Tag: race

Race, Racism, and International Relations

This is the first post in our series on Race&IR.

This is a guest post by J.P. Singh–Professor of International Commerce and Policy at the Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University, and Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow with the Robert Bosch Academy, Berlin. He specializes in culture and political economy.  Singh has authored or edited ten books, published over 100 scholarly articles, and worked with international organizations such as UNESCO, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization.  Twitter: @Prof_JPSingh

Issues of race and racism are intense subjects of scrutiny in our global everyday lives and international politics.  As we examine our social and intellectual suppositions, how does the academic discipline of international relations fare in analysing racism across borders? The short answer: hesitatingly, and only recently. The long answer: with a few blindspots.  

Racism is a set of social beliefs that holds groups of people as inferior and facilitates discriminatory practices.  Racism in international interactions may be overt or latent: beliefs that assign superiority to the Western world may result in security, economic, or human rights practices ranging from overt condemnation and discrimination to being paternalistic and infantilizing developing countries while appearing to be charitable. U.S. led international events with racial dimensions include building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, the trade war with China, and the President speaking disparagingly of Africa or calling COVID-19 ‘China virus’ or ‘Kung Flu’.  While these politics are critiqued and analyzed, the discipline’s history also shows oversights entailing the hesitance and inability to address race issues.  Reckoning with the shortcomings and the strengths of current perspectives is instructive toward presenting analyses and solutions.

Ironically, a history of the discipline provides a remarkable obsession with race questions at the beginning of the 20th century to their near absence at the end it. Intellectual histories note that until the early 20th century, international relations meant international race relations.  Most scientific studies in Europe assigned an inferior status to colonized people, believing racial differences to have a biological basis, and the dominant strain in international governance was of civilizing the colonized. A predecessor to Foreign Affairs was known as Journal of Race Development between 1910-19, though it did feature anti-racism contributors such as W.E.B. Du Bois. 

During the interwar period, academic writings in international relations did not address racism, interestingly at a time when the word ‘racism’ entered the English vocabulary reflecting Nazi judenrein policies of exterminating Jews.  While solitary voices such as Ralph Bunche spoke to racism, the general blindspot reflected the budding discipline’s focus toward describing international interactions on a pendulum between power and idealism and a bias against noticing racial dimensions. Foreign policy practitioners also delivered.  Cordell Hull, FDR’s Secretary of State and a chief architect of the post-war liberal international order, offers a glimpse in his memoirs: the two volumes hardly mention the nationalist movements in the colonies, and Hull may have privately believed that civilization belongs to the Europeans. Meanwhile other biological and social sciences debated race.  These carried over into organizations such as UNESCO in the post-war era. Anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss led the UNESCO studies on the race question.

In the post-war era, international relations also overlooked notable public scholarship on race from leaders such as Steve Biko, Amílcar Cabral, Aimé Césaire, Franz Fanon, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King.  The practice of U.S. foreign policy borrowed its vocabulary from realism that ‘transcended’ racism.  While many intellectual architects of U.S. foreign policy had fled Nazi Germany, they viewed containment and power as the response to horrors like Nazism (or, later, the Soviet Union) and were disillusioned with Enlightenment idealism.  Nevertheless, an exhumation of the post-war liberal international order also reveals some racialized fissures. Historian Eric Mazower explains that many creators of the post-war liberal order, including Jan Smuts of South Africa, were well-known racists and created the United Nations to continue the work of “civilizing inferior races”.  UNESCO was not an outlier: its first Director-General Julian Huxley was a eugenicist.

International institutions with racialized origins need not continue to be racist, but international relations needs to show how these organizations overcame racism (counterfact is the bedrock of sound reasoning).  Three decades after World War II, the main axes of international relations models were power and interdependence.

Sociological traditions, as they spilled into international relations in the 1980s, began to examine the meanings and centrality of global racism in issues of identity, difference, and othering in international interactions. President Trump’s words are illustrative of the kinds of subjects being studied.  A contrasting perspective, examining international humanitarianism, argues that global paternalism has outgrown its racist origins: “Love it or hate it, paternalism is an enduring feature of global life.”  Many international development efforts could also fit here, albeit not without the charge that global paternalism has not overcome its racial origins.  More generally, the work of race and racism in international relations, remained marginal to the discipline’s major concerns, including professional venues. The 2015 Annual Convention of the APSA on the theme “Diversities Reconsidered” did not feature a single paper in its international relations sections that was on race or racism.  

