Month: June 2013 (Page 1 of 4)

The Society of Individuals

Although I have made many of the points I am about to make in comments posted on Phil’s and Eric’s posts about rational choice theory over the past week, what I want to do at this point is to pull the whole thing together and make clear just why I still maintain that rational choice theory — and indeed, the broader decision-theoretical world of which rational choice theory constitutes just a particular, heavily-mathematized province — endorses and naturalizes a form of selfishness that is ultimately corrosive of human community and detrimental to the very idea of moral action. This is not a social-scientific criticism, and has nothing to do with the explanatory power of decision-theoretic accounts. I am not suggesting that there are empirical phenomena that for some intrinsic reason can’t be accounted for in decision-theoretic terms; indeed, given a sufficiently clever decision theorist, armed with game theory on the one hand and some individual psychology on the other, I think it likely that everything of interest (except, as Phil and I acknowledge, fundamental changes in the constitution of actors themselves — this is his “paintbrush” point) could be explained decision-theoretically.

My point — my plea — is that it shouldn’t be. The “model of man” (sexism in original, and that’s almost certainly important…) at the heart of decision-theoretic accounts begins, as a matter of assumption, with individuals isolated from one another in a deep ontological sense. Such individuals can’t engage in moral action; the best they can do is to act in ways that happen to correspond with moral codes. Such individuals can’t make commitments to one another; the best they can do is associate and interact with one another as long as there are more benefits from doing so than from striking off in another direction. And such individuals can’t actually be members of communities, since their place in any given community is only ever contingent on factors over which they exercise no influence: namely, the strategic environment and their own preferences. Deploying explanatory models and theories that stem from such a notion of the human person, even though this is an ideal-type rather than an actual description or an explicit normative recommendation, reinforces the notion that this is how people are and should be, and that the most they can do is form, in Norbert Elias’ apt phrase, a “society of individuals.” In my view, reducing social outcomes to individual decisions is thus problematic for ethical, rather than explanatory, reasons. Continue reading

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Graduate School After Peace Corps

In 1998, while I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador, I decided to apply for a PhD program in political science. I had no idea what I was doing. Though I had majored in political science at UNC-Chapel Hill, graduating in 1993, I had a limited understanding of the “discipline.” I barely knew what journals were. I had limited access to information about programs, with no access to the internet on a regular basis (I had a dial-up connection once a month or so if I took a two hour bus ride). In the end, two of the four programs I applied to required prior Master’s and I didn’t get in to those (including the one where I now am a professor!). I studied for the GRE’s using a practice book, in between neutering pigs and workshops on cultivating blackberries. When I went to take the exam, it was the first time they had used the on-line computer version, and it was so different! My quantitative score, compared to the practice exam, paled. It was a miracle I got in to Georgetown.

With volunteers and other prospective applicants having access to the internet in even remote locations (I just got an email from my graduate student in East Timor), there is no excuse for that kind of ignorance in this day and age. What can prospective graduate students coming out of the Peace Corps do to prepare themselves? In addition to my scholarly activities, I lead a small NGO called Friends of Ecuador. I know we have a great set of guidance for would-be applicants to PhD programs, but here is a post for returning Peace Corps Volunteers that speaks to applying for graduate school, both for MA and PhD programs.  Continue reading

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Friday Nerd Linkage

obiwan

What can I say? It was a good week in the US for gender minorities. (On the other hand, this new list of “most influential people in armed violence reduction” includes only 25 women.)

In other lighthearted nerd fare, this inspired the scientist in me who must complete the method(ologie)s appendix for my new book on human security issues by 5pm or (spontaneously com)bust.

About that: here is a neglected human security threat I did not think to focus on in my book: mega-solar flares. Earth beware.

Speaking of things cosmic, data streaming back to Earth from Voyager I is changing everything scientists thought they knew about the boundary between the solar system and interstellar space. Also, more Earth-like planets discovered this week. The space junkie in me squeals with veritable delight. Continue reading

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Friday Morning Linkage

sitting ducks

  • Paypal has just launched PayPal Galactic “to figure out what currency can be used and how commerce should be regulated off Earth” once all the space travel and tourism picks up.”  
  • More from MercuryNews.com:  “…serious challenges such as space law — an uncertain legal area still in its infancy — concerns about pollution and the lack of government regulations could slow the commercialization of space, said Jill Tarter, of the SETI Institute.”

And…. Continue reading

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Thursday Climate Change Special Linkage

Aside from some abortion rights Texas senate filibuster coverage, this week’s morning linkage is all about climate change and President Obama’s Tuesday speech at Georgetown University. The announced plan aims to use existing executive branch authority, including the EPA’s ability to regulate pollutants under the Clean Air Act, to initiate measures to control carbon pollution and other greenhouse gases. This move obviates the need for additional legislative action, which isn’t going to happen with this Congress. Beyond the headline announcement for new controls on power plants, the plan has a number of interesting details, particularly related to U.S. international finance and the reduction in support for coal projects around the world.

