Day: October 17, 2013

What Makes a Great Scholar?

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I attended a celebration of the life of Kenneth Waltz held at Columbia University last weekend. The service was organized and hosted by Robert Jervis, Robert Art, and Richard Betts and included sixteen speakers — family members, scholars, and former students who gave wonderful tributes based on their own personal reflections on his life, research, and teaching.

It was clear that Waltz was gifted intellectually. His book Man, the State, and War was written in just over a year in 1959 and transformed the field. But this was only the start, he made major intellectual contributions in each of the next five decades — remarkable staying power for a scholar. Yet, as Jervis pointed out, Waltz was not really that prolific — only three solo authored books and the two major books (Man, the State and War and Theory of International Politics) were rather short. As one speaker noted, he wrote slowly and with few words, but because his did so, his words will last for a very long time.

In listening to the tributes, I jotted down notes on what people thought might have given Waltz the insights to make such a contribution to IR — and wondered more broadly, what makes a great scholar, one with the insights to transform and keep pressing the field for decades?

Here are a few thoughts from the tributes: Continue reading

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The Politics of “Fitting” Feminist Theory in IR

(Note: This post is cross-posted at The Research Centre in International Relations at King’s College, London’s Blog)

Feminist theorists have long made and substantiated the argument that gender “matters” in International Relations (IR) theory and practice, and that it matters in complicated and hybrid ways. Gender analysis has been used (in my view effectively) across a wide spectrum of theoretical approaches, issue areas, and contemporary political events.  I thought about this as I was reading news stories and opinion pieces expressing disappointment that Malala Yousafzai did not win the Nobel Peace  Prize. There are so many gendered dimensions to her story: her activism and agency; the gendered reaction to by the Pakistani Taliban; the gendered reaction to that repression around the world; the gendered narratives surrounding her candidacy for the Nobel Peach Prize; and then the gendered reactions to the Nobel committee’s choice not to select her. All of these gendered framings, reactions, and receptions went on in the context of a gendered conflict between gendered states in what I would argue is a gendered international system. Reading those stories was, to me, another example of how gender “matters” in global politics – an example which could richly inform IR theory.

But what part of IR theory? Where does feminism fit? Is it another “ism” to go along with realisms, liberalisms, and the like? Does it cut across the “isms”? Where does it fit politically? Epistemologically? Methodologically? This question has been tackled again and again by feminist IR theorists like Ann Tickner, Marianne Marchand, Cynthia Weber, Marysia Zalewski, and Jill Steans, as well as by some theorists in mainstream IR interested in the question of feminisms’ fit. In the rest of this short post, I suggest that perhaps fit and positionality are the wrong language to talk about the relationship between feminist work on global politics and the field of IR in which it is (at least partly) situated.

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The Birth of a Sports Rivalry

cute fighting ducksHow do we communicate ideas to our audience?  What steps can we take to introduce advanced concepts to our students or the general public? Scholars work for decades on the content of their arguments but spend very little time thinking about how to translate their ideas for specific consumers of information.

In Phil Arena’s review of Braumoeller’s new excellent book, he makes a baseball reference, later noting that he does not even like sports.  This is a typical tactic in Political Science, if not all of academia.  We often make sports metaphors and analogies in order to push our point across.  No matter if you have never played an inning of ball in your life, most American academics are apt to make at least one baseball reference in class.  Most British academics are apt to make at least one reference to football, even if they hate the sport.

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Duck Forum on Teaching US Foreign Policy #2

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[Note:  This is a guest post by Steven W. Hook from Kent State University and is the second post on the Duck Forum on Teaching US Foreign Policy]

“Teaching U.S. Foreign Policy in an Age of Uncertainty,” by Steven W. Hook (Kent State University)

Students of U.S. foreign policy face a unique intellectual challenge: to understand state policy making at the intersection of domestic and global governance. Their instructors, who face the same task, need to integrate the two domains in their lectures and assignments. Along the way, they confront the added burdens of making some sense of the heightened turbulence of recent world politics while also grappling with paradigmatic shifts in the field of international relations that have led some scholars to declare “the end of IR theory.” Teaching U.S. foreign policy today is more complex, but also more compelling, than ever.

My approach to U.S. foreign policy is founded upon a normative claim that citizens should be informed and engaged in public affairs, especially global politics. Continue reading

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Thursday Morning Linkage – Apocalypse Averted!

Yay, pointless self-inflicted global catastrophe avoided. In between all the gnashing of teeth about whether the United States Congress would act to forestall a default on the country’s national debt and actually reopen the government, some other things were happening around the world. I’ve been meaning to write about the energy and environment front for weeks, but my attention has been captured by the awful spectacle that was the U.S. Congress, namely the machinations of the radical Tea Party right. Before I delve into links about energy and environment, let me give conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat the last word on the government shutdown:

It was an irresponsible, dysfunctional and deeply pointless act, carried out by a party that on the evidence of the last few weeks shouldn’t be trusted with the management of a banana stand, let alone the House of Representatives.

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