After a semester of indoctrination into the cult of political science, I am convinced that this ‘science’ is based on the all-important de-personalization of scholarship. Research topics, proposals, and interests are to be thoroughly based on possible contributions to the field: personal interests are to be hidden and avoided- feared as unprofessional and not serious. I am completely convinced…
…or at least I thought I was before reading this excellent volume compiled/edited by Dr. Naeem Inayatullah at Ithaca College. Autobiographical International Relations is likely to be one of the most unique publications in IR literature, combining stunning insights into methodology, international politics, and history alongside an intimate, almost voyeuristic insight into the personal relationship scholars have with their research and their personal motivations for entering our unique craft.
As we should expect from Inayatullah and the other critical voices of political science/IR, the common theme between most articles is a certain level of discomfort with the common IR tropes of globalization, the post-imperial moment, and privilege. Now, I for one was certainly exhausted by these themes during my undergraduate work, having spent too much time in Gender Studies classes; however, the books engagement with these issues remains nuanced, sophisticated, and (as you may have guessed) autobiographical. Additionally, it is not a boring compilation of solely American scholars, but includes contributions from South Asia, the Balkans, and Europe as well. The book does more than hint that its commitment to diversity is intentional, pointing out the privilege U.S. researchers often enjoy when working overseas.
While I found every chapter contribution exciting and unique, a couple of the stories stand out in my memory. Narendran Kumarakulsingam’s childhood as a Tamil in Sri Lanka revealed the important ways that politics are perpetuated, played out, and even formulated on the playground. Politics and international affairs are not relegated to government palaces and the ministries of foreign affairs, but are deeply personal, manifesting themselves in the seemingly universal playground fights and elementary school disciplinary procedures that we are all familiar with. Khadija F. El Alaoui made me noticeably uncomfortable with her account of teaching American politics in Morocco and other parts of the Arab world. U.S. scholars miss important considerations by failing to understand the U.S. from the eyes of the outside world. Students decrying human rights abuses and imperialism can simultaneously oppose U.S. operations in the Middle East even when they appear to us (U.S.?) to be fighting for those very ideals. Finally, I was left very introspective after reading Patrick Thaddeus Jackson’s deeply personal account of his experience with the autism spectrum, from his own high-functioning variety to his son’s seemingly much more serious condition.
My personal favorites aside, the goal of the book is to show that our personal histories, ideas, values, and cultural background are always shaping our intellectual interests. The epilogue points out that the editor is more likely to ask a scholar what makes them angry over the more common question of disciplinary interests. The question, like the approach of the book in general, is subversive and radical.
Ultimately, we are left to question whether personal interests are not the center of scholarship, rather than a side issue to be avoided in favor of a supposed professionalism.
This page is devoted to short book reviews of publications that I found particularly interesting and insightful.