"Debates" blogs

There's a striking amount of similarity in the names of the blogs for the "Debates" course this semester -- I wonder what that says?

Debating IR
Debates in IR Theory group 5
Debates in IR Theory
Debates in IR Theory

And now for something completely different:

Help! Help! I'm Being Repressed!

If you're curious as to what previous classes have done, follow the links here and here. I can't promise that all of these blogs are still alive and kicking, but they were once, and they might provide some inspiration.


Weber -- with whom I agree on most things, as most of you already know -- suggests in Science as a Vocation that inspiration comes when we least expect it: "while smoking a cigar on the sofa . . . or during a walk up a gently rising street." We are all familiar with the odd habits of the Idea Fairy, who seems to take perverse delight in bringing inspiration just when there is not a computer (or even a pen and paper) in sight. But Weber goes on to point out that even though "ideas come when they are least expected, rather than while you are racking your brains at your desk," those ideas "would not have made their appearance if we had not spent many hours pondering at our desks or brooding passionately over the problems facing us."

I mention this because I often say that I don't prepare for class, that I much prefer to improvise with whatever is ready-to-hand in the form of student interest and sheer random happenstance (veterans of my World Politics course might remember the infamous "Louis Black" discussion). I don't want to be misunderstood as saying that I don't think about class when outside of class. I do think about it, quite a lot. But what I have learned over the years is that my major temptation is to overprepare, to over-think the situation, and so it is almost always better for me to spend time working on other things while waiting for inspiration to strike -- which it invariably does just in time.

Case in point: this morning's "Debates" course. I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do -- get people talking about structural realism, the topic du jour. When I left the house around 9am I had no idea more specific than that in my head. So I started pondering, somewhat aimlessly, while driving, thinking about how to get the discussion going . . . maybe a news story to start things off, maybe some historical case -- no, wait, make the students find historical cases. In fact, make them find lots of them. How about a game where they had to look for cases of large powers beating up on small ones, taking advantage of the distribution of capabilities to get what they wanted? Things started to fall into place: they're already divided into teams, so set up a competition (loosely modeled on those games where one is rewarded for coming up with something that no one else came up with), a few simple rules, and hey, if the rules are vague enough maybe some of the teams will start acting like realists, balancing against one another, taking advantage of weakness, and so on.

Poof: a plan for the day. And it worked pretty well, I thought (even though I suddenly changed one rule, and didn't reward teams with more points for taking out other teams' cases; that was my original design, but I forgot to mention that when spelling out the rules -- oops). I think it made the point both in its content and in its form, and you can't ask for much more than that.

The moral of the story, though, is that the idea wouldn't have come purely on its own. The background pondering and thinking and musing feeds into that inspiration, whenever it chooses to manifest itself. Improvising is hard, since it demands so much behind-the-scenes effort -- even though if done properly, almost none of that effort will ever been seen publicly. [Unless someone blogs about it, obviously, and then all bets are off.]


Academic Research Questions

Over at Duck I posted something about where academics should get their research topics. I won't repeat it here, but instead will just provide the link:

Problems, Puzzles, and Questions




Today I finally got to see page proofs for my forthcoming book. To my great delight, they were typeset with footnotes rather than endnotes -- exactly as I had requested. These days footnotes are increasingly rare in academic books; I think their disappearance has something to do with the fact that it's cheaper for the publishers to produce books with endnotes, and is also connected to the (untested, as far as I know) bit of folk wisdom that books with footnotes sell fewer copies outside of the academic market. hence: endnotes in the back of the book are increasingly the default position, and footnotes are a special exception.

In my case I really wanted footnotes both because I hate flipping to the back of books to look at endnotes (especially when several seconds of flipping through pages yields some useless bit of information like "for a contrary view, see Rogers 1997b," which then sends me flipping through more pages to see what the heck Rogers 1997b is) and because academic writing, at least my style of academic writing, depends on footnotes. Not strictly part of the main text, they are nonetheless part of the argument, as they constitute small tributaries in the overall stream of things -- brief asides to tackle important, but not crucially central, considerations. And having them right there on the bottom of the page is a great help to the reader, I think.

So I'm very pleased that the press has agreed with me and typeset the book with footnotes. And in Garamond, too, which quite a respectable-looking font!


New year, new resolutions

I made three "official" resolutions this new year, and one unofficial one. The unofficial one affects this blog: I am going to try to make sure that I post something here once a week. I don't want to raise this to the status of an "official" resolution because I don't want to guilt myself into putting up something just for the sake of putting up something; after all, isn't that what an "official" resolution is for? Instead, I am just going to try to make this space a bit more of a place I go to post reflections. Hopefully about once a week, maybe more if it's one of those weeks.

Enough of that. The three "official" resolutions, for those of you who care:

1) pick my guitar back up again. It's been sitting in its case for about four years, gathering dust and getting way way out of tune; the calluses on my fingers, and the finger-strength to hold down the strings to make a clean chord, have faded. I'm currently at "practicing scales" and "trying to contort my fingers sufficiently to make a decent G chord." My goal: be able to play some Christmas carols by next December.

2) go to the gym again. I was doing pretty well there for a while, making it to the local Y about three times a week, but after Thanksgiving that basically fell by the wayside, Until this week, when I've already gone twice and hope to go again tomorrow afternoon. We'll see how well I do at keeping that resolution.

3) take more time to read -- and I don't mean for classes I'm currently teaching or papers I'm currently writing. One of the things I've been horrible at for several years is taking time to read more broadly in social theory, philosophy, and theology -- the kinds of things that interest me and the places from which I draw the inspiration for my work. For a number of reasons my time as gotten rather instrumentalized, and I find myself basically reading as much as I absolutely need to read to accomplish task X or Y, so that I can use my time to get other things done. As a short-term survival strategy for an academic, that makes sense sometimes; as a long-term practice, it's intellectual suicide. So effectively immediately I'm taking back one day a week (Tuesdays, this semester) to read things that are not of direct relevance to current projects, but which form the backdrop of the more general intellectual orientation that I am continually in the process of (re)forging. First up: either Fritz Ringer's new biography of Weber, or perhaps a little William James. We'll see -- I'll keep y'all posted.

[Posted with ecto]