Dan’s post on his self-experiment in raising citations to female scholars has drawn a critical comment from someone who wonders about whether similar patterns exist with reference to minority scholars and scholars from outside North America. The issues of gender, race, and national (regional) origin are distinct, but if we’re going to have a wide-ranging discussion about inclusion and exclusion in the field then we ought to address these issues squarely.
Just to be clear about the parameters of this discussion: it seems clear to me that we need to discuss the recruitment, retention, and recognition of scholars as distinct topics. Within each sphere, we are also discussing what we view as legitimate conduct as well as the allocation of resources. Talking about what we view as morally desirable is much easier than talking in particular terms about how those norms should result in an actual reallocation of scarce graduate student slots, faculty lines, citations, and honors.
We should also be bluntly clear about what we take as legitimate subjects for discussion. In the 1930s, a similar discussion would have been required to discuss the status of people of Jewish affiliation/heritage/confession (and probably of Catholic confession or heritage as well) in ways that are no longer appropriate. Similarly, it appears reasonable to me to suppose that there are differences between the challenges facing someone who is of Asian or Asian-American heritage and those facing someone who is of African or African-American heritage. Both are presumptively disadvantaged, but the structures that have generated that disadvantage within the United States context (which is the context I know best and to which I will restrict my discussion) are vastly different and the implications of those disadvantages for working scholars are similarly different. With that said, some research does indeed suggest that the relevant distinction is not white/black/Asian/Hispanic/etc. but rather white/non-white–that any process that challenges white Americans’ status as a distinctively privileged group, regardless of the racial identity of the group undertaking the challenge, will lead to white Americans’ increasing their propensity to resist that tendency.
Moreover, the study of intersectionality should remind us that the effects of different structures of oppression are not necessarily additive and linear but are instead nonlinear and slightly unpredictable. The opportunities for and challenges facing a white homosexual male are, it seems plausible to assert, vastly different than those for a black homosexual female. If nothing else, the black homosexual female will likely have an incontrovertibly smaller range of faculty jobs that she can accept, since (again, in the United States) the sorts of social circumstances (not only in “town” but even on campus) that will sustain her are much more straitened than those for someone who looks like a member of the dominant group.
Why consider race, gender, and national/regional origin as distinctive sources of privilege and oppression? If we adopt a radically uncotenable counterfactual, it seems reasonable to believe that any of these sources of inclusion and exclusion would be able to persist on their own. If the United States consisted solely of African-Americans, for instance, then it is likely that there would continue to be gender disparities. Similarly, a United States that consisted of blacks and whites of both male and female genders (e.g., something pretty close to the United States of 1940) would nonetheless still have racism and sexism. Each construct, in other words, is analytically separable from the others, even if we should be aware of their interactive effects.
I have not dwelt as much on the non-North American/non-European source of privilege that the commenter mentioned because this is something that is more pertinent to scholarly communities as such. If I identify as part of the X School, and citations are meant (ideally) to show my intellectual debts, then for me to cite members of the Y School (or the JJ discipline) in a piece of “normal science” would be odd indeed. In other words, for me to not cite someone from outside of my epistemic solar system (or, if the piece is written in a language I don’t read, an entire epistemic galaxy) is distinctive from what Maliniak, Powers, and Walter have found. They have uncovered evidence that is consonant instead with a widespread failure to cite scholars who, were the male, would likely have been cited instead. Noncitation and failure to cite are different topics.
The first of the areas for us to discuss is the question of recruitment into the field. I mean recruitment to include anything we believe is part of the process of forming scholars, from understanding the rules of the research university (something difficult even for students whose parents, grandparents, and beyond attended college, much less for first-generation college students) to the process whereby research or at least some body of knowledge entrances a student enough to want to go to graduate school to the early stages of professionalization of a graduate student into a full (junior) member of the profession.
Plenty of research has been done on this subject (how to affect minority enrollment in graduate programs, the financial and other challenges minorities face once they enroll) and a variety of disciplines take this mission seriously (e.g. the American Physical Society). Ironically, it was a post about precisely this stage of the career in which Brian Rathbun triggered the Duck’s conversation about these issues. The power asymmetries that he attempted to address are matched by a variety of cultural gaps and information asymmetries. Practically all of us have suffered from cognitive balking at trying to process “a rhetorical and discursive etiquette as mind-blowingly arcane as table manners at a state dinner in 19th Century Western Europe”; without additional coaching and mentorship for those of us who do not come from academic backgrounds, let me assure those of you who did that the stilted and sometimes inhuman ways the profession (any discipline, really) behaves are utterly unlike the ways that people believe in many other parts of the adult world–always in form and usually in substance, too.
