The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

International Relations Fetish on the Rise

January 9, 2013

The Canard

“All the fake news that fit to print”


A new report issued Tuesday by the American Political Science Association reveals that compared to their counterparts in American politics, comparative politics and political theory, international relations scholars are twenty times likelier to have a belly button fetish. “There is an epidemic of navel-gazing among today’s great experts in foreign affairs and something must navel gazingbe done,” said Jane Mansbridge, Harvard University professor and President of APSA.

The news comes amid the newest surge in button-peeping, a hot new spread published by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer in the European Journal of International Relations lamenting the current state of international relations research. The piece has produced fevered introspection and self-analysis on professional blogs, not only in the fetid quarters of reprobates such as Political Science Job Rumors but even on esteemed sites such as the Duck of Minerva. “This is a mainstream problem,” declared Mansbridge. “This is not back alley. It is Main Street. People are doing this in the light of day without internet handles. It is perverse.” The most recent spike in umbilical-gandering was just a few months ago with the publication of the results of the 2011 Teaching, Research and International Policy survey.

APSA is under pressure from influential caucuses in the subdiscipline, most importantly Midwestern-based advocates of a return to wholesome, normal science that have always taken a hard line against navel-gazing. Reached for comment, one of the leaders of this faction, the head of the Peace Science Association D. Marc Kilgour, said, “International relations research needs rigor and rules. Only numbers will protect us from this contamination and abomination.”

It remains unclear, however, what measures APSA might have at its disposal to crack down on navel-gazing in international relations as the European Journal of International Relations is not published on American soil. While prominent American journals of international relations like International Organization and International Security have become more upscale in recent years, jettisoning the book reviews and theoretical inspections that are candy to navel-gazers, a vibrant offshore market still persists in Europe for those with a kinkier side. The advent of the internet, a series of tubes that carries information rapidly to American shores, has exacerbated the problem of navel-gazing. Where once international relations scholars had to stash dog-eared copies of self-introspection under their mattresses, they can now access them 24/7 on their IPad.

Still many deny there is a problem at all. Experts in international relations scholars attribute the intense fixation on one’s own navel as a natural stage for a subdiscipline in its adolescence. Etel Solingen, President of the International Studies Association, describes the field’s exploration of its own corpus of work as “perfectly natural” and stresses that despite myths to the contrary, it “will not cause blindness.” In time, she guesses, the field will “turn its attention outward for stimulation on topics such as what to do about Assad’s use of chemical weapons.”

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Rathbun is a professor of International Relations at USC. Brian Rathbun received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley in 2002 and has taught at USC since 2008. He has written four solo-authored books, on humanitarian intervention, multilateral institution building, diplomacy and rationality. His articles have appeared or are forthcoming in International Organization, International Security, World Politics, International Studies Quartlery, the Journal of Politics, Security Studies, the European Journal of International Relations, International Theory, and the Journal of Conflict Resolution among others. He is the recipient of the 2009 USC Parents Association Teaching and Mentoring Award. In 2019 he will be recognized as a Distinguished Scholar by the Diplomatic Studies Section of the International Studies Association.