Tag Archives: norms

Norms of Sovereignty, Part 1: Syria

There is a literature out there about norms of sovereignty, that tends to draw on grand historical narratives and old, well-trodden examples to support its arguments. But rarely do we see norms of sovereignty addressed in discussion of current international politics. We see the term sovereignty used in a unidimensional way, as a stand-in for related concepts, such as internal control or international legal personhood. But we tend not to see the idea that norms of sovereignty change over time examined in the context of contemporary events, nor do we often ask what effects current events and political decisions are likely to have on norms. But to the extent that norms of sovereignty define the context of international politics, we should be asking how current events might affect them. There follows a series of three posts to help remedy this lacuna. This post is about policy toward Syria, the second is about Russia’s recent tendency to nibble off corners of its neighbours, and the third is about China’s maritime claims.

Two weeks ago Bashar Assad cruised to an easy and expected victory in Syria’s presidential elections. Why bother, when nobody sees the election as credible? Because it adds, however marginally, to the impression that Assad is the legitimate ruler of Syria. We would expect him to try to reinforce this impression. We would not necessarily expect the United States government to do so. But US policy during the chemical weapons crisis last year did just this.

Continue reading

(Re)writing IR’s Unwritten Rules?

A fair amount of conversation, both online and offline, has arisen around my observations about my post on the unwritten rules of disciplinary IR. I have engaged a number of questions, including whether the rules I observed were uniquely American (see the discussion in the comments of the post); how it is possible to communicate the unwritten rules to new people in the field, especially when they often contradict the written rules (at least in part the point of my series of posts here called “The Hard Way,” [so far] focusing on writing, choosing publication outlets, dealing with rejection, revising and resubmitting, anonymity in the review process, and using networks to aid in publishing); and the ways in which race and gender affect both the ‘rules’ and perceptions of those rules. By far the most interesting and challenging question, to me, has been: how would you rewrite those unwritten rules to make them more just?

I will take a shot at it in this post. A few caveats are necessary at the outset, though. First, as I have mentioned before, I’m not speaking as someone innocent of or removed from some of the discipline’s problems, and don’t mean this as preaching, encouraging others to follow my example, etc. Second, what follows is not a claim that the discipline would be different/better if it was run by people currently disenfranchised by its power structures, whether we are talking about women, minorities, or even people located geographically outside the US with reference to the ‘American’ problems of the discipline. Instead, it is an exploration of what the ‘rules’ might look like if values currently marginalized in the discipline were valued more, and if values that currently dominate disciplinary interactions were recognized and possibly even valued less.

Some of the wish list of rule re-writes are fairly straightforward: it would be good if a broad-based standard about the quality of (diverse) work replaced emphasis on pedigree (which, contra Megan MacKenzie, I see lots of places in the world, just with many hierarchies rather than just one); it would be nice if we could all feel a sense of confidence in our work without either feeling or showing self-centered, egotistical behavior; the discipline would be a better place if (all) scholars could resist retaliation, especially retaliation by association; and the discipline’s work would be stronger, more diverse, and more robust if its (positivist, masculinist, often-white, and always narrow) boundaries were deconstructed and reevaluated. But those suggestions are the easy part, because it is often not clear what implementing them would look like, or what the new ‘rules’ would be.

Here are some ideas (additions, subtractions, and discussion welcome, as usual):

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:

Continue reading