In some ways, recruitment is the easiest part of the process to fix. But as reflection and perusal of the relevant literature will soon suggest, it is in other ways the hardest. Graduate school continues to operate on the presumption that students can be paid poverty wages but live in acceptable (for minimal definitions of “acceptable”) circumstances because graduate students will naturally and routinely move upward from their pupal state and become faculty members. This was probably never a fair assumption but by this point any administrator or faculty member who believes that their students will get a job in academia upon completion of a dissertation under ordinary effort–and I here include administrators and faculty at Harvard–is delusional. The structure of graduate school favors precisely those students who have families of some means and the ability to defer childrearing or defray their costs somehow. That hardly helps with recruitment. Fixing this, in other words, requires not just a nebulous “commitment” to “diversity” but real steps to make being a graduate student an affordable endeavor.
Retention is the continuous process whereby scholars decide whether to remain in the profession or not–and whereby the profession decides to retain the scholar or not. There are obvious landmarks along the path (being hired into a faculty job, being tenured) but the process itself is more continuous than simply looking at discrete outcomes would suggest. Retention is in part a question of climate and atmosphere. The tenure process is stressful for everyone, or so I’m told (one day, perhaps, I’ll understand this at first hand), but it seems reasonable to believe that there are questions of allocation of resources (in this case, perhaps, more time than money) that could help the retention of female academics, in particular (see e.g. but the relevant articles are sadly too numerous to list).
Yet retention also requires sensitivity. Lack of sensitivity can be expressed in a number of ways, but failing to reflect on language choices and other symbolic acts is an important cause of both acts that are taken to be insensitive and those that clearly are. (A minor example, and one that does not involve a faculty member: when my institution delayed paying me several thousand dollars over the course of months last summer, administrators suggested I ask my parents for a loan. There’s clearly something inscribed in their expectations about what family circumstances for a graduate student are like.) Aggressively gendered language choices, particularly in a written context, are likeliest to aggravate these problems. The failure of a moral imagination to comprehend that such choices are likely to be perceived as hostile–can, in fact, be actively hurtful and discouraging–is perhaps a sign that even the academy needs more sensitivity training, either formally or (more likely) informally. In particular, it is never the “job” of a minority group to instruct members of a dominant group about proper behavior; in fact, the obligation rests, in an ethical sense, rather entirely on the dominant group instead.
Here we come to the issue of recognition, which encompasses a broader range of issues but which can be most clearly summed up in the issue over whether we as a discipline cite and promote based on academic standards or whether such processes are meaningfully inflected by race, gender, and other sources of privilege and disadvantage. I assume that it is pretty clearly the latter. In my own work over the past year, as I’ve become more interested in work with co-authors on issues that involve both gender and religion, I’ve noticed that the default citations in comparative politics, although somewhat more diverse than the default citations in IR, are nonetheless largely to a stock of older, whiter men. When I say “default citations” I mean precisely those that Nexon describes as the kinds of citations where the precise details of the argument don’t matter, but rather the reference genuflects toward a literature or a line of argument. Many, but not all of these, could include the lines “see, for example….”
My co-author and I have tried mightily to do the same. The Maliniak, Powers, and Walter piece was a major influence, but not the only one; when writing about oil politics, gender, and the Middle East, for instance, it is rather depressingly easy to write a manuscript without once including a citation to someone who is of Middle Eastern origin and to emerge with only two or three citations to females. When we noticed this, we suspected both that we had been too lazy in our original citations and also that we were probably missing important viewpoints that could help us better understand our topic. And, in fact, on making an effort to reclaim precisely the work of women and those of non-North American origin on this topic, we discovered entire lines of argument that the political science literature (it seems to us) had not fully appreciated or even, perhaps, been aware of.
One point that should be noted, then, is that although citations are in part an allocative act–word limits are scarce and every citation “costs” about 25 words–they are also habitual. Being habitual, they are also therefore limiting. We as scholars should make a point of reading the work of people who aren’t like the traditional molds of scholars (again, in the U.S. context) not because it is a good thing to do by PC lights but because it is a good source of thinking that we should engage with in our jobs.
