Month: June 2012 (Page 1 of 3)

Speaking of Retrenchment

Christopher Preble has a solid critical review of Robert Kagan’s new book at The National Interest. Preble is particularly concerned with the free-rider problem:

EVEN THOSE inclined to believe Kagan’s assessment of the international system and America’s role in it must contend with one central fact that Kagan elides: the costs of maintaining the status quo are substantial and likely to grow. That is because Washington’s possession of vast stores of power—and its willingness to use that power on behalf of others—has created an entire class of nations that are unwilling to defend themselves and their interests from threats. The data clearly show a vast and growing gap between what others pay for defense and what Americans pay to defend them. The critical question, then, centers on differing perceptions of this capability imbalance. Because U.S. security guarantees to wealthy allies have caused them to underprovide for their own defense, they also have less capacity to help the United States in its time of need—either now in Afghanistan or in a theoretical future contest with China or a resurgent Russia. Kagan contends other countries will choose not to defend themselves and their interests, but at other times he acknowledges it is precisely the presence of American power that has discouraged them from doing so. In the end, it is clear Kagan doesn’t want other countries to defend themselves because, he says, they just can’t be trusted to get the job done. Most will be content to let security challenges grow and fester on their borders, or within them, leaving the United States—and the United States alone—with the task of cleaning up the mess. As he sought to explain in 2003, Americans should “be more worried about a conflagration on the Asian subcontinent or in the Middle East or in Russia than the Europeans, who live so much closer,” because the harm from other countries’ failure to act will inevitably threaten U.S. security.

This is spot on: from a pro-primacy position, depressing non-US defense spending via security guarantees is a feature, not a bug. The positive case is that it reduces the risks of interstate war and otherwise suppresses rivalries. From a US perspective, it also enhances Washington’s influence. The negative case is, as Preble stresses, that it shifts the burden of others’ security onto the US taxpayer and may hasten relative decline.

As recent Japanese-ROK security agreements suggest, this doesn’t amount to an all-or-nothing deal. States in the US umbrella that feel sufficiently worried about their security won’t ignore their own needs. In this context, the Asia pivot also makes sense, as the major European powers really aren’t that concerned about traditional military threats. I see no problem with rejecting Kagan’s Manichaeanism, recognizing that the US does have significant room for defense savings, but still acknowledging the central place of the US in many aspects of global security–and acting accordingly.


Russia and Syria

Dan Drezner asks “Dear realists: please explain Russia“:

I raise all of this because a few days ago Charles Clover in the Financial Times wrote an interesting story about Russia’s foreign policy in Syria:

A respected Moscow-based military think tank has published a report that is likely to fuel more questions about the wisdom of Russia’s uncompromising support for the Syrian regime. It concludes that Russia really has few – if any – fundamental national interests to defend in Syria…. 

Russian support for Syria appears to be more emotional than rational, according to the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a consultancy with strong links to Russia’s defence community. It characterised the Kremlin’s Syria policy as a consensus of elites who “have rallied around the demand ‘not to allow the loss of Syria’ ”, which would cause “the final disappearance of the last ghostly traces of Soviet might” in the Middle East. 

“The Syrian situation focuses all the fundamental foreign policy fears, phobias and complexes of Russian politicians and the Russian elite” said CAST.
Russia’s actual stake in Syria is not massive, according to CAST. It described Russia’sarms exports to Damascus as a “significant, but far from key” 5 per cent of total arms exports last year, and characterised Tartus, Moscow’s last foreign military base outside the former USSR, as little more than a pier and a floating repair shop on loan from the Black Sea fleet.

Now, it sounds an awful lot like CAST is arguing that Russian foreign policy leaders are wildly inflating their interests and acting in a — dare I say it — neoconservative fashion towards Syria. 

To which I respond: it depends on the meaning of “realism.”

I suppose I could just stop there. We’ve known for quite some time that “national interest” is a slippery concept (a point I made a few hours ago, come to think of it) — if not best understood as a rhetorical element of the ‘foreign policy’ genre. But if we’re going to play this game, we might start with what I’ll call “realist materialism”– the view that security interests can be assessed simply by crude material indicators. This position is popular among some realists; it holds particularly widespread appeal to critics of contemporary realism.

From this perspective, it should be clear that Moscow has some security interests in Syria. For a country that can’t adequately capitalize its defense industry, five percent (apparently around $4b) isn’t a ton, but it isn’t exactly nothing. To the extent that Syria is Russia’s last ally in the region, that has to count for something as well. But the real question isn’t so much whether Russia’s “material” stakes in Syria are minor, but what costs Moscow faces for supporting the regime. My answer: virtually none. Pretty much all the Kremlin needs to is block UNSC resolutions. No great power is going to inflict material harm on Russia for its stance on the issue. Most of the costs people write about — to reputation — are pretty wooly if we live in realist-materialism land.

But what if we are less dogmatic in our crude materialism — and, I would argue, much closer to modal realism? Then we need to consider additional concerns. First, Russia has good reasons to oppose further erosions of sovereignty norms for repressive regimes. While Russia is a much more open society than many of the authoritarian states (electoral or otherwise) it often gets lumped together with, it is still quite willing to use repressive means to protect the regime and the state (cf. the North Caucuses, where a slow-burn civil war is underway). Second, Moscow is likely still smarting from the fact that it acquiesced to a UN resolution on Libya that quickly became a pretext for NATO-sponsored regime change. Unless something happens to change its calculations, I’m not sure why Moscow should want to do anything to promote western interests in Syria.

Finally, we might move to a more sophisticated realism — one that provides a more traditional, and accurate, understanding of the scope of realpolitik. The Kremlin, in many respects, has a very traditional view of what it means to be a great power. This includes having an acknowledged sphere of influence, extra-regional allies, and a significant voice in the “international community.” We could characterize these motivations as “emotional” or “identity-based” or whatever…. The fact is that they form a coherent, realist, approach to foreign policy. Being a “great power” — and being recognized as such via these trappings — directly enhances international influence, territorial security, and other power-political imperatives. 


Retrenchment and the US Alliance System

Robert drove a great deal of traffic to the Duck with his provocative posts on retrenchment and US alliances. His efforts to “grade” allies by strategic importance has led to some interesting results and fascinating discussions. But I think he’s working with an overly narrow view of what alliances are good for. Here I agree with Steve Walt in general, although I have a somewhat different spin.

Robert’s analysis treats alliances as if they are basically cooperative security arrangements, produce little in the way of externalities, and amount to a net negative investment only offset by the relative “strategic importance” of an ally. Thus, Robert advances three major criteria: (1) direct security interest, (2) need, and (3) values/symbolism. This can be summed up as “where is it located? Can it defend itself? Does a US commitment help Washington in the war of ideas?”

One problem with these criteria should be obvious. As Robert is quite aware, “security interests” can get pretty fuzzy once we move beyond “contiguous territory.” It isn’t even clear that common borders make necessary allies; after all, who exactly will be invading the US via Mexico? Regardless, one of the problems with “selective engagement” strategies hinges on precisely this ambiguity: it is too easy to slip into either *nothing* being a vital national interest or *everything* being crucial to national security. The “values” criteria is, I submit, even more subject to abuse.

But even if we wave away problems with the three criteria, my suspicion is that Robert’s assumptions about alliances are wrong. Alliances — whether formal defense pacts, strategic partnerships, or whatever — are also control mechanisms by which states reduce the autonomy of their partners: sometimes states forge alliances precisely because they judge other states to be unreliable (for a classic treatment, see Snyder’s Alliance Politics). In some strategic partnerships, the capabilities of the ally are irrelevant: the relationship enables power projection by providing extra-territorial bases and access. Alliances often involve significant externalities, in terms of the signals they send to potential friends and enemies alike. These signals aren’t just about “values,” but the scope and nature of US commitments. In short, an assessment of US alliance commitments requires a more nuanced outlook than Robert provides, and his consequent analysis may be significantly flawed.

Mexico is a good example. It isn’t so much that the US forges a close relationship with Mexico to pool military resources, but because it is more costly for the US to impose formal hierarchy on the country. When it comes to US basing and access agreements, it is true that these can develop relatively quickly — as in Central Asia after 9/11 — or that lost opportunities can return as a result of shifts in power and threat. But it is also the case that long-term basing arrangements tend to enjoy a degree of stability that often proves elusive in newer US-host relationships. Which amounts to a rather elliptical way of saying that it isn’t always efficacious to abandon strategic partnerships to save some short-term cash.

Adopting a more nuanced view of the “importance” of various bilateral and multilateral partnerships doesn’t take away from the importance of the exercise. I agree that everyone needs to spend more time thinking, and writing, about US strategic interests and which international relationships are most important in light of those interests.

But, at the end of the day, we need to be clearer about what we mean when we talk about “strategic overextension,” “relative decline,” and other key terms in the debate over “retrenchment.” The connection between bloated military budgets and strategic partnerships is not necessarily a direct one. US relative decline may force Washington to adopt clearer strategic priorities — such as pivoting toward East Asia — particularly when it comes to providing robust security guarantees. However, a lot of the recent “damage” done to the blood and treasure of the United States stems from wars of choice — and one in particular — that had very little to do with the central connective tissue of its alliances and partnerships. 

The irony of focusing on the number of these relationships — rather than how much the US commits to them or broader aspects of the US defense budget — is that Washington’s alliance architecture is probably its best hedge against the rise of potential competitors. It both allows for the pooling of resources and it also reduces the likelihood of rising powers being able to wedge apart possible balancing coalitions. So, yes, the US needs to be smarter about how it allocates resources and less willing to resort to expensive military ventures of dubious geo-strategic value, but nothing about “retrenchment” requires slashing and burning its strategic relationships with other states. At least not in the foreseeable future.


Academic IR and the Information Age: Journals

As my post on “open access” demonstrates, I’ve been thinking a lot about International Relations  journals over the last few months, particularly with respect to digital media. Charli’s excellent presentation on the discipline and “web 2.0” fell at an interesting time for me, as I was working on a journal bid. My sense is that academic International Relations journals have a mixed record when it comes to fulfilling their varied functions in the field, and that better internet integration would help matters. This post seeks to make that case — albeit in a very preliminary way — but also might be read as a rumination on purpose of IR journals… and an attempt to raise questions about the state of journals within international studies. 

