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If Gaza Isn’t a Genocide, What Is?: discourse as resistance

(this post also appeared on the Duck of Minerva)

At the moment many of us are watching the news with bated breath. New sites,  facebook and twitter feeds are filling with images of civilian deaths and the leveling of Gaza. There is growing sentiment that the ‘targeted’ operations in Gaza by the IDF have been willfully indiscriminate- with example upon example of civilian safe havens being directly targeted (4 UN schools in 4 days, 46 schools in total, 56 Mosques and 7 hospitals). The UN has called for an investigation of war crimes by Israel, and there is a growing international public movement to protest the killings- in the face of almost universal silence by major world leaders on the issue.
One question that has not been consistently raised is why the term ‘genocide’ is not being used to describe the activities of Israel in Gaza. It seems that only ‘extreme’ activist groups or Hamas and the Palestinian Authority themselves would accuse Israel of genocide, with the rest of the international community preferring to qualify their criticisms using terms like ‘indiscriminate’ ‘disproportionate’ or ‘criminal.’ The politics of Israel and Palestine have become so muted, so tangled with discursive landmines that it is difficult to even pose such a question. Yet one does not need to be a radical to at least try to evaluate Israeli actions against the established UN definition of genocide. Serious questions about the end goal of the current military actions, along with longstanding Israeli policies and their impact on the ability of Palestinians to exist require attention.
It is worth quoting the following section from the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide- not only to assess whether the current military offensive constitutes a genocide, but also to reflect on the international community’s ‘punishable’ role as actors ‘complicit’ to a genocide.
“Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article III: The following acts shall be punishable:

(a) Genocide;
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide. ” (more…)

What the Public Heard/Saw in the Headlines for the ‘Global Summit on Ending Sexual Violence’

(this post also appeared on the Duck of Minerva)

If you haven’t read Pablo K’s piece on Angelina Jolie, celebrity, and the Global Summit on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict, you should. There has been some broader discussion about the pros (see ‘Hollywood can actually help solve complex global problems‘) and cons of celebrity ‘endorsement’ (the foreign secretary was ‘starstruck’) of humanitarian issues- the Angelina Jolie ‘effect’, if you will. One thing that is certain, the headlines were certainly all about Angelina. “Angelina Jolie hosts/says/opens/kicks off…” were the most prominent headlines, with the content, issues, debates of the summit largely left out. Out of curiosity, I created a wordle map of the headlines. I took a blunt method of taking the headlines from the first three pages of google news for ‘global summit on ending sexual violence.’ To cut out the obvious, I deleted ‘global end sexual violence summit’ and here’s what the headlines looked like:

angelina
(more…)

The Unwritten Rules of AMERICAN IR? (or, things American IR scholars don’t always know about ‘doing’ IR ‘in the rest of the world’)

(this post also appeared on the Duck of Minerva)

Laura Sjoberg recently wrote a post listing “The Unwritten Rules of IR.” While it is an interesting review of some of the power relations, maneuvering, and indeed game-playing that goes on in the field, it also captured a particular American (maybe even just a personal) experience of being an IR scholar. Of course this makes sense, since Sjoberg is an American doing IR in America…but it felt a little bit more like ‘Mean Girls- the IR Sequel’- like when Regina George (yes, I remember the main character/villain’s name outlines the ‘rules’ of the table….maybe the problem is the table, not the rules). My point is not to critique Sjoberg or the individual points she makes, but to consider what these rules tell us about how exceptional (I think) this experience is from those of us ‘doing’ IR in, well, the rest of the world (and maybe at other tables in the US cafeteria). I’m drawing from my experience working in New Zealand and Australia, studying in Canada, and completing a post-doc in the US. The post made me ask two questions:

  • First, is the American IR community really that shitty/petty/manipulative? (read, ‘why is everyone so mean!?’)
  • Do American IR scholars appreciate that their experience of the field is not, in fact, how the entire field operates? (read, ‘why don’t more US scholars abandon ship?!’)

