Tag: blogging (Page 1 of 3)

Blogging the Gap

Yesterday, I had the chance to participate in the Bridging the Gap workshop led by Bruce Jentleson.  It is an effort every summer to help younger scholars figure out how to engage the policy world in a variety of ways, including figuring out how to write and publish op-eds, how to get into government for short periods of time (like the Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellowship that changed my career/life), how to engage think tanks and more.

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ISA 2015 Update: Bloggers Win

Yesterday, the Governing Council met for 17 days and nights …. or about six hours to discuss the various issues on the agenda.  I will not get into the details of the meeting (I live-tweeted the highlights).    The key bits of news are this:

  • I learned how to do emoji on my Ipad.
  • The blogging issue from last year produced a report by the Professional Responsibilities committee, and the recommendations which became policy essentially said that we ought to expect everyone to be professional and treat each other with respect and dignity.
    • This applies to not just ISA journal editors who were the focus last year.
    • They deliberately chose not to ask bloggers to put disclaimers on their blogs since everyone would have to be disclaiming pretty much everything they do.
    • A clear win for the social media folks.
  • The Online Media Caucus sailed through.  Through a clever bit of agenda-setting that I had nothing to do with, it was the penultimate issue considered and exhaustion was our friend.  So, come to the business meeting on Saturday at 12:30 in the Hilton’s Elmwood room as well as the Duckies Thursday night at 7:30pm at the Quarterdeck rooms in the Hilton

Discourse Analysis of Internet Trolls?: the whys and hows of analyzing online content*

Online mediums can be perceived as attracting wacky ranters unrepresentative contributors and exchanges and, therefore, forums or chats are often treated as if they do not provide an effective picture/sample of political discourse. But since over 80% of Americans are online, 66% of American adults have engaged in civil or political activities with social media, and about half of those who visit discussion groups post/contribute, isn’t this an interesting- and increasingly relevant- medium for a discourse analysis? Why cut out such a vast political resource? What is different about ‘doing’ a discourse analysis of online content? How would you even start such an analysis? And, why aren’t those like myself- who blog and engage in political discussions as part of my daily/weekly activity- doing more to treat online content as part of what we consider to be ‘legitimate’ political discourse? Well, I think it comes down to methodology. Here is a very brief intro to some of the opportunities and challenges to conducing a discourse analysis of online content (PS getting students to do such an analysis is a great assignment).

1. What makes a discourse analysis of online content different from an analysis of printed text?
First, (and probably somewhat obvious) online material uses multiple modes of expression, including emoticons, hyperlinks, images, video, moving images (gifs), graphic design, and color. This multimodality adds complexity (and, I argue, richness) to a discourse analysis- but the researcher must be aware of how particular signals are used, (for example, ‘iconic’ or popular memes or gifs (like feminist Ryan Gosling or the Hilary Clinton texting image begin to take on particular meanings themselves). Second, online content is unstable, instant, and edited in ways unavailable to print (even the use of striking through signals ‘editing’/alternative meaning/irony etc- but this requires interpretation). Also, articles, conversations, and posts, can be published, responded to, retweeted, then retracted or edited all within a few hours. Continue reading


NYT and Poli Sci Public Engagement

The ISA mess is the gift that keeps on giving.  Now Nicholas Kristof has written a piece in his NYT column that “addresses” the controversy.  The problem is that the column is out of date.  Not just in focusing on the ISA proposal that has been beaten back by the forces of reason (that would be me and other bloggers?), but that other canards get lumped in.  While some noted bloggers have been denied tenure, it is highly unlikely that their blogging did them in.  Indeed, there is more pressure by lots of folks (presidents, provosts, deans, grant agencies) to do more outreach.

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Blogging and Teaching — and the Wrongheaded ISA Proposal

Steve has a nice roundup of many of the central concerns with ISA’s misguided policy proposal to limit those involved in editing ISA journals from blogging.   I’d like to focus on one additional element.

