Tagged: public sphere

Sören Stapel

German-speaking political science and social media

Social Media Bandwagon
Source: Matt Hamm / Photopin / cc

Two months ago, the German-speaking blogosphere organized a blog carnival, directly following the Zeitschrift für Internationale Beziehungen’s symposium on the web 2.0. and social media in the International Relations profession. In the symposium, social media were approached as both an object of study, and a professional means to network and reach out to the general public. The symposium called for a reaction from the various German-speaking bloggers. And we got them. My initially planned contribution to the carnival never materialized when the work plate simply got swamped with editorial work on an edited volume, reviews of a book chapter, a data collection project, the preparation of field research, and me actually being on field research mission. So, this blog post should be considered a late addition to this little party.

Some of the contributions fleshed out part and parcel of bloggers’ experiences in general. Others reflected on the late arrival of German speakers to the use of social media for professional concerns and possible (negative) consequences (see Ali’s intro and collection of links, in German). Yet, it strikes me that an important question has been missing from the discussion: How much social media engagement of German-speaking political science researchers is out there? Continue reading

Mathis Lohaus

International Relations & New Media


In the current issue of Zeitschrift für Internationale Beziehungen (ZIB), four authors discuss International Relations and New Media. To complement the series in ZIB, we’re running a so-called “blog carnival” that deals with the topic. Please head over to zoon politikon to check out what our colleagues have written [in German].

Here, I would like to address two of the four ZIB articles. The first was written by Ali, a former colleague in Berlin, who is a very experienced blogger (and Twitter power-user).

Under the heading “The Republic of Scholars 2.0” [PDF, in German], he argues that academic discourse in less formalized settings (such as social media and blogs) is the modern equivalent of the exchange of letters among scholars in the 17th century. Thus, German-speaking academics should overcome their shyness and catch up to their American and English colleagues, who seem to be more active users of new media. You can find a summary of Ali’s argument on his blog.

Based on conversations Ali and I had last year, I have argued in the same direction:

Does this lead to shared cultural understandings or at least mutual tolerance? Or does the web merely offer a cheap and anonymous way of reinforcing prejudices and being angry at each other? As any self-respecting political scientist will tell you: It depends…

Academic blogging is probably a “most likely” case of a positive effect. After all, we’re talking about a group of people who share similar ideas and practices, are used to cross-border exchange, and have a lot to gain from talking to each other. Yet I am also cautiously optimistic for non-academic political blogs that speak to a general audience. Whenever people are exposed to voices from outside of their well-established “filter bubble”, this is a great chance to learn and understand new perspectives. The internet certainly offers a huge potential in that direction.

The second article is called: “Teaching IR with New Media” [PDF, in English]. Kimo Quaintance (who has a blog, too) advocates the use of tools such as Wikis and blogs in teaching, but also cautions that not all optimistic assumptions about digital natives should be taken at face value:

While students may possess broad experience with e-mail, social networking and mobile devices, this doesn’t necessarily translate into the kind of information literacy or knowledge creation skills useful in academia.

Kimo has some very good, constructive points on how to foster information literacy, collaboration and outreach. I recommend you read the whole piece.

Here I just want to echo his words of caution. Take the following as me playing the devil’s advocate: Under some conditions, I think that the usage of “new media” in teaching can feel artificial or forced. Blog posts instead of essays, web sites instead of presentations? That might work, but we should be careful not to be too optimistic based on our own enthusiasm for the medium.

First, and most generally, if the core elements of the discipline are old-fashioned, teaching might not be the best venue to change things. If the #1 skill to master is writing formal papers, that should be what you (are forced to) practice. But of course this is subject to change and should not be used to kill all kinds of innovation, so I don’t want to over-stress this point.

Second, think about the value added. Model UN and other simulations are useful because they are inductive tools to experience dynamics that might be difficult to understand based on theory alone. Spending many hours to set up a mock NGO website might be interesting, but we have to be sure that it really adds something that could not be learned in a more efficient way. Also, depending on the class, the experience should not overshadow the contents: If after three days of mock conference / web design I only remember how much fun the negotiating / coding was, but nothing about policy issues, maybe that’s a problem…

Finally, how many people do you know that were born in the 1990s and maintain a blog (in the “traditional” sense)? It might be that blogging is completely passé by now and  we’re beating a dead horse. Maybe the easiest way out would be to ask people about their media habits and productivity tools first, see how much desire for change there is, and then make suggestions. Or let people experiment in groups?!