I guess a good place to start might be with the “official line” on academic journals. What are they for? The quasi-random people behind the wikipedia page on the subject write:

An academic journal is a peer-reviewed periodical in which scholarship relating to a particular academic discipline is published. Academic journals serve as forums for the introduction and presentation for scrutiny of new research, and the critique of existing research. Content typically takes the form of articles presenting original research, review articles, and book reviews.

We often hear about journals as sites for “leading” and “cutting-edge” research on particular topics and, depending on the journal, particular inflections. But, as many commentators point out, the time from submission to publication at many prestige journals now lasts at least year. Articles sometimes accumulate a great deal of citation and discussion by appearing at online depositories, such as SSRN. Indeed, work in International Relations  — most often quantitative — gets de facto peer reviewed many times before it appears in a journal. Indeed, this kind of peer review is arguably less stochastic and, in aggregate, more complete than what a manuscript receives at a journal.

My sense (and that, I believe, of many others) is that academic journals serve a number of purposes that are connected, but not always tightly coupled, to idealized accounts of what they’re good for.

  1. Professional certification. Leading journals are hard to get into. The volume of submissions, as well as the (related) attitudes of referees and editors, require a piece to “hit the jackpot” in terms of reviewer evaluations. Because referees and editors care about maintaining–and enhancing–the perceived quality of the journal, they work harder to make articles conform to the field or subfield standards of excellence. As we move down and across the journal hierarchy, these forces still operate but to lesser degrees. Thus, lower-ranked journals or journals perceived as being “easier to get into” provide less symbolic capital. 
  2. Defining standards of excellence. Another way of saying this is that journals produce, reproduce, and transform genre expectations for the style and content of scholarly work. What appears in leading journals sets standards for what should appear in leading journals; even if scholars don’t necessarily buy those standards, those attempting to publish in such journals will seek to replicate “the formula” in the hopes that it improves their chances of success. The same is true of less prestigious and more specialized journals, but those on the top of the hierarchy inflect as example (whether positive or cautionary) genre expectations associated with many of their less famous relatives. 
  3. Vetting work. Regardless of what one thinks of the state of peer review, it does provide a gauntlet that often improves–by some measure or other–the quality of the product. So does the attention of dedicated editors. At the very least, we believe this to be the case, which is all that matters for the role of journals in vetting scholarly pieces.
  4. Publicizing work. Scholars read journals–or at least tables of contents–that “matter” (i.e., have currency) in their subfield and in the broader field. So getting an article into a journal increases– subject to the breadth and depth of that journal’s reach–the chances that it will be read by a targeted audience. 
  5. Constituting a scholarly community. Much of the above comes down to shaping the parameters of, and interactions within, scholarly communities. These “purposes” of journals do so in the basic sense of allocating prestige, generating expectations, and so on. But they also contribute to a scholarly sphere of intellectual exchange–they help to define what we talk about and argue over. 

My claim is as follows: every one of these purposes is better met by embedding scholarly journals in Web 2.0 architectures and technologies, whether open-access or not, peer-reviewed or not. The particular advantage of these hybrids lies in vetting, publicizing, and constituting a scholarly community.

Digital environments promote post-publication peer review both by allowing comments on articles and by facilitating the publication of traditional “response” pieces. There’s no reason to believe that they undermine the traditional vetting mechanisms, as they handle core articles the same way as non-embedded academic journals.

Traditional journals, on the other hand, do a poor job of publicizing work; particularly older articles that disappear into the ether (or the bowels of the library). That’s why blogs such as The Monkey Cage have occupied such an important position in the landscape. A journal embedded in shifting content — blogs, blog aggregation, web-only features, promotion of timely articles and articles that speak to recent debates in other journals — keeps people coming back to the site and, in doing so, exposes them to journal content.

The advantages in terms of constituting and maintaining a scholarly community should be obvious. Web 2.0 integration promises to transform “inputs into community” into ongoing intellectual transactions among not only scholars, but also the broader interested community.

As alluded to above, this transformation is already occurring. But I worry about two aspects of its trajectory.

  1. The most “important” general journals in the field are way behind. 
  2. A number of the current experiments are operating in isolation from the online academic IR community, e.g., they produce “blog posts” that read like op-eds intended for the New York Times, and the only evidence of being in conversation with that community is in the form of desultory blogrolls.



Constructivism, Social Psychology, and Interlocking Theory (III)


This is the last in a series of guest posts by Stuart J. Kaufman of the University of DelawareStuart advances a long-running dispute with PTJ about whether “what goes on inside people’s heads” is relevant to social constructionism. PTJ doesn’t think so; Stuart disagrees. The first post can be found here, the second here. You may also download a complete PDF.

None of this is intended to deny the importance of structural insights offered by constructivist analysis. The argument, rather, is that “psychology provides the microfoundations for the motives behind normative behavior and identity change” examined by constructivist analysis (Shannon 2012, p. 14). Rhetorical coercion is an important mechanism, one I suspect underlay the inability of liberals and thoughtful moderates to articulate a resonant alternative to Bush’s “war on terror” narrative. But it is not the only mechanism of importance. As Kowert (2012) argues, norms are socially constructed, but they require that norm-holders both believe that something is right or wrong, and that they care about the outcome at stake. Understanding norms therefore requires understanding the “ideational triangle” of cognition, norms and social construction. I would be inclined to make it a “quadrangle” to include the pivotal influence of emotions.

Furthermore, for many of the issues in which discursive norm-production is important, there is yet another mechanism whose impact cannot be overlooked: the role of social networks. Neither constructivist discourse analysis nor individual or group psychology is very useful for explaining who becomes active in social movements and who does not. To explain who is likely to join a protest movement or a rebellion, we must look to social network theory as articulated most prominently by Tilly (2005, e.g.). The people who join social movements or rebellions are not consistently the people who feel most strongly about the issue at stake a priori; it is the people with the closest personal ties to those already involved. Explaining the rise of social movements, therefore, requires following Tilly’s insistence on looking to the “social appropriation” of existing institutions for social mobilization; to the brokers who create links between diverse social networks; and other similar mechanisms.

The result of taking seriously the importance of all of these different literatures would be a set of interlocking theories in which each piece of the puzzle fit into its neighboring pieces, each mutually supporting the other. Individual-level psychology would provide foundations for assumptions about human motivation and action tendencies—or, more precisely, which motivations are important when—but would then fade into the background as the focus of analysis shifted to social (including rhetorical, social psychological and sociological) mechanisms involved in political life. The role of the theorist is creatively to link the findings of these disparate fields into more or less coherent explanations of specific phenomena, instead of starting from ad-hoc assumptions considered risible in other disciplines. This approach is not too different from what constructivists typically do now, bracketing issues of agency to focus on discursive structure. I am only calling on constructivists to be more psychologically aware in the assumptions they make.

The centerpiece of this approach, then, is to identify when different modes of analysis are appropriate. For example, from a psychological perspective, the hypotheses of bureaucratic politics theory (“where you stand depends on where you sit”) is easily explicable in terms of the well-known mechanisms of socialization, commitment and role assignment. Bureaucrats advocate their organizations’ interests, that is, because it is their job to do so (role assignment), because once having done so, they feel committed to those values (commitment), and because they come over time to be socialized into those values by their senior colleagues.

Furthermore, attention to these psychological mechanisms helps to explain not only when bureaucratic effects are most important, but also when they are less so. For example, Rhodes’s (1994) finding of the insignificance of intra-service rivalry within the U.S. Navy (between airmen, submariners and surface warriors) should come as no surprise, because naval officers’ primary socialization (and training) is into the navy, not any particular “union” within it. Furthermore, Rhodes is analyzing the behavior of Chiefs of Naval Operations, whose role assignment is to advocate the interests of the entire Navy, not their “union”. On the other hand, these same mechanisms suggest that, especially before the 1986 reorganization, the Joint Chiefs of Staff should have fought like cats and dogs along bureaucratic lines, because the mechanisms of socialization, commitment and role assignment all pointed in that direction, yielding in turn cognitive biases and motivated biases all pushing the Chiefs each to defend his own service’s interests and values, as bureaucratic politics theory would suggest.

The same holds true of rational choice theory. While the assumption that people are rational utility-maximizers is almost always false and is often unproductive, there are circumstances in which social psychology would predict such behavior. Institutional behavior is again the clearest example. The mechanisms of socialization, commitment and role assignment yield the expectation not only that bureaucrats will pursue their institutional interests, but that lobbyists will lobby for their employers; and, indeed, individual self-interest is likely to point in the same direction. When individual self-interest does not align with institutional interest, rationalists rightly point out, greed or ambition may trump socialization, leading to shirking or corruption. Rationalists don’t talk about greed and ambition, but as long as those motives accord with assumptions of individual self-interest, the difference does not matter.  Assuming bureaucrats will behave like bureaucrats is not psychologically dubious.

Outside institutional bounds, in contrast, people usually do not act to maximize their material interests in politics because their judgment is at different times driven primarily by fear (explained terror management theory), group identity (explained by social identity theory), bias or prejudice (explained by cognitive bias or prejudice theory), motivated bias (explained by motivational theory), personal connections (social network theory), the desire for self-expression, or a host of other motives.

It seems plain, then, that interlocking theory provides the only way to move forward in international relations and political science, based on using the findings of allied disciplines. In international relations, the answer to the paradigm debate lies in determining under what conditions key actors behave like realists, or liberal institutionalists, or domestic politics liberals. What are the conditioning hypotheses for each theory? Again, a number of different factors play a role, each explaining a different piece of the puzzle. From this point of view, constructivism in international relations functions as a partial metatheory, pointing out that sometimes international actors behave like realists (“Hobbesean” systems), sometimes like international liberals (“Lockean” systems), and sometimes more like liberals in a domestic setting (Kantian systems). The trouble is that constructivist analysis is terribly thin in identifying when each sort of behavior should occur.

Again, social psychology provides a host of suggestions for how to sort these questions out. Realists note that for their theory, fear is the driving force, and indeed, terror management theory essentially explains why people behave like realists when they feel under threat. But when do they feel under threat? Personality has something to do with it, with trust playing a huge role: only relatively trusting people are inclined to behave the way liberal institutionalism would predict (Rathbun 2011). On the other hand, those who are less trusting tend to see the world as a competitive place—a syndrome identified as “social dominance orientation” (Sidanius)—and to respond aggressively to challenge. Ergo, the hypothesis: states led by people with social dominance orientation are likely to behave in realist fashion; those led by more trusting individuals are more likely to act as liberal institutionalists predict. Prejudice also has something to do with it: people are more likely to perceive threat when they hold negative stereotypes of the source of potential threat, and when they have negative emotional feelings about that outgroup. This approach also helps to explain why past behavior matters in some cases but not others: prejudiced leaders will tend to discount evidence of moderation on the part of the target of their prejudice (e.g., Cold War anti-Communists), and therefore act competitively.

