Megan MacKenzie

My 5 Secret ‘Weapons’ for Finishing a Book

by on 2014-10-31- Leave a reply

There is all kinds of advice out there on how to write and finish a book. We are frequently advised to 'Write everyday', 'write early in the morning,' 'workshop and present your work,' among other things. Here is a great overview of 10 steps to writing a book and another fantastic post called "'I'm writing a book no one will read' and other reasons the PhD can get you down.'" It seems common knowledge that writers need time, space, and mental energy to complete any piece of work. But no one talks about the other types of daily tools that can be useful in getting words on a page. I'm no expert on writing books- in fact, I've only got one! But I've been hibernating for 8 months working on another project. Besides the obvious- coffee, sleep- here are a few unlikely 'weapons' I used to complete my recent book (unless I'm wrong, and I still have 2 chapters to write, which is a reoccurring nightmare)

1. IMG_3008'Back in 5 or 45 minutes' post it notes.
Ok, I'm outing myself to my colleagues on this one. I appreciate office socialization and I generally have an open-door policy and welcome staff and student drop-ins. However, when I start to get on a writing roll I try to get up, put up a 'back in 5- or 45' note, and close the door to ensure uninterrupted typing. Obviously, I don't do this during office hours or other appointments. The result? I catch the inspiration while it is there, and open the door for chit chat when its not.

2. Retreats.
Over the course of this project, my partner and I organized 3 separate  writing retreats. They were scheduled at pivotal times (completing the theory chapter, writing the intro, and going over the complete manuscript a last time). I went to a Buddhist temple that has simple hotel rooms. There is not much to do besides write, meditate....and sneak in a few episodes of bad tv from the ipad. These blocks of time got me over major writing blocks and helped me get back on track when I had fallen far behind my own deadlines.

IMG_30103. Dragon Dictate (hands free microphone)
Sure it is a mega pain in the @ss to set up, but once you get the hang of using this program it can get you through some long days. It is particularly useful for 'talking out' sections of the manuscript, dictating longer quotes, or brainstorming ideas that you will go through and finesse later. Much of the conclusion chapter was 'written' by me pacing around my office with this plugged in my ear.

4. Grooveshark and Spotify. Namely, extended Prince playlists.

IMG_30095. New glasses. This seems obvious, but trying to write a book (or anything) with glasses from 3 years ago is not a good idea...as I figured out in month 2 of this project. These beauties make 8 hours of screen-staring bearable.

What are your weapons for getting work done?
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Experiencing the Ebola Crisis: a perspective from inside Sierra Leone

by on 2014-10-13- 1 Comment

This is a guest post by Dehunge Shiaka, Researcher and gender expert in Freetown Sierra Leone

There has been increased international attention to the Ebola Viral Disease (EVD) and its spread in West Africa. However, for those living in the region, the reports, meetings, and fears associated with the virus seem to have come too late. The international community should send aid, supplies, and experts, but it should also listen to the experiences, advice, and wisdom of locals. Those living amidst the epidemic have a first-hand view of why the disease has spreading so quickly, and how it can be managed and contained. This post contains my own view about the current Ebola outbreak. Overall, the disease has slowed down much of our activities and movement and this is bound to spread hardship among the population, most of whom are poor already. Here, I focus on what I see as the number one reason as to why the outbreak has been difficult to contain, as well as a host of practical (and easy) mechanisms for halting the virus.

To start, it is useful to know that EVD first attacked some residents of Kailahun District in May this year. This is the same district where the 11-year civil war in Sierra Leone began in the early 1990s, along the border with Liberia. Today, the disease is present in 13 out of the 14 districts in the country (only Koinadugu District has yet to record any infected case). While the first hit districts of Kailahun and Kenema (the district I hail from) are recording diminishing infection rates, rather unfortunately, the districts of Bombali, Port Loko and the Western Area (where the capital, Freetown, is located) have increasing infection rates. This is because our health system appears to be buckling.

