Tag: IR pedagogy (Page 1 of 2)

Do we need to teach the IR paradigms at all?

Over the weekend, fellow guest contributor Luke Perez had an interesting post on whether we need to include the grand paradigms of international relations  (realism, liberalism, and constructivism) in foreign policy classes. He makes some good points on how to customize courses for foreign policy students; be sure to read it if you haven’t. I’d like to go further and ask whether we need to teach these paradigms at all.

I’m coming at this from a different perspective than Perez. I teach at an undergraduate focused institution. So I’m preparing students for a broad array of potential political science careers. But the issue with the paradigms’ importance transcends any single realm of higher education.

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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


Blogging the syllabus, international security edition: what is security?

With all of the focus on APSA, there’s been little discussion of another Labor Day ritual—the Revising of the Syllabus. In truth, I should have begun this ritual a few weeks ago.  Now that the panic dreams have kicked in—you know, the ones where you show up to class on the first day without a syllabus and thus lose all authority over your students for the rest of the semester…you do get those too, right?—I know I must take action.

My first task is to revise my introductory-level course on security studies and, luckily, it’s in pretty good shape, thanks to some major overhauls I did over the last two years.  But although I’m only engaged in minor tinkering, I at least try to reflect upon the major assumptions that shape the syllabus.  First and foremost, there is the mother of all assumptions: what is security, and what do we mean by security studies?

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Reply on “physics envy”

Because not everyone reads comment threads, in part because of the way that people engage with The Duck via RSS readers, and because think the questions involved are really important ones, I’m going to post my reaction to PM’s “Yes, I do envy physicists”as a separate post of its own:

Man, I was right with you until your advance response to commenters. Making “data and its analysis central to the undergraduate experience” — a.k.a. emphasizing undergraduate research, such that one of the primary learning outcomes of a BA in International Relations or Government or Political Science or whatever is the critical intellectual disposition necessary to be both an intelligent producer of knowledge about the social and political world and an intelligent consumer of other knowledge-claims about that world — is spot-on. (And part of why one of the first administrative changes I made as Associate Dean in my school is to establish the position of Undergraduate Research Coordinator, whose job is both to coordinate our methodological course offerings and to make sure that upper-division classes feature opportunities to actually use those techniques in research projects as appropriate.) Now, you and I (probably) disagree about the relative prominence of statistical training in the enterprise of undergraduate research, since as you know I am a lot more small-c-catholic about (social-)scientific methodology than, well, most people. But hey, we’re in the same basic place…

…and then you had to go and diss history and theory. This is counterproductive for at least three reasons:

1) one can’t do good research without both theory and methodology, and the point of the exercise is to help people learn how to do good research, not how to use methodological tools in isolation.

2) de-emphasizing history and theory at the undergraduate level basically guarantees that “re-emphasizing” it at the graduate level ain’t never gonna happen. Teched-up statisticians going to graduate programs aren’t likely to willingly seek out unfamiliar ways of thinking about knowledge-production, and let’s be honest, theory — whatever your favorite flavor of theory — isn’t like methodology in general and isn’t like statistical-comparative methodology of the quantitative kind in particular. So you’ll either get a) statisticians launching smash-and-grab raids on history and theory for a justificatory fig-leaf for their operational definitions of variables and for supposedly “objective” data to use in testing their hypotheses (hey, wait a second, that sounds familiar…oh yeah, it’s what “mainstream U.S. PoliSci” does ALL THE FRAKKING TIME ALREADY); or b) existential crises when students discover that everything they learned in undergrad — I am referring to the “hidden curriculum” here, the conclusions that students will draw from the emphasis on statistics and the de-emphasis on history and theory — is wrong or at least seriously incomplete. Then you factor in the professional incentives for publication in “top-tier” US journals, and the lack of ability to meaningfully evaluate non-statistical work if one hasn’t spent some serious time training in how do appreciate that work, and you get…well, you get basically what we have at the moment in US PoliSci, but worse.

3) since we’re social scientists and not statisticians (or discourse analysts, or ethnographers, or surveyors, or…), methodology is a means to an end, and that end is or should always be the explanation of stuff in the social world. A social scientist teaching stats should be teaching about how one uses stats to make sense of the social world; ditto a social scientist teaching whatever methodology or technique one is teaching. Yes, the disciplinary specialists in those tools are not going to be particularly pleased with everything that we do, but that’s okay, since we’re on a different mission. And that mission necessitates history and theory just as much as it necessitates methodology (and, I would argue, a broad and diverse set of methodological literacies). If one tries to play the game where one looks for external validation of one’s methodological chops by people whose discipline specializes in a particular set of tools, then one is probably going to lose, or one is going to be dismissed as derivative. We’re not about to locate the Higgs boson with anything we do in the social sciences, and we’re not likely to contribute to any other discipline (I mean, it happens, but I think the frequency is pretty low). What we are going to do, or at least keep on trying to do, is to enhance our understanding of the social world. More stats training — more methodology training of any sort — at the undergraduate level is not necessarily a means to that end, unless it occurs in conjunction with more history and theory.

None of this is going to help the public understand what we do any better. We don’t make nuclear bombs or cel phones or (un)employment, and the U.S. is kind a a dispositionally anti-intellectual place (has been since the founding of the country…see Tocqueville, Hofstader, etc.) theory isn’t respected as a contribution. Everybody wants results that they can easily see — can you build a better mousetrap — and the vague sense that physicists have something to do with engineers and economists have something to do with entrepreneurs (who are, I think, the actual figures that get public prestige, because they do practical stuff) shores up their respective social value. But us, what we have a vague connection to are POLITICIANS, and everybody hates them. So that’s an uphill battle we’re probably fated to lose. So my punchline, which I’ve given many times before: our primary job is teaching students, our scholarship makes us better teachers, and the place to point for evidence of our social value is to those who graduate from our colleges and universities and the people they’ve become as a result of dwelling for a time in the happily intellectual and critical environment we contribute to producing on campus.


