Tag: theory-policy divide

Time to Put “Dying to Win” out to Pasture?

This is a guest post by Peter S. Henne. Peter received his PhD from Georgetown University in May 2013, and was a Fellow at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia during 2012-2013; he is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. His research focuses on religion and foreign policy; he has also written on terrorism and religious conflict.

In his latest blog post on Foreign Policy, Stephen Walt calls for a re-evaluation of the United States’ approach to counter-terrorism. One statement–really a quick aside–caught my attention.

Walt claims that “opposition to foreign occupation and interference is one of the prime motivations behind terrorist activities.” Well he actually says: “Given that opposition to foreign occupation” causes terrorism, and then uses this assertion to justify calling for a reduction in US forces in Muslim countries. And then he specifically mentions “suicide bombing,” and links to Dying to Win, by Robert Pape.

Dying to Win is the book version of an article by Pape in the American Political Science Review, in which he argues that suicide bombing is a rational response to occupation. As I detailed in a blog post a few years ago, there are numerous problems with this argument: Continue reading


Jarrod Hayes on “Bridging the Gap”

Across the GapEditor’s Note: This is a guest blog by Jarrod Hayes, who is is an assistant professor of International Relations at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His research broadly focuses on the social construction of foreign and security policy. It deals with the International Policy Summer Institute, which has also received coverage at The Monkey Cage.

I have had the great pleasure and honor to attend the Bridging the Gap/International Policy Summer Institute hosted by (the very impressive) American University School of International Service.  The experience has been a rich one, with an amazing cohort and substantial depth and scope from the speakers.  Out of that depth and scope, a point really caught my attention.  A few of the speakers have anecdotally noted that policymakers often think using the concepts and logics of theory, but they are unaware that is what they are doing.  This is a really fascinating point, and potentially one of the ways that scholars might be able to ‘bridge the gap’ between academics an policymakers without writing explicitly policy oriented scholarship (although we should do that too).

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Policy-Relevant Research, Redux

e-International Relations asked me to write a piece about doing policy-relevant research. I thought I’d cross-post it here, especially timely given recent posts on this blog along with Ronald Rogowski’s screed that our work is too policy-relevant but policymakers just don’t want to hear what we are saying (HT: The Monkey Cage). Here is the full post:

During graduate school, the community of up and coming scholars who wanted to do policy-relevant research seemed a bit like Fight Club. It was something each of us secretly wanted to pursue but were reluctant to talk about in public. We found each other at those few conferences and workshops that were designed for folks like us such as SMAMOSNew Era, and even IQMR. More recently, as junior faculty, like-minded academics would come across each other at IPSIthe Next Generation Project, and Term Member gatherings of CFR.

Does it get better? For years, we have seen warnings and lamentations by some of our senior colleagues about the policy-academic divide (see herehereherehereherehere). Some attribute it to a rise in statistics and later game theory, others suggesting it has to do with the professional incentives that encourage scholars to eschew grand theory for more targeted, esoteric work in semi-obscure peer-reviewed outlets.

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Podcast No. 17: Interview with Iver Neumann

Iver NeumannThe seventeenth Duck of Minerva podcast features Iver Neumann of the London School of Economics. Professor Neumann discusses his intellectual and educational background and a small part of his copious academic output. Topics incude post-structuralism, policy engagement, the practice turn, popular culture and politics, and the Mongols.

I should reiterate important change to procedures. From now on, the Minervacast feed will host mp3 versions of the podcasts. The whiteoliphaunt feed will host m4a versions of the podcast. Unless I hear otherwise, we will continue this approach into the foreseeable future. I’ve heard of output problems on the mp3 versions, but I can’t reproduce

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Scholar/Policy Gap – Filling Up The Glass

I have read with great interest over the last few days posts by Jeffrey Stacey and now Sean Kay on the gap between scholarship and policy. I agree with much of what they said – seriously – and I want to raise a more positive spin on some of these issues. I the gap between policy and scholarship in Washington DC as *mildly* improving when it comes to political science, at least from the political science side of the question. This is not to say things are perfect. Far from it. But rather than thinking about political science in general, and international relations in particular, as a “cult of the irrelevant”, I think there are some green shoots, so to speak, or at least reasons to think that the glass is half full, rather than half empty. In what follows, I will lay out just a few of my reasons for optimism.