I offer a few counter punches to those offered by Sjoberg in the hope of making my point:
1. Get over pedigree. Pedigree matters most to those who went to ‘the top 2/5/8’ US universities in the US. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not naive about the power of studying at Harvard or Yale. BUT pedigree only goes so far. And, especially outside the US, A) one’s publication record, and general contribution to the field outweighs pedigree. Full stop. B) perception about ‘good’ pedigree varies vastly across the world. There is an entire cohort of non- ivy league universities that seem to garner as much- if not more recognition- for producing incredible IR scholars, including: Aberystwyth, the University of Copenhagen, Science Po, and University of Southern California- to name a few. C) constantly name dropping your alma matter or PhD supervisor is annoying both inside and outside the US (the students of a few American IR dudes ‘icons’- who shall remain nameless- should just get t-shirts made for their students, to save them the hassle of declaration (it would be equally as annoying), or maybe there should be some pin that signals certain supervisors…now I’m just getting bitchy). Maybe this is my perspective because- from a pedigree perspective (what are we breeding, exactly) I’m the equivalent of a Shetland Pony/work horse bred with a thoroughbred racehorse. I’m sure the pedigree-police would recommend taking me out back and shooting me, but hey, I’ve managed ‘show’ in a few races and make my mark on the track anyway (ok, those are all the racing analogies I’ve got).
2. The HR pimp line, or the degree to which you brag about yourself as a scholar, that Sjoberg talks about is relative. (more…)

Discourse Analysis of Internet Trolls?: the whys and hows of analyzing online content*

(this post also appeared on the Duck of Minerva)

Online mediums can be perceived as attracting wacky ranters unrepresentative contributors and exchanges and, therefore, forums or chats are often treated as if they do not provide an effective picture/sample of political discourse. But since over 80% of Americans are online, 66% of American adults have engaged in civil or political activities with social media, and about half of those who visit discussion groups post/contribute, isn’t this an interesting- and increasingly relevant- medium for a discourse analysis? Why cut out such a vast political resource? What is different about ‘doing’ a discourse analysis of online content? How would you even start such an analysis? And, why aren’t those like myself- who blog and engage in political discussions as part of my daily/weekly activity- doing more to treat online content as part of what we consider to be ‘legitimate’ political discourse? Well, I think it comes down to methodology. Here is a very brief intro to some of the opportunities and challenges to conducing a discourse analysis of online content (PS getting students to do such an analysis is a great assignment).

1. What makes a discourse analysis of online content different from an analysis of printed text?
First, (and probably somewhat obvious) online material uses multiple modes of expression, including emoticons, hyperlinks, images, video, moving images (gifs), graphic design, and color. This multimodality adds complexity (and, I argue, richness) to a discourse analysis- but the researcher must be aware of how particular signals are used, (for example, ‘iconic’ or popular memes or gifs (like feminist Ryan Gosling or the Hilary Clinton texting image begin to take on particular meanings themselves). Second, online content is unstable, instant, and edited in ways unavailable to print (even the use of striking through signals ‘editing’/alternative meaning/irony etc- but this requires interpretation). Also, articles, conversations, and posts, can be published, responded to, retweeted, then retracted or edited all within a few hours. (more…)

5 Degrees of Internet Procrastination (or, from Al-Jazeera to Perez Hilton in 5 clicks)

(this post also appeared on the Duck of Minerva)

It is nothing new to say that the internet is a major distraction. But I’m particularly amazed at how well-intentioned online searches lead to bottom-feeder-celebrity-gossip trolling. How does a quick writing break to check the news end in mindlessly clicking through the best-dressed list at Cannes? I’ve got a theory: procrastination requires a certain level of mindless surfing. Our initial news hits don’t satisfy the urge, so we are forced to go deeper and deeper into the internet until we hit the ‘zone out’ level. Here’s how it happens:

Stage One: Most procrastination stints start out in earnest. Al-Jazeera, New York Times, Democracy Now, Washington Post, Guardian headlines are scoured, we catch up on what’s going on in the news. We feel virtuous because we are in fact multi tasking, and learning about the world, not procrastinating. Stage two: From here, there are easy distractions, like “most emailed” articles (that might include an interesting op ed, personal news about a particular politician etc). Next thing you know, you are on the Huffington Post trying to read more about Tony Abbot and what an idiot he is. The Huffington Post is like a vortex that takes you from news to gossip in .5 seconds. Massive headlines about Putin’s abs or Hilary Clinton’s pantsuits suck you in with supersonic force. Stage Three: The article on Putin’s abs takes you to websites you would never admit to visiting during the workday. No, I don’t mean porn. I mean People.com. Yes, you are on People.com reading about Putin’s abs….and now its time to get to Stage Four: pure celebrity gossip. At least the Putin article had some political relevance…sort of. From here you are one click away from learning about Jenny McCarthy’s wedding ring (she got a sapphire, not a blood diamond…doesn’t that knowledge count as political?…shit, how do I know Jenny McCarthy has a sapphire engagement ring!!). And now you are here, at Stage Five– the guts of internet procrastination, reading about yet another season of the Bachelorette, looking at ‘who wore it better’, doing quizzes about what 90s rock star you would be, and reading your horoscope (FB is in another league of procrastination). Don’t worry, it happens to all of us. (more…)

