MPSA Member Profile: Rebecca Dew

Dr. Rebecca Dew is an Independent Researcher based in Florida, where she can be reached at Academia.edu or her personal website, or followed on Twitter @beccadew. Additionally, Dew is a recent participant in the Wikipedia Fellows program. Here we ask her a few questions about her experiences:

MPSA-MemberProfile-RebeccaDew

What was your role as a Wikipedia Fellow?
Volunteering as a Wikipedia Fellow meant communicating with a dozen odd scholars and professionals in academia over the Zoom platform and perhaps even the international date line, and this in combination with whatever academic or professional concerns we also held at the time. I worked on articles concerning activism, authority, and a sprinkling of other topics of interest and relevance to me and my research objectives. I also had the opportunity to provide feedback on the work of others and even co-author a Wikipedia article with another cohort fellow.

What surprised you most about your experience working with Wikipedia?
I would say the level of participation and contribution from other editors and authors was a large part of what made participating in the Wikipedia project both surprising and helpful. One’s attitude when approaching a solo-authored or co-authored paper for a peer-reviewed journal is, as a rule, “this is my work” or “our work” and it is well-documented, referenced, and it is going to stay that way. The attitude one must take in approaching a Wikipedia article is something more like “this is what we now know” and the part I play is limited, interactive, and modifiable. Writers and editors on Wikipedia are doing what they can to contribute what they know, then step back and watch as others contribute what they know. The feel is different, and so is the process. It is rewarding, but it is rewarding in a rather different way—an unfinished, adaptive sort of way. I have written more about this in a blog post about my experience.

Perhaps the most exciting or challenging quality of striving and at times struggling to be a dedicated intellectual in the twenty-first century is similar to what it’s like serving as a Wikipedia editor, careening through the digital and virtual options we have for gelatinizing and sharing our findings, our hypotheses, and our minds. Like almost everything else these days, our options appear to be virtually limitless, or at the very least, virtual. But like overwhelmingly everyone these days, one cannot be a happy or fulfilled academic without taking every one of these innovative options with a healthy grain of realism, skepticism, and salty and good-humored good sense. I have found that with working with Wikipedia and with other Wikipedians, the most important thing to remember is the significant part that the person who is doing the writing plays in making the ever-unfinished product, the Wikipedia articles that we read. Wikipedia is as accurate and effective as the people who write it and read it allow their contributions and interpretations to be. Wikipedia provides a blend of the features of knowledge and accessibility; I consider it a happy privilege to be someone who can in some way contribute to both.

What projects are you currently working on?
I am currently working on several projects. The most pressing of these would be two monographs, one on the political thought of Hannah Arendt in relation to Karl Jaspers, and the other on activism and its representation in relation to the history of political thought. Other projects include critiques of Habermas, Heidegger, and Marx, and a flattering assessment of the work of Michael Oakeshott. There is a co-authored paper that I am working on with a friend of mine in Australia. I also like keeping my hand in Wikipedia, and I enjoy teaching. There are a few other books and articles churning over in my mind; I find that’s the way with many ideas. I’d rather live thinking of much than think of thinking less.

Words of wisdom for first-time MPSA conference attendees about visiting Chicago? While in Chicago, do what the Chicagoans do. I cannot emphasize enough the priority of enjoying where you are while you are there—especially when you go to all of the trouble of flying to be there. I stayed downtown to explore the venue and as much of its surrounding features as possible. Among my favorite experiences beyond the conference itself were visiting the Cloud Gate, the various art displays, and Jay Pritzker Pavilion at and around Millennium Park, walking near the Chicago Riverwalk, crossing DuSable Bridge and spotting Trump Tower close to sunset at the river’s edge. I also enjoyed sampling a variety of the city’s local foods and the many options of eating around the corner of the conference. I do recommend eating at the conference venue itself, with its varieties of classic, international, and vegan fare, and bumping into all sorts of academic guests. In my visit to Vanderbilt University earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to meet with several faculty and discuss my work on Hannah Arendt there. But it was not until MPSA 2018 that I had the opportunity to meet with Assistant Professor Allison Anoll and discuss the correlation of her work on prisons, race, and participatory norms to mine on the carceral state, violence, and what can be considered carceral spillover. I also had some fantastic opportunities to swap research ideas and stories with other established and early career researchers from Baylor, Stanford, and even the University of Chicago. During the conference, I stayed with a fellow researcher based at the University of Chicago who, in fact, flew into the conference on the same flight as I did. Getting to know some locals can make all of the difference in what can otherwise feel like a new and unfamiliar world.

