global politics, relationally

31 May 2017
by Laura Sjoberg

The International Origins of Social and Political Theory

This is a post by Tarak Barkawi and George Lawson, introducing their edited collection, The International Origins of Social and Political Theory 

What is the relationship between history and theory? Most of the time, theory stands outside history. Social scientists tend to apply theories to historical events, seeing history as a testing bed or as a site of “operationalization” for their theoretical schemas. Others, among them historians of thought, see theory as speech acts either rooted in their particular time and place, or, alternately, as reflections of broader social forces. On either account, theory (as intellectual systems) and history (as events, experiences and practices) appear as distinct domains.

Our opening into the wider project that Relations International is exploring is the idea that the relations between history and theory are better conceived as co-constitutive. Theory is made in history, and it helps to make history. Understanding theory, and understanding history, requires inquiry attuned to the entwinement of theory and history.

But what does it mean to say that theory is made in history, and that it helps to make history? It means that theories arise historically, formed amid encounters between theorists and the events and practices they experience and take part in.

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18 May 2017
by Laura Sjoberg

RelationsInternational Back; Forum announcement

Dear RelationsInternational Readers,

It has been a long month here at RelationsInternational – many of you know that we got hacked so badly that we had to rebuild the site from the ground up. It looks like we are secure now, so we thank you for your patience – through this, and through RI’s sporadic year this year.

Looking forward, we’re happy to announce that the revived RI will be doing a forum on Tarak Barkawi and George Lawson’s edited volume in the Political Power and Social Theory series on The International Origins of Social and Political Theory. The  editors and many of the authors will provide RI a blog post summary of their work, and RI’s interlocutors will engage in commentary and discussion. The first post, by Tarak and George, will be coming on Monday, so be ready!

Thanks again, and welcome back to RI,

Laura Sjoberg

8 May 2017
by Milos Popovic

Russia sponsors right-wing parties, but Soviets did it too

As the FBI investigates Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 Presidential elections, the Kremlin continues to bankroll European far-right and neo-Nazi parties to destabilize governments from France and Germany to Scandinavia. Under President Putin, Russia offers money, cooperation, and propaganda support to a wide variety of movements from Austria’s anti-immigrant Freedom Party to Le Pen’s Front National to Hungarian neo-Nazis.

For a country that boasts of being the successor of the Soviet Union, the former beacon of proletarian internationalism, Russia, and European far-right parties would appear to be strange bedfellows. Historians have long studied how the Soviet Union both overtly and covertly supported Western-European communist parties in order to destabilize post-war democratic regimes throughout the region. It had been long thought, however, that the brutal war between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany would preclude any Soviet collaboration with surviving Nazi elements.

Recently declassified archives from CIA and the Russian State Archive offer compelling evidence that Moscow deliberately established ties with Austrian National League in the 1950s, a party they well understood was made up of former Nazis.

After World War II, the four Allied Powers occupied Austria and divided the country and its capital Vienna into zones of control. As the shadow of the Iron Curtain descended over the old continent, the Soviets threw their support behind their ideological ally, the Communist Party of Austria (CPA), in hope that communism would triumph in the country. But the 1945 general election dealt a serious blow to the Soviet hopes as the CPA received a meager 5% of the vote. Soviet concerns about its influence in Western Europe increased sharply when in 1948 the United States launched the Marshall Plan to decrease Europe’s economic hardships. Only a year later, CPA suffered another staggering election defeat causing alarm within the Kremlin.

Moscow blamed the CPA’s election failure on their inability to win over the countryside, penetrate unions and, most importantly, attract Christian voters. The Kremlin sought to remedy this situation by linking to alternative partners, who could both attract these voters and penetrate the right-wing in order to weaken the ruling conservative People’s Party.

The CPA, with Soviet support, first tried to infiltrate nationalist Federation of Independents or VdU (a predecessor of Freedom Party of Austria) through a caucus around Josef Heger. But when VdU leadership found out that Heger was a Soviet mole, he was ousted together with his supporters in the aftermath of the 1949 elections. This forced Soviets then to choose a more radical solution after its intelligence services noticed Adolph Slavik and his newly formed right-wing party, the National League (NL). According to the Soviet archives, Adolph Slavik was a former SS officer and Hitler Youth member who established the NL together with 80 former Nazi officers and servicemen in Viennese restaurant “Fuhrer” in January 1950. NL quickly set up its committees in Vienna and Lower Austria, which drew in “quite a crowd” of “workers, peasants, housewives and petty bourgeoisie”. For a party of ex-Nazis, NL nourished a suspiciously pro-Soviet political stance aimed at “cooperation with the Soviet Union, and against turning [Austria] into a satellite or colony of American imperialism”. By 1952, NL had organized more than 500 gatherings and owned a daily newspaper with a circulation of 8 thousand copies (in contrast, the ruling conservatives had no party newspapers). Its tentacles quickly spread to rural areas where CPA had failed to garner strong support in previous elections.