The discipline has changed fast, especially after the 2016 political outcomes. When I began studying the effects of racism in international trade, many colleagues (and staff at the World Trade Organization) were incredulous toward my research agenda.  My book Sweet Talk provides mixed-methods evidence – including quantitative models, case studies, and historical process tracing — for the negative effects of racism on trade concessions to the developing world across (and within) trade in agriculture, manufacturing, intellectual property, and services (summary here).  Colleagues are no longer incredulous, one review called the book “sweeping and ambitious”, but also push for further rigorous evidence. Critiques are important as is the need to provide sound evidence.  However, asking for evidence must not be an exercise in ignoring race. For my part, I was relieved that the reviewer noting my work to be sweeping and asking for evidence has also conducted rigorous and foundational work on paternalism and race.  

Our debates on race need to concentrate on ontological blind spots, methods, and evidence.  Realism got around race issues in a peculiar way, as explained above, and that was a shortcoming.  It can no longer overlook its shortcoming or not question the Western civilizational codes that are embedded in its understandings.  Reflexively speaking, I had to do that as a scholar: how could I call out the racism inherent in trade relations without offering a critique of neoliberalism as racist as many critical scholars do?  

My book offers a critique of critical studies scholarship while ideologically favoring cultural values such as exchange and reciprocity that are embedded in a liberal order.  It may not convince critical studies scholars but intellectual honesty is important, and the title of my essay pays homage to a notable study on race in critical studies.  Similarly, I would argue that securitization scholars who have recently been attacked for ignoring race need to account for the broad context of the issue of race and international relations. While academics are not racist for not working on race issues, we can no longer ignore significant scholarship critiquing the racism of Western civilizational codes. Further the ethical foundations of this security school, or of realism as above, need to be questioned.

International relations is no longer tone deaf to racism, especially as it examines the intersection of domestic and international politics, and racism is not exclusive to the Western world. As racism dominates politics in Western and non-Western worlds (such as Brazil, India or Turkey), the discipline is beginning to re-examine its models of preference formation to include cultural factors such as race. Empirical examples analyze the backlash against migration in Europe (here and here) or how ethnocentrism and xenophobia affect preferences toward trade (here and here). The long answer entails an exhumation of the blindspots since World War II that kept issues of race and culture out of mainstream explanations and foreign policy endeavors. 


Tweeted and Deleted by APSA: Gender and Race in the Academy

I’ve been wanting to write a Duck post about the experience of a woman with visible minority status in IR for quite some time now. I was waiting for the right moment.  So thanks to the American Political Science Association (APSA), the professional association for US-trained political scientists, the moment has come.

Yesterday morning, an email came from a friend with a screenshot.  The screenshot showed an attractive Asian woman in a frilly top who looks like she’s having a good time looking into the camera.  I was confused.  Then I read the blurb next to it: this was a promotion from PSNow, one of the official APSA dissemination bullhorns.  They were promoting my recent piece with Sarah Stroup in Perspectives on Politics on international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) and authority in global politics.  Instead of contacting us to request a photo, or choosing a stock photo that reflects the subject of our article, APSA decided to accompany this promotion with a photo of a random Asian woman.

I was stunned.

So it’s pretty obvious to me why this is offensive, but let me spell it out.

  • What does the Getty Image “Portrait of a young woman smiling” have to do with INGOs? Or authority?  Or politics?
  • What happened to my co-author?
  • What kind of search terms were being used to even generate such a photo that APSA found worthy of posting not just on PSNow, but tweeting?
  • Has all of my work on INGOs boiled down to some irrelevant stock image?
  • Is it that hard to Google “NGO” for images related to the work being advertised?
  • Yea, “all Asians look alike,” but REALLY?!

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Gender, Rank and IR: Missing Role Models

Last week, I asked a question online that was asked of me and then I asked at the ISA two weeks ago:
Can you name women of color working in the US or Canada who do IR and are full professors?

