Archive | April, 2014

Conference announcement: Local infrastructures for peace

23 Apr

UNiversity of Manchester, 11-12 September 2014

Details here:

The tyranny of training PhD students.

22 Apr

I have been at quite a few conferences and workshops recently in which I have heard people say things like ‘As a trained political scientist’ or ‘ When I was trained in political science …’. My heart sinks.

I should be clear. I have nothing against training in particular research methodologies. If standard regression or qualitative interviews are to be used as part of a research project, then it is sensible to know how to carry them out. My objection is to the systematic training of PhD students to turn them into disciples of a particular discipline. The training machine is firmly entrenched in the United States, much of continental Europe and much of Asia. It has more than a foothold in the United Kingdom. In the US, the PhD dissertation is a relatively short document that comes at the end of long process of classes and examinations focused on research methodology. (I mean, seriously, people who have an undergraduate degree and usually a Masters are then to undertake further examinations!). In the UK, training in research methods is a mandatory part of all PhD programmes.

The danger is that we are producing disciplinary drones, schooled in the science of methods, of followership and conformity. Such training does not occur in isolation. It is part of a wider political economy of how scholarship and education are organized. Running through this are the elements of power and hierarchy and the perpetuation of that power and hierarchy. Research methods are often taught via a top-down form of pedagogy in which there are, apparently, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways of doing things. Or, to be more precise, some approaches to research are ‘approved’ and others are frowned upon or seen as somehow less valuable. Disciplinary boundaries are policed by ‘leaders in the field’, professional associations, the tenure system and what can be called ‘the rules’: a series of career instructions that are unwritten but commonly known. ‘The rules’ are shared during ‘mentorship’ conversations between senior and junior faculty, or passed on from senior PhD students to their more junior colleagues. The main rule is that you must follow the rules.  

Training is a tyranny because it institutes a system of control. Each generation of scholars becomes entwined with the system. The initiates become gatekeepers and co-constitutive of a system based on replication and order. Dangerously, the drive towards conformity does not reward innovation, creativity and alternatives. It does not reward the quirky, the long-shot and the hunch. It drives personality and emotion out of our studies of phenomena that are packed with personality and emotion. It is difficult to write humanity out of revolutions, coups, and social movements (basically the most exciting events of our times) but many political scientists can do this with aplomb. Their journal articles are doubtless methodologically correct, but they are far removed from humanity red and raw that we see on streets of Kiev, Damascus or Washington.

Clearly scholars need to be understood by one another. And we need to be intelligible to our students. Moreover, we need a transferability of ideas so that graduates of one institution can be understood in another. But there is a world of difference between exposure to ideas and methods, and training in those ideas and methods. I am very much in favour of the former but feel that the latter is too constraining. It condemns the latest generation to perpetuate the methodological conventional wisdom of the last.

So, when I hear someone in a workshop meeting say ‘As a trained political scientist …’ my internal monologue starts up: ‘Oh God. This is going to be dull. This person will not say anything in the slightest new or interesting.’ The policing of disciplinary boundaries means that there are costs attached to becoming ‘untrained’. To turn one’s back on training is more than just shunning a particular method. It is means exclusion from the ‘club’.

We should train dolphins, not PhD students.


After a Yes vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum: A whimsy.

