The Duck of Minerva

Hayward Alker

28 August 2007

First Steve Poe; now this. From the same International Studies Association e-mail listserv as before:

Dear Colleagues,

It is my very sad responsibility to notify you that Hayward Alker, past President of ISA, a wonderful friend, and an esteemed and internationally recognized scholar, passed away suddenly last week.

If you are interested in a remembrance, you can do so with a donation either to:

Middle East Peace Education Program
American Friends Service Committee
Attn. Selma Plascencia
934 S. Spring St. 3rd Fl.
Los Angeles California 90014
memo line: Hayward Alker Memorial: LA Middle East Peace


Block Island Conservancy
PO Box 84
Block Island, RI 02807
Memo line: Hayward Alker

The e-mail goes on to talk about memorial services and the like. I reproduced the addresses for donations here because I can’t seem to find any kind of obituary online; maybe people looking for those addresses can find them here.

I’m kind of in mild shock about this. I can’t say that I knew Hayward well, but he was someone I regarded as a professional mentor and an intellectual trailblazer for some of my own work. Hayward wrote letters for me, read and commented on several of my papers and on my book when it was in the manuscript stage, and participated in a workshop on “civilization and civilizations in world politics” I helped organize at an ISA meeting a few years ago. In fact, the piece that he wrote for the volume that came out of that workshop — a volume that is scheduled to be published later this year — will almost certainly be among the last things he wrote and saw through to publication. And we were going to be on a panel on ontology and IR together at the next ISA convention. So while I wasn’t close to him, he was certainly someone I counted as a part of my intellectual circle (as I’m sure that many people did) — and he’s the first person occupying such a position for me who has died. It leaves a hole.

I’m sure that Hayward’s students will be filling the ‘Net and some of the IR journals with tributes over the next few months. But I’ll offer my own remembrances here, because they seem to me to capture one of the most important things about Hayward as a scholar: his enormous generosity. I didn’t study with Hayward, I didn’t really do the same kind of work on language that he did (although there was a family resemblance), and I wasn’t doing “world order studies” the way that he was — in other words, there was no reason in the world why he should have spent time reading my stuff and mentoring me professionally. But he did, for several years, and it made me wish that I hadn’t followed the first piece of advice he ever gave me, so that I could have actually been his student.

I first met Hayward in the autumn of 1993, when he as ISA President was making the rounds of the regional ISA conferences. That year’s ISA-Midwest conference was held at Michigan State, which is where I was studying as an undergraduate student. I knoew of Hayward Alker, of course; I was a big fan of his marvelously-titled article “Rescuing Reason from the Rationalists,” which had given me some hope that one could do interesting, conceptually rich work in IR despite the ever-increasing popularity of relatively thin forms of rational choice theory. (I was a precocious undergrad; I knew a few things about the intellectual contours of the field from a rather young age, thanks in large measure to my undergraduate advisors and professors.) And then I learned that Alker had requested a separate session to meet with graduate students: just students and the ISA President, in a room, chatting about things. I lobbied for my inclusion in that session — after all, I’d taken the Ph.D. intro IR course the year before — and obtained permission from the local authorities. So it was me and a bunch of quantitatively-inclined Michigan State Ph.D. students, and Hayward wanted to hear from us what we were interested in. Then he started talking about how the field had changed, the importance of methodological innovation, and how vital it was for us all to know the histories of our subfields and the course that debates had taken to bring us to where we were today. He didn’t know any of us at all, and here he was conducting a professional mentorship session for a bunch of grad students who were almost certain never to do the kind of work that he found interesting!

After his presidential address, during which he shared the stage with Cynthia Enloe and got into an amazing back-and-forth debate with J. David Singer during which they stopped speaking English and just started speaking math to one another, there was a reception. I made my way over to Hayward and asked him whether, given my interests, I ought to apply to MIT for a Ph.D. He told me no, I shouldn’t, because he might not be there long and there wasn’t anyone else there who would be appropriate for me to work with given what I wanted to work on. I took his advice and didn’t apply to MIT, and then in 1995 he and his wife Ann Tickner (an amazing IR scholar in her own right — the two of them are the only husband-and-wife pair to ever both serve as Presidents of the International Studies Association) departed for the University of Southern California. So if I’d applied to MIT and gone there, I would only have had a year before he left — but part of me wishes that I had done it anyway.

In 2001 I e-mailed Hayward after reading his ISA paper on reflective resolutions of Prisoner’s Dilemma games, a perennial favorite subject of his. I asked him about essentialism and Chomskian grammar, and a question about causation; he replied, and sent me what I later came to know as the “Alker 101” packet of typescripts, unpublished papers, and research reports — brilliant stuff he’d done decades before that spoke to the kinds of concerns I was just then developing. We kept in touch; he read drafts of papers I was working on and offered feedback, and he sent me some of his own recent work (including a marvelous piece on Karl Deutsch that as far as I know was never published, but should have been).

Most importantly he treated me like a scholar, taking my arguments seriously and pressing me where I needed to be pressed. Hearing him say — or reading him say, since most of our contact was through e-mail — that he enjoyed one of my pieces was a wonderful boost of confidence for me, especially at a time when I wasn’t having much luck placing my book with a publisher. And if he criticized some point, I knew I’d better spend some time addressing the criticism in a subsequent draft, because he invariably brought up central issues. He was a thoughtful reader even of the work of a young scholar who had not been one of his students, or even one of his grandstudents. I find that attitude somewhat rare in academia these days. Hayward set a standard for scholarly generosity that I aspire to in my own professional practice. And his enthusiasm — for methodological pluralism, for humanistic-but-rigorous IR scholarship, for ideas — was contagious!

He will be missed. The field of international studies is richer for his many scholarly and professional contributions over the years; it is a poorer place now that he has passed on.