At the ISA, folks could only name one or two.  On twitter and facebook and my blog since then, the total has increased to eleven:

·  Neta Crawford of Boston University.
·  Condoleeza Rice, who was a full prof at Stanford before becoming provost and then worst National Security Adviser.
·  Jacqueline Braveboy Wagner, City College of New York.
·  Reeta Tremblay of U of Victoria.
·  L.H.M Ling of the New School.
·  Katherine Moon of Wellesley.
·  Zehra Arat of U of Connecticut
·  Christine Chin of American U
·  Saadia Pekkanen of U of Washington
·  Nazli Choucri of MIT
·  Sheila Nair of Northern Arizona U.

Not great.  Sure, we could be missing a few, but this short list demonstrates the point that my friend was making: there are damn few role models/mentors in US/Canada IR for women who are not white.

One can quibble with the various modifiers/restrictions in the question:

  • what is IR?  I tended to exclude a few names of those who are experts on one country or an area and do not do foreign policy/international relations type questions.  I am sure we could get the list to be significantly longer if we included women who do one area of the world.  Indeed, some of the women above can be considered area studies people but have done some IR-ish stuff.  While the ISA is
    broadly inclusive so that it includes area studies people, the point of this exercise was about whether women who do IR might have mentors, not whether there are women who do IR or comparative.  Also, in the conversation I had with my friend, her concern was in part about the implicit and sometimes explicit expectations to be an expert in the area of the world her family comes from rather than being an expert on general IR stuff.  There is a tendency to push people of color to study stuff like an area of the world or race and ethnicity, whereas white people can be expected to study anything.
  • why US/Canada?  Well, the friend is in US/Canada North America and was pondering the availability of mentors.  There was no intent to diminish the contributions of women of color at schools in other parts of the world.   While the internet makes it possible to confer with people around the world, one is likely to meet up with people in the same region 
  • why women of color?  That was the way it was put to me.  We could use other ways to talk about race, such as visible minority (the Canadian way to refer to these kinds of identities), but I stuck with the term that was most inclusive.  And identity is always tricky: are Arab Americans people of color?  Traditionally, not so much.  Since 9/11?  Maybe.  I asked a full prof I know whether she was a person of color and she said she was not, but understood how some might see her fit that category.  Anyhow, I was not aiming at perfect coding, but at getting a general idea, and the paucity of names is suggestive.

A quick look at this reveals a few patterns: no Latinas, three African-Americans and then Asian-Americans making the majority of the list.  So, yeah, there are few role models for African-American women and none for Latinas who want to do IR.  There are few women of color that undergraduates, grad students and junior profs can look to and think “well, they made it so maybe I can, too.””

Most of the women listed are post-positivist, which could mean either that women who do such work are more likely to make it through the leaky pipeline, or there might be an affinity for a particular kind of IR by women of color, or maybe sampling bias as one of my key sources of names knew these people because their work speaks to each other.

One Canadian, several in the Northeast/New England area, a few from the West Coast, and nothing in between or down south.  So, if you want to meet your mentor, it means traveling for most folks.

How do we “fix” this?  How do we have more women full professors of color in IR?  Obviously, whatever barriers exist to promoting women and people of color need to be broken down.  I used to work at a university where there was an apparent barrier between associate and full, and that helped to perpetuate the gender imbalance.  Indeed, in Canada anyway, it seems like the process to become tenured is far easier than becoming Full even though the former means lifetime employment and the latter might mean a raise.  In the US?   I don’t know.  But there has been stuff written on the leaky pipeline, so we need to find the leaks and plug them, including discrimination in citation patterns and in listings on syllabi and differential service obligations (women end up doing more service, which may not help them get promoted).

A different friend of mine told me at the ISA that none of the female associates have received outside offers, and all of the male associate profs in her department have received such offers even though the women have better research scores.  How does that happen?  Such a perfect (and awful) correlation of gender and opportunities?  Getting outside offers is one way for people to get promoted faster, and it seems at least in that one case (more survey work required) one key tool to fast promotion has been denied.  So, perhaps one way to deal with this problem is to make sure that senior searches take seriously the full range of candidates and not just the first names that come to mind?


Torture as Evidence-Based Policy Making? Race, War and Science

This is a guest post by Alison Howell, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Rutgers Newark

With the recent APA decision to prohibit their members from participating in enhanced interrogation, and the demise of the human terrain program earlier this year, the optimistic amongst us might be tempted to believe that the academy is once again purified of its collusions with torture and occupation.

