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Letter to Dr David Sweeney, Executive Chair of Research England

25 Feb

Dear Dr Sweeney,

Through repeated spamming, I have become aware of a conference organised by an outfit called Westminster Insight on the subject of REF2021. The conference is fully privatised and will occur behind a very high paywall. I did try to raise this issue with Research England on Twitter but was met with a bland statement that did not address my questions. Further questions were ignored, so I wonder if you would be so kind as to answer the following:

  1. What is the rationale behind a public body – Research England – providing two keynote speakers at a wholly privatised conference?
  2. Has Research England conducted due diligence on Research England? In particular, is Research England aware of their spamming practice, and the likelihood that they are not GDPR compliant? Further, does Research England condone the spam, and has it considdered the reputational damage of consorting with a firm like Westminister Insight (whose website lacks basic information: Take a look at the “About us” section here: https://westminsterinsight.com/about-us/ and the fact that much of their spam comes from a “John Smith” does raise questions)? Can Research England make the due diligence report public?
  3. What practical steps will Research England engage in to ensure that attendees at the conference will not have competitive advantage in REF2021? For example, will there be free live streaming, will there be a freely available transcript, and can there be a guarantee of no corridor conversations?
I am sure, like me, you are anxious that public bodies are run with transparency and so I would appreciate your responses to these important questions.
Yours sincerely
Roger Mac Ginty
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New article on “Mobilities and Peace” by Oliver Richmond and myself. Email me at roger.macginty@durham.ac.uk if you would like a pdf copy.

7 Jan

Mobilities and Peace

Abstract

This article considers how an increasingly visible set of mobilities has implications for how peace and conflict are imagined and responded to. We are particularly interested in how these mobilities take form in everyday actions and shape new forms of peace and challenge existing ones. The article considers fixed categories associated with orthodox peace such as the international, borders and the state that are predicated on territorialism, centralized governance, and static citizenship. The article can be read as a critique of liberal peacebuilding and a contribution to current debates on migration, space and the everyday. Through conceptual scoping we develop the notion of mobile peace to characterize the fluid ways in which is being constructed through the mobilitiy of people and ideas.

KEYWORDS: Mobility, peace, peacebuilding, migration, sovereignty, states system

The link to the article is here.

Tips for writing

6 Dec

Writing

In recent years I have struggled to carve out time for writing. A mix of family demands, an increased administrative load, and the sheer busy-ness of academic life (particularly the never ending stream of emails) have meant that writing projects have suffered. The following are the tactics that I have used (with varying degrees of success) to try to protect writing time.

Put it in your diary

Teaching and meetings go into our diaries but do we cordon off time for writing? If we don’t specifically block-off writing time in our diaries, the danger is that the time will be seen as blank and therefore will be eaten up by last minute Skype calls and meetings. So put it in your diary (“Writing 8AM – 12 NOON”) and treat it like a meeting that cannot be re-scheduled.

Set a daily word target

On writing days I set myself a 1,000 word target. The target is realisable. If it was too high, I might very well miss it and thus feel that I had ‘failed’. By having a realisable (and respectable) target of 1,000 words, I can feel that I have made real progress and that sets me up for the next day of writing. I can only keep the 1,000 words per day rate up for about four days. After that I would have to spend some time – usually a few weeks – taking notes and reading.

Write messily

I write first and insert full references later. I do not use referencing software as I have found it to be very untrustworthy (for a start, it cannot deal with my name). Instead I just write and insert full references later. If a reference is at hand, I will insert it or I will simply write “REF” as a reminder to myself, but I would rather use my writing time to get my words on screen than track down whether the year of publication was 2007 or 2008. The result might be a messy draft but at least it you have something to improve on.

Work with your biorhythms

Some people are early birds and others are night owls. Whatever you are – work with it rather than against it. I write best in the morning and so would not dream of grading or engaging in admin tasks on the morning of a writing day. The morning is for writing and the afternoon is for editing what I have written, answering those emails, and those dull administrative tasks.

Get feedback as you write

If possible, I try to get feedback on drafts of my work – even if it is messy. Good, critical feedback is invaluable. People are often busy and I understand completely if they don’t come back to me with feedback, but often my informal reviewers are aware of a literature that I have missed or will have a different disciplinary perspective. Psychologically, I think, the informal feedback process helps me believe that my writing is moving forward towards publication. I also grab any opportunity – brown bags, invitations to give seminars, teaching – to float ideas I am writing about. Some of the best feedback I have ever received has been in MA classes when I incorporate some ideas into a class. If it can survive a good MA discussion – it is likely to survive Reviewer 2.

Press send

There is no such thing as the perfect essay, article, book chapter, dissertation or thesis. There will come a point though when you cannot do any better without feedback or a break. It is better that a draft is out there getting feedback (even rejection) than sitting in a file. Even if a manuscript is rejected by a journal you are likely to get feedback that will help you improve it. A manuscript squirrelled away on a file might as well not exist.

