Tag: Zombies (Page 1 of 2)

How do you kill a zombie argument? Middle East studies edition

I’ve started practicing mindfulness, partly to deal with the stress of being a Professor and parent of small kids in a pandemic, and partly to reduce the number of times I become unreasonably angry over bad policy arguments. I experienced a major setback this week, when I encountered yet another evidence-less argument on Saudi-Iran relations. What’s worse, it looks like this zombie claim is not only refusing to die, but it is–in zombie apocalypse fashion–replicating itself and spreading.

The offender was this article in Slate by Fred Kaplan. Reports have emerged of secret talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran, intended to ease long-standing tensions between the two countries. According to Kaplan, “by all accounts, this shift was spurred by recognition that the United States is moving away from the Middle East.”

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Friday Nerd Blogging: Globalization Edition

Why show a trailer for an Indian zombie movie?

Two reasons: it has the word globalization in it; and it helped me make it to the Final Four of Twitter Fight Club 2013.  To newbies, the first rule of #TFC13 is to talk about it.  So, check out the competition of the international security wonks, and then vote for me on Monday.  That way, I can be utterly distracted at the ISA for the finale is Wednesday.

Enjoy your weekend.


Pop Culture and World Politics v5.0

Pop Culture and World Politics v5.0
9-11 November 2012
Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Geneva, NY 14456 USA
What do zombies have to do with world politics? How might the Twilight sagas inform and illuminate our way of understanding world politics and changes in the global political economy? In what ways do videogames, the sales of which now exceed those of music CDs and DVDS combined, shape the identities and political understandings of frequent players? Is visual media destined to replace print as the primary source of news and entertainment in advanced industrial societies and how might this affect the construction of meaning of world affairs? As a means of communication readily available to an ever-expanding number of individuals and groups, how might the internet offer paths of resistance to corporate and Western news and entertainment hegemony? How can tango dancing make the world a more peaceful place?
This conference explores the multiple ways of investigating the intersections of world politics and the production, circulation, content, and consumption of various popular cultural forms. Engaging a range of disciplines and practices in the social sciences, humanities and the arts, the conference encourages participants to question what terms such as ‘global,’ ‘popular,’ and ‘culture’ mean both in isolation and when used in conjunction. It asks in what ways and with what effects popular culture has become a series of sites at which political meaning is made, where political contestation takes place, and where political orthodoxy is reproduced and challenged. The conference provides a highly-focused and interdisciplinary environment in which the increasing numbers of scholars that are engaging in culture-related research can present their work and participate in the kind of extended discussion that larger conferences do not permit. The conference aims to provide an intimate forum at which debates about interdisciplinary methods and theoretical approaches can be developed to facilitate debate across disciplines that share interests in world politics and culture. We welcome proposals for performances, screenings, panels, or individual papers, on any aspect of world politics and popular culture.
Building on the precedingfour PCWP conferences, version 5.0 will be held on the campus of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, a small liberal arts institution located in the beautiful Finger Lakes (wine-making) region of western New York state.
Inquiries should be sent to PCWP@hws.edu
The deadline for proposals is 15 July 2012

Zombie Theory of Foreign Policy

We have gone almost a month without talking about zombies, and you all must be in need of a fix. Instead of thinking how various theories of international relations might expect us to cope with a zombie epidemic, I thought it might be fun to think about how leading public figures – elected officials, pundits, etc. – might respond to a zombie attack. This is in keeping with my general belief that we would see many different responses by individuals in the same structural circumstances, that foreign policy is more important than international relations.

Incidentally, I just want you to know that you can Google anyone with ‘zombie’ in front of their name and find an image. What is wrong with you people?

Michelle Bachmann: This Martian invasion will not be tolerated.

Momar Qaddafi : Can you help a brother out?

John Boehner: My sundried skin will not be tasty to them, I am immune. Later, b*tches.

Nancy Pelosi : Be not afraid, I am one of you.

George W. Bush: Zombies hate America for our freedom, to use our brains.

Rick Perry: I urge everyone to spend the day fasting and praying to God to save us from this zombie scourge. This is exactly why I take my gun with me when I jog.

Al Gore: This is yet another sign of the terrible effects of global warming.

Mitt Romney: Do they take checks? I mean, have they heard the good news about Jesus Christ?

Ron Paul: I might make an exception on military spending for this.

Dick Cheney: You are not going to make a big deal about waterboarding these guys, right? Can we at least agree that zombies do not qualify under the Geneva Conventions or are you going to bust my balls on this one too, Amnesty?

Barack Obama: I reject the false choice between the security that comes with eradicating all zombies and our values.

Glenn Beck: Is Woodrow Wilson one of them, because I’d like a shot at that mother*cker.

Sarah Palin: I am uniquely positioned to deal with the zombie threat. In Alaska I can see the graveyard from my house.

Hillary Clinton: It is important for us to understand underlying structural causes of zombies, like poor access to water and development.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn : OK, I can’t get bitten by one, but can I still have sex with one?

Bill Clinton: I had the same question as DSK.

Bank of America: We know how you feel.

Anne Coulter: Zombies are Liberals.

John McCain: It is absolutely unacceptable that zombies are receiving healthcare when they are no longer legal citizens of this country. Or alive.

Hosni Mubarak: This would have been better for me a few months ago. I could have used a little rallying around the flag.

Benjamin Netanyahu: We have some lovely new accommodations we would like to show you just outside Jerusalem.

Dan Drezner: OK, now I’m going to buy a Benz.

Let’s make this interactive. Can you think of some others? Please reply below.


Understanding Zombie Comedy

Earlier this week, Tufts professor Dan Drezner tweeted that his Theory of International Politics and Zombies book has now sold more than 10,000 copies. That’s a huge total by academic standards and I sincerely congratulate Drezner on his success.

Fellow Duck of Minerva bloggers have previously written a good deal about zombies and Drezner’s book. For Foreign Policy, Dan Nexon wrote a brief comment about Drezner’s original article suggesting that we should think (naturally) about IR in terms of hierarchy and empire:

America’s unmatched global-strike capabilities will lead most other remaining states to acquiesce to U.S. leadership over the zone of the living.

The result will not, unfortunately, be Liberal Order 3.0, but a global Pax Americana supported by regional client-empires tasked with controlling and eradicating local zombie eruptions.

Likewise, Laura Sjoberg argues that Drezner reifies masculinization in/of IR.

Reviewer Adam Weinstein argues that the book is “a light, breezy volume” laced with “quick dry punch lines” (Drezner is said to have a “weakness for the cheap joke”). While Charli Carpenter conceded that “the book can and must be read as parody,” Vikash Yadav more critically writes that this hint of humor does not compensate for the mainstream thinking he finds both in Drezner’s book and the larger debate about it:

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.

So what would constitute an out-of-the box critique of Theory of International Politics and Zombies?

In her most thorough Duck blog post about the book, Charli notes a potentially serious failing of Drezner’s work.

…the book actually scarcely mentions critical theory, post-modernism, feminist theory or pretty much any scholarship falling on the “reflectivist” side of the discipline, much less utilizes their tools. (Though to be fair, Dan doesn’t claim to do so, either.)

But if I have one critique of this otherwise brilliant little book, it’s that as a description of “the field” of IR, TIPZ’ relentless focus on rationalist theory to the near-exclusion of identities, language or embodiment frankly bites.

Broadly, Weinstein agrees with this assessment, as he claims that Drezner’s survey of the field is “prone to give short shrift to IR theories he clearly disagrees with [citing social constructivism], and to softpedal on those with which he sympathizes just a bit.”

While those are significant concerns about the book, they are likely not sufficiently unconventional to satisfy Vikash’s critique. Indeed, he suggests a potentially more critical approach — by thinking about the central role of threats in the discipline, especially ultimate “worst case” threats.