The work to be done going forward, however, is not just one of holding individuals to account or raising the bar of individual ethical standards. We also need to find ways of holding academic sciences to account: of treating them not as dispassionate and apolitical ventures, sadly misused, but rather as formed within martial and racist cultures that shape their content and applications. This is as true for disciplines like Physics and Neuroscience as it is for social sciences like Anthropology, or, for that matter, IR.

In order to grapple with this complex state of affairs, we are going to have to begin by seeing the decision by the Bush administration to pursue torture for what it is: evidence-based policy. Continue reading


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


What Does the Rise of AI have to do with Ferguson and Eric Garner?

One might think that looking to the future of artificial intelligence (AI) and the recent spate of police brutality against African American males, particularly Michael Brown and Eric Garner, are remotely related if they are related at all. However, I want to press us to look at two seemingly unrelated practices (racial discrimination and technological progress) and look to what the trajectory of both portend. I am increasingly concerned about the future of AI, and what the unintended consequences that increased reliance on it will yield. Today, I’d like to focus on just one of those unintended outcomes: increased racial divide, poverty and discrimination.

Recently, Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Nick Bostrom have argued that the future of humanity is at stake if we create artificial general intelligence (AGI), for that will have a great probability of surpassing its general intelligence to that of a superintelligence (ASI). Without careful concern for how such AIs are programmed, that is their values and their goals, ASI may begin down a path that knows no bounds. I am not particularly concerned with ASI here. This is an important discussion, but it is one for another day. Today, I’m concerned with the AI in the near to middle term that will inevitably be utilized to take over rather low skill and low paying jobs. This AI is thought by some as the beginning as “the second machine age” that will usher in prosperity and increased human welfare. I have argued before that I think that any increase in AI will have a gendered impact on job loss and creation.   I would like to extend that today to concerns over race.

Today the New York Times reported that 30 million Americans are currently unemployed, and of that 30 million, the percentage of unemployed men has tripled (since 1960). The article also reported that 85% of unemployed men polled do not possess bachelors degrees, and 34% have a criminal background. In another article, the Times also broke down unemployment rates nationally, looking at the geographic distribution of male unemployment. In places like Arizona and New Mexico, for instance, large swaths of land have 40% or more rates of unemployment. Yet if one examines the data more closely, one sees an immediate overlay of unemployment rates on the same tracts of land that are designated tribal areas and reservations, i.e nonwhite areas.

Moreover, if one looks at the data supported by the Pew Institute, the gap between white and minority household income continues to grow. Pew reports that in 2013, the median net worth of white households was $141,000. The median net worth of black households was $11,000. This is a 13X difference. Minority households, the data says, are more likely to be poor. Indeed, they are likely to be very poor. For the poverty level in the US for a household containing one person is $11,670.   Given the fact that Pew also reported that 58% of unemployed women reported taking care of children 18 and younger in their home, there is a strong probability that these households contain more than one person. Add these facts regarding poverty and unemployment an underlying racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, and one can see where this going.

While whites occupy better jobs, have better access to education, have far greater net household incomes, they are far less likely to experience crime. In fact, The Sentencing Project reports that in 2008 blacks were 78% more likely to be victims of burglary and 133% more likely to experience other types of theft. Compare this to the 2012 statistic that blacks are also 66% more likely to be victims of sexual assault and over six times more likely than whites to be victims of homicide.   Minorities are also more often seen to be the perpetrators of crime, and as one study shows, police officers are quicker to shoot at armed black suspects than white ones.

Thus what we see from a very quick and rough look at various types of data is that poverty, education, crime and the justice system are all racially divided. How does AI affect this? Well, the arguments for AI and for increasingly relying on AI to generate jobs and produce more wealth and prosperity are premised on this racist (and gendered) division of labor.  As Byrnjolfsson and McAffee argue, the jobs that are going to “disappear” are the “dull” ones that computers are good at automating, but jobs that require dexterity and little education – like housecleaning – are likely to stay. Good news for all those very wealthy (and male) maids.

In the interim, Brynjolfsson and McAffee suggest, there will be a readjustment of the types of jobs in the future economy. We will need to have more people educated in information technologies and in more creative ways to be entrepreneurs in this new knowledge economy.   They note that education is key to success in the new AI future, and that parents ought to look to different types of schools that encourage creativity and freethinking, such as Montessori schools.

