The HE Bill: The Final Ditch

Before parliament is prorogued on 3 May, ahead of the 8 June general election, the British government is hoping to ram through its disastrous Higher Education and Research Bill (HERB) in the so-called “wash up” period.

I have written here several times on this Bill, the most notorious aspects of which are the introduction of a “teaching excellence framework” (TEF), which would be linked to future fee increases, and the accelerated marketisation of HE, which will threaten both the quality of education and the financial sustainability of many departments and even whole universities.

While the government refused all amendments proposed by the Labour party in Commons committee (Labour’s team, led by Gordon Marsden MP, has been excellent on this issue throughout), it suffered heavy defeats in the Lords, where many significant amendments were introduced. These temper or even sabotage some of the worst aspects of the Bill, notably by severing the link between the TEF and fees; subjecting TEF to rigorous statistical scrutiny and rejecting crude rankings (gold, silver and bronze); and creating tougher tests before private providers can attain university title. The Lords even introduced two completely new, progressive amendments. The first restores the block-registration of students on the electoral roll, which was terminated under the 2014 Individual Electoral Registration protocol, leading to 920,000 people dropping off the roll, many of them students. Even more significantly, the second amendment removes overseas students from immigration statistics. This is important not only to stop the repeated crackdowns on overseas students, but also heads off a potential link between TEF scores and the right to recruit overseas. The move to reclassify foreign students has widespread public support, and has even attracted support from Tory rebels, so might have a good chance of overturning Theresa May’s fanatical and irrational intransigence on this issue.

For a full summary of the amendments and why they are important, see the briefing I have produced for the Convention for Higher Education.

For a template letter you can send to your MP, click here. It will take you less than five minutes.

This really is the final ditch. Please contact your MP, and ask as many people as you can do to the same.

 

Gender and Diversity in the IR Curriculum: Why Should We Care?

A guest post from Dr. Joanne Yao and Andrew Delatolla. Joanne recently received her PhD from the LSE’s International Relations Department. Previously, she received her MA in International Relations from Johns Hopkins SAIS and her BA in History and Political Science from the University of Chicago. Her research critically assesses international cooperation and environmental politics through an analysis of the first international institutions established in the 19th century to manage transboundary rivers. She is particularly interested in international cooperation, environmental history and historical institutionalism. Andrew is a final year PhD student at the department of International Relations at the LSE. Andrew has received his MA in Intelligence and International Security from King’s College London, a BA in Political Science from Concordia University, and a BFa in Drawing and Painting from OCAD University. His research is concerned with state formation and state building in the 19th and early 20th century with a focus on Turkey, Lebanon, and Syria. He is particularly interested in the sociological development of the state in the post-colonial regions and the Middle East regional state system.


Discussions of gender and diversity have become a hot topic by the proverbial IR water cooler, having increasingly gained attention at ISA through programs sponsored by the Women’s Caucus (WCIS) and the LGBTQA Caucus – amongst other groups and academics who have brought this topic to the table. However, such discussions are also prominent in scholarly inquiry, including Jeff Colgan’s work on course syllabi and Dawn Teele and Kathleen Thelen’s work. While most studies focus on the gender gap in PhD training or the ‘leaky pipeline’ problem – the problem that despite the gender balance at the graduate level, there are far fewer women in senior positions – we feel that the analysis should be expanded. Putting thought into action, we have embarked on a project of our own to examine not only gender but also diversity in IR pedagogy at the undergraduate, masters, and PhD. Unlike other studies of this type, we have sought to examine gender of authors (under the binary male/female assumption) but also diversity in terms of content. Although final results are forthcoming, our analysis has confirmed the 80-20 split between male and female authors across the IR curriculum as it exists at the London School of Economics and Political Science. With regards to diversity content, our preliminary results have shown that there is indeed a lack of diversity content overall, and especially with regards to content that discusses gender and race.

