Tag: International Studies Association

ISA’s Sapphire Series – Is Blue the New White?

*This is a guest post by Cynthia Weber, Professor of International Relations at the University of Sussex

As the International Studies Association gears up for its 2015 annual convention in New Orleans, USA, an email announcing its Sapphire Series of panels was sent to ISA members. The email reads: ‘Introducing ISA’s new initiative THE SAPPHIRE SERIES. Covering key issues in the field and in international affairs, these talks will feature scholars discussing current world events, trends in academic research, and new challenges in teaching and learning’.

Great idea, it seems to me, so I click on the link to ‘Find Out More.’ This is where things get troubling. For the more I find out, the more troubled I become. On the ISA Sapphire Series page, I find descriptions of four up-coming panels – Epistemology in IR, The State of IR Theory: Questions Big and Small, Topics in Teaching and Professional Development, and Commentary on Breaking Current Events. So far, so good. Each panel is composed of prestigious members of the discipline, men and women. Again, so far, so good. Then things start getting weird.

Every IR scholar is from the Global North, which seems strange to me given the conference theme of ‘Global IR, Regional Worlds’ and given the post-colonial expertise and commitments to post-colonial scholarship of this year’s ISA Program Chairs. Then I see the profile pictures of each speaker embedded next to their description, and here I audibly go ‘huh?’ Because every one of the 17 Sapphire participants appears to be white. Again, I’m confused. For at ISA 2015 in particular – with its two Program Chairs who are variously racialized against standards of normalized whiteness and who contest racialized IR knowledges – how is it that seemingly superior Sapphire Series knowledge appears to be universally white? Continue reading


How to Lose a Conference in 4 Days: why we attend the ISA to miss the ISA

I can still remember my first ISA conference. I was a PhD student eager to present early work at the freezing Montreal conference (not the last Montreal, the one before that). I remember being gobsmacked hearing academics talking about how they were booked up with meetings and hadn’t attended a single panel. I thought: What did that mean?; What was this ‘other’ conference or set of meetings happening and why was it happening at the same time as the ISA?; How was it possible to attend the ISA, but not attend any panels? But several years later, as I look at my ‘ISA Schedule’ I’m struggling to carve out time to attend panels that aren’t my own. Don’t get me wrong- this isn’t going to be a post about how important I am, or how busy I am: I’m not, and I’m not. And, don’t get me wrong, I love attending panels. For me, there is no greater conference satisfaction than folding over pages, highlighting panels, and placing stars beside ‘must see’ roundtables. But conference creep happens! With four days of conference, and 4 panels a day, there are exactly 16 opportunities to attend a panel…in theory. Here’s how to loose those opportunities, one at a time.

1. Your own presentations. This is a no brainer- the average ISA-er is on 2-3 panels (based on my total guestimation- note that participants are technically only supposed to be on 4, but there are a whole host of ways that gets ignored…a good topic for another post). Let’s round up to 3. That means you only have 13 possible panels to attend.

2. After-panel creep. Continue reading


Support the Establishment of a New ISA Section: Religion and IR

Ron Hassner has long discussed forming an ISA section on Religion and IR. After attending the last ISA, talking to more people with work that touches on the subject, and seeing the continuing increase in papers that address religion and world politics, Ron is moving forward. If (and only if) you are an ISA member, please take a moment to sign the petition. We need a hundred qualified signatures.


Pop Culture Narratives in World Politics: A Bleg

I will be on a panel at 1.45pm in Indigo A with the following description:

There has been a growing body of work in world politics that relies on or analyzes fictional narratives. To what extent can cultutal phenomena like Battlestar Galactica or Harry Potter be used as for pedagogical purposes in the classroom? How useful are such narratives as data points to either explicate or substantiate theoretical claims in world politics? This roundtable weighs the costs and benefits of using popular culture narratives inside the classroom and in publications.

Charli Carpenter will be discussing her work on the intersection (PDF) between Battlestar Galactica and real-world politics. I assume that Patrick James will tell us about his forthcoming book on teaching international relations through The Lord of the Rings. I expect that you all can guess what Dan Drezner’s role on the panel will be. I’m not at all sure what Jonathan Cristol will present — perhaps something on Philip K. Dick?

