Monday, September 17, 2012

Black Hole of Knowledge

Today, thanks to last week's violence in the Mideast, the dark side emerged again: Sam Huntington's Clash of Civilizations.  Yuck cubed.  The idea that there is an inevitable clash between the Mideast/Islamic World and the West/Christian World sucks on so many levels, but gets a patina of apparent support from the events.  However, given that Libyans were trying to rescue US Ambassador Stevens, well, Clash gets many things wrong. 

This lead to a debate between Phil Arena and W.K. Winecoff about whether to waste undergrads time with the inclusion of Clash of Civilizations in an Intro to IR class.  In the good olde days of yore, when I taught Intro to IR, I went back and forth on this--should I waste my students' time with this utter crap, this social anti-science, this speculation sans facts, this racist conceptualization?  And, because the lecture tended to kill, that I was able to entertain and educate about how this one theory destroys knowledge and creates ignorance, I kept doing it. 

To be clear, I am biased as I work on identity politics--on ethnic ties and nationalisms--and feel that Huntington makes the rest of us look bad.  Yes, identity matters, but not always religion and never as a civilization.  Ah, it drives me crazy.  Glad the kids of today (Phil and W.K.) have the energy to fight this fight so I don't have to.


Anonymous said...

'Clash' should continue to be taught in introductory IR courses if for no other reason than to teach the value of recognizing bad social science from good social science.

It's unfortunate that 'Clash' continues to be taken as gospel by so many.

J.Collins said...

You've said it before I think but crap ideas have a way of becoming the most popular - take trickle down economics for example. It would be worth having a debate in an intro IR class, or indeed intro poli sci generally, on how and why dumb ideas become so massively popular (perhaps its their simplicity in explaining complicated phenomenon (albeit poorly/wrongly)?).

Anonymous said...

The one thing that unites the field of IR despite the various normative, ethical, methodological and epistemological disputes is the hatred of this Huntington thesis. it not only offends social scientists but it also offends the field of political theory

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget that its racism also offends actual people beyond academia!