, 11 tweets, 3 min read Read on Twitter
This observation by @Yascha_Mounk really touches a nerve with me, and so I'm going to tell a story of #PoliticalScience and #academia in the early 90s as my run-in with this phenomenon. /1
@Yascha_Mounk I began my career by studying Soviet civil-military relations. It required careful textual analysis, in part because we didn't know what was going on in a closed society. We were doing research of *discovery*, not causal analysis, because we didn't have enough *facts*. /2
So I took my dissertation and wrote a research proposal for a book. I talked about it with my new department and some colleagues. They asked formalistic scientific questions like "what's your independent variable?" as if that had meaning in a deep case study. /3
I said: "I think I've discovered a pattern of civil-military discord over military doctrine and Party ideology." And I would be asked: "But is this methodologically 'cutting-edge'."? I said: "Uh, no. It's something no one's found before. It's immensely scary if true." /4
"Yes, but what does it mean for the *field*?" And I kept saying: "Well, it means we know something about the subfield of civil-military relations we didn't know, and it disproves a major claim about the nature of the USSR." *blank looks* /5
"Is it broadly cross-comparative? Maybe with China and Latin America?" I said: I don't speak Chinese and Latin America doesn't have a party-military complex like this. *more blank looks at the idea that I would not write on places I didn't know about*. /6
I took a year off from all this to go work in the Senate, and finished the book at night. I sent it out without asking any more advice. It was published in a very good series, Cornell University Security Studies, with less trendy but more sensible peer-reviewers. /7
But if I had listened to some of the top people in the field 30 years ago, I'd have mashed the thing into incoherence, trying to fit it into a sterile model of political science that took over my field while I was still in grad school. /8
I was denied tenure back then for a lot of reasons, including being an obnoxious loudmouth. But also because I planted the flag even then that this "causal" approach to what constitutes a contribution was killing the relevance of the field. It still is. /9
Political scientists are experts and can be good at their jobs. But what was once a fad is now choking the discipline as orthodoxy, imo, despite years of attempted rebellion from younger scholars who want methodological pluralism. /10
When a senior IR person in my old department said to me that "you don't need to speak Korean to understand Korea," I knew we were going to a bad place. That was nearly 30 years ago, and I worry that it's not improving, but maybe my colleagues have tales of optimism. /11x
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