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.

This is an especially important concern given some empirical evidence Drezner arguably misinterprets in his book — the meaning of a couple of comedic zombie films, Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland.

Some readers may know that my ongoing sabbatical project is about “the comedy of global politics.” As I have previously explained at the Duck, numerous realist and other IR theorists have long argued that the discipline is explained in tragic terms. Tragic stories traditionally focus on doomed heroic nobles who find themselves constrained by their situation. The stories tend to be set in the Great Hall or on the battlefield and end in death.

By contrast, comedy potentially provides an important alternative narrative perspective on the discipline. Comedies typically focus on ordinary people and emphasize their regular lives — the human security agenda, if you prefer that language. The stories end happily, perhaps in a marriage. Comedies focusing on elites typically satirize and critique those characters, revealing them to be self-interested buffoons. Satire, farce and black comedy can be subversive, reflecting critical rather than entrenched understandings.

Arguably, the makers of the recent comedic zombie films have both the concerns of ordinary people and subversive ideas about elites in mind. The threat from zombies is mostly played for laughs (Zombieland was criticized for its failings as a horror film) and the lives of the (ordinary) main characters provide alternative narratives that are not centrally focused on apocalyptic threats. The zombies seem relatively easy to slay — though, granted, their large numbers are somewhat worrisome. The lead characters spend a fair amount of screen time thinking about their love lives and families. Both Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland end relatively happily, suggesting romance, family, and a return to (a new) normalcy.

Elite characters in these films, by contrast, are often lampooned and criticized. Obviously, the zombie outbreaks in both films reflect a failure of established order — and the characters in these movies are thus left to construct their own rules and understandings in order to cope with their situations. While Shaun of the Dead relies upon the military to save the lead characters from their situation, the story’s final resolution remains nonetheless focused on the relationships among the ordinary people at the center of the film.

Bill Murray appears as himself in Zombieland , living essentially alone in his mansion and disguising himself as a zombie so that he can have a life outside his dwelling. He plays golf, an elite sport, thanks to his zombie disguise. This way of life proves unsustainable.

Comedic zombie films, despite Drezner’s take (rom zom com?), offer a meaningful pathway to discuss critical theory in IR.


Friday Nerd Blogging

1: A mysterious little Father’s Day gift for certain Dads among us. Speculation here.

2: Your GoT satirical post of the week. (H/T Steve.)

3: No, I haven’t read it yet, though this is definitely on my summer beach-book-list. Judging by the critical reviews (Robopocalypse is being compared to World War Z) my immediate sense is that the zombie craze of which Drezner speaks may be coming to its end, and that Glen Weldon’s new novel may be the start of the latest greatest trend in ” post-apocalyptic chronicle of decimated humanity” fiction.

It may be the presence of this beating human heart beneath Robopocalpyse’s cold, genocidal surface that helps explain why Steven Spielberg has optioned, and plans to direct, the film version, due in 2013. The fact that Spielberg did so before Wilson had even finished his first draft, however, suggests that Hollywood sees something it likes in the way the book exploits our anxieties about artificial intelligence — something it finds very, very marketable.

(And not a moment too soon, if you ask me.) Now, back to work on my case study about autonomous warbots…


Horrorphilia (Or … I couldn’t resist weighing in on the zombie debate)

Though I clearly swim in the shallow end of the pool of those who think about Zombies in International Relations – in fact, I learned what a zombie is from Dan Drezner’s book. At the same time, I can’t really resist a brief observation on the popularity of the Zombie book, and follow-up journal articles, blog posts, and ISA panels. I don’t mean this to engage all of the relevant issues, but can’t resist a few reflections.

Dan Drezner asks what the global political community would look like it the undead walked among us. What if the undead were aggressive attackers looking to exterminate humanity? How would people react? How would states? What would (mainstream) International Relations theory have to say about the security threats posed by Zombies? About the differences between zombies and humans? How might IR theory suggest ways to minimize, or potentially eliminate, conflicts and or injustices brought about by the presence of zombies among us?

