The Duck of Minerva

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“Shame” on you, ISA

January 29, 2014

Dear ISA Governing Council,

Greetings.  You probably don’t know me but I’m a long-time user of your services.  My first real conference experience was at ISA Chicago in 2007.  I practiced my 10 minute presentation for hours in my hotel room and had to borrow $250 from my mom to attend.  I really benefited, however, from the feedback I received from all 7 people in the audience.  I’ve routinely attended ISA conferences in the time since 2007 and have thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  I’ve reviewed and contributed to ISA journals multiple times and am currently serving the Association as both program chair for the ISA-Midwest section and as an associate editor for International Studies Quarterly.  Up until yesterday, I did complain about your fees from time to time but didn’t really have any problems with the Association. Leaving aside any jokes I could make about poor panel audience, the Association is an asset to all of us in the profession.

Yesterday, however, I was saddened to learn via Facebook that there is currently a proposal to stop editorial team members from contributing to personal or professional blogs. As I understand it, this proposal comes directly from members of the Executive Committee, which are part of your Governing Council. I tried to look for the proposal on the ISA website but can’t seem to find it posted there.

This proposal saddens me for a number of reasons.  First, the proposal stops a form of vibrant academic discussion that can directly benefit ISA and ISA journals.  Over the summer, a colleague of mine told me that one of my articles was among the top 5 downloaded articles at International Studies Quarterly.   Amazingly enough, according to Impact Story statistics I gathered in the summer of 2013, this article was also “highly discussed” online. Do I know for certain that the discussion this article had in the blogosphere led to it being downloaded more?  No.  However, I do know that my own personal website received more hits to the replication data in the days immediately after I personally blogged about the article at Duck of MinervaI would think the Association would want any and all attention to the professional products our members produce in ISA journals, even members that also serve the Association through editorial team responsibilities.

Second, this proposal seems to single out blogging in a very strange and, as I understand it, completely unjustified way.  If the purpose of the proposal is to stop a conflict of interest between ISA-sanctioned and ISA-non-sanctioned blogging, shouldn’t members of editorial teams also be banned from contributing articles to non-ISA journals?

If the purpose of the proposal is to stop unfortunate foot-in-mouth problems, shouldn’t we ban all forms of communication with any possible paper-trail?  Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram seem similar.  For that matter, letters to the editor to my home-town paper and carrier pigeons have the same risks.   ISA already has a very nice Code of Conduct that covers things like bullying and harassment; I’m not sure what a blanket ban on blogging for only some of the Association’s members adds to this policy. Also unclear in the proposal: does this include both my personal and professional blogging activities?  Does it ban me from blogging about teaching or possibly setting up a blog as part of class?

I take my work for the Association seriously.  However, much more important than my work for the Association, I strive to follow both a personal and professional set of ethics that reflects my human rights training and my teaching vocation.  I have personally found that blogging, as one of many tools available in the 21st century, aids greatly in my teaching, service, and research responsibilities.  It’s these responsibilities – not my responsibility to set up your conference or shepherd a few manuscripts – that is at the heart of why I became an academic.

Third, the Internet is a benefit for advocacy. I have a forthcoming book where I have discussed how advocacy for human rights is benefitted by the Internet.  I also blogged about some of these findings previously at the Duck of MinervaISA is an advocacy organization; I don’t know why it would want to thwart any potential benefit the Internet could bring.

More important than all these other problems, however, I am deeply saddened that an association where I routinely present human rights research would suggest such as policy. We live in an era where governments are trying to silence dissent over the Internet.  It seems shocking to me that ISA would even suggest doing anything in the similar vein.  I think it directly violates the policies of academic freedom that the Association is supposed to aid in protecting for me.  As the policies of the Association clearly state:

“The International Studies Association’s commitment to academic freedom reflects the nature of its membership: including all scholars of international studies, beginning with but not limited to members of the ISA and affiliated national international studies associations. This policy pertains only to the non-partisan, peaceful conduct of academic activities and freedom of expression” (page 2).

I think the majority of blogging – especially blogging done consistent with ISA’s Code of Conduct, definitely meets the criteria of being “non-partisan, peaceful conduct of academic activities and freedom of expression.” The accepted policy of ISA as to academic freedom goes on to state that ISA will help “publicize” threats to academic freedom.  I’m a big fan of “shaming” as an advocacy tactic and, as my research shows – even the research published in our Association’s journals –  it does change behavior.  After learning of this proposal, I’m asking for ISA to help shame itself: we can’t stand for any bans on academic freedom, especially one that appears to be unjustified, reactive in nature, and targeted on a very small portion of social media by a very small portion of the Association’s membership.  Shame on you, ISA. I want better.


Amanda Murdie

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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.