Differential Electoral Coordination of House Republican Intraparty Organizations

By Zachary A. McGee of the University of Texas at Austin

Differential Electoral Coordination of House Republican Intraparty Organizations

At the start of the 115th Congress the Republican Party finally achieved unified government for the first time in more than a decade. Unfortunately for Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, his conference was not unified, and in fact, they were prepared to organize against him. My project seeks to highlight the power of an understudied set of actors who are important for understanding dynamics in the lower chamber of Congress.

Intraparty organizations, such as the House Freedom Caucus (HFC) or the Republican Study Committee (RSC), play a critical role in rank-and-file members extracting benefits from powerful party leaders. Ruth Bloch Rubin shows the power these members can have when they organize in her recent book Building the Bloc. More specifically, she shows that these groups are able to obtain better committee assignments, legislative concessions, and privileged access to party leaders. My project builds on her work by asking whether the extraction of these benefits might lead to retribution by the party in subsequent electoral cycles and how these groups might insulate themselves from that retribution.

In the modern Congress members, not their parties, generate most of their own financial support. That is, members build their own war chests and most members give some of their money to their fellow members. This practice is especially prominent among party leaders or ambitious members seeking more power but has also gradually grown to be used by almost all rank-and-file members as well. At the 2017 MPSA conference, I presented a paper entitled “Keeping Your Friends Close: A Study of Punishment and Intraparty Insurgency.” In that paper, I argue that, in the same way that party leaders can raise and distribute funds to members in return for loyalty, intraparty organization members can raise and distribute funds to fellow group members for their loyalty and protection after squabbles with party leaders.

To test my claims about intraparty organizations’ electoral cooperation and political party retribution, I examine the House Republican Party in the 2014 and 2016 election cycles. My analysis focuses on the well-established Republican Study Committee and the newly established, and already infamous, House Freedom Caucus. I use social network analysis to map the member-to-member contribution networks for all House Republicans. That is, I create a network wherein each member of the House Republican Party is linked to every other member they transferred money to in each given election cycle. The contribution data are from itemized Leadership Political Action Committee (LPAC) disbursement data from the Federal Election Commission.

Figure 1: Member-to-Member Network (2016 Electoral Cycle) Note: Rank-and-file members are red nodes, party leaders and committee chairs are purple nodes, and House Freedom Caucus members are green nodes.
Figure 1: Member-to-Member Network (2016 Electoral Cycle)
 Note: Rank-and-file members are red nodes, party leaders and committee chairs are purple nodes, and House Freedom Caucus members are green nodes.

My analysis reveals that members who chose to join the House Freedom Caucus altered their electoral disbursements to disproportionately support fellow group members. In fact, I find not only an increase in HFC members’ activity but also that they cluster together in the 2016 network. This cluster, defined by HFC-centric disbursements, reveals three potential HFC members that do not formally affiliate with the group: Pete Sessions (TX-32), Daniel Webster (FL-11), and Thomas Massie (KY-4). This finding is particularly interesting since the formal HFC roster is not public knowledge.

The pattern of support identified within the House Freedom Caucus does not exist among members of the larger and older Republican Study Committee. In other words, there is no clear financial relationship between members of this well-established intraparty organization. This finding illustrates that electoral coordination is not uniform across all intraparty organizations, which is interesting because we know almost nothing about what attributes of these groups leads to more or less cohesive electoral strategies. Clearly, more work to parse out across-group variation is necessary.

Finally, I find that non-HFC House Republicans opted to support HFC members less after the group formally organized (i.e. in the 2016 electoral cycle). While I provide evidence that co-partisans treat intraparty organization members differently before and after their formation, one can only speculate about the extent to which this coordination was ordered by party leaders. Whether or not party leaders are able to execute micro-level management of their members’ contributions to one another is an interesting question. Unfortunately, evidence to answer this question remains elusive. Nevertheless, the management of intraparty organizations by party leaders remains an area ripe for scholarly inquiry.

