Knowledge Base

48th Annual ISA Convention - Chicago, IL: 2007

Politics, Policy, and Responsible Scholarship

February 28th - March 3rd, 2007
Chicago, IL, USA
Program Chair: Andrei Tsygankov, San Francisco State University

Paper Archive

Call for Proposals

International relations deals with some of the most pressing issues facing humanity – war and peace, global political and economic governance, poverty, injustice, and environmental degradation. As international relations scholars we are motivated to take up these and other pressing global issues in our research and teaching. Nevertheless, we hold very different views on our responsibility with respect to: 1) political advocacy and policy analysis and our relationships to the centers and peripheries of various power structures; 2) whether our research should be motivated by policy oriented problem solving within existing political structures or structurally transformational; 3) how we represent and reproduce our discipline and our world through our teaching; and 4) our national citizenship responsibilities which sometimes conflict with our multiple political loyalties and identifications, the findings of our internationally oriented research, or the insights generated by an empathetic teaching style. What then are the appropriate boundaries of such identifications and practices? How should we address the ethical dilemmas they often create? How, as internationally-oriented individuals and communities, should we better define, address, and perhaps satisfy, our scholarly responsibilities vis-à-vis such political issues and public policies? The theme of the 2007 conference takes up these questions. We invite participants to explore the various dimensions and boundaries of scholarly responsibility.

At certain times and in certain places, scholars have had an important and direct influence on policymaking. Yet, in the present era of unprecedented global challenges to human security, many scholars find their influence shrinking, a trend which has been viewed positively by some and negatively by others. For example, in the United States where certain ideas originating in the academy - often those most in accord with current national policy preferences - do get picked up in the policy world, the university is in danger of becoming less important for public policy-making than think tanks and corporations which pursue their own in-house research with all too predictable results.

How much involvement with the policy world is possible or desirable? To what extent are scholars who choose not to enter the policy world responsible for how their ideas are used in that world? If our theories and/or interpretations have moral implications, can these implications be acceptable to policy-makers and are these implications tainted by political compromise? At times of heightened security there is more pressure on political conformity and more censorship of critical ideas. At such times, do scholars have a special responsibility to stand up for academic freedom? When research findings do not accord with national policy preferences, do those of us in the academy have a special mission to protect the arena of debate and dissent?

While certain scholars are committed to incremental policy improvement through direct engagement with policy research, for others disengagement and dissent are preferable. Still others believe we are all implicated in policy making and implementation whether we like it or not. Whatever our convictions about the problems and possibilities of independent or “value-neutral” research, do we make responsible choices about what we choose to study? Do we pick research topics because they are familiar, fashionable, offer job security, or because data are readily available? Do we choose research questions that are readily answerable and are we driven by methodologies that are conventionally taught in graduate schools? What about the research questions that are rarely asked and the voices that are rarely heard? Often answering such questions requires training beyond traditional methodological and other disciplinary boundaries. Is our field open to a variety of scholarly approaches and disciplines other than political science? How do we exercise responsibility in judging the scholarship of others, particularly when it falls outside what is conventionally defined as within disciplinary boundaries? What are our responsibilities to our research subjects for whom we profess to speak but whose voices we may co-opt? What are the consequences of hegemonic scholarship for those in the peripheries or for those whose lives are not part of the construction of conventional knowledge about world politics? Does our scholarship reinforce existing power structures and existing political, social and economic inequalities? Is Western international relations neutral with regard to scholarly and policy practices in areas outside the West? What are some of the political and cultural boundaries of spreading academic knowledge across the world? What implications does the presence of such boundaries carry for cross-cultural dialogue and knowledge cumulation? Western social science scholarship has been profoundly secular and rationalist. Do we have a responsibility to understand religious and cultural traditions other than our own whose commitment to other forms of knowledge may be seen as equally or more valid by their proponents?

As teachers we have a special responsibility to our students, many of whom take courses in international relations because they want to make a difference in the world.

We bear responsibility for constructing the framework within which our students learn to understand the world and we are accountable for how we name the world, whose voices get heard, and whose are left out. All too often, what is claimed as universal knowledge is, in reality, knowledge about the West, particularly western, predominantly white, frequently male, elites. How can we include other subjects and other knowledge traditions in our teaching and research, given the silences, lack of data, and problems of translation both linguistic and cultural?

And our responsibilities extend well beyond the policy and academic worlds - to a variety of different communities where our actions and scholarship also have meaningful consequences. Do we as scholars bear responsibility for how our ideas are understood and used outside our immediate social and academic contexts? Do the boundaries of our responsibilities as citizens extend beyond national borders? Certain of us prefer to see ourselves as scholar/activists while others search for scientific detachment. To what extent should we express and advocate, through our teaching and scholarship, concerns of groups and individuals outside academia, such as governments, international organizations, grass-roots organizations and those on the margins of world politics? At the 2007 annual conference we wish to explore all of these questions, which are certain to continue to shape the discipline’s development. We encourage papers which express a wide variety of opinions on these topics.

Posted in: Conferences