One of the greatest contributors to the spread of the virus has been misinformation and miseducation about the virus.
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Bad Advice on Making Academic Babies: opting in and out of heteronormative panic

by on 2014-09-15- 6 Comments

What I remember most about my post-grad Gender and Politics seminar were the extensive discussions we had about having babies. It was 2004, and debates about babies vs careers, and whether women should 'opt out' to raise families, were heated and divisive. Women were told in the 1980s and 1990s that the highest feminist aspiration was to wear oversize, terrible suits and work alongside men- as equals (or at least work alongside men, while accepting less pay and dealing with harassment). This was followed by the movement to denounce the double-day; the New York Times and Time Magazine led the charge in declaring that women wanted out of the work force, and were empowered by the choice to stay at home and raise children. Less than a decade later, it was declared that 'women couldn't have it all'- the career, family balance was a loose loose choice. We had been duped. The opt out luxury was always 'fiction' that only really applied to white middle-class women. Forbes pointed out that opt-out mom's were unable to catch up in their careers and Al Jazeera concluded that women weren't opting out, they were out of options. The opt out women 'wanted back in' (are you confused yet about what *good* feminists should want??). Perhaps the culmination of this back and forth comes in Linda Hirshman's book, 'Get to Work...And Get a Life Before it is too Late.' Hirshman calls 'opting out' a form of 'self-betrayal' (and also encourages women to only have one child).
Entangled within this debate were mixed messages about how to 'time' having children (note, there was no debate there about whether strategizing to fit children within one's career plan was itself a problem).
One article I read back in 2004 encouraged women to 'do the math' and take control over the timing of children so that they didn't 'forget,' have to rush to become a 'last chance mother,' or run out of biological time before they reproduced- ending up 'single and childless'.* The strategy went like this: pick the age at which you want to have a child (or your last child, if you want more than one), count back in years and account for how long you want to be married before you have children, count back more years and think how long you will date before you get married. The results- your long term birth plan.
Does it get more heteronormative that this? The article made several big assumptions, including:
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ISIS and Biological Weapons: Black Flag, But Not the Black Death

by on 2014-09-03- Leave a reply

This is a guest post by Frank L. Smith III, lecturer at the University of Sydney and author of the new book, American Biodefense: How Dangerous Ideas About Biological Weapons Shape National Security.

The 2003 Iraq War aimed to stop rogue states from using weapons of mass destruction or giving these weapons to terrorists. Now we face ISIS, a terrorist organization that also claims to be a state. But what about WMD? Last week, Foreign Policy reported the discovery of an ISIS laptop that contained a jihadi fatwa on how “it is permissible to use weapons of mass destruction,” and, far more troubling, instructions on how to use biological weapons. So has the Islamic State become the triple threat that we supposedly invaded Iraq to prevent?

The laptop in question was captured in Syria earlier this year. Its previous owner was a Tunisian-turned-ISIS fighter who studied chemistry and physics at university. Along with a variety of other material on conducting jihad, “the ISIS laptop contains a 19-page document in Arabic on how to develop biological weapons and how to weaponize the bubonic plague from infected animals.”

This is clearly not good news. ISIS is bad enough already, and an Islamic State armed with biological weapons would be even worse. As the document on this laptop suggests, “the advantage of biological weapons is that they do not cost a lot of money, while the human casualties can be huge.” Plague is certainly contagious enough and infamous enough to fuel fear. Moreover, the spectre of WMD often creates considerable confusion to the detriment of sound policy – confusion that I explain in my book about “WMD” and other dangerously inaccurate stereotypes.
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If Gaza Isn’t a Genocide, What Is?: discourse as resistance

by on 2014-07-27- 67 Comments

At the moment many of us are watching the news with bated breath. New sites,  facebook and twitter feeds are filling with images of civilian deaths and the leveling of Gaza. There is growing sentiment that the 'targeted' operations in Gaza by the IDF have been willfully indiscriminate- with example upon example of civilian safe havens being directly targeted (4 UN schools in 4 days, 46 schools in total, 56 Mosques and 7 hospitals). The UN has called for an investigation of war crimes by Israel, and there is a growing international public movement to protest the killings- in the face of almost universal silence by major world leaders on the issue.
One question that has not been consistently raised is why the term 'genocide' is not being used to describe the activities of Israel in Gaza. It seems that only 'extreme' activist groups or Hamas and the Palestinian Authority themselves would accuse Israel of genocide, with the rest of the international community preferring to qualify their criticisms using terms like 'indiscriminate' 'disproportionate' or 'criminal.' The politics of Israel and Palestine have become so muted, so tangled with discursive landmines that it is difficult to even pose such a question. Yet one does not need to be a radical to at least try to evaluate Israeli actions against the established UN definition of genocide. Serious questions about the end goal of the current military actions, along with longstanding Israeli policies and their impact on the ability of Palestinians to exist require attention.
It is worth quoting the following section from the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide- not only to assess whether the current military offensive constitutes a genocide, but also to reflect on the international community's 'punishable' role as actors 'complicit' to a genocide.
"Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article III: The following acts shall be punishable:

(a) Genocide;
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide. "
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What the Public Heard/Saw in the Headlines for the ‘Global Summit on Ending Sexual Violence’

by on 2014-06-19- Leave a reply

If you haven't read Pablo K's piece on Angelina Jolie, celebrity, and the Global Summit on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict, you should. There has been some broader discussion about the pros (see 'Hollywood can actually help solve complex global problems') and cons of celebrity 'endorsement' (the foreign secretary was 'starstruck') of humanitarian issues- the Angelina Jolie 'effect', if you will. One thing that is certain, the headlines were certainly all about Angelina. "Angelina Jolie hosts/says/opens/kicks off…" were the most prominent headlines, with the content, issues, debates of the summit largely left out. Out of curiosity, I created a wordle map of the headlines. I took a blunt method of taking the headlines from the first three pages of google news for 'global summit on ending sexual violence.' To cut out the obvious, I deleted 'global end sexual violence summit' and here's what the headlines looked like:

angelina

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Why Mass Shootings Make Gun Control Less Likely to Pass Congress

by on 2014-06-16- 1 Comment

**This is a guest post by Dr. Christopher Neff, Lecturer in Public Policy at University of Sydney.**

This past week President Obama marked one year since legislative efforts at gun control failed in the Congress. He lamented at the normalization of school shootings in the United States, noting, “my biggest frustration is that this society has not been willing to take some basic steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who can do unbelievable damage.” What the President and his aides fail to realize is that mass shootings today make gun control less like to pass, not more likely.  Why? It’s all about emotional nature of the issues and the strength of the policy community, which is consistent with my research regarding policy responses to shark bites. Here’s how:

First, mass shootings and gun violence ‘turns off’ the wider public from the politics of ‘gun control.’ Mass shootings at schools create a series of aversive emotional conditions that cause emotional overload. These events become “temporally combined” (Linville and Fischer, 1991) in the minds of the public into one larger, more intense emotional event. For example, the shooting of each individual in a school tragedy get placed in the context of a larger event, such as "Columbine,"  "Virginia Tech," or  "Sandy Hook." We also see the public sharing lists and maps of mass shootings across the country in the past decade. The size and intensity of this emotional weight limits the number of people who have a capacity to engage. The natural response for the public therefore is to seek emotional relief from this condition and dreaded outcome. Simply put, people will not- and cannot- rally toward prolonged emotional distress. As a result, this limits the number of people who can compete with the entrenched gun rights lobby.

Secondly, the occurrence of mass shootings ‘turns on’ the support of gun rights advocates.
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The Unwritten Rules of AMERICAN IR? (or, things American IR scholars don’t always know about ‘doing’ IR ‘in the rest of the world’)

by on 2014-06-08- 11 Comments

Laura Sjoberg recently wrote a post listing "The Unwritten Rules of IR." While it is an interesting review of some of the power relations, maneuvering, and indeed game-playing that goes on in the field, it also captured a particular American (maybe even just a personal) experience of being an IR scholar. Of course this makes sense, since Sjoberg is an American doing IR in America...but it felt a little bit more like 'Mean Girls- the IR Sequel'- like when Regina George (yes, I remember the main character/villain's name outlines the 'rules' of the table....maybe the problem is the table, not the rules). My point is not to critique Sjoberg or the individual points she makes, but to consider what these rules tell us about how exceptional (I think) this experience is from those of us 'doing' IR in, well, the rest of the world (and maybe at other tables in the US cafeteria). I'm drawing from my experience working in New Zealand and Australia, studying in Canada, and completing a post-doc in the US. The post made me ask two questions:

  • First, is the American IR community really that shitty/petty/manipulative? (read, 'why is everyone so mean!?')
  • Do American IR scholars appreciate that their experience of the field is not, in fact, how the entire field operates? (read, 'why don't more US scholars abandon ship?!')

I offer a few counter punches to those offered by Sjoberg in the hope of making my point:
1. Get over pedigree. Pedigree matters most to those who went to 'the top 2/5/8' US universities in the US. Don't get me wrong, I'm not naive about the power of studying at Harvard or Yale. BUT pedigree only goes so far. And, especially outside the US, A) one's publication record, and general contribution to the field outweighs pedigree. Full stop. B) perception about 'good' pedigree varies vastly across the world. There is an entire cohort of non- ivy league universities that seem to garner as much- if not more recognition- for producing incredible IR scholars, including: Aberystwyth, the University of Copenhagen, Science Po, and University of Southern California- to name a few. C) constantly name dropping your alma matter or PhD supervisor is annoying both inside and outside the US (the students of a few American IR dudes 'icons'- who shall remain nameless- should just get t-shirts made for their students, to save them the hassle of declaration (it would be equally as annoying), or maybe there should be some pin that signals certain supervisors...now I'm just getting bitchy). Maybe this is my perspective because- from a pedigree perspective (what are we breeding, exactly) I'm the equivalent of a Shetland Pony/work horse bred with a thoroughbred racehorse. I'm sure the pedigree-police would recommend taking me out back and shooting me, but hey, I've managed 'show' in a few races and make my mark on the track anyway (ok, those are all the racing analogies I've got).
2. The HR pimp line, or the degree to which you brag about yourself as a scholar, that Sjoberg talks about is relative.
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Bergdahl and the Band of Brothers Dilemma: understanding the ‘patriot’/’traitor’ debate

