The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

The Minerva Project: Time for a Disciplinary Appraisal?

January 30, 2013

MinervaA little over four years ago the U.S. Department of Defense issued its first Minerva grants. These often substantial awards have produced a significant number of publications by some of the “best and brightest” (including long-term Duck of Minerva guest blogger Josh Busby) in the field and, whether directly or indirectly, shaped the nature of (at least) contemporary security studies. But it seems to me that we haven’t had anything resembling a robust discussion about consequent costs and benefits to political science, international relations, and security studies.

A brief search online doesn’t turn up much. Sean Kay has a piece in Defense Horizons that praises the program. An older news-style piece in Science by Jeffrey Mervis suggests both why the discussion matters (“That type of funding is on a scale most social scientists have only dreamed about”) and why it might be difficult to have. There’s–and I almost hate to say this–predictable nastiness about the whole thing from some anthropologists. But other than that….

At some level, this is hardly surprising. As Ido Oren documents, political science has long been inflected by various financial carrots and sticks, as well as ideological forces from within and without. The apparatus of comparative politics owes a great deal to the Cold War funding priorities of the U.S. Government. The National Science Foundation has played an enormous role in shaping U.S. political science into its current methodological form. But I can’t recall anything resembling a recent-ish large-scale conversation about the historically and socially contingent character of the field–ranging from what it studies to its allocation of symbolic, cultural, and financial capital–let alone one that focuses on the role of external funding.

Given that the Minerva Initiative–and cognate projects–may be exercising something akin to gravitational pull within (at least) security studies, it seems like the time is ripe for such a discussion. But I’m not at all sure what to make of the key issues, whether  the scope and nature of the effects on the field or the normative implications of these effects.

I’m wondering if our readers have any thoughts, or places where the debate is taking place.

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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.