While we’re at it, why not take seriously the claim that Harry Potter’s world intertwines with our own? Why not celebrate IR analyses of wizardry, the majestic, and the fantastic? Why not explore what facets of the young (then teenage) Harry Potter’s world are reflective of (and reflected in) our own world? What are the muggle sports between states? IR theorists fantasize about wizards and their magic(s) enthusiastically, along with the Lord of the RingsStar Trek and Battlestar Galactica, UFOs, Enders Game, and other “hip” pop culture stuff.

These questions, asked in a tongue-and-cheeck if not satirical way, are comfortable questions among a new generation of IR theorists, who engage IR as if zombies walked among us in journals, on blogs, and on panels – in the same rooms, on the same websites, and on the same table of contents as discussions of the capitalist peace, offshore balancing, institutional design, bureaucratic politics, and the normal business of IR theorists/the mainstream on the discipline.

However cool … (through feminist lenses), I’m concerned. Why? …

Because the new, cooler IR is comfortable with (and fantasizes about) the world as if it contained zombies, wizards, hobbits, and aliens. They discuss the ethics of inclusion, the problems of difference, liminality brought about by uncertainty, security dilemmas created by differential positionally, epistemological issues brought about by performances of otherness, and the like. But the world as if women existed (and as if gender needed to be taken seriously) remains taboo.

What are the ethics of sex, gender, and sexuality inclusion? What are the problems of sex, gender, sexuality difference and differentiation? What liminalities are brought about by gender uncertainty? What security dilemmas are created by differential positionalities of gendered bodies and gendered actors? What epistemological issues are brought about by performances of gender(ings)?

You will tell me (and you may be right) that this is not a zero-sum game … and you may be right. But you may not be.

Thinking of Hilary Charlesworth’s argument that good feminist work “searches for silences” because the unsaid in texts matters as much as the said, I wonder why and how IR can ask questions about the co-constitution of monsters and IR but not about gender and IR. Then I remember Carol Cohn’s brilliant analysis of the (gendered) function of abstraction in nuclear security discourses, and think that (gendered) abstraction is often covering (gendered) discomforts.

Along these lines, I fear it is possible that IR’s (recent) interest in the fantastic and its (continued) blindnesses to gender(s) are intimately intertwined. Feminists have previously identified mainstream IR as “malestream,” a world of research questions and methodological standards made by men for men. Ann Tickner noted that “all too often, [the mainstream’s] claims of gender neutrality mask deeply embedded masculinist assumptions which can naturalize or hide gender differences and gender inequalities.”

As odd as it might sound, fantasizing about monsters, UFOs, aliens, hobbits, and wizards does not (in Sarah Brown’s words) threaten the division of knowledge which presently defines the discipline – one which has structural gender bias in its epistemologies and ontologies. Those biases are at once reproduced and glazed over in the new, cool IR – which mentions “gender” (by which it means sex) in passing while talking about the relationships among wizards or the differences among zombies.

I believe it is and remains true that gender belongs in, and transforms, IR – and not as a (sex) question in IR’s traditional or fantastic work, but asking questions about what we don’t see in either of those genres of IR work. I believe it is and remains true that IR needs gender analysis to make its worldview less partial, and to increase the explanatory value of its theoretical propositions, and to clarify its empirical observations. And I worry that books like International Relations Theory and Zombies are at once widening that gap and making it invisible. But maybe that’s just me.


Dan Drezner Denies Being a Cylon, Professes Love for Mainstream IR

We also talk about Libya, R2P, Wikileaks, gender, and why Dan should give critical theory a second chance despite how they left things.