by on 2014-06-04- 2 Comments

Let's be honest, the circumstances surrounding the 'prisoner swap' between Bowe Bergdahl and five high-ranking Taliban prisoners in Guantanamo Bay just don't add up. The initial narrative President Obama pitched of the prisoner swap as a signal of successful negotiations, a necessary response for a fellow soldier whose health was in jeopardy, and further evidence that the 'war' in Afghanistan is indeed drawing to a close, has completely disintegrated as waves of questions continue to be raised about the facts, legality, and implications of the exchange, including:
Did President Obama break the law by not giving Congress 30 days notice of the prisoner swap?
Was Bergdahl a prisoner of war? If he deserted, is he still a prisoner of war?
What's with Bergdahl's father- his obvious beard, and evidence he has been, studying Pashto (he used it in the recent press conference, sparking deep discomfort among some) and trying to learn about his son's captors?
What is Qatar's role as an intermediary? How will keeping these 5 detainees in Qatar ensure American safety, as Obama claims?
If Bergdahl was a prisoner of war, and this was a prisoner swap, how does this impact the US classification of Guantanamo Bay detainees as 'enemy combatants' for over a decade? If they are now prisoners of war, do they get prisoner of war rights....finally?
In addition to these questions, discussions about Bergdahl are now largely centered around 1) the legality of the swap, and 2) the circumstances surrounding Berdahl's initial disappearance from his base 5 years ago. The former debate is playing out between lawyers, politicians, and the media. At the same time, the latter debate has taken on a life of its own- it seems to be a sort of public trial and judgement on Bergdahl's character, and whether he is 'worth' the efforts made to return him to America. As the discussions descend into a "bumper-sticker debate," characterized by cliche claims and concerns,  the following questions dominate the debate: Is he a deserter and traitor, who felt "ashamed" to be a soldier and was disillusioned with the war in Afghanistan? Or, is he a patriot, who served bravely and 'suffered enough' as a prisoner of war? What is more interesting than the 'facts' surrounding the story, is the frame being used. This is a classic band of brothers problem.
The band of brothers narrative has been used in reference to the US military for decades- and has become particularly salient during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Ideals of the 'special' bonds of soldiers, comradeship, and the need to put one's brother first have all become such embedded cliches that we hardly question them. It helps that the HBO TV series Band of Brothers spoon fed us the key elements of the band of brothers myth: war is primarily about combat, the 'real' story is the bonds between the men- not the politics of the war itself, the non-sexual bonds and relationships between men are exceptional- romantic in their own way, and essential to warfare. So here we are, with Bergdahl, who represents a band of brothers (BOB) problem. In fact, the 'patriot'/'traitor' debate is informed entirely by the band of brother myth and its implicit messages about soldier and national identity.
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Discourse Analysis of Internet Trolls?: the whys and hows of analyzing online content*

by on 2014-06-02- 3 Comments

Online mediums can be perceived as attracting wacky ranters unrepresentative contributors and exchanges and, therefore, forums or chats are often treated as if they do not provide an effective picture/sample of political discourse. But since over 80% of Americans are online, 66% of American adults have engaged in civil or political activities with social media, and about half of those who visit discussion groups post/contribute, isn't this an interesting- and increasingly relevant- medium for a discourse analysis? Why cut out such a vast political resource? What is different about 'doing' a discourse analysis of online content? How would you even start such an analysis? And, why aren't those like myself- who blog and engage in political discussions as part of my daily/weekly activity- doing more to treat online content as part of what we consider to be 'legitimate' political discourse? Well, I think it comes down to methodology. Here is a very brief intro to some of the opportunities and challenges to conducing a discourse analysis of online content (PS getting students to do such an analysis is a great assignment).

