Tag Archives: IR theory

A Conversation from “What’s the Point of IR”?

This past weekend, I had the privilege of participating, with a number of friends and colleagues, in the Sussex International Relations Department’s 50-year celebration: What’s the Point of IR?

The conference was interesting in a lot of ways – just go look at the (annoyingly long, but effective) hashtag: #whatsthepointofIR. There was a lot of very important (and very diverse) discussion of what we do and how we do it, both in practice and normatively.

In this post, I want to highlight a part of the conversation I found particularly interesting: a discussion about if IR scholars have an individual or collective normative accountability for the product of their/the discipline’s work. This conversation was had alongside the conference, on Twitter, inspired by Patrick Thaddeus Jackson’s talk on the pedagogical value of IR – largely between Patrick and I, focusing on the question of moral responsibility but also engaging whether there is an IR, who is in it, and what it is for. We intend to expand on/continue to have the conversation, but I figured that it’d be interesting to share:


If I could teach anything in an IR theory graduate seminar …

I have the distinct privilege of being allowed to teach under a course number the University of Florida has – INR 6208 – “Advanced IR theory” – for which there is no set curriculum. When I took this course number more than a year ago, I imagined I would teach it much like the class that I took under the same name from Hayward Alker in the Fall of 2001 at the University of Southern California. Hayward used it to historicize, contextualize, and re-read a number of IR paradigms. For example, we read Thucydides, then interpretations of Thucydides which questioned its mapping onto realist IR. We read Locke, then interpretations of Locke which complicated its availability to liberal IR. Much of the reading on the syllabus was from the humanities, relating humanistic thinking to IR. It was in that class that I felt like I found a voice about the complexity and contextualization of IR theory – and I’d always thought I’d teach Hayward’s class someday.

When the time came to make the syllabus, though, I surprised even myself by going pretty significantly the other way – perhaps still in the spirit of Hayward’s class but in a different direction in terms of the substantive content. I picked looking at IR theory now. Like, this decade. The idea is to see what interesting theory work is going on, and how (if?) it matters to conceptualizing (current) disciplinary histories. Rather than Thucydides, Machiavelli, and Locke – I decided I wanted my students Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Naeem Inayatullah, Michael Horowitz, Dan Levine, and Lauren Wilcox – among others. This is what I’m thinking of, in terms of the course:  Continue reading

The Unwritten Rules of IR

The other day, Brandon Valeriano pointed out to me an ESPN article on the unwritten rules of baseball. Though I am a lifelong football and basketball fan, I’ve never been a huge fan of baseball. Several times over the course of my life, I’ve found myself at baseball games, however – including one that was apparently a pretty special game. Each time I’ve been at a baseball game, though, I’ve found myself having a lot of questions. While the rules of the game seem pretty simple on face, it seemed like there was always something going on that I didn’t understand. From keeping track of statistics I didn’t even know existed to what seemed to be a complex formula for when it is okay to throw a ball at a person going 100mph, I always felt like there was something going over my head. Something real baseball fans knew. This is what Tim Kurkjian is writing about – the shorthand to what all the guys on the field know, and I don’t.

Certainly, no one in IR is throwing anything at your ribs at 90 mph. Or, at least, I hope not. But there are still a number of unwritten rules of the discipline punishable by exclusion, gossip, and lost opportunity, and I want to talk about a few of them:

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‘Mansplaining’ International Relations?: What Walt Misses

Following the tradition of Saturday Night Live’s Father Sarducci, Steve Walt turned the “Five Minute University” from the 1970s into a lesson for the undergraduate class of 2014 on Foreign Policy yesterday, providing a five-minute lesson as a substitute for a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations. Walt’s lesson included five key concepts: anarchy, balance of power, comparative advantage, misperception/miscalculation, and social constructivism. While Walt acknowledges there is much more to know about the discipline (including deterrence and coercion, institutions, selection effects, democratic peace theory, and international finance), he suggests those might be “graduate level” and that “all you really need to know about the discipline” can be found his five-minute, five-concept lesson.

I’d like to introduce Steve and his audience to a (sixth) concept that comes from outside of International Relations but applies to it: ‘mansplaining.’ A term introduced by Rebecca Solnit in 2008, the idea has gained traction both in popular circles and in academic ones. Though many different ‘definitions’ of ‘mansplaining’ exist, a picture of Steve’s post could be in the dictionary next to mine: it is a short, humorous ‘explanation’ of the discipline of IR, from one of its male/masculine/(masculinist) elite aimed at its feminized/feminine/(female?) margins: new trainees and potential trainees. In that explanation, Walt accounts for a global political arena in which it appears that men and women; sex, gender, and sexualities; masculinities and femininities; masculinizations and feminizations do not exist. This might be where my definition of ‘mansplaining’ differs from others: I think a ‘mansplanation’ is an explanation made in a masculinized tone that endogenizes, makes invisible, or leaves out gender. Walt does this almost artfully: the global political arena that we can learn about from Walt in five minutes is indeed one where it is possible that women do not exist at all. That, among other things, makes it both a ‘mansplanation’, and deeply problematic.

My problems start at what Walt does not talk about, and continues as I read what he does discuss. Let’s start with five ideas that I’d characterize as key to understanding global politics, which Walt leaves out:

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