For many of us located principally in the teaching side of the profession, we realize and appreciate the significance and utility of blogs for pedagogical purposes.  Here in the Five Colleges, a key part of communicating with students is through various forms of social media.  My department has a Twitter feed and a Facebook page that features a fantastic daily blog by my colleague Vinnie Ferraro. Vinnie’s blog provides daily content and opinion to support his courses in World Politics and American Foreign Policy.  I have a blog for my course on International Human Rights Advocacy in Theory and Practice and I routinely assign a number of readings from IR and human rights blogs as a key part of the course.  I do this because there is some fantastic content out there that presents and synthesizes materials quickly and more effectively than many peer-reviewed journals can.  This semester my students will watch Kony 2012 and then read several blog posts on Opinio-Juris debating multiple angles of the video.  These posts are an excellent format for undergraduate students — there are multiple views expressed with links to a variety of academic and advocacy literatures.  Given the natural 18-month to two-year delay from an event to peer-review publication, I’m still waiting for some decent peer-reviewed content that provides the range views and analysis conveyed in these posts. Continue reading


Tuesday Morning Linkage: ISA and Blogging Edition

The International Studies Association Executive Committee has forwarded a proposal to the duck earmuffsGoverning Council that meets at the Association’s annual meeting that addresses blogging.  The proposal and my take on it are discussed at my blogThe essence of it is to prohibit those involved in the editing of journals from blogging.  The text of it goes beyond that, assuming/asserting that blogging is inherently unprofessional.  That is not a message that the ISA should be sending out now or ever, really.

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Mixing Scholarly with Blogging Identities

[Note:  This is a guest post from Mira Sucharov and Brent E. Sasley.  Mira Sucharov is Associate Professor of Political Science at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. She blogs at Haaretz.com and at Open Zion. Follow her on Twitter.  Brent Sasley is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Texas at Arlington. He blogs at Mideast Matrix. Follow him on Twitter.]

Changes to our technology and to our scholarly norms present new challenges to scholars who engage in the public sphere. More and more academics in Political Science, and especially International Relations, are blogging, tweeting, and writing for online magazines like Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, and The National Interest, while many with specialization in a specific region or issue-area contribute to region- or issue-specific media.

There is a small but expanding literature on how these changes do and should affect the scholarly enterprise. Often hidden beneath such discussions is how all this affects the scholar herself. There is an inherent assumption that scholars are just that—dispassionate analysts who can look at a set of evidence and draw objective conclusions from it. Continue reading


Another Virtue of Blogsphere Engagement?

PM’s latest post, “Nobody cares about foreign policy” (note to self: we need a style manual to resolve whether, for example, post titles should be capitalized), was prompted by a proseminar we both attended on Monday.

At this proseminar, the always-interesting and invariably thoughtful Elizabeth Saunders presented part of her book project: a paper entitled “The Electoral Disconnection in US Foreign Policy.”

Among other things, Saunders argues that theories of “democratic international relations” — particularly those surrounding audience costs — need to incorporate a central insight from the last fifty years of American politics research: that most voters are “low information”* when it comes to many things political–and especially international affairs.** It follows, therefore, that elites who provide “cues” to the voting public in general, partisans, ethnic groups, etc. often operate as key intermediaries in the relationship between foreign policy and electoral pressures.

You should definitely read the paper, but that isn’t the point of this post.

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In Social Science, You’re always Under-read, so How do you Choose ? (2)