1. What makes a discourse analysis of online content different from an analysis of printed text?
First, (and probably somewhat obvious) online material uses multiple modes of expression, including emoticons, hyperlinks, images, video, moving images (gifs), graphic design, and color. This multimodality adds complexity (and, I argue, richness) to a discourse analysis- but the researcher must be aware of how particular signals are used, (for example, 'iconic' or popular memes or gifs (like feminist Ryan Gosling or the Hilary Clinton texting image begin to take on particular meanings themselves). Second, online content is unstable, instant, and edited in ways unavailable to print (even the use of striking through signals 'editing'/alternative meaning/irony etc- but this requires interpretation). Also, articles, conversations, and posts, can be published, responded to, retweeted, then retracted or edited all within a few hours.
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5 Degrees of Internet Procrastination (or, from Al-Jazeera to Perez Hilton in 5 clicks)

by on 2014-05-25- 1 Comment


It is nothing new to say that the internet is a major distraction. But I'm particularly amazed at how well-intentioned online searches lead to bottom-feeder-celebrity-gossip trolling. How does a quick writing break to check the news end in mindlessly clicking through the best-dressed list at Cannes? I've got a theory: procrastination requires a certain level of mindless surfing. Our initial news hits don't satisfy the urge, so we are forced to go deeper and deeper into the internet until we hit the 'zone out' level. Here's how it happens:

Stage One: Most procrastination stints start out in earnest. Al-Jazeera, New York Times, Democracy Now, Washington Post, Guardian headlines are scoured, we catch up on what's going on in the news. We feel virtuous because we are in fact multi tasking, and learning about the world, not procrastinating. Stage two: From here, there are easy distractions, like "most emailed" articles (that might include an interesting op ed, personal news about a particular politician etc). Next thing you know, you are on the Huffington Post trying to read more about Tony Abbot and what an idiot he is. The Huffington Post is like a vortex that takes you from news to gossip in .5 seconds. Massive headlines about Putin's abs or Hilary Clinton's pantsuits suck you in with supersonic force. Stage Three: The article on Putin's abs takes you to websites you would never admit to visiting during the workday. No, I don't mean porn. I mean People.com. Yes, you are on People.com reading about Putin's abs....and now its time to get to Stage Four: pure celebrity gossip. At least the Putin article had some political relevance...sort of. From here you are one click away from learning about Jenny McCarthy's wedding ring (she got a sapphire, not a blood diamond...doesn't that knowledge count as political?...shit, how do I know Jenny McCarthy has a sapphire engagement ring!!). And now you are here, at Stage Five- the guts of internet procrastination, reading about yet another season of the Bachelorette, looking at 'who wore it better', doing quizzes about what 90s rock star you would be, and reading your horoscope (FB is in another league of procrastination). Don't worry, it happens to all of us.
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Polio and the International Politics of Eradication: CIA Vaccination Ruse, Vaccine Trust, and DNA as a Tool of War

by on 2014-05-14- Leave a reply

[Please note: this is a guest post by Alison Howell, Rutgers University- Newark]

The recent WHO designation of polio as a ‘global public health emergency’ has reignited debate as to whether the spread of polio is the result of reduced vaccine trust due to the CIA vaccination ruse in Pakistan. The vaccination ruse in Pakistan was part of the CIA's apparent aim to get Osama bin Laden’s family DNA. In 2011 the Guardian first reported on the ruse and global health experts began to express concern that this would lead to vaccine refusals in Pakistan. There, major efforts were underway as part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which was launched in 1988 and inspired by the success of the eradication of smallpox (a campaign very much tied up with Cold War politics, but that’s another story…). The Taliban opportunistically seized on the moment to ban polio vaccinations until the US stopped its drone strikes, and in 2013 at least 26 polio workers were killed.

With the WHO’s report of a rise in polio, the worst fears of a link between the CIA ruse and polio seemed to be confirmed. Yet, as reported in the BMJ, the WHO previously asserted that it did not expect the ruse to have a major impact on polio eradication. Despite the inconsistency, some media outlets have made a direct link between the CIA activities and this rise in polio. These arguments are understandable not only because they draw our attention to the serious and growing problem of the spread of polio, but also because they seem to point us to yet another major cost of the post- 9/11 wars. This is a tempting association, but there are at least three problems with it:

First- It is unclear that the issues at stake best captured by the frame of ‘vaccine trust.’
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#BringBackOurGirls- Doing Nothing as ‘Activism’

by on 2014-05-12- 4 Comments

I really don't want to write this post. I hate being a feminist or critical killjoy- especially when it comes to issues that seem to unite, motivate, and inspire large groups of people. We all need to feel inspired- like we are doing something good for the world. On Sunday I saw a small group of teenage girls wearing red and holding signs that read #BringBackOurGirls. It was sort of sweet to see them so clearly excited to be part of something- to be DOING SOMETHING. Activism is supposed to be political activity aimed at changing or influencing events. But what are the politics of #BringBackOurGirls and does #BringBackOurGirls DO anything?  Let's start with a few more important questions:

1. To whom is #BringBackOurGirls directed? President Goodluck Jonathan? President Obama? The Nigerian military? Holding a sign in a shopping center on a Sunday is a nice activity for feeling part of 'something'- but flashing a sign with a hash tag in such a setting feels more like a Western conversation with ourselves. A feel-good exercise, rather than political activism.

