Tag Archives: disciplinary IR

“I know there’s stuff I don’t talk about” and other annoying responses to feminist analysis

Ok, maybe not other annoying responses, for this post. Just this one.

Recently, I was asked to write a response to Mike Desch’s argument that high-tech methodology hurts the policy relevance of Security Studies for Perspectives on Politics. The policy relevance that Desch is interested in is relevance to the Washington establishment in the US.

There’s nothing ground-breaking about my response – it repeats things feminists have been saying for decades. It suggests that seeing the US government as the location of relevance may be not only wrong but morally insidious, then makes the argument that the notion of objective knowledge and scientific process that Desch shares with the quantitative work he criticizes might be the root of a differently understood ‘relevance problem’ for Security Studies – hierarchy and exclusion.

Even though this response is, in my view, strikingly unoriginal – it seems to be getting the same reaction it got 20 years ago. Desch was able to write a response to the response – well, a response to other people’s responses anyway. All of the other pieces (including the other two in the sentence below) are addressed substantively. My piece is mentioned in one sentence. Brace yourself.

“Finally, Tutton, Voeten, and Laura Sjoberg all make an important point about policy-relevance involving much more than government policy-makers.”

Yep. That’s it. I say: gender analysis shows your conception of Security Studies is normatively harmful and intellectually counterproductive. He says: oh, nice of you to tell me that we need to pay attention to policy-making outside of government. I meant that, I just didn’t say it. But my catch-all point applies to that.

In other words, I know there’s stuff I didn’t talk about, and that’s enough to dispense with the gender critique.

My colleagues from outside of the United States often wonder why I engage with the American mainstream of IR, and, when I first read Desch’s response to the response, I’ll admit, I got on the skeptical bandwagon.

But then I thought – that response is exactly why it has to keep getting said. There, and then here, and then anyplace else that it can be. Gender analysis is not just something you mean but don’t say, and then can get away with saying “I know there’s stuff I didn’t talk about.” It affects how you think about a project, ontologically, epistemology, and methodologically. It affects it whether or not you think so – your work is as impacted by implicit masculinized gender assumptions as mine is by explicit feminist assumptions. And I’m talking about it even if you won’t.

Divorcing Ontology and Method in IR

In a new article in the Millennium Special Issue on Quo Vadis IR: Method, Methodology, and Innovation, Sammy Barkin and I make the argument that IR’s “methods matching game” is fundamentally flawed – the scholarly equivalent of a dysfunctional relationship. On the one hand, the dating metaphor (made in the article and played up here) is trite. On the other hand, the suggestion that IR scholars’ choices of methods are often “matched” to people, projects, and paradigms in a haphazard and problematic way is meant seriously, and at the heart of our argument.

Our article, “Calculating Critique: Thinking Outside the Methods Matching Game,” makes the argument that IR scholars of all stripes often assume that certain methods belong with certain paradigmatic or substantive approaches to the field, so choosing their research approach of research subject chooses the methods that scholars are trained in and go on to use. There tends to be a linear path, ontology –> epistemology –> methodology – -> method. We argue that this pattern is simple, and often easily accepted across the field, even without reflection or when reflection might produce a different result. We also argue that it is completely wrong.

The substance of the article, and of the edited volume that it is meant to introduce (Interpretive Quantification, which is under contract and about to be sent for review) is the use of quantitative, computational, and formal methods to explore questions in constructivist and critical IR research – that is, traditionally positivist methods being used for traditionally non-positivist work.

But this is not an attempt to bridge the positivist/post-positivist divide (whatever that is) or the qualitative/quantitative divide. It is, instead, the promotion of two arguments: 1) the methodology by which IR scholars choose methods is fundamentally flawed; and 2) quantitative methods are interpreted too narrowly, and often incorrectly, in IR.

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