Yet given the data that we have now about the growing disparity between white and minority incomes, the availability of quality education in poor areas, and the underlying discriminatory attitudes towards minorities, in what future will these already troubled souls rise to levels of prosperity that automatically shuts them out of the “new” economy? How could a household with $11,000 annual income afford over $16,000 a year in Montessori tuition? Trickle-down economics just doesn’t cut it. Instead, this new vision of an AI economy will reaffirm what Charles Mill calls “the racial contract”, and further subjugate and discriminate against nonwhites (and especially nonwhite women).

If the future looks anything like what Brynjolfsson and McAffee portend, then those who control AI, will be those who own and thus benefit from lower costs of production through the mechanization and automation of labor.   Wealth will accumulate into these hands, and unless one has skills that either support the tech industry or create new tech, then one is unlikely to find employment in anything other than unskilled but dexterous labor.   Give the statistics that we have today, it is more likely that this wealth will continue to accumulate into primarily white hands.   Poverty and crime will continue to be placed upon the most vulnerable—and often nonwhite—in society, and the racial discrimination that perpetuates the justice system, and with it tragedies like those of Eric Gardner will continue. Unless there is a serious conversation about the extent to which the economy, the education system and the justice system perpetuates and exacerbates this condition, AI will only make these moral failings more acute.


Not Surprised is Not Good Enough: what soldier atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan can teach us about Ferguson






By some strange twist of fate I happened to watch the Kill Team, a documentary about the infamous US platoon that intentionally murdered innocent Afghan men while on tour. When, in 2010 the military charged five members of the platoon, the case drew international attention due to the graphic nature of the killings, evidence that the men mutilated the bodies and kept parts as trophies, and indications that the killings were part of a wider trend of ‘faking’ combat situations in order for soldiers to ‘get a kill.’ While the premeditated killing of Afghan civilians appears completely disconnected from the Ferguson grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson for the murder of unarmed Michael Brown, there are several common threads that deserve unraveling. Rather than characterise ‘Ferguson’ as ‘simply’ a case of police brutality, or localised racism, or isolated misconduct, such a comparison opens up space for counter-narratives. In particular, the comparison A) highlights the systemic nature of racist, militarized, and patriarchal violence across multiple institutions, including the police and the military; B) addresses the sanctioned killing of non-white men and women as a consistent feature of the national narrative; C) indicates the desperate need to both demonise a racialised other and to measure individual and national masculinity in terms of the control and suppression of this demonised other.

So, with that pleasant list out of the way, here are 3 ways that civilian deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq are similar to the murders of innocent civilian African-American young men.

1. Creating a dark and dehumanized enemy.
Whether it is at home in the US or overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is ample evidence of a generalised trend for police, soldiers, and the public to hold deeply racist views about the people they are meant to be protecting.

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The inevitability of transnational racial profiling?

Today’s thought experiment: A foreign national is killed in your state, igniting emotional protests and a road blockade by members of his community. Your state is almost entirely economically dependent on tourism. There’s standard boilerplate for these events, right? You express regret, you pledge to investigate the murder, you vow that locals who violently attacked protesters will also be brought to justice.

Now imagine that it was a Nigerian national who had been killed. And the death may have been linked to rival drug gangs fighting over territory. Does the picture change? Recent events in BJP-governed Goa seem to suggest that it does. Within a few days, one Goan state minister had referred to Nigerians as “a cancer,” one MP stated that Nigerians were “wild animals” who were hopped up on drugs, and another pointed out that Nigerians misuse educational schemes, overstay their visas, and “try to boss over Goans.” The Goan Chief Minister referred to Nigerians as “huge and aggressive” and “seven feet tall.” The state government started a campaign to round up and evict Nigerians without proper documentation, a dragnet that also caught legal immigrants in its wake. Some Goan villages began to ban the rental of housing to “foreigners” (read: Nigerians). Of course, this sparked a nasty diplomatic row, as Nigerian consular officials made unsubtle remarks about the security of Indians resident in Nigeria. Late last week, the Goan Chief Minister doubled down, saying that it was not racism since “you will see that more Nigerians are involved in drugs.”

