The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Beyond the Bio Note

March 19, 2008

I quite liked an article I read in International Studies Review a couple of years back, a conversation between Ersel Aydinli and James Rosenau, published under the heading “Courage vs. Caution: A Dialogue on Entering and Prospering in IR.”

One of the most thoughtful exchanges in the “Dialogue” has to do with academic norms regarding full disclosure of our identities as scholars / persons.

Rosenau argues, defending a “commitment to explicitness” exemplified in his concluding Distant Proximities chapter, that scholars should situate themselves in the world they are writing about so as to allow readers to better assess and evaluate their arguments:

“Some might see that chapter as overly egotistic, but I see it as living by the commitment to explicitness. It is true that all too few analysts proceed in this way. One is hard pressed to find a book, or even a paragraph, in which the author sets forth the personal background factors underlying his or her work… though it would be standard procedure to have at least a paragraph in a preface that tells the reader where the author is coming from.”

Aydinli goes on in the same piece to articulate Rosenau’s point more forcefully:

“Perhaps we should consider a disciplinary movement to encourage our members to develop and expand the currently accepted genre of the ‘author’s bio note’ into something more revealing and explicit than simply affiliation and research interests. I would like to see, for example, some indication of the author’s past history, such as wehre they have workd and lived. Has the author remained all of his or her life in one place? Did he or she take a break along the educational path to join the Peace Corps, live abroad, or work in a different field? I also think it would be valuable to know about some of the author’s non-professional affiliations or interests. Of course it would be up to the individual author to determine how many or which of these affiliations to provide, but even that choice would be revealing to the readers and help them interpret the content of the text… authors [might also be] encouraged in their texts to indicate how they came to choose the research topic or particular questions they investigate. Was it simply a personal interst or were there pragmatic issues involved such as a future grant? Was the topic of global or current scholarly interest or something sparked by a dinner table conversation?”

I quite like this idea. I think it would make our research far more objective, and help us evaluate one another’s work far better if such a norm of full disclosure took root. It might also help us acknowledge and make sense of our presence in the worlds we study, something which Jackson and Kaufman grappled with, for example, in their Perspectives piece on Weberian activism; and which I am grappling with now as I develop a concluding book chapter on children born of war that accounts for my influence on my own subject matter.

But I also know from first-hand experience that Rosenau is right: there is currently no such norm. Which is becoming scarily apparent to me as I complete my book, written with various efforts to follow Rosenau’s advice, and now have to peddle it to mainstream IR presses who will no doubt insist I edit that kind of quasi-narcisisstic reflctivism right out.

Even efforts to bend in that direction just slightly result in disciplining moves from academic gatekeepers. (Don’t know about you readers, but the last time I submitted my author’s bio to a leading IR journal with mention of my children and predilections for science fiction – matters with, I argue, some bearing on the topics I study and the methods I use – I was told it wouldn’t fly.)

And perhaps rightly so.

But perhaps not. Thoughts?

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Charli Carpenter is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is the author of 'Innocent Women and Children': Gender, Norms and the Protection of Civilians (Ashgate, 2006), Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights
Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond (Columbia, 2010), and ‘Lost’ Causes: Agenda-Setting in Global Issue Networks and the Shaping of Human Security (Cornell, 2014). Her main research interests include national security ethics, the protection of civilians, the laws of war, global agenda-setting, gender and political violence, humanitarian affairs, the role of information technology in human security, and the gap between intentions and outcomes among advocates of human security.