To break down a more specific example, asking why the U.S. behaved like a neoconservative sort of realist toward Iraq in 2003 is actually asking a set of distinct questions, each of which has answers in a different area of theory. From an institutional perspective, there were at least three veto players regarding a war with Iraq: the President, his party, and Congress, with Congress’s position in turn partly dependent on public opinion. Therefore, to explain the war, we must explain the positions of all three veto players. First, George W. Bush decided he wanted to invade Iraq for a variety of reasons explained by personality theory (such as his ethnocentrism) and small-group dynamics (e.g., groupthink). Second, his party enthusiastically supported this course due to a combination of prejudice, institutional incentives in the party, and calculations of electoral advantage. The calculations of electoral advantage, in turn, depended largely on intuitive understanding of prejudice and terror management theory—how threat perceptions and anti-Saddam bias after 9/11 drove public opinion to the right on the issue of the war. Finally, as discussed earlier, a combination of constructivist and psychological factors explain why Democrats in Congress felt they had to go along with the Bush “War on Terror” narrative and vote in favor of the war—and why that course was popular with voters.

The final element of truly progressive theorizing, as suggested by these examples, is attention to the balance of counteracting forces. In the astrophysics of stellar stability, all of the interest is in the balance between the gravitational forces holding the star together and the countervailing forces pushing its mass outward. Similarly, almost any problem in contemporary international relations is likely to be driven by some factors emphasized by realism, some emphasized by liberal institutionalism, some by domestic politics liberalism, and some by constructivism. In the battle for public opinion over the Iraq war, for example, international institutional constraints—notably the position of the UN Security Council—were manifestly significant in constraining the march to war, yet were ultimately swamped by other factors pushing the other way. Meaningful theory means thinking about how to measure these counteracting effects, not simply assuming some of them away.

Parsimonious theories of politics are possible, of course, but not parsimonious theories that work. If we want to achieve anything like scientific progress, we need to put aside debates about which paradigm is best, and begin focusing on when each paradigm best applies, to what degree and in which circumstances.

Works Cited
Benford, R. D., and D.A. Snow. (2000).  Framing Processes and Social Movements: An Overview and Assessment.  Annual Review of Sociology 26, 611-639.
Cohen, Florette, Daniel M. Ogilvie, Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski (2005), “American Roulette: The Effect of Reminders of Death on Support for George W. Bush in the 2004 Presidential Election,” Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 5, no. 1, pp. 177-87.
Cuillier, David, Blythe Duell and Jeff Joireman (2010), “The Mortality Muzzle: The Effect of Death Thoughts on Attitudes toward National Security and a Watchdog Press,” Journalism 11(2): 185-202.
Greenberg, Jeff, Tom Pyszczynski, Sheldon Solomon, Abram Rosenblatt, Mitchell Veeder, Shari Kirkland, and Deborah Lyon (1990).  “Evidence for terror management theory II: The effects of mortality salience on reactions to those who threaten or bolster the cultural worldview,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 58, 308–318.
Haidt, Jonathan (2012)  The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion (Pantheon).
Kaufman, Stuart J., Richard Little, and William C. Wohlforth, eds. (2007), The Balance of Power in World History (Palgrave Macmillan).
Kowert, Paul A. (2011) “Completing the Ideational Triangle: Identity, Choice and Obligation in Interntional Relations,” in Vaughn P. Shannon and Paul A. Kowert, eds.  Psychology and Constructivism in International Relations: An Ideational Alliance (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press), pp. 30-56.
Ronald R. Krebs and Patrick Thaddeus Jackson (2007), “Twisting Tongues and Twisting Arms: The Power of Political Rhetoric,” European Journal of International Relations 2007; 13; 35
Ronald R. Krebs & Jennifer K. Lobasz (2007): “Fixing the Meaning of 9/11: Hegemony, Coercion, and the Road to War in Iraq,” Security Studies, 16:3, 409-451.
Larson, Deborah Welch (1985)  Origins of Containment: A Psychological Explanation (Princeton: Princeton University Press).
Rathbun, Brian C. (2011) Trust In International Cooperation: International Security Institutions, Domestic Politics, and American Multilateralism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Rhodes, Edward (1994) “Do Bureaucratic Politics Matter?  Some Disconfirming Findings from the United States Navy,” World Politics vol. 47, no. 1 (October), pp. 1-41.
Shannon, Vaughn P. (2011), “Introduction: Ideational Allies: Psychology, Constructivism and International Relations,” in Vaughn P. Shannon and Paul A. Kowert, eds.  Psychology and Constructivism in International Relations: An Ideational Alliance (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press), pp. 1-29.
Tilly, Charles (2005) Identities, Boundaries and Social Ties (Boulder : Paradigm).
Westen, Drew (2007) The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation (New York: PublicAffairs).

Impressions from Taiwan (1): Background

Taipei 101
Photo Credit: Dan Nexon
I spent 2-9 June in Taiwan on a trip sponsored by the government of the Republic of China. Taipei funds these trips, and others like them, as part of an effort to influence academics and opinion-leaders; while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs(MOFA) would certainly be pleased if its outreach resulted in more voices advocating on behalf of ROC interests, it would, I think, be satisfied if we simply paid more attention to Taiwan.
As one of the China experts on the trip explained to me, Taipei has seen a significant loss of influence in the United States. Many of its core supporters are no longer in congress. US-based China experts used to receive their language and cultural training in Taiwan, but now that the mainland is open to westerners that’s no longer the case. Despite the fact that the ROC is one of the America’s largest trading partners — our tenth-largest exporter and fifteenth-largest market for US goods — most of Washington’s attention is of focused on the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) without particular regard for the ROC. Meanwhile, you may or may not know that US-ROC open-trade processes have frozen up over Taipei’s ban on theimport of US beef.
I used the trip as an excuse to read up on the history of the island, which is quite complicated. The wikipedia entry covers most of the basics, but here are a few key points.
  • Taiwan has experienced many waves of settlement, including by “indigenous” Austronesians, Hakka Chinese, and Han Chinese. 
  • The indigenous tribes were headhunters, and until the period of Japanese rule they remained pretty much in control of the eastern part of the island. 
  • The Dutch established two settlements on Taiwan to use as bases for trade with Ming China. 
  • They were defeated and forced out — although genetic traces remain — by “Koxinga” (Zheng Chenggong), the son of the leader of pirate confederation who had become an admiral to the Ming dynasty. 
  • After the Manchu conquest, Koxinga fought for Ming restoration; Taiwan became his redoubt and home to the Ming claimants to the throne. 
  • The island’s leadership eventually accepted Qing rule.
  • The 1894-1895 Sino-Japanese War concluded with a treaty that transferred Taiwan to the Japanese Empire. A group of islanders reacted by declaring the existence of a “Democratic State of Taiwan” (often called the “Republic of Taiwan), which did not last long at all, but has historical resonance for advocates of Taiwanese independence. 
  • Japanese rule was harsh — and practically genocidal toward some Austronesian inhabitants — but also did much to develop Taiwan’s economy, infrastructure, and the education of its people. The efficiency and professionalism of Japanese colonial administration compared favorably to the early years of KMT rule, which was corrupt, inefficient, and brutal toward the Taiwan-born population. Many Taiwanese therefore view the Japanese in a much more positive light than do Koreans and mainland Chinese.
  • In the 1980s the KMT began the process of democratizing the country. In 1988 Lee Teng-Hui became the first ethnically Taiwanese President. In the 2000 elections a two-way split in the KMT led to the election of the opposition, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which has strong pro-independence leanings (since moderated). It rejects the KMT’s position that the “end game” is necessarily reunification between the mainland and Taiwan. DPP rule was marred by inexperience — most of its ranking members were opposition activists during KMT authoritarian rule — and the fact that the government bureaucracy is firmly controlled by, and oriented toward, the KMT. The DPP was re-elected in a surprise victory after an assassination attempt on the President in 2004. In 2008 the KMT regained power, and President MA was re-elected in 2012. His popularity has subsequently tanked (for some comparative perspective on Asian democratization, see Slater and Wong).
  • The ROC’s democracy is vibrant to the point of raucousness, but the DPP insists — not without cause — that the process is incomplete. The KMT made a lot of money during the period of one-party rule, and its economic interests give it a major monetary advantage. The pro-KMT biases in the civil service — which were very much in evidence during our meetings — also present challenges to the DPP.
  • Mainland China is much more comfortable with the KMT than the DPP, in large part because of KMT opposition to independence. Despite much sabre-rattling during the DPP period — and, in fact, during Lee Teng-Hui’s last term — the last 10+ years have seen growing economic and travel ties between Taiwan and the mainland. Mainland tourists now flood, for example, the Royal Palace Museum. The noise level there is so high that our guide used personal radios to communicate with us. Many important industrial operations in China, including the famous Foxconn, are owned by Taiwanese businessmen. 

ROC officials spent a fair amount of time attempting to explain its legal status, which can be rather confusing. The PRC views it as a renegade province. Beijing has threatened to invade if the island “secedes” to become the Republic of Taiwan.

Under the ROC constitution, Taiwan is also a province of China. The KMT views the ROC as the legitimate government of all of China. As supporters explained to us, the ROC predates the PRC and the latter is simply in unlawful rebellion against the rightful government of China. As I noted above, the DPP is more pro-independence, but has moderated to an official position of keeping the status of Taiwan “open” while the KMT is pledged to reunification once mainland China democratizes. They hope, as the only example of a functioning democracy in “greater China,” to demonstrate the viability and desirability of democratization on the mainland.

In practice, the ROC has gone from being widely recognized as the legitimate government of China to having only a handful of countries support its claim. The turning point occurred in 1972, when the US pivoted to support Beijing as part of its anti-Soviet strategy. Kissinger was apparently willing to abandon Taiwan, but congressional and public support for the island averted such an outcome — enshrined by the passage of the US-Taiwan relations act of 1979 and Ronald Reagan’s “six assurances” (for details on the “one China policy,” see this CRS report). Whether Washington has made good on its commitments is a matter of some debate: arguably, the US refusal to upgrade the ROC’s air-defense capabilities — the ROC currently flies F-16 A/Bs and is seeking F-16 C/Ds — violates its legal obligations. But the deteriorating strategic position of the ROC is the subject of my next post. 

