The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

The New Political Science Game

August 27, 2012

As the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association may face cancellation due to Hurricane Isaac, there is only one thing to do: wildly speculate how APSAHungerGames would play out in 2012.*  Spawned on twitter by @whinecough, an ABD (all but dissertation) on the job market, the idea is that in a hurricane-swept New Orleans, the APSA convention-goers must compete to survive.

* We honestly hope that all folks make it to and from New Orleans with the smallest amount of tribulations as we violate the classic comedic equation of pain plus time = funny.

The best line of the night, but the most inside baseball might be this one:

#APSA2012HungerGames Short break in carnage so everyone can agree that Thomas Friedman has no idea what he’s talking about.
— W. K. Winecoff (@whinecough) August 27, 2012


Ken Waltz thinks #APSA2012HungerGames wld be more peaceful if we gave *everyone* poison darts.
— W. K. Winecoff (@whinecough) August 27, 2012

While some would think the Neo-Realists would do well, since they focus on security or power (depending on the time of day), they might get distracted by blaming some heretofore ignored domestic actor for the policy failures.

Much of the money by the “sharps” in Vegas moved to favor the comparativists who have fieldwork experience and study contentious politics.  Will Reno, with much experience hanging out with warlords, working in places like Somalia, and known to have the biggest biceps in the profession, is currently the favorite at 4 to 1. But he does have some challenges as there is a whole new generation of hip kids who not only study insurgency and have done fieldwork in Afghanistan, but also have survived the worst academic job market in history.  And they do not lack confidence:

@texasinafrica @danatgu @smsaideman I have 2 kids under 2.5 years so I’ve been training for #APSA2012HungerGames for years. Reno is mine.
— Jason Lyall (@jaylyall_red5) August 27, 2012

The longest odds? Post-materialists.  They will find that in the Hunger Games that it is not so much the intersubjective meanings applied to arrows and bullets but the accuracy and power of the weapons launching them.  Blood may have all kinds of symbolism, but when it drains out of a post-modernist, the logic of consequences will dominate the logic of appropriateness.

Alas, the formal theorists will be killed first.  Why? Because they will have very difficult time getting their LaTex to work in all of the rain and wind.  Plus they will find that working on complicated appendixes is a dangerous distraction.

I am not going to the conference, so I can only grieve the losses and then participate in the next twenty years of study, where we fight about:

  • whether the games being played were chicken, stag hunt, prisoners’ dilemma, or deadlock;
  • whether the actors were pursuing relative or absolute gains;
  • whether the rational actor assumption is useful or appropriate (the Phil Arena fixation);
  • which element pop culture best describes the games, and, yes, many will argue against the conventional wisdom that the Hungar Games books best apply.  Indeed, Drezner-ites will insist that Zombie movies and books provide the most insights into APSAHungerGames 2012.  Somehow, Charli Carpenter will blame The Machines instead.
  • the scholars of civil war will debate about whether the Hunger really mattered, as grievances are over-rated. 

So, the bad news is that the profession may lose some of its best and its brightest in #APSA2012HungerGames.  On the bright side, the next job market might be a bit better and there will be new cottage industries of scholarship.

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Steve Saideman is Professor and the Paterson Chair in International Affairs at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. He has written The Ties That Divide: Ethnic Politics, Foreign Policy and International Conflict; For Kin or Country: Xenophobia, Nationalism and War (with R. William Ayres); and NATO in Afghanistan: Fighting Together, Fighting Alone (with David Auerswald), and elsewhere on nationalism, ethnic conflict, civil war, and civil-military relations.