Speaking of opportunities around travel. Where is the best place you’ve traveled to and why?
I find this question difficult to answer. I am tempted to respond with Hawai’i; I lived there for four years, and I have always thought that the best way to get to know someplace and get a feel for its culture is to live there. Perhaps that is one reason why I followed my own advice and moved to Brisbane, Australia, where I completed my PhD at the University of Queensland, a superior research university where I really had one of the best academic and professional experiences to be imagined. In terms of traveling to exotic locations, Fiji or New Zealand’s Bay of Islands would rate highly, although I have not spent enough time at either to state which I would prefer best.

This post is part of a series of interviews with our members. Read more MPSA Member profiles.

MPSA Roundtable: The Path to Full

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This MPSA roundtable session on “MPSA Roundtable: The Path to Full”, hosted by the Midwest Women’s Caucus and chaired by Tiffany Barnes of the University of Kentucky, features James Adams of University of California, Davis, Leslie Schwindt-Bayer of Rice University, and Miki Kittilson of Arizona State University, Tempe.

This panel examines the path to full professorship by facilitating a discussion of the participants’ journeys to become full professors.

Highlights from the discussion include important points in the transition between the associate and full professor levels, including the importance of career mentoring during this time, and advice on moving from the associate to full professor level. Questions discussed during the roundtable address what it means to be a full professor, what this looks like at different institutions, and what being a full professor means to each of the panelists.

Topics of discussion include:

  • New opportunities for longer term or higher risk projects.
  • Advocating for junior faculty members.
  • Responsibilities toward departmental infrastructure development.
  • Additional administrative and service responsibilities that come with becoming a full professor.

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Listen to the panel on Soundcloud.

MPSA Members can log in to access a variety of recordings from highlighted MPSA conference presentations. Additional podcasts from select MPSA conference roundtables are also available.

The Deliberative Sublime: Edmund Burke on Disruptive Speech and Imaginative Judgment

Edmund Burke Engraving
Edmund Burke Engraving

By Rob Goodman of McGill University

Could it be true that judicious political conduct requires injudicious political language? Is there a case to be made for the value, amidst relatively settled institutions, of unsettling speech—speech characterized by rhetorical excess, exaggeration, impropriety, indecorousness, and even the uncanny?

Given the current state of American political discourse, many of us would be tempted to answer with a firm “no.” In fact, many of us would likely agree with former President Obama’s argument that “only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation,” or with the bipartisan group in the House of Representatives, who last year claimed in a draft resolution that “civil discourse and dialogue…have been jeopardized in recent years by growing division in and coarsening of our political culture,” and who called for “civility training in schools.”

And again, many political theorists would seem to sympathize with these arguments. The literature on democratic deliberation (even when rather grudgingly setting aside a place for rhetoric as a prompt or invitation to deliberation) often conceives of the desirable norms of political speech in restrained terms, stressing discussion, conversation, civility, and strict factuality.

These concerns are part of a long tradition. To eighteenth-century ears, for instance, such complaints over immoderate political speech would have sounded familiar. Among theorists in the early era of constitutionalism, it was something of a commonplace that the rule-bound governance of the modern era demanded a complementary style of rule-bound speech: a discourse that was factual, restrained, dispassionate, and even happily mediocre. When the partisans of this discourse denounced classical eloquence as “waste language” (John Trenchard), praised the speech of modern pleaders who aimed only “at convincing and instructing” (Hugh Blair), or decried “the ascendency of passion over reason” (James Madison), they anticipated in important ways the deliberative theorists of the present, as well as the contemporary yearning for “civility” as a cure to political ills.

Even if the discourse of deliberative civility has been more honored in the breach than the observance, it is still a matter of enduring interest for political theory: notions of acceptable and aberrant speech have long been treated as central to a polity’s self-conception. It is one thing to tolerate immoderate speech; it is another thing to actively defend it. How could one make such a defense? Why would one even want to do so?

In a paper presented at the 2016 MPSA conference, which was recently published in APSR as “The Deliberative Sublime: Edmund Burke on Disruptive Speech and Imaginative Judgment,” I tried to answer those questions. In doing so, I drew on an unlikely eighteenth-century source: Edmund Burke’s theory and practice of rhetorical excess or, in his own terms, the rhetorical sublime.

In the Burkean view that I develop, there are considerable costs to thoroughly hiving off from the work of deliberation what Thomas Spragens once called the “darker passions.” Drawing on Burke to defend unruly rhetoric might seem unlikely just because he shared with contemporary critics of rhetorical excess an appreciation for stability, predictability, and gradualism in the institutions and practices of government. But Burke’s historical reputation as the ur-conservative (which recent biographers have challenged as anachronistic), might blind us to the ways in which he rejected his contemporaries’ association of moderate language with moderate governance.