Here’s my question: what should I talk about? I don’t have any interest in revisiting the substance of Harry Potter and International Relations, which leaves four options:

  1. Methods and Methodology. In essence, I could discuss my thinking — six-years on — about the framework Iver Neumann and I developed for HP&IR. If Steve Saideman will allow me to present last, this might be a nice way to close out the disparate panel presentations.
  2. The Hunger Games. My guess is that I would talk about the series from the perspective of the four  approaches to popular culture and politics referenced in the first option.
  3. Interstellar Relations: The Politics of Speculative Fiction. The substance and pedagogy of the class I teach, with ample kudos to PTJ’s influence.
  4. Strange IR: International-Relations Theory as Speculative Fiction. A discussion of a paper idea that PM came up with after we finished a brief comment on whether the nineteenth century was the most important  (.doc) “turning point” in international politics. In brief, why a number of over-the-horizon developments — the “great convergence,” climate change, the end of the “Age of Efflorescence” — might alter the constitutive rules of international politics and how coming to grips with that requires practical science fiction. 

Feedback would be greatly appreciated.


More ISA Redux: Diversity Issues in the International Studies Association

A debate about the mission of the ISA Diversity Committee that started Tuesday at the Governing Council weekend and continued throughout the conference has inspired me to think about diversity issues in the International Studies Association and in a number of our other professional environments.

While I will inevitably mischaracterize the contours of this debate – I’ll try to describe it quickly as a prelude to what I want to say about these issues. The Diversity Committee (the old mission of which is still on its website, linked above), in reaction to the establishment of the Committee on the Status of Women and the (at the time pending) establishment Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Allies (LGBTQA) Caucus, suggested (and was granted) a change to its mission that narrows it to (part of) race and nationality politics within the organization, particularly:

The mission of the committee is (a) to promote the recruitment, integration, and professional development and visibility of underrepresented groups (African-American, Native Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, Asian and Pacific Islanders) including individuals from the Global South (Asia, Africa, Latin America), and (b) to monitor and provide oversight with respect to these goals.

I think this mission is nothing short of a disaster for diversity promotion in ISA for a number of reasons (including that diversity is more than race, and that ISA’s significant European membership is entirely left out of that mission), but also provides an opportunity to think about what it would mean to value diversity in the organization. Here are some thoughts ….

It is a good and productive idea to value sex and race subordination on face. This is the work that we do acceptably now – looking for women, (sometimes) race and national minorities, “foreigners,” sex and gender minorities, religious minorities, etc. in our organization’s membership, its positions of service, its positions of power, and in indicators of opportunity, success, and staying power in the field.

However, there’s more to thinking about the diversity implications of every decision that we make then correcting discriminatory representational practices, and even correcting discriminatory representational practices is more complicated. First, to reiterate, there are more axes of diversity rights, like race, national origin, disability, sex, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. Second, it is both a negative (neither ISA nor the profession are “diverse” enough along any of these axes) and a positive (the diversity of our community is a substantive and representational asset for us). Often, talk about diversity is in the negative (to save, take care of, emancipate underrepresented groups) to the neglect of the positive.

Even just talking about diversity in the negative sense, however, there’s a risk in what we call “essentialism” in identifying the people and groups that we want to look out for. What we mean by “essentialism” is the (implicit or explicit) assumption that groups have defined lines and that there are characteristics “essential” to membership in certain groups. In other words, we risk essentialism when we assume that “women” or “African American” or “[insert group here]” have particular personality characteristics and/or points of view because they are (perceived to be) members of those groups. Likewise, it is an oversimplified interpretation of the “diversity” project when we assume that certain underrepresented groups (for example, women) are represented in our governance structures and ideas because there is a member of that group is in a position of power. While representative diversity is an important component of making our organization more diverse and valuing its existing diversity, it is not the only (or even most important) component.

Instead, there’s a substance to diversity concerns as well. Are all our members being taken seriously as colleagues? Do essentialist notions of people underlie formal inclusion? Is there a (raced and gendered) power politics of interpersonal interactions in the organization?

