Articles and Posts from ISQ

The field of international studies has, from its birth, been animated by two impulses that are often in tension with one another, if not engage in outright contradiction. On one hand, international studies scholars have sought to produce academically, "scientifically," defensible claims about pressing global challenges: war, inequality, injustice. On the other hand, international studies scholars have sought to influence policy in directions more conducive to preferred outcomes, such as the creation and strengthening of international organizations, the promotion of human rights and sustainable development, and the production of stable and accountable governments. These impulses are often in tension with one another because, arguably, of the different standards upheld in the academic and policy domains: academic knowledge must meet standards of theoretical and methodological rigor that pass muster primarily with other academics, while policy-relevant knowledge provides feasible options that make practical sense to a variety of stakeholders. The "gap" to be "bridged" is therefore no mere failure of commitment or desire on either side; it is directly linked to the different constitutions of the academic and policy worlds.

Michael Desch and Paul Avey bring some academic tools to bear on this gap, conducting a survey of policymakers to determine what it is that they want from academic international studies scholarship -- and what they claim to find and not to find in that scholarship. In this Symposium, three academics whose research and careers cross between the academy and the policy world use Desch and Avey's results as an occasion to reflect more broadly on the gap between these worlds. Susan Peterson uses the TRIP survey results to argue that policymakers may actually be getting more from academic scholarship than Desch and Avey conclude, even though the median ages of those scholars producing policy-relevant work is increasing and younger scholars are increasingly turning to theories and methodologies that may not appeal to policymakers as much. Catherine Weaver argues that the organization of the international studies field, especially in the United States, helps to perpetuate the gap between the academic and policy worlds: academics are disincentivized from producing the kind of scholarship that is most helpful to policymakers. James Goldgeier reports on an initiative to help bridge the gap between academics and policymakers, by working with scholars interested in speaking to the policy world in order to equip them to be more effective in doing so. Goldgeier also seconds Weaver's point that the sociology of the academic field, and the evaluation systems that we use to measure our successes, needs to change if the field is to be policy relevant in the future.


Desch and Avey conclude with a reply in which, among other things, they suggest that we cannot be complacent about a half-empty (or half-full) glass of mixed results about policy-relevance, because the water in the glass might be evaporating. If we want the the academic and policy worlds to continue informing one another, a certain about of deliberate reflection is in order. This Symposium seeks to be a contribution to that reflection.

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The International Studies Association

Representing 100 countries, ISA has over 6,500 members worldwide and is the most respected and widely known scholarly association in this field. Endeavoring to create communities of scholars dedicated to international studies, ISA is divided into 7 geographic subdivisions of ISA (Regions), 29 thematic groups (Sections) and 4 Caucuses which provide opportunities to exchange ideas and research with local colleagues and within specific subject areas.
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