Tuesday, January 3, 2017

ISA Conferences in the Age of Trump

In conversations with friends, I quickly realized that the International Studies Association faces some significant problems ahead.  The advent of the Trump administration is likely to lead to two kinds of complications:
  • it may be hard for foreign scholars to get visas to attend the conference
  • that scholars may want to boycott conferences that take place in the US if Trump follows through on a variety of things he promised/threatened/tweeted during the campaign.
I have not yet gotten numbers from the ISA about the composition of the membership, although it is largely a North American organization with many scholars from other parts of the world joining the fun.  There are brother/sister organizations around the world, but the ISA as we know it, has annual meetings in North America--mostly in the US, occasionally in Canada, once in semi-recent history in Mexico.  It also has co-sponsored conferences around the world with similar organizations.

I have been in contact with the past President of the ISA, Paul Diehl, and the current executive director, Mark Boyer, because my tweets and facebook queries produced informative responses.

The visa issue has long bedeviled ISA scholars--mostly when the meetings are held in Canada.  This may become more problematic if Trump follows through on his promises.

The second issue is that the ISA has developed convention siting policies so that the conferences will not be held in the future in places that have discriminatory laws.  This was an issue when the ISA was in New Orleans, for example.  But it is one thing to say no to a city, but what happens if Trump gets laws passed or engages in executive decisions that would trigger boycotts or violate the ISA policy?  People have suggest that the ISA might have to meet outside the US.  This is not an easy solution given that more of its membership is in the US than elsewhere (I believe), so moving outside of the US is likely to raise the costs quite significantly for a majority of the membership.  It also would not necessarily solve the visa problem.  Moving meetings to Canada may not work either, as past governing council meetings have mentioned how the ISA has gotten too big for the hotels in Canada--that we need clusters of hotels that give us enough breakout rooms for all of the panels (the next Toronto meeting will be the last one in Canada for the foreseeable future).  So, either ISA goes to Canada* but rejects more paper submissions or it stays in the US.
* Meetings could move to Mexico as well, but I have only heard whispers of the Acapulco ISA being problematic. I don't know why as it was before my time.

There is a third issue that did not come up in my conversations with Mark or Paul, but it is one of security.  That with rising Islamophobia and other forms of xenophobia, potential participants may fear coming to the US because they might be targeted for violence.  While the odds of an ISA attendee being harmed are low, certainly lower than conferences that were scheduled to take place in Turkey, they are above zero and may be rising. 

All this means that stuff is about to get difficult for the ISA.  This upcoming meeting in Baltimore will have to address these issues with so much uncertainty--because Trump is an uncertainty engine.  Does this put 2020's meeting in Honolulu in danger?  I hope not.  The good news is that 2021 in Vegas would be after Trump (if he only has one term).  Hmmm.

We live in interesting times, indeed.

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