Walt sings the praises of a liberal education

Steve Walt opines that “would-be foreign policy wonks” should basically get a classical liberal-arts education, and he uses a traditional justification for this: “In world that is both diverse and changing rapidly, a broad portfolio of knowledge is almost certainly the best preparation for a long career in the field.” I’d amend that somewhat, and say that a broad liberal-arts education — which isn’t about gaining a portfolio of knowledge or skills as much as it is about developing a certain critical intellectual disposition — is almost certainly the best preparation for the rest of your adult life, not just for a career in the IR field however understood. Hyper-specialization at the undergraduate level is something that annoys me to no end, and on that score as on many of the specifics in Walt’s list I find myself in complete agreement.

Two minor quibbles and one more major issue.

Minor quibble #1: I think Walt gets the justification for studying some statistics as an undergraduate student precisely correct: “statistics is part of the language of policy discourse, and if you don’t understand the basics, you won’t be a discerning consumer of quantitative information.” It’s a language, you need to be able to speak it in at least a rudimentary way to make headway in most policy circles, and (it pains me to say) in most IR academic circles too. [Not because statistics is bad, but because I think we can do better as a basic methodological vocabulary than elementary statistics. But that’s another post, or a different book that I already wrote.] But when Walt advises the study of economics, he shifts his epistemic warrant slightly, calling for “basic grasp of the key principles of international trade and finance and some idea how the world economy actually works.” The former justification (statistics is a language) makes no commitment to statistics being a correct or even defensible way to view the world, just as his recommendation to learn a foreign language makes no commitment to a given language being somehow truer. But the latter justification presumes that the language of contemporary economics is some kind of a reliable guide to how things work, a debatable proposition indeed — especially given very good recent work on the performativity of economic language. he should have stuck with “learn some of that language too.”

Minor quibble #2: Walt suggests that “geography matters” so students ought to learn things like the physical characteristics of different regions. But this is a non sequitur, since it is entirely possible for one to maintain that geography matters without becoming a geographical determinist. Studying the physical characteristics of a region and expecting them to give one insight into social and political dynamics is geographical determinism, whether or not one produces a minor caveat by converting those physical characteristics into an independent variable with only a partial or probabilistic impact on outcomes…if physical characteristics explain social forms, then we’re a minor and theoretically inconsequential step away from “geography is destiny” and Halford Mackinder’s world-island and heartland. On which, well, one might read any piece of critical geography/geopolitics written in the past several decades, starting here and here. In fact, works like those two provide a gateway to a more defensible and less reductionist/determinist kind of “geography matters,” in which it’s the discourse of geographic space and not that space “in itself” (whatever the heck that might mean) which has consequences.

And this in turn links to my biggest hesitation about Walt’s list, which is his persistent equivocation between the notion that one should study certain things as an undergraduate in order to grasp the diversity of ways that people make sense of the world, and the notion that one should study certain things as an undergraduate in order to grasp the way that things really are (despite what others might think, because they’re wrong). This is perhaps most apparent in Walt’s first recommendation, which is that one should study history:

Not only does history provide the laboratory in which our basic theories must be tested, it shapes the narratives different peoples tell themselves about how they came to their present circumstances and how they regard their relationship to others. How could one hope to understand the Middle East without knowing about the Ottoman Empire, the impact of colonialism, the role of Islam, the influence of European anti-Semitism and Zionism, or the part played by the Cold War?  Similarly, how could one grasp the current complexities in Asia without understanding the prior relations between these nations and the different ways that Chinese, Vietnamese, Koreans, Japanese, Pashtuns, Hindus, Muslims, and others understand and explain past events?

Walt’s “not only” joins two extremely, even radically, different versions of what it would mean to  study history. History as “laboratory” — Walt means historical facts as data for our theories to test themselves against, but this conception also covers historical facts as parts of developmental sequences that play themselves out behind the backs, or otherwise out of the grasp of, actors  — suggests that we understand a present situation in world politics better by studying what came before it. History as “the narratives different peoples tell themselves about how they came to their present circumstances” — true, Walt says that those narratives are shaped by history rather than being history itself, but then as the paragraph unfolds he grants the study of historical self-understanding its own autonomous role in grasping “current complexities” — suggests, by contrast, that we understand a present situation in world politics better by seeing what use is made of the past in the present and how that puts horizons on the future. Events with persistent causal power versus the causal power of “eventing,” so to speak.

My hesitation is two-fold. First, Walt, like many IR scholars, doesn’t seem to be aware of the tension between these two points of view, so he (like others) can pass pretty seamlessly from “here’s how different actors construe the situation” to “here’s how it is.” But there is radical tension, perhaps to the point of incommensurability, between those approaches to history. Because Walt glosses over that tension, I hesitate. But I also hesitate because I suspect that in the end Walt is really siding with the first approach rather than the second, and is hence unable to reflexively grasp the extent to which his own account of “how it is” is itself a perspectival construal rather than a way of dispelling inaccurate perspectives. The point of a liberal-arts education, as far as I am concerned, is to kick the apparent supports out from under each and every supposed “view from nowhere” by showing how they emerge from particular combinations of commitments and stances, and this in turn propels the liberally-educated person into a better grasp of the contingency of things — which in turn allows creative action that shapes a plausible future. It is precisely not about mastering a multifaceted-but-ultimately-homogenous narrative of The Way That The World Is so that one can use that as a basis for Sound Policy Recommendations.