7 Apr

24 September 2014
The Electoral Commission announces that the Yes vote is carried by 50.1% in the Scottish referendum. The result is confirmed after the fifth recount. A legal bid by the Scottish Conservative Party to make the referendum result null and void was thrown out.
25 September 2014
Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party, demands the immediate establishment of a transitional commission to expedite secession by 1 October 2015.
Nearly 17% is wiped off share prices of the FTSE 100 in the London Stock Exchange. The Royal Bank of Scotland announces that it will ‘re-headquarter’ in London. Gazprom announces that it will move its European headquarters to Edinburgh.
26 September 2014
David Cameron, British Prime Minister, says ‘we have listened to the people’ and agrees that the Scottish situation ‘merits further consideration’. His spokesman says that any change in Scotland’s constitutional status must wait until the after the next British General Election.
7 October 2014
Alex Salmond leads a ‘monster rally’ in Glasgow to demand ‘immediate and practical’ steps for Scottish independence. Police Scotland estimate that 320,000 people attend.
14 October 2014
A pro-Union rally in Edinburgh attracts 65,000 people. It is preceded by a ‘Comedians for the Union’ gig in which Eddie Izzard, Lenny Henry and Ben Elton perform their song ‘England loves Scotland’. There are skirmishes as the rally disperses. Three people are taken to hospital and 23 are arrested. The comedians’ tour bus is stoned. It is thought to be unconnected to their political views.
16 October 2014
A 23 year-old man, injured in a skirmish after the pro-Union rally in Edinburgh, dies from his injuries. Alex Salmond appeals for calm and blames the violence on ‘uncertainty caused by Cameron’s foot-dragging’.
23 October 2014
David Cameron tells the British Houses of Parliament that ‘It would be imprudent recognize such a wafer thin majority’ and announces another ‘definitive referendum’ to be held in March 2017. The Scottish Nationalist Party withdraws its MPs Westminster and says it will boycott ‘Cameron’s sham poll’.
28 October 2014
Vladimir Putin says, in a BBC interview, that David Cameron is ‘unbelievably weak’ and is ‘a girly man’.
4 November 2014
A previously unknown group, the Union Defence League, admits responsibility for sending five parcel bombs to leading Scottish Nationalist politicians and supporters. Four are intercepted, but a fifth explodes and kills 32 year-old postal worker David McKeechie.
5 November 2014
Alex Salmond declares a ‘Scottish Spring’. In an early winter, temperatures plummet to -16 in the Highlands. Protesters occupy George Square in Glasgow and the chamber of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. A campaign of civil disobedience spreads.
6 November 2014
Alex Salmond is arrested and charged with riotous assembly. David Cameron appeals for calm as protests and counter protests break out across Scotland.
7 November 2014
David Cameron, with the backing of his Cabinet, announces ‘special public order measures’ to be introduced in Scotland including the banning of all public gatherings. Alex Salmond goes on hunger strike but calls it off at lunchtime.
8 November 2014
Just after midnight, police attempt to clear the George Square protest camp in Glasgow. Five people (four men, one woman) are killed when a police van careers into the crowd. David Cameron, on an official visit to accept a ‘Defender of Liberty’ award in Bahrain, calls it a ‘regrettable incident’.
9 November 2014
UN Secretary general (a man so anonymous that no one knows his name) appeals for calm and offers UN mediation assistance. Russia introduces a Security Council motion calling for an International Protection Force for Scotland. Britain and US veto the motion. France abstains. There are reports of mutiny and dissent within the Scottish police.
10 November 2014
Amid unprecedented scenes of disorder across many parts of Scotland, the police call for military reinforcements. English regiments, rather than the Royal Regiment of Scotland, are mobilized for ‘public order’ support. The Royal Regiment of Scotland is sent for extended training in the Falkland Islands.
12 November 2014
Alex Salmond, upon release from custody, unilaterally declares Scottish independence. It is recognised by Kosovo, Northern Cyprus, Cuba, Iran and Iceland. Seventeen out of twenty-three Scottish local authorities declare allegiance to the newly independent Scottish state. Crowds in Dundee, Glasgow, Inverness, Aberdeen and other centres occupy public buildings.
13 November 2014
David Cameron declares martial law in Scotland and appoints an Emergency Interim Manager to govern Scotland and report directly to the Cabinet in London. Former Labour minister Peter Mandelson accepts the job.
17 November 2014
David Cameron is ousted as Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister following a Conservative Party coup. Disquiet had grown in the Party and he was known as ‘the man who lost Scotland’. New Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, calls for ‘Unity behind this great English … er … I mean British nation’.
18 November 2014
US Secretary of State, John Kerry, on a visit to London to hold emergency talks with Boris Johnson, is uninjured after being hit on the head by a haggis thrown by a protester. In a joint statement, Kerry and Johnson announce that US military ‘advisers’ will help protect the UK nuclear base at Faslane and North Sea Oil.
19 November 2014
In a campaign spurred by social media, Scottish independence supporters begin a campaign of ‘laughing in the face of authority’ and laugh at all security officials upholding the Union. A US military ‘adviser’ shoots dead one protester who was laughing at him. In a statement, the US Department of Defense said ‘We do not understand irony and so shot the terrorist fundamentalist Scot who was probably Muslim’.
20 November 2014
Three people, alleged to be MI5 officers, are captured in the grounds of Alex Salmond’s house allegedly attempting to plant evidence of child pornography on his home computer.
21 November 2014
In a major split in the Scottish Labour Party, thirty-seven Scottish MPs call for independence and are expelled by the Party in London.
22 November 2014
Alex Salmond announces that actor Sean Connery agrees to become ‘the head ‘un’ of an independent Scotland. Buckingham Palace announces that the Queen will not holiday at her Balmoral Estate in summer 2015.
23 November 2014
The campaign of laughing, public ridicule and absurdism has now paralysed London-control of Scotland. Tesco stops delivering north of the border. Aldi and Lidl capitalize by announcing 100 new stores each.
24 November 2014
Amid unprecedented pressure from the City of London and the CEOs of Amazon, Starbucks, Exxon Mobil, and Google, Boris Johnson agrees to hold face-to-face talks with Alex Salmond on ‘A road map for Scottish independence’. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair offers to chair the talks but no one answers his calls.
25 November 2014
Alex Salmond arrives in London for talks with Boris Johnson. The talks break up acrimoniously after only a few minutes. Mr Johnson will only speak in Latin. Mr Salmond will only speak in Scottish Gaelic.
29 November 2014
At reconvened talks in the border town of Berwick-Upon-Tweed, Mr Salmond and Mr Johnson agree to the appointment of a five person Transitional Independence Commission – Scotland. Simultaneous translation allows the two leaders to understand each other. No one understands the representative from the self-declared Peoples’ Republic of Glasgow who speaks a version of English.
15 December 2014
An independent Scotland is recognized by the rump United Kingdom, hereafter to be known as ‘Kingdom’. The World Bank and IMF send representatives to Scotland to help with ‘financial stabilization’. They are arrested at Edinburgh airport and charged with ‘international fraud and money laundering’.
16 December 2014
Prince Charles, in his 40th year of unemployment, asks for asylum in Scotland and the chance that he can be declared King. A Twitter poll declares him ‘King Bawbag I’. He declines the honour and continues, in his private jet, to Germany which he describes as ‘the true family homeland’.
And everybody lived happily ever after.

New Article by Me: ‘Why do we think in the ways that we do’ – email me if you would like it on PDF

2 Apr

A new review article by me has been published in International Peacekeeping. Email me at if you would like it on PDF.