There are more dimensions to consider than those that I put forward here. Sexual orientation may be the most readily available one, but others (including cognitive distinctions and class origins) are no less obvious. I intend for this post to be more of a framework for discussing these issues–are we talking about recruitment or retention? are we talking about allocation or normative discussions?–than a definitive statement. But the commenter on Dan’s post and the commenters elsewhere on the Duck have pretty clearly signaled that there are folks who are interested in having this conversation.
Kudos to the Duck for taking seriously my somewhat hastily crafted observation. The points that both you and Nexon made are all well taken and I appreciate the seriousness with which they are made. I am torn to some degree in how to respond. One on hand, as as a tenured scholar of color I do feel strongly that there are systemic reasons why scholarship by minorities tends to be ignored within the IR literature. On the other hand, I do not know enough about them to argue from an empirically solid position.
So if I don’t have the numbers to prove any problematic behavior on behalf of the discipline, then why do I feel so strongly that there is a discriminatory effect across all three levels you identify above? Well, it comes down to personal experience and those related to me by my fellow political scientists of color. As such, I am wary of responding with any real depth about the issues you raise for two reasons: 1. I am deeply uncomfortable publicly revealing my views on race within political science as a person of color, and related to that, 2. My experience sharing my views on race in a non-anonymous manner seems to make many white scholars uncomfortable and/or defensive around me and I have little desire to do that. I may be tenured, but I am still relatively junior and being known as “that guy always playing the race card” is not a great thing to be known as (even though my work doesn’t deal with race and I generally try to avoid convos about race in non-minority poli sci circles).
But let me try add a few things of substance regarding my feelings about being a minority in political science based on my own experiences but also backed up to some degree by scholarship. See the piece by Syed Farid Alatas for a more detailed discussion of the systemic issues. (2003. “Academic Dependency and the Global Division of Labour in the Social Sciences.” Current Sociology 51(6): 599–613.)
1. As a person from the “darker nations,” I can’t stand the flippancy with which white scholars joke about countries in the developing world. See Rathburn’s piece on Congo for example. In my own experience, I can remember taking a seminar on Africa where grad students made horrific jokes about violence on the continent that I found offensive. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard such jokes made about World War II or the Holocaust, nor do I think they would be considered appropriate (but again, only speaking from experience).
2. As an American of color, I don’t appreciate when white scholars start off our conversation by speculating on my ethnic or national background. It is particularly offensive when the scholar faultily concludes that I must hail from the region I study, since hey, why else would I study that region? This has happened to me way to often, and no its not only the dinosaurs who do it.
3. As a non-white scholar, I don’t really understand the hostility I often encounter from some white political scientists when discussing works by women or non-white scholars. We can disagree about the arguments of historical figures like Walter Rodney and Frantz Fanon, or more recently, the influential work of scholars like Mahmood Mamdani and Partha Chatterjee (both of whom are trained political scientists, by the way), but it is difficult for me to speak to you about Asia, or Africa or the Caribbean if you begin by dismissing their work outright.
4. I find it strange and intellectually indefensible when scholars (usually white) offer area studies courses and only place white scholars on the syllabus.
5. I find it very difficult to speak about racial or ethnic bias in political science when I am the only person of color in the room (for reasons expounded above). But I am no wallflower. I have a PhD, I am a tenured prof, and I have published widely both in political science and increasingly in non-poli sci spaces. In fact, my wife would tell you that she can rarely shut me up. So yes, I do think there is something systemic about political science and the lack of minority voices, though sadly, I remain pessimistic about the likelihood that it will change.
“Are you from region X?” is a frustratingly standard question for people who study something that is neither grand theory nor the United States. I get that question constantly, and I’m not a minority scholar. I can’t imagine that if I said I studied British history, that people would then ask me if I am English, because it is immediately evident that England is worthy of a serious person’s scholarly interests (with the obvious corollary that the only reason to be interested in my area of interest is the actualization of my ethnic roots). I suspect that I also get that question in part because my observable ethnic traits are not inconsistent with my region of study. If I studied Africa, though, I suspect that I would not get this question, because everyone knows that there are no white people in Africa. :-/
Thank you so much for this comment. Perhaps it would be possible to put this up as a guest post, as I think it would be helpful to be widely read. I agree with so much you write here, and your feeling of discomfort about talking about race parallels my own discomfort with talking about gender and sexism with others in the discipline. I think that’s part of the problem. All I can say is that, with respect to gender, I think things are changing. So many of my young male colleagues are just fantastically sensitive to issues of sexism, etc, (yeah, that’s a shout-out; y’all know who you are). And I have known a number of great senior men who take the mission of mentoring women very seriously. Sadly, I just haven’t seen the same gradual positive improvement with respect to race and ethnicity. That might just be me, but I’ve heard enough stories from minority scholars — and a lot of these involve people who I don’t doubt really intend to be well-meaning — to make me pessimistic.