For Burke, such governance demanded the exercise of circumstantial judgment—and therefore demanded that deliberators overcome an allegedly ingrained resistance to judging. Burke presumed that most of us would take every opportunity to offload the pain of judgment onto preexisting “methods and forms,” maxims, and abstractions, all of which fail to engage with circumstantial complexities. He consistently urged his audiences to attend to the singular political moment and its particular circumstances, a challenge for which rules, procedures, and nostrums offer little help. In fact, he held that the very political stability he prized might lead deliberators to abdicate judgment. We may sympathize with such concerns if we recall the ways in which the phenomena of group polarization or the power of partisan loyalty over political perceptions and preferences seem to perform similar judgment-avoidance functions in our own time.

For Burke, the spur to sound political judgment was immoderate language: speech that might serve as a provocation of judgment and a corrective against the deliberative weaknesses he saw as endemic to constitutional government. There is thus a necessary place within settled institutions for unsettling and even uncanny speech. Burke proposes, in short, that the “deliberative sublime” is not the contradiction that it would seem to be. If the sublime is a kind of crisis of the senses—a simulation of danger that provokes a “sense of inward greatness” when successfully encompassed by the mind—there is a comparable kind of crisis that does not undermine a constitutional order, but inoculates it. My paper attempts to show how an analogous claim can be brought to bear on the anti-rhetorical strand of contemporary deliberative democracy—and, on the other hand, how even the Burkean defense of sublimity is consistent with a recognition of the harmfulness of certain kinds of uncivil and hateful speech.

While Burke is best known today for his Reflections on the Revolution in France, he was also regarded as one of the leading parliamentary orators of his day—one whose language, even by the standards of its time, seemed especially florid, heated, emotive, or superabundant. One contemporary compared him to a howling “wolf” in debate, and another described him as “foaming like Niagara.” Such contemporaries as William Wordsworth and James Boswell were struck by the force of his rhetoric. Others described him in terms of ethnic caricature, as when the populist politician John Wilkes mocked his “wild Irish eloquence” as the product of “potatoes and whiskey.”

My paper engages in a close reading of a number of passages of the kind that inspired these assessments—passages that seem to have been intended to startle, provoke, and disorient. Those passages include an account of a bloody whaling expedition, imagined visitations by supernatural entities, and a vision of the globe “burned to ashes” in the apocalypse. In some strict senses of the term, such passages are not “deliberative” at all. But in Burke’s theory of language and judgment—which was developed in his early work on the aesthetics of the sublime and put into practice in his oratorical career—such passages are integral to deliberation, because they stimulate the imagination and prime audiences for the exercise of judgment. In Burke’s terms, deliberation is so mentally strenuous that most of us take every excuse to avoid it—and so we must be “alarmed into reflection.” In fact, Burke explicitly cast his oratory as an appeal to the imagination:

Do not entertain so weak an imagination as that your registers and your bonds, your affidavits and your sufferances, your cockets and your clearances, are what form the great securities of your commerce… All this, I know well enough, will sound wild and chimerical to the profane herd of those vulgar and mechanical politicians…who, therefore, far from being qualified to be directors of the great movement of empire, are not fit to turn a wheel in the machine.

Burke’s object is not just to criticize the habits of parliamentary government for failing to “stretch and expand our minds”—but also that his own words might begin to affect the needed expansion. Burke leads us to the counterintuitive position that the language best suited to judgment may not itself be judicious.

None of this means that we ought to mistrust the notion of civility itself. Burke, for one, stressed that politics, “as it is a work for social ends, is to be only wrought by social means.” In other words, deliberation is a collaborative activity, and it benefits from the inclusion of marginal perspectives and language, as Burke’s own example illustrates. Because deliberation is collaborative, orators are obliged to carefully balance the need to provoke with the need to preserve the social context that gives provocation its value, steering clear of the kind of incivility that can be described (in the words of J. Cherie Strachan and Michael R. Wolf) as “rhetoric apt to sever relationships.” On the other hand, my paper argues that too demanding a notion of civility can stunt deliberation. We may have good reason to prefer a standard of civility minimal enough to make room for disturbingly provocative speech, agonistic ambition, and even what Teresa M. Bejan called “a commitment to mutual contempt.”

