

Laura Sjoberg (Ph.D., University of Southern California, 2004; J.D., Boston College, 2007) is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Florida. Her main research interests focus on gender in international security: feminist war theorizing, women's violence in global politics, gendered significations of militarism, and queer theorizing of security. She recently published Gendering Global Conflict (Columbia University Press, 2013) and is just finishing work on a book called Rape Among Women (New York University Press).

(Self) Reflections on Alexander Wendt’s book Quantum Mind and Social Science: Unifying Physical and Social Ontology

This is a guest post by Matt EvansProfessor of Political Science at Northwest Arkansas Community College (in Bentonville). Dr. Evans he holds an MA in political science from the University of Louisville (where he was first introduced to Wendt by Dr. Rodger Payne) and a PhD in the same field from Northern Arizona University.

Ecce homo!

The Latin phrase means “behold the body” – it was what Pontius Pilate said to the jeering Jerusalemites in presenting Jesus Christ’s tortured body, and what Friedrich Nietzsche’s used to title his intellectual autobiography. It denotes a defense of oneself and others to an unsympathetic public, and parallels what Judith Butler said about “giving an account of oneself” (that presenting oneself creates an impossible singular task where we must invoke others and the broader web of sociality to know ourselves in public and private).

In the paragraphs below, I want to explain my own use of the phrase – in a review of Alexander Wendt’s recent book Quantum Mind and Social Science: Unifying Physical and Social Ontology. Of course, this book review will not only explain some of Wendt’s basic ideas in this quantum project, but also reveal something inter-textually that exists beyond and between the texts/text (thus the infinite number of spaces that we need to look to explain what something means). Examining Wendt’s most recent book tells us something about the writer, the book reviewer, and some of the social contexts in which both emerge.

More than any other writer, Wendt made me the political scientist I am today. His work on structuration, scientific realism, and constructivism unraveled my thinking on how to approach American diplomatic history. Before reading his work, I wanted to be Noam Chomsky with a political science PhD. After reading his works, I wanted to be a political theorist. Every political problem appeared, at its roots, to be a philosophical problem (that addressed both the way we did science, the way we construct causality, ontology, metaphysics, ethics). I thought all political scientists were just bad theorists, bad historians, or a combination of the two. Certainly reading King Keohane and Verba made me very amenable to some of Wendt’s denaturalization of the orthodoxies of the study of international relations and global politics. It also opened the door to an idea that political scientists could not adequately study political problems – the major paradigm shifts occurred metaphorically by connecting contents and contexts that clearly were not part of political science into the field (in a way that draws upon the insights of conceptual blending and conceptual metaphor research). Thus, Wendt had to remind everyone of the importance of philosophy of science, specifically scientific realism (from British philosopher Roy Bhaskar) and structuration (from British sociologist Anthony Giddens). He was breaking apart what counted as international relations – along with others opening the door to a wider conception of political science – and creating space for me to do whatever I would be doing to complete my MA and a PhD in political science (and thus spend much of my time taking philosophy, linguistics, sociology, gender studies, ethnic studies, communications courses). Of course, I probably stretched scientific realism and constitutive theory to their breaking points in justifying my own projects (like my dissertation). His cleaver-ness, though, was always creating a false nostalgia in making the new concept or issue appear like it had just been lost in the shuffle of the field’s creation and was always there in plain sight (kind of like Winston’s role in utilizing the memory hole in the book 1984).

The metaphoricity of Wendt’s recent project on quantum social science seems potentially ripe for contributing to the growth of the field of not just political science (but all of social sciences). He examines the mind-body problem – one of the central and intractable problems of Western philosophy – and finds it lacking for being entirely based on Newtonian physics (for example, see his Q&A here and his lecture here). The Newtonian should be replaced by the quantum. The latter challenges many of the basic assumptions of the former. All social explanations are constrained by the laws of physics, according to Wendt, and thus physics lays at the base of everything social, large and small (Wendt 7). In laying out this challenge, Wendt brings into question the broader project of social sciences (in all of its disciplines). If the social sciences are largely based on a Newtonian metaphysics (at least implicitly at their root), then the larger project of social sciences loses its purchase in explaining the world. Wendt, thus, is correcting philosophers and social scientists for not thinking through the implications of the quantum that ultimately undermine explanations about the world. We must look to the quantum, a world of potentiality and contingencies.