Developing a respect for ambiguity and contingency is not the same thing as eliminating ambiguity and contingency through a more intricate totalizing account, even if that totalizing account is couched in terms of “a broad portfolio of knowledge” for a “world that is both diverse and changing rapidly.” The former embraces genuine uncertainty in the Knightian sense; the latter reduces it to just plain old “risk.” And I would say that the latter is precisely not what a liberal-arts education is all about — it’s a technocratic device for imagining oneself into a far less ambiguous world. But a liberal-arts education equips one to live in that world instead of perpetually trying to engineer it away. Walt’s last recommendation involves confronting ethical questions and conundrums, which I certainly agree is something that one ought to do as an undergraduate student…but not to find a superior foundation as much as to start recognizing the limits of such foundations, the Weberian “uncomfortable facts” that each and every principled position has to confront. Remember that it was Plato who thought that one could craft new, superior foundations; Socrates just asked questions that confounded his interlocutors and forced them to question their assumptions. The liberal-arts educator ought to think Socrates rather than Plato, and the undergraduate student — especially, perhaps, the undergraduate student interested in world politics broadly understood — ought to be a lot more concerned with the diversity of ways of worlding than with looking for the One True (Account Of The) World.


Academic Rigor in the Classroom: Time to Get Serious?

Star Trek convention Las Vegas 2009
Charli, Dan and Patrick at ISA 2013?

The academics/educators who write this blog often locate their research and teaching interests in texts from popular culture. Dan has co-edited a book on Harry Potter and IR. Patrick teaches a course on science fiction and social science. Dan offers a course on science fiction and politics. Charli blogs frequently about science fiction and has a working paper on “Security or Human Security? Civil-Military Relations in Battlestar Galactica.” I’ve frequently taught a class on “Global Politics Through Film” and am working on a project about “the comedy of global politics.” I could go on and on, referencing most of the bloggers on the sidebar.

But you already get the idea. Nerdy Duck of Minerva bloggers like to think about popular films, television series, and novels through the lens of international politics. Resistance is futile. We are serious about nonsense, or at least that is likely how critics and skeptics would view these efforts. The other bloggers at the Duck have frequently explained why they do what they do, but I’d like to revisit the issue in light of some recent social science research.

So, here we go again: Given what we know about the ability of higher education to achieve its aims, are we letting our students and colleagues down by focusing on battle stars, death stars, dark materials, the dark side, hunger games, super-heroes, wizard worlds, or zombies?

I have sometimes heard colleagues in the hard sciences snicker at the unusual titles and subjects of courses, papers, and conferences in the social sciences and humanities. Many assume we are all practicing post-modernists, dedicated perhaps to the reification of fantasy. Many colleagues in IR want all of us in the field to spend much more time thinking about the policy relevance of our work. Even sympathetic friends in the social sciences fear that paying parents will be unhappy when they hear about the courses their offspring are taking next term. We had a big debate about this at Louisville when trying to name the new Peace Studies program.

Granted, much of this is familiar ground on this blog and elsewhere. Thus, I’d like to consider the topic in terms of basic student learning outcomes.

A few weeks ago, I attended a talk by Richard Arum, one of the co-authors of Academically Adrift, the much-discussed recent work demonstrating that colleges are failing a huge portion of their students. Perhaps even worse, the work explains the problems Arum and colleagues identify by finding that too many college classes lack basic rigor. Long-time readers may recall that I previously blogged about Arum’s work with Josipa Roksa back in February 2011.

For those unfamiliar with their study, Arum and Roksa used “measures developed by the Collegiate Learning Association (CLA)” to determine what students are getting out of college. They tested students entering school and then tested them again two and four years later. The results were troubling as more than one-third of respondents ‘did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning’ over four years of college.

Keep that basic point in mind: apparently about 35% of students are wasting tens of thousands of dollars and four years of their lives to gain almost nothing from higher education.

It gets worse.

While speaking in Louisville, Arum revealed that he and his colleagues have continued to follow the student cohort that they started studying in 2005. In other words, they have data from the sixth year after entry into college and now know more about graduation rates, (un)employment, and graduate school entry.

The results are again disturbing, especially for the students who did not significantly improve in college:

Graduates who scored in the bottom quintile of the CLA were three times more likely to be unemployed than those who scored in the top quintile on the CLA (9.6 percent compared to 3.1 percent), twice as likely to be living at home (35 percent compared to 18 percent) and significantly more likely to have amassed credit card debt (51 percent compared to 37 percent).

They also found that their results had political implications, at least for those of us interested in the responsibilities of citizenship, the state of deliberation in the public sphere, etc.

Graduates who exhibited high academic engagement/growth in college were significantly more likely to read the news and discuss politics and public affairs compared to students who displayed low academic engagement/growth. Graduates who scored in the highest quintile on the CLA in their senior year were more likely to read the news and discuss politics and public affairs compared to students in the bottom quintile.

Obviously, the students entering college in 2005 started exiting college at a particularly bad time, economically.  Indeed, the latest  news about college student unemployment is even worse than Arum and colleagues report. From the Associated Press:

According to the AP’s analysis of government data, about 53.6 percent of Americans who have bachelor’s degrees and are 25 and under are unemployed or hold lower-wage jobs, like waiting tables or serving as office receptionists, that don’t require a degree. That translates to about 1.5 million young people who have not, or not yet, gotten the payoff they expected from a college education.

Who should be blamed for all this misery?

As they do in their book, Arum and colleagues continue to argue for more rigor in the college classroom. The standard employed in the study is not all that difficult to meet — 40 pages of reading per course per week and 20 pages of writing per course. Arum emphasized in Louisville that there is nothing magic about these particular numbers, but they they found that many students had actively sought out courses to avoid anything like this kind of workload. And generally, students had no difficulty finding plenty of courses that do not require them to work very hard. This is true even at good schools as fewer than half of seniors in the sample had completed over 20 pages of writing for a course in the prior semester.

To reiterate, colleges are failing their students because too many instructors fail to make their courses sufficiently rigorous — and many students are flocking to them so that they can complete degrees (and likely earn high grades).