To wrap up: Ali and Kimo have made a number of very good points on the usefulness of new media in the exchange between scholars and for teaching, respectively. I highly recommend both pieces! Again, please consider looking at the other blog posts dealing with New Media and International Relations, and of course the rest of the ZIB issue.

Mathis Lohaus

Links: Grad School Pros and Cons; Job Search; Understanding Putin

He studied law, but seems interested in IR. (Source: Kremlin.ru via Wikimedia)
He studied law, but seems interested in IR. (Source: Kremlin.ru via Wikimedia)

In an article from 2011, Karen Kelsky (who works as a consultant to graduate students) criticizes academic supervisors. According to her, professors often fail to advise their grad students on planning publications and their career choices.

Another more recent piece introduces a new approach for university career centers. Basically, the idea is to break up the division between the job markets inside and outside of academia: “If graduate students are to maximize their efforts, then academic departments and career services need to pool theirs and work together”.

But should you even be working towards a PhD? Foreign Policy just published a very interesting discussion with people from American IR departments and foreign policy schools. The subtitle: “Do policymakers listen? Should you get a Ph.D.? And where are all the women?” It also has a fascinating graph on which IR scholars are valued by foreign policy practitioners, which reminded me of last year’s discussion about IR and the public sphere.

Dan Drezner wrote about whether to go to grad school in 2012. His piece focuses on women in academia, but also has a couple of interesting links to the discussion in the American blogosphere.

OK, so (against a lot of good advice) you have decided to pursue an academic career. The bad news is: from now on, your writing style will be terrible. The good news is: nobody will notice, since most papers are hardly read after publication. [Note that the article implies that the number of citations equals the number of readers, which is not fully convincing.]

Now, to something completely different. I enjoyed these two pieces about Vladimir Putin: First, Tyler Cowen offers four different ways to “model” Putin’s behavior, pointing out that “[a]ssumptions about Putin’s rationality will shape prediction”.

Second, Eric Posner analyzes the claims made in the Russian president’s speech to the Duma: “Vladimir Putin, international lawyer”. The crucial bit of analysis: Putin has signaled that “the United States claims for itself as a great power a license to disregard international law that binds everyone else, and Russia will do the same in its sphere of influence where the United States cannot compete with it”.

Mathis Lohaus

Links: Sex Work and Free Choice; ISA Conference 2014; Data Journalism

Roman fresco (Pompeii) via Wikimedia Commons
Roman fresco (Pompeii) via Wikimedia Commons

Sophia Gore discusses whether sex work can be an “expression of women’s  choice and agency”. She specifically focuses on prostitution and considers both liberal and radical feminist arguments.

I expect we will have more debates on the issue in the near future. Right now, policies in the European Union range from abolitionist (with Sweden’s policy of prosecuting customers but not prostitutes as best practice), to ignorant / dysfunctional / antiquated, to liberal as Germany, where prostitution is legal and (poorly) regulated. (As other researchers have pointed out, there is a lot of variation even within Scandinavia.)

Seeing how human trafficking and organized crime are increasingly discussed and fought across borders, I think at some point we will see international efforts to harmonize laws on sex work, in the EU and elsewhere.

On a lighter note, the folks at Duck of Minerva are getting ready for the 2014 ISA conference. Everyone, please go to the Blogger Reception on Thursday, March 27! To get you in conference mode, here’s Megan MacKenzie on how to improve the ISA experience, and then there is Amanda Murdie on how ISA resembles a family reunion:

Deviled eggs or no-bake cookies are my go-to dishes for a Kansas family reunion.  Half-baked empirical papers are typically what I present at ISA.  For either “dish,” I’m typically scrambling right until the last minute.

I won’t be in Toronto, but if anyone wants to meet up at MPSA in Chicago the weekend after that, please let me know.

New York Magazine has an interview with Nate Silver, who has taken his FiveThirtyEight brand from the NY Times to ESPN, where the new site will launch on Monday.

He criticizes pundits and columnists for their anecdotal, ideology-driven style, and at the same time promises that his new venture will rely on lots of data and stay clear from advocacy. (If you haven’t heard of the fox and the hedgehog by now, don’t worry, they explain it again in that interview.) Tyler Cowen is skeptical because Silver implicitly shows a bias against principled opinions and seemingly obvious claims, both of which aren’t necessarily bad journalism or policy.

I say: Silver should make sure to hire as many political scientists as he can. That should lead to lots of data points (of varying quality) and ensure that clear opinions are nowhere to be found…

Edit: I just found this piece by Brendan Nyhan, who shows how a number of political scientists have recently been hired to do journalism. (Brendan is part of that group, and also proof that my cynical comment above should not be taken at face value.)