Bizarrely, the Soviet report referred to NL as a “democratic” movement, while simultaneously castigating the then conservative government of Austria as “neo-fascist”. But where there’s smoke, there’s fire. In 1953, the Soviets admitted that there are contacts between CPA and Slavik (in the Soviet’s words he was a “progressive man”). Since Western European communist parties could not enter arrangements with other political parties without Moscow’s blessing, it is almost certain that Soviet officials encouraged this peculiar alliance.

Dozens of recently declassified CIA documents regarding Slavik and NL cast more light on Slavik’s relationship with the Soviets. In one such report, the CIA finds that as early as 1950, NL propagandists were allowed to operate in Soviet-occupied Vienna and Lower Austria in their bid to attract former Nazis to their ranks. Slavik even received funding from the Administration of Soviet Property in Austria (USIA) to publish party newspapers. Similar to present day right-wing pilgrimages in support of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, NL also sent delegations to Communist-sponsored Peace Council meetings. In 1950, Slavik traveled to East and West Germany to set up an intelligence network for the Soviets in Austria, and he reportedly engaged in cross-border arms smuggling.

The most blatant show of collaboration with the Soviets, which ultimately spelled NL’s political demise, occurred on the eve of 1952 Presidential elections when Slavik openly instructed his party members to cast blank ballots in congruence with Moscow’s position, and called for NL to join the communist People’s Opposition coalition. This created dissension among League members as a number of leaders also found that Slavik had received a monthly contribution of 42,000 shillings from USIA firms to sustain the parties daily. Faced with the brewing discontent, Slavik backtracked on his decision, but it was too late as the NL voted him out of leadership. After the 1953 elections, NL largely fell into political oblivion together with its founding father.

The collapse of the National League suggests a possible strategy that similarly highlighting Russia’s ties with current right-wing parties could also discredit them with their countries electorate. This is especially important given that a few such parties may grow stronger after the elections in Germany, France, and Italy, in 2017. Failure to do so will expose Western societies to more xenophobic, anti-democratic and anti-liberal rhetoric that the weakened ruling conservatives may adopt to remain in office.

22 Apr 2017
by Brandon Valeriano

Respecting the Outsider

Will Moore’s passing is tough to process, not just because he was such a wonderful mentor to so many people, but also because of the conversations he has started or reignited.  Especially the conversation on depression, mainly driven by the Duck of Minerva with posts by Emily Ritter and John Busby.

Even those who do not suffer from clinical depression do get to feel tinges of it given the bipolar nature of our jobs.  One day it is a lecture in front of hundreds of students (or three star generals) paying attention to every word, the next you are at a Starbucks trying to get 500 words in so you can at least feel productive. Another day you might get a journal acceptance email that was five years in the making and then, two hours later, a grant rejection email.  The highs are high and the lows are low, but they come fast and quick in academia.

Yet, there is another conversation we need to have, one about being an outsider in academia.  This is something Will suffered from given his personality. He was would say and do things that some people found shocking. (I was quite heartened to see that one of his last on Facebook posts was about dildos.) He did not hesitate to tell you the worst things about your work or say (and blog) shocking things in public.  In short, he behaved quite the opposite of many in the field.

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14 Apr 2017
by Laura Sjoberg

(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.

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12 Apr 2017
by Patrick Thaddeus Jackson
1 Comment

Addressing the gender gap in academic service

A just-published study — Inside Higher Ed story here — confirms, with data, something that I think is pretty obvious to many academics already: women do more service, on average, than their male counterparts. According to the study, that relationship holds true across faculty ranks, even as the amount of service overall increases as one ascends the Assistant-Associate-Professor ladder. And it is driven, conclude the authors, by “internal” service rather than “external” service, that is, by service that one performs by serving on committees and the like within one’s department or university, rather than by serving in such capacities for community groups or professional associations. Even though the results of the study are a serious indictment of the academic life, it is always nice to have data to validate one’s intuitions and link one’s local experiences to broader patterns.