Here is part one, where I noted Walt, the Duck, and Walter Russell Mead as the IR blogs I read almost always despite the avalanche of international affairs blogs now. Here are a few more:
Martin Wolf: Here’s a grad school education in IPE, op-ed by op-ed, better day-to-day than either Krugman or the Economist. Not being an economist, but facing regular student questions for years about the Great Recession and the euro-zone crisis, I have found Wolf indispensible in explaining what happened in the last 5 years – and without that ‘bankers as masters of the universe’ schtick coming from CNBC, Bloomberg, and the WSJ. Wolf is a delight to read. Like Andrew Sullivan, he is measured, changes his mind when information dramatically changes, references theory but not as ideology or fundamentalism, and has a good touch for what can realistically be accomplished in actual democratic politics.
Glenn Greenwald: Walt turned me onto Greenwald’s work, which I think is just super. The surfeit of links helps guide the reader to lots of supporting material, which should be a model of rigor for all bloggers. The writing is sharp and insightful, and he has a feel for real case law that academics focused on theory will never have. So when you feel like drones and warrantless wiretapping are probably illegal, but you don’t know anything about relevant statute, Greenwald shows the way. But most importantly, Greenwald, more than any other serious high-profile figure, has courageously, thanklessly insisted on publicizing all the legal violations, non-combatant deaths, and other violations that have flowed from the GWoT. His humanity over the river of blood unleashed by the GWoT embarrasses the coarse, ‘we-don’t-do-body-counts’ American concern for only US combat casualties. I can think of no author more prominent who ceaselessly reminds of all the brown Muslims we have killed and carnage we have wreaked in the Arab world, and rightly chastises us for not giving a damn. No other writer has changed my mind about our ‘ghost wars’ as much as he had, and no one else I can think of takes the journalist’s code of adversarial oversight as seriously. You could dump the whole op-ed team of the Washington Post for Greenwald, and that would be an improvement.
What other blogs am I missing? And if you say Thomas Friedman, you are never allowed to visit this site again.
2. Basic News
For basic news, I get the daily newsletters from FP and CFR. Does anyone else use these? I find them very helpful, and vastly more time efficient that watching CNN or TV news. I get BBC here which is pretty good, and SK news is ok, but in general I get less and less from TV.

3. Journals
When I got my first post-grad school job, I finally had the money to seriously subscribe to journals on my own, and I thought it looked pretty cool to list all those associations on my vita. So I went overboard, getting some mix of IO, IS, EJIR, SS, RIS, FP, FA, APSR, ISQ, IRAP, WP, RIPE. But this costs a mountain of money (especially when you live outside the US), and within a year, I learned there was just no way to read anything even close to that amount of material. So they piled up unread on my office shelves (hopefully they look imposing to visitors). Now I get the ToC e-updates instead and wait for someone to tell me that I need to read this or that article. I almost never simply open a paper copy of a serious IR journal and browse it as if it were a copy of the Economist. Does anyone read the journals that way, or do you hunt out specific pieces?

Now, if there is an article I really want, first I google it or jstor it. If that doesn’t work, I email the author directly. Does anyone else do this? I was too scared to do something like that in grad school, but once I started doing it a few years ago, I found that people almost always send me their stuff, and then some. Almost everyone keeps copies of their pubs in PDF, and it’s surely flattering to get solicited. It’s also a nice way to meet someone you who’s interested in a roughly similar area. (Also, for Asia folks, two good journals – the Korean Journal of Defense Analysis and Global Asia [sort of an FA for Asia] – offer their stuff gratis.) So here’s another question is, do you pay for journals (other than those you get from a membership like ISA)? And if so, which ones? IS, WP and IO probably, right?

Finally, all this is why Brian Rathbun’s call to ‘read more, write less’ is one of my favorite posts on the Duck. I cite it a lot, and I would add a Roosevelt corollary – read slowly, at a desk, with a pen in your hand. IR theory is tough; it can get d— complicated and dry. There’s no way you can read something mind-breakingly difficult like Perception and Misperception or Hierarchy in International Relations quickly, and follow the argument (well, I can’t). If we read more and wrote less, what we did write would be so much better, and we could slow this ‘avalanche of undone reading’ problem.

NB: Fukuyama is blogging again.

Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog.


In Social Science, You’re always Under-read, so How do You Choose ? (1)


If there is one constant to modern social science, it is that you are always under-read. There is always some critical book you missed, some article you never had time for, some classic of which you only read the first and last chapters in grad school. And this is just the modern work immediately relevant to your field. After college you all but gave up on reading the ‘great books’ in the Chicago sense – Plato, Augustine, Mill, Nietzsche, etc. That’s the stuff that really got you interested in social analysis – you’ve still got a marked up copy of Aristotle’s Politics somewhere – but if you cite these guys today, it’s usually just a lifted quote from someone else’s modern social science book that you are reading. Your own black-edged Penguin Classics are collecting dust. If it wouldn’t be so uncomfortable, it would be fascinating to hear what ‘obligatory’ IR classics Duck readers haven’t actually read and why not.