While Burke was engaged with eighteenth-century problems of parliamentary government, his core arguments—that cultivating political judgment can be difficult and even painful, and that disruptive speech can help us overcome that pain—continue to resonate. Consider, for instance, a 2014 speech of Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, a Marshall Islands poet, to the United Nations Climate Summit. Jetñil-Kijiner addressed these words to her infant daughter, imagining the lagoon near their home transformed by rising seas: “Men say that one day that lagoon will devour you. They say it will gnaw at the shoreline, chew at the roots of your breadfruit trees, gulp down rows of your seawalls, and crunch your island’s shattered bones.” The echoes of the Burkean sublime, and its aim of alarming into reflection, ought to be evident enough. At the same time, reconceiving deliberation in Burkean terms would lead us to reconsider the varieties of political speech we tend to view as troubling—not only the demagogic appeal, but also what Umberto Eco called the “pernicious vacuousness” that fails to offend and equally fails to engage our judgment.

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About the Author:
Rob Goodman will be an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Researcher in the Department of Political Science at McGill University, beginning in August. His paper “Edmund Burke and the Deliberative Sublime”, presented at the 2016 MPSA conference, received the Review of Politics Award in 2017.

In Retrospect: Tips for First-Time MPSA Attendees and Presenters

By Charmaine N. Willis of University at Albany, SUNY

In Retrospect: Tips for First-Time MPSA Attendees and Presenters
As I reflect on my first MPSA conference there are few things that I would have done differently, both prior to and during the conference. I offer some tips to new (and returning) attendees for future conferences. While my suggestions are based on my experience at MPSA, I believe they can apply to most other academic conferences as well.

Dress Accordingly
I mean this in a few different ways. First, wear something in which you are comfortable presenting. For myself, this typically means “business causal” but it varies from person to person. Unfortunately, I did not follow my own advice and wore shoes that became uncomfortable after one day walking to and throughout the Palmer House. Secondly, Chicago weather is unpredictable, and one should keep this in mind when packing and dressing for the conference. I initially packed a light-weight coat for the conference and switched to a winter coat just in case; I was glad that I did because it was quite cold in Chicago and even snowed while I was there. Thus, one should prepare for variable weather conditions and pack accordingly.

Plan Before You Go
For those who have never been to MPSA, the conference is held in the Palmer House Hilton hotel, an elegant 25-floor building in Downtown Chicago. The conference activities (panels, exhibitions, receptions, registration, etc.) are scattered throughout the hotel, thus knowing exactly where one needs to go ahead of time is important. Both the MPSA printed program and the app are helpful in this regard, though I had a difficult time finding locations for non-panel events in the app. That said, the app was particularly helpful in planning my own schedule in terms of the times and locations of panels I wanted to attend and those on which I was presenting. One suggestion, particularly for those presenters with minimal or no conference experience, is to locate the room in which your panel is held well ahead of time. As it is an older building, the Palmer House floor plan is not straightforward in some areas and it can be difficult to discern the room locations. Thus, identifying one’s room before your panel is due to start can alleviate some unnecessary anxiety. Additionally, remember to set aside time at some point to register upon your arrival.

Partake in Networking Events and Receptions in Addition to Panel Discussions
I offer this suggestion with graduate students and junior faculty particularly in mind. While I have attended a few smaller conferences prior to MPSA, this conference was the first large one I went to and the size has a few important implications. First, it can be very overwhelming: The Palmer House is large and, accordingly, there is a vast amount of people at the conference. Second, it can seem daunting to network and meet other scholars. For both reasons, attending events other than the panel discussions is important because it is a way to connect to others during the conference, thereby making it less overwhelming. I attended the Mentoring Reception and found that it was a good way to connect to people already working in the field as well as fellow graduate students. However, I wish I had arrived a day earlier and/or made time to attend some of the group receptions which I think would have made me feel more connected to the conference community and provided further networking opportunities.

Take Care of Yourself!
As we all surely know, this advice is easier said than done. However, this is an important part of “conference life”, especially for those who are presenters. I echo the advice given in this article by Maura Elizabeth Cunningham of the Association of Asian Studies. Eating and hydrating oneself adequately during a conference is important for both attendees and especially for presenters. We want to be on our “A-Game” whether we are presenting our research or making new connections, and I for one cannot do that without these two things. The first piece of advice in this regard is to make sure to eat during the conference, whether you bring snacks with you or make time for a meal. I did not make time to eat during my first day at the conference and between attending events and presenting I ended up missing lunch as a result, which I do not recommend. Even if you make time for a meal, it is advantageous to bring snacks with you just in case. Secondly, staying hydrated is important especially for presenters. My mouth gets dry when I speak for long periods of time (such as during a presentation) and I suspect I am not the only one. There are many places throughout the hotel to get water: take advantage of them. Admittedly I did not follow this advice closely during MPSA but I plan on abiding by it during my next conference.

About the Author: Charmaine Willis is a current PhD Student at the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the University at Albany, SUNY. Her current research interests are Northeast Asian regional dynamics; civil society development in non-Western contexts; and contentious politics with a specific focus on anti-US military base mobilization. Willis is also a blogger for the 2018 MPSA conference in Chicago. She can be reached at cwillis@albany.edu or on Twitter.