The analysis presented in my paper provides an important first step in understanding how intraparty organizations persist to consistently extract benefits from party leaders (e.g. the House Freedom Caucus) or become bloated and ineffective (e.g. the Republican Study Committee). Moreover, the collective partisan responses to intraparty organization coordination suggest that these groups are likely perceived to have some impact on the legislative process causing members to withhold support from their colleagues who opt-in to these groups. It remains unclear how successful these groups actually are in impacting the policy process though.

For scholars, this project also demonstrates that member-to-member contribution networks are a useful tool for studying intraparty organizations. I presented an empirical evaluation of the electoral coordination of these groups, but I also showed that networks can be used to identify potential group members for groups with secret membership rolls (like the HFC). This method can certainly be applied to other groups like the Tuesday Group or the Blue Dog Democrats.

Outside of its academic contributions, my paper suggests that pundits and the public alike should not underestimate the power and longevity of well-organized groups of rank-and-file members. These groups can successfully and consistently challenge powerful party leaders and coordinate for their own survival. The successes of the HFC since the start of the 115th Congress alone should cement this point. But, the HFC is not the first, nor will it be the last, group to form and extract benefits from party leaders. The takeaway for any given citizen then is this, if your member of Congress is a member of any intraparty organization then you should research that organization’s mission and take it into consideration when casting your next ballot.

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About the Author: Zachary A. McGee is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Texas at Austin. His research focuses on multiple aspects of intraparty organizations and their role in the U.S. Congress. More information can be found on his website
www.zacharymcgee.net and he can be reached at zmcgee@utexas.edu.

McGee’s research “Keeping Your Friends Close: A Study of Punishment and Intraparty Insurgency“, presented at the 2017 MPSA conference, received the award for Best Paper Delivered by a Graduate Student.

What 18,000 Declassified Documents (and a Computer) Reveal About the Credibility of Signals During Crises

By Eric Min of Stanford University

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Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, left, and U.S. President John F. Kennedy sit in the residence of the U.S. ambassador in Vienna, Austria, at the start of their historic talks. [AP/Wide World Photo/US Department of State]
For the last couple decades, international relations scholars have fervently debated the credibility of signals during crises. Thomas Schelling’s work, followed by James Fearon’s audience cost theory and its offshoots, has popularized the belief that public signals are more credible because they implicate higher costs to take back. More specifically, costs from hand-tying through public words are greater than those from cost-sinking through public deeds. Private words are cheap. Some recent research has countered these claims by arguing that private signals can be just as costly in reputation as their public counterparts.

Two forms of path dependency have shaped and limited the contours of this discussion. First, likely due to Schelling’s enormous influence, most studies have focused on costs as the main and potentially only source of credibility. Second, without systematic data on diplomatic signals or how elites interpret them, scholars have used formal models and historical case studies to bolster their points. These methods have been valuable but also allow for different forms of cherry-picking.

At the 2017 MPSA conference, my co-author Azusa Katagiri and I presented a paper entitled “The Credibility of Public and Private Signals: A Document-Based Approach,” which offers two corresponding innovations to this debate. First, we present a novel rationale for why words exchanged behind closed doors may be more informative, and thus credible, than words exchanged in public. Second, we use text analysis and machine learning methods to create a comprehensive set of data on private statements, public statements, public actions, and White House evaluations of the Soviet Union during the Berlin Crisis of 1958 to 1963. These data permit the first quantitative study of diplomatic signaling and its effects.

The core of our theoretical argument is based on information processing/perception and relies on a more realistic understanding of the diplomatic environment, where policymakers are overloaded with tasks to perform and information to process. It is also intuitive. (Our argument’s framing has changed since we presented in 2017, so please check the revised paper.) So many statements are made in public that governmental actors—whether low-ranking desk officers or Cabinet members—cannot reliably keep up with or process them. Moreover, even though public statements are designed for and directed toward specific audiences, nobody can prevent other actors from noticing and (mis)interpreting those words. Public diplomatic statements are very noisy. In contrast, private diplomatic statements are infrequent, precise, and directed at one audience, all of which decreases their likelihood of being ignored or misperceived. This gives them important informational value and credibility.