One good measure of this overload in IR is the Social Science Citation Index list – there are now 59 SSCI journals just in IR, 112 in Political Science, and 750 total. They are publishing roughly 4 issues a year, 6 articles per issue. This is just a crushing load: 59 x 4 x 6 = my head explodes like that dude from Scanners. In the end, the best you can do is follow the top ten or so, plus maybe one or two in your unique area. Then come all the books. Just in the last 6 months, you know you need to read Fukuyam’a new book on order and Pinker’s on violence (so long!), and who even wants to touch yet another laughably misnamed IR ‘handbook’ so heavy you could use it as a doorstop in a tornado?

And blogging just makes this worse. Now, on top of all those article and books you haven’t read and which will embarrass you at the next APSA, everybody’s got a blog. But blogging feels so much nicer than articles – the style is gentler and more readable, there is some humor (a cardinal sin in the SSCI), blog-posts are mercifully short, and you don’t need to read them with a pen in your hand. So you’d rather read blogs than read the latest ISQ – hence you get lost on the internet all day and fall yet further behind.

On top of this course, you want have a life – your spouse couldn’t care less about the difference between counterforce and countervalue, and, truth be told, you care a lot more about the degenerative ad hoc emendations of Star Wars on disc than of some IR paradigm (realism as structural, offensive, defensive, critical postpositivist, whatever, I don’t know anymore).

So one thing I’ve wondered about since grad school is how other people in IR manage the massive data/research flow. What are you strategies for sorting through this huge flood of writing that is worth your time, a flood that is only increasing with the proliferation of IR blogs? I feel just overwhelmed, so here are my 3 lesson-learned to date:

1. Blogs

I get lots of RSS feeds but, like everything else, they’ve proliferated so much, that I blow through most of them now. Hence the inevitable culling toward just a few that I find regularly reliable/important:

Walt at FP: I guess everybody read this, right? Its very high-profile; he’s the chair of the best political science department in the world; he’s a great scholar; and the blog is really good. Eve if you disagree with him (I thought he was very wrong on Libya), I almost always find Walt worth the time.

Duck of Minerva: I guess since I write for this site, this is expected, but I think the stuff on the Duck is actually quality IR; sometimes it feels like grad school all over again. Laura Sjoberg, e.g., used to write long, theory-heavy posts so good that I got headaches. And I don’t think there are too many other strictly IR theory blogs. There are lots of blogs on international affairs generally understood – everybody wants to be Fareed Zakaria. But how many blogs written solely for IR theory, and written with its assumptions in mind, are there?

Walter Russell Mead: I think Mead is the best conservative intellectual writing about foreign affairs on a blog. He’s not a neocon, ideologue, red-state evangelical, American exceptionalist, militarist, or suffering from any of the usual military-industrial complex-worshipping, rightist pathologies that undermine the writing of people like Kaplan or the Kagans, much less Kristol, Krauthammer, etc. Mead also usefully insists on analytically stressing religion and culture, which IR should do more of. Finally, he’s also got a nice grounding in history – American, British, and classical – that gives his work real depth.

More in a few days.

Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog.


Beware the Blog?

Being new to the blogging world, I have been thinking a lot about the utility and influence of blogs. Blogs seem appealing in so many ways. They appear to be an effective means of disseminating facts and views quickly to a wide audience, facilitating timely responses to emerging policy issues (and other fun pop politics). At the same time, blogging is a way of discussing real intellectual ideas free of many of the pitfalls of peer review and academic publishing (see last week’s Duck entry by Brian Rathbun). More importantly, blogging is concise, pithy and entertaining and can potentially appeal to wider audiences, thus expanding the field of debate and influence. For those of us interested in bridging the academic-policy world divide, blogging seems promising.

But this past weekend’s news about the “Gay Girl in Damascus” blogging fiasco got me thinking about the ethics of blogs. Point blank: what is the responsibility of the blogger – normally one committed to speaking truth to power – to give power to truth?

Journalistic codes of conduct don’t seem to apply. Certainly some academic standards do. For example, a blogger who plagiarized would certainly be ostracized quite quickly, but presumably the punishment would come more through social shaming and reader boycotts than any explicit sanctions against the writer. So do bloggers have a code of conduct? Should they have a code of conduct?

