The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Another Virtue of Blogsphere Engagement?

January 15, 2013

PM’s latest post, “Nobody cares about foreign policy” (note to self: we need a style manual to resolve whether, for example, post titles should be capitalized), was prompted by a proseminar we both attended on Monday.

At this proseminar, the always-interesting and invariably thoughtful Elizabeth Saunders presented part of her book project: a paper entitled “The Electoral Disconnection in US Foreign Policy.”

Among other things, Saunders argues that theories of “democratic international relations” — particularly those surrounding audience costs — need to incorporate a central insight from the last fifty years of American politics research: that most voters are “low information”* when it comes to many things political–and especially international affairs.** It follows, therefore, that elites who provide “cues” to the voting public in general, partisans, ethnic groups, etc. often operate as key intermediaries in the relationship between foreign policy and electoral pressures.

You should definitely read the paper, but that isn’t the point of this post.

Saunders spent a lot of time walking us through arguments about low-information voters, partisan cueing, and various aspects of contemporary theories of political behavior. During the Q&A period, I asked her, basically, “why are you spending all this time telling us things we already know when you could be using that to further elaborate the implications for international-relations theory?” She responded that, in essence, when she presents the paper, “about half the time” she gets “that reaction”; “the other half of the time people are surprised.”

My reaction to this was, more or less, how could anyone working in political science in 2013 not know this stuff? I don’t mean know it well — I certainly don’t know a lot of the relevant literature or the intricacies of key debates — but rather: know the basic contours at all. And after the last few Presidential campaigns? I suspect most readers of this post will have the same reaction.

But then it occurred to me that maybe this is “old news” to me because I spend  too much a fair amount of time in the ‘greater political blogsphere’ (i.e., the milieu of academic, politics, policy, and partisan blogs… as well as the social-media networks they intersect with). One of the virtues of doing so, as I’ve suggested before, is it forces you to read outside of your silo — whether that silo is your research arena, your methodological community, your subfield, or even your discipline.

Social media: amongst our chief weapons against the total fractionalization of political science?


*Or, as Amy Gershkoff more accurately puts it, “information specialists” in things other than inside-the-beltway political concerns.
**Of course, high-information voters tend to be partisans.

website | + posts

Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.