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November 14, 2005


David Edelstein


I wonder if this is the right way of thinking about this. The more interesting analysis might be to ask how many articles are being published on this subject now compared to before 9/11.

So, roughly 10% of IS's articles have been related to this subject. Is that too high or too low? There are lots of other issues--the war in Iraq, the rise of China, US hegemony--that warrant space in a journal like IS. The question is even more pertinent for a journal like APRS that has to cover the entire field of political science.

But compare that 10% now with before 9/11. Before 9/11, I'd be willing to bet you'd find very few, if any, articles in IS that deal with al-Qa'eda or Islam. The field is responding, but perhaps not as quickly as we would like.

Nur al-Cubicle

I'm just wondering why the spotlight is on English language scholarship alone? This is a big Western concern after all. For example, I've read former French FM Hubert Vedrine's book on hyperpower and 9-11 as well as that of geostrategist Pierre Encel, who has published a book on AQ, 9-11 and the geopolitical game played by Washington. Those scholars at the Centre National de Recherches Scientifiques are first class and perhaps should have wider exposure among their Anglo-Saxon peers.

Hmmmm....And just-in-time translations by a certain French-to-English and Italian-to-English translator working in collaboration with some US academic providing commentary to the French/Italian perspectives might produce some interesting scholarly output. (Ahem.)

I find that the American "security narrative" is monopolized, perhaps even manipulated, by influential pressure groups in the USA.

the aardvark

David - you're right about the past: Peter Katzenstein did a review of the pre-9/11 work on terrorism, in IO I think... there really wasn't much. The thing about IS though is that the two globalization/terrorism pieces came out right after 9/11, and were pretty good, but since then there's been nothing except for the review of the 9/11 report. The bioterror and the intel pieces were all interesting, but really not about al-Qaeda, Islamism, et al.. so the trend line really isn't upward. Whether it *should* be is really another question - I agree that China, et al, are key questions that deserve sustainted attention. But the AQ stuff really does seem under-represented.

the aardvark

One of the anonymous commenters over at Drezner's place said that I wrote all this because "I hate Realism." He's wrong, of course.. the correct answer is "I hate your freedoms."

Nick  Kaufman

Isn't the comparison with the end of the cold war a bit unnwarranted? The end of the cold war was a significant event that even though ended many of the leading assumptions and theories about the cold war, it could still be researched by a littany of scholars who had spent decades in studying it.OTOH 9/11 was more of a disruption for which little prior knowledge existed which demanded a completely new reorientation of scholarship.


Another issue with scholarship on Al Qaeda is data, or rather the absence thereof. We see a fair bit of work emerging on suicide terrorism and its logic, because we have a fair bit of data on it. There is also a lot of work on anti-Americanism, including a new high profile volume edited by Katzenstein and Keohane, which is directly concerned about islamism and terrorism. Again, we have data there. But much work on Al Qaeda remains (informed) speculation, which is why it ends up in the policy journals rather than the peer-reviewed journals.

John Penta

Nur: With language comes perspective. Languages lend themselves to different thought processes.

How to know that what is seen of as X in one language/culture is anywhere near comparable to what is seen of as X in some other?

Less cryptically and more practically: How many people doing IR theory actually are fluent in more than one language? AA seems to say "few". The spotlight is on English-language work because, well, those doing the studies speak English, and probably don't speak another language (fluently, if at all). It's a lot easier.

So, if they can't understand other languages, why do you expect people to look beyond their mother tongue?

And, in a side note:

Culture has a lot to do with this. Historically, most of American IR, comparative politics, etc. comes out of World War II and universities' participation in the war effort. The audience for most of it was either the GI in the field or the average politician, most of whom (in that age) had never left their hometown for very long prior to their service in government or the military, let alone left the country.

So American views on IR, comparative politics, etc. do have a bit of a self-absorbed side to them. It's a necessity, given that most of the general audience (still mostly politicians or political-types, or military officers) had probably never left the country before they entered the positions in which they need to pay attention to such things.


I think the time lag argument while valid indicates the current information system is obsolete. All sorts of alternatives to the existing journal system can be devised which keep most of the strengths and add new ones to the current journal based system. Publications of drafts and notes, building the credible journals around already availible documents so that they get listed along with the reasons after publication, a system that also allows the rapid formation of new journals...

The problem is politics, "ownership" of ideas, a system based on mercantile order. I would suggest that this applies to the way in which funds for research are allocated and the ways it's organized. Decision making structures which better imitate markets and asdvanced management methods are possible. Note these are likely to be more decentralized and the equivalent of "bureacracy" bound that those in existence today.

The advantage of such systems is that they can allow more equal access to material and publication to all scholars, reducing the advanatges of those in prstige laden univerisities which can afford a wide selection of journals and whose scholars get more attention.

