By Harold “Harry” Young of Austin Peay State University
At this year’s MPSA conference, I was on a mission to uncover what participants were so serious about as they hovered over laptops and chatted in small groups. My personal interactions revealed groups generally mystified and frightened by the current political environment with some tinged with anger. Most of all, however, I was interested in what was going on in the sessions that filled the hard copy of the 524-page conference guide (yes, I know some people downloaded the app). I wanted some answers to the question “what have you done for me (the public) lately?” What one finds depends on where one looks but overall I concluded that the state of political science is strong (in academia). Therefore, if you missed the conference, here are few snapshots.
The first snapshot is about books and journals exhibited by publishers accompanied by acquisition editors. We want to publish and the publishers were there with books and journals everywhere with displays of academic classics, highly specialized topics, books on “hot” contemporary issues and the up-to-date journals. Though impressive, the question of who reads these outside of academia haunts me (and us). We must ask ourselves the question, what is the point if there is no diffusion? In the current anti-intellectualist environment, we pay a price for academic snobbery. I am encouraged, however, by Christopher Schaberg’s suggestion that publishing is multifaceted and something to live with rather than live for in Publish or Perish? Yes. Embrace It! This approach may encourage us to take steps to increase or enhance public diffusion as we move toward our next projects.
The second snapshot reflects our interest in understanding the “now” with the hope of informing the future. Again, the issue of public relevance and diffusion arise. I humbly suggest that some of the research presented will, and probably should, remain in academia. However, it is all about priming and framing (Scheufele & Tewksbury 2006). Exemplary of this was research presented by Rebekah Dowd and Adnan Rasool comparing the recent presidential elections in the U.S. (Trump v. Clinton) and France (Macron v. Le Pen) and social media messaging surrounding the campaigns. The research had all the right elements – politics, salient issues, social media, comparative, and well-done. Having extracted the data from the public domain, let us hope they can make their findings accessible to the public.
Finally, there was plenty for “us” to ponder and digest. The “now” issues I listened in on included the current U.S. President, Russia, immigration, race, new media, cultural identity, authoritarianism, balance of power (domestic and international), and the environment. While encouraging everyone to review the repository at MPSA Conference 2018, I highlight two presentations. The first is Phillipp Alexander Schroeder, University of London, who presented on one of my favorite topics – judicial review and the interaction with legislative preferences. The second is Nicholas Howard and David Alan Hughes, both of Auburn University at Montgomery, who presented on the interactions of the courts and environmental policymaking. Again, my hope is that they can make their findings accessible outside of academia.
While this year’s MPSA conference provided a platform for some of the best to share and receive feedback, there was a deep awareness of the political environment and the importance of context. While they stood by their research, several presenters noted that they must acknowledge that the current environment is so different than the next step is to re-examine their finding in light of the changes and the new political realities. That a real and ongoing challenge for our discipline which caused me to refocus my question of “why we are forced to contribute in a meaningful way” to encompass not just our understanding of the world but also society more generally.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.