Moreover – as the newbie here – I am very curious as to others’ thoughts about how we observe and measure the influence of blogging. If we were to assert, for example, that blogging is an important means of shaping debates and exercising intellectual influence and thus should be considered in things such as hiring, promotion and tenure decisions (alongside activities such as writing op-eds), how would we back this up with evidence? How do we assess the quality and impact of blogging? When and how does blogging matter?


The Blogs of War

Later this week, I will be participating in a roundtable discussion with my esteemed colleagues Juan Cole, Manan Ahmed, Joshua Foust and Madiha Tahir on “The Blogs of War: The Analytical Terrain of the Af-Pak Blogosphere” at the annual conference on South Asia at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

For my contribution to this discussion, I have been scouring blogs from US/ISAF soldiers in Afghanistan. (I ignored the glossier blogs which are mainly exercises in official public relations and propaganda). Since I am up to my eyeballs reading blogs posts, I thought I would share a few observations…

Who is blogging?  Some soldier-bloggers are (as the derisive military jargon put it) Fobbits (i.e. forward operating base dwellers), Poges, or REMF (rear echelon mother fuckers) who rarely go outside of the wire and engage in direct combat.
 These are the types who have near panic attacks when stuck in Kabul traffic or who issue daily updates on the number of incoming mortar rounds from the previous night.  However, there are soldier/bloggers who do have lots of experience off of the base.  They seem to be using their blogs to process some of what they are learning and/or to discuss the finer points of current counter-insurgency strategy.  Since at least 2007, milbloggers are not free to comment on several topics and there is a measure of self- and quasi-official censorship so that soldier/bloggers do not run afoul of OPSEC guidelines.

Who is their audience? Most often those who are blogging say they are doing so to communicate a sense of their experience to friends and family.  Of course, if this were their only purpose, they could just as easily send their thoughts to a group e-mail.  So it is likely that most soldier/bloggers hope to communicate to a wider pro-military audience with occasional posts intended for the general public which is trying to make sense of the war.  Blogging may also help to provide some discipline and feedback on their own thoughts and interpretations of current events, as well as an outlet for frustration about how the war is being covered and analyzed by the mainstream media.

Common Themes:

1. Paternalism: Most US/ISAF soldier/bloggers are generally well intentioned toward the people of Afghanistan.  They believe that US/ISAF forces are there to counter the insurgency, help secure democracy, and build a professional military and police force; in other words, they accept their governments’ mission statement and generally remain optimistic and open minded.  (If soldiers do not accept the official rationale, it is unlikely that they would blog publicly about it).  However, it is pretty much impossible not to detect a hint of paternalism in many posts about Afghans with whom US/ISAF forces work closely.  Sometimes the level of paternalism is so blatant that the soldiers mock themselves:

“We got checked in and then had dinner, then our interpreters wanted to go downtown to Kabul and return on Tuesday. The Canadian Lt Colonel and I were like worried parents asking them all the questions about if their cell phone was charged, if they had our phone numbers, money, and a place to stay. It felt like letting your teenager out for the first time to drive, except people are actively looking for interpreters to kill, so we were extra worried,” (Afghanistan Tour 2010, 10/10/10). 

The pictures of life off the base are usually exercises in trying to comprehend the depth of poverty in Afghanistan.  Paternalism is reinforced by their training.  All USFOR-A (US Forces in Afghanistan) officers are required to read Greg Mortensen’s Three Cups of Tea, a book in which the admittedly noble protagonist has difficulty relating to any Pakistani except to the extent that social relations revolve around an acknowledgment of and competition for his charity.  Official military propaganda also emphasizes paternal and charitable relations with Afghan children as part of a general “hearts and minds” strategy.

Not surprisingly, the Afghans whom the soldiers get to know the best are usually their interpreters.  There is often genuine affection and respect for the service that “terps” provide.  But as the quote above illustrates, even these relationships are not without an element of paternalism.

