The Duck of Minerva

Toward Pracademia

30 January 2012

Among the assigned readings for my new doctoral seminar in Human Security this week are a number of pieces from last year’s International Studies Review Theory v. Practice Symposium. There are numerous fascinating pieces here, including Dan Drezner’s case study on the evolution of “smart sanctions,” Roland Paris’ discussion of “fragile states” as a case study in epistemic agenda-setting, and Kittikhoun and Weiss’ debunking “The Myth of Scholarly Irrelevance for the U.N.”

In particular, a quote from Jentleson and Ratner’s contribution jumped out at me:

“The profession-based incentive structure and other aspects of academia’s dominant organizational culture… devalue policy relevance. Doctoral students are cued early on that their program of study is more about the discipline than the world. Curriculua tend to feature courses on formal modeling, game theory and statistics far more than ones on policy areas, history or states/regions. Then when it comes time ot hit the job market, search committees give far more weight to a dissertation’s theoretical question than policy significance, and readily ignore, if not look down upon, policy oriented publications outside of the scholarly peer-reviewed domain. It thus is quite individually rational for so few graduate students to take on policy-relevant dissertations – rational for working within the system as it exists, but cumulatively irrational for the intellectual diversity and professional pluralism that a discipline such as political science and field such as IR should manifest. It is also out of synch if not in denial of job market realities… not preparing graduate students for this wider range of options borders on malpractice.”

We are beginning the term by thinking about “bridging the gap” for three reasons:

1) “Human Security” is, if neither a paradigm shift nor “hot air,” usefully understood as a specific policy domain, and human security policies of all kinds are being shaped by causal understandings percolating out of the academy

2) Therefore the course is based on understanding the classic empirical research on key human security topics (human rights, humanitarian affairs, humanitarian intervention, the laws of war, peace-building, etc) with a view toward understanding how to transmit the empirical insights of those literatures to policy-makers in those domain, as well as an appreciate of why this is so challenging

3) This pedagogy is in both respects a deliberate yet already uncomfortable attempt to buck the trend Jentleson and Ratner correctly identify. Doctoral students need both the skills to do policy-relevant, practitioner-oriented work if they choose AND the ability to write for comprehensive exams / compete in academia. The trick is going to be teaching both simultaneously, so I figure the first step is helping them to understand the difference.

Will be reporting back on my attempts through the course of the term. Meanwhile, pedagogical suggestions are highly welcome.