In Academically Adrift, Arum and Roksa point out that a liberal arts education is highly correlated with rigor and learning. Students pursuing traditional liberal arts majors showed “significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills over time.” Oddly enough, students pursuing degrees in practical and applied fields — business, education, social work, and communications — were more likely to be at the bottom of the rankings.

So, what does this research say about the politics of popular culture? When Duck of Minerva scholars take these texts seriously, they think critically and ask their academic audience and students to do the same. Indeed, in the classroom, they ask students to read a healthy amount of material with the aim of analyzing and applying abstract theoretical ideas to texts that they might enjoy reading or viewing. The students read and write and think. Getting serious in the classroom is a matter of critical and analytical pedagogy, not a matter of studying practical and serious subjects.

According to the analysis of Arum, Roksa, and colleagues, the Duck of Minerva bloggers are apparently on the right track.

Live long and prosper. May the force be with you. Yada yada yada.


Winecoff vs. Nexon Cage Match!

Kindred Winecoff has a pretty sweet rebuttal to my ill-tempered rant of late March. A lot of it makes sense, and I appreciate reading graduate student’s perspective on things.

Some of his post amounts to a reiteration of my points: (over)professionalization is a rational response to market pressure, learning advanced methods that use lots of mathematical symbols is a good thing, and so forth.

On the one hand, I hope that one day Kindred will sit on a hiring committee (because I’d like to see him land a job). On the other hand, I’m a bit saddened by the prospect because his view of the academic job market is just so, well, earnest.  I hate to think what he’ll make of it when he sees how the sausage actually gets made.

I do have one quibble:

While different journals (naturally) tend to publish different types of work, it’s not clear whether that is because authors are submitting strategically, editors are dedicated to advancing their preferred research paradigms, both, or neither. There are so many journals that any discussion of them as doing any one thing — or privileging any one type of work — seems like painting with much too wide a brush.

Well, sure. I’m not critical enough to publish in Alternatives, Krinded’s not likely to storm the gates of International Political Sociology, and I doubt you’ll see me in the Journal of Conflict Resolution in the near future. But while some of my comments are applicable to all journals, regardless of orientation, others are pretty clearly geared toward the “prestige” journals that occupy a central place in academic certification in the United States.

But mostly, this kind of breaks my heart:

I’ve taken more methods classes in my graduate education than substantive classes. I don’t regret that. I’ve come to believe that the majority of coursework in a graduate education in most disciplines should be learning methods of inquiry. Theory-development should be a smaller percentage of classes and (most importantly) come from time spent working with your advisor and dissertation committee. While there are strategic reasons for this — signaling to hiring committees, etc. — there are also good practical reasons for it. The time I spent on my first few substantive classes was little more than wasted; I had no way to evaluate the quality of the work. I had no ability to question whether the theoretical and empirical assumptions the authors were making were valid. I did not even have the ability to locate what assumptions were being made, and why it was important to know what those are.

Of course, most of what we do in graduate school should be about learning methods of inquiry, albeit understood in the broadest terms. The idea that one does this only in designated methods classes, though, is a major part of the problem that I’ve complained about. As is the apparent bifurcation of “substantive” and “methods of inquiry.”And if you didn’t get anything useful out of your “substantive” classes because you hadn’t yet had your coursework in stochastic modeling… well, something just isn’t right there. I won’t tackle what Kindred means by “theory-development,” as I’m not sure we’re talking about precisely the same thing, but I will note that getting a better grasp of theory and theorization is not the same thing as “theory-development.”

Anyway, I’ll spot a TKO to Kindred on most of the issues.


SF, IR, and Pedagogy

After Charli’s video mashup this feels pretty lame, but I did promise the slides from my talk. Thanks again to all those who responded to the bleg. If it isn’t obvious, I should note that everything I said is influenced by PTJ and his course.

The basic takeaways?

1. Science Fiction (SF) has close ties with social-scientific inquiry and, in general, has lots of political and international-relations content. It is therefore well-suited for these kinds of courses.

2. We need to be less focused on using fiction to teach intro to international realism (bad isms!) and more on choosing works that communicate interesting international-political and political ideas. Teaching The Hunger Games, for example, isn’t about stretching for realism or the state of nature, but exploring ‘organic’ themes about the dynamics of empire, revolution, games and politics, roleplaying and narrative expectations, voyeurism, etc. Good novels or films, like Charles Stross’s Halting State and Iain M. Banks’ Player of Games have a lot to say for themselves. Lots of SF deals with state formation, problems of the “other,” and states of exception… so teach those things.

3. Students are smart and creative; render them collaborators in the course by letting them explore themes that they want to pursue.

4. Make the course lots of work to deter students who think that taking a class like this will be a way to bypass serious intellectual engagement.

Slides below the fold.


The Future of Teaching?

Dan Drezner was kind enough to link to my YouTube ISA Presentation. However Foreign Policy has headlined it “Is This the Future of Teaching?” Given that a number of colleagues have written to me this morning along the lines of “if that’s the future of teaching, I might as well give up, it looks too hard,” and “how long did that take you, anyway?!!” I feel compelled to provide some caveats.

1) If the medium is the message here, it’s a message about conference presentations, not in-class lectures. And while I will continue to use video mash-ups at conferences in the future, they’re not always going to be this detailed and probably never again going to be this long. My goal in the future is to limit them to 3-5 minutes. This will not only make them more manageable and concise, but will also leave more time for discussion on panels. I’d love it if more people adopted this approach, but it’s certainly not the only one. At this past ISA, I’ve participated on panels that included Powerpoint and video, that included only Powerpoint, that included only video, and that had no visuals. This model provides additional tools for presenting, but they’re not the only ones. My point re. conference presentations is that we can leverage social media not only to present in interesting ways but also to disseminate our academic work more widely – and that this is changing how the academy works and who it reaches.