2. Who is the 'our' in this tag? 'Our girls' implies ownership rather than solidarity. What motivates this paternalistic feeling that 'we' can/should 'save' 'our' girls?
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Academic Parenting 101: parental leave erosion

by on 2014-04-28- 12 Comments

Academics are generally pretty lucky when it comes to parental leave- at least on paper. Many universities provide more leave than the minimum required by governments (so more than nothing in the US), yet there are several aspects of our careers that cause parental leave erosion. I should say from the outset that I had a generally supportive and positive experience while on leave last year, but I've also found several sources of leave erosion. *I acknowledge that there are many different types of parents taking parental leave, and I'm mainly drawing on my experience, or those of close friends in the field. I'd love to hear other experiences.

1. Pre-leave 'make up' work: This is a typical scenario: parents learn they are expecting, figure out when they are taking leave, and start working overtime to get 'extra' things done before the leave. In some ways this is understandable; it makes sense to want to wrap things up, tick things off a list etc before baby arrives. However, the idea that we need to work extra hard so that the parental leave doesn't 'put us behind' or give some kind of disadvantage places unrealistic expectations on parents. Doing more work before your leave also means you (and your colleagues) treat your parental leave as a reshuffling of work, rather than time away from work. This kind of extra stress is the last thing that parents-to-be need, especially since pregnancy can be really terrible. You might be flat on your back trying to hold down any type of sustenance rather than writing your opus in the 8th month- and that's ok. Parents don't need to 'earn' their leave- and working extra, taking on extra roles etc before baby arrives means you donate time to the university and treat the arrival of the baby as the 'finish line' rather than the starting gate.

2. Parental leave free labor: I blame sabbaticals for this. While on sabbatical staff that are 'away' are still expected to respond to emails (even if it is slowly) and somewhat maintain their visibility and roles in the department. But parental leave is, and should be, different: parents take it because they have a new baby, not because they are focusing more of their attention to one aspect of their job. Also, most parental leave involves a pay reduction- so from a purely economic sense, parents are not getting paid to do their job anymore, they are paid to be parents, on leave. But that's not reality. Most parents on leave end up responding to emails, doing copy edits on articles/books that are in the publication pipeline, writing reference letters, providing annual reports to funders, giving advice or feedback to grad students, and maybe even reviewing. These are tasks that one is almost obliged to do in order to sustain a minimum lifeline as an academic, but it is UNPAID LABOR.
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Why I Don’t Participate at Political Science Rumors

by on 2014-04-12- 7 Comments

Over the last week we've had an excellent post by Cynthia Weber on queer theory and the forms of academic disciplining and bullying that take place on the website Political Science Rumors, as well as a interesting (and surprisingly convincing) piece by Steve Saidman on why he participates on the website. At first thought, the question of whether to participate on PLSI rumors or not seems pretty simple to me. In fact, a better question might be, 'why would anyone bother with such a largely negative shit-storm, make-you-feel-bad-about-humanity and the field zone?' However, on second thought, there are a few specific reasons why I avoid the site:

1. I think I know who the average 'user' is, and I don't think I have much to learn from them. With the exception of Steve Saidman and a few other visitors- who have a genuine intention of a positive exchange with others in the field- based on the types of comments I have read, I assume (like others) that the average poster on this site is an unemployed/underemployed graduate student from an elite university who is pissed off that people like me (with my 'terrible pedigree' and my poor choice of feminism as a 'specialization') have jobs and a voice in the field (cue the trash comments). Why would I want to listen to this cohort speculate on job candidates, or my work (or anything else)?

2. It sets low career goals. I know not everyone in political science dreams of contributing to world peace (more on this in a forthcoming post), but surely there is more to our careers than journal rankings and how we 'rate' against others? In the comments sections to Weber's recent post, there is discussion about the damage we might do to students if we are not honest about their career prospects if they choose 'sub-fields' like queer theory. Obviously, most PhD students don't want to end up unemployed, and providing realistic information about the job market is essential- but individuals should be encouraged to choose their research topics because they are interested in answering questions they deem important, or that will make some sort of contribution (the fact that it sounds corny to want to contribute positively to society/our field is depressing). 