Multicultural Panic Comes to Korea

This recently ran on Korea’s largest broadcaster in primetime news slots until the outburst controversy grew so loud, it got pulled. Don’t miss the guy in the white shirt and tie behind a desk to lend academic credibility to it all. For some analysis, try here.

Here’s a response video that is very funny.

Constructivism, Social Psychology, and Interlocking Theory (II)

This is the second in a series of guest posts by Stuart J. Kaufman of the University of DelawareStuart advances a long-running dispute with PTJ about whether “what goes on inside people’s heads” is relevant to social constructionism. PTJ doesn’t think so; Stuart disagrees. The first post can be found hereAfter the final post, we will make the entire piece available as a PDF — consider it our first true “working paper” publication.

Since each theory begins with a metatheoretical judgment about human nature, I think the place to start looking for insights is in psychology, which focuses on the empirical questions of how people actually think and feel under what circumstances, and what they tend to be inclined to do. For an example of how psychology can inform constructivism, let us return to Krebs and Jackson’s “Twisting Tongues and Twisting Arms,” which suggests a constructivism based on the notion that rhetoric operates as a sort of coercion. In this very creative piece, they lay out a model in which much of the action of politics comes in the form of rhetorical competitions in which competing forces try to frame issues in terms of societal values that favor their argument. One side wins if the other runs out of plausible responses to refute the implications of its opponent’s frame.

One gap in this argument is that the plausibility of arguments depends fundamentally on pre-existing “rhetorical commonplaces” familiar to the public audience, but in their empirical illustration Krebs and Jackson do nothing to show what the relevant rhetorical commonplaces were before the debate they analyze. In principle, constructivists can do this by sampling the discourse prior to any particular debate to get a sense of what those commonplaces are.

What constructivists cannot do, however, is measure how widely believed and strongly influential those commonplaces are with the relevance audience. This audience is always multiple—divided into subgroups by myriad cleavages. How is the constructivist to know which rhetorical commonplaces are the ones that most powerfully influence the relevant audiences, and therefore demonstrate the power of rhetorical jiujitsu? Krebs and Jackson do so by assumption, picking out one particular rhetorical commonplace in Israel—the notion that those who serve in the military have thereby earned equal rights—to explain why Druze Arabs, who do serve in the Israeli military, have been granted rights other Israeli Arabs have not.

The trouble with this argument is that, even if one retains a constructivist methodology, Krebs and Jackson fail to consider other discourses that may better explain the outcome. For example, perhaps the key point in Israeli discourse is not that the Druze have earned citizenship, but that they have proven their loyalty—their military service proves that they are not a security threat. Much Israeli discrimination against Arab citizens is justified on security grounds. How do we know that the more important reason for the outcome was not that the notion of earned citizenship was unanswerable, but that the notion of Druze as a threat was a non-starter?

The deeper problem is that even if Krebs and Jackson had considered both discursive effects, constructivism offers no way to assess which one was more important, if both were present and prominent. The only way to assess these competing hypotheses is to think more systematically about the interaction between discourse at the social level and attitudes and beliefs at the individual level. In other words, one must resort to the methods of sociological framing theory (e.g. Benford and Snow 2000) that Krebs and Jackson reject—examining the pre-existing beliefs, values, attitudes and perceptions of the audiences (including their perceptions of the credibility and other qualities of the leaders proposing alternative narratives) to explain why some rhetorical moves resonate with different audiences while others do not.

The study of pre-existing beliefs, values, norms, attitudes and perceptions, in turn, leads us back to the realm of political psychology. It is political psychologists who have studied these issues most carefully, and have come to some important conclusions about the power of different discourses with different audiences. One of the most important of these findings is the importance of emotional or symbolic predispositions in influencing attitudes. Some stark examples are in the work of Drew Westen (2007, pp. 107-8). For example, when a group of respondents were asked their views about whether President Clinton deserved to be impeached, 85% of the variance in their answers was predicted by their emotional feelings about the political parties, Clinton, infidelity and feminism as measured in those same respondents six to nine months earlier. When cognitive constraints were added to the model, they increased the explanatory power only to 88%. Obviously these respondents had been exposed to some combination of pro- and anti- impeachment discourses, but their responses varied with their symbolic predispositions.

The basis for my hypothesis about the role of security fears in Krebs and Jackson’s Israeli case comes from another strand of political psychology, the unfortunately named “terror management theory” (see., e.g., Greenberg et al. 1990; Cuillier et al. 2010). In a series of experiments, these scholars have shown that subconscious concerns about death systematically drive political opinions to the right, making respondents more respectful of their own national and religious values and symbols, more favorable to those who praise such values and symbols, more unfavorable toward those with different values of any sort, more punitive toward moral transgressors, more physically aggressive toward those who differ politically, and less concerned with incidental harm to innocents. In a particularly striking study, Cohen et al. (2005) found that respondents who were asked to think about death preferred George Bush over John Kerry by 45% to 20%, while respondents in the control condition preferred Kerry to Bush by 57% to 13%. If this pattern holds up in Israel, then it seems plausible that security arguments against Arab rights are more important than failure-to-serve arguments regarding Muslim and Christian Arabs. Therefore the lack of credibility of such arguments regarding Druze Arabs should similarly be more important than rights-for-service arguments.

The reason that systematic attention to audiences’ actual beliefs and values (as measured in survey research) is so important is that failure to do so makes it too easy for the analyst implicitly to impute his or her own values to the audience. For example, in a generally persuasive and well-executed study, Lobasz and Krebs (2007) show how Democrats were “rhetorically coerced” by the “war on terror” discourse into acquiescing in the Iraq invasion that many of them were uncomfortable with and later opposed. While this positive argument is persuasive as far as it goes, the counterfactual argument is not: the suggestion that the most promising alternative discourse would have been a “jeremiad” arguing that the 9/11 attacks were a reaction to American behavior, and that the U.S. should reform itself rather than launching a crusade in the Middle East.

Lobasz and Krebs, not inattentive to findings in political psychology, note that there are some psychological obstacles to acceptance of the “jeremiad” discursive mode, mentioning in particular the fundamental attribution error. However, they vastly underestimate those obstacles, in particular by overlooking the values widely embraced by conservatives and moderates but not liberals or leftists (Haidt 2012). Most important of these is the value of loyalty. The trouble with the jeremiad narrative is that it leaves the would-be Jeremiah vulnerable to the question: “Whose side are you on, ours or the terrorists’?”

The power of the “war on terror” narrative is further boosted by other psychological effects Lobasz and Krebs overlook. First, any “us against them” narrative draws its power from the ingroup-outgroup effect demonstrated by decades of experiments in the social identity theory tradition. Just making the ingroup-outgroup distinction salient leads to increased stereotyping of the outgroup and increased pressure for ingroup cohesion (adding to the power of the “whose side are you on” question). Second, the credibility of the “war on terror” justification for the Iraq war was enhanced by prejudice—both cognitive stereotypes of Arabs and emotional dislike for them—that was prominent among an important subset of the American population. Third, the terror management effect from the lingering fear of terrorism was simultaneously driving attitudes toward the right on issues of nationalism.

Finally, the jeremiad narrative lacked credibility on the issue of 9/11 itself: even if I believe that most Arabs dislike the U.S. for what it does, not what it is, that does not invalidate the logic of a war on terror. If I make that distinction, I must also make another: most Arabs were not involved in the 9/11 attacks, either. Those that were—the militants of al-Qaeda—were violent extremists who did need to be fought. The only plausible alternative to Bush’s War on Terror, then, was Obama’s later war on al-Qaeda. Many plausible discursive traditions were available to purse this argument against the Iraq war, most importantly the security discourse itself, perhaps stated frontier-style: “You’ve got the wrong man (Saddam) there, Sheriff. We can’t let the real culprit (bin Laden) get away with this”.

My argument, then, is that responsible theory-building requires that we build not only on the findings of those within our narrow academic niche, but much more widely beyond it. For the relationship between psychology and constructivism, there is a whole host of psychological mechanisms—in social identity theory, terror management theory, prejudice and ethnocentrism theory, cognitive dissonance theory, cognitive network theory, etc.—that provide important insights into which rhetorics are most likely to resonate with which audiences and in which conditions. Sociological framing theory additional insights regarding the importance of the credibility of the leader offering a particular frame or narrative, among other factors. All of these considerations widen the scope for agency in constructivist analysis, not only by identifying the psychological tools available for leaders to manipulate, but also by identifying the psychological resources available to audience members in deciding how to respond.


Historical International Relations: A Proposed Section for ISA

 Note: signatures are only valid for those who are members of International Studies Association at the time of review. Please do not sign if you are not, or will not, be an ISA member.

Below is a letter requesting support for a new section of the ISA on “Historical International Relations.” The section would be cognate to BISA’s Historical Sociology working group and APSA’s International History and Politics section. The idea came out of discussions among the co-signers of the letter below.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,
For a few years now, many of you will have heard us mention the need for a new section at the ISA, one in which there would be a room for historical pieces which engage with international issues in a broad sense. We hereby ask for your support for a new section at the ISA entitled Historical International Relations by signing the online petition at, and forwarding this email to colleagues you think will have an interest in supporting the section. 

As you may all have noticed, there seems to be an increasing interest in historical scholarship in the discipline, an interest which is largely reflected in papers and panels presented at the conferences. However, these historical engagements appear in general in a host of different guises, sponsored (sometimes halfheartedly) by different existing sections. Some are sponsored by International Security, others by Diplomatic Studies, while more still have found shelter in the English School Section. While some may not see this as a problem, as it forces historical scholarship to engage with other sections of the discipline, we nevertheless think this situation requires a new section at the ISA. 

The idea of a new section is not for historical scholarship to colonize the ISA. We do not see such a section becoming one of the leading sections of the ISA. Rather, we see it as carving out a modest space for scholars who engage historically to work together, meet, and engage with each other’s work without having to pretend to be talking about something else. This common space would allow for conversations across sub-disciplinary boundaries, conversations which are difficult to carry out within many of the other sections of the ISA, and it should thus also increase the overall cohesiveness of the discipline. Rather than fragmenting the discipline, we think a Historical International Relations Section will contribute to increased intra-disciplinary dialogue. 