I do feel compelled to explain the weirdness around 21:20. We had a tech fail (I blame the Cylons) and fixing it disrupted my original plan to cite my co-blogger Vikash Yadav on some very important insights in this post. So I asked Sang Ngo at BHTV to splice in a clip I recorded afterwards, making the shout-out. He obliged me, though despite his techno-wizardry it didn’t turn out quite as I’d hoped only because I was rather more sloshed at the end than in the middle… (also, watch how I try in vain to get my mouth around the term ‘territorial non-aggression norm’ at 44:35). But hey, it was late on a Saturday night, and don’t forget drinking while blogging heads is an Internet tradition.


My Final Word to Dan Drezner On Zombies

For those who were unable to squeeze into the packed room for Stephanie Carvin’s “Zombie Holocaust” panel at ISA, here is the video blog version of my remarks on Dan Drezner’s new book Theory of International Politics and Zombies.

This panel, by the way, was voted among the “Top 20 ISA Panels of All Time” by a “senior academic sitting in audience” via Twitter. My post-ISA content analysis of the conference Twitter hashtag also shows that ‘zombies’ was the fifth most commonly tweeted word – beaten only by ‘#isa2011’, ‘rt,’ ‘panel’ and ‘http’, and surpassing the words ‘power,’ ‘libya’ and even ‘bitly’ as well as references to the IPad contest being thrown by Routledge Press. What this suggests about the state of IR as a discipline one can only wonder, but Steve Saideman has a few choice thoughts.


Global Governance and the Worst Case Scenario: Theorizing the International Relations of a Zombie Holocaust

ISA 2011 featured a book panel on Daniel Drezner’s Theories of International Politics and Zombies.

Stephanie Carvin created, animated, moderated, and even presented on the roundtable. Other participants included Robert Farley (of LGM), Jeremy Youde, myself, Charli Carpenter, and, of course, Dan D. Topics included:

  • The results of zombie-apocalypse simulations;
  • The global health regime and flesh-eating ghouls;
  • Post-Zombie IR theory;
  • The laws of war meet reanimated corpses; and
  • The cyborg menace.

For those of you who missed the panel, we now have a podcast available. Recording quality is uneven — Rob, despite being roughly the size of a hill giant, has trouble switching his voice to any setting other than “mellow.” Charli’s presentation simply isn’t the same without the mashed-up film she played in the background. I did not include Q&A, because I lack permission from the audience to broadcast their comments. But despite these failings, the podcast is well worth your time.

Download here, or indirectly via Kittenboo.


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.


Zombie Hunt!

In an public-service-minded attempt to hone our skills for the zombie outbreak due any day, Bloggingheads has embedded a zombie-detection tutorial within this diavlog:

Win a copy of “Theories of International Politics and Zombies”! Hidden in this diavlog are five different images from well-known zombie features (four movies, one TV show). The first reader of this blog to correctly identify when those zombie scenes appear in the diavlog and from what movie or TV show they were taken, gets a copy of Dan Drezner’s new book. For a chance to win: send an email to bloggingheadszombiehunt@gmail.com. In the body of your email, include a link to this blog post, the five different times (minute and second) in the diavlog when the zombie images appear, and the movie/show from where the images were taken. Contest ends at midnight on March 1, 2011. Good hunting!


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!).


Dan Drezner, Postmodernist

Adam Weinsten has written a delicious appraisal of my friend Dan’s newest book, Theory of International Politics and Zombies. I think he’s mostly spot-on, particularly his genealogy of Dan’s position in the discipline and his implication that TIPZ represents Dan having the last laugh on the Chicago Department of Political Science and its stale, antiquated notions of what matters in statecraft:

This is the university that gave us supply-side economics, Straussian neconservativism, and David Brooks. It is, in short, a haven for very smart people who live to confound undergraduates, worship Thucydides, and subvert the global order. Small wonder that Chicago hardly knew what to do with Dan Drezner, a (relatively) young right-of-center political economist with a penchant for pro sports and stream-of-consciousness intellectualism. In 2002, he started blogging about “foreign policy, economic policy, public intellectuals, pop culture.” In 2005, Chicago passed him over for tenure.