2) If you do want to emulate this kind of presentation style, it’s not as hard as it looks, and it gets easier with practice. I created very little original content for this video – simply grabbed bits of existing YouTube videos and pasted them together, then threw on a soundtrack (which you could also easily skip – some commenters on the video have said the music is distracting) and carefully cited the sources. The mashing-up itself is pretty easy once you get used to it. I use a software package called Camtasia, which allows you to grab video snippets as easily as you might take a screenshot. [One qualification: identifying and capturing illustrative tweets is time-consuming and probably not worth the effort. Capturing, pasting them into a Powerpoint slide then taking a short video of the slide: easy enough. Finding the right ones is hard as Twitter does not make it easy to search for them.] But the bulk of the time creating this presentation was formulating my ideas in written form, and finding appropriate visuals to go with, but truth be told that’s the most time-consuming part of any conference presentation.

3) Regarding the classroom, I don’t teach in this style, and probably wouldn’t.
It’s true that short video mash-ups can make good teaching tools (especially if you can’t be present but you want students to absorb the material anyway). But the amount of prep-time to do presentations like this well on a day by day basis would be prohibitive and unnecessary, even counter-productive. Classrooms work best when profs throw out provocative material and allow students to react, then facilitate discussion. I’d be likelier to pick a clip from Kony2012, play it and discuss – or require students to create and present their own 60-second parodies – then to create my own mash-up. My point with regards to teaching is not that we should be doing videos like this in this classroom (a video in a classroom is not new media, that’s old media). It’s that we should be thinking about how to leverage new media to make classrooms more dynamic learning spaces. I’m not entirely convinced that having a live Twitter feed or Facebook on every laptop does contribute to this; I am convinced we should be thinking and researching and experimenting.

Finally, I am as intimidated as the rest of you about what this means for the future of teaching. One of the videos I borrowed from for my mashup is this mashup created by students in Anthony Rotolo‘s Information Studies class at Syracuse. Rotolo, who teaches social media and politics and also a popular class on Star Trek and the Information Age, specializes in integrating social media into the classroom and blogs about social media. His students’ mashup expresses visually without narration what is more carefully described in this short promotional documentary about Rotolo’s pedagogy.

I am gobsmacked by what he does and have no idea how I would make it work. At the same time I’m kind of intrigued and when I have a semester I can give over to experimenting, I probably will. My point in regards to teaching is not that mashups are the future. It’s that some of the flattening and broadening that I described in relation to our own professional networks are also relevant to our teaching. But what we make of that is up to each of us, and I’m far from certain how far I myself want to go with it, and how much I’m willing to invest. It’s a deeper conversation that I hope can begin on this comment thread.


Toward Pracademia

Among the assigned readings for my new doctoral seminar in Human Security this week are a number of pieces from last year’s International Studies Review Theory v. Practice Symposium. There are numerous fascinating pieces here, including Dan Drezner’s case study on the evolution of “smart sanctions,” Roland Paris’ discussion of “fragile states” as a case study in epistemic agenda-setting, and Kittikhoun and Weiss’ debunking “The Myth of Scholarly Irrelevance for the U.N.”

In particular, a quote from Jentleson and Ratner’s contribution jumped out at me:

“The profession-based incentive structure and other aspects of academia’s dominant organizational culture… devalue policy relevance. Doctoral students are cued early on that their program of study is more about the discipline than the world. Curriculua tend to feature courses on formal modeling, game theory and statistics far more than ones on policy areas, history or states/regions. Then when it comes time ot hit the job market, search committees give far more weight to a dissertation’s theoretical question than policy significance, and readily ignore, if not look down upon, policy oriented publications outside of the scholarly peer-reviewed domain. It thus is quite individually rational for so few graduate students to take on policy-relevant dissertations – rational for working within the system as it exists, but cumulatively irrational for the intellectual diversity and professional pluralism that a discipline such as political science and field such as IR should manifest. It is also out of synch if not in denial of job market realities… not preparing graduate students for this wider range of options borders on malpractice.”

We are beginning the term by thinking about “bridging the gap” for three reasons:

1) “Human Security” is, if neither a paradigm shift nor “hot air,” usefully understood as a specific policy domain, and human security policies of all kinds are being shaped by causal understandings percolating out of the academy

2) Therefore the course is based on understanding the classic empirical research on key human security topics (human rights, humanitarian affairs, humanitarian intervention, the laws of war, peace-building, etc) with a view toward understanding how to transmit the empirical insights of those literatures to policy-makers in those domain, as well as an appreciate of why this is so challenging

3) This pedagogy is in both respects a deliberate yet already uncomfortable attempt to buck the trend Jentleson and Ratner correctly identify. Doctoral students need both the skills to do policy-relevant, practitioner-oriented work if they choose AND the ability to write for comprehensive exams / compete in academia. The trick is going to be teaching both simultaneously, so I figure the first step is helping them to understand the difference.

Will be reporting back on my attempts through the course of the term. Meanwhile, pedagogical suggestions are highly welcome.


What I Learned Teaching IR in Asia (1): Learning to Love US Hegemony

I’d like to thank Duck contributors/editor, especially Vikash, for soliciting my contribution. The Duck is a great site, one I link to a lot on my own blog, so I am happy to come aboard. Thank you.

I have been teaching IR in Korea for almost 4 years. Generally, it’s a lot like teaching it in the West. The same theories get circulated, and we read the same journals. My university, a big state school, is organized a lot like any Big U in the US – dozens of departments, huge faculty, growing administration, a large middle class student body (but no student athletics). As at home, my department has theorists, internationalists, comparativists, and Koreanists. In fact, given how far away the Western system is geographically, it is almost a little too easy, too seamless. I guess this means political science really is a globalizing discipline.