We test these claims using over 18,000 de-classified documents from the Berlin Crisis of 1958 to 1963, which we photographed at the National Archives and the Eisenhower and Kennedy Presidential Libraries. This is a full collection of cables and memos during one of the most serious crises in American history. The documents come from three sources, which align with our concepts of interest: the Department of State (private statements from the Soviet Union), the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (public statements from the Soviet Union), and the White House (American elites’ assessments of Soviet intentions).

To convert these documents into quantitative data, we use a series of text analysis and supervised learning methods to make weekly-level measures of private statements of Soviet resolve (ostensibly costless), public statements of Soviet resolve (hand-tying), and White House perceptions of Soviet resolve. We also use The New York Times to manually create a measure of costly public actions by the Soviet Union (cost-sinking).

Statistical analysis points to three results:

  • First, costly actions have far greater impacts on perceptions of resolve than either public or private statements.
  • Second, private statements are indeed less frequent and more focused compared to public statements.
  • Third, and consequently, private statements of resolve are more credible and affect White House perceptions of Soviet resolve than public statements.

These findings completely rearrange the hierarchy of signal credibility. Most research on costly signals would put them in this order of credibility:

Public statements > Public actions > Private statements

However, according to the information processing perspective, as well as our data, we get this:

Public actions > Private statements > Public statements

Our research has implications that are relevant to the current diplomatic situation with North Korea. President Trump’s bellicose tweets throughout 2017 and early 2018 were indeed unprecedented and increased the risk of grave unintended consequences, but fears about being committed to conflict were overblown. Not only have President Trump’s erratic and inconsistent statements already undermined his credibility, but his tweets were only one of multiple streams of public statements from his administration that were more measured or sought to engage in diplomacy. (For example, consider positions taken by Secretary Mattis or former Secretary of State Tillerson.) Conversely, claims that President Trump’s tweets recently intimidated North Korea into coming back to the table are also debatable. U.S. troop deployments and joint military exercises with South Korea have arguably been more important to American credibility.

Private diplomacy is a vital conduit through which to make clear and direct statements to one’s adversary, stripped away of incentives to perform for an outside audience. Unlike what President Trump has said about diplomacy with North Korea in the past, it is not “a waste of time.” Mike Pompeo’s secret trip to North Korea, while clearly unorthodox since he was then director of the CIA, underscores this point. But it is also for this reason that direct talks between Trump and Kim may be unwise. The higher up the ladder talks start (before lower-level officials already work out issues behind closed doors), the less likely they are to be truly private, and the more likely it becomes for both individuals to engage in public posturing instead of substantive discussions.

Our paper injects a new theoretical and empirical perspective to the study of signaling. Not only do we highlight the importance of private diplomatic activity, but we demonstrate how contemporary computational methods can be harnessed to explore the dynamics of crisis diplomacy. We look forward to extending this line of research in the future.

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About the Authors: Azusa Katagiri is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Global Affairs at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. His other research focuses on the micro-foundations of state behavior, and bureaucratic decision-making in conflict, and US-Japan relations. He can be reached at
azusak@ntu.edu.sg.

Eric Min is a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University and will be an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Los Angeles starting in the fall of 2018. His broader research applies new data and methods to analyze the strategic interaction of fighting and negotiating during war. He can be reached at ericmin@stanford.edu and is also on Twitter.

Their research “The Effectiveness of Public and Private Signals: A Document-Based Approach, presented at the 2017 MPSA conference, received the Robert H. Durr Award which recognizes the best paper applying quantitative methods to a substantive problem.

Foster Care Privatization: How an Increasingly Popular Public Policy Leads to Increased Levels of Abuse and Neglect

MPSA blog - Eatough - Foster Care Privatization

Foster care in the United States is dramatically influenced by federal and state legislation. Since the late 1990s policies establishing privatized foster care have become increasingly popular throughout the country. The privatization of foster care, much like the privatization of other government services, has been favored because of perceived increases in efficiency and economic effectiveness by private providers. However, opponents of foster care privatization suggest that by prioritizing efficiency and cost-effectiveness over the quality of placements children in the system receive there is an increased potential for abuse and neglect in the system.

