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Studying Non-Governmental Organizations: What International Relations and Public Management Bring to the Table

August 26, 2013

In my grad class every semester, I always ask the students if IR is really the best field for studying human security.  Undoubtedly, I get some students who respond that political science is the best discipline and IR is the best field – or even the only field – to really study human security. However, I usually also get a large minority of the students who acknowledge off the bat that most of the phenomena we study could be similarly examined in other social sciences or  –gasp!– could even be looked at by people in the humanities.

This is definitely the case for the study of human security non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – some of the best research on the topic is coming from scholars outside of IR – communications, sociology, public administration, and economics all have great researchers that are focusing on the topic in exciting new ways.

As a young researcher, interdisciplinary work is scary.  If I spend too much time talking across disciplines, is that going to make it less likely that a good political science or IR journal will like my work?  On the other hand, if I don’t address the literature in other disciplines, could experts in my area think I really don’t know the topic? There has been a lot written on the problems of interdisciplinary work.  However, I know from some of my own work that interdisciplinary ideas are a great way to contribute to the theoretical literature even within a narrow field.  By reading work in other disciplines, for example, I was able to get some tentative answers to questions my own field had left untouched concerning the role of the NGO network.

It was this type of discussion with a great colleague in another field that led to an APSA proposal on NGOs across IR and public management.  If you aren’t too busy networking at APSA, please come check out an APSA roundtable on what public management and IR bring to the study of NGOs. Steven Rathgeb Smith, the new executive director of APSA, will be chairing the panel.  A bunch of great public administration and IR scholars who study NGOs will provide their take on the value of working beyond a small subfield of literature.  The discussion will take place on Friday, August 30 at 10:15 in Hilton 4F.   Be there or be square!

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Amanda Murdie is Professor & Dean Rusk Scholar of International Relations in the Department of International Affairs in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia. She is the author of Help or Harm: The Human Security Effects of International NGOs (Stanford, 2014). Her main research interests include non-state actors, and human rights and human security.

When not blogging, Amanda enjoys hanging out with her two pre-teen daughters (as long as she can keep them away from their cell phones) and her fabulous significant other.