In February I attended the International Studies Association's 51st Annual Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana. Of all academic conferences centered on International Relations, conflict studies, political science, and public policy, the ISA is king. No other conference brings as many students, scholars, and practitioners of security policy together under one roof. Over a four day period, there were 900 panels and round-tables to choose from, with everything from terrorism to trans-boundary water politics on offer.
I found one panel of particular relevance to this inaugural MLI blog: "Do International Relations Blogs Inform Practice? Theory? Both? Neither?" Good question(s).
Organized by blogger extraordinaire Daniel Drezner of Foreign Policy fame, the panel brought together academic dignitaries like Stephen Walt and Joseph Nye with various blogging personalities like Charli Carpenter, Rob Farley, and William Winecoff. As far as ISA goes, this panel was as hilarious as it was informative.
So, here's what I gathered about blogging:
The Good …
- It took a decade, but blogging has become a reputable and worthy activity: "Professional Blogger" is now an honest job title;
- Political bloggers shape and inform political landscapes and add value to policy debates;
- Blogging gives experts an opportunity to reach a wider audience;
- Bloggers can inform policy in a direct, up-to-date, and rapid manner;
- Blogs allow academics to be relevant, reconnecting scholarship to policy;
- The Internet allows bloggers from different disciplines to comment on each other's work, establishing a web of interdisciplinary debate that brings together different specializations, viewpoints, and ideas like never before;
- Meritocracy rules the blogosphere, so that the quality of the work carries more weight than the messenger's credentials;
- Joseph Nye actually reads blogs several times a week.
The Bad …
- Academic bloggers risk the "William Shatner dilemma": Do they want to be known as bloggers (… Captain Kirk) or do they want to be known as scholars (… a legitimate actor)?
- Blogs lack editors, which mean "facts" aren't usually checked;
- A "robust ego" may be needed in order to absorb comments directed against authors;
- Blogging can be time consuming;
- Joseph Nye would rather read journal articles over blog posts on any given day.
The Ugly …
- Once something goes online, it's nearly permanent; blogs can end careers;
- Blogging trends suggest there are very high barriers to entry. With millions of bloggers tapping away on their keyboards, it's become exceptionally difficult for new bloggers writing without the backing of an established institution (a university, a think tank, or a newspaper) to gain access to the marketplace and collect readers;
- Peer review is the cornerstone of academia, critical thinking, and solid policy research. Blogs lack these basic standards;
- Joseph Nye doesn't "do more" blogging because he "found the comments [he] got on them to be stupid."
With these insights in mind, I will use the MLI blog to comment on and advance research on conflict studies that I think Canadians should know more about. I will do so in a manner that speaks to ongoing policy debates in hopes of shaping those debates. I will respond to comments when I have something interesting to add. And, I will use blogging, alongside structured op-eds and peer-reviewed articles, to reach more Canadians, more often.
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