The general take is, as the FT notes, that this is a modest step in the right direction that reinforces the recent decline in U.S. emissions, down nearly 7% since 2005, driven in part by low natural gas prices, lower economic activity, and renewables. Here are some of the plan’s highlights: Continue reading

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Wednesday Linkage

TrumanYesterday was an exciting day in American politics, featuring legislative time-traveling, a Supreme Court turning back the clock on voting rights, and of course the invalidation of DOMA and the death-by-default of California’s Prop 8.

But I assume you have Facebook and that you already knew all that.

Here’s some items you might have missed:

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Tiwesdæg: the Left-arm of Non-linkage

Collection and promulgation of links today was interrupted by my daughter’s minor sports injury. For all ten of you who care: my apologies. Go read Cherly Rofer’s Edward Snowden timeline. Or about a nearby star “crowded with super-Earths.” Or focus on today’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act. Or about the game that’s stolen my partner. Or something. Just so long as you change your profile image to an equality sign. Cause that will totally impact tomorrow’s decisions.

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Civil-Military Relations– Why A Little Conflict is OK

Robert’s review of The American Culture of War yesterday was both extremely funny and informative.  It also mentioned a problem I’ve seen in a lot of the civil-military relations literature:  too much over-identification with a political leaning or ideology.  This area of scholarship reminds me sometimes of Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men” – if I’m walking around the annual conference of the Inter-University Seminar at Armed Forces and Society without a uniform on, I’m immediately put in a category by some scholars.  That’s unfortunate – understanding the determinants of civil-military relations and its influence on international relations is a really important area of research.  Thankfully, not all scholarship in this area is that way. In the interest of providing an example of research that could serve as a counterpoint to the work outlined in Robert’s review, let me highlight some additional scholarship that my former colleague/advisor/buddy, Dale Herspring[1] and I have done on the subject.[2]

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Welcome Changes in America’s Funemployment Rate

QMAs the Great Slump continues to grind down Western twenty-somethings, some welcome news: America’s funemployment rate is slowing.

Funemployment, as the Los Angeles Times put it, is the trend by which twenty- and thirty-somethings, finding themselves cast aside from their temporary and entry-level jobs, turn instead toward self-improvement.

Of course, this information might be unwelcome: perhaps Generation Y is merely discovering that there’s nothing fun about unemployment. That turn toward bitterness might explain the rising popularity of Old Economy Steve.

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Call for Participants: Interpretive and Relational Research Methodologies

“Interpretive and Relational Research Methodologies”
A One-Day Graduate Student Workshop
Sponsored by the International Studies Association-Northeast Region
9 November, 2013 • Providence, Rhode Island

International Studies has always been interdisciplinary, with scholars drawing on a variety of qualitative and quantitative techniques of data collection and data analysis as they seek to produce knowledge about global politics. Recent debates about epistemology and ontology have advanced the methodological openness of the field, albeit mainly at a meta-theoretical level. And while interest in techniques falling outside of well-established comparative and statistical modes of inference has been sparked, opportunities for scholars to discuss and flesh out the operational requirements of these alternative routes to knowledge remain relatively infrequent.

This ninth annual workshop aims to address this lacuna, bringing together faculty and graduate students in a pedagogical environment. The workshop will focus broadly on research approaches that differ in various ways from statistical and comparative methodologies: interpretive methodologies, which highlight the grounding of analysis in actors’ lived experiences and thus produce knowledge phenomenologically and hermeneutically; holistic case studies and forms of process-tracing that do not reduce to the measurement of intervening variables; and relational methodologies, which concentrate on how social networks and intersubjective discursive processes concatenate to generate outcomes.

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Agree with Heinlein’s ‘Citizens vs. Civilians’? then this US Military History is for you

Starship-Troopers-starship-troopers-13578603-1024-768

I was asked by a participating member of the H-Diplo/ISSF network to review The American Culture of War. Here is the original link to my review, but it’s off in some far corner of the internet, so I thought I’d repost it here. In brief, I found the book a pretty disturbing rehearsal of right-wing tropes about the military in a democracy, especially from an academic, and there’s no way I’d ever use it with undergrads as Routledge suggests. The underlying moral driver is the ‘chicken hawk’ principle – that those without military experience are not morally qualified to lead DoD and should otherwise defer to uniformed military. At one point the author actually says that, because the US Army ‘distrusts’ Congress, the Army should ‘guide’ Congress. Yikes. Do Americans (and the author) really need to be told civilian authority runs the other way, and that that’s in the Constitution? I find that sort of military elitism democratically terrifying and reflective of the post-9/11 militarization of America that is now the single most important reason, IMO, to end the war on terror.