But why should anyone care? After all,  an 80-20 split with regards to gender reflects the gender gap of articles in top IR journals, while the lack of diversity content just means that there is ongoing research that needs to be done, and shouldn’t we have the ‘best’ quality material on our syllabi? Aside from the obvious circular logic surrounding what constitutes as ‘best’; the fact that the 80-20 split does not reflect the near 50-50 split in terms IR/Political Science PhD graduates; and there is no shortage of quality research that speaks to diversity content – we offer three arguments in favour of a more diverse IR curriculum:

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In defence of the apparently indefensible (or, French ‘intellectuals’ did not ruin the West and can we please stop postie-bashing because it’s not actually terribly helpful thank you)

Note: I decided to write this post because I got tired of trying to explain my position on discourse, reality, truth, and why Foucault is not to blame for the rolling shit-show that is US politics right now on Twitter in 140 characters. And then my 800 word blog post turned into a 4000 word essay. Sorry about that. Tl; dr version: truth is a social construct but that doesn’t mean anything goes. But the long version contains turtles and an Adam Savage gif, so do please read on…

 Let me get a couple of things straight before I begin. First, I am not A Philosopher. I am not (often) a thinker of profound and important thoughts (not nearly often enough, anyway), nor do I consider the work that I do to be in the realm of philosophy, or even ‘grand theory’. I am not A Theorist either; I am, at most, a theorist with a lower-case ‘t’. I theorise, a bit, about the nature of the things that interest me and the relationships between them. It helps me make sense of the world and that’s about as far as it goes. So I am probably woefully underqualified to write this post. But here I am, because being woefully underqualified to write about postmodernism[i], and truth, and facts, and the world in general, doesn’t seem to stop a whole bunch of other people doing it and if they’re having their fun I want some. (Plus, the way you get qualified to write about Stuff is to write about it, amirite?)

Second, I have (quite unfairly, I admit), used bits of Helen Pluckrose’s recent essay on ‘How French “intellectuals” ruined the West: Postmodernism and its impact, explained’ as a sort of intellectual sparring-partner in this post, just because it offers such a full account of the charges laid at the door of postmodernism, and how this intellectual movement has affected truth, and facts, and the world in general. It’s unfair because Pluckrose’s essay is just the latest in a line of similar types of argument, and I could just as easily have chosen to respond to any of those. But I chose this essay because I am lazy and it popped up on my Twitter feed on Saturday morning and when I read it I thought: No. No more. No longer. For this, I cannot stand. So, again, here I am, to address what I see as the four key points of argument she presents in an effort to discuss the things I want to discuss about postmodernism, and truth, and facts, and so on.

1. ‘the roots of postmodernism are inherently political and revolutionary, albeit in a destructive or, as they would term it, deconstructive way’

So there are some issues here. Continue reading

Militarism in the Age of Trump, Part II

Based on a paper I am co-authoring with Bryan Mabee. See Part I here.

Nation-statist militarism is the default (‘normal’) setting for militarism in international and global life.  Following Mann, this manifestation of militarism is characterized by some form of civilian control over the armed forces and a state-led economic and social mobilization of ‘destructive’ forces. (Alternative labels are ‘Westphalian militarism’ and even ‘Keynesian militarism’). In claiming the monopoly of legitimate violence, the nation-state prioritized territorial defence; planned, built and consumed from its own arsenals; and engaged in military recruitment practices that reflected and reinforced the prevailing social structures of the nation (whether professionalized or constricted).

This type subsumes what Mann refers to ‘authoritarian militarism’ and ‘liberal militarism’, his main examples coming from Europe–the absolutist polities and their twentieth century authoritarian descendants (e.g. Germany, Russia) versus the polities deriving from the constitutional regimes (e.g. Britain, France).  It even subsumes the militarisms of the post-1945 nuclear age, which include, in Mann’s terminology, sub-types like ‘deterrence-science militarism’ (‘techno-scientific militarism’) and ‘spectator sport militarism.’

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Militarism in the Age of Trump, Part I

Part I of a post based on a paper I am co-authoring with Bryan Mabee, Senior Lecturer at Queen Mary, University of London. Bryan is the author of Understanding American Power (Palgrave, 2013), The Globalization of Security (Palgrave, 2009) and co-editor with Alejandro Colás, Mercenaries, Pirates, Bandits and Empires (Hurst/Oxford University Press, 2010).  The paper is being prepared for “Militarism and Security,” a workshop organized later this month at the School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg by Anna Stravianakis (for her latest appearance on this blog see The Dissonance of Things No 3) & Maria Stern.

Update: Part II added on 18/03/17.