Maybe I should just write up the rest of my thoughts here as a post, as I’m about to move on to Spivak and Chatterjee (and, yep, they were the first people to spring to mind over the past couple of days — and, yep, my first thought was “but if I write about them, I’ll likely lose a lot of these good positivist cred I’ve been building up”). :)
So, MinorityCPscholar, please keep posting. This is one of the most exciting exchanges (personally, to me, at least) I’ve seen on the Duck.
Agree that this would make an excellent guest post.
I’d love to run something along these lines. It could be pseudonymous if you’d prefer (you could even send it to me as under a pseudonymous email). Or if you are willing to let us front page….
Super depressing that there are 61 (and counting) comments on yesterday’s non-apology post — most of them unrelated to the substance of the problem — and just one here.
MCPS, thanks for the careful description of [some of] your experiences. I would add that [I think] the things you describe are problematic in and of themselves, at any scale; there’s no need for “numbers” to prove “problematic behavior[s]” here. What might help is some investigation of the association(s) between the problems that you’ve described and the discipline’s overall inability to affirmatively include scholars of color, women scholars, etc.
MP, also, thanks for laying out some of the issues we’re facing. Reading your paragraph on sensitivity and moral imagination made me wonder what kind of (dis)incentive would actually convince the people who most need sensitivity training not to dismiss it out of hand.
This is really great, thank you for it–a thorough and thoughtful frame for structuring this kind of conversation. With regard to points both you and Dan have made now, syllabi and default citations are very clearly are part of the problem and the solution. I recently sat down to revise a syllabus with the objective of adding female authors and authors who were from the regions under study (primarily Africa and Latin America). I ended up with a syllabus that was 25% female and 10% people of color, which are low numbers still. Part of the issue was the availability of texts; part of the issue was comfort pulling students out of a canon of things they “should have” read, and part of the issue was that, despite studying these regions, I actually didn’t know as much about the scholarship coming *out* of them (as opposed to about them) as well as I thought I did. In terms of gender, it was fairly clear where, with some thought, I could assign the excellent work of x, y, or z famous scholar’s recent female PhD student and have students exposed to similar subject matter; it just required being comfortable with the idea that students weren’t going to read as much of famous scholar x. In terms of other minority representation, on reflection through your framework those may be areas where recruitment and retention are still affecting the amount of (North American) scholarship available to assign.
as this post is about inclusion and exclusion in polisci, it seems worth pointing out there is a comment on this blog, a few posts down (the apology/non apology post) that reads in part: “My advice when dealing with my female and minority colleagues is to assume that they will interpret anything you say in the most negative light possible. Keep your conversations with them short and anodyne.” (a post which only one person rebuked before comments were closed, this lone person in turn was rebuked for “name calling.” so “name calling” is frowned on, but explicitly racist and sexist calls for exclusion aren’t even named as such).
my point is not to argue over your comment policy. indeed, it may be wise to let this comment stand as it puts into words how we are routinely treated in many academic departments and polisci conferences. but we need to name this as overt racism and sexism – an explicit call to exclude women and people of color.
I do not disagree and in this case the votes by the other commenters on the Disqus thread seemed to imply that other visitors shared your perspective.
However, calls about how to manage the commenting community are not mine to make (and I’m glad to be absolved of that responsibility). I’m not a moderator or even, technically, a permanent contributor to the Duck, so my share in governance is comparatively slight. Accordingly, I’m not going to gainsay that decision, although I admit to being sympathetic to the views of the commenter who provided the rebuke and the manner in which the rebuke was stated.
