The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

How ISA is Like a Kansas Family Reunion

March 14, 2014

As Megan noted, ISA is coming up.  I hope to see all of you at the blogging reception on Thursday evening, March 27th.

As I’ve been preparing for the conference these last couple of weeks, I’m also preparing to be “blessed” with an unexpected visit from my grandparents in-laws today.[1] One of the “bonuses” of having them in my life has been their annual family reunion, held on a hot summer’s day outside of a town of 500 in Kansas.  There are many similarities between this event and ISA (or other major academic conferences).  Let me give you a few:

1.       You typically remember people looking younger.

“Holy Cow?!  That’s Bill?  I don’t remember him being so gray.  I wonder if everyone is thinking I’ve gotten fat.” – This statement could apply equally well at either a Kansas family reunion or ISA.

2.       Everyone is supposed to bring a “covered dish.”  It’s your one task.  Sometimes you put it off until the last minute.

Deviled eggs or no-bake cookies are my go-to dishes for a Kansas family reunion.  Half-baked empirical papers are typically what I present at ISA.  For either “dish,” I’m typically scrambling right until the last minute.

3.       Someone has the best “dish” of the day.  Someone also has the worst.  And, there are people that don’t even bring a dish. 

Like every event, there are free-riders and those that continually underperform. At the family reunion, you hope your dish doesn’t cause everyone to get sick…  I guess the same thing applies at ISA.

4.       There are people that avoid each other because of “bad blood.”  You really wish you knew the whole back story.

At my Kansas family reunion, “Ralph” and “Vic” had a falling out in 1985.  Besides funerals, they avoid each other.  No one really knows why.  There are horror stories of the same behavior among academics.  The nosy busy-body in me wishes I knew the back stories of each dyad.

5.      There are whole families you might be told to avoid.

At my Kansas family reunion, everyone gives “Edna” and her family the (polite) cold shoulder.  I’ve heard that the major IR theoretical schools tended to do the same thing to each other at ISAs in the past.

6.       Alcohol makes it better.

There are two types of Kansas family reunions – (1) those where people drink in public and (2) those where people drink in private.  Thankfully, I made the right choice as to which type of family to marry into.  Public drinking really helps the awkwardness not be as, well, awkward.  This applies to ISA as well.

And, finally:

7.       It’s best not to date anyone at the event. 

No matter how cute, no matter if they hit on you: there are severe negative consequences to dating within the group.

[1] I actually really like grandparents in-law.  They like old country music, food made with real butter, and good alcohol.  Their favorite drink is a whisky sour, made with 5 oz of whisky for every 1 oz of sour mix.  For the purpose of this post, however, think of them as the “typical” in-laws.  I’ve got lots of those, too.  God bless them.

website | + posts

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.