How might we look at this from an international relations perspective? How many incidents of “we wouldn’t want anything to happen to those pretty nationals of yours” occur between states?  How much does being Colombian or Albanian or Nigerian increase one’s risk of xenophobic targeting? And have we adequately recognized the implications of transnational crime networks for the treatment of co-national minorities?

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The Other Dimensions of Inclusion (and Exclusion) in Political Science

Dan’s post on his self-experiment in raising citations to female scholars has drawn a critical comment from someone who wonders about whether similar patterns exist with reference to minority scholars and scholars from outside North America. The issues of gender, race, and national (regional) origin are distinct, but if we’re going to have a wide-ranging discussion about inclusion and exclusion in the field then we ought to address these issues squarely.

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A Dothraki Complaint

Drogo as angry brown man.
Source: dothraki.org

Graddakh! We the brown people of Vaes Dothrak collectively curse the producers of HBO and the slanderous “creator” of our world, which you call the Game of Thrones.

We know that your people have a long standing tradition of questionable and objectionable racial imaginings in your “fantasy fiction” genre.  So we are not surprised by your ifaki ignorance of our civilization.  Anyway, we have also come to understand that much of your television programming broadcasts an unreflective and unapologetic world of whiteness, so maybe you can’t help but reduce us to barbaric caricatures. Some of your smarter viewers (and there are really so few) and scholars have been drawn to the Machiavellian elements of the series, but like Saladin AhmedPablo K, and Alyssa Rosenberg, we cannot help but linger on the way our “horde” has been depicted in the series.

We the Dothraki are portrayed as undifferentiated mass of colored people at the periphery of an otherwise lily white medieval world.  (It is not that the white characters are all portrayed in a glowing light, all the characters are obviously flawed, but the Dothraki stand in for an undifferentiated mass representing the entire non-white world.)  We are portrayed as a fierce Mongol-like people, except that these are not the historic Mongols of your world.  You know, the people who introduced your hopelessly barbaric and quarrelsome Europeans ancestors to firearms technology and whose massive naval armada twice attempted to cross the seas and conquer Japan. Rather we Dothraki are portrayed as a technologically backward collection of clod-hopping barbarians who embody a range of degrading caricatures based on your own trite knowledge of Native American, Sub-Saharan African, and Arab societies.

In particular, we Dothraki seem to be driven purely by the thymotic aspects of our soul. We seem barely able to reason and need to be guided by a foreigner who goes “native.” We are shown enjoying acts such as publicly fornicating while dancing at weddings and murdering one another on the slightest provocation.  According to the depiction on television, no Dothraki wedding is complete without at least three murders. You are even told blatant lies. Who says we “have no word for ‘thank you'” or ‘throne’?   Me nem nesa, we have those words!  And we have plenty more for idiot, choyo nerds like George R.R. Martin and the producers of the show. I would rant more, but that would only play into your lame and dismissive stereotypes about belligerent brown people.

Look if you’re going to be racist, perhaps you could show a bit more creativity? Repeating the classic mid-twentieth century American variety of racism is just boring.  Might we suggest that you overlay the racist tropes with a highly gendered discourse in the manner of the British imperialists?  Which is not to say that you’re not sexists with your whore/matriarch/whore-matriarch triads, but you don’t really combine the two discourses very well. Even the British got bored with just using a martial races trope. Or perhaps you could try hipster racism?


Apocalyptic Thinking in IR

I do not see the discussions about zombies as a type of new or out-of-the-box thinking. If anything, the discussions of zombies that I have noted so far are completely “in-the-box” thinking, except with a touch of geeky humor, parody, and wit that is usually lacking in the discipline. In fact, the discourse seems to consist mainly of exercises in applying existing theoretical tools to an impossible scenario for pedagogical purposes or to lampoon the generally stale pedagogy of IR theory. From my perspective, the question is not how well or fairly does this exercise treat particular theoretical paradigms, but why this apocalyptic theoretical exercise presents itself at all.