It is important for us to emphasize too that this is not meant to be a section for international history. What we think we have identified, is that to the extent that IR scholars engage historically, they do so as “merry amateurs” rather than professional historians. It is this spirit of collegial openness and inclusion as well as intellectual curiosity which we would like to foster by creating a new section. 

In short, we see the founding of a new Historical International Relations section as a way to create a space for this type of scholarship, but also legitimize efforts to address IR historically, as it would make these topics interesting in their own right, and not because of their potential relevance for the other sections.

Thank you for supporting the new section and for forwarding the email.

We look forward to seeing you at the inaugural section meeting in the near future. 

Best wishes,Benjamin de Carvalho, NUPIDaniel Green, University of DelawareHalvard Leira, NUPIDaniel Nexon, Georgetown UniversityAndrea Paras, University of Guelph


Constructivism, Social Psychology, and Interlocking Theory (I)

This is the first in a series of guest posts by Stuart J. Kaufman of the University of Delaware. Stuart advances a long-running dispute with PTJ about whether “what goes on inside people’s heads” is relevant to social constructionism. PTJ doesn’t think so; Stuart disagrees. After the final post, we will make the entire piece available as a PDF — consider it our first true “working paper” publication.

When scholars hold up physics as a model for how social science should operate, they tend to focus on the neat equations that physics is able to generate to explain physical phenomena. A more useful lesson to learn from physics, however, is how it deals with the multiplicity of sources of physical effects that are often described by different physical laws. Basically, it adds them up.

Consider the forces that keep a star stable. On the one hand, a star is powered by the process of nuclear fusion of lighter elements such as hydrogen into heavier elements, with their nuclei bound together by the strong force. This fusion releases massive amounts of energy, which generate electromagnetic forces that push the star’s matter outward, in some cases leading to massive stellar explosions (novae and supernovae). Most of the time, however, stars do not explode, as the gravitational forces that make nuclear fusion (and thus the heat) possible also hold the matter in the star together. Understanding how these processes balance out, however, requires understanding of at least three (really all four) of the basic forces in physics—the strong, weak, electromagnetic, and gravitational forces—and how they interact, even though they operate according to different physical principles.

Unfortunately, debates in political science and international relations tend to be less constructive. One side says, “the ontological nature of reality is the dominance of the electromagnetic force; ergo the sun’s heat will cause it to explode”. The other side asserts, “the ontological nature of reality is dominated by gravitational forces, so the sun must collapse.” Both sides agree that because of these competing ontologies, no synthesis is possible.

Real debates in political science and I.R. have the same “blind man and the elephant” quality. Because neorealism and most versions of constructivism are structural theories, their ontologies allegedly rule out consideration of domestic political or—horror of horrors—individual levels of analysis. Any departure from strict structuralism is scorned. For example, the standard constructivist theory of norm change, Krebs and Jackson (2007, p. 40) scold, “relies on incompatible microfoundations in stage one (instrumental adaptation) and stage two (internalization).” As one constructivist scholar flatly declared to me, “I reject methodological individualism”.

It seems obvious to me that this attitude is both profoundly illiberal and profoundly anti-intellectual. If liberalism requires not just toleration but respect for people who think differently, then such a priori rejectionism should be normatively out of bounds for any decent person, and doubly so for a self-respecting intellectual. More to the point, unless scholars are prepared to defend the position, “all individual psychology is bunk, and all psychologists who write about it are wrong,” then they have to concede the likelihood that psychologists do indeed know something about human behavior, and some of what they know is relevant to the study of political science and international relations. The same is true of sociologists, anthropologists, historians and even economists.

One of the things psychologists know, for example, is that—pace Krebs and Jackson—there is no incompatibility between the processes of instrumental adaptation and internalization. On the contrary, as has been widely shown and even explained by political scientists, just this process is psychologically common. People often react instrumentally to specific situations, and then infer their broader preferences from their own behavior—preferences they then internalize. Larson (1985) showed that just this process, as hypothesized by cognitive dissonance theory, was operating among members of the Truman Administration during the run-up to the Cold War: they first took a few hard-line decisions, then internalized the hard-line anticommunist norms. Confronted with the cognitive dissonance between their uncertain attitudes toward the Soviets and their tough decisions toward them, they resolved the dissonance by adopting the hard-line values implied by their own behavior.

At the root of the Krebs/Jackson mistake is the silly assumption that theoretical assumptions imply an exclusive ontology. They do not; they are metatheoretical judgments about which aspects of reality—which partial ontology—is most useful for answering a particular question. In some of my work (Kaufman et al. 2007) for example, I accept basically realist premises to explain the politics of the ancient Middle East, generally endorsing hegemonic stability realism over balance-of-power realism. In doing this, I do not accept the notion that the fundamental nature of international reality—the ontology of the international system—is fully described by realist thinkers like Robert Gilpin or Kenneth Waltz. Rather, I make the metatheoretical judgment that for this particular time, place, and issue (balance or hegemony?), these alternative realist theories identify most of the key variables for explaining the phenomena under consideration. My sympathy for liberal and constructivist insights comes in large part from my recognition that the contemporary world system is different from the hyperrealist ancient system precisely in that the role of international norms, international trade, international institutions, and internal liberal democracy is so much greater now than then.

These metatheoretical judgments are based, in turn, on the implicit or explicit conditioning hypotheses that come attached to all theories. If neoclassical realism truly explained the ontology—the essential nature—of social reality, then John Mearsheimer would take literally his own injunction to be “the biggest guy on the block” by spending much of his time in the gym bulking up. He would spend the rest of his time endeavoring to become the successor to Al Capone in Chicago on the theory that only armed force ensures physical security. The fact that he does neither shows that Mearsheimer, uber-realist though he is, recognizes a critical scope condition for realist theory—it applies to the anarchical international realm, not the hierarchical domestic one. In his writings, he makes the metatheoretical judgment that anarchy itself contradicts the scope conditions of liberalism; thus he does not assume that humans or human groups are ontologically incapable of cooperation. He merely asserts that stable cooperation requires an authority to enforce it. I think he is wrong about that, but it is not an exclusive ontological argument about the nature of reality.

The way forward in political science and I.R. theory, then, is to recognize that all social and behavioral sciences have some valid insights to offer; that all of those insights are limited by both the quality of the supporting evidence and the restrictions of the theories’ scope conditions; and that complex social realities can only be adequately understood if we can work out how to draw on multiple sources of insights to explain them.

The ontological fallacy of Krebs and Jackson, inter alia, is to assume that social theory must be based on a single, simple assumption about human nature: the human is a fearful creature (realism); the human is a cooperative creature (liberalism); the human is a social creature (constructivism); the human is a creature of habit (Bourdieu); the human is an emotional creature (motivational theory); the human is a rational utility-maximizer (rational choice theory); the human is a biased decision-maker (cognitive theory). It is obvious that all of these assertions are sometimes true of some people, and that all also offer good descriptions of the behaviors of certain groups at certain times, because all have some good social scientific evidence in their favor. It should therefore be plain that none alone is likely to offer a satisfactory basis for a theory of any complex behavior. Metatheoretical choice is not ontology. What we need is to define the scope conditions and implications of theories that harness each of those insights.

To be continued…


Who needs experts to forecast international politics?

 This is a guest post by Michael C. Horowitz, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania.

Who can see the future? For us mere mortals, it’s hard, even for so-called experts. There are so many cognitive biases to take into consideration and even knowing your own weaknesses often does not help. Neither does being smart, apparently. So, what does make for “good judgment” when it comes to forecasting? When, if ever, do experts have advantages in making predictions? And how can we combine expertise and statistical models to produce the best possible predictions? This is not just an academic question, but one relevant for policy makers as well, as Frank Gavin and Jim Steinberg recently pointed out. There are new efforts afoot to try and determine the boundary conditions in which experts- both political scientists and otherwise- can outperform methods such as the wisdom of crowds, prediction markets, and groups of educated readers of the New York Times. At the bottom of this post is information on how to assist in this research. I hope you will consider doing so.
Jacqueline Stevens recently argued in the New York Times that “Political Scientists are Lousy Forecasters.” In her article, which othershavealreadydissected, she discusses Phil Tetlock’s work on expert forecasting. His book, Expert Political Judgment, has become the definitive work on the subject. The postage stamp version she cites is that experts are only slightly better than dart-throwing chimps at predicting the future, if they are better at all.
However, the notion that Tetlock argues that experts are know-nothings when it comes to forecasting is simply wrong, as others have already pointed out. More important, Expert Political Judgment was a first foray into the uncharted domain of building better forecasting models. Several years later, Tetlock is back at it, and this time he has invited me, Richard Herrmann of Ohio State University, and others to join him. The immediate goal this time is to participate in a forecasting “tournament” sponsored by the United States intelligence community. The intelligence community has funded several teams to go out and build the best models possible – however they can – to forecast world events. Each team has to forecast the same events, a list of questions given to the teams by the sponsor, and then submit predictions [note: Tetlock’s team dominated the opposition in year one – so we’ll find out this year whether adding me helps or not. Unfortunately, there’s no place to go but down].

