The quality of content in ACI is due to the rigor of our selection process and to the incredible scholarship and credentials of scholarly bloggers publishing in their fields. Due to this selectivity in content and academic contributions, ACI is proud to highlight exceptional blog authors in order to showcase their work and inspire other scholarly blog authors… and today’s author spotlight is on Dr. Laura Sjoberg.
Dr. Sjoberg has a PhD in International Relations from the University of Southern California School of International Relations, a JD in Law from Boston College, and a BA in Political Science and History from the University of Chicago. Currently an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Florida, Dr. Sjoberg’s research covers many areas, including focuses on international relations theory, international security in global politics, and gender and feminist theory, and she is a frequent contributor to the blog RelationsInternational.
In addition to being published in numerous international relations journals, Dr. Sjoberg has also authored numerous books, including Gender, Justice, and the Wars in Iraq: A Feminist Reformulation of Just War Theory, Gendering Global Conflict: Toward a Feminist Theory of War, Gender, War, and Conflict, and, with co-author Dr. Caron Gentry, Mothers, Monsters, Whores: Women’s Violence in Global Politics.
Read on for ACI’s full interview with Dr. Sjoberg.
After securing an undergraduate degree in Political Science and History, you went on to earn a PhD in International Relations as well as a JD. Aside from the rarity of a double-doctorate, the subjects, at least, follow a pretty linear progression. Did you always know that you would focus on those areas?
I always knew that I was interested in law – my interest in Political Science came later. It was a combination of policy debate, undergraduate course, and reading Ann Tickner’s book. I originally thought I’d go to graduate school, then go to law school and practice law. But a year out of grad school, I realized I missed academia more than I was drawn to law. So I followed that path. Increasingly, though, law has been a big part of my teaching and research. I think I feel at home both places.
You’ve pointed to gender, international relations, and security in global politics as being primary research interests. Which came first? How did they interplay as your focus on these areas strengthened?
I think I had an interest in social justice in the international arena for most of my life – and feminist work gave me the words to talk about, and the ideas to think about, my interests in that social justice. To me, gender is a lens to analyze injustice. I guess that’s how those interests came together.
You also seem to have a strong interest in research methodology. In your post Divorcing Ontology and Method in IR, you talk about “IR scholars’ choices of methods are often ‘matched’ to people, projects, and paradigms in a haphazard and problematic way”. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
It started with a concern that what IR calls “quantitative” methods aren’t the sum total of quantitative methods – math isn’t reducible to statistics, and most of math does not fit into the mold of positivist hypothesis-testing. From that, and conversations with Hayward Alker, grew an interest in the utility of quantitative method for critical IR. That grew into conferences and workshops – where in dialogue with Sammy Barkin, I started thinking about how we ‘pick’ our methods. Its usually just – what sort of research do you want to do? Feminist? Ethnography. Democratic Peace? Stats. The “matching game” is sociological rather than intellectual. And I’m interested in questioning and moving away from that. Sammy and I make that argument in our Millennium article, “Calculating Critique,” and in our forthcoming University of Michigan Press book, Interpretive Quantification.
Earlier this fall, you wrote a fascinating post on the h-index that surely resonated with researchers in all disciplines & research interests – popular and otherwise. How do you see the h-index, Impact Factor, and similar concepts affecting the ability of faculty to continue to thrive? Do you see the push for research productivity shifting as more faculty voice those concerns?
I think that the focus on h-index, Impact Factor, and other similar concepts disincentives counter-current thinking in the discipline. Essentially, work needs to be popular in its time – not ahead of its time, or groundbreaking, or critical of the establishment. Some of the best work I’ve ever read fails that test – Cynthia Weber’s Faking It, for example, had a lasting impact on gender work in IR, and laid the groundwork for the rise of Queer IR in recent years. The metrics that are becoming increasingly popular disincentivize that kind of work, in favor of work that is more likely to be cited – in areas where more people work, with popular perspectives. Even when that doesn’t discourage innovation, it doesn’t encourage it.
At the same time, I don’t see the backlash against it being effective, yet. Many of us (perhaps myself included) at least heed those constraints enough to meet them – bend, don’t break. But that still caters to them in a way. To me, the question is – on its own terms , on the terms of the research program – what does the work accomplish? But that seems too complicated for many who would like to measure research.
Do you think that the rise of blogging and social media engagement is having any impact on early-career researchers trying to find or establish their scholarly footing or explore less-charted or (rough) waters?
Social media can be vicious sometimes, but I think that there’s a lot of variety in the people who are vicious there. Blogging definitely has had a positive impact on the exchange of ideas in a number of different contexts. And sometimes projects or ideas are blog-sized, which is different (but perhaps sometimes no less important) than article-sized or book-sized. I think that there’s a lot to be said for exploring ideas online. Still, there’s an exposure to it. A number of blog posts I made pre-tenure … I now wonder where I found the guts. And I would advise junior faculty that I mentor not to take those risks. At the same time, there was an importance to it, both generally and for me. So it’s tough, right?
Speaking of rough waters, there are many in academia interested in blogging but don’t want to attract the dissident voices of louder and more-established peers in their fields. Do you have any advice for those scholars on blogging without the constant urge to rework their posts?
I think there are a lot of examples (perhaps even some of mine) of blog posts that never should have been posted. I can think of very few of those (though some) that have done any damage to anyone’s career. What I’d suggest is a several-pronged strategy: 1) if you think it might be destructive to your career (e.g., child rape metaphors or explicit racism), just don’t post it; 2) if you post things that will be the source of controversy, have a good comment-moderation program and a thick skin; 3) never, ever read PSR; 4) have someone who can gut-check your post; 5) never spend more than two or three hours on a blog post. If you need to, either the idea is poorly developed or article-sized.
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