I would just add the following update to the review: Both the book and review were written before Petraeus’ resignation, but it should come as no surprise that the text lionizes Petraeus. His resignation is therefore a pleasing schadenfreude for the frightening post-9/11 military hero-worship of the US right. Here we go:

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Monday Morning Linkage

Duck and DroneHey.  Here’s your linkage…

Data Mining

Drones

Disasters

Discontent

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Could the Youth Protests of the EU, Middle East, Turkey, and Brazil Spread to Asia’s Corrupt Democracies?

brazil-confed-cup-protests_jpeg3-1280x960

Jay Ulfelder and I had a Twitter conversation on this question in the last few days (here and here). But Twitter has such limited space, I thought I would break out our discussion on the blog and ask what others thought.

Watching all these riots – driven heavily by youth dissatisfaction, it seems – is making me wonder if this might spread to Asia’s democracies.

A lot of the problems these protests are identifying exist in spades in Asia: high-handed, out-of-touch governments; election-proof pseudo-technocracies that act as unaccountable oligarchies; shallow, clique-ish political parties that provide no meaningful transmission belt of citizen preferences; massive government and business corruption; wasteful white-elephant spending to capture global ‘prestige’ while everyday services like health care and education are underfunded; closed political opportunity structures that regularly reward insiders and large corporations with crony connections to the state; wealthy, de-linking elites with 1% lifestyles wildly at variance with the rest of the population… That’s Asia too; there’s more than enough sleaze to go around.

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The Whole of Government Needs a Game Changer

Here are some recent phrases that entered the policy lexicon in the last few years that I absolutely hate – “whole of government” and “game changer.” There is a faddishness to tropes in the policy arena that proliferate, that capture a certain sentiment of the moment that soon become over-used. Earlier, it was “tipping point.” I kind of hated that one too.

These words are useful short-hand. Ah yes, a game-changer, that which changes the game, a dramatic development that upends our understanding of what will transpire. Yet, strung together with other stock phrases, you end up with policy pablum. 2013 was a game changer, and now we are at a critical crossroads. We need a whole of government response to the events of recent months, which represent a tipping point in the events (in Syria, North Korea, Iran, Brazil, Turkey). Gag. We should be offended by such writing, as it demeans the craft of writing, turns policy language in to rote speech. Continue reading

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The Relational Sociology of Rational-Choice Theory

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Eric Grynaviski, who is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at George Washington University. 

There has been a debate on the Duck lately about the meaning of rational choice theory and game theory, and how it’s different from varied alternative approaches (here, here, and here). I wanted to offer a different interpretation than Arena and Jackson. Both give pretty orthodox interpretations, where game theory treats human agents as economic agents interested in maximizing their utility. I wanted to offer a sociologically richer interpretation, concentrating on the idea of how agents react to strategic interdependence.

At the heart of the logic of n-person games is the idea that the best move I make can be affected by what others will do. This is the idea of strategic interdependence. Nexon writes about strategic interdependence that it’s no big deal:  “Strategically interdependent preferences of individual actors are not the same thing as a collection of relationally embedded actors.”

The way game theory deals with strategic interdependence gets us into relationally embedded actors. It is a really big deal sociologically speaking. Continue reading

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Moving Beyond Tilly

Swiss Pike SquaresEditor’s Note: This is a guest post by Michael Martoccio, who is a PhD candidate of Early Modern History with a minor specialization in IR Theory at Northwestern University. His research broadly examines the role of cooperation in shaping political change in Europe, c. 1300-1700. His projects include a study of cooperation-building institutions in Central Italy, the late medieval market for sovereign rights, and a comparative analysis of city-leagues on both sides of the Alps. tl;dr notice: ~1800 words.

Tilly’s war-making/state-making thesis has taken a number of knocks recently. The turn from a geographically/historically-specific thesis to a global/ahistorical axiom caused much damage. Cultural explanations of state emergence also short changed those normative elements (the “claims-making, resistance, bargaining, and legitimation” components Dan mentions) of Tilly’s thesis. Dan’s post corrects many of these misinterpretations and recovers critical elements of Tilly’s legacy.

However, a number of unresolved issues remain in both Tilly’s original work and Dan’s revision. Tilly made two errors: (1) he over-calculated the coercive power of early modern sovereigns and undervalued the critical role of coordination dilemmas; and (2) he mislabeled the objects of analysis “states” and ignored the powerful effects of interwoven early modern hierarchies in preference for an anarchic state system of international interaction. Relationalism partially corrects these faults, but adds a few ahistorical categories that need to be unknotted. Continue reading

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