What is the new quantum IR Wendt world? From this perspective, humans are “walking wave functions” and thus all that can be known about a quantum system before it collapses and decoheres because of measurement (Wendt 3). Individual minds “are entangled through language and context and thus not fully separable”; “there is no need to infer the speaker’s meaning, since it is contained right there in her words and context, which are picked up non-locally, i.e., directly, rather than transposed through the speaker’s mind” (Wendt 237). Speech perception happens through gestalts “which sub-consciously relates what is being said backwards to what they have already said in the past and also anticipating what they are going to say in the future,” following the work of Francesco Ferretti (Wendt 240). Individuals exist ontologically prior to the state and society (Wendt 244), a point he made in his first book but not his initial formulation of constructivism (in saying it might be ideas all the way down). The state is a hologram where the hole is encoded in the parts; thus, “the policeman’s practices enfold the history of the whole state” that are decoded through our psychological perceptions of waves cohering in our brain around this phenomenon (Wendt 272-273) – a much less Marxist explanation of interpellation, perhaps. We do not literally see the state, but the act itself that implicates the state and thus we perceive the underlying phenomenon because of its holographic encoding on the smaller, more localized phenomenon (Wendt 274). Methodologically he suggests moving past his previous suggestion of via media (a middle ground between positivism and interpretivism) to “both/and” – “only question then is which incomplete stance to take for a given problem” (Wendt 286). Causes are non-efficient, and non-local within this perspective. They happen downward through what he terms “weak downward causation” where the whole describes the arrangement or constitution of the parts (Wendt 262). Temporal holism suggests that history is “a series of events that are logically or internally related to one another” and “what comes after those events plays a role in not just in how we describe them today but in making them what they actually were” (Wendt 196). In total, Wendt tells us that he is out of the constructivism business (though there are elements of his previous projects on display in this book).

The problem with moving across and expanding contexts is translation. Something gets lost when shifting and connecting registers, accents, languages, modes of thinking, ontologies, epistemologies, metaphysics, and ethics. Contexts are structured and created through the specificity (or backgrounding) of these things. The implications of grand claims, at the root of Wendt’s new project, cannot be adequately addressed. Wendt suggests a second volume that works more specifically through these issues might come years later. To be fair, one can only address so much in a book and certain things will always lie outside the narrative. On the other hand, as WEB DuBois knew well, connecting two contexts can be extremely violent psychically and physically – leading to the mental experience of the veil of distancing and obstructing one’s own view through the alienation of one’s very being.

As such, I want to raise some issues of what gets left behind or overlooked (and perhaps what might get resurrected and addressed in Wendt’s sequel).

PERFORMATIVITY. Wendt connects the interactive production of individuals with the performative theory of Judith Butler:

on the specific issue of how she [Butler] conceives the relationship between agents and agency, there is a strong parallel to quantum reading of the preference reversal phenomenon. Moreover, one of the issues Butler struggles with in response to critics is the age-old tension between voluntarism and determinism, both of which she wants to avoid. As we will see in the next chapter on free will, a quantum model of agency provides a way to threat this needle, and as such would contribute to further development of her approach. (Wendt 163)

Wendt draws upon a previous book on quantum theory and performativity by Karen Barad to connect her notion of intra-action to game theory inter-action (in threading this needle for Butler):

Human beings only become who they are through collapse of our wave functions into well-defined states, which happens as a result of continuous measurements on and by our environment. She then points out that as quantum systems we are entangled with the social world and thus not fully separable from each other. This vitiates the premise of “inter” action and by the same token motivates the neologism of intra-action, since who we become through measurement on each other is internal to our shared relationship – our entanglement – rather than something that happens outside. (Wendt 172)

Thus, “her argument suggests that the effect of playing a quantum game is to create the separability requirement of classical game – even if that game can never be played” (Wendt 173). This gives rise to cooperation through entanglement that challenges the atomistic notions of traditional game theory; strategies are intertwined between players and their deployment only becomes clear as a result of the game itself (Wendt 170).