With Donald Trump as the president of the United States, militarism is once again becoming a hot topic. Trump’s appointment of right-wing generals to senior posts in both the White House and his cabinet legitimate militaristic policy discourses and positions, as do the president’s pronouncements about the need to “modernize” the country’s nuclear capability, put America’s enemies “on notice,” massively “rebuild” the military, hold “more military parades” in American cities, deploy the national guard to “restore order” (and possibly “hunt illegal immigrants”) and “streamline” U.S. defence exports.

And all of this is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. For one thing, the Trump presidency merely empowers an already deeply militaristic and militarized American culture, one that is forever in love with guns and prisons and forever reticent to acknowledge the inherently racialized dimensions of both. For another thing, Trump’s top advisor is the “ethnonationalist” Steven Bannon, who is so influential in the White House that some describe him, tongue only halfway in cheek, as the actual president of the United States. Apparently, Bannon reasons that war between the U.S. and China is likely, given the thorny nature of international disputes in the South China Sea. One could in fact say that beneath the visible iceberg lie powerful and long-standing militarized realities—most of which have been ignored, temporized or marginalized in the earlier, ‘normal’ periods.

ABC News

Can Critical Security Studies (CSS) help us illuminate militarism in the age of Trump? On one level, yes. Militarism is central to the field’s go-to framework on securitization—meaning, the scrutiny of the ways in which constitutional or ‘normal’ politics are transformed, via speech acts, into ‘exceptions’. The above image, Trump signing the Executive Order banning immigrants, dual nationals and US residents with citizenships from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the country, suspend refugee admission and bar all Syrian refugees indefinitely, can be said to capture ‘exceptionalist militarism’ at work. Yet, beyond theorizing this one form of militarism, CSS has mostly been silent on the ‘classic’ concern of the literature on militarism—its sources, consequences, and the changing character.

In this two-part post we build on insights from historical sociology to develop a typology of militarism that CSS schools could consider as they try to make sense of political violence today.

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‘You are fired!’ Towards the Hegemony of Neoliberal Hypermasculinity

This is the final post in a series of posts by several guest authors  for The Disorder Of Things symposium on Ali Bilgic‘s new book Turkey, Power and the West: Gendered International Relations and Foreign Policy, released in late 2016. In this post, Ali Bilgic responds to the previously published posts and makes some concluding remarks. The full series is collected here.


He is signing a document. Men standing behind him are all serious, looking over the shoulder of the one who he is performing the ceremony, a TV show par excellence. One of them passes the black folders; one after another, one signature after another. When he signs, his eyebrows rise a little, probably to see better. In this moment, it is possible to notice the blankness in his eyes that complements the expressionless face of the new Commander-in-Chief: there is no sign of affect in them, a staunch wall, like the one to be built on the border with Mexico, or the one in Palestine/Israel.

US President Donald Trump signs an executive order in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, January 23, 2017.
Trump on Monday signed three orders on withdrawing the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, freezing the hiring of federal workers and hitting foreign NGOs that help with abortion. / AFP / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

One expects he would abruptly say ‘You are fired’; one wonders whether he has learned and practised this masculine emotionless performance during his years in the world of entertainment: in a reality show where young men and women wildly competed against each other to prove themselves to the neoliberal finance capitalism. Otherwise, they are fired, they vanish, do not exist anymore, neither for the audience nor for the market. This kind of decision requires rational thinking; in other words, a solid emptiness, a wall.

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Decoding Gender in Turkish Foreign Policy: How Ali Bilgic Gets it Right

This is the fifth and penultimate post in a series of posts by several guest authors  for The Disorder Of Things symposium on Ali Bilgic‘s new book Turkey, Power and the West: Gendered International Relations and Foreign Policy, released in late 2016. The full series is collected here.  Swati Parashar is a Senior Lecturer in the Peace and Development program, School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg, Sweden. She is an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, Monash University, Australia.


There is something fundamentally reassuring about reading a book on gendered hierarchies and foreign policy, at a time when we have just witnessed the inauguration of the Donald Trump Presidency in the United States of America. It is reassuring, because it tells us that the global gendered order of states is not going to be replaced anytime soon and gendered hierarchies will remain at the heart of all political contests, resistance and acts of solidarity. After all the biggest challenge to the Trump presidency is going to come from women’s groups who successfully organized the Global March on 21 January 2017.

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