The Duck of Minerva

What are the “Big Issues” of International Politics, and How Should Journals Address Them?

23 July 2013

A common complaint among international-relations scholars is that our journals don’t sufficiently engage with big, new, and pressing issues of world politics. Those that do, on the other hand, often get criticized for a lack of rigor. I’ve made this complaint before, in the context of the financial crisis, and Kate Weaver offered some thoughts about “what’s wrong” with IPE. But the problem extends far beyond the financial crisis and IPE.

Standard explanations for this state of affairs include:

  • the length of the publication cycle: it can take years to get from paper, to submission, to making it through peer review, to showing up in a journal;
  • disciplinary incentives to tackle narrow topics and to squeeze incremental findings out of those topics; and
  • the general parochialism of academic international relations.

On the other hand, not a few people argue that the whole point of academic international-relations work is to avoid faddishness and overly speculative claims about unfolding events. Anyone who has ever head “journalism” used as an insult knows one version of this line of argument. Still, the fact that international-relations articles usually genuflect in the direction of policy relevance suggests that even those in this camp think journals should have contemporary salience.

I’m not visiting this well-trod terrain to provoke a meta-argument about scholarship. Rather, I’m curious what “big” questions deserve more attention in our journals. The nature and dynamics of contemporary economic order strikes me as an obvious candidate, but what else is out there? And how ought such questions be addressed in a way that maintains a commitment to scholarly rigor–in its myriad forms?

I suspect that I’ve asked these questions in way unlikely to spark much conversation. If so, I’ll try to come at them again in a subsequent post. But still, I’d love some serious engagement from Duck readers.