Of course, I am not sure I understand how he works through the aspects of Butler’s work (and those following her like Saba Mahmood) about the nature of what exists prior to the interaction and what weight it possesses and what constraint it offers. Wendt suggests that she works against voluntarism and determinism, but within her own discussion she works through notions of grids of determinability and in others applying her theory we see notions of how the performance cements over time making it harder to change. If we are left with flat ontology (“in which individuals are the only real reality” Wendt 33; unlike some of his previous claims about states being real), how do we work through some of the wisdom of the last 25 years on performativity? Are there things beyond the individual and mind that stay and exist beyond the hologram? Is the division between the real, the social, the ideal much more fluid than Wendt wants to claim within his framework?

Most problematically he says: “I know of no interpretivist, post-modernist, or other critic of naturalistic social science who says that social phenomena can violate the laws of physics” (Wendt 10). For such a statement to make sense, we have to know physics, how it can be violated, and how we know it was violated (as do all the theoretical positions laid out in this sentence). Epistemologically I am not sure that every theoretical positions follows the winding metaphysical systems implied within their social ontologies. In a sense, Wendt seems to attribute a certain narrative totality to particular traditions across all the traditional philosophical categories (when such traditions may have avoided, challenged, or radically transmuted such categories from natural objects, as they were, to sites of power construction) – and thus he is smuggling in some overarching, loose, metaphysics to put over all these diverse approaches to discovering/formulating the world.

MONADS. Wendt’s utilizes monads (from Gottfied Leibniz) to make claims about the social positions of individuals and their experiences:

We might call leaders dominant monads, which contain within themselves the reasons for the collective actions of the members. Other monads defer to the dominant, giving the latter “first mover” status in collapsing the state’s wave function and by implication giving up their own right to act against the chosen path (at least at that moment). In quantum terms this may be understood as a system of entangled particles in which, by virtue of its internal structure, when measurements are made on the system by the environment the choice of how to respond is not made locally by the particles on the spot, but centrally by the leaders. (Wendt 270)

Additionally, Wendt tells us the dominant experiences the whole decoherence into experience, “instantiating the consciousness of the collective, not a single cell” (Wendt 281); and anyone can experience the state and what it is like to be the state (but this point of view is the subjective experience of the state, not the actual experience of the state).

Such claims about monads (however grounded in mannish European early modern philosophy of Leibniz) suggest an abstract affinity for standpoint theory (that emerged out of George Lukás and various feminists of the 1970s and 1980s), but that a flat ontology seemingly undermines some of the parallels between these two theories (while simultaneously harvesting the epistemic point from standpoint theory about social position and knowledge about the system). Beyond the flat ontology, should we acknowledge that the unprivileged have a stronger claim on knowledge than the privileged in explaining the nature and logic of the social system? How can we do so within a flat ontology?

SPEECH ACTS. Wendt draws upon speech acts in explaining wave collapses in quantum physics and his own project:

In quantum mechanics measurement is what brings about a wave function’s collapse, which is inherently contextual process that involves first deciding particular question to ask of nature and then preparing the experiment in such a way that it can be answered; if these steps are done differently, then a different result will be obtained. Similarly, in language what brings about a concept’s collapse from potential meaning into an actual one is a speech act, which may be seen as a measurement that puts it into a context, with both other words and particular listeners. (Wendt 217)

This suggests some affinity with securitization theory (that explains the dis-empowering impacts of particular types of speech acts towards referent objects). Does Ole Waever’s existing conception of securitization (and the broader literature around it) remain consistent with Wendt’s metaphysical and ontological claims in the book? What are the overlaps and the differences? My sense is that there are some things I am not seeing, but thinking through on security seems to say, at least from memory, that it could be made to work fairly directly and easily with mind entanglement through the ontological claims that securitization makes at its most basic levels.

TRUTH. Wendt’s general disposition — taking a stand that something is true — is parsimonious and useful for tracing out a clear position on what QT means and its implications for mind/body and social theory. But is there a stronger claim for ontological muddle and epistemic humility in following some type of philosophical wager for a particular commitment to pluralism for different possibilities of the way the mind works consistent with quantum theory (parallel to what PTJ does with his different scientific ontologies — trying to keep several conflicting ways of doing science and approaching the world in the same tent).

