Monday, March 14, 2011

ISA Inspires Navel Gazing

A friend asked me at the last minute to serve as a discussant (one who reads the papers and then comments on them towards the end of the panel's session) for the International Studies Association meeting that is taking place over the rest of this week in Montreal.  The panel is on a series of surveys done to assess the profession, and when the original discussant dropped out, my friend looked for a professional narcissist.  Hence moi!

Anyhow, I am halfway through my task.  The second paper focused on the gaps between the academic and policy worlds, trying to assess whether IR scholars who tasted the policy life changed what they did and how they did it after returning back to the Ivory Tower.  Of course, that led me to think about ... me. 

As readers of my blog know (and my students as well), I spent 2001-2002 on the US Joint Staff in the Directorate of Strategic Planning and Policy on the Bosnia desk.  Good times.  So, how did that experience change me, other than causing me to gain weight?*

*  Long hours combined with frequent cakes for birthdays, promotions, departures plus the Friday ritual of a fatty breakfast with the rest of the crew had a greater effect than the two or three games of racquetball a week.

Ok, I use "sir" far more than I ever did before.  But in terms of my work, it had some clear and some less clear effects.  My research agenda, focusing on civil-military relations and especially how countries control their militaries during multilateral operations, is a direct product of the year on the Joint Staff.  Having seen the stuff up close, I developed heaps of questions about how this worked. The experience has facilitated this research because I understand better the language of the policy-types, their acronyms and such.

The paper I read focused more on where stuff is being published rather than what was being researched.  I have not really published that much in policy journals.  I have tried, but it has not been a focus of mine and it has not yet been that successful.  I have spoken to groups of policy types much more the past few years, but that may have more to do with the topic of my work (NATO and Afghanistan) and relations developed with Canada's policy community through the research than directly from the JS experience.

How does the experience affect how I think?  I still think about theory and how to test theory, but I take more seriously the role of individuals (how can one not after spending a year in Rumsfeld's Pentagon), the fragility of institutions (again, Rummy's Pentagon and the shifting role of the Chairman), the importance of relationships (who do we know), and the like.  Ironically, UCSD with all of its focus on principal-agency theory failed to get me to see things in using that lens, but one year in the Pentagon made me appreciate the challenges involved in delegation. 

Finally, I think I have a much greater interest in engaging beyond the academy than I did before via TV, radio, newspapers, random blogs, and such.  Sure, I had some experience in seeking out attention before the JS experience, but I think I see the relevance of my stuff for the non-academic more clearly now. 

Ok, back to reading the other two papers...

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