Saturday, January 15, 2005

New Year -- New Ideas and Directions

So it's more than the start of a new year for me, in some ways it's the start of a new life. Grad school for me is over and besides that pesky comprehensive exam, I'm all set to graduate.

Looking back at my studies of IR, I notice some good things and some bad. First, we read far too many journal articles and skimmed material that we should have read in depth. Instead of reading journal articles, we should have been reading the books written by Morgenthau, Hobbes, Waltz, etc. Rather, we pretended that the textbook summaries that we got of their work was enough. Now that I have more time, I'm reading the IR "classics"and I'm finding much more depth (as would be expected) in the original texts. When we studied these guys in class, I would always wonder why they didn't address certain issues. Well, often they did but that material didn't make it into the textbook. Reading the originals certainly gives you more meat to work with because they address so much more than textbook thumbnail sketches imply.

Second, we focused much more on content than on process. Let me explain what I mean. The content of a course is the subject matter, which naturally changes from course to course and discipline to discipline. But the process used in courses changes very little. Students debate with each other and the professor and they write papers. It seems to me that students could really benefit from a professor that critiqued student's logic and their paper writing skills. Far too often professors just look at content without looking at the process used. By focusing on process as well, students would develop real skills that they could use in the real world. Argumentation and logical reasoning abilities are widely applicable as are writing abilities. Newspapers everywhere are constantly looking for people who can write. Why not give students real skills in addition to subject knowledge?

On the plus side, I was introduced to the fascinating world of economics. IPE was a real eye opener for me. Economics allows us explain why people make the choices they make in pursuit of the various things they want or need. That knowledge is CRUCIAL to any true understanding of politics and I now understand why some people say we should study them together.

Most importantly, I've gained deeper knowledge of how the international political process works (and doesn't work) and I now appreciate just how hard it is to accomplish any goal or task. International politics is like domestic politics on steroids. Pinning down any cause is difficult in social sciences anyway, but when multiple countries and processes are involved the task becomes Herculean. Without an idea of a cause, providing a solution is impossible. I realize that now and never again will I say "Why don't they just do ..." The situation is never that simple.

So it's back to the IR classics for me. I would like the blog to reflect that so if anyone is reading this, expect more in-depth articles on fundamental topics in realism and IR. Covering current events from an IR perspective is fun for a while but that's not what I want to do. I'd prefer to emphasize the knowledge aspect of the field by actually developing some knowledge. Funny how I feel better able to that after my classes are over!

So welcome to a new year!