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Sean Kay: “The Scholar/Policy Gap in International Relations Revised”

anathemThis is a guest post by Sean Kay

Jeff Stacey’s introductory blog post at the Duck of Minerva gives important perspective showing that scholarly training helped him in government to frame issues and develop policy.  Stacey suggests academic perspectives should inform policy and, indirectly, corrects an argument in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Robert Gallucci.  Gallucci, who has a distinguished career in government and academe, asked why scholars are not informing policy.  Gallucci faults the scholarly community for an unfortunate turn towards theory and inaccessible discourse which “…has created a profession that is inward-looking and concerned with arcane debate—a result that provokes and deserves all the insults thrown at the ivory tower from the world of policy and practice.”

Scholars should be better at making arguments in concise ways.  But the straw-man attack on the academy as detached from relevance deserving of ridicule fails to look beyond the policy world’s own shortcomings.  Take one example – the invasion of Iraq – as an indicator.  In 2004 a group of over 700 academic experts signed a letter calling for change in Bush administration policy in Iraq (see the Jackson and Kaufman Perspectives on Politics article).  On the biggest foreign policy matter of the day, these scholars were right (PDF), and the general Washington consensus was wrong.  The group failed to affect policy change – but whose fault is that?

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The Academic-Policy Nexus: a few more thoughts

Regarding my previous post and the very useful comments, first the matter of what do we do once we realize that a policy problem in search of a policy solution is the equivalent of a social scientific puzzle in search of an explanation, for both the solution and the explanation are outcomes. In other words, Step One is to identify the policy problem in question.  Step Two is to search the academic literature for a published study (in book or article form) whose puzzle is essentially identical to the policy problem. For example, the problem of how to end a civil war in Country X is equivalent to the puzzle of how to do so in an academic study.

The explanation of the study is the academic hook to hang the policy solution on. In other words, if there is a published study that explains the outcome of bringing civil wars to an end, this means that the study contains the cause of the outcome and has the evidence to back up the argument thereby matching the cause to the outcome.  Once a study is found it is on to the next step.

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The Academic-Policy Nexus (Or Lack Thereof)

In my first post after signing on with “Team Duck” I thought, before jumping into a series of weighty topics–rise of the east, end of the west, cratering of the middle east–it might be worth reflecting a little on my sojourn as a policymaker after beginning my career as a Political Scientist. As an IR scholar I started out specializing in the politics of international economics before gradually shifting over to the security studies side of this Poli Sci subfield.

After an initial brush with death by acronymia when I joined the State Department, I was surprised at how well my training as a social scientist had prepared me for the policy world. I had wrongly assumed the precise opposite. Certainly my new colleagues at the time had assumed so as well. I recall a meeting a few weeks in at the outset of the current Administration. Various team members were reporting our progress to our boss, and the deputy team lead pulled me aside after with simple words of surpise: “Wow, you can actually do stuff.”

My first realization was that simply by virtue of how an academic always needs to more or less constantly stay up on advances in the literature, I had a knowledge base that almost all my colleagues lacked. For example, a discussion of terrorism included the postulation that poverty causes terrorism; yet I knew that academic studies had proven this wrong. To take another example, when the topic of democratization came up no one else in the room knew that democracies do not fight wars with one another.

I’m no genius–not then and not now. I simply had a different background. It was illuminating to discover that most policymakers had obtained at most a Masters degree prior to launching their policy careers, but while Masters students learn a variety of things they generally do not obtain a thorough grasp of a body of scholarly work and the advances therein. I found out that the lack of this is more costly in government than most policymakers realize.