In general, meaningful interactions with Afghans who are not directly or indirectly on the US payroll is quite limited. Those soldier/bloggers who have spent more time in rural areas (particularly member of what were formerly called Embedded Training Teams) outside their base express a measure of frustration at the ritualized and shallow manner with which they interact with the rural population.  One blogger was comically candid about the Marines’ Angry Panda syndrome (eats, shoots, and leaves).  He writes:

“Sometimes it’s shocking how little we really know about the people we’re fighting,” (Embedded in Afghanistan, 11/22/09).

Of course, not all interactions are shallow, predictable, and cursory.  In a separate post the same author wrote,

“Some of the conversations are not funny at all though. The average Afghan has seen a lot of tragedy in his or her life. They usually don’t feel compelled to share stories that are personal in nature, but I do recall one time when it happened… No matter how poor, down and out an Afghan is, they’ll always have some small provisions for guests. It was a pretty gloomy, rainy day and the old fella seemed kind of down, though it’s never easy to really read people when you can’t understand a word they are saying. Eventually, his nephews, young men in their 20’s, came out and proceeded to show us pictures of their father, who apparently had been the head man in the village, but had been killed by the insurgents just a few months before. At that point, the older gentlemen teared up and had to leave the room. The story was that the Taliban killed him because he had been a powerful figure in the local area, and wasn’t showing enough support to them. It’s those moments where you really realize how alone those people are. They may have had each other, living in a huge house built of stones fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle, but once we left the area that day they were really on their own. Our base may have been less than a mile away, but we didn’t really know what went on in that village at night. “Protecting the people” in Afghanistan is a tough thing to do,” (Embedded in Afghanistan, 12/01/09).

Another soldier wrote a post about Ramadan in Afghanistan, where he reflected on a conversation with Afghans by realizing that for many Afghans not eating during the day is not related to Ramadan, “It’s just a normal day…”  (Of course, for every thoughtful and culturally aware post, there are also rather disgusting tidbits on other blogs that wallow in stereotypes, racism, misogyny, and gutter level humor.)

2. Modernization: Many US/ISAF soldiers generally express high levels of optimism that Afghanistan is on a gradual path toward becoming a “modern” state and society (as if modernity were the telos of history).  Very few seem to be aware of the history of the modern Afghan state from the 1890 to 1979, i.e. prior to the Soviet invasion.  The people of Afghanistan have had repeated encounters with the Western model of modernity from King Amanullah to Prince Daoud.  A basic Afghan history course might help soldiers better understand why certain well intentioned “reforms” failed or generated resistance — either this is not provided or not utilized by soldier/bloggers writing on Afghanistan.

Of course, there are few who revel in images and accounts of Afghanistan’s backwardness.  One of my favorite slogans on this front is from the blog titled Afghan Quest, (formerly titled “Bill and Bob’s Excellent Afghan Adventure”) whose banner reads “…this is the quest for our future in a country ten minutes out of the stone age.”  Despite the idiotic banner, however, many of the blog posts on Afghan Quest are actually quite thoughtful and carefully argued.  

3. Mistrust: Soldiers’ posts often reveal a high degree of distrust of Afghans as colleagues and as workers.  For example, a soldier managing logistics on his second deployment in Afghanistan writes:

“A lot of times, when we try to work as a team with the ANA, they start to disappear one by one until you’re the only one left working…they’re very good at subtly disappearing,” (Afghanistan Tour 2010, 9/1/10). 

Some of this distrust is a product of the rampant corruption which appears ubiquitous, even in the most benign exercises, for example, distributing charity to poor children.  In one case an ANA medical officer allegedly had toys which were meant for distribution to children in his village diverted to his own home.  Unfortunately, there is little attempt to categorize and analyze why there is so much corruption or how to actually manage it. Corruption is primarily viewed by soldier/bloggers that I’ve read as an individual/societal moral failing.

Contrary to the general perception among soldier/bloggers, some NGO experiments with combating local level corruption have had measured success in parts of Afghanistan.  It may be useful to understand the social and political context in which such experiments can succeed as a way of analyzing why so many other endeavors succumb to various forms of corruption.  A better understanding of social networks and allegiances (from qawm to ethno-linguistic group to political party, etc.) in Afghan society might be a useful first step to designing better procedures and exercises.

It is also worth noting that while soldiers are often outraged by the corruption they encounter among Afghans, few engage in any reflection about their own ethically questionable acts, for example combining humanitarian assistance and charity work with military counter-insurgency strategy in a manner that ultimately places the lives of NGO workers in danger.