So here are a few macro-lessons I have picked up teaching and conferencing IR in Asia:

1. Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the American Empire, young PhD. Ron Paul voters and retrenchers beware. If you think America is an empire, bullying hegemon, overbearing interventionist, or otherwise enjoy Steve Walt’s blog, you’ll be a lot more struck by the obviousness of the US presence than in Europe. I lived in Germany in the 90s, but the US footprint here is a lot more outstanding. Korea is pretty much ground zero for the ‘empire of bases’ argument of Chalmers Johnson, and the State Department couldn’t care less about your hotshot PhD from the People’s Republic of Berkeley. At conference after conference, you see the American influence everywhere. I meet people from Heritage, CSIS, Brookings, the US State Department, and the US military on the rubber chicken circuit regularly, and the party-line on the American presence in Asia is enforced pretty vigorously. Even though there’s a deep IR consensus now that the US uses too much force and faces retrenchment due to overstretch, the US community here studiously avoids mention of things like the implications of the staggering US debt on its alliances. There is real collision between what I read as an IR guy, and what I hear on the policy conference circuit.

My own feelings are mixed: I worry a lot about overstretch and the growing excesses of the national security state, but I can think of few uses of US force more noble than defending a democracy like SK against the worst country on earth. Still, the commitment to forward basing and extended deterrence is all but universal, and don’t dare call it empire (as, ironically, do neocons when they’re candid, as well as a lot of my students). You can ask why the US should spend 5% of GDP on defense (actually its closer to 8%) when Japan spends less than 1%. You can ask if perhaps we should be ‘nation-building at home’ (Obama) with 9% unemployment, instead of semi-encircling China.You can ask if the massive US global footprint, including 28k warfighters plus another 100kcontractors and family members in Korea, might chain-gang the US into an unwanted Asian war even though SK’s GDP is 26x NK’s. But you’ll get no good answer other than suspicion that you like Neville Chamberlain. The think tank-industrial complex ‘fusion’ around endless engagement is deeply entrenched
2. English, English ueber alles. Cultural imperialism abets my laziness, or, as a professor in grad school once told me, ‘you don’t need to learn languages, because it all gets translated anyway.’ Ah, yes, luxuriate in your Anglo-American social science supremacy, because thankfully Asians actually tolerate your linguistic lameness on your behalf! My colleagues’ patience with my atrocious Korean is legend, but English is everywhere – conferences are offered with simultaneous translation (try to imagine that at APSA), journals will double-print with translations, Korean colleagues all speak English and don’t even bother to expect you to try anymore (so embarrassing that), support staff too speak fluently, and, perhaps my favorite, you can watch Korean, Chinese, and Japanese scholars duke it out among each other in English at the conferences (that was a real shock the first time I saw it – I guess I had a vague sense they would all speak Chinese). So if you think that culture is a tiresome linguistic quirk blocking your equations and Verstehen is ‘soft,’ Asian IR is here to vindicate your monolinguistic laziness masquerading as universalist rationalism!
3. One American IR ring to rule them all. Somewhere in grad school, I remember that whole discussion about IR as an American social science. Once again, you can really see that here. Korean PS journals are filled with regular laments about how little indigenous Korean political theory there is, and how concepts simply get pulled over from the US and maybe they don’t fit. IR here is most definitely that way. I’m 12 time zones away, but everyone around me still reads IO, IS, ISQ, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, OUP, etc., etc. In the same way I am uncomfortable with the cultural imperialist undertones of the ubiquity of English, I find the overwhelming dominance of US IR somewhat disheartening (as do many of my colleagues). In what had to be the most surreal and disturbing moment in this vein, I was in Beijing for a conference on China’s rise. A Chinese IR grad student was walking me around (showing me the Forbidden City and such). When the conversation turned to her training, there I was recommending to her what to read (Friedberg, Kang, Ross, and Hui), in English, on her own country! All I could think of was how much more this woman would ever know about China than me, and here I was telling her what to read – and it was a bunch of Americans. So embarrassing.

Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog.
Part two will go up in a few days.


Crowdsource Syllabus: Advanced IR Theory (Updated)

I’m teaching a PhD-level advanced IR theory class next semester, and my syllabus is growing a bit stale. The idea of the course is to cover recent-ish topics (and necessary background, when appropriate) of importance in the subfield. For example, I usually do a week on “the practice turn,” a week on “arguing and bargaining” that covers a range of approaches to the subject, and so forth. This year I’ll be opening with PTJ’s The Conduct of Inquiry in International Relations.

I thought it might generate some good ideas — both with respect to topics and to specific readings — if I asked our readers for their suggestions. So that’s what I’m doing. Right here. Right now. Thoughts?

Per Facebook request, Kate McNamara’s syllabus for the first part of the IR theory sequence:


Paintball and Pedagogy: A Bleg

Syllabus-revamping time this year coincides with the last few quiet, pre-soccer-season weekends available for paint-balling with my son. With both BT Omegas and class prep on the brain, thought I’d reach out for ideas on how to integrate class trips to the arena into a course on the laws of war.

I’ve done this once before, when I taught “War and Gender” back at Drake University. In that case, the students organized it as an experiment in sex-specific tactics on the field. They ran variations, pitting all male and all-female teams against one another, or working in mixed-gender teams. It was voluntary, so more boys showed up, though the girls who self-selected in were just as likely to beat the boys. There was also some ‘finding’ that teams with girls on them were more cooperative and less devil-may-care. I used it mostly to help them think critically about making inferences from small-N non-controlled experiments, but it was also great to see them self-organize some class-related fun.

I’ve also known a colleague or two to use paintball a little more systematically as a pedagogical tool. At the same time, I don’t know how common this is and haven’t seen an article in International Studies Perspectives or anything describing the value or pitfalls of this approach for different kinds of classes.

So my bleg is three-fold.