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A Semi-Canadian Perspective on the Academic-Policy Divide Debate

The semi-annual policy/academic divide debate is back thanks to discussions about PhDs for the policy world (Drezner v. Foust) and Galluci’s piece on the debate, with Drezner’s response.  I would guess that this event is tied to a lunar calendar as it seems to occur often but not always just after Thanksgiving.

Anyhow, I posted my views on this at Canadian International Council–the folks seeking to be the Great White North version of Foreign Policy.com.  My argument parallels Dan’s response: that academics are increasingly engaging the policy world especially through web 2.o (so the tweets about which academic books have mattered ironically miss the point), that the usual criticism that IR focuses on grand debates misses the reality that much work today is focused on problems and “middle range theory,” and that grants often require greater engagement with the policy world and the public.  I raise a big question that I will try to answer next week (it is a weekly column, more or less)–whether the problem is on our side of the divide?  Perhaps no one wants to listen to us IR scholars?

And if this is all too serious for you, I posted on my own blog why I think a Red Dawn with Canadian invaders would be more credible than North Koreans and what strategic and tactics the invaders might use.


Hanging Out on the Theory-Practice-Policy Divide

In Spring of 2006, I was nearing the end of data collection on my investigation into the human rights of children born of rape and exploitation in conflict zones, and I presented my preliminary findings on the topic atUniversity of Pittsburgh’s Research in International Politics (RIP) monthly brown-bag. In such circles, heavily dominated by empirical approaches, one does not present normative theory (that is, value-laden arguments about how the world should look) or policy-oriented sets of recommendations about particular problems. Rather, one identifies empirical puzzles about the world and then goes
about solving them by applying or modifying existing theories. Theories, in this sense, are lenses said to explain and predict major patterns in world affairs. 

Therefore, I had organized this particular paper not as a problem-focused human rights argument about children born of war, but rather as an empirical study on “issue non-emergence” within advocacy networks. I presented the subject of “children born of war” as a negative case and demonstrated why, from the perspective of agenda-setting theory, this might be considered an interesting puzzle. The case, I argued, showed that we needed a different understanding of the obstacles to issue emergence. This was the working paper version of a longer book project exploring why children born of war rape had received so little attention from advocacy organizations aiming to protect war-affected children. 

My colleagues provided a variety of suggestions on the theory, the methods, and the structure of the argument. But one piece of advice particularly sticks out in my mind. “You’d better stop talking to international organizations about this issue until you publish,” said one senior faculty member. “Otherwise, before you know it, you will no longer have a puzzle to explain, because these children will be on the agenda.”  

Two things struck me about this comment. First was the suggestion that in researching the non-emergence of “children born of war,” I might in fact be engaged in a form of issue entrepreneurship that could alter the research findings. Second was the suggestion that the idea that more attention to this population should have been less preferable to me (or anyone) than the ability to advance my career by publishing an interesting paper. In this essay, I grapple with those two problematiques as a way of thinking about what we aim for when we choose political science as a vocation, and to what extent our answers to that question are implicated in the social constructions we study.

Thus begins my reflection essay in this month’s issue of Perspectives on Politics. This piece began as the concluding chapter of the my book on human rights agenda-setting, but I was asked to remove it by the Columbia University Press editor as the price of publication. The essay reflects on that maneuver and its meaning in the context of a wider set of ruminations about academic norms, scholarly inquiry and the ways we interface with and affect the world we study.  We do this both through our practices as scholars and through our many every-day interactions with the public, practitioners and policy-makers on the research frontier, but this dialectic is masked by our professional norms. I hope that’s starting to change.

This set of ruminations from my professional journey along theory-data-practitioner-policy-public-sphere continuum remains very relevant to my new book project. These days, I think of what I learned on the Bosnia project constantly as I navigate semi-structured interviews and informal conversations with human security elites in the areas of civilian protection, children’s health, and arms control. I hope that in my new manuscript I can find a way to acknowledge my embeddedness within these communities of practice as a methodological choice in a way that nonetheless passes academic peer review.