4. Chocolate Bunny War: There is something odd about this occupation when viewed from the perspective of those stationed at major bases in Afghanistan. It never quite ceases to amaze me that soldiers stationed in a war in South Asia boast of going to Tim Horton’s for an iced cappuccino or a bucket of chicken at KFC. Obviously, these features are designed to boost troop morale, but they also seem to make the Occupation surreal. While war tourists (i.e. journalists) seek out and focus on combat operations, many soldiers experience the war primarily from within the relatively secure confines of their base.  It is well known that war is boring, however the idea that war can be comfortable and even fattening is still a bit peculiar.

Overall, the experience of war in Afghanistan as conveyed by many soldier/bloggers reveals that while there is a cadre of highly intelligent, well intentioned, and open minded soldiers committed to the mission, they are often struggling to gain basic cultural literacy.  The relatively comfortable life behind the wire and limited language proficiency inhibits opportunities for serious and meaningful engagement with non-elite Afghans.  Even those who do regularly engage with the rural population have limited opportunities to actually learn much that is substantive about the people they are nominally protecting and the enemies they are fighting.  


Fresh (and Re-Freshed) Duck

In addition to being blown away by the recent Duck facelift (ht to Dan), you may have also noticed a slight shuffling in the roster. Congratulations to Stephanie Carvin, Laura Sjoberg, Vikash Yadav, all of whom are now officially (to quote Stephanie) “perma-ducks.”

Some of our other guest bloggers have stepped aside for now. We are grateful to Tony Lang, Mlada Bukovansky, Drew Conway, Daniel McIntosh and Craig Hayden for their contributions to the Duck over the past year of transitions, and wish them the best. Many will continue to write at their other fabulous blogs, and we’ll continue to read and link.

While Patrice McMahon and Virginia Haufler will remain in the guest roster for another season, the departure of so many guest Ducks has left openings for fresh faces. We are happy to welcome three new guest bloggers to the Duck crew this academic year.

First, Clifford Bob of Duquesne University will join us for a stint with commentary on global civil society, US foreign policy, ethnic violence, and anything else he specializes in or cares to comment about. Cliff is the author of The Marketing of Rebellion and is now completing a new manuscript on conservative transnational movements. He is also known among IR scholars for his snazzy titles. We can’t wait to see what he cooks up here at the Duck.
Second, we’d like to welcome Chris Brown – that’s right, the Chris Brown (of LSE) – to the Duck ranks. Professor Brown specializes in US and British foreign policy, global social justice and the ethics of war; his most recent in a long line of books is Practical Judgment in International Political Theory and for those unaware, he appeared on the single most interesting panel last year at the International Studies Association Annual Conference.
Third, we are pleased to introduce Ben O’Loughlin of Royal Holloway University in the UK, who will periodically chip in his two pence on issues related to international political communication. O’Loughlin’s work has emphasized the relationship between the media, war and new security challenges, and he blogs at the New Political Communications Unit. We look forward to his discussions of anything and everything.

And finally, we are all extremely excited to see Nexon back from the dead… er… DoD… er… something like that. Welcome, Dan. We knew you’d be back.
Please join us in welcoming this year’s crew.

Digital Burqa

A few days ago, Charli pondered “whether or not the Internet and social media empowers civil society or instead simply offers states new tools of repression and governance.” And she provided a link to an excellent video about Iranian bloggers. I haven’t been able to get the question or the video out of my head. This is not my topic/area of research, but I will offer a few tentative thoughts to see if it will spark some discussion…

What color is your burqa?

If we were to visualize the Internet, would we not see a vast social space populated by individuals (men and women) wearing burqas, niqabs, chadors, and hijabs? Even in social networks, how many people interact without securing a measure of (an admittedly illusory) “privacy”? Almost all of those who comment on this blog, for example, wear digital burqas, except the listed contributors who are hijabed. (For we are all aware of the Nietzschean dictum that to talk much about oneself is also a way to conceal oneself.)

