Day: June 9, 2011

Visualizing the Correlates of Global Issue Creation

My big work-related task this month is to pull together my focus group findings into something approximating a theoretically relevant conference paper. I like to start with visualizations.

This chart is derived from a code scheme we developed to categorize human security practitioners’ responses in focus groups to the question: what factors facilitate or inhibit the emergence of new issues on global policy agenda? Answers fell into five broad buckets, and this is an overview of the contents of the various buckets and how they relate to one another and to the extent literature on advocacy networks. Of most interest to my project is the highly central yet largely under-theorized category “network effects.”

Reactions on either the chart, the theoretical argument embodied here, or the data very welcome.

Also, a bleg: do any readers know of user-friendly visualization software to make a graph like this interactive? I’d like viewers to be able to move their pointer over a code-name and see the code definition, and over a code bucket and see a frequency distribution of associated codes.

Share

Targeting Targeted Killing

I was asked to step-in at the last minute to write a chapter on targeted killing for a textbook on isses in the War on Terror. Given the recent OBL killing and debate about raids, etc, I was surprisingly excited at the prospect of engaging with the issue.

Although my chapter is almost done (no really, Richard, it’s on its way!) I’ve noticed some problems with researching the topic and trying to draw general conclusions as to whether or not it is a good or a bad policy.


1.What are you people talking about?

When talking about “targeted killing”, everyone means something different. Some are talking about assassination (Michael Gross for example), some specifically are talking about the Israeli policy used against alleged Palestinian militants post-November 2002 (such as Steven David); some are talking about the targeting of terrorist leaders generally (decapitation in Audrey Kurth Cronin’s book How Terrorism Ends). Nils Melzer on the other hand seems to be talking about every kind of state killing in and out of warfare from the CIA in Vietnam, to US tactics against Gaddafi in the 1980s to Israel-Palestine post-2000.


And yet all of these things are radically different policies from each other. While decapitation refers to the removal of the leadership of a group, Israel’s policy targeted anyone who was seen as part of the upper-to-middle management of terrorist organizations. It’s not just the leadership that was targeted, but the bomb-makers, planners, etc. The US drone policy seems to target “militants” generally and is done in the context of ongoing armed conflict (although I concede this is up for debate). Whereas the OBL raid was clearly targeting just OBL.

Yet many (like Dershowitz in this post here or Byman here) conflate ALL of these kinds of killing where it is convenient for his/her argument. For example, shorter Dershowitz: the US has killed Osama, ergo Israel’s tactics are legitimate. Leaving the legitimacy issue aside for a moment, these operations were two INCREDIBLY different things. You simply can’t compare one to the other – which leads me to my next point…

2. Israel-Palestine is crazy sui generis

To put it mildly, the Israel-Palestinian situation is unlike any other situation in the world. Basically, you have a well-armed democratic country in a state of confused hostilities with an internationally recognized movement (with some branches that engage in politically violent acts) directly beside it that is engaged in a struggle for independence. This is pretty much the opposite of the United State’s drone tactics in the Af-Pak region, where drones are being controlled from far away (military bases or mainland USA) against territories that are also far away to combat a threat that is, again, far away.

To draw conclusions from one and to apply it to the other simply does not make any sense. The policies are carried out in very different ways, justified very differently (Israel has a process involving courts, political figures, etc; the US president seems to be the sole authorizing force on many of the attacks against militants/terrorists). Comparing targeted killing apples and drone oranges doesn’t really seem to work.

And yet, almost all of the work on targeted killing from which assessments are made has been based on Israel’s policy in Palestine. The three major studies I can find are: Kaplan, et al. 2005; Hafez and Hatfield, 2006; Mannes 2008.

The one exception I have is the Cronin book, How Terrorism Ends where she also looks at the policy of targeting and killing militants in the Philippines and Russia. As a popular-ish book, it doesn’t go into a lot of methodological detail, but just states what happened to various movements/organisations after their leaders were killed. (Cronin is also sceptical that it works though she does admit of the Israeli policy that it may have saved some Israeli lives.)

So, while it might be the only model we have decent statistics on, but I don’t think the Israeli policy of targeted killing is appropriate one for building a comprehensive argument on targeting leaders generally.

3. Assessment of effectiveness requires counterfactual history

Many of the studies above make assessments of the Israeli-Palestinian policy by saying that it basically has no effect whatsoever. Statistics don’t lie, I suppose. But I can’t help feeling that something is missing here. While these studies don’t show a significant decrease in attacks, they don’t show a significant increase either. Who knows what would have happened without the policy. There could have been more attacks. There could have been fewer attacks. It could have stayed the same. The problem that defenders and detractors of targeted killing encounter is that we don’t really know what would have happened otherwise. So drawing conclusions about success/failure seems to necessarily involve guessing what would have or would not have happened when it reality we don’t actually know and have to rely on assumptions and guesswork.

In summary, it seems to me that 1) there is a dearth of evidence from which to draw reasonable conclusions 2) the policies are so different that a comparison is impossible – as is the extension of the lessons of one case study to another.

In this case I wonder if such policies should be justified (David, 2003) or denounced (Stein 2003; Gross 2003 and 2006) on a normative basis. For example, David justifies the policy as fulfilling a need for revenge (which he sees as morally justifiable) and Gross argues against because the use of collaborators in gathering the necessary intelligence is immoral.

This isn’t to say that quantitative studies on the issue are useless – on the contrary, we desperately need more information. But to me this seems to be a case where a discussion of morality may actually be more effective than discussing an almost impossible to measure effectiveness – at least for the immediate future.

I would be most grateful for any suggestions of further qual/quant studies on the topic from Duck readers. (I see that CATO has a speciall issue out on the US and targeted killing. However as it does not appear that it will be fully uploaded until 13 June, I’m kind of out of luck for my chapter and this post.)