These sorts of questions (which are the ones I hope the diversity committee was established to address, or at least that I hope it ultimately comes to address, or ISA addresses with or without it) require looking at diversity (even in the negative sense) as more than looking at the colors and shapes of faces. Instead, it requires seeing that the parameters, the rules, the electoral structures, the intellectual boundaries of our (and other) social and political organization(s) were established when men (and masculinity) were the majority. If we do not see that, our organization remains exclusionary even as we get better at representational diversity.

I am not advocating some sort of radical deconstruction of ISA as a policy choice or management strategy. Instead, I think that these insights suggest that we take account of both the actual and substantive diversity consequences of our decisions in more complicated ways – not only in choosing committee members or nominating ISA officers, but also in decision-making that appears “neutral” on the axes of diversity discussed above (budgeting, membership rules, etc).

Diversity is then more complicated then the (new) mission of the Committee on several levels. First, diversity about more than race/national origin, and limiting it to that is intellectually and politically both inaccurate and exclusionary. Second, the characterizations of race and national origin in this statement are United States-centric (with emphasis on minorities in the United States when 40% of our membership is from outside of the United States). While the “Global South” is included, our European and Australian members are not.

But perhaps diversity is also more complicated than the (old) mission of the committee as well. Even were this statement a “full” accounting for the axes of diversity in non-essentialist terminology, the statement would still be inappropriate, because it frames (lack of) diversity as a problem to be fixed (by adding underrepresented people to the field and aiding them in it) without acknowledging the positive side of diversity (and therefore, hopefully, the positive mission of a diversity committee) to highlight and emphasize diversity as an asset of our organization which improves its intellectual vibrancy, governance creativity, and sense of community as an organization.

Conscious discrimination (within our organization and in the field more generally) is a decreasing if not disappearing component of gender, race, disability, and other axes of subordination. The question is not now if but how to look out for diversity. In this spirit, it is crucial not to assume that gender, race, and embodied subordination disappears with the decrease in intentional discrimination or to assume that it is only “white American men” oppressing underrepresented groups. Instead, for example, men subordinate men on the basis of gender; women subordinate women on the basis of gender. Though it is not the only reading possible, I would read the current mission of the Diversity Committee as subordinating race/national origin minorities in ISA on the basis of race.

The question that we’re struggling with (hopefully) is to ask – if not this – then how? In the abstract, I think it is about asking questions about the substantive impact on diverse groups within our community of decisions that appear neutral – that is “diversity mainstreaming.” It is my contention that there is a mission for a Diversity Committee (distinct from other groups interested in minority rights in ISA) to have that does not necessarily require retreating to only thinking about race/national origin (even if it were doing so in an unproblematic way). While I don’t think that the language of the previous mission of the Diversity Committee (which privileges “women”) is particularly productive, I do think that it is dangerous to privileges some groups over others in the name of “diversity,” as well as to reify groups. If it is important to represent persons on the basis of race (which ISA doesn’t do) or national origin (which I am guessing is the idea behind the nomination of Non-North American members of the Governing Council), then I think that should be under the auspices of a body with such a mission not called the Diversity Committee (and I hope in a more nuanced way than the current language).

But I think Diversity Committee (and the ISA Diversity Committee) should have a both broader and deeper mission – to address diversity as a whole in a negative sense (how to get underrepresented groups represented both in positions of power and substantively) and (and even mainly) in the positive sense (how to see and advance our organization’s diversity as an asset in it). Can we do that? In ISA or elsewhere? I hope so.


Queer Politics/the International Studies Association

A couple of months ago now, I blogged about the establishment of the LGBTQA Caucus of ISA, asking for support with signatures of dues-paying ISA members. Many of you sent your support, and as a result, the petition had many more than the number of signatures necessary for it to be presented at the Governing Council meeting this coming Tuesday, 2/16.

I’ve recently discovered that my original post was discussed elsewhere in the great “blogosphere” out there, particularly by James Joyner on “Outside the Beltway,” arguing that there is no need for an LGBTQA caucus for ISA because LGBTQ activism can already take place within ISA.

Directly, to Joyner’s post, I would argue that ISA is in important ways a heterosexist/cissexist organization (and still a sexist one as well), that advocating for the rights of oppressed minorities is not a phenomena that needs explanation, that Joyner’s example of “a man in a dress” experiencing discrimination like a “man with a mustache” (the very construction of which shows a misunderstanding of LGBTQA advocacy) is patently absurd, and the idea of a “purely scholarly organization” without politics is every bit as ridiculous.