None of this should give the impression that I am some sort of writing machine and that I have it all sorted. I have really struggled to privilege quality writing in recent years. Indeed, writing this blogpost is an act of prevarication – I really should be dealing with the second set of revisions for an article. And none of the (let’s face it, really obvious) points I have made above speak to the quality of our writing output. That might be the subject of another blogpost. I would hugely appreciate if readers would share their ‘top tips’ on writing.

Guidelines on Preparing a PhD Proposal

22 Nov

This document is intended to help you write the PhD proposal that will accompany your application to undertake a PhD. It is written from the perspective of someone wishing to undertake a PhD in Politics and International Relations, but could well apply to other areas of the humanities and social sciences. As well as putting together a proposal and application, it is recommended that you get in touch with prospective PhD supervisors (especially in the UK system) to check their availability and interest in your topic. If they are poor email correspondents at the proposal stage of your PhD, then they may well be poor correspondents when they are your PhD supervisor.

Prospective PhD students are not expected to compile the ‘perfect’ proposal: all research proposals change – especially in the first few months of PhD research. A proposal is likely to be an iterative document that you will update following correspondence with a prospective supervisor. The proposal is an indication of the research to be carried out so that prospective supervisors can judge whether or not the proposed project is viable and whether or not they would have the expertise to act as supervisor. It is worth bearing in mind that a PhD should seek to make an original contribution to the study of a particular issue. A PhD is an opportunity to study a particular issue in great depth, so it is prudent to maintain a concentrated focus rather than attempt overly broad research such as presenting a grand narrative history of a long time period or research based on very general terms such as ‘conflict in Africa’. By far, the most common reaction to a PhD proposal is: ‘It’s too broad’, so you it is worth thinking about how your proposal can be narrowed down: narrow concepts, single theories/thinkers, just one or two case studies rather than many, a limited date range.

Given that a PhD is expected to make an original contribution to knowledge, a good way to approach your proposal is to identify a particular policy/practice or academic puzzle. For example, there might be debates in academic and policy circles about where a particular policy (like peacekeeping or a specialised from of transitional justice) works. A PhD proposal could be developed around answering that puzzle and using a mix of empirical research (perhaps through fieldwork) and concept or theory-building.

Different institutions will prescribe different word limits for a PhD proposal, but they are usually around 1,500 words – that is enough to set out the basic parameters of the proposed research. A research proposal should cover the following:

A working title

This should do more than convey the key words associated with the proposed research. It could be phrased as a question or a hypothesis and can help narrow down the focus of the research.

Key Research Questions 

It is sensible to separate out the key research question from subsidiary questions that are in service of the main question. Getting the right question(s) is the most important way you can narrow down the focus of your study.

Key theories, frameworks or concepts

If your proposed research will depend on key theories, frameworks or concepts then it may be useful to indicate your understanding of them and how they will be utilised in your research. A few references to relevant literature may help.

Methodology

Specify the approach you feel will be most appropriate to the topic and mention any ethical and access issues connected with the research. Is the methodology feasible? Universities are keen that research conducted in their name does not endanger those being researched and the research.

Thesis structure and Chapterisation

How will the thesis be organised into chapters? Again, it is recognised that this is a draft document, and so the chapterisation is preliminary. It would useful to write a paragraph on each chapter and think about how each chapter will connect to create an integrated document. Depending on the topic, many theses will have a trajectory that begins with chapters that unpack key theories or concepts, then uses those concepts to develop an analytical framework (or set of questions), then discusses the methodology to be used, and then presents and discusses findings. It is worth stressing that not all these will have this structure.

Timescale/research planning

You need to demonstrate an awareness of the need for planning and the timescale of the research. A useful way of doing this is to break the proposed research into chapters.

A note on the literature/debate/(sub-discipline) you would like to contribute to

This will show prospective supervisors your knowledge of the literature and it may give you an opportunity to provide a rationale for why your research is necessary.

Bibliography

You should include a short list of references to key articles and texts.

Other things to consider:

It is worth asking yourself: “Why do I want a PhD?” Or to put it another way, “What will I do with a PhD once I get it?”



It is also worthy bearing in mind that there are quite different systems for PhDs – the US and UK systems differ considerably.

It may be that your work will be inter-disciplinary and supervisors from different disciplines will be required. Also, think about the implications of inter-disciplinarity if you are considering a career in academia. While inter-disciplinarity is a good thing, unfortunately most job opening are for single-discipline scholars.

Delighted to say that the Everyday Peace Indicators project has produced a short video explaining its bottom-up methodology

17 Sep

Here it is: New Video

For further project details, check out the Everyday Peace Indicators site

New book – read the first chapter for free!

