The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Cluster@*#! to the Boston Marriott

July 30, 2008

Jon Stewart‘s guest last night, Bill Bishop, makes an argument about US political culture in his book The Big Sort: both about our tendency to “cluster” with those who think as we do, and its detrimental effects.

I concur with Bishop, hence I am writing to express my displeasure with this year’s Preliminary Program for the American Political Science Association Annual Conference. (At least, with the paper version.)

The program used to be organized chronologically. Panels of whatever topic were clustered by time block. If you had an open time block in your schedule, you could browse the program and pick any number of interesting panels to pop into, some that might interest you, others that you might never have attended, but for them fitting your time slot, where by chance, you get new ideas or meet new people you never would have thought to look for.

This year’s program groups panels according to Division. This means you’re likely to ask yourself not “what’s playing when” but rather, “who’s playing what.” In other words, your point of reference begins not with your location in space-time, but with your social and intellectual orientation; not with your availability to think and network freestyle, but with your choice of which particular community within APSA you most want to spend time associating with. The chances of my even noticing any of the panels not sponsored by the the Human Rights, Information Technology and Politics, International Security or Qual Methods sections are declining already.

This is exactly the opposite of what the profession needs. Instead of encouraging cross-topic fertilization, it will create more ghettoization along substantive lines. Instead of increasing our breadth, curiosity and diversity of perspective about things political, it will encourage us to compartmentalize ourselves within small communities of expertise. Instead of facilitating synergistic relations among many different types of political scientist, it will incentivize us to connect with only those who think most like us.

Perhaps political scientists should take heed of Bishop’s observations. As I recently pointed out, architecture is everything.

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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.