 

Diffusion by Any Means Necessary

By Harold “Harry” Young of Austin Peay State University

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Members of the “GRAD SCHOOL: What to Expect at a Job Interview at a Teaching School” roundtable at the 2018 MPSA conference in Chicago.

They stood in place at each poster in the exhibit hall, graduate students eager to share their research with anyone willing to take the time to listen, ask questions, or possibly offer some instructive or encouraging advice.

While sometimes considered as a consolation prize by more experienced researchers, for grad students the poster sessions are an essential component of learning, a form of knowledge diffusion featuring visual experiences and personal interactions. Elements we all know are integral to effective communication in diverse forums.

The posters’ second-class status is not deserved as this the ideal forum for students entering academia. As our future, their work deserves our attention and support. Since not all exhibits are equal, however, I zeroed in on several that were both topical and presented solid research effectively.

My first stop was an exhibit on the effects of visual aids in political literacy by Breanna Wright of Stony Brook University. Political psychology is not new (Merriam, 1924) but its resurgence is evident (Political Psychology). In the current environment, identity politics is at a new high (or low if you are disapproving of it). What the News Means to Me: An Exploratory Experiment Investigating Social Identity Salience After News Exposure by Ming Boyer and Sophie Lecheler of the University of Vienna was an interesting dive into identity politics in Austria. Echoing what we experience in the U.S., their research illustrated the intersection of politics and communication or Political Communication. While the topics in the program were extensive and diverse, in my view, the demographics of the graduates were not representative (which was a challenge for the conference more generally).

Moving from those presenting posters to an Author-Meets-Critics session, I was moved to another world where scholars were more seasoned, but fortunately, still as passionate about their work.

First, Chris Sepeda-Millan of UC Berkeley discussed his first book, Latino Mass Mobilization: Immigration, Racialization, and Activism. Well-received by the critics in the session, Sepeda-Millan introduces a term worth mentioning: “racialized illegality.” This elegantly merges the controversial issues of race and legal status into a single term,  capturing inequitable approaches to legal status based on race. I suggest, in fact, that racialized illegality captures the real underpinnings of the decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1856).

Andrea Benjamin of University of Missouri’s book Racial Coalition Building in Local Elections: Elite Clues and Cross-Ethnic Voting was also well-received. It reminds us of the immortal words of the former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Tip O’Neill who said, “all politics is local. Dr. Benjamin was also concerned with diffusion of her work, having written an op-ed piece and contemplated a podcast.

I had the opportunity to be actively involved rather than merely an observer. First, I was a panelist in a session for graduate students about interviewing for jobs at teaching schools. While each panelist was able to cast their own pearls of wisdom, what I found most surprising– and disappointing–was the guidance, or lack thereof, provided by many schools.

In one case, the student had been told he should not waste any more time teaching classes, even though he had not taught any introduction courses, a requirement of new faculty at almost any university. In another case, the student had gained no teaching experience at all!

While it is crucial that we are able to diffuse knowledge not only to political science majors but to students from any discipline, I humbly submit that discouraging a student interested in teaching, coupled with their lack of pedagogic experience is a recipe for catastrophic failure. Our students–and the discipline– deserve better.

Finally, I shared a meal with Barbara dos Santos of American University and some other students working on environmental politics. They were not only enthusiastic, but embraced the need for knowledge diffusion and its potential impact on society.

Overall, I hope my conference vignettes show that our work is important, interesting, and can meaningfully contribute to relevant spheres in society. The graduate students I met demonstrated the knowledge and skills to carry on the work. The conundrum, however, is whether we remain in our academic towers or start responding to the question, “What have you done for me lately?”

Our futures may depend on our willingness to rise to the occasion, by any means necessary.

About the Author: Harold Young is a blogger at the 2018 Midwest Political Science Association conference. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. His research focuses on Public Law and examines an American and international perspective on judicial institutional changes and decision-making. Previously, he worked as a health communications manager, a social worker and practiced law. Read more from Harold on the MPSA blog and Avnon World Series. He can be reached at youngh@apsu.edu.

 

Reflections on the #MPSA18 Mentoring Reception

On the second day of the 76th Annual Conference, MPSA held a mentoring reception for which graduate students, PhD recipients in non-academic positions, junior, mid-career, and contingent faculty could select volunteer mentors for small group mentoring to discuss their current research and professional aspirations. This post is written from my perspective as a graduate student mentee.