That said, I do believe that highlighting the ways in which calls for civility can have asymmetric and unintended effects can be productive in creating a discursive space that’s more welcoming for all.
thanks so much for your reply. my concern isn’t the comment policy. i’m actually glad the comment is still up. while we could dismiss it as a comment from a troll, this comment accurately reflects and describes the way we are sometimes treated in the discipline.
There were more rebuttals, but these were taken down because they referred to the commentator negatively. This bothers me. A policy that allows trolls (I assume) to make racist and bigoted remarks should certainly also allow people to respond that the remarks are racist.
A few thoughts: I agree with the comment above that it’s a little disappointing that the gender posts get wide attention but the race/ethnicity posts very few. I also thank PM very much for posting, and MCPS for bringing this up. I’m also a minority scholar who had noticed the “whiteness” of the comments, but was so used to not even trying that I just let it pass. So thanks to MCPS. I also am highly sensitive to not bringing this up in real life because if you’re the only minority in the room, people just tune you out or think you’re complaining.
I’d like to make a few observations in no particular order. Dan’s response on the citation post about “no good data on race/ethnicity so I didn’t do it” may be right, but it seems that he too easily avoids the real point, which is it that while gender seems to matter to him, race/ethnicity does not. His response seems consistent with that observation. Not to criticize Dan, but once again that is a small example of why usually many minority scholars don’t even try to bring things up; they get dismissed as too difficult or not really relevant.
Second, it is pretty surprising the racist post about “just ignore female and minority scholars” stays up but responses get taken down.
Perhaps more substantively, the recruitment/retention issues are real. There is a larger question about “North American political science” dominating the field, which has been thoroughly discussed here. But within North American political science, recruiting minorities is pretty difficult. PM pointed out above that a fair amount of research shows that Asian-Americans need scores substantially higher than whites in order to gain admission at top undergraduate schools. Ph.D. programs, I suspect, have a similar pattern. After all, we all know the reasons: each subfield needs graduate students, so we never accept more than a few in each field. Unless the minority in question has absolutely no interest in minority issues and only wishes to study what the mainstream studies (great, but not really widening our research or discourse then), it’s quite likely that there is a fairly low ceiling for minorities who might be interested in important issues but are focused on a region of the world or minority/ethnic politics. I’m not sure what is the solution or whether this is a problem, but institutionally we then select those minorities who have decided to ignore their minority status and just study whatever the mainstream studies, or only a select few who do a region or alternative/minority issues. At my own institution we clearly say “we can’t admit more than a few students studying Asia/Latin America/Africa” in order to keep the grad population roughly even across subdisciplines. I totally understand the reasons for this, but the result is that we have a very low number of minority students in the first place, with all the regular problems of retention through graduate school…
Just some observations…
CG: your point about what I wrote is fair. I thought that I’d posted a clarification in comments here — I know that I wrote one, but it doesn’t seem to be up. Which is too bad, because I remember it as an eloquent and thoroughly persuasive explanation of my comments. ;-)
Anyway, I said that I should clarify my comments about the data-collection challenges. I stressed that my argument was *not* that the lack of good data was the reason that I didn’t do it. Instead, I noted that I offered the discussion of the data problem as (1) another reason, in *addition to political dynamics*, why we don’t see an equivalent paper on the “minority citation gap” and (2) to note that it is much more challenging to do the intervention I did for race/ethnicity/nationality. It is harder to reliably infer demographic category from names than it is to infer sex.
But I mostly wanted to call attention to the need for journals to collect demographic data ex ante — when reviewers and authors register — so that we can find out more about what’s happening in the submission-to-publication process as it relates to race/ethnicity/nationality. In my experience, this is more difficult than it sounds. In our case, the challenges of dealing with an international pool feel almost insurmountable right now. It would be really terrific to get input about how to handle this, as I asked for when I first raised this problem at the Duck of Minerva. But there’s been total silence–either via email or via comments–for recommendations for how to proceed in light of the difficulties I outlined. Which reinforces your, and MCPS point, about “invisibility.”
That being said, of course I don’t have a *good* reason, because there isn’t one. The only excuses — difficulty, the trigger being a paper about the “sex gap,” and the problem being so enormous that I’m not even sure I could have come up with substitutes for the arguments involved — are simply restatements of the problem.
“Hidden in plain sight: racism in international relations theory,” Cambridge Review of International Affairs. 2013. Errol A. Henderson. Pennsylvania State University
Downloaded. Thanks for the lead!