EMERGENCE. Wendt’s claims of emergence offers a new explanation for mutual constitution, as the relation between agents and social structures is a “nonlocal synchronic state from which both emerge” (Wendt 260). This makes me think of conceptual blending and conceptual metaphor theories — as ways to explain emergent meaning — that hit on something of the boundaries of context. So much of meaning connects structures that we thought were separated to create new meanings. As such, there are deeper implications for the connection of semantic context through the process of interaction and meaning. Should we consider the role of metaphor in quantum theory in some deeper way? Additionally, why should this be treated differently than the sort of theorizing on assemblages, rhizomes, and lines of flight in the post-Marxist/speculative realism literature?

SUBJECT/OBJECT. Is there an irony with establishing the collapse of wave functions as a measurement problem and then creating a scientism that cleanly separates the researcher from the world out there? Thus, even though he suggests the problem of de-coherence, he offers a position to explain the way reality ultimately is from a knowledge position not fully within the field of quantum physics and thus as an anthropologist outsider engaging a world of texts (Wendt 36-37), where he asks the reader to cobble together a new view of the world from reading his text (that surely represents what the world “is” by offering explanations of quantum physics and social theory). Would Wendt just be better served by reading Campbell’s engagement with him 25 years ago (about how the posts were part of the constructivist project, drawing on Foucault’s notion of the “Blackmail of the Enlightenment”) and taking up his interlocutor’s project of a thoroughly performative series of claims about the world jettisoning all the different layers of physics concepts?

ALIEN ANTHROPOLOGY. The fact that Wendt suggests that aliens could not find or see the state seems a bit ridiculous (even against his discussion of alien encounters and UFOs elsewhere). Do anthropologist not reconstruct social structures that are unfamiliar through ethnographies or gathering artifacts (a point he affirms in his introduction of what he is doing method-wise in his book)? Why would aliens not see the state in the same way that outsider anthropologists do?

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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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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.

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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.

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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!

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The Authoritarian Archipelago

This is a guest post by Daniel Bertrand Monk, who is the George R. and Myra T. Cooley Chair in Peace and Conflict Studies at Colgate University, where he is a professor of Geography and Middle East Studies.  His most recent volume is The Post-Conflict Environment (Jacob Mundy co-editor)

“I don’t want knowledge. I want certainty.”  Bowie. Law (Earthlings on Fire)

Any serious effort to make sense of America’s post-election sense-making would have to begin with the observation that our forensics reveal more about a collective experience of dislocation than much else. Whether they suggest that what “we’ve been here before” or imply the inverse  –that the situation is unprecedented because it recalls a Fascist past elsewhere– efforts to tease a truth out of the turnout in rust belt Michigan or suburban Pennsylvania tacitly assume that we must look to what has already happened in order to predict what is coming.  As a genre, the American postmortem persistently resorts to the poverty of a shabby historicism.

Ransacking the uniqueness of the American past or the comparative universality of other people’s history, Americans observers of the present unwittingly advance Amor Fati, a loving identification with their own fate. In the exceptionalist version of this historicism, past electoral precedents confirm that Americans are still arguing with one another within endoxic parameters – that is, within the extremes of electoral politics.  The present, they reassure us, is still more like Chicago in 1968 than Nuremberg in 1935.  In the comparative version of the same historicism, the inverse is true:  a much discussed “normalization” of the Trump-Bannon present is compared with the disastrous excuses made after the election of Hitler to the effect that he could be “boxed in.”  According to this version of events, the lessons of Germany’s 1935 Nuremberg Laws confer up on Americans an obligation to volunteer and register as Muslims in the same way that Danes allegedly donned yellow stars in the defense of Jews in occupied Europe. In both instances, resignation prevails, and to some extent presents itself as the inverse.  Instead of sober political assessment, the given historical comparisons occasion a kind of catharsis in subjection. We are called to “action for the sake of inaction,” as an astute of observer of political resignation once put it.

There is no easy way to explain that a routinized and practiced form of historical tautology may help kill this republic.  But, there is every indication that an impoverished imagination may rely on its knowledge of political history to disavow any knowledge of a new political geography. The more they look to their own repertoire of historical precedents, the less likely it is that Americans will be able to know if or when they’ve become part of something qualitatively new:  an archipelago of states that are formally democratic and illiberally popular at the same time.  These states are sometimes called “hybrid regimes,” “defective democracies,” or “electoral authoritarianisms.”   It matters, because when you live in the archipelago no one chooses to let you know whether you’re back in Chicago 1968 or in Nuremberg 1935. Contemporary authoritarianism thrives on uncertainty about whether it is taking place to begin with. (MTV gets this, even if David Brooks and the New York Times are still waiting for something like the Reichstag fire to let them know what’s what).  The archipelago’s denizens inhabit a political present and a geographic extent in which states are democracies by reputation, and the institutional features of liberal republics survive in them because they sometimes make no difference.  In the authoritarian archipelago, there is little certainty whether one is –or isn’t– living in a dictatorial state of exception, and for that reason a state of exception is sometimes maintained by a populace that nurtures it as a “public secret” so it can advance its own illiberal ambitions.