Quite simply the fact that a cumbersome system takes years to get crucial information and analysis out is not an excuse for that delay; but an indictment of that system in a rapidly changing world.

the aardvark

Alice - or, you could just publish it on your own blog, say!

Zaoem - I do believe I've heard of that high-profile volume on anti-Americanism... two chapters in it look at al-Qaeda/Islamism in some depth (mine and John Bowen's). On your second point, I guess it depends on what you mean by "data"... another big question.

Nick - I only brought up the end of cold war point because so many of the commenters did. It's fair to say that the post-Cold War questions were still in the general area of expertise of many IR people, unlike 9/11.. but does that really refute the claim that IR theory has been relatively irrelevant to explaining post-9/11 Islamism?


If IR folks are relying on history and others to translate al-Qaeda [Bruce Lawrence just released a compilation of UBL's speechs] than this lag is quite understandable.

David Leheny

Marc --

Thanks for the reference to the Dialogue-IO collection. My article in there (which I wrote mostly from a fetal position underneath my desk, while still trying to process 9/11; I had been a State Dept. counterterrorism staffer just a year earlier and couldn't shake the feeling that somehow the attacks had resulted from something I had missed or done wrong) had two basic points: first, it tried to explain why terrorism, well before 2001, had been relegated to policy journals rather than IR/polisci journals, and second, suggested (as does Sid Tarrow) that social movement theory might help. But I pointed out at the time that this would likely be an unpopular shift for a lot of IR specialists. It's too bad; Sid Tarrow's work is superb, and I think that a lot of the best specialists on terrorism (e.g., Martha Crenshaw, Donatella della Porta) use the literature on social movements and contentious politics to great effect.

Great blog, by the way --


David Leheny

Incidentally, "fetal position beneath the desk" was the job that Jon Stewart said he wanted to have after 9/11:


Yeah, that was my job.


I might suggest the inclusion of two other journals: POLICY REVIEW and THE WILSON QUARTERLY. The former, particularly, contains some interesting analysis of Al Qaeda and the problems it poses.

the aardvark

S - Policy Review and Wilson Quarterly are both fine journals (I've published in the latter), but are both general interest policy journals, not IR theory journals. Wouldn't really fit.

Dan Nexon

"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.'"

To continue to play "Devil's Advocate," you're conflating two different issues. First, if general IR theories are good for anything, it is helping us to distinguish between what phenomena are and are not truly significant to international politics. Second, analyzing how 9/11 and Al-Q have impacted US foreign policy is a different matter than analyzing the movement itself. Arguably, conventional IR theories do just fine on the former count.

Dan Nexon

Oh, and technically the Nexon/Jackson vs. Legro debate was the first issue of Dialog-IO. You have to read it like a blog, the earlier publications appear first.

As I understand, Dialog-IO was something pushed by MIT press, who long wanted to move IO content online. The idea was that debate pieces, quick topical articles (like the 9/11 pieces), and supplemental materials for articles woudl appear online. Our piece was reviewed as an IO piece, but the editors proposed using it as the launch of the supplement. What happened wasn't their fault - MIT gave them all sorts of assurances about adequate publicity and then messed everything up (including the launch, we appear in the IO table of contents twice, if memory serves me, as a result). Afterwards, debate pieces migrated back into the journals and now my CV has this weird "accepted under IO rates and procedures" attached to the review. Patrick and I are pretty bummed about all this - we rather like the debate. Almost nobody reads it though.... which would've been very different it if had actually appeared in IO.


AA - I'm not sure how much IR types care about diplomatic history any more, but it might be interesting to compare disciplinary reactions in this case. Within the diplo. field, there's been increased attention given to the Middle East; a number of very good new monographs (most begun prior to 9/11) deal with U.S. Middle East policy (see Warren Bass, Salim Yaqub and Peter Hahn's recent books, as well as Robert Vitalis's forthcoming study of US-Saudi relations). Diplomatic History devoted a full issue in 2002 to historical perspectives on 9/11 (which included big names like Walter LaFeber, Bruce Kuklick, etc). None of this stuff has the immediacy of the work of political scientists, but it does lend a bit of depth to our understanding of how international relations actually work in the Middle East. It bears remembering that some of the best IR literature that emerged from the post Cold War era was written by historians - John Gaddis, Mel Leffler, Marc Trachtenberg, Ger Lundestad. Their work dealt with the early period of the Cold War, but it provided profound insights into how U.S.-Soviet relations evolved later, and which patterns and precedents were set early on. IR might not suffer from opening its ears to historians one more time.

Dan Nexon

AHR - I was under the impression that IR scholars were about the only people who listened to diplomatic historians these days. Certainly, other historians don't seem to care about them.

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