It seems as if a critical mass of the community of IR scholars have settled on the notion that diversity is important, both in substance and in representation. The problem is that this critical mass has very little conception of why diversity matters and just who counts as diverse. Often the debate is driven by interested parties who are not members of “diverse” communities themselves. While it is commendable for anyone to be fighting for what they think of as right, many advocates of diversity also (possibly unintentionally) manage to marginalize some diverse scholars, pit the quest for gender diversity against the need for ethnic diversity, and prioritize regional diversity over other forms of inclusiveness. Almost all notions of diversity that are used by advocates of diversity in the field neglect some aspect of either substantive or representational diversity. In short, because actual ethnic diversity is so limited in the academy, our dreams and desires are being articulated by agendas that are counterproductive to the movement.
I have had the privilege to spend today at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Florida. I was invited by Phil Steinberg on behalf of the journal Political Geography to comment on a plenary address by Rachel Pain on intimate warfare. On the one hand, walking into AAG looks a lot like walking into ISA: there is a heavy book that describes the panels that are going on, a busy book room, and a number of fascinating and diverse panels. On the other hand, my initial experience with AAG was very different than my experience at ISA: here, I know very few people, and even fewer people know me; at ISA, I have trouble walking five feet without running into friends and colleagues who I’ve missed over the years. Also, here, I am the ‘non-geographer,’ as I imagine the ‘non-political-scientist’ feels at APSA or something – a guest in a particularized world.
I spent my first few hours wandering around the conference feeling lost – I could go to panels, and listen to things I hadn’t heard before, and see books that I don’t know exist, have not heard of, and have not read. I started listening to the goings-on with fascination.
The more I listened, though, the more I figured out that this is not actually a land as I originally thought that it was – instead, there are a lot of commonalities between the discussions here and the discussions at ISA – far beyond what the conference looks like and how it is structured.
This morning, the Committee on the Status of Women and the Committee on the Status of Representation and Diversity co-hosted a panel on the gender gap in IR citation practices. The panel was organized in response to the collection and publication of data about the underrepresentation of women in citation practices even compared to their publication rates, both to discuss that data and discuss strategies to address the problem. Members of the editorial teams of International Studies Review, International Studies Quarterly, and the Journal of Peace Research were in the room to talk about it. Dan Nexon, lead editor of the flagship journal in the field, talked about strategies for increasing representation of women in the journal and in citations.
As they had that conversation, five people listened. All five of them were women.
As I work on my last (of way too many) presentations for ISA 2014, I can’t help but remember my first two ISAs. The first was in Portland, Oregon in 2003 – I went to the conference to see what it was like, without applying to present. The second was in Montreal in 2004 – my first international conference presentation. In Portland, I went to dozens of panels. I listened to them, engaged and interested, and asked questions that provoked discussions and helped me make network connections that jump-started and have lasted throughout my career. In Montreal, I wrote and fully memorized a fifteen-minute presentation (which I gave standing, choreographed with expressions and movements) on a paper on feminist methodologies that I never even ended up trying to publish. I was on a panel with a number of storied names in the field, who I watched with awe, and felt flattered just to know. As I remember those two ISA conferences, I remember them as full of energy – intellectual inspiration, social connections, excitement at meeting people whose work I admired, and a sense that something really interesting was happening, and I was getting to watch.
I contrast that with my experience at ISA 2011 in Montreal again. While I was in the same hotel with the same bustle and probably more intellectual energy, I greeted that conference with something different than the excitement that I had seven years earlier. There were a lot of critiques of my ‘disinterested’ behavior at ISA 2011 – a radical change for a lot of reasons. First, of course, people knew who I was in order to wonder about my level of interest. Second, I suppose, I knew enough people that those criticisms got back to me. But other than that, and more important than that – it was true, I was behaving in a disinterested way. I single out ISA 2011 because it changed my thinking about ISAs, and taught me a lesson that I figure might be worth sharing as we approach another ISA.