Those who have lived through this situation and know it well are desperately trying to explain that the kind of dislocation Americans are now experiencing is itself indicative of life under this new kind of autocracy, or soft authoritarianism. The fact that you can’t always really know if you’re living in the chain of autocracies, its refugees report, is a primary feature of life in the growing archipelago of “illiberal populist movements” that may now include the U.S.

Many American interpreters of these cautions are furiously working to misinterpret them.  In the U.S, the idea that collective experience of dislocation actually constitutes a right orientation to the present political geography will only be heard as a further invitation to plunder the past at the expense of the present.  We will continue to be instructed in electoral strategies that will secure reversals in two, four, or eight years; or worse, we’ll be reminded to practice resistance strategies that never did anyone any good even when Franco, Mussolini, or Hitler were still in power –that is, when Fascism paid one the courtesy of passing laws that painted bull’s-eyes on one’s back.  But here’s the thing: every time someone asks themselves, “Can this really be happening?” they are confronted with the authentic relation between experience and history for which those impoverished forms of historicism mistakes themselves.  And, in the difference between our gut feeling about the present and the old names others’ give to that same experience, a politics proper to this moment will either emerge or be “normalized” into resignation in its own right.  We’ll only know that a politics adequate to the present is starting to take shape when Americans start dropping the clichéd comparisons and start reading the manuals they themselves offered to pro-democracy activists already living in the authoritarian archipelago.

Adorno, Theodor W. “Resignation.” Telos 1978, no. 35 (1978): 165-168.

Diamond, L. J. “Thinking About Hybrid Regimes.” Journal of Democracy, vol. 13 no. 2, 2002, pp. 21-35. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/jod.2002.0025.

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Academic Freedom, or Privilege with Blinders?

Patrick Thaddeus Jackson wrote a thoughtful response to the University of Chicago’s declaration to the class of 2020 that they won’t find trigger warnings or intellectual safe spaces in Hyde Park, and promises another that specifically addresses safe spaces. I’ll leave him in charge of the cool, level-headed, intellectual arguments, and I’ll post as an angry alum. There was a lot I valued about getting an education at Chicago, but this (attention-grabbing stunt?) move really reminds me of the things that I liked least about being a Chicago Maroon.

The letter in question boasts of the University of Chicago’s long, and often controversial, commitment to academic freedom, referencing a free expression report and coordinated website. All these materials tell a story of an institution that has, for more than a hundred years, permitted and defended hosting controversial speakers, refused to censor controversial ideas, and valued deliberation. The report calls free expression “our inheritance, and our promise to the future.”

A cynic might think that this is a quick turnaround from the threat to expel a student body president who facilitated a protest for campus workers to make a living wage just a couple of months ago. But someone with a long view on the University’s history might think that the University has made a distinction between a narrowly-defined academic freedom, and freedom to/ability to speak more generally – where the former often comes at the expense of or during the suppression of the latter. In fact, one can find this distinction codified, where the University’s “protest” policy, located far away in web-clicks from its “freedom of expression policy” has a very low bar for disruptive behavior (which, ironically, some academic “free speech” might meet, using the letter of the law). The University of Chicago has been noted as one of the institutions that cracked down the strongest (most unreasonably?) on Vietnam War protestors in the 1960s and 1970s. While academic speech in a confined sort of environment (a traditional speaker giving a traditional talk with questions and answers) is highly valued at the University of Chicago, I never got the sense that free expression generally was nearly as valued, especially when it was protest speech.