My project, Foster Care Privatization: How an Increasingly Popular Public Policy Leads to Increased Levels of Abuse and Neglect, evaluates how differentiation in foster care privatization policies may influence the quality of care received by children in the system – specifically focusing on the incidence of abuse and neglect – by measuring potential effects of privatization through three analyses:

  • Whether changes in foster care policies have an immediate effect on the privatization level or incidence of abuse or neglect in a state.
  • Whether there are differences in placement goals by privatized and non-privatized agencies that reflect the hypothesized cost-effectiveness of privatization.
  • Whether children in privatized placements are more likely to experience abuse or neglect than children in non-privatized placements.

To measure each of these effects I used a dataset of each foster care placement and removal in the United States from 2000 to 2014 (from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Reporting System or AFCARS). This dataset is the most comprehensive set of information about children in foster care in the United States and includes demographic and placement/removal information for each child.

The first analysis, a set of 86 time-series models, showed that changes in foster care legislation have the potential to cause an immediate effect on the privatization level and quality of placements received by children in the foster care system. While privatization legislation did not indicate an immediate change in the privatization level or incidence of abuse in every state, the immediate changes seen in half the states with major privatization policies passed indicates that privatization policies may have a direct and immediate influence on the lives of children in the foster care system.

The second analysis, a substantive comparison of placement goals for foster children based on placement privatization, showed that privatized placement agencies favor case goals that make placements efficient and less expensive. Most notably, a significant decrease is seen in the probability of a child being adopted from a privatized foster care placement when compared to placements by non-privatized agencies.

The third analysis, a set of proportional hazard models, showed that increased levels of privatization lead to an increase of unfit placements in the form of an increased risk of abuse and neglect of children. Figure 1 below shows the variation in the risk of physical abuse over time based on system privatization level (similar results were seen in models determining the risk of sexual abuse, neglect, and abandonment). Significant differences are seen between the risks of abuse and neglect the longer children have been in the foster care system, with the greatest differences seen when children remain in the system for eighteen years.

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Figure 1. Risk of Physical Abuse Over Time

Each of these outcomes indicates that as privatization in foster care increases, the quality of placements for foster care children has the potential to decrease. These results show that foster care privatization, an increasingly popular public policy, increases the risk of abuse and neglect for children in foster care. The political debates surrounding the privatization of foster care have relied heavily on anecdotal evidence that makes it nearly impossible to identify actual policy outcomes.

This project uses data that has been widely underused to address this highly politicized debate. I think that as social scientists it’s incredibly important to consider what data may be available in other disciplines (in the case of this project using a dataset predominantly used by social workers and child abuse experts) to address questions that we have. Looking for political data from the outset as a means of addressing political issues limits our ability to address important political issues. The AFCARS dataset isn’t framed as political, but it can be used to address important questions about privatization policies.

While this project focuses primarily on the anti-privatization arguments, I’m continuing work on this project to identify whether there are differences in cost-effectiveness and efficiency between privatized and non-privatized foster care placements. My hope is that this project encourages further research on the effect of public policies on those who they impact most, particularly the impact of the privatization of social services on the lives of those who rely on them. Policies that change the way individuals access or are provided services from the government are particularly important to evaluate because of the potential for immediate and detrimental outcomes for those who rely on the service.

This project has critical implications for the policy debate about the privatization of foster care both in terms of the outcome of implemented policies and the way privatization should be evaluated going forward. The identification of increased levels of abuse and neglect in privatized foster care placements suggests that if privatization is to remain the goal of American foster care, it must be improved upon. Foster care is a system that is meant to keep children from being in unsafe and unhealthy environments, it is up to the policies implemented by legislators about how the system is run to ensure that children are not being moved from one abusive situation to another.

MPSA_Awards_RecognizingOutstandingResearchAbout the Author: Mandi Eatough recently graduated from Brigham Young University with a B.A. in Political Science and will soon begin working toward earning a Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of Michigan. Eatough received the Best Undergraduate Paper Presented in a Poster Format for her research, “Foster Care Privatization: How an Increasingly Popular Public Policy Leads to Increased Levels of Abuse and Neglect “, presented at the 2017 MPSA conference.

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.