Fortunately for us (and, I suppose, for all those Chicago-trained libertarian economists), Drezner’s done very well in the marketplace of ideas beyond Hyde Park. He scored an appointment at Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy; gained admission to the Council on Foreign Relations; and went pro in the blogging business, taking his daily insights to the website of Foreign Policy magazine. Along the way, something amazing’s happened: Open debates about global affairs have flourished… Whatever the reasons, academics and think-tankers are joining ever more laypeople in frank, smart, and often levity-laced discussions of world events… A light, breezy volume, TIPZ is a valuable primer in international relations theory for laypeople, and thank God for that—it’s been a long time coming.

Indeed! However, based on my reading of TIPZ, I must take issue with this statement:

But Drezner’s real genius is that he’s written a stinging postmodern critique of IR theorists themselves… It’s both a pedagogical text and a lampoon of pedagogy.

A stinging critique I’ll grant: the book can and must be read as parody. But a postmodern critique? This is an extraordinary claim given that the book actually scarcely mentions critical theory, post-modernism, feminist theory or pretty much any scholarship falling on the “reflectivist” side of the discipline, much less utilizes their tools. (Though to be fair, Dan doesn’t claim to do so, either.)

But if I have one critique of this otherwise brilliant little book, it’s that as
a description of “the field” of IR, TIPZ’ relentless focus on rationalist theory to the near-exclusion of identities, language or embodiment frankly bites. (Hey, critical theorists deserve to be made fun of too!)Even Weinstein (who apparently desperately needs a Drezner-esque treatment of postmodernism to even know what it is) notes that Dan gives “short shrift” to theories he doesn’t like, and is “pretty unfair to social constructivism.”

Feminist IR? Forget it. Despite the fact that zombie metaphors are providing inroads to regendering entire literary genres and the martial myths that support them, feminist theory only gets one footnote… oh wait, no, Dan earnestly informs me by instant message there are actually two whole feminist IR footnotes! One (p. 17) reads:

“Space constraints prevent a fuller discussion of how some theories – such as Marxism and feminism – would cope with flesh-eating ghouls… to be blunt, this project is explicitly pro-human, whereas Marxists and feminists would likely sympathize more with the zombies…”

Here’s the other (p. 105):

“It is possible that a feminist perspective might provide some leverage at this juncture: in Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004), for example, the contrast between the governance structure of the mall when the security guards are in charge and when the female lead (a nurse) and her compatriots are in charge is quite stark.”

Because we know security guards are always men. Nice try, my friend! For another take on gender and zombies see here.

Post-modernism? Post-colonialism? Not to be found in TPIZ’ therefore
easy-to-read pages. (Though “post-apocalypse” and “post-human” get a few index references.) Come on Dan, how am I supposed to even teach postmodernism now without the zombie chapter to go along with my Derrida and Sylvester?

Maybe this is what Weinstein means when he writes:

Drezner’s given you a paint-by-numbers template for your term papers or theses. If you attend U Chicago, anyway.

So what would an actual post-modern critique of IR look like? I’m not sure I’m braaaaiiinny enough to offer one here, but perhaps Weinstein is on the right track in his reinterpretation of neoconservatism:

Sure, sure: Neocon hawks will launch a preventive strike against latent zombie threats, and they’ll probably use it as an excuse to reinvade Iraq. But did it never occur to Drezner that the Manichean, all-or-nothing, bomb-it-yesterday neocons are themselves the zombies? Isn’t it possible that they—and the Islamophobic, messianic, war-happy Palinocrats that have kept neoconservatism on the pantry shelf long past its spoilage date—are the real undead automatons who march forth with no understanding of their actions?

[cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money]


Toward a Post-Zombie IR

While I was on my working leave, Foreign Policy asked me to write a response to Dan Drezner’s “Night of the Living Wonks. They published it, in abridged form, about a month ago under the title of “America’s Triumph over the Zombie Horde”. Predictably, they misspelled my name.

What few people know, however, is that my typically skewed sense of priorities drove me to write not one, but two responses.