3. It is not an effective source of information. If you want to know who has been short listed for a job, where to publish an article, which university to go to for particular specializations etc THIS IS NOT THE BEST PLACE TO GET THE INFO.

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You Make My Work (Im)Possible: Reflections on Professional Conduct in the Discipline of International Relations

by on 2014-04-09- 35 Comments

This is a guest post by Professor Cynthia Weber, Department of International Relations at the University of Sussex

Five months ago, ‘Michaela’ posted this query on the website Political Science Rumors in a thread called ‘a good place to study queer IR?’

  • am currently a MA student looking to move into a PhD program in the next 2 years. I am interested in studying queer IR and was wondering if you can recommend some good programs. I'm more interested in systemic theorizing than individual level (1st image) type of stuff. Thanks.

A Google search for Political Science Rumors describes the site as ‘The forum for Political Scientists to discuss Political Science and rumors in the profession’.  Others describe it more harshly: ‘Caffeinated’  describes it as ‘that nest of vipers’ that should not be listened to by anyone ‘unless you are a therapist and then please do!’.  The site seems to be directed at ABDs, recent PhDs, and others just starting out in the field who are looking for information about educational programs, conferencing, publishing, and landing a job.  But, as Caffeinated points out, it can have a nasty edge to it, which is something an MA student like Michaela would not necessarily know.

Michaela’s post generated four types of responses.  One was to query what Queer IR is.  A second was to answer her question with concrete suggests for where to study.  A third was to warn her that studying Queer IR would never get her a job.  A fourth was to be gleefully homophobic in ridiculing queers, Queer IR and specific pieces of Queer IR scholarship as well as OPs (Oppressed Peoples) and ‘our current crop of gender/ethnic/sexual “studies” departments’ that OPs apparently work in and support.  A large number of posts – which I will not repeat here – were in this fourth category of responses. The website – which posts comments anonymously and refers to posters through randomly-generated pseudonyms – allows readers to vote ‘Yea’ in favor of posted comments or ‘Nay’ against posted comments.  Leaving out comments that were ambiguous, this is how the votes tallied as of April 5, 2014:

  • Openly Hostile and/or Overtly Homophobic posts: Yea – 210       Ney – 18
  • Supportive/Constructive posts that answered Michaela’s question: Yea – 41         Ney – 3
  • Fight-back posts against the Hostility and/or Homophobia: Yea – 9           Ney – 16
  • Michaela’s original post asking where to study Queer IR was also voted on:  Yea – 4; Ney – 8.

A colleague brought this feed to my attention because the Queer IR scholarship attacked in the feed was authored by me.  After nearly three decades of doing poststructuralist, feminist and queer scholarship, such attacks are old news.   What is deeply troubling to me about this feed is not what these attacks mean for me personally or for my scholarship but what the gleefully hostile and/or homophobic posts and their endorsements by the site’s community of readers do in and to (those in) the discipline of IR.  Among the things they do are:
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Countdown to ISA: heal the world, make the ISA a better place

by on 2014-03-13- 10 Comments

It's that time of year again. IR freaks, geeks, superstars, and fans flock to the International Studies Association Annual Conference (except those wimps that avoid the cold Canadian destinations).
Over the next week I'm going to write a few short, fun posts as we countdown to the jet lag, red-eyed check in (red carpet arrival show), the boot camp style pre-ISA workshops (pre-show analysis), and our blogging reception on Thursday (the main event). The topic for today? 5 steps that would change your ISA world for the better...feel free to share your own healing steps!

1. Coffee. I'm serious, there are approximately 3000 academics and the coffee options are one jammed Starbucks, the stale tea-bag coffees in your room, or a snake line from 3 mysteriously placed coffee carafes throughout the hotel. Please ISA exec, I will pay $10 more in my fees if you provide coffee at all 8am panels. Doing so will also mean that people will actually attend the first panels ON TIME and stay awake. Everyone wins (except Starbucks). Oh, and please bring your reusable coffee cups people.
2. This one is going to be more controversial, but I'm going to just throw it out there: we need less panels. I don't think the ISA needs to be exclusive or anything, but I think there is a conference 'tail' of about 20% of panels that are beyond non-cohesive, and/or end up with 3 presenters- or less- or no discussant at the last minute (we've all been on one). Cut the tail off. Are we really doing academics or grad students a favor by reassigning their paper to a panel that has nothing to do with their topic after the original panel dissolves (which happens all the time!)? Or by assigning a discussant a the last minute who has absolutely no expertise or knowledge of the majority of the topics on the panel?
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8 Unanswered Political Questions from the Oscars

by on 2014-03-09- 1 Comment

I know it has already been a week, but I'm still thinking about the Oscars. Not the fashion (boring!! predictable!!), or the hostess (boring!! predictable!!) or the winners (boring!! predictable!!), or the speeches (ok you get my point)- but rather a short list of questions I still need help with. Answers welcome.

