Wandering and rambling

I can tell the academic year is approaching partly because the academic blogosphere seems to be getting busier. Or perhaps I am just starting to pay more attention again.

My Wesleyan colleague, Erica Chenoweth, has been making some fantastic posts in her new blog, Rational Insurgents.

Chris Blattman has an interesting piece on an experiment that was run on South African politicians. The tentative conclusion of the research by Gwyneth McClendon is that They tend to be more responsive to co-ethnics and to “unifying” issues. Over at the Monkey Cage, a few thoughts we expressed as to the ethics of the approach (Sides doesn’t seem to critical of it) as well as useful links to other similar experiments.

Deborah Brautigam continues her very helpful quest to set the record straight on the roles China may be playing in Africa. Her most recent focus has been on The Economist. See here and here.

Over at the Duck of Minerva, Josh Busby has published a nice series on the famine in East Africa. Part V is here.

A clear sign that the summer season might be ending is that the online debate between Dan Drezner and Anne-Marie Slaughter seems to finally be dying down. Henry Farrell at the Monkey Cage has a nice overview of the majority of that debate (it wasn’t–isn’t?–over yet). Farrell tries to insert his own voice in he with a mention of contagion as a useful metaphor for international politics. I think the key point to remember is that each has their own unique starting assumptions and beliefs about politics and human nature… But, oh wait, isn’t that obvious? Incommensurable worldviews make debate difficult. What could have made this all more interesting, theoretically, is if a little more was done to attempt bridging these perspectives. All of this reminded me of David Lake’s recent article, “Why “isms” Are Evil: Theory, Epistemology, and Academic Sects as Impediments to Understanding and Progress“. I find it interesting that, in many ways, his attempt to knock down the divisions between the different mainstream schools of thought in IR (such as some of those dividing Drezner and Slaughter and, ultimately to break down barriers between our major fields) simultaneously embraces diverse understandings of the truth of IR while pointing a possible way towards that holy grail of a grand unifying theory for IR. He might disagree with me that these are his purposes, but it is hard for me not to see such possibilities. That said, he, Drezner and Slaughter all seem to underestimate the epistemological rifts that are likely to persist. After all, as Larry Laudan teaches us, there are those who have no problem with the existence of impediments to progress given that progress should neither be possible nor, therefore, a goal. Not something I believe, but that perspective persists…

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