Our team is called the Good Judgment team, and the idea is to not only win the tournament, but also to develop a better understanding of the methods and strategies that lead to better forecasting of political events. There are many facets to this project, but the one I want to focus on today is our effort to figure out when experts such as political scientists might have advantages over the educated reader of the New York Times when it comes to forecasting world events.
One of the main things we are interested in determining is the situations in which experts provide knowledge-added value when it comes to making predictions about the world. Evidence from the first year of the project (year 2 started on Monday, June 18) suggests that, contrary to Stevens’ argument, experts might actually have something useful to say after all. For example, we have some initial evidence on a small number of questions from year 1 suggesting that experts are better at updating faster than educated members of the general public – they are better at determining the full implications of changes in events on the ground and updating their beliefs in response to those events.
Over the course of the year, we will be exploring several topics of interest to the readers – and hopefully authors – of this blog. First, do experts potentially have advantages when it comes to making predictions that are based on process? In other words, does knowing when the next NATO Summit is occurring help you make a more accurate prediction about whether Macedonia will gain entry by 1 April 2013 (one of our open questions at the moment)? Alternatively, could it be that the advantage of experts is that they have a better understanding of world events when a question is asked, but then that advantage fades over time as the educated reader of the New York Times updates in response to world events?
Second, when you inform experts of the predictions derived from prediction markets, the wisdom of groups, or teams of forecasters working together, are they able to use this information to yield more accurate predictions than the markets, the crowd, or teams, or do they make it worse? In theory, we would expect experts to be able to assimilate that information and use it to more accurately determine what will happen in the world. Or, maybe we would expect an expert to be able to recognize when the non-experts are wrong and outperform them. In reality, will this just demonstrate the experts are stubborn – but not in a good way?
Finally, are there types of questions where experts are more or less able to make accurate predictions? Might experts outperform other methods when it comes to election forecasting in Venezuela or the fate of the Eurozone, but prove less capable when it comes to issues involving the use of military force?
We hope to explore these and other issues over the course of the year and think this will raise many questions relevant for this blog. We will report back on how it is going. In the meantime, we need experts who are willing to participate. The workload will be light – promise. If you are interested in participating, expert or not, please contact me at horom (at) sas (dot) upenn (dot) edu and let’s see what you can do.

IR Course Uncovers the Romantic Comedy Foruma

My students and I have unlocked the key to writing a blockbuster romantic comedy script. When lecturing on masculinities in my Gender and Human Rights course I gave students the following challenge: think of an stereotypical, ideal-type character that symbolizes one form of hegemonic masculinity. Remembering that hegemonic masculinities are fluid ideal types that vary across history and context,  students came up with answers like “the macho rugby player,” “the workaholic CEO,” “the playboy” and “the quiet, rugged cowboy.” After getting them to list the qualities that define these masculine types, I asked them to imagine a scenario or event that would completely challenge, undermine, or seemingly contradict these masculine identities and to talk about how their immediate community and society might react. Well, the answers produced almost every romantic comedy script you can imagine.
Here are a few examples:
Scenario 1: Rugby player decides to be a stay at home dad
Result: fans and teammates are shocked, hilarity ensues. I think there is an entire sub-category of comedies dedicated to macho men trying to raise babies: “Three Men and a Baby,” “Kindergarten Cop,” Vin Deisel’s “The Babysitter”
Scenario 2: star athlete reveals a secret love of ballet/opera etc, or, more specifically, hockey player reveals a secret love of figure skating
Result: his mates initially ostracize him but end up being impressed with is skills. This is loosely the real plot line of “The Cutting Edge”, a cheesy 90s romantic comedy.
Scenario 3: playboy falls in love
Result: “Crazy, Stupid Love”and a million other romantic comedies premised on the macho main character ‘softening’ as his goofy sidekick ‘hardens’ up- the result is that both find true love.
Scenario 4: Rugged cowboy comes out of the closet
Result: you see where I’m going here.

So what’s the take home message? Romantic comedies could not exist without very specific and stereotypical ideas about masculinity (and femininity). We tend to over-examine the representation of women in popular culture (for good reason) but are less apt at looking at how the construction and unraveling of masculinity is key to almost any Rom Com script. Never mind the fact that there is almost always a great example of complicit masculinity- those characters that do not fit the stereotype of hegemonic masculinity but who benefit from the power structures associated with the identity. Think “Pretty Woman”, where a hardened CEO softens under the spell of employee while his jerk of a partner grapples with the situation. Go on, think of your favorite Rom Coms and spot the hegemonic masculinity/complicit masculinity at play. Have fun.


When Political Scientists Do Not Understand Political Science

[cross-posted at SSSpew]

When Political Scientists Do Not Understand Political Science …. they get published in the New York Times.

I tried, I really tried, to ignore the screed at the NYT against political science (especially of the quant variety), but Jacqueline Stevens’s rant is such a poor effort that I know it will be widely read and influential.  Why?  Because bad ideas often spread further and faster than good ones (see Clash of Civilizations).

There are so many things wrong with this piece that it is hard to know where to start.  First, I am , of course, much of what this women hates about political science.  I have actually worked not just with Department of Defense dollars but actually in the Pentagon and, dare I say it?, liked it.  I have taken National Science Foundation [NSF] money–about $4,000.  I have used …. data!

Ok, with that disclaimer aside, I guess the only way to address this piece is to go through it from the top..  Otherwise, I might write something as incoherent as Stevens’s piece.  Ok, one more disclaimer, I am mighty miffed to see a left-wing political scientist end up being a fellow traveler with the right-wing ones that are trying to de-fund NSF’s political science program.  I don’t know this person as her work is in political theory, a subfield that I do not know well.

Stevens argues that “it’s an open secret” that the creation of “contrived data sets” has failed to produce “accurate political predictions.”  Oh, really?  Yes, anyone creating a data set understands that coding political behavior means making assessments and assumptions.  But any other methodology that seeks to generalize about politics also has to make assessments and assumptions.  So, quantitative work will vary, just as qualitative work will, in how well they are performed.  Yes, there are alternatives to using the past in either slices of numbers or in case studies, such as experiments and surveys and game theory–but they will have the same problems.  So, either we go ahead and try to test our hypotheses and figure out whether there are generalizable dynamics or we don’t.  If we don’t, then we don’t need federal grant money or any funding, as we can just think and write without doing the hard work of gathering data via coding or via interviews or whatever.

The second problem with this sentence is this: most of us do not aspire to provide accurate predictions of single events.  Most of us seek to understand the causes of outcomes, which leads us t be able to predict that y is more likely or perhaps only possible if x is present (which she ultimately condemns in her conclusion).  This can lead to predictions.  Indeed, having more understanding should allow us to develop expectations.  Having less understanding or no understanding is probably not the pathway to predicting anything.

Ok, let’s go to the examples.  First–the end of the cold war.  Oy.  Yes, we didn’t have too many scholars predicting the Soviet Union would fall apart.  There are a lot of reasons for this including a status quo bias where our theories have often tended to predict continuity and not change.  Second, our work is not designed to produce predictions of when a country fails apart.  Third, the accusation that International Relations failed misses the target as the Soviet Union collapsed due to domestic political processes with external forces filtered through these domestic dynamics.  Sure, that just shifts the target from IR to Comparativists, but I would also say that our understanding of how authoritarianism works has always been behind democracy.  Data limitations, for one, made it hard to figure out.  Also, much of our work is based on how institutions work, but institutions tend to be less binding where rule of law is absent.  Fourth, there were lots of elements to the end of the Soviet Union that we did understand pretty well, such as ethnic identity can generate conflict.

The really funny thing about Nancy Reagan’s astrologer is that we don’t know what she said, so we cannot evaluate her predictions.

Stevens goes on to say that political science didn’t get how Al Qaeda changed global politics and that we didn’t get Arab Spring.  Um, I guess Stevens doesn’t read much stuff, as there was plenty of work out there on globalization, including of violence, that would alter the conduct of international relations–written before 9/11.  On Arab Spring, no, folks didn’t predict Egypt’s fall, but plenty of NSF funded research on dissent and repression can make sense of what happened including that democracy only seems to have flowered in one spot.  Again, we, aside from a few, do not say x will happen in 2011.

The op-ed then goes onto to say that our errors are caused by adopting the priorities of government by sucking up for money from DoD and elsewhere.  Please.  Yes, we are fad-driven–that we shift some of our attention based on what will get us money–security issues in the 1960’s, oil and interdependence in the 1970s; security during the resurgence of the Cold War in the early 1980’s; the European Union in the late 1980’s; ethnic conflict in the aftermath of the Cold war; terrorism and then counter-insurgency in the 2000’s.  So, yes, some of the field and some of the funding does shift–but those are shifts in topics, not so much in what our answers are.  That is, some of us will shift our research to study that which the public wants to know more about (the government is a public institution, right?), but we in general do not shift our answers or game the models to give answers that we think folks will want.  More importantly, isn’t this point a contradiction for Stevens?  She starts off by saying that our work does not provide for the public good because we cannot predict but then questions why we might be asking questions to which the public might want answers?

The next paragraph shows how little Stevens understands quantitative political science or modern political science in general, as she cites  a few articles with which I am most familiar.  Fearon and Laitin’s (F&L) piece has faced much criticism, including by me, arguing that ethnic grievances matter less and civil wars mostly result from weak states. 

First, to be clear, their model does, ahem, predict which countries will have civil wars pretty well–in general, not specific ones at specific times.  Second, arguing that subsequent work disagrees with F&L is not a condemnation of political SCIENCE but misses the point, as science of any kind requires a give and take.  Every prominent piece of work that is published is not venerated, does not settle the question.  The Cederman, Weidmann, Gleditsch [CWG] piece (which I happened to review for the APSR) is an advancement precisely because it was inspired by the F&L article.  Fearon and Laitin made others think harder and have to provide evidence to make their cases better than if no one had written that piece or if it was not based on some hunk of evidence based on reality.  The really amusing thing is that CWG make their case using … data.  They coded inequalities and made assumptions about what their indicators measured to argue that ethnic grievances do matter.  CWG did rely on heaps of public funding (European, I think, and some NSF) to collect a heap of data to test assertions about various factors and which ones are associated with a higher probability of violence.  It is not a perfect piece, but it causes us to have to re-think the conventional wisdom.

The point here is THIS IS HOW SCIENCE WORKS.  If you want to make general claims (which you must if you want to make any kind of prediction), you need to develop a set of hypotheses based on your logics and considering how others have addressed the question, you need then to develop some sort of test to see if the various hypotheses are reflected in the real world, and then you assess what you found.  The process is part of an ongoing social engagement with other folks studying the same stuff–which means arguing.

The slam she adds is that our conclusions about grievances could be found in the NYT.  Lovely, yes, because everything published in newspapers is right, including this piece?  Um, HA!

Stevens then cites Tetlock’s work on experts, saying that we don’t do better than chimps throwing darts.  Actually, the line she writes is chips and darts “would have done almost as well as the experts.”  Oh, so we actually do make predictions that are better than random.  That is good, right?  Even if we are not perfect? [I have not read Tetlock’s work so I cannot speak to it directly but others can and have.]

Government can and should assist political scienitsts, especially those who use history and theory to explain shifting contexts, challenge our intuitions and help us see beyond daily newspaper headlines.

