Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Rankest of Rankings

I am easily trolled. I am also a narcissist.  So, when the various folks at PSR ponder whether I suck or truly suck (where do I rank among IR scholars), I can't help but respond.  I resisted mightily for all of ten hours or so.  The smart troll sucked me in when asking whether I thought I was close to Peter Katzeinstein or Dan Drezner.  I responded thusly: "thanks for the giggle."  But it got me thinking about all this stuff.  Yes, the folks there obsess about relative standing of departments, fields, journals, presses, and, yes, scholars.  Here, I have long been a skeptic about ranking such stuff, even as I rank movies and books (Harry Potter, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc).

But the post got me thinking about stuff.  I have always recognized that:
  • the bigger names are those who do grand theory. I don't do grand theory, and as I found it while testing some hypotheses, few people do--tis a niche enterprise (see International Studies Review sometime in 2018 or see this post and related links).
  • there is always a bigger fish--Qui-Jon said so
  • my work is eclectic so I have not spent my career focused on a single argument that would cause me to stand out more.  Instead, I have pursued questions that interest me, which has taken me from the IR of ethnic conflict to the domestic politics of ethnic conflict to civil war to alliance politics to comparative civil-military relations.  This has probably impeded my productivity as it would be easier not to have to review new literatures with each project.
  • my career has been a constant stream of surprises--never expected to live in Texas or Canada, never expected to spend time in the Pentagon or go to Afghanistan, etc.
I suggested that on the spectrum of IR scholars, I was somewhere between Katzenstein and the average IR scholar.  This then led to a charge of arrogance since I suggested I might be above average.  Oh gosh!

The key is this: I think my work has been worthwhile.  I don't need to think I am the "best" or whatever.  I just have to like the stuff I have done--that I have asked interesting questions, developed appropriate research designs and explored the issues creatively and perhaps even diligently.  Do I think that someone will find out that I am a fraud? Of course, as most of us have some sort of imposter syndrome.  I listened to a podcast this week where Charlize Theron admitted to having imposter syndrome even after getting an Oscar.  Wow.  So, if she can, we certainly can and do.

Of course, I seek the respect of my peers because self-esteem is a thing.  And alas, Donald Horowitz taught me a while back via his excellent book that the logic of invidious comparisons mean that self-esteem often hinges on tearing down others.  So, I get why these folks want to argue that I am but a minor player, that I don't deserve to have an endowed chair and so on.  It makes them feel better.  My happiness bums them out.  Oops.

Anyhow, this is what I posted there:
This entire conversation about where I rank is kind of silly. I know I am not a big name, and I am ok with that. I don't do grand theory which is what most of the big names do, but very few people do grand theory (as my TRIP piece in ISR in 2018 will demonstrate). I have averaged pretty good but not great output--an article plus something else (book chapter or policy paper) a year plus a book every six years or so.
I would like to have been more productive, and I still aim to get stuff in the best journals. But I am happy with where I am at. My career has not been anything like what I expected--I am not teaching at a SLAC, I never expected to be in Texas, the Pentagon or Canada. I think I made a good contribution to an area that was not very visible--the IR of ethnic conflict. I am now working in areas that are more mainstream (civil-military relations, alliance stuff), and the work is quite interesting.
I used to obsess about prestige, but it turns out that moving from one of the best known places in the English speaking world (that is in a French speaking province) to a place that has less prestige has benefits--fewer requests to write tenure/promotion letters. Looking back, I have few regrets. Even six years in the flatlands of West Texas meant making great friends for a lifetime plus it was a short commute, a brand new house, and nearby good pediatric ER care that we used quite a bit.
So, yeah, I ain't Katzenstein, and I am not Drezner. However, I do have a sweet gig in a national capital full of nice, smart, interesting people in and out of government, and I live only 12 minutes from the frisbee fields. 
Where do I rank? Here:

Of course, the right answer is don't feed the trolls .... 

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