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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sabbatical project

In fall 2011, I will be on sabbatical. Given that courses are over and my near-term service obligations are coming to a close soon, I will be able to work on this project as much as I'd like beginning in a couple of weeks.

Curious readers might want to know my plans. Right?

Well, I will be working on a book-length project tentatively titled The Comedy of Global Politics. Essentially, it is a call for a new narrative framework in IR that is consistent with critical theory. It is based on a series of papers that I have written and delivered at academic conferences over the past few years.

Realist theorists of international relations are pessimists and embrace tragic narratives to help explain IR. The University of Chicago neorealist John Mearsheimer, for instance, called his major theoretical work The Tragedy of Great Power Politics.

Classically, the main character of a tragedy is a person of nobility, the story is set in the "great hall" or on the battlefield, and the plot features the downfall of the protagonist -- often his death. Realist theory is primarily about great powers, their story is set in the competitive "high politics" arena of the international system, and the plots are typically gloomy (featuring war, imperial overstretch, etc.). The parallels are obvious.

By contrast, comedic narratives often focus on ordinary people and allow for happy endings -- or they reveal and critique the foibles of elites. Satire, farce and black comedy can be subversive.

In a paper presented a few years ago, I argued that great power politics during the war on terror seems like a ludicrous mismatch between events, state practices, and IR theory. Despite realist expectations, major powers are not engaging in balancing behavior, great power war itself seems obsolete, the US and China are major trading partners and not foes, NATO is thriving not disintegrating, weak and failed states, plus terrorists, are viewed as the major threats to major states, etc.

In other chapters, I will use a comedic perspective to view the buildup to the Iraq war as farce, examine the wide recognition that nuclear deterrence is an absurd strategy, and explain the U.S. view of Pakistan in 2001 as a potentially ridiculous case of mistaken identity. Another chapter examines how the pre-war anti-war movement in 2003 potentially took advantage of what another scholar has called an "ironic speech situation" to allow for broad public criticism of planned US policy in a difficult context. Finally, the ongoing development of "cooperative security" as a grand strategy for major states potentially provides a pathway to incorporate the needs and interests of ordinary people in IR.

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