Um, isn’t that what Fearon and Laitin did?  That they pointed out that state weakness is problematic, perhaps more so than ethnic grievances?  Didn’t this explain the challenges we face today given the number of weak states in the world?  Didn’t it challenge our intuitions by suggesting that it is not just about ethnic hatreds (oh, and yes, if we want to talk about crap in the newspapers, let’s start with ancient hatreds)?  Isn’t state weakness not something that appears in most newspapers?  Fearon and Laitin were not entirely right, but they were not entirely wrong either.

She writes that, “Research aimed at political prediction is doomed to fail.  At least if the idea is to predict more accurately than a dart-throwing chimp.” Does she read her own stuff?  She said that chimps throwing darts did “almost as well as the experts.”  So, the advantage still goes to the experts. What is better? A lack of expertise?

She concludes by saying that NSF money should be allocated by lottery.  Anyone with a PhD and a “defensible” budget could apply.  This is utterly ridiculous.  How about we then have lotteries for who gets their articles into the prestigious journals and books into the prestigious presses?  After all, if having review processes taint who gets money, won’t it taint who gets published?  Of course, we had that debate in the 1990s–perestroika it was called.  An effort to rebuild political science to do away with the hegemony of quantitative analyses.  That is Stevens’s goal: witness her last sentence which is not about point prediction at all: “I look forward to seeing what happens to my discipline and politics more generally once we stop mistaking probability studies and statistical significance for knowledge.”  Aha!  See, this was not about predicting stuff, it was about quantitative work.  Her animus is not really about failing to predict the end of the cold war–which qualitative analysts also did not predict.  Her target is, despite the token lines in the conclusion about getting some data, quantitative work.

What upsets me she that she condemns political science in general and lines up with those who are ideologically motivated to de-fund political science (because it does bad things like study accountability).  But the NYT would not publish a piece if it said “I was on the losing side of a battle ten years ago to re-structure political science because I don’t like quantitative work.”

The funny thing is that these folks did win in a way–mixed methods is the way of the 21st century–methodological pluralism is the dominant path.  You use the methods that work the best to answer your questions–at least in IR and Comparative.  In American Politics, quant work is still pretty hegemonic, I guess.

Anyhow, the point is that Stevens does not understand contemporary political science, which makes here a mighty poor advocate for her position.  I guess if political science is being attacked from the far right and from the far left, it must be doing something right.

[For more and better takes on this, see pieces elsewhere, including here and  here.]


Open Access and IR Journals

Some time ago Thomas Rid had an amazing post arguing for an open-access revolution in our field. I won’t repeat the arguments here; you can read them for yourself. The open-access movement is showing signs of momentum. Indeed, at BISA/ISA in Edinburgh, a number of people agitated for open access for the Review of International Studies (RIS) at its relaunch event.

It seems that there are very few significant IR journals in a position to go open access. The obvious candidates would be journals associated with professional associations — in addition to RIS, that would include the International Studies Association journals, the European Journal of International Relations, and some others. But at least BISA and SGIR (soon to be EISA) use the revenue from the journals to support their activities. That leaves the independent foundation journals, such as International Organization, as the most likely candidates for moving to open access.

Open-access journals sustain themselves through some combination of subsidy and pay-for-publication. In essence, authors provide a fee upon acceptance if they want their articles to appear “in print.”It took PLoS — probably the most famous member of the open-access family — a number of years for revenues to exceed costs. I can imagine a lot of IR scholars recoiling at paying such a fee. The math suggests that their institutions (if they are associated with one) should be happy to fork over the money, as doing so is cheaper than subscribing to journals. But right now, at least, institutions already pay for standard IR journals, so the open-access journals represent an additional fee. This isn’t an issue if the institution is Harvard University, but it might be for smaller places — particularly if the fee comes out of cash-strapped Departmental coffers rather than scientific grants.
The graphic comes from the Chronicle of Higher Education, which, in 201, reported on a study highlighting the two biggest hurdles to open access:

A new survey of nearly 40,000 scholars across the natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences shows that almost 90 percent of them believe open-access journals are good for the research community and the individual researcher. But charges for publishing and the perception that open-access journals are of lower quality than traditional publications deter scholars from the open-access route, according to the Study of Open Access Publishing report, by an international team of researchers.

These concerns are likely to be a particular problem in IR. The aforementioned factors suggest that most open-access journals will be both digital-only and new. Given the field’s elitism concerning “journal hierarchy,” and its general conservatism when it comes to all things smacking of “web 2.0”, those are both significant barriers to success. I think it would be very difficult to ask IR scholars to pay-for-publication in an unranked, digital-only journal. While everyone knows this is the future, it isn’t clear how we will get there.

This reticence comes despite the fact that, if mid-tier blogs such as the Duck of Minerva are any indication, more people will read a given piece in an open-access digital journal than a typical one in a top-tier — let alone a second-tier — traditional journal.* Thomas Rid got access to the raw Taylor and Francis “most read”numbers and this is what he found:

These are, as Thomas notes, crude indicators. And blog posts are, in general, shorter and more accessible than academic articles. Still, they point to the advantages of ungated academic work, particularly if presented in the right way. It would be interesting to know the readership of the papers at e-ir, which might provide a better comparison.

Indeed, a few months ago PTJ and I had some discussions about starting a journal using a “non-traditional” model. We estimated our barebones costs at about ~$25k to pay for a graduate-student assistant, plus some unspecified amount to handle incidentals. Startup costs would probably run between $5-7K, and it would be best to have some money to subsidize undergraduate interns to help keep the technical side running. All of this assumes a journal that is, in essence, a labor of love. No money for course releases, travel and promotion, and all that other stuff. 

One idea was to publish volumes as e-books for .99$, but the economics don’t work and you wind up with a cheap, but still gated, product. The pay-for-play model would impose prohibitively expensive costs on authors, particularly in the context of a startup. And, of course, we both think that there are too many journals in the field already.

So the question remains: how to finance this kind of endeavor?

Still, there’s a certain attraction to the model.

An online open-access journal could firmly break with the tyranny of the quarterly volume. No more “online first” as an orphan, uncertain category. The editors simply need to keep the standards of the journal high — as reflected in quality and acceptance rate — and they can publish pieces whenever they are accepted and processed. Volume numbers would persist, but as temporal markers for the purpose of citation rather than as bundled artifacts.

Because the content would be ungated, it would be even easier to integrate the journal into a blogging and social-media environment than it would be for a traditional publication. One could build an intellectual community and ensure repeat visitors — and with them, greater likelihood that articles would be read and cited.

But, even if we could somehow come up with the funds, the experiment strikes me as pretty high risk. We would need to convince some high-profile scholars to provide quality pieces — ones good enough to survive rigorous peer review — to legitimize the endeavor. We’d need to convince reviewers to take it seriously. And there are a lot of other institutional barriers.

I guess what I’m talking about is, in essence, a Duck of Minerva journal, but (probably) with a less whimsical name. I wonder what our readers think of that?

*As I discovered while putting together a proposal for wrapping a journal in a webzine (see here for an example of poor implementation of a good idea) an undercount of the most-viewed pages at the Duck outdistances the download figures for the most-read piece at the American Political Science Review. And, as I alluded to earlier, neither KoW or the Duck are in the same league as Crooked Timber, The Monkey Cage, Steve Walt, Dan Drezner, or any number of higher-profile blogs. By the way, if any journal editors out there are interested in bringing me on to spearhead a web strategy likely to (among other things) increase your impact factor, contact me. 


Being realistic about (academic) realism

At the BISA/ISA panel on pluralism Jennifer Sterling-Folker stressed that realism is not the “dominant paradigm” of North American international-relations scholarship. Instead, she argued, neoliberal institutionalism rules the roost. How do we know this? Among other reasons, neoliberal institutionalists don’t spend a lot of time on ‘big theory’ — on thinking about the scientific ontology of world politics. They take their worldview for granted, and seek mainly to elaborate and test middle-range (explanatory) theory. It only looks like realism is dominant because realists control one very prominent journal — International Security — as well as the less prominent Security Studies.

I consider this line of reasoning about half right. Sterling-Folker is right to stress the comparatively weak position of realism in the field. Although control of one of the most influential journals — and one of the few read outside academia — doesn’t exactly render an approach marginal, realism simply doesn’t enjoy the academic dominance many Europeans think it does. Indeed, when I review and read European articles, I often see criticisms of some sort of strange realist-rationalist chimera, in which “realism” and “rationalism” are taken to be synonymous. I suppose one could trace this analytical mess to Richard Ashley’s famous criticism of neo-realism (read, Waltz’s structural realism) for abandoning the putatively richer tradition of classical realism.

Regardless, it does not really exist. A great many realists are soft-rationalists — insofar as they explain state behavior via fairly primitive cost-benefit calculations — but the real force behind rationalism are the embedded liberal assumptions in a great deal of IR theory, whether “bargaining theories of war” and their progeny or “open economy” politics approaches to International Political Economy (IPE). If one’s favorite target is “rationalism,” one needs to get this straight.

But Sterling-Folker gets the other part wrong: neoliberal institutionalism isn’t where the action is.* Open IPE has much more in common with Moravcsik’s version of liberalism than Keohane’s. Rational institutionalism, itself part of open-economy IPE — has a close family resemblance to neoliberal institutionalism, but it isn’t the same thing.

If there’s a lesson in all this, it is that we need better maps of the field. The ones we work with are ridiculously outdated.

*David Lake’s relational-contracting approach to hierarchy formation is, as Paul MacDonald (I think) once pointed out, is the closest thing we have to a contemporary incarnation of neoliberal institututionalism.


“Having it all” and a (non-essentialist) feminist politics

Anne-Marie Slaughter’s recent Atlantic article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” has stirred up a fair amount of controversy in the last couple of days. Dozens of my Facebook friends have posted and reposted it, and it has prompted many of them to reflect on their personal experiences with womanhood, femininity, parenting, and/or motherhood. Several students have asked me about the article and my opinions on it, and it seems to be stirring up debate and discussion wherever read. To me, that’s the mark of a good article – that it inspires contemplation and argument. On top of that, Slaughter’s article seems heartfelt and honest, even though the author is aware of the risks and pitfalls of the strategy that she takes. While I don’t agree with everything in the article, there’s a lot of important stuff there, and I think it absolutely needed to be published.

Under a different title, minus the sex essentialism.