1) First, have any Duck writers or readers used paintball pedagogically (or been in a class where it was used) and if so how did the prof make it work as a teaching tool (v. just a fun class-building activity)?

2) Second, is anyone aware of scholarly articles or resources on using paintball to teach international relations, international security, or military affairs? (I’m certain there are military and law enforcement training materials that use paintball to teach small-unit tactics, but what I’m looking for is pedagogical strategies for supplementing liberal arts political science courses with paintball for students who like to study war but may have never picked up a gun.)

3) Any specific ideas on teaching Rules of War in particular through paintball? The course is about the Geneva Conventions and more broadly the role of ethical norms in armed conflict. Here’s a link to last year’s syllabus.

4) If you think this is a horrible idea (particularly as a required activity) please expound.


Friday Nerd Blogging

And so on.* H/T WinterisComingBitch. Scott Meslow ponders the human security implications of Ned’s choices.

*Oh, the pedagogical possibilities! Does Ned Stark represent constructivism? Or does he represent the mocking realist riposte to constructivists as naive fools? Or only a mockery of that riposte? (For readers not yet following Game of Thrones on HBO, this. For viewers who wish more depth on the Starks, this. To those viewers who’ve also already read the books, please no series spoilers in comments.)


Cutting Edge Research on Popular Views of War Law

My Rules of War class this past Spring was an Honors version of the course, and to challenge my students I asked them to do original research on popular conceptions of international humanitarian law, an issue the International Committee of the Red Cross takes quite seriously. The assignment was to identify a concept in the rules of war, gain a firm understanding of the law, then identify a set of data on how people see those rules, and use content analytic or discourse analytic coding methods to study how far apart the representations of the law in text are from the rules as understood or represented in reality, and in which respects. It was a tough assignment!

The students were at liberty to choose any kind of text data they wanted. Some chose blog posts. Some chose news articles. Some studied internal DoD memos to try to understand the narratives of policymakers as they tried to implement the rules of war. One scoured the Star Wars Trilogy screenplays for evidence of inaccurate portrayals of just warrior-hood (see below). All were required to attend a coding workshop, explain their methods and their findings, and draw inferences about the dissemination of humanitarian law to the public, media and policymakers.

Having graded many an undergraduate paper in my day, I was mightily impressed by the quality of the papers I saw and the amount of effort and detail many of these students put into their projects. Below the fold are short descriptions of the five best papers in the class, with accompanying visualizations. Working papers are linked below.

Dan Glaun snagged a summer research assistantship with me for this paper, in which he explores how news coverage of the Geneva Conventions themselves has changed since 9/11, in the context of agenda-setting theory. Dan tracks an increase in the overall salience of war law reportage in the US press, a shift in the referent point of the articles, and a corresponding change in the accuracy, precision and normative bent of the news coverage compared to war crimes reporting in the 1990s:

“In the two years preceding 9/11, there was not a single story which misrepresented the Conventions. However, only 11% of the stories were precise as well as accurate. The pre-9/11 newspaper reports tended to engage in generalities about civilian protection and war crimes, rather than citing specific sections of the Conventions or quoting significant excerpts from the texts. Post 9/11, however, the profile of accuracy and precision changed significantly. Accuracy declined from 100 to 65 percent, indicating an increase in media misrepresentation of the Conventions. Simultaneously, precision increased from 11 to 54%, including both accurate representations and specific, precise claims which were in actuality false. Among accurate articles post 9/11, 58% were precise and 42% vague. For inaccurate articles, 44% were precise and 56% vague. This demonstrates an acrossthe-board decrease in accuracy following 9/11. It also shows a universal increase in precision, both in accurate and inaccurate accounts.”

Christine Donovan examined jus ad bellum justifications for the Iraq war in not only press coverage but also US and British political speeches and statements. Christine examined both newspaper articles and political speeches for both countries and coded them not only according to how accurate, vague or misleading they were but also for what type of war law arguments were used to sell the war. She found that overall both press coverage and political rhetoric in the US was less misleading than in Britain (and also relied less on arguments grounded in humanitarian law, such as Hussein’s treatment of civilians). She also found that the media and the public were far more interested in international law aspects of the invasion than the politicians were in making international law arguments:

“While the positive interpretation of UNSCR 1441 (as well as 678 and 687) appeared to have been the soundest legal argument for the United States and the United Kingdom to make, it was not the main focus of political rhetoric. This may have stemmed from the belief that, perhaps, complicated legal arguments would not resonate with ordinary people as much as weapons of mass destruction or human rights violations would. However, the strong focus on international law found in the selection of newspaper articles, especially those later on in the war effort for the United States and consistently in the United Kingdom, suggest that the public cares more about international law and the legality of the invasion than originally assumed. Perhaps United States and United Kingdom officials made an error by not presenting this legal reasoning to the public in depth, as it might have improved public opinion.”

Wes Mason, who also worked with me on my Battlestar Tweet project, examined how well bloggers understood the law on cultural property as applied to both Iraq and Egypt. He finds some variation between Egypt and Iraq (discussed at more length) but also some general conclusions:

“My analysis shows that bloggers do not use particularly nuanced understandings of international law to make arguments about protecting cultural property in armed conflict, that they are far more likely to reference the Hague Regime than the Geneva Regime, and that they are even more likely to reference other laws outside the aforementioned regimes specific ally concerned with preventing the trafficking rather the destruction of cultural property.”

Sarah Wesley coded a random sample of 200 articles from the NYTimes, Al-Jazeera, WSJ and Huffington Post to explore to what extent the term ‘enemy combatant’ has come to be used interchangeably with ‘detainee.’ She found that the answer depended somewhat on the source – with Al-Jazeera six times more likely than the NYTimes to use the terms interchangeably, but also more likely to put the term ‘enemy combatant’ in quote marks when used, and far less likely to use it overall:

“On average, newspapers recognize there is a clear distinction between the terms ‘enemy combatant’ and ‘detainee’ and/or ‘prisoner of war.’ However interestingly, these news outlet did not often understand the differences between the terms.”