26 Aug

I am very pleased to announce a new book edited by myself and colleagues:

The Elgar Companion to Post-Conflict Transition

Edited by Hans-Joachim Giessmann, Roger Mac Ginty, Beatrix Austin and Christine Seifert

You can see the book details, and read the first chapter for free, here

Available in hardcopy and as an e-book. I particularly recommend the final chapter by Beatrix Austin and Christine Seifret which is a wonderful example of how comparison should be done: rigorous, systematic but aware of context and nuance.

Published:
31 August 2018
ISBN:
9781783479047
DOI:
https://doi.org/10.4337/9781783479054
Pages:
c 392

Letter to Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley MP

26 Jul

Dear Karen,

I hope you do not mind me intruding on the parliamentary recess and offering the unasked-for advice that follows. But, you see, I think you do need some advice related to your day job as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Remember that? The day job?

As you know, the devolved Assembly that was established under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement has not been sitting for over 18 months. It is your job to getting it back to work – and thus to get one of the major world achievements of the 1990s – a comprehensive peace accord in Northern Ireland – back on track. It is a difficult task and let’s face it, the principal political parties that you have to work with – the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Féin – have very different aims and absolutely loathe one another. And then there is your own political party: it’s is at war with itself over Brexit. So you could be forgiven for pulling the bedcovers over your eyes on a Monday morning and thinking ‘I don’t want to go into the office today’. Believe me, sometimes I have the same feelings about Manchester.

Anyway, I hope you don’t mind if I observe that since taking over as Northern Ireland Secretary of State you don’t seem to have had much impact. Admittedly, you have a tough task but the impression of many observers is that you could try a bit harder with the day job. I read something the other day that compared your dedication to the job unfavourably with that of your predecessor, James Brokenshire. That must have hurt. To call his tenure as undistinguished would be unkind to the undistinguished.

Here’s my unasked for advice … it comes in two parts. The first part is a bit blunt but sometimes things need to be said in a straightforward manner. The second bit is somewhat more nuanced. So here comes the blunt bit: In order to do your job it might actually help if you spent a little bit of time in Northern Ireland. We all know it isn’t your dream job, but you said yes to it and are happy to accept the frills (and cash) that go with it. Your attendance in Northern Ireland is something akin to David Davis’ attendance in Brussels when he was in charge of the Brexit negotiations. If we were talking about school attendance then, at this point, social workers would be involved. Is it really up to another adult to tell you that in order to do your job you have to be prepared to travel to Northern Ireland and show a bit of effort?

The second bit of advice on getting the devolved Assembly up and running is to think about harnessing people power. If you talked to people in Northern Ireland – that is real people outside of your protected bubble – you would know that they are utterly fed up with what they see as a political class who are not terribly interested in getting the Assembly up and running. Democratic Unionist and Sinn Féin antipathy for one another outweighs any perceived advantages they see in cutting a deal. This is facilitated – in part – by direct rule that means most public services function more or less as normal. This is where your opportunity is. There are a few pinch points: budgets and decisions delayed because of the stasis at Stormont. People care about frontline public services. Dinner table conversations revolve around hospital appointments, school places and the he pothole on the road just by the Centra. There is space for a campaigning Secretary of State to build on public resentment and turn it into something positive. There is a golden opportunity to hold a series of public meetings all across Northern Ireland that would highlight the delays and how the inability to put the powersharing deal back together again is having a real impact on everyday life. You are the one with the data to know where the pinch points are and where they will be. You are the one with other data – polling and intelligence – that could make this work. You could turn this into a mass movement that would not necessarily have to rely on a Northern Ireland civil society that is – well – a bit tired. It would require energy, charisma and commitment. It is not unkind to say that those qualities have not been evident in your first months in the job, but you could surprise us.

What I am suggesting is a summer road show. It would get you out of the security bubble (honestly, no one is going to hurt you – especially if you tell people that you want to make life better). It would give you an opportunity to get people on your side. Fundamentally, it would scare the main political parties if they could see that they were being outflanked from the ground up. You could work on a rhetoric that elected politicians should do their job, that public services are at risk, that public services will decline if politicians don’t get their act together. The nature of power-sharing means that parties from opposing groups do not have to like one another – but they do have to work together. These are simple messages that could be repeated night after night in a series of town hall meetings. It would be truly non-partisan as it would be shaming the Democratic Unionist and Sinn Féin. They will try to bang the ethno-nationalist drum about culture war, but if you stick to the theme of public services there is a real chance of having an effect.

And, the people that probably matter to you most – the chatterati in London and political/media elite – would take note. Look at Gavin Williamson and Michael Gove – not particularly likeable people but they have gained a reputation for being passionate about their brief (Williamson) and having mastered the detail and being full of initiative (Gove).

Or you could stay in London, visit Northern Ireland very occasionally, and give the impression that you couldn’t care less.

Yours truly,