An important starting point and an important caveat: as a feminist, politically and academically, it is crucially important to me to recognize that gender inequity remains a fact of life in our society, and that said inequity manifests often in terms of the burdens of child care, the stereotypical assumptions that are made about the relationship between women and motherhood, the work habits and capacity of mothers, and other factors. Sex discrimination/sexism, pregnancy discrimination, heterosexism, and cissexism are very real – and, as Slaughter points out, are constantly present in (women’s) negotiating work/life balance issues. I see the right to reproduce as every bit as important as the right to reproductive control. Intellectually and politically, I believe a society where the joys and burdens of parenthood are enjoyable by all who would like them and not distributed sex-differentially is a crucial part of the feminist vision (and mine). And, like Slaughter, I realize that such a society is complicated, difficult, demanding, and at times almost impossible to imagine. In my view, motherhood is indisputably a key feminist issue, and it is important to realize both how much progress has been made and how far from sex-equal parenting (and sex-equal treatment of parents in the workplace) we really are.

That said, the idea that motherhood is a key feminist issue and the idea that motherhood is a key part of femininity are different, but conflated often, and not only in Slaughter’s article. Certainly, restructuring  society such that women can make the choice to be mothers and not both be expected to bear a disproportionate part of the personal and professional costs and suffer discrimination is crucially important to ending gender subordination. But so is restructuring society to deconstruct the assumed relationship between women and motherhood, where it isn’t assumed women have to have (and succeed at) motherhood to “have it all” …

My personal reaction to Slaughter’s article was different than that of many of my friends who are parents. Many of my friends are parents, and many of them are amazing parents who have sacrificed a significant amount to be there for their children. I respect that as a life choice immensely, and say that with the upmost seriousness. That said, it is a life choice I would never even consider making. I have never had any desire to be a parent, and know myself well enough to know that I never will. I do have a sense of what my life would look like if I “had it all” – but that sense does not include, and will never include, having children or being a good parent. I do experience the impacts of gendered, sexist, and heterosexist assumptions both in life generally and in terms of “work-life balance” (a term I also don’t like), but not in the area of parenting.

This puts me in an odd position vis a vis the traditional association of women and motherhood and the feminist defense of the rights of mothers, personally and professionally. That’s in part because I can’t identify with (and can’t imagine) the struggles many women go through to parent, and therefore have a lot of respect for it. But its in part because there’s this creepy feeling in my stomach every time someone equates “having it all” with parenting, or suggests that “women” need particular things related to parenting or parental leave or parental accommodations. Though I’m supportive of parenting, and especially of removing a disproportionate amount of the burden of parenting from women, statements like that imply that women (should and do) want to parent, and that there’s something wrong with (me as) a “woman” who does not want to parent, and who has different needs and desires.

Many would say that I’m just reading that implication into these statements, which sound but might not be sex essentialist, especially given that many of them are uttered by feminists, and many feminists make the choice to be parents and navigate complicated relationships at home and at work to do so. But I’ve heard the non-implied version of those statements behind closed doors so many times that I’m sure of the implication of the “public consumption” version. I can’t tell you how many times someone has told me, in personal and professional contexts, that I will “change my mind,” that my “biological clock” will start “ticking,” that I should “meet a nice gentleman” (a tip I received on my tenure case, oddly enough), that “children are a part of being whole,” and that I “don’t have to sacrifice a family for my career” (by those who incorrectly assume that is what my choice is about). All of those assumptions – that all women want to have children, that it is a natural part of femininity, that children are essential to “having a family,” and that the choice not to have children is about a career (rather than about life, and all of the other things it is about to me) – are commonplace, even among scholars, and even among many feminist scholars.

Those assumptions are every bit as gendered as the assumptions that we traditionally critique as gender-subordinating, and they are linked. Until we disassociate “having it all” as a “woman” and motherhood, women will be expected to do a majority of care work and will be treated differently personally and professionally for it. Some women (and some men, and some people that are neither) can and should be mothers. But I’m not one of them – I don’t identify with parenthood and feel even more distant from the idea of motherhood. My existence personally lets me know that such people exist intellectually – that any association of women and motherhood isn’t fundamental, and that one can be a “woman” without any desire for or interest in “motherhood.”

Under a different title and with a different underlying assumptions, Slaughter’s article is crucially important. After all, as one of my Facebook friends (someone I knew well in high school) notes: “a new parent – it’s hard as hell to juggle a career and my daughter. The pursuit of gender equality should teach us, in my non-professional opinion, that women should be free to pursue a fulfilling life, whether or not children are included. But damn, Laura, there’s a stigma attached to having kids, too. Trust me.”And I’m not denying that – it is inscribed on the daily lives of most, if not all, mothers.

But its not unrelated to the assumption that “having it all” includes having children – in fact, they are one in the same – sexist assumptions about what women are and what women should be. Though they affect “women” who choose very different life paths, the discomfort that my friend feels struggling to juggle a career and child, the discomfort that I feel defending my lack of interest in parenting stem from the same assumption, and the discomfort that Anne-Marie Slaughter describes in making and defending the decision to spend more time with her family stem from the same fundamental problem: that the sense of what women are and should be is tied to a particular notion of motherhood. To the extent that Slaughter’s article, in assuming that “having it all” and parenting are fundamentally linked more generally than for her, entrenches that assumption, it is counterproductive to its own goal of making visible and quelling gender subordination. Were it able to get past that assumption, it would be a crucial part of a non-essentialist feminist politics.

PS – thanks to my fellow Ducks for allowing my return after a year’s sabbatical from blogging …


Stuff Political Scientists Like #16 — Summer Break

Political scientists love summer break. They do not sail, as they have no money for a boat. They do not sun bathe, as they would burn outdoors. Spending time with children is not high on the priority list, at least for male political scientists, who generally use their paternity leave as a sabbatical to finish a book. And it is well known that political scientists are all deathly afraid of kites. No, political scientists love summer break for the exact opposite reason as everyone else. They get to work. 
Political scientists like to “get stuff out.” This means to send out their articles and books for anonymous review by peers, not that they are constipated or have to clean out the garage, which is normally what non-political scientists think when they hear political scientists talk. Political scientists should really be more careful with their language. “Getting stuff out” is important because the median time between the inception of an idea and its publication in print for a political science article is 12.5 years. Books come in at 18. This is why there is so much pressure on political science graduate students. They are up for tenure. 
That political scientists love to work in the summer generally comes as a surprise to non-political scientists who assume that like other teachers, political scientists become political scientists so they can have summers off. This is a familiar refrain for political scientists at home with their families during the holidays. They try in vain to explain that they love to write and that they never have enough time to do so. Their relatives, remembering how painful it was to write 15 page papers in college, aren’t fucking buying it. Who wouldn’t want to work for only six months a year with good benefits and no chance of getting fired?  
“Getting stuff out” during the school year is made most difficult by professors’ biggest chore – teaching. Professors sometimes spend up to eight hours a week in the classroom. And they are expected to create new classes at least once a decade. Their office door must remain open for two hours a week, in case anyone stops in to ask a question, and the noise from the hallway is very distracting. Bell tower chimes are noisy. And those papers don’t grade themselves. Graduate students have to be given an answer key. And that takes time to create. Plus the traffic to work at 11am is brutal, just brutal. Bloomington is so congested these days. But in the summer, political scientists have none of these obligations and are free to let their hair down and just be themselves – the really uptight antisocial narcissists that they are. 
Most of political scientists’ summer is spent on their “APSA paper,” the one they committed to writing eight months prior for the annual political science convention, which marks the official end of summer vacation. Political scientists make such promises way in advance in order to force themselves to write, which might seem strange to non-political scientists. You might ask, didn’t you just finish saying that political scientists love to write? Yes, but political scientists find it difficult during the summer when they have no structure. They can get up anytime they want. There are no deadlines or traffic to contend with. How can one be disciplined with so much free time? There are all those back issues of the New Yorker and the Nation that have piled up. Without being surrounded by like-minded colleagues for a few months, how will one reinforce what one already thinks? Those beliefs don’t just bolster themselves.

As they sheepishly present their APSA “paper,” which generally resembles their sister-in-law’s high school term paper, sometimes even reaching 15 pages, political scientists promise themselves that the coming school year will be good for them. It will encourage them to use their time more wisely. And in another eight years or so, fingers crossed, that paper will be a pretty good publication.


IR, Policymakers, and the Gender Balance

I’m pretty sure this is a Soviet poster for International Women’s Day.

Are IR scholars relevant to policy? IR scholar and famous policymaker Anne-Marie Slaughter addresses that puzzle, which principally concerns only IR scholars, in a roundabout way in a new article in The Atlantic asking whether women can “have it all”–a puzzle that concerns a great many more people. She also addresses these concerns in a follow-up Q&A on The New York Times Web site.

I mention this because although I am not demographically directly interested (being neither a woman, nor a parent, nor, for that matter, employed) I am of course keenly aware of these tradeoffs, or as keenly aware as anyone at second-hand can be. Slaughter’s answer–which is a pretty unequivocal “no”–strikes me as being, at least, honest, and her trepidation in broaching the topic given her feeling seems sincere as well.

What I particularly appreciate is her diagnosis that academia is the friendliest, or at least among the friendlier, industries for women to balance “work” and “life.” (I hate the phrase “work-life balance,” though; I see work as an important part of my life, not an interruption of it.) And yet …

And yet, now I’m going to ramble a bit.

There is a creeping sense, occasionally publicly broached by commentators like Matt Yglesias (see Tim Burke here), that academia is too comfortable, too cosseted, and altogether too flexible–that we must all begin to work like Stakhanovites to fulfill our quotas of instruction and research at lower wages and with less well prepared students.

As U.S. society is being changed by, in no particular order, the AI revolution, the imposition of austerity, and the polarization of politics, it strikes me that we–and here I mean good liberals–don’t have a good sense anymore of how to address concerns like Slaughter’s in the context of change. Feminist demands were fairly easily accommodated in a distributional politics setting (not to devalue activism! I mean in comparison to accommodating peasants’ demands in the French Revolution). But the contemporary erosion of settled institutions suggests that the sort of full-throated defense and advocacy of particular points of view that characterized the 1960s and 1970s will come back in vogue–but, this time, as outcomes become more zero-sum, compromises grow less likely.

That’s a pessimistic conclusion, since it points to a future where there is less and less space for creating the kind of lifestyle that we’ve come to accept, even to define, as “middle class.” But there is no law of social science that requires the future to be like the present, only more so. In fact, it is very nearly the opposite.

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