From Kingdonian to Weberian Activism: A Shifting Stance

3 July 2013, 1406 EDT

One of the great things about being done with my book project is that I can begin blogging and writing a little more openly regarding the issues I’ve been tracking empirically over the past seven years, in the same way I have often weighed in publicly on political subjects I’m not studying directly. The latter type of activity is referred to by Patrick Jackson and Stuart Kaufman as “Weberian activism“: informing policy debates by educating stakeholders and the public about the relevant empirical relationships underlying pressing policy decisions and global processes. In my view, this is the gold standard to which academic bloggers and commentators should aspire.

Until now, for the emerging campaigns around “making amends,” “killer robots” and “genital integrity” I’ve limited my incursions as a commentator to pieces that remark dispassionately as an analyst on the dynamics of agenda-setting around these issues. I generally avoided weighing in on the merits of taking specific policy solutions seriously during the course of research, and mostly limited myself to acknowledging campaigners’ arguments and those of their opponents or what might be referred to as a “Kingdonian activist” stance. This made sense during the fieldwork both in terms of my philosophical wagers about my relationship to my subject matter, and also in terms of maintaining access and rapport to stakeholders on all sides of these percolating debates.

With the fieldwork for that project wrapped up however, I am now at liberty to write more openly on these issues the way I have often written about  drones, data dumps, and R2P. That is, I can go beyond merely reporting on the campaigns and analyzing their advocacy strategies and begin to weigh in as a social scientist on the validity of truth claims informing these debates.

I note this both to foreground some essays you’ll soon see on the Internets, but also to answer a question I’m often asked by students: how I manage and account for my role as a public intellectual when doing fieldwork on human security issues. The longer answer to this question will appear in my methods appendix. The short answer is that it helps to be very self-conscious about what we are doing as academics and what we are doing as citizens when we blog, consult, write op-eds, present briefings, or otherwise engage the world that we study; that this boundary should be different during the course of research than it is when the research is complete; and that in my view, the job of the responsible scholar is to be as explicit about this as possible both with informants and readers.