#BringBackOurGirls- Doing Nothing as ‘Activism’

(this post also appeared on the Duck of Minerva)

I really don’t want to write this post. I hate being a feminist or critical killjoy- especially when it comes to issues that seem to unite, motivate, and inspire large groups of people. We all need to feel inspired- like we are doing something good for the world. On Sunday I saw a small group of teenage girls wearing red and holding signs that read #BringBackOurGirls. It was sort of sweet to see them so clearly excited to be part of something- to be DOING SOMETHING. Activism is supposed to be political activity aimed at changing or influencing events. But what are the politics of #BringBackOurGirls and does #BringBackOurGirls DO anything?  Let’s start with a few more important questions:

1. To whom is #BringBackOurGirls directed? President Goodluck Jonathan? President Obama? The Nigerian military? Holding a sign in a shopping center on a Sunday is a nice activity for feeling part of ‘something’- but flashing a sign with a hash tag in such a setting feels more like a Western conversation with ourselves. A feel-good exercise, rather than political activism.

2. Who is the ‘our’ in this tag? ‘Our girls’ implies ownership rather than solidarity. What motivates this paternalistic feeling that ‘we’ can/should ‘save’ ‘our’ girls? (more…)

Academic Parenting 101: parental leave erosion

(this post also appeared on the Duck of Minerva)

Academics are generally pretty lucky when it comes to parental leave- at least on paper. Many universities provide more leave than the minimum required by governments (so more than nothing in the US), yet there are several aspects of our careers that cause parental leave erosion. I should say from the outset that I had a generally supportive and positive experience while on leave last year, but I’ve also found several sources of leave erosion. *I acknowledge that there are many different types of parents taking parental leave, and I’m mainly drawing on my experience, or those of close friends in the field. I’d love to hear other experiences.

1. Pre-leave ‘make up’ work: This is a typical scenario: parents learn they are expecting, figure out when they are taking leave, and start working overtime to get ‘extra’ things done before the leave. In some ways this is understandable; it makes sense to want to wrap things up, tick things off a list etc before baby arrives. However, the idea that we need to work extra hard so that the parental leave doesn’t ‘put us behind’ or give some kind of disadvantage places unrealistic expectations on parents. Doing more work before your leave also means you (and your colleagues) treat your parental leave as a reshuffling of work, rather than time away from work. This kind of extra stress is the last thing that parents-to-be need, especially since pregnancy can be really terrible. You might be flat on your back trying to hold down any type of sustenance rather than writing your opus in the 8th month- and that’s ok. Parents don’t need to ‘earn’ their leave- and working extra, taking on extra roles etc before baby arrives means you donate time to the university and treat the arrival of the baby as the ‘finish line’ rather than the starting gate.

2. Parental leave free labor: I blame sabbaticals for this. While on sabbatical staff that are ‘away’ are still expected to respond to emails (even if it is slowly) and somewhat maintain their visibility and roles in the department. But parental leave is, and should be, different: parents take it because they have a new baby, not because they are focusing more of their attention to one aspect of their job. Also, most parental leave involves a pay reduction- so from a purely economic sense, parents are not getting paid to do their job anymore, they are paid to be parents, on leave. But that’s not reality. Most parents on leave end up responding to emails, doing copy edits on articles/books that are in the publication pipeline, writing reference letters, providing annual reports to funders, giving advice or feedback to grad students, and maybe even reviewing. These are tasks that one is almost obliged to do in order to sustain a minimum lifeline as an academic, but it is UNPAID LABOR. (more…)

Why I Don’t Participate at Political Science Rumors

(this post also appeared on the Duck of Minerva)

Over the last week we’ve had an excellent post by Cynthia Weber on queer theory and the forms of academic disciplining and bullying that take place on the website Political Science Rumors, as well as a interesting (and surprisingly convincing) piece by Steve Saidman on why he participates on the website. At first thought, the question of whether to participate on PLSI rumors or not seems pretty simple to me. In fact, a better question might be, ‘why would anyone bother with such a largely negative shit-storm, make-you-feel-bad-about-humanity and the field zone?’ However, on second thought, there are a few specific reasons why I avoid the site:

1. I think I know who the average ‘user’ is, and I don’t think I have much to learn from them. With the exception of Steve Saidman and a few other visitors- who have a genuine intention of a positive exchange with others in the field- based on the types of comments I have read, I assume (like others) that the average poster on this site is an unemployed/underemployed graduate student from an elite university who is pissed off that people like me (with my ‘terrible pedigree’ and my poor choice of feminism as a ‘specialization’) have jobs and a voice in the field (cue the trash comments). Why would I want to listen to this cohort speculate on job candidates, or my work (or anything else)?