Mathis Lohaus

The Cultural Impact of Blogs: Awareness, Affinity, Reflection

A map of the traffic to this blog. Darker color = higher share of visitors.
A map of the traffic to this blog. Darker color = higher share of visitors.

FutureChallenges.org and Google’s Internet and Society Collaboratory are running a “blog carnival”, inviting comments on the cultural aspects of Internet-driven globalization. They’ve asked the following questions:

“Do globalized telecommunications and communication across borders and cultures have any impact on intercultural practices? Does the Internet create a bigger space for cultural similarities? Or does it instead have the opposite effect? Does it increase awareness of the cultural differences all over the world?”

A few years ago, I watched a TED Talk and read a book by Clay Shirky, who offered an impressive range of examples of the social “surplus” created by the internet. Being a somewhat early adopter of technology as well as an avid user/consumer of social media, I have made many of these positive experiences. Yet a uniform effect on “culture” seems hard to identify: On the one hand, there are scale effects that lead to huge rewards for those who attract the most attention (“there’s only one Google, or maybe three”). On the other, niche markets and social groups also prosper online (Anderson’s “long tail”). So the internet allows you to focus on your obscure obsession, but also makes sure you know about Justin Bieber.

I’ll leave it to more qualified observers to comment in detail on the internet and culture as a whole. What I want to do instead is look at a tiny set of online communications, namely (micro-)blogging about politics and political science.

Continue reading

Mathis Lohaus

Social Media for Academics

Some in the audience were applying lessons on-the-fly... #wzbhypo
Some in the audience were applying lessons right away…

This morning, I went to a talk (#wzbhypo) by Mareike König and Sascha Förster – who are involved in the European blog portal hypotheses.org – about social media for academics: How can we use Facebook, Twitter and blogs?

The session covered some introductory stuff about social media as well as concrete tips for academics seeking more exposure online. I will focus on those points that were new to me. Obviously, we share the general opinion that more academics should consider blogging, tweeting etc.!

  • Germany is a developing country when it comes to producing content online, but also with regard to using social networks and blogs as a source of information. (Yes, there was a #neuland joke.)
  • König convincingly argued that beginners should consider joining an existing portal like hypotheses.org, scilogs.com or scienceblogs.com, since those will help you find readers. (Yup, it’s really hard to build an audience from scratch!)
  • Instead of using a couple of platforms half-heartedly, focus on one or two! You should consider, however, that Google+ might increasingly matter for Google web search. (Addendum: Did you know that you can ‘claim’ your Google scholar page?)
  • This is not really news, but: Twitter accounts that do little more than post links to their own stuff will have a hard time attracting followers. Human interaction is key. (We’re working on it.)
  • Some data on German-speaking academics on Twitter: There are (at least) two interesting sources of data in that regard. Marc Scheloske has a list of academics and institutions, and Beatrice Lugger collects data on institutions and media covering scientific topics. Both were last updated in 2012. (I’m working on a list of German IR/polisci scholars…)
  • Depending on the topic and the selection committee, you might not get invited to a job interview if you have no professional social media “fingerprint”…
  • On Twitter, links that are positioned in the middle of a tweet apparently achieve more clicks/attention than links at the end. I did not know that but will give it a try!
  • Even if the visitor and commnets count is low, don’t give up: It’s very likely that some people will comment on your contributions once you meet them in person, and reaching the right audience is more important than ‘big’ numbers…

Overall, it was a stimulating session. You can find Mareike König’s slides online (in German). I was glad to see a very interested and mixed crowd at the event. Many thanks to the WZB press people for organizing it, and of course you should all follow @WZB_news, @mareike2405 and @sascha_foerster!

Mathis Lohaus and Zoe Williams

IR and the Public Sphere – The “Cult of Irrelevance”?

Stephen Walt

“I thought scholars like me were going to discover timeless truths about world politics, a grateful policy community would eagerly embrace our results, and then of course follow our advice… needless to say, I was dead wrong. In fact, there is a widespread sense that university-based scholarship is of declining practical value.” – Stephen Walt

Last September, Stephen Walt gave a talk at Brown University on lamenting the discipline of IR’s lack of engagement with the public sphere, and put forward some suggestions on what could be done to increase the relevance and impact of university research. (He also repeatedly blogged about this topic.)

We’d like to summarize his major points here and add our view on the debate.

Continue reading