By Charmaine N. Willis of University at Albany, SUNY

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MPSA Mentoring Reception at the 2018 Conference in Chicago

As a graduate student and a first-time attendee to MPSA’s Annual Conference, I decided to participate in the mentoring reception. As a third-year PhD student wrapping up my coursework, I want to get all of the information and opinions I can about doctoral work and the notorious academic job market. I was admittedly skeptical of remarks about the enormity of the conference and the Palmer Hotel (it can’t really be THAT overwhelming, right?), but I immediately discovered upon entering the hotel that the rumors were true. After going up and down the same escalators pretending not to be lost and eventually finding my way to the Red Lacquer room, I was really looking forward to the mentoring reception as a way to ease into the conference.

Registration for the reception was required prior to the conference through an easy process via the MPSA website. Mentees can select from a wide range of mentors based on their research interests, their mentoring comfort level (ex. graduate students vs. mid-career faculty), and their position, ranging from post-docs and visiting assistant professors to those on the tenure track. As a female student, identifying female mentors is important to me and I was happy to note that there was a fairly even distribution of female and male scholars. One of the fields on the registration form asks you to submit a question or topic that you would like your mentor to cover, which helps them prepare for the meeting and prompts the mentee to think more about what you would like to get out of the meeting. (Pro tip: write down the question/topic you submitted prior to the conference because you may forget it, like I did!) It is helpful to generate an additional list of questions you would like to ask your mentor in advance of the conference, particularly if you do not have a mentor that is readily accessible in your own program.

The reception was held in the Red Laquer Room at the Palmer House, a low-key atmosphere despite the elegant décor. After locating my name card and my table, I sat down with my mentor and other mentees. Based on my own experience and the conversations I overheard at the reception, it seemed that mentors gave candid, “real” answers to our sometimes difficult questions instead of the evasive answers we might hear at departmental presentations: How does one navigate this difficult job market? What is an academic interview really like? What types of publications should we try to get for our CVs prior to embarking on the market? Should we try to collaborate more with faculty members or fellow graduate students? The mentors’ openness is, I think, partly due to the relaxed atmosphere and partly because these mentors have graciously volunteered their time: they genuinely want to help graduate students and other junior scholars.

One aspect that I had not anticipated prior to attending the reception is the advice from fellow graduate students. In our cohorts, our departments, and our discipline, we as graduate students often forget how valuable other graduate students are as resources. Part of this is emblematic of doctoral work and academia at large: we are islands. However, the importance of networking, collaborating, or merely talking with other graduate students in other programs should not be overlooked. As with the mentors, the mentees were diverse in terms of their identities, the universities they hail from, the expectations of their departments (ex. different emphases for graduate students), their research interests, and the number of years spent in their respective doctoral programs. The result is that one is at least able to commiserate on the hardships of graduate school and at most able to receive some valuable advice. In my case, I had completed the fewest number of years in my PhD program (3) and received some great advice from fellow PhD students along the lines of “when I was in my third year, I wish I had…” In that sense, one might also think of questions that they want to ask fellow mentees and/or simply other PhD students at the MPSA conference that have different experiences than your own.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I learned from my mentor and fellow mentees and I hope that others had a similarly productive experience.

About the Author: Charmaine Willis is a current PhD Student at the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the University at Albany, SUNY. Her current research interests are Northeast Asian regional dynamics; civil society development in non-Western contexts; and contentious politics with a specific focus on anti-US military base mobilization. Willis is also a blogger for the 2018 MPSA conference in Chicago. She can be reached at cwillis@albany.edu or on Twitter.

More Bridging, Less Bonding: New Views of Social Capital

(or, Why I am Going to Watch Roseanne)

by Michael A. Smith of Emporia State University

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Social capital h
as been a popular concept in political science, at least since the publication of Almond and Verba’s classic book The Civic Culture in 1963.  The idea waned for a while, then came roaring back in the early 2000s with the publication of Robert Putnam’s widely-cited Bowling Alone. Putnam believed that too much TV time ate away the bonds that connect communities, and he was not happy about it, arguing that it weakens ties to parties, interest groups, and other connections that sustain our political system. It also leaves us more lonely.

The basic idea of social capital is that the ties connecting each us to one another are a type of capital. Instead of money or other assets, social capital is something we can use for a variety of purposes, from finding meaning to seeking work, to being active in politics via a party, interest group, or other organization. In general, the thinking goes, the thicker the bonds of social capital, the richer the political culture and the more connected we will all be.

Of course, things never seem to quite work out so simply.

At this year’s MPSA conference, recently concluded, a lot of the buzz surrounded a distinction between bridging and bonding social capital. Bonding social capital is within-group. You build bonding capital when you connect with people that have similar religious beliefs, political views, perceptions of ethnicity—some may even be your relatives. Bonding capital can provide a sense of place and meaning, help one find a home, partner, and job, and reinforce a sense of identity, but at a price. At MPSA, I witnessed several different presentations, at multiple panels, using different datasets, all reaching similar conclusions: “thick” ties of in-group, or bonding social capital make one less trustful of those outside your social group. In diverse societies or even homogenous societies where people feel threatened by those just outside their borders, strong bonding capital can worsen tensions and deepen mistrust not within, but between groups.

The downside of bonding capital reminds me of one of my favorite works in 20th century political theory. Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s classic Moral Man and Immoral Society suggested that the deeper the trust and deeper the ties within a social group, the more likely members of that group will support behavior and policies that were cruel, ruthless, possibly even genocidal toward the “other.” Of course, Niebuhr, a German-American whose writings had a major impact on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was alarmed by the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany, but his ideas are applicable elsewhere as well. The bottom line here is, in Niebuhr’s time, and in ours, bonding capital can have a dangerous shadow side.

Fortunately, there is an alternative. Bridging social capital is built when one makes ties with those in other social groups—other religions, ethnicities, political parties, etc. Bridging capital cuts across groups rather than reinforcing in-group identity. As always, with real-world data from real-world people, the results of many analyses presented at the conference this year were mixed. However, there were enough significant results to offer hope that bridging capital can help to reduce religious, ethnic, and political tensions instead of worsening them, while maintaining that sense of belonging.

The upshot: it turns out that it is not enough to follow the advice of Putnam by seeking to build social capital. Which kind of social capital matters—and for diverse societies, rich bridging capital ties are especially crucial to avoid deepening rivalries among groups.

While it may be a stretch, I cannot resist speculating that this has rich implications for us right here in the U.S. of A. As the norm of objective news media declines and is replaced by something akin to the partisan newspapers that drove opinion in the 18th and 19th centuries, we increasingly find Democrats and Republicans with our own news—not to mention our own neighborhoods, stores, travel destinations, and hobbies. You won’t find too many Democrats at the gun club these days—nor Republicans at the yoga studio. This is a shame. We even have our own entertainment outlets. Stephen Colbert’s Late Show, basically MSNBC with jokes, has no appeal for Republicans save the love-to-hate variety, while liberals are now boycotting new episodes of Trump-supporting Roseanne.

I cannot help but think that these separate forms of news (or “news”), entertainment, working, living, and leisure are leading to the formation of more bonding capital among Democrats and Republicans, respectively, while tearing away at what is left of our bridging capital. Why else would there be semi-serious talk of impeaching every President since Clinton—who actually was impeached—not to mention widely-varying views on just about every wedge issue imaginable, including which bathrooms people use.

Maybe we need more bridging capital here in the USA. I know that for me, as a liberal, I particularly enjoy reading serious, thoughtful conservatives such as Edmund Burke, Leo Strauss, William F. Buckley, Jr., and George F. Will. F.A. Hayek brings a thoughtful libertarian perspective, too. I rarely read liberal editorials or watch Colbert or MSNBC, because I leave with my anger aroused, having learned nothing, because the ideological assumptions involved just reinforce what I already believe. Also, and I am sorry to have to be the one to say it, but Colbert’s new show just isn’t as funny as his old one was.

Between now and the 2019 conference, I propose that we all take a vow to read and discuss the most thoughtful ideas we can find, offered up by those with different views from our own. I want to better understand the views of those who disagree with me, and I’m tired of just reinforcing my own group identity. I already know what I believe, the question is what is going to challenge me and push my thinking to the next level. Like a good workout, political theory is not much good unless it has some resistance built into it.

Let’s all build some bridging capital this year.

I think I may start by watching a couple episodes of Roseanne.

See you at #MPSA19!

About the author: Michael A. Smith is a Professor of Political Science at Emporia State University where he teaches classes on state and local politics, campaigns and elections, political philosophy, legislative politics, and nonprofit management. Read more on the MPSA blog from Smith and follow him on Twitter.

Politics and Ontology in Thucydides’ story of Alcmaeon

By Borden Flanagan of American University

Flanagan-PullQuoteThe story of Alcmaeon, in an emphatically unnecessary digression, frames Periclean imperialism in terms of the cosmological themes of motion and rest, thereby suggesting how ontological questions are disclosed in fundamental political problems.

Thucydides’ Archaeology and war narrative are cast in terms of motion and rest. (Human community begins in constant motion, settles into a cycle of motion and rest; Athens the city of motion/empire, Sparta of rest/devotion to law, etc.) The Alcmaeon story begins with a description of motion and rest as expressed in the interplay of earth and water in the river Achelous, before turning to Alcmaeon himself. Condemned by Apollo to ceaseless motion for having murdered his mother, Alcmaeon settles finally on the Achelous river delta, land created by the motion of the river. It is unclear whether Alcmaeon circumvented Apollo’s curse by finding land that did not exist when Apollo declared all ground polluted for him, or settled there by Apollo’s direction. The former possibility suggests that divine commands are less powerful than natural processes, much as the Athenians argue that natural compulsion renders their empire blameless before gods and men. The latter suggests divine patience/forgiveness for human weakness and longing. Both possibilities undermine hope for justice, and call into question whether justice has a natural ground, yet without debunking it. Apollo recedes from the story.

Alcmaeon’s crime, matricide, suggests hubris by denying or forgetting one’s subordination to the order of generation, an order protected by divine and human law. It is to treat oneself as sui-generis and self-sufficient, free of the cycle of growth and decay, as if immortal. His punishment is to be homeless, without origin or end. This makes him miserable, suggesting that happiness requires accepting one’s rootedness in generation and mortality. Alcmaeon finds a home only by acknowledging his need to ground himself on the interplay of motion and rest, on the land created by water, and on this acceptance of his subordination to flux is thereby able to generate his own line and patrimony.

Several textual clues suggest a connection to Pericles. Thematically, Pericles’ imperial project resembles Alcmaeon’s hubris. Demoting the ancestors in his funeral speech, Pericles promises immortal glory for civic devotion, sums up Athenian virtue in the word autarkes or self-sufficiency, and treats Athens as subject to no principle above her own excellence. He never mentions the gods, and promises, through Athenian motion, a rest that is beyond all motion, abstracted from motion. The demotion of the ancestors suggests that ambition seeks self-sufficiency lest one’s glory be reduced to a reflection of another’s. One must deny one’s beginning as well as one’s end, because the former implies the latter; one must deny that one has been caused, that one is implicated in the process of motion and rest. Otherwise, glory would fail to assert one’s selfhood against the flux. The demotion of the ancestors is part and parcel of Pericles’ denial of the salience of the gods, for the apotheosis that is the promise of the empire requires subordination to neither. (In the last speech, where Pericles declares the irrelevance of the divine, imperial glory is cast as an escape from nature.)

The illusion of ontological self-sufficiency is the heart of matricidal hubris and love of glory. This is reflected in Pericles’ description of Athenian virtue, whose central theme is freedom and self-sufficiency. Easy courage, daring and deliberation, and autarkes or self-sufficiency all characterize Athens as a calm axis at the center of whirling motion, a rest from which motion flows but which is herself unmoved. Pericles presents Athens as cause par excellence, both as force compelling enemies and as school of Hellas.

Thucydides thus suggests that a core political passion, the eros for glory, has a transpolitical goal; politics seeks apotheosis. To understand politics one must understand the transpolitical character of its longings. Framing this longing in terms of motion/rest likewise reframes the soul. Eros is akin to motion, a seeking of what is beyond or absent, of a rest that is apontos. In eros for glory the soul seeks to be a self that is flash-frozen in the moment of maximal virtue, static but without an inside, beyond time and causality. The soul however is both motion and rest, is caused and is a locus of causes. It therefore cannot be thought of apart from its mortality; our longing to transcend our limits teaches us our limits. This prepares us for Alcmaeon’s acceptance of his rootedness in flux, the basis of his recovered happiness and sanity. But this education of eros requires its transformation, from a longing for immortality to a consideration of what that means to a reflection on its own character, and on what it has in common with the cosmic order whose permanence it wishes to assimilate.

Following out this hierarchy of questions raises, finally, the question of Being, in two ways. First, the dyad of motion and rest appears as a paradox; each is neither separable from nor reducible to the other, they cannot be understood separately, and so their being remains mysterious. Dialectic points beyond itself, must be resolved on a higher plane than the dialectic itself. If nature is motion and rest, by virtue of what? Second, toying with the problem of whether justice is precluded by natural necessity (the claim made by the Athenians about their empire) and whether motion/rest precludes divine authority and law (the same problem as captured in the Alcmaeon story) raises questions of ultimate grounds. Thucydides neither endorses nor debunks the Athenian Thesis on Justice. He successfully casts the question of justice in terms of nature but without offering an answer to that question.  Human nature needs and destroys justice, supports and undermines it. The questionable character of justice thereby suggests the questionable character of nature. By virtue of what is nature the way it is? If the problem inherent in the surface of Alcmaeon’s story is Apollo’s strange withdrawal from that story, the heart of it is the question of Being.


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About the Author: Borden Flanagan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Government at American University. His research “Alcmaeon’s Islands: Motion and Rest in Thucydides was recently honored with the Review of Politics Award for the best paper in normative political theory.