The Relevance of International Security and…Some Pictures of Kitties

A caricature of Robert DeNiro’s character from Goodfellas. By Cheryl Grayum.

By Joe Young

A caricature of Robert DeNiro's character from Goodfellas. By Cheryl Grayum.
A caricature of Robert DeNiro’s character from Goodfellas. By Cheryl Grayum.

Thomas Ricks recently opined in a Foreign Policy piece how irrelevant most of political science scholarship is and by implication how irrelevant we are. He neatly asks why those who study international security are so boring? While I have a slight desire to reenact the scene from Goodfellas with Mr. Ricks, I will humbly instead suggest the following.

What is the goal of Political Violence @ a Glance? When Erica Chenoweth and Barbara Walter pitched potential contributors to be involved several years ago, they suggested an avenue for making our scholarship more relevant to current issues, the public, and policymakers. They, like many other political scientists, want to be speaking to folks beyond our own community. Sometimes we (or at least I) don’t accomplish this goal. Sometimes our work is jargony. Sometimes it is technical. Sometimes the topics seem abstract. As anyone who has been involved in a community of people working on a big problem (government workers, managers, marketers, engineers, social workers, etc.) knows, we develop our own language and sometimes shut others out.

With this preface, I suggest efforts like Political Violence @ Glance are a way to make a small move beyond these divides. Rather than just claim our work is relevant, we try to apply it to ISIS, or to the conflict in Ukraine, or discuss how it might inform peacekeeping. This is just a small snippet. Steve Saideman does a more thorough job of walking through instances of relevance on Ricks’ blog.

Mr. Ricks recently gave us a lighthearted look at a confederate soldier with his dog during the US civil war. Not boring, but I suggest we can do better and with more contemporary relevance. I give you cats during the Syrian civil war. Enjoy.

  1. The ruling class doesn’t want public thought about foreign policy and other large-scale matters to be too interesting, or people might start thinking about them. Radically, even. That should be obvious. So there is a certain limit on how interesting anything about foreign policy is going to be, and still receive institutional, corporate, and government support.

    1. Sure. My point is more mundane though. To understand international processes, sometimes we have to do hard things. Those hard things are not always fun or interesting. A little like eating Broccoli. Or Brussels sprouts. We can spice em up, but they are still mostly dull but good for you.

  2. I find Jorge’s comment unhelpful and self sabotaging since it misinforms the issues that have to be overcome and makes the government appear more competent, more effective, and in more control than it really has.

    It takes time and effort to understand the issues that are discussed here. this requires a certain level of commitment to reading and following the subject. the public at large has a lot of things demanding their attention and fewer things that they are really interested in following. i spend my time reading news and following blogs like this. My wife without any encouragement from the government follows new ages conspiracies and is not interested in things like this.

  3. This might be all in my head, but being a civilian, a tiny ant compared to the political world of this country. All of that “Political Violence @ a glance” stuff is way beyond me. Some of that talk IS interesting to me, but being able to follow and actually have a valid opinion or comment about it, I might actually have to be Barbara Walters.

  4. I feel obliged to point out that the image used at the beginning of this post is definitely not from Goodfellas (Al Pacino was not even in that movie), but rather Scarface.

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