1. Was bell hooks right? Was 12 Years a Slave "sentimental clap-trap" that "negated the female voice?" What were the politics of white washing, white guilt, and white erasure at the awards?

2. How the hell did Joaquin Phoenix NOT get nominated for 'Her' and how DID Leonardo DiCaprio get nominated for 'WOWS'? Does this tell us anything about hegemonic masculinity....or more about pity for Leo?

3. Why were so many of the best pic nominations fixated on some distorted nostalgia (about slavery, HIV, they 'golden era' of American history/finance) and what does this tell us about our (in)ability to cope with the present?

4. Are strapless peplum dresses and backward necklaces ironic now?

5. If Mathhew Mcconaghey hadn't lost weight, would we care about his performance? Would he have won the Oscar? As Ted Kerr noted in his excellent post 47 Things I Talk about When I talk about the Dallas Buyers Club, "It is interesting how Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto get rewarded for losing weight, and acting sick, while people living with HIV have to fight to be well, appear well and be recognized. #everydaysurvival"
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How Do You Change a Policy That Doesn’t Exist?: the combat exclusion one year later

by on 2014-01-30- Leave a reply

126074_600-1Despite numerous calls to ‘Let Women Fight’, internal reviews of the policy, and growing evidence of women’s contributions to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the January 2013 announcement that the combat exclusion would be removed was not entirely expected. For years leading up to the announcement, Congress and the Department of Defense had justified the exclusion as essential to national security. Moreover, less than 12 months before the decision to remove the exclusion, then–Pentagon press secretary George Little announced that although 14,000 new combat related jobs would be opened to women, infantry and direct combat roles would remain off limits.

  • So what did the 'policy change' mean and why was it initiated?

Rather than speculate on the rationale and motivations behind the policy about-face, it is more important to understand that by the time it was announced that the combat exclusion would be removed, it no longer existed.
In fact, the announcement to 'let women fight' should be seen as a PR stunt rather than a policy change. Here's why...
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The Ethics of Casual Teaching Contracts: how we are all implicated in selling out academia and exploiting our students

by on 2014-01-13- 12 Comments

For the last few years in particular, there has been a marked increase in the number of sessional, casual, teaching-only, adjunct, fixed term, temporary job 'opportunities' listed and circulated in the usual IR job venues. These various titles and categories point to one reality: precarious labor is a permanent reality within academia. The trend has been quantified and well documented: in US in the last 30 years the percentage of positions held by tenured or tenure-track faculty members fell from 56.8% to 35.1%. In an excellent post in the Chronicle, Peter Conn declares "Full-time tenured and tenure-track jobs in the humanities are endangered by half a dozen trends, most of them long-term." The trend is not new; however, as the race to the bottom with regard to casual labor hits a new low, what is missing from the discussion is (1) the ways that permanent staff reproduce/support casual labor and (2)the myths associated with the 'opportunity' of casual labor for PhD students and unemployed academics.

First, let's talk about the new low. Each casual job posting seems to outline more and more unreasonable and unrealistic requirements: for example, a recent post for a year-long contract asks candidates to teach 8 courses; others ask candidates to teach a range of political science/IR topics that span nearly every sub-field; while others expect individuals to relocate for 4 months, 6 months, or only for the academic year. Universities are capitalizing on the growth of several categories of vulnerable individuals, including poor PhD students who are without scholarship or who have run out of scholarhsip funds, and academics who have been unemployed or underemployed- all desperate for experience and the prospect of a job that might lead to something permanent. Yet this exploitation narrative/depiction of the problem only goes so far. There is a need to reflect on where the accountability lies in relation to precarious labor and what can be done. This requires academics to ponder several questions, including: in what ways are secure tenure and tenure-track positions dependent on precarious/insecure/exploited labor?; what are the ethical obligations of secure staff when it comes to resisting or reacting to the casualization of academic labor?; can/how can those in secure tenure or tenure-track positions work to reverse these trends and/or support those working as precarious labor within the field? Below I list the top 4 myths associated with casual 'opportunities' along with the top 4 ways that permanent staff might work to acknowledge and reverse the trend.

4 (of many) Reasons Why the Casual 'Opportunity' is a Myth and a Trap
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