Along those lines, Stephen Walt reminds us in an new important essay that hanging out on the divide between academe and the real world is necessary, yet full of pitfalls. He proposes a menu of strategies by which academic institutions can incentivize an ethical, reflexive and transparent approach that encourages such bridge-building. But he also insists we must acknowledge and render transparent the academic and political significance of such interactions between scholars and practitioners, policymakers and the public. If we can find a way to do that without unhelpfully blurring the line between academe and the ‘rest’ perhaps we can rescue the discipline from what he calls the “cult of irrelevance.”

To do it, we need to rethink how we train and socialize students, reward our junior colleagues, and report on our consulting relationships, as Walt points out. But in my view we also need to change our publishing norms to include and honor scholarly reflections on one’s journey through one’s subject matter as a staple component of analytical presentations.


Geeking Out on the Theory-Policy Divide

As I gathered content today for my upcoming ISA presentation on social media, I was delighted to discover that my “Blog Wars” video from few years back (a response to a theory-policy debate stirred up by Joseph Nye and Dan Drezner) is cited in an academic paper as an actual contribution to the debate!

The paper itself is quite good: Bradley Parks and Alena Stern conduct one of the few empirical studies I’m aware of how scholars actually interface with the world of policy. They use as a hook the debate over policy relevance sparked off by Joseph Nye’s “Scholars on the Sidelines?” op-ed back in 2009, Dan’s response and the following ripostes by Jim Vreeland and Raj Desai, and others. Unlike most of these scholars and prior literature on the subject, they test causal propositions rather than engage in prescriptive argument, with rather interesting findings. In particular, they show that leaving academia for policy work results in a likelihood of later publishing in policy journals, whereas mere consulting doesn’t apparently impact scholars’ likelihood of publishing outside the academy.

I have only one quibble with their argument, which is that they can’t really tell us whether “in-and-outers” publish in policy journals because they want to more than “moonlighters” or whether both groups attempt to do so but only “in-and-outers” have mastered the requisite skills. Or maybe both. The answer is relevant to thinking about how to restructure doctoral studies in the profession to both incentivize and train young political scientists for this type of technical writing, something I’m experimenting at present. In general, however, this is precisely the kind of work I’ve been telling my students we need to see in IR journals: empirical studies of the discipline itself and how it interfaces with the real world. Kudos to the authors.

Two additional things about this paper, and in particular the debate the authors use as a jumping off point:

1) the citations in this paper itself signal that user-generated media (blog conversations, blog comments, tweets and YouTube videos) are being genuinely interpreted as academic contributions these days, and that’s a fascinating shift that frankly I think has some bearing on the closing of the theory-policy divide since the use of social media by academics has broadened our audiences, changed our discourse and altered our communication styles. (I guess it’s good that MLA just came out with its guidelines on how to properly cite tweets: here. Not sure when they’ll have rules on YouTube videos, although to be fair the authors didn’t cite the video itself but rather the blog post where I disseminated it.)

2) the satirical and geeky nature of that debate as it played out in the blogosphere when it occurred strikes me as itself an interesting counter-point to David Newsom’s claim way back that

“IR scholars appear caught up in an elite culture in which labels, categories and even the humor have meaning ‘for members only’… they speak to each other rather than a wider public.”

I hypothesize that the increasing use of pop culture allegories and satirical arguments to make political points is an example of the exact opposite – the widening of academic and policy discourse to express debates through humor that appeals to a much broader audience.

However these are only hypotheses, since unlike Parks and Stern I’ve not constructed a research design to investigate whether they’re actually true. Whether they are (and whether or not that’s a good thing on balance) will have to be explored by future studies. But if you want to hear my rambling thoughts on the subject thus far, come to Henry Farrell’s roundtable on “Transnational Politics and the Information Age” Sunday April 1 at 1:45 at the International Studies Association Annual Conference. (Or, simply wait for the post-conference YouTube version, which you can obviously cite to your heart’s content.)


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