Apocalyptic thinking has been a feature of IR theorizing for over a hundred years.  In fact, I would contend that the zombie fad is at least the fourth wave of apocalyptic thinking.  The four waves are:

  1. Theories of Race War
  2. Theories of Nuclear War and Deterrence
  3. Clash of Civilizations
  4. Zombie Apocalypse

The origins of IR as a discipline, is not in Ancient Greece or Renaissance Italy, but in the US at the dawn of the 20th century. Although the discipline has effectively purged its collective memory, the origins of the discipline were in concerns about race theory, race war, and colonial administration or “racial uplift” theories.  In some cases, these origins have been obscured through rebranding, as when the Journal of Race Development adopted its new name, Foreign Affairs. As Robert Vitalis (2002) has carefully documented, the first generation of American IR theorists expressed alarm over emerging challenges to the principle of White Supremacy. Concerns about “The War of the Color Line” became intense, particularly after the Japanese victory over Russia in 1905.  These concerns, coupled with racialism and outright racism, led to fearful imaginings of yellow, black, and brown hordes invading and overwhelming the white nations (only Europeans were considered to be divided into nations in these early formulations; the rest of the world was grouped by race).

The second wave of apocalyptic thinking begins with the end of World War II and the use/accumulation of nuclear weapons. This line of thinking became obsessed with pragmatic theories of deterrence, compellance, etc. While American society added ideological panics to racial panics, the discipline of IR generally moved toward a more sober posture. Although the obsession with horizontal nuclear proliferation remained tinged with racism/paternalism, particularly given the manifest contradiction with neo-Realist theories of deterrence, the overall paradigm was pragmatic and technical. Nevertheless, the field shifted a great deal of attention and resources toward issues of security between superpowers.

[One might add another apocalyptic wave related to over population (e.g. environmental collapse), but these neo-Malthusian concerns have actually been remarkably consistent throughout the 19th and 20th centuries up to the present.]

In the third wave, Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis represented a remarkable (if unconscious) return to and re-statement of the prior alarmist concern with race war, now neatly repackaged as a meta-theory of civilizational war. That such a crude and unsophisticated world view ever made it to publication is astounding and an abiding stain on the discipline. It is not surprising that this theory was thoroughly discredited to the point of ridicule within and outside of the discipline. The real question is why a previously reputable scholar would have formulated such a completely flimsy argument.

The fourth wave then is the hypothetical obsession with zombies.  There is an interesting moment in the blogging heads video below where Dan Drezner discusses an encounter where a commentator asks him point-blank whether the zombies are just a crude metaphor for Muslims. Drezner appears to be genuinely shocked by this reductive reading, which speaks to how effectively IR has purged its own disciplinary history and genealogy. This is not to argue in any way that Drezner was re-articulating a covert racial theory.  Rather it is to argue that apocalyptic thinking in the discipline follows familiar modes of articulation that are easily conflated, and that the zombie discourse facilitates this conflation.

What interests me is not a search for hidden racial themes is discussions of zombies, but rather to inquire into the function of apocalyptic scenarios in the discipline. I would hypothesize that apocalyptic thinking functions to reassert the relevance of dominant modes of theorizing; apocalyptic thinking disciplines the discipline. Apocalyptic thinking is deeply conservative; it reasserts the relevance of theories which protect the status quo. These waves become particularly prominent at those points in which the discipline and Western society is being challenged by intellectual movements to broaden the areas of theoretical inquiry, and/or by social movements to overturn privilege. So it is not surprising to me that feminist and critical theories are given short shrift in the zombie discourse.

But what harm can it do to talk playfully about zombies? Isn’t it just a delicious send up of the discipline? Isn’t this a great way to get students and non-academics interested in International Relations?

At the end of blogging heads video, Drezner talks about how soldiers stationed in a forward operating base in Afghanistan sent him a photo of their unit reading his book. More than anything else, this makes evident the danger of such theorizing. IR as a discipline already deals in high levels of abstraction above the lives of ordinary people. More than any other discipline, IR is concerned with rationalizing or tempering an often de-humanizing raison d’etat and realpolitik. Is it wise, in that case, to promote a discourse which conceptualizes the enemy as zombies? Is this kind of alienation not precisely what should be countered and resisted through academic dialog and debate? Instead of imagining a zombie horde, would it not be better for our soldiers to try to understand the history and culture of the people whose land and lives they are occupying?

Of course, to offer a relevant alternative to soldiers on the front line would involve real out-of-the-box thinking — one that speaks to the culture and organizational structure of militants and civilians in Afghanistan. A discipline that is really relevant would need to build theories inductively rather than seeking to dig through a set of established abstract theories to see what can be forced to fit the situation at hand.


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.


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