Thursday, December 31, 2015

Networks of Kindness?

An interesting conversation started appeared on twitter this morning regarding Canadian poli sci scholarship.
As someone who steps on toes whether I intend to or not, I was kind of surprised by this comment.  I am really not that well informed about Canadian political science since I have only accidentally ended up writing a book on Canada (book tour coming to a town near you!).  Indeed, the book was delayed for more than six months because it ran into a reviewer that was upset that it, aimed at the Canadian public, was not sufficiently engaged in the Canadian Foreign Policy literature.

But the discussion on twitter suggested that this politeness or kindness is a thing--that scholars of Canadian politics step lightly.  Why?  My guess was simply one of size: that everyone knows who everyone is and everyone in this community is likely to be a reviewer.  So, payback can be a bitch, as they say, so avoid it, one will?  The communities are even smaller when we take into account specialties: Canadian electoral behavior, constitutional stuff, Canadian Foreign Policy, Critical Security Studies, etc.  So, one might argue that it is communal norms (Canadians are polite or whatever), it could be about intra-network affinity, or it could be self-interest.

And, yes, I was able to identify reviewer number two, who was more concerned about my citing his work than taking the project seriously for what it was trying to be.  I would not have minded a fair review that delayed me, but one focused on maxing citations of the reviewer?  Not so much.  To be clear, no, I will not punish him or retaliate in any way.  On the other hand, I am not going to go out of my way to do him any favors. 

Regarding my personal bigger picture, my tendency to follow my curiosity has produced an inadvertent strategy of changing areas of focus, methodology, cases and the rest.  This has meant that I have never been in one of these networks of kindness (which has led to repeated references to Rudolph and reindeer games).  I started out in the International Relations of Ethnic Conflict with cases in Africa and Yugoslavia, dabbled in the debates about the causes of ethnic conflict and the effects of institutions, working on irredentism in Eastern Europe, and then shifted to alliance politics and comparative civil-military relations in North America, Europe and down under, with a quick dance into Canadian defence stuff.  So, I don't think I benefit by being an insider anywhere.  On the other hand, I am not restrained in my criticism of stuff because of affinity to a circle of folks.

The discussion today focused on the downside of these networks of kindness--that academic debates need people willing to elbow each other some.  This is very different from the usual complaint from the US--that the academic enterprise is too bruising, that competition breeds fraud (Michael Lacour and all that).  The answer, of course, is someplace in between--serious vetting and criticism but also serious support and treating people with respect.

No comments: