Broadening Engagements with International Affairs is a new interview series hosted by the ISA Professional Resource Center and written by ISA James N. Rosenau Post-Doctoral Fellow Jamie J. Hagen. The series highlights interviews with content developers of websites, podcasts, and newsletters finding new ways of engaging with scholars researching pressing issues in international affairs today. To recommend someone for an interview for the series please contact Hagen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I spoke with Elmira Bayrasli, a co-founder of the project Foreign Policy Interrupted (FPI) along with journalist Lauren Bohn in 2014. Elmira is a journalist who has written for places including the New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Forbes and CNN. She is also a professor at Bard College in the Globalization and International Affairs Program. I learned about FPI through the weekly email from the group focusing on women working in foreign policy. I asked her to tell me more about the project and why her and Lauren thought it was necessary to launch FPI.
The project Foreign Policy Interrupted (FPI) is very straightforward: to raise awareness about female expertise and increase the number of different voices that are engaging on foreign policy matters.
One of the reasons that we started it is we would hear the constant refrain that “there are no women” or “the reason there is an all-male panel is because there are no female experts.” That’s simply not true. FPI is an effort to say, “hey, here are the women who are commenting on all these global issues.”
While we do include journalists in our weekly round-up, we’re very much focused on women who are the academics, practitioners and experts who are out there working at the think tanks and the universities who are not being called on, not being recognized. These women should be involved not only in the conversation but in the policy making process.
EB: Our audience is people involved in foreign policy in general. We really reach out and target women who are working on a variety of issues regarding international relations and national security.
What I often find is you’ll have an academic who is working on some aspect of international relations and she’ll say “well, I’m not in the thick of things. I’m not at the state department. I’m not at the NSE. Why would anyone care what I have to say?” The reality is we do care about what you have to say! Because you’re working on this issue and you have a certain perspective and it’s important to have all of those different perspectives at the table contributing to a discussion.
Right now, what we have a one dimensional point of view, from a bunch of white men who see the world through a certain paradigm. What I want to advocate for isn’t necessarily having women at the table because they’re women. I’m advocating for having a different purview; bringing in different perspectives. We don’t live in a one-dimensional world, we live in a multi-dimensional world and what is it that we’re not seeing?
When I first went into this I saw the problem, and the challenge, as one where the media is a complicated 24/7 beast constantly struggling to get content out. Where are they going to find the content? In this cycle they are relying on what you know. If what you know is only white men, then that’s what they would rely on. That was one part of it. The other part of it was in 2014 I very much bought into this whole “well, women need to raise their hands more and they need to be more confident. Women don’t raise their hands until they feel like they’re perfect and they know all the answers.”
I have to say, I have completely rejected that line of thinking. In the process of doing this, what I’ve actually found is there is not a thing wrong with our confidence! The reality is we’re actually not shining a light on what happens to women when they actually raise their hand. The reason women want to be perfect before they raise their hands is because when they raise their hand and they take a chance they either get ignored, laughed at or what usually happens is they get dismissed, threatened and they get marginalized.
What I have found is working on this and working with the fellows, really coming at this from a different perspective saying “this is not my fault, there is nothing wrong with me”, I’ve actually seen is a change in women and how they’re responding. I don’t think I’m single handedly responsible for this, I think I’m riding the wave.
There is something happening with the women’s movement and I think a lot of it has resulted from not only having Hillary Clinton run for president but then also the #metoo movement where I think a lot of women are starting to come out, start owning their power and not apologizing for it. I think these people see these other women who are doing this work and I think they’re thinking “wow, the work that I’m doing is important.” And they are raising their hands a lot more because I think that we’ve created a sisterhood where showing that you’re not alone in this field. It may seem like you are alone because it is very male dominated, but there is an entire cadre of women who are interested in these issues and who are making an impact and making a difference.
I spoke with Kim Yi Dionne, one of the Senior Editors at the Monkey Cage [TMC]. Kim is an assistant professor in political science at UC Riverside. She studies identity, public opinion, political behavior, and policy aimed at improving the human condition, with a focus on African countries. I learned about TMC after seeing several colleagues publish with the platform. I asked her to tell me more about TMC who the pieces are written for and how scholars can become contributors. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
KD: The Monkey Cage is a collaborative effort by Political Scientists to make political science accessible to ordinary citizens. We work to shed light on current news events coming from some of the major takeaways we’ve learned from political science research. The blog started in 2007 and it migrated to the Washington Post in 2013. I was invited to be a contributing editor by the Monkey Cage readership shortly after they switched from being an independent blog to a blog on the Washington Post.
KD: Our audience is really the general public, the educated politically interested public. Not all of our readers are in the United States, though most of our readers are. Some of our best pieces are pitched at an undergrad level. Imagine you’re a smart undergrad who is a Bio Chem major but is really curious about what’s happening right now between the US and North Korea. They might take an IR class for no reason except that they want to understand US foreign policy to east Asia. We’re trying to write for that Bio Chem undergrad who has no background in the area but is really interested and wants to know more.
KD: The workshop we did before APSA was a way for us to try a new model of sharing what we do at TMC and bring more people on board. Our workshop was to try to give a group of people the time and space to learn those skills of translation to then specifically apply those skills to one of their scholarly works. We also have a six-month follow-on mentoring of everyone who participated in that workshop where we’re trying to help them get things over the finish line. We have interest in doing more workshops and we definitely have funding for at least one more. The workshop was oriented to scholars who are working in global health, hunger and poverty because those are the interests of our funder. We’re certainly looking for other areas that we could use more content in and for which we could have more contributors writing, but we think so far that this model is working. We’ve already seen people post on TMC after the workshop.
KD: I think our all-time highest page views is the piece by Kyle Drop and colleagues (“The less Americans know about Ukraine’s location, the more they want U.S. to intervene”) about whether Americans know where the Ukraine is related to whether or not they thought military intervention was a good idea after Russia annexed the Crimea. The take-away from that post was that people who don’t know where the Ukraine was were more likely to say that military intervention was necessary. That piece was really popular and in fact was featured on the Colbert Report. Another popular piece is a piece I wrote with Laura Seay (“The long and ugly tradition of treating Africa as a dirty, diseased place”) in 2014 during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa about how there is this long and ugly tradition of othering Africans, of thinking of Africa as a dirty, diseased place. We were in the conversation with Newsweek magazine which printed this really racist cover and that went viral when it came out. It regularly gets re-upped every time there is some sort of racist representation of Africans in the media or a disease outbreak and people are engaging in similar tactics. I imagine the same is true for the piece by Kyle Drop and colleagues - any time someone is talking military intervention and whether or not public opinion plays a role, I’m sure colleagues both in IR and cognate fields are talking about that piece.
KD: I’m really excited for pieces that we have in the works from the workshop. We have a couple that have already done really well. Sally A. Nuamah at Duke University has already written two pieces for us since the workshop. One of them (“On the International Day of the Girl, it’s a good time to ask: Are girls safe in schools?”) is about her book project on educating girls in Africa as well as the US. That came out on International Day of the Girl Child. That piece did really well. It’s directly out of her major research agenda. We also have a piece (“Ebola is back – and a threat to Congo Are African public health systems ready?”) written about responding to the Ebola outbreak in Congo that was co-authored by Emmanuel Balogun of Western University and Amy S. Paterson of Sewanee the University of the South. What’s interesting is the two of them didn’t know each other before the workshop! But they were seated next to each other and their research has a lot of overlap, so it was natural the two of them would written a piece together where the compliments in their research unite. I really like that collaboration because Emmanuel Balogun is second or third year on the tenure track and Amy Paterson is a named chair. To have these people trained in very different times to be able to come together, we couldn’t ask for a better outcome out of the workshop.
KD: The best way to pitch us is to just send an email with their pitch to MonkeyCageBlog@gmail.com. It’s a central email address that’s frequently checked and our managing editor then sends it out to those of us on the editorial board who have specific research areas. On our website you can see tentative guidelines for guest contributions with specific instructions in how to pitch us. We discourage people from writing pieces first. Just pitch us when you have the idea before you sink a lot of time into it. Tell us how the piece fits in the current news cycle, what the research is about and what’s the main thing you want people to take away from your piece in an email that is one paragraph max. Sometimes we solicit pieces from people. If we’re soliciting a piece from you, we already think you’re expert enough to write on that piece. We want to really encourage the women and scholars of color who push back and say, “well, I’m not really an expert” to trust us that we’re really a good judge of who is an expert! We really encourage women and scholars of color to reach out. If anyone is uncertain and they want to talk through an idea before they pitch the main email, I’m happy to have those people email me directly.
For my third interview in the series I spoke with Stephen McGlinchey, the Editor-In-Chief and Director of E-International Relations (E-IR), the world’s leading open-access international relations website. In our interview McGlinchey spoke with me about the goal of the website, how people can be a part of the project and how the website is bringing IR scholarship to a wider audience, especially in the global south. In addition to his work with E-IR McGlinchey is a Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader of Politics and International Relations at the University of the West of England, Bristol.
SM: E-IR is a major open access resource for students and scholars that spans the gamut of both new and traditional publishing operations. When you visit the website, you are presented with a range of content that includes scholarly articles; book reviews; interviews with academics and practitioners; blogs from like-minded communities; and our range of open access books. In my view, there is no other place on the Internet where you can find such a vibrant collection of well edited, expert-written, free to view content.
This open access spirit goes back to the founding of E-IR in 2007, when we felt that academia had largely misfired in the digital age. We wanted to create a middle ground between the deluge of unedited personal blogs and websites that soon appeared and the academic journals that had migrated online but were locked behind pay walls. So, E-IR created a new space that we now occupy proudly. Essentially you could call our approach ‘scholarship with a sense of brevity’, presented in a modern way without unnecessary barriers. Everything is fully accessible without the need to enter any details or jump through any hoops. International relations affect everyone. So, everyone should be able to understand and access the debates that surround it. That simple message, and our ability to deliver it, makes E-IR (we hope) the best forum of its kind.