This is one of the things that makes me angry about the University’s hard line on trigger warnings and safe spaces – the University of Chicago is a place for free expression, among students, in a classroom, about things “outside” the university rather than about how the university is or what the university is or how it works. In fact, on at least two occasions, the University has suppressed protest speech directly related to University practices. This means that UChicago students have a particular sort of freedom – all ideas in the classroom and at talks – but lack other freedoms, particularly participating in the shaping of their institution when the institution refuses to engage their concerns.

That is a problem, but it isn’t my biggest problem. My biggest problem is the University of Chicago touting free expression without there being scrutiny on what the University chooses to be silent about. I think that the University chooses problematic, discriminatory, white-washing silences, and that those matter both in its claims to freedom of expression generally, and the trigger warning/safe space debate specifically.

As an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Chicago, I was mailed driving directions to get to campus from the south, before in-car or on-phone GPS was a thing. I trusted the University to give directions to itself more efficiently than I could figure out on the atlas. The driving directions from the south were to drive up the Dan Ryan to Lake Shore Drive, then south on Lake Shore Drive to campus. For those of you who know Chicago, or can look at a map,  I drove almost 14 miles on four-lane-highway at rush hour from the Dan Ryan exit on 55th Street to getting off of Lake Shore Drive on 57th street – which I think is about two miles on 55th street. The University sent me a ridiculous distance out of my way – why? I can only guess to stop my new-freshman eyes from seeing Washington Park as my first exposure to Chicago? The public transit directions to go Downtown were similarly narrow – they said to take the Jeffrey Bus (at the time it was the #6) or the University bus. You could even the 55 bus to the Red Line over the Dan Ryan, though I remember warnings about that at night. The problem? Between campus and the Red Line on the 55 bus was the Green Line – another way to get downtown.

I am sure the University saw it was public relations, or as keeping students safe, rather than as censorship, or painting a partial picture of the University’s world. The University has a long and storied history of relationships with the surrounding community that try to drive out diversity, which even John Boyer explains have played out on race and class lines. I remember attending a number of events at the University of Chicago which were nominally open to our non-affiliated neighbors but were neither welcoming or accessible. ‘The neighborhood’ was a place that we as students were encouraged to help, but not necessarily encouraged to learn from – the University was a resource for the neighborhood (limitedly, in its own view), but the neighborhood wasn’t treated as a resource for the University. Academic speech was valued in its quality, quantity, and freedom, but what constituted academic speech is narrow, confined by degrees and tuition dollars and an unrepresentative part of the population. This “fits” with a place that suppresses students’ protest speech, especially when that suppressed protest speech is about treating its workers, the neighborhood, its minority students, or its war-objector students with more justice.

At the end of the day, both of these problems – the hypocrisy of the juxtaposition of this statement with the threats to punish a protesting student earlier this year, and the speech the University chooses to promote compared to the speech the University chooses to silent/be silent on – make me angry about what appears to be a self-righteous statement about trigger warnings and safe spaces. I don’t have a well-formed opinion on trigger warnings and safe spaces – I see both sides of the argument – but I worry that the self-appreciating blanket announcement that they will not exist is yet another implicit bias and exclusion in a University that claims inclusiveness but whitewashes its exclusions. The people who need/want trigger warnings are another disadvantaged population that the University of Chicago is not taking serving seriously.

Why do I say that the University of Chicago is not taking serving those people seriously? The letter linked above does not talk about why people ask for trigger warnings and safe spaces; it doesn’t talk about the horrors of war or rape culture of child abuse or child molestation or any number of things that cause serious trauma and psychological damage. It doesn’t talk about resources that the University offers (like the counseling center, or student support groups) to deal with trauma and stress and triggers; it doesn’t talk about the barriers to learning that Patrick deals with; it doesn’t talk about making sure that the University of Chicago is an accessible learning environment. I think that its letter to its 2020 freshman showcases, both implicitly and explicitly, its axes of exclusion rather than its axes of inclusion.

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The burden of insecurity: Using theories of International Relations to make-sense of the state of post-9/11 politics

This is a guest post by Runa Das, Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science, University of Minnesota, Duluth.

The globalizing world of post-9/11 international politics unfortunately continues to be rocked by terrorist attacks impacting states and their civilians at a global level. Beginning with September 2001 (9/11) attacks on the United States, these unfortunate chains of events have (amongst many others) occurred in Europe (Madrid, 2004; London, 2005; Paris, 2015); Asia (Mumbai, 2008; Bali, 2002; Jakarta, 2005); Africa (Kenya, 2013; Tunisia, 2015); once again in the United States (Boston, 2013; San Bernardino, 2015); and, recently in Brussels (March 2016) followed by those in Pakistan (Lahore).

