Tuesday, March 25, 2008

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Should IR scholars expose themselves?

Blogging will be light over the next few days, as your humble blogger racks up additional frequent flyer miles attends the International Studies Association annual meeting in San Francisco. In honor of ISA, here's the following academic-y post:

Over at Duck of Minerva, Charli Carpenter is blogging about the motives behind scholarly research and how much should be revealed. She quotes approvingly from this dialogue by Ersel Aydinli:

Perhaps we should consider a disciplinary movement to encourage our members to develop and expand the currently accepted genre of the ‘author’s bio note’ into something more revealing and explicit than simply affiliation and research interests. I would like to see, for example, some indication of the author's past history, such as where they have worked and lived. Has the author remained all of his or her life in one place? Did he or she take a break along the educational path to join the Peace Corps, live abroad, or work in a different field? I also think it would be valuable to know about some of the author's non-professional affiliations or interests. Of course it would be up to the individual author to determine how many or which of these affiliations to provide, but even that choice would be revealing to the readers and help them interpret the content of the text... authors [might also be] encouraged in their texts to indicate how they came to choose the research topic or particular questions they investigate. Was it simply a personal interst or were there pragmatic issues involved such as a future grant? Was the topic of global or current scholarly interest or something sparked by a dinner table conversation?
Carpenter continues:
I quite like this idea. I think it would make our research far more objective, and help us evaluate one another's work far better if such a norm of full disclosure took root. It might also help us acknowledge and make sense of our presence in the worlds we study....

I also know from first-hand experience... there is currently no such norm. Which is becoming scarily apparent to me as I complete my book... and now have to peddle it to mainstream IR presses who will no doubt insist I edit that kind of quasi-narcisisstic reflectivism right out.

Even efforts to bend in that direction just slightly result in disciplining moves from academic gatekeepers.

I'd dissent a little bit from Carpenter. There are actually two places where scholars tend to exposit a bit on the genealogy of their interests and ideas. The first place is in book prefaces. This is hardly de rigeur, but far more often than not a political scientist will explain how they decided to write about what they are, you know, writing about. They will also usually discuss the various fieldwork experiences/fellowships/affiliations that inform their scholarship.

The second place -- and this is more common -- is in the statement of research and teaching that all professors need to gin up when they are up for contract renewal/tenure/promotion. This is the one venue whe this kind of self-reflection is expected. The irony, of course, is that very few people read these statements.*

Based on my own experience, they are also excruciating to write -- imagine penning a ten page cover letter that says, "Yay!! Look at me!! Look at all of my brilliant insights that have paved the way towards truth and beauty!!" I mean, I'm a blogger, so I know from self-promotion, but writing those documents was like a very painful tooth extraction.

This might explain why academic gatekeepers -- who have had to undergo this exercise -- are so reluctant to see more of it in the field.

* There is one exception that I am aware of -- chapter two of Robert Keohane's International Institutions and State Power is an updated version of his statement on research and teaching. Bob's had a pretty decent run as a scholar, so maybe the taboo lessens as one becomes an academic gatekeeper.

posted by Dan on 03.25.08 at 01:03 PM


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