Monday, December 1, 2014

Tenure Peace Theory? More Like TP Myth

The Georgetown Heckler has a tremendous post about the takeover by Realists who have conquered the Liberals in the Poli Sci dept.  It is a heap of fun, as it is very playful with both IR theory and the professors in the department (oh where is Dan Nexon?).  However, it has one problem:
"Most ascribe to the “tenured peace theory” which maintains that tenured professors, though on average not less violent than non-tenured professors, will nevertheless not fight with one another. With nothing to gain from each other and recognizing the legitimacy that tenure confers, there will be no cause for conflict between the parties, so the theory holds."
Please, Liberals are not naive, although that is the accusation made by many realists.  Liberalism in IR theory focuses largely on whether the pattern of interests leads to cooperation or conflict.  Democratic peace theory fits into this larger approach precisely because there are logics about accountability, norms and transparency that make conflict costly.  Two countries with such properties are less likely to fight.

We Liberals would not apply Democratic Peace Theory to tenured faculty precisely because there is not much in the way of accountability or transparency for the tenured.  Conflict is not that costly because no tenured jobs are at risk.  Plenty of departments have decades of virulent conflict among tenure faculty precisely because the combatants do not pay much of a price for their behavior--although bystanders (grad students, un-tenured faculty, job candidates) frequently pay a heavy price indeed.

A core Liberal logic is tit for tat--that mutual cooperation can emerge when reciprocity is deployed.  That a cooperative act leads to a cooperative response and on and on.  The idea is that the long relationship of cooperation will outweigh the short-term temptations of cheating and conflict.  The problem is that reciprocity has a dark side--that one should reward cooperation with cooperation and conflict with conflict.  So, one can easily spark a series of unending recriminations even if we stick within the Liberal world.  One does not need to be a Realist to understand or expect conflict.

So, I salute the Georgetown Hecklers for their great work, but find their "Tenured Peace Theory" to be a mockery of good Liberal IR theory.  And, yes, I have engaged in much empirical work, examining tenured conflict theory.  In each of my first three departments, there were tenured folks who had no problem sparking conflict with each other.  As any good Liberal would expect, there was plenty of both conflict and cooperation. 

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