Why Doesn’t Anyone Care About Serious International Relations Scholarship

The APSA discussion on journalism and political science wound up focusing very heavily on work that’s done in the “American politics” subfield, but as Robert Farley points out there are questions to be asked about the lack of engagement with the other branches of political science as well:

The question of subfield prominence also bears more attention. By and large, IR and comparative haven’t had the same impact on the journalist community in either their quantitative or qualitative forms. I think that several major concepts/grand theories from both comparative and IR have found their way into the general policy conversation (deterrence theory, for example) but it’s more difficult to find uses of clear, sound political science research. IPE might be an exception to this. The immense political science literature on ethnic conflict seems utterly detached from the way that ethnic conflict is treated in the popular media.

I think you find almost no journalistic interest in comparative politics scholarship as just part and parcel of the overall solipsism of American popular political debates which take place in a kind of comparison-free void. The IR scholarship issue is quite different, since there’s tons and tons of journalistic work on subject matter to which scholarly IR research is plainly present. And the issue here, I think, is really primarily one of politics. The kinds of policy approaches that find support in the IR literature or can be usefully illuminated through it are just too far off the center of the American political consensus.

One reason that the field of economics plays a prominent role in popular discussions of politics is that you can find very credible academic economists with PhDs and everything on both sides of most of the big partisan battles in Washington. But that’s not really the case on the foreign policy side. The intellectual basis of modern-day rightwing foreign policy is DC think tanks and magazines and has nothing to do with scholarly controversies. This is a very very very bad thing for the world and leads us into some catastrophically misguided policy choices, and it also means that journalists attention tends to be focused on the bounds of the politicized DC debate which is unusually isolated from scholarly approaches to these topics.