But I will leave detailing those critiques to others more articulate than I am.

I’m more interested, here, in the indirect point. The LGBTQA Caucus of ISA is not a cause I own, and particularly not a cause I own as chair of the Feminist Theory and Gender Studies (FTGS) section of ISA or as (as Joyner presumes) a woman and a feminist. In fact, to the extent that I am committed to the establishment of such a Caucus, it is because I see that existing organizational and political structures in ISA (including FTGS) are fundamentally inadequate to the tasks outlined in the mission of the LGBTQA caucus as currently presented.

But the larger point is that Joyner is wrong to characterize this as something that I am working on/establishing/shoving a “self-licking ice cream cone” down people’s throats. Instead, I am part (and only part) of a diverse movement that now includes several hundred scholars interested in improving ISA’s structural and substantive openness to queer concerns.

Along those lines, I want to talk a little bit about the Caucus/LGBTQA issues @ ISA 2010 in New Orleans next week.

While it is not right to talk about the establishment of the LGBTQA caucus as a reaction to the politics around ISA in New Orleans, it also isn’t right to ignore that there are issues concerning ISA New Orleans of particular concern to ISA’s LGBTQ population, whatever way we ultimately fall on those as policy preferences or choices.

We each choose to deal with these issues in different ways, individually and collectively. Some very publicly boycott ISA 2010. Some choose not to come to ISA 2010, and do not talk about it in the public sphere. Some debate the issues and ultimately decide against boycotting. Some ignore the questions, and still others try to silence those people who would discuss the politics of ISA as heterosexist/cissexist. Some look to redress those issues in ISA governance/Louisiana governance.

I struggled a lot with my personal way of dealing with ISA New Orleans, and came up with this. As FTGS section chair, I can put together the FTGS critical/eminent scholarship panel. So I have (in the Friday “D” Session), as a political reaction to ISA New Orleans and what I saw in ISA as a result, and as a hope for us as a field/discipline. The panel will include a number of speakers giving views about the state of/potential for queer theorizing in International Relations.

Because many of you will not be at ISA New Orleans/the panel, I will close this post with my thinking/reasoning/introduction to the panel, and a public (yes, that means you) invitation to contribute:

I’ve always been struck by these words of Naomi Scheman: “the issue is not who is or is not really whatever, but who can be counted on when they come for any one of us: the solid ground is not identity but loyalty and solidarity.” It is perhaps because of my identification with these words that I fully expected the FTGS community, such that it exists, to be counted on, in queer struggles with, attempts to reconcile with, and protests of the choice to hold this conference in this location. Though, as a member of the Governing Council, I need to express complicity, I find ISA’s policy choices on this issue specifically and as (actively and passively) relate to its queer members generally deeply unjust, and forming this panel despite some opposition, the absence (either coincidental or location-based) of most of the few people who have written about queer theorizing in feminist IR, the underexplored nature of queer issues in IR generally and feminist IR specifically, and the tensions between these scholar communities outside of IR, is personal activism for me, “aimed at” ISA, at feminist communities in ISA and more generally, and, not unimportantly, “at” myself.

I did not supply the panelists with a set of questions for this panel, and do not intend to exclude voices in the room with something to say on these issues that are not “on” the panel. As such, I’ve asked the panelists to talk for 8-10 minutes, sharing our prepared thoughts, but also collected others’ thoughts in different media, and, after the presentation of those prepared thoughts, am open to “audience” participation either in the traditional question-and-answer format or in terms of thoughts about queer theory in (feminist) IR that do not directly relate to the panelists’ thoughts. A multimedia archive of this panel will be put together and shared.

If you will be unable to be in New Orleans, or even just unable to attend the panel, I am extending the request for audience participation virtually. If you’d like to “comment” on the subject matter, feel free to email me your content. Please try to make it appropriate for a panel (I can’t show a bunch of ten-minute videos or anything). The best format to submit your contribution in would be a powerpoint slide, but I’m open to taking other forms of contribution as well. So, please “participate” if you’re interested, come to the panel if you’d like to, and visit our archive afterwards, details of which will be posted later.


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