And last but not least, without doubt the juiciest paper of the entire lot was Shawheen Saffari‘s analysis of the Star Wars Trilogy, in which he finds a significant gap between portrayals of just conduct by the rebels and the standards of conduct required of actual rebels under humanitarian law circa 1977 and after:

“My analysis shows that the Rebels in Star Wars abide to war law in some cases but not all, including certain tactics that would be considered grave violations. While Rebels would generally follow law dictating accepted uniform and bearing of arms, the Rebels would frequently harm civilians in the majority interactions as well as show disregard towards civilian property that would be deemed culturally or religiously significant, violations specifically of Articles 13 and 16 of the AP II.”

Quick: how many war law violations can you find in this clip?

Bataille d'Endor Attaque des Ewoks VO by yan_solo2010


More on Zombies and Drezner

Charli’s post raises a number of good points about TIPZ. I’ve written elsewhere about how much I enjoyed Drezner’s presentation about the book, but until today I hadn’t confessed that I’ve taken my enjoyment one step further … by assigning the book for my summer school Intro to IR course.

This will be my first time teaching. I hope assigning TIPZ doesn’t mean that it will be my last.

Drezner’s book, of course, is part of a balanced meal that includes Frieden, Lake, and Schultz’s textbook and a great selection of accessible IS and Foreign Affairs articles, among other readings. But I really wanted to have a reading that would allow me to review the “grand theories” of IR without having to go over the same! old! examples! that everyone uses. Hence, Zombies.

So, here’s my question for Charli and others. Drezner leaves a lot out in his account of IR theory, and includes some things (like American foreign policy) that are hardly au courant instead. But how much of IR theory should we introduce undergrads to in their first courses? Right now, 20 percent of my lecture time in the syllabus is given over to realism–liberalism–constructivism, which is about as much as the courses for which I’ve TA’d. I could incorporate more theoretical diversity, but that would mean dropping my coverage of bread-and-butter IS and IPE issues or giving up one of the substantive days I’ve programmed for terrorism, ethnic conflict, the rise of China, and so forth. Post-colonialism is important, but does it belong in intro courses?

I ask sincerely. To put it bluntly, I think that there are some topics in IR theory intro courses which are basically zombie examples themselves. One of my goals in putting together my syllabus was to de-emphasize historical topics like the Cold War (which, yes, is historical these days). Students in the courses for which I’ve TA’d over the past three years simply do not have the preparation in twentieth century history to grasp these examples as swiftly as their counterparts in 1981 or 1991 would have. But if by throwing history overboard to make room for more recent theorizing I’ve instead overly narrowed the course, I’d certainly like to know so that I can revise the syllabus for the next time I teach (if they let me!).



“Once the Afghan conflict could no longer be understood in terms of global imperatives, it became part of what the language of international relations refers to as an example of disorder. Thus the war in Afghanistan was described as a Hobbesian situation…” -Gilles Dorronsoro, Revolution Unending

Dorronsoro’s quote about Afghanistan after 1992 reminds us of the way in which the gaze of International Relations as a discipline turns away from conflicts which do not fit into the grid of geopolitical determinism. Conflicts which do not play into a larger narrative about the rise and fall of great powers are either neglected or assumed to simply demonstrate the depravity of human nature and ascriptive categories. In essence, the effort at political analysis is abandoned. Ethnicity, tribe, and religion are used to mechanically explain conflict — as if mobilizing a particular identity were not a political act generally presupposing or foreshadowing the development of political institutions.

My fear is that when America and Europe retreat from Afghanistan, the analysis of the conflict will suffer the same fate that it did when the Soviets disengaged.

The issue for me is how do we educate the next generation of scholars to avoid this trap? I think the only way to do so is to rethink the discipline and encourage students to engage in more complex studies of clashes and flows between and within different societies. What this means in practice is that students must be taught the issues, institution, and values that are important to the local actors prior to broader discussions of the interest of the state and regional or global actors. Understanding how a society is constituted must precede any hypothesis about the causes of a conflict.

[Cross-posted from Afghan Notebook]


Crowdsourcing Syllabus Design: A Bleg

It may come as a surprise to you that, having spent most of my career in a policy school, I have never taught a doctoral seminar surveying the field of IR theory. Until now. Frankly, I’m pretty daunted by trying to squeeze the empirical, substantive, methodological, epistemological and theoretical complexity of the entire field into a semester. I’ve settled on making sure they have a basic foundation on which to begin the IR comp reading list: a grasp of relevant international history, parameters of debate between major theoretical schools, familiarity with the substance of the key subfields, plus a chance to develop the basic skill-sets they need to survive doctoral work at UMass, where cross-subfield work is encouraged.

So the plan is to have them to read seven canonical books in seven weeks, each one exemplifying a major school of thought or IR subfield.* The rest of the readings will be articles to complement the books. My problem is in identifying the single most important canonical book to exemplify each of these thematic weeks.

Question: If you were going to assign one and only one book for each of the following weeks to a gateway doctoral seminar in IR theory for political science students who may or may not choose IR as their major field, what would that book be?

1) Realism and Neorealism
2) Liberalism and Neoliberal Institutionalism
3) Constructivism
4) Critical Theory (will incorporate feminist IR here)
5) International Security
6) International Political Economy
7) International Institutions (Law and Organizations)

*The remaining six weeks will include the Introduction, a Concepts and History week to give them some working facts and jargon, and a Classical IR Theory week where we do Thucydides, Kant, Hobbes etc, plus three weeks of skill-building at the end where guest speakers come through to present work in progress on cross-cutting themes that engage the various theories and/or subfields.

Many thanks in advance.

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