I am less concerned with the fine-grained distinctions among possible causes for this gender gap than others might be (the authors of the study test hypotheses about proportionality and the gender of academic unit leadership, as well as issues related to adopting an administrative career track). I want instead to take the descriptive findings as a point of departure and propose a potential solution that intervenes directly in the moment when a member of the professoriate is asked, by anyone, to engage in internal service. (I am setting aside external service, largely because the study doesn’t find a significant gap between male and female academics in the amount of external service — although it does suggest that different kinds of external service are chosen by men and by women, which is intriguing on its own.) This doesn’t just address gender differentials, but any categorical differentials in service, because what I am proposing is that we generate impersonal metrics for internal service that allow everyone to ascertain whether they and their colleagues are doing an appropriate amount of such service.

But before I do that, we need to be clear on what an impersonal metric actually is, and what it does in practice. Continue Reading →

23 Mar 2017
by Sara Mitchell

The Importance of Water (In)Security

Cross-posting with International Relations @ UIowa

Given that yesterday was World Water Day, it is a good time to reflect on the importance of humans’ access to clean water and the security threats that unequal access to water resources can create. While countries like Canada and the United States are fortunate to have large internal supplies of fresh water, many states like Iraq and Syria depend heavily on rivers that cross international boundaries. One third of the 263 international river basins in the world contain three or more countries, making negotiations over shared water resources complex. Israel’s seizure of the Jordan River headwaters area in the 1967 Six Day War created concerns that many more “water wars” would emerge. Yet while academics and pundits warned that water conflicts would increase in the decades to follow this conflict, most interactions between countries over shared river resources have been cooperative.

Ataturk Dam

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3 Mar 2017
by Patrick Thaddeus Jackson

For Accuracy, Consequences, and Truth. A Personal Manifesto

The Trump Administration’s proclamation of “alternative facts” to suit the arguments they wish to make, and the branding of journalistic outlets that demonstrate the inaccuracy of the President’s statements as “FAKE NEWS!!!” have prompted me to do something I am not normally inclined to do: to actively campaign for the value and integrity of a broadly scientific approach as an important input to public deliberation. It’s not at all that I needed to be convinced of the value of such an approach; rather, it’s that I was somewhat blissfully unaware of the extent to which the current wave of populist politics was almost completely untroubled by notions of factuality. Sure, I had known that there was a hard core of anti-intellectualism and anti-elitism that felt that scientific results and verifiable pieces of information were matters of opinion or belief — anti-vaxxers, climate change deniers, people who worried about the U.N.’s supposed fleet of black helicopters that were waiting to swoop in and destroy national sovereignty — but I guess I always believed that such a minority would be held in check by the good sense of the rest of the electorate, even those with whose policy positions I disagreed. Apparently not. Apparently significant numbers of people in the U.S. were willing to vote for a demonstrated purveyor of convenient falsehoods — convenient in the sense that they support his, and their, preferred positions on a whole slew of issues. Welcome to the post-truth era.

Or: welcome to an era in which truth, and the earnest seeking after truth, is under assault, and under assault not for anything like defensible reasons. Instead, the political order of the day seems to be to make up whatever claims support one’s conclusions and then pass them off as “facts.” In my view what has changed is not politicians; politics was never about seeking truth, and frankly, shouldn’t be about truth but should instead be about making compromises and balancing priorities in order to make our common lives together work as well as they can. Believing that you and you alone have the truth makes you a poor politician, because you can’t compromise, and if you had the truth, why would you even want to? Politics is messy and imperfect, so we should never expect it to conform to ideal standards for the production of factual knowledge. Indeed, I suspect that most politicians would lie about and misrepresent situations as much as they could get away with doing so in pursuit of their agendas, because the central virtue in politics is effectiveness rather than integrity — and in the first instance that means effectiveness and gaining and retaining political power and influence.

All of which means that if we the people want our elected officials to make policy that engages facts instead of just making stuff up, we cannot rely on politicians or on the political process to defend that stance. We have to instead actively advocate and diligently defend the proper role of facts and factual explanations in relation to political contestation. Continue Reading →

6 Jan 2017
by Laura Sjoberg

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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3 Jan 2017
by R. William Ayres

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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