How do we as academics and researchers working at the theoretical intersections of the fields of International Relations and Security – who in various ways seek to engage with students, state leaders, policy practitioners, and, the broader intellectual community to bring about a world of peace and security –  make sense of (and deal with) these unfortunate incidents of terrorist occurrences that incur direct devastating consequences on states and citizens who remain victims of these occurrences? Also, at a more complex level, how does one make sense of the inter-connected issues of religion, culture, and identity of certain individuals, groups, and communities who may unfortunately become subject to implicit or explicit forms of profiling or stereo-typing as a result of these repeated terrorist occurrences? In sum, how do we as members of the academia deal with this “burden” of terrorism-prone insecurity pervading post-9/11 international affairs?

Indeed, it is common-sense that for every globally concerned citizen these terror crises are real threat issues with concrete and long-lasting physical-psychological impact on their direct victims; on these victims’ friends and families; and to any responsible and concerned member of the global community – irrespective of their gender, race, class, ethnicity, religion, and geographical location – constitute a highly disconcerting state of human insecurity.

As such, the post-9/11 aftermath has justifiably witnessed an array of responses from state leaders all over the world to fight this terror through political, military, and counter-terrorism strategies; alliance-building amongst democratic/responsible states; as well as inter-state diplomacy and dialogue to secure a post-9/11 world of peace and security. These collective efforts are evidenced in the passing of the US Patriot Act by the US after 9/11; the creation of the United States Department of Homeland Security 2002; the passing of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime, and Security Act 2001 in UK; the European Union Framework Decision on Terrorism, 2002; Prevention of Terrorism Act in India, 2002; and so forth. In addition, there followed speeches by political leaders “assuring” security to their citizens residing at home/abroad; shoring up subway, airport, and other transportation and special law-enforcement security systems; and, last but not the least, an escalation of states’ military-nuclear defensive measures (also resulting in their rising military-defense budgetary expenses).

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Women Shouldn’t Need Different Guidelines for Achieving Tenure (And Other Observations on Gendered Academe)

*while Foreign Policy editors expressed initial interest in this post, a long-delayed response time to its actual draft suggests to me that such interest has faded, though I cannot imagine why. I’ve decided to self-publish it here on RI. 

Recently, Foreign Policy contributor Stephen Walt published an article on how to get tenure in political science, and Erica Chenoweth, Page Fortna, Sara Mitchell, Burcu Savun, Jessica Weeks, and Kathleen Cunningham responded with an article on the different experiences women have when they go through the process of seeking tenure. Both pieces are, in some ways, spot-on. As Chenoweth et al note, Walt’s points are reasonable, but “the likely effect of his recommended strategies would be drastically different” for men and for women.

Chenoweth et al correctly identify the source of that difference – that “processes may be biased against women, often due to implicit bias rather than conscious discrimination.” They then make a very strong case that implicit bias affects almost every facet of the tenure process, from letters of recommendations to research expectations, from hiring committees to the probability of citation, from publication opportunities to syllabus assignments, from teaching evaluations to service expectations. They also correctly point out that there are different behavioral expectations of women in the field than there are for men.

The authors then go on to give women junior faculty a number of survival tips for the tenure process: get what you need at work, get what you need at home, create time, set boundaries with others, filter commentary and criticism, network, and get your work out there. All of these (if they are realistic) are excellent pieces of advice for navigating the gendered nature of the tenure process. And Chenoweth et al do not leave it entirely to women to navigate the process: the last two paragraphs of the piece talk about advice for allies to make sure that they are aware of, and not complicit in, the gendered dynamics of the discipline.

One the one hand, this advice is solid – after all, to an extent  we all navigate the existing system individually. On the other hand, from a feminist perspective, I have two serious concerns about the advice provided. First, I am concerned that providing advice for navigating the gendered system of achieving tenure without strategizing to change the system as a whole puts the primary responsibility for overcoming bias on the victims of the bias. Second, I am concerned that a significant number of the strategies provided are only available to a small percentage of those who might seek professional success as political science faculty, narrowing the spectrum of those to whom tenure might be available.

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