SM: Our audience are a mixture of students, scholars and general interest readers who visit us for a more scholarly take on world events. We would hope that the audience we already have (approximately 3 million readers per year) would be an indication to members of the ISA that if they are not already reading E-IR, then they probably should add it to their bookmarks. The website has a wide range of expert-written content that will assist anyone working on a research project, or anyone who is looking for accessible teaching materials and reading lists. Everything published on E-IR is unique to our platform and reputable to scholarly standards; it has either been commissioned by our editorial team or is submitted to us and has gone through a thorough review process. We do not publish any content that is already online elsewhere. The word search functionality that is built in to E-IR makes finding what you are looking for simple and effective – we would hope exactly what one would expect of a modern publishing platform.
SM: In our opinion, we complement all those traditional platforms – adding something while taking nothing away. So, we do not see ourselves as revolutionary. We think there should be a quality open access venue for authors, and therefore we offer one. Further, we think that open access should be fully open and done at no cost to anyone – including authors. If you want to read something, it should be point and click. Anything else is a barrier. If you want to submit your work for publication, we believe that you should be able to do so with no surprises or publication charges.
Typically, authors come to us as part of a wider publication strategy. Most of our authors regularly submit their work to journals and see publishing with E-IR as a way to present their scholarship in a different format. The audience you can reach via our platform is many orders of magnitude higher than any other in the field, and this is most attractive. When it comes to books, many of those who have authored, or contributed to, a book published by E-IR have had an experience where a prior book they published was not read as widely as they had hoped. This might have been due to the high price publishers often place on monographs/edited collections or that publishers rarely promote scholarly works much. So, those authors typically choose us a place where they can take some of their projects, some of the time, when they feel they have something that might sit well to a wider audience. And, this brings me back to my original point that we seek to complement traditional publishing and give authors (and readers) another option.
SM: Without doubt our most popular content has been our two textbooks, which were both released in 2017. The books were developed as part of our drive to create a ‘student portal’ which would be a one stop shop to get students apprised of the foundational elements of International Relations. The books form the basis of that project, and they sit alongside multimedia and other text-based resources that supplement them in a special section of the website. Together, the two books have been downloaded almost 200,000 times – which is a breath-taking statistic and a testament to the quality of the books and the efforts of all those involved. It is also rewarding to see that so many of those downloads were from developing countries, where often the price of a single textbook is too high. So, we’re delighted that our open access mission seems to be working in that sense. Saying that, textbooks are a new endeavour for us, and the other areas of the website (such as our daily mix of articles, reviews and blogs) continue to be very popular.
Worthy of mention here also is our interview series. Here, we have not just been interviewing major figures in the field, but we have also sought out emerging scholars from a wide variety of backgrounds and areas – some whom are still doing their PhDs. A big part of why we do this is that we want to be a platform for each new wave of scholars. So, many younger academics get their first major exposure via E-IR and in return we are able to get to know them a little bit and to see where the leading edges and emerging trends are forming in the discipline.
SM: I think what really makes us different is that we’re an active community. The editorial team – which is truly global – volunteer hundreds of hours of their time each month, and the hundreds of academics and students around the world who support us kindly contribute their latest and best work for publication. There are, at any one time, around 100 volunteer editors who invest their time in one or more of our projects, and they come from all over the world. Most of our editors are working towards a master’s or PhD degree and spend a bit of their time doing various editorial tasks with us, primarily to broaden their skill sets and meet new people. We have an open recruitment process for anyone who would like to volunteer.
Volunteering with E-IR, however, is not your typical ‘work experience’. First, we have no office – everything is decentralised and we use a range of virtual tools to organize and coordinate our activities (including Slack and Google Docs). Second, beyond the basic tasks necessary to keep the website running, editors are empowered to set their own agendas and develop their own projects. This ranges from pursuing personal interests – and building on personal expertise – when commissioning content for the website, to having an idea for a new section and then working with the team to plan, test and build it. The result, I think, is that the more E-IR volunteers give of themselves, the more they take away from the experience. It’s a place where people with a bit of initiative and drive really thrive.
SM: Over the 11+ years we have been online we have always worked hard to remain true to our core mission – to be the best online resource for students and scholars of international politics. This is a hard balancing act for an all-volunteer mission like ours. We don’t have any institutional or corporate sponsorship – so everything we do has to be thought through carefully so we are able to deliver it within our modest means. This means there are some things we have been unable to do, such as produce audio and video content, which are too expensive for us (in terms of time and resources) to do to a high standard. But, by remaining focused on the bread and butter of scholarship – text-based material ¬– we are always excited about what we can do in that realm. In 2019 we will have hundreds of new articles to share with the world, many of those will be from emerging scholars, and we will have another bunch of edited collections and monographs coming out. Providing an open access platform for that material, and those authors, continues to excite us and engage our readers.
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