Share

Feminist IR 101, Post #10, Feminist Scholarly Community

One of my favorite characterization of feminist theorizing is in Sarah Brown’s 1988 Millennium article, where she calls feminist work “fundamentally a political act of commitment to understanding the world from a perspective of the socially subjugated” (p.472). From this and other reading in feminist theory and praxis, I’ve always seen feminism as not just an intellectual interest in gender as a force in global politics, but also as a politics of knowledge, and a politics of scholarship. As a politics of knowledge, to me, it is a commitment to multiple knowledges, perspective, (inter)subjectivity, and changing the power dynamics of science.

As a politics of scholarship, I’ve always thought that there are ways feminist thought suggest scholars treat each other and each other’s research. I’ve articulated it as a research claim before: “I make an ontological, epistemological, and methodological choice that my process of knowledge-acquisition is constructive in nature … in this spirit, I explicitly choose not to emphasize debates between or among feminisms. Instead, … I note where feminisms disagree, but focus on how those disagreements can be seen as contributing to a more complete understanding of political situations rather than as confounding knowledge.” (Gender, Justice, and the Wars in Iraq, p.41).

In theory, this has meant to me that my purpose in feminist theorizing is solidaristic, bridge-building, and pluralistic. In Hayward Alker’s terms, I’ve seen the substance of feminist IR in the debates, discussions, and disagreements. In Christine Sylvester’s terms, I’ve seen it as art. In my terms, I’ve embraced feminist IR theories as multiple.

But I think that feminist research process is more than about how one writes one’s research. I’ve done a lot of thinking about what feminist theory tells one about how to be a professor, a scholar, and a political scientist, but rarely articulated it. When I have, I’ve called it a “pay it forward” idea of how to operate in the academic community. But what does that mean, and how do I see it as explicitly (and necessarily) feminists?


If feminist IR theory is critical of the violent and competitive nature of the international system which selects for dominance, masculinity, and power-over, feminist IR theorists should be critical of the cut-throat and competitive nature of the academic pursuit of international relations, which selects for dominance, masculinity, and power-over. If feminists suggest that, instead of complicity with the competitive international system, feminisms suggest alternative policy strategies – including but not limited to empathy and care, then feminisms might suggest that instead of complicity with the competitive academic system, we should live and experience our careers with empathy and care. If feminisms suggest drawing attention away from the traditional halls of political power (and their necessary narrowness) in studying global politics, feminisms might also suggest drawing attention away from the traditional halls of scholarly power (and their necessary narrowness). If feminisms suggest that they have an inherent political commitment to the margins of global politics, they might also have a commitment to the margins of academia – to people traditionally disempowered, either by theoretical/methodological proclivity (outside the mainstream), institution, location (around the world), or position (graduate student, adjunct faculty, junior faculty, teaching faculty, etc.)

If the feminist political movement has talked about feminisms as a community, working together to show and correct gender subordination; feminist research is a community, working together to show and correct gender subordination in global politics; and being a feminist scholar is being part of a community, working together to show and correct gender subordination in academic political science and international relations.

There are those who will say that their main concern isn’t the academic community – in fact, after years or decades of the community’s mistreatment, masculinism, and exclusivity – who needs it? And the real world needs feminism more, right? At the same time, that logic, however true, can often serve as an excuse for not “practicing what feminist theory preaches” (or some other cliche like that) within the academic community. And perhaps for good reason – it is much easier to write about empathizing with potential enemies in far away lands that it is to empathize with people who treat you poorly in an academic context. It is much easier to talk about sacrificing self-interest for the good of others and/or a community in a distant country than it is to sacrifice self-interest for the good of others and/or a community in our lives and in our careers.

And, certainly (and before I get 1000 comments about it), I haven’t been flawless at practicing what feminisms preach in my career. I’ve tried to take a solidaristic view of feminist theory, to put advancing the needs of the collective over advancing my needs, to work to care for others – but I have been far from perfect at it. But I didn’t write this post to say I was good at it, or to hold myself up as an example. Instead, I wrote it because I truly believe feminist theorizing tells us a lot of good stuff about global politics, but it also tells us, perhaps through that good stuff, a lot of good stuff about how to be scholars of international politics. And perhaps I wanted to remind many – most of all, myself – of that enduring legacy that our intellectual work has in instructing our day-to-day work.

Share

The Rhino in the Room

Somehow I managed to delete my mediocre post on peer review. The gist: peer review is arbitrary and capricious; summary rejections offer a cosmetic fix; we need to reduce our reliance on counting peer-review journal articles as a basis for evaluating scholarly worth.

Jarrod Hayes commented:

I am struck by the arbitrariness of peer-review. I have at least once asked to come in as a reviewer when two reviews reached polar opposite conclusions about a manuscript. Both reviews were careful and conscientious, and I found merit in both when I saw them in the decision letter to the author. How could they both be right?

To which I respond: at least they were both conscientious! I sometimes play a game with a friend called “guess which review was mine?” It isn’t much of a game, to tell the truth. Both of us tend to produce long reviews, often with full references and explanations for why citing particular omitted work matters, and that seldom use denigrating language like “this is obviously a seminar paper.”

But Jarrod raises an absolutely crucial point: publish or perish depends a great deal on luck of the draw. Many of the “top journals” in our field engage in a form of “peer-review triage” in which all of the reviews have to be at least fairly strong R&Rs (“revise and resubmit”) to avoid rejection. This means that it is quite possible for a manuscript to accumulate more “accepts” than “rejects” and never see the light of day–at least as at a “prestigious” journal. Is that evidence of a functional system for allocating status and success?

Share

© 2021 Duck of Minerva

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