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“Mind the Gap!” Bureaucracy, and the Regulation/Constitution of i(I)nternational r(R)elations

January 28, 2014

So the IR blogosphere and twitterverse are in the process of exploding over this new proposal from the ISA Governing Council, which would ban those contributing to IR blogs from holding positions on ISA journal editorial boards. I second many of the questions raised by Steve and Jon and Will Moore and will write more on this topic presently.

Fortunately for me as a prof, this news-flash happened to occur right as I headed to “Theory/Policy” day in my Human Security doctoral seminar in which we dwell on ISR’s “Theory/Policy Symposium.” So my initial reaction was to use this as a terrific example of why it is important to think about norms, interests, identities, regulative and constitutive rules, and institutions not only as they apply to international relations “out there” (as viewed by IR scholars), but also as they implicate International Relations (as constituted by the practices of the profession) – and what this means for what we can know about and how we interface with the world. On this class day I generally share war stories of publishing both in scholarly journals and in the beltway, and use the clash of norms and identities associated with our multiple professional hats as examples with which to interrogate these wider concepts as applied to human security. Given today’s intra-professional headline, I also shared this ISA presentation on the discipline and social media from a couple of conferences back, which is essentially the video version of this paper Dan Drezner and I co-authored, as a discussion starter. Next year, I’ll also assign Robert Farley’s important Perspectives piece on political science and blogging.

I’d like to absorb others’ reactions to the proposed ISA policy before I craft my own more extended one. For now, I will say simply here two things:

1) This event will no doubt be a focusing event in the wider, percolating disciplinary discussion about what it means to be on either side of the IR/ir divide, how social media are recasting/neutralizing this distinction, and on what this implies for our professional norms/identities as well as for the role we play in the world.

2) This event is a great example of how insights by IR scholar about “international relations” can also be applied, cogently this morning, to the world of “International Relations.” On this first heavy reading day at the start of the semester I also ask students to read introductions to all the books and choose a single passage they want to dwell on at length, that strikes them as a scholar, intellectual, or individual. One of my students had chosen this passage out of Michael Barnett and Marty Finnemore’s “Rules for the World,” p. 3:

“Bureaucracies exercise power in the world through their ability to make impersonal rules. They then use these rules not only to regulate but also to constitute and construct the social world. International organizations, through their rules, create new categories of actors, form new interests for actors, define new shared international tasks, and disseminate new models of social organization around the globe. However the same impersonal rules that define bureaucracies and make them effective in modern life can also cause problems. Bureaucracies can become obsessed with their own rules at the expense of their primary missions in ways that produce inefficient and self-defeating outcomes.”

The ISA proposal aims to regulate editorships (and by extension bloggers) but it also aims to (re)constitute definitions of “professionalism” in our field at the very moment when those concepts are becoming more fluid – for better or for worse. So while I am not enthusiastic about the policy as proposed, I am very happy to see an event of this type focus and reinvigorate the discussion about what we are doing (as scholars), when we interface with the public or policy realm (as scholars/citizens/individuals); what it means to do so more effectively; and how those lines should be drawn and by whom.

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Charli Carpenter is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is the author of 'Innocent Women and Children': Gender, Norms and the Protection of Civilians (Ashgate, 2006), Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights
Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond (Columbia, 2010), and ‘Lost’ Causes: Agenda-Setting in Global Issue Networks and the Shaping of Human Security (Cornell, 2014). Her main research interests include national security ethics, the protection of civilians, the laws of war, global agenda-setting, gender and political violence, humanitarian affairs, the role of information technology in human security, and the gap between intentions and outcomes among advocates of human security.