(What fascinates me is that so many wear digital burqas voluntarily, particularly in societies which are nominally non-authoritarian. From whence does this fear of the gaze of others originate in supposedly free societies? But, I digress…)

If you ask individuals in authoritarian or non-authoritarian contexts why they inhabit these personal panopticons, they would probably tell you that their burqa gives them mobility in the public sphere while avoiding the gaze/persistent memory of undesirable others and perhaps the state. Their burqa also enables a measure of subversion and license (as does the actual burqa and niqab even in conservative societies.)

Repression is understood in this context as the lifting of the digital veil by the state and/or the incarceration of authors.

The real question for me is not why an authoritarian state occasionally seeks to lift the veil on suspected dissidents (all states do this), but why a strong authoritarian state tolerates this potentially subversive social space at all. Technophiles will say that the state has no choice in this digital age, but this argument is not convincing when one is dealing with strong, capable states. After all, how many blogs emanate from Pyongyang? Not many (if any) I suspect. States can attempt (and more of less succeed) to prevent the technology wholesale, the more challenging situation is to permit the technology but to censor/filter particular servers. So why take on this more difficult challenge in governing?

The Spider and the Web

There is often an assumption in debates about social networks in authoritarian countries that civil society is antecedent to the state. However, outside of the Anglo-American tradition civil society is certainly not an autonomous historical development. (Even within the Anglo-American tradition it is doubtful that civil society today is logically antecedent since the state shapes every element of civil society through public policies). Late developing states have consistently sought to create bourgeois civil society in a hothouse in order to catch up to the early industrializers. To borrow an evocative metaphor from Bruce Cummings’ work on the developmental state: the spider builds the web; there are no webs without spiders.

The challenge for late-industrializing states has traditionally been to create a bourgeoisie which can achieve hegemony over the existing social classes without fomenting a violent reactionary revolution.

I do not know enough about Iran since its (reactionary? alter-modern?) revolution to say why its state permits this potential site of resistance. However, I do think it is worth asking the question. My hunch (and it is only that) is that the state hopes to create a particular modern bourgeoisie with “Iranian characteristics” (on the Chinese model) while exposing and expunging the secular, cosmopolitan, counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie. In Hegelian fashion, the state projects its role as restoring a threatened organic unity.

It is unclear to me whether the young bloggers/tweeters of Iran have established hegemony within their society. Internet penetration in Iran has grown dramatically in recent years and it is well above the regional average. However, the bloggers’/tweeters’ frequent appeals in English to a global audience cast some doubts in my mind. But again, I do not know enough and hope others will correct me. Perhaps, when the authoritarian state has stamped out real threats to its survival, it occasionally lets the reformers de-legitimize themselves by appealing to the international community in the language of the global hegemon. As the Iranian state frequently expresses concerns about foreign subversion, this seems like a plausible scenario.

In one conversation I had with an Iranian blogger (who ironically used Chinese software to acquire his/her chador), s/he rejected the notion that their struggles against the state were assisted by the US State Department’s efforts to buttress Twitter. Of course, the core issue is whether American assistance/intervention is perceived as marginal by the majority of the Iranian population.


Pondering Social Media and Global Civil Society

Random connections between things: Today, I’m at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy giving a guest lecture on global advocacy networks, in a class on Statecraft taught by my colleague Dan Drezner, who has an article coming out in the next issue Brown Journal of World Affairs on whether or not the Internet and social media empowers civil society or instead simply offers states new tools of repression and governance.

Then, with all that freshly bobbing around in my mind, my doctoral student sent me this video, which speaks to the same question of whether social media primarily empowers citizens or states. I don’t have time to formulate an informed opinion on the issue because I’m off to lunch, but the video is very good, and I wonder what readers think about this question.

Iran: A nation of bloggers from Mr.Aaron on Vimeo.


Juggling Blog-spots

Beginning tomorrow, I’ll be kicking off a blogging stint over at Lawyers, Guns and Money, where I’ll post material regularly on foreign policy, pop culture and human security. My IR theory-related posts will remain exclusively at the Duck.


OK, LFC might be onto something. From an LGM commenter:

“human security?”

from aliens? from TSA? ?? from politicians promising hope & change but delivering bags o’crap?

Hmm, this should be fun.

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