Friday's post on the irrelevance of IR theory to understanding al-Qaeda or Islamism generated an unusually high quality of responses - indeed, I'd be happy to put it out there as a model of what an online academic peer review system could look like. In this follow-up, let me try to respond to some of the many interesting comments and critiques; I'll update later today as more responses come in.
To recap, Friday's post looked at 7 leading IR journals (actually 6 plus the APSR) and found that only 3% of some 800 articles even loosely touched on questions of terrorism, al-Qaeda, or Islamism. Policy journals, by contrast, are full of such analysis - often by IR scholars. I interpreted this as evidence for the irrelevance of IR theory to the question - whether because of the nature of the theories, the nature of the field, or something else, the highest prestige IR journals had nothing to say.
Here are some of the main criticisms, and my attempts to respond:
- Dan Drezner, and many others, point out that I shouldn't have left out International Security, which is a high-prestige, peer-reviewed, and generally excellent journal. I agree with all of the above, and agree that I shouldn't have left it out. So I went and did the same thing for IS. Since 2002, IS has published 72 articles. Of those there are 7 which are loosely about al-Qaeda, Islamism, or terrorism (mostly the last): one on intelligence failures and reform; a review of the 9/11 Commission Report; 3 articles on bio-terrorism; and 2 on the relationship between globalization and terrorism. If I just wanted to defend my hypothesis, I would only count three of those (the two on globalization, and the review), but I'll include all 7 to be as fair as possible. That generous coding brings the total count to 32 out of 868, or 3.7%.
- What about other security-centered journals? Of the ones named by various critics, I would only count Security Studies as in the same prestige league (theoretically-oriented, peer-reviewed, etc) as the ones under review. Not just in my opinion: Sue Peterson and Michael Tierney's recent survey of IR professors did
give us a ranking of "prestige" of IR journals. The only ones not
included in my list (other than International Security) are Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy (clearly policy
journals) and the American Journal of Political Science, which I'm
fairly sure would knock the number down even lower. Anyway, I did look at Security Studies: it published 59 articles since 2002, of which zero deal with Islamism, al-Qaeda, or terrorism (although a case could be made for Ron Hassner's piece on "sacred spaces"). That would bring the count to 3.5% (32 or 33 out of 927). Overall, the critique that including the security journals I ignored would change the picture was a valid hypothesis; the evidence suggests that it doesn't really make a difference.
- Lag time: one of the strongest criticisms is that it's just too soon to expect to see serious scholarship on 9/11 related themes. Established scholars would take time, and would sacrifice serious sunk costs in terms of skills and expertise, if they retooled to deal with Islamism or terrorism. Graduate students would only now be at the stage of completing their dissertations. Either way, before indicting the field, I should wait another 3-4 years. Maybe. On the one hand, yes - other than the 'instant experts', the Middle East area experts, or the generalists, it does take time (my first article specifically about Islamism only came out at the beginning of this year, for example). And the writing, submission, review, revise and resubmit, review, and finally get on the line for publication takes quite a long time at most journals (hello, IO). But two points. First, the response of the IR field to the end of the Cold War was much more rapid and intellectually productive. The first major symposium on the end of the Cold War in International Organization was in the spring of 1994, although some articles appeared earlier; International Security was publishing important articles about it in winter 1991-92. Depending on whether you count from 1989 or 1991 as the end of the Cold War determines how you count the lag. More important, though, is that by 1991-92, there was already a lot of major stuff in the pipeline that the whole field was talking about. I still remember a 1991 conference at Cornell on the end of the cold war, with many of the field's heavyweights participating. There's not really anything like that going on right now in the field about al-Qaeda or Islamism, at least that I'm aware of - I'd be happy to be pointed to examples proving me wrong. As Dan Drezner point out, "Take the Princeton Project on National Security's latest working paper on grand strategy for example (co-authored by Frank Fukuyama and John Ikenberry). Al Qaeda is mentioned three times; terrorism is mentioned sixteen times. China, in contrast, gets 127 mentions." Anyway, the "pipeline" shouldn't be completely obscure - if there is a lot of stuff in the pipeline, we should be seeing it by now in the form of conference papers (I first presented my piece on Islamism at the 2003 APSA, for instance). So I just did a quick search of the paper archives for last year's American Political Science Association annual meeting. I only found about 25 papers about anything to do with the topics at hand (another 70 or so mention al-Qaeda in passing to explain something else); by contrast I got 481 hits on "alliances", 365 on "Iraq", and 325 on "China" (but take that with many, many grains of salt, since I'd have to do the same exercise on those - knocking out papers not really about those topics - to make it comparatively valid... see how methodologically accomodating I am?)
- Okay, moving on... a number of people validly complained that other subfields do it better. No argument there - the contentious politics literature has a lot to say about the subject, for example, and Sid Tarrow's recent book Transnational Political Activism is a good place to start. But this actually strengthens my case: these are generally not considered to be "IR" by those in the business of enforcing disciplinary boundaries (which, believe it or not, I'm not.)
- Dan Nexon and others suggest that IR's neglect of terrorism and al-Qaeda is rational because it is not in fact especially significant. That's an important point worthy of more extended discussion than I can give it here. I will say, though, that even if that's true, it would still put the field quite at odds with the main trends in American foreign policy. Ignoring something which objectively speaking has had a major effect in changing American foreign policy, and therefore the international system, would need more justification than "more people die in traffic accidents."
I'm sure there are more good points out there, but I'm out of time right now. I'll try to update later.
UPDATE 1: I'm reminded that International Organization put together a companion journal, Dialog-IO, which published some really interesting articles on terrorism and 9/11 by Peter Katzenstein, Bob Keohane, Ron Deibert and Janice Stein, David Lake, Peter Gourevitch, and David Leheny. Alas, this journal only published one subsequent article - a critique of a Jeff Legro article by Dan Nexon and Pat Jackson - and then disappeared into obscurity. How to interpret this? On the one hand, the journal IO and some major theorists did try to respond; but their articles were cordoned off into essentially a one-shot special issue which doesn't even show up in most searches.
UPDATE 2: Millennium did a special issue on religion and international relations in 2000 (and published an article of mine on the "Dialogue of Civilizations" in that same year - including that journal wouldn't help the constructivists' cause in the 2002-2005 range, but does speak to some pre-9/11 interest in the topic on their partnbsp;