2. It sets low career goals. I know not everyone in political science dreams of contributing to world peace (more on this in a forthcoming post), but surely there is more to our careers than journal rankings and how we ‘rate’ against others? In the comments sections to Weber’s recent post, there is discussion about the damage we might do to students if we are not honest about their career prospects if they choose ‘sub-fields’ like queer theory. Obviously, most PhD students don’t want to end up unemployed, and providing realistic information about the job market is essential- but individuals should be encouraged to choose their research topics because they are interested in answering questions they deem important, or that will make some sort of contribution (the fact that it sounds corny to want to contribute positively to society/our field is depressing).

3. It is not an effective source of information. If you want to know who has been short listed for a job, where to publish an article, which university to go to for particular specializations etc THIS IS NOT THE BEST PLACE TO GET THE INFO.

(more…)

Countdown to ISA: heal the world, make the ISA a better place

(this post also appeared on the Duck of Minerva)

It’s that time of year again. IR freaks, geeks, superstars, and fans flock to the International Studies Association Annual Conference (except those wimps that avoid the cold Canadian destinations).

Over the next week I’m going to write a few short, fun posts as we countdown to the jet lag, red-eyed check in (red carpet arrival show), the boot camp style pre-ISA workshops (pre-show analysis), and our blogging reception on Thursday (the main event). The topic for today? 5 steps that would change your ISA world for the better…feel free to share your own healing steps!

1. Coffee. I’m serious, there are approximately 3000 academics and the coffee options are one jammed Starbucks, the stale tea-bag coffees in your room, or a snake line from 3 mysteriously placed coffee carafes throughout the hotel. Please ISA exec, I will pay $10 more in my fees if you provide coffee at all 8am panels. Doing so will also mean that people will actually attend the first panels ON TIME and stay awake. Everyone wins (except Starbucks). Oh, and please bring your reusable coffee cups people.
2. This one is going to be more controversial, but I’m going to just throw it out there: we need less panels. I don’t think the ISA needs to be exclusive or anything, but I think there is a conference ‘tail’ of about 20% of panels that are beyond non-cohesive, and/or end up with 3 presenters- or less- or no discussant at the last minute (we’ve all been on one). Cut the tail off. Are we really doing academics or grad students a favor by reassigning their paper to a panel that has nothing to do with their topic after the original panel dissolves (which happens all the time!)? Or by assigning a discussant a the last minute who has absolutely no expertise or knowledge of the majority of the topics on the panel? (more…)

8 Unanswered Political Questions from the Oscars

(this post also appeared on the Duck of Minerva)

I know it has already been a week, but I’m still thinking about the Oscars. Not the fashion (boring!! predictable!!), or the hostess (boring!! predictable!!) or the winners (boring!! predictable!!), or the speeches (ok you get my point)- but rather a short list of questions I still need help with. Answers welcome.

1. Was bell hooks right? Was 12 Years a Slave “sentimental clap-trap” that “negated the female voice?” What were the politics of white washing, white guilt, and white erasure at the awards?

2. How the hell did Joaquin Phoenix NOT get nominated for ‘Her’ and how DID Leonardo DiCaprio get nominated for ‘WOWS’? Does this tell us anything about hegemonic masculinity….or more about pity for Leo?

3. Why were so many of the best pic nominations fixated on some distorted nostalgia (about slavery, HIV, they ‘golden era’ of American history/finance) and what does this tell us about our (in)ability to cope with the present?

4. Are strapless peplum dresses and backward necklaces ironic now?

5. If Mathhew Mcconaghey hadn’t lost weight, would we care about his performance? Would he have won the Oscar? As Ted Kerr noted in his excellent post 47 Things I Talk about When I talk about the Dallas Buyers Club, “It is interesting how Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto get rewarded for losing weight, and acting sick, while people living with HIV have to fight to be well, appear well and be recognized. #everydaysurvival” (more…)