For our readers’ edification, and to mark my return to blogging, I give you my other, heretofore suppressed, take on Dan Drezner’s article.

Toward a Post-Zombie IR 
Daniel Drezner deserves much praise for his courageous attempt to bring rigor to our understanding of the Zombie apocalypse. From the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, to the collapse of the Soviet Union, to the Alpha Draconis threat, international relations theorists have a poor track record of anticipating major developments in world politics. Drezner’s brief account provides much for readers to chew on, and I look forward to his book-length analysis of the Zombie menace. But it also suffers from a number of problems. Chief among them is its failure to challenge a central bias of international-relations theory.  
Realism, liberalism, and other major frameworks assume that world politics is a realm exclusively populated by homo sapiens sapiens. This human-centrism has long prevented us from recognizing, let alone making sense of, non-human actors in world politics: whether dolphins, whales, or malevolent subterranean reptiles. It also renders these frameworks unable to adequately account for the impact on world politics of homo coprophagus somnambulus. 
What, then, would a post-Zombie international relations theory look like? It would attempt to capture the subjectivity of reanimated corpses, starting with ethnographic data from George Romero’s later films and from Shaun of the Dead. It would recognize that Zombies are more than flesh-eating ghouls: they have the capacity to hunger, to shamble, and to chart their own destiny. Post-Zombie IR would provide a potent critique of the xenophobia lurking behind the genocidal violence characterizing interaction between the two species. In time, it would provide a basis for negotiation and mutual recognition. With the aid of the critical tools provided by post-Zombie IR, we might one day look into the glassy, decaying eyes of our former friends and neighbors, and see that we are all the victims of the hegemonic discourse of late-capitalism’s incessant consumerism. After all, Zombies only seek to eat our brains; the contemporary global order devours our souls.

De-ComposingConstructing the Zombie Menace

Daniel Drezner has expounded on his seminal “Zombies and IR” blog post
with a full spread on the topic in the July/August Foreign Policy:

The specter of an uprising of reanimated corpses… poses a significant challenge to interpreters of international relations and the theories they use to understand the world. If the dead begin to rise from the grave and attack the living, what thinking would — or should — guide the human response? How would all those theories hold up under the pressure of a zombie assault? When should humans decide that hiding and hoarding is the right idea?

What follows is an attempt to satiate the ever-growing hunger for knowledge about how zombies will influence the future shape of the world. But this is a difficult exercise: Looking at the state of international relations theory, one quickly realizes the absence of consensus about the best way to think about global politics. There are multiple paradigms that attempt to explain international relations, and each has a different take on how political actors can be expected to respond to the living dead.

Drezner’s treatise is already being referred to as the cornerstone work of “zombie theory” akin to other foreign policy crazes such as “cybersecurity” or “counter-terrorism.”

As such, therefore, it’s interesting to note that this summary of relevant IR “theory” turns a half-eaten blinded eye to a whole range of the perspectives that might be presumed useful to comprehending this emerging transnational threat. Would not post-colonial theory help us understand the unique Haitian approach to the zombie menace? Would not constructivist IR theory contribute a more nuanced understanding of the power relations required to make the zombie community hang together, and the cultural reasons for the abject neglect of the such non-traditional threats by policymakers thus far? Would not IR feminism attune us to the impact of marauding zombie mayhem on zombie women and children, to say nothing of usefully deconstructing the gendered narrative about threats-of-the-flesh that underpins the popularity of zombie hysteria? (I hungrily await Laura Sjoberg’s take on Drezner’s piece.)

Then again, this is Foreign Policy, and I suspect behind this article is an interesting and humorous back-room story about the ever-contentious process of translating academic theories and jargon to a beltway audience – a process that often takes the bite right out of IR theory.

What Drezner conclusively shows, however, is the urgency with which security specialists must sink our teeth into this body of uncharted research. Hint, hint, National Science Foundation and DoD Minerva Project: a new Cross-Cutting Program on Zombie-Human Social Dynamics?

[cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money]

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