Thursday, September 27, 2012

Theory and policy

Stephen Walt has a blog post and a longer article on the importance of connecting IR scholars to the policy world. With the latter he is referring not only to policy makers but also to those--NGOs, for example--that are involved in the policy process in some manner. I agree with many of his assessments and prescriptions, as I am a strong believer in the idea that there is considerable value in making research and scholarly expertise as widely accessible as possible.

There is a strong but false dichotomy between theory and policy. If you are doing research in comparative politics or IR, why not get more people to know about it? Part of the problem lies in the unfortunate perception that writing for a popular audience is "journalism" while peer-reviewed articles are "scholarly." But if you are doing peer-reviewed, scholarly work, then what you write for a popular audience carries more weight precisely because it is based on something really solid. This can mean blogging, but it can also mean writing for policy journals, writing op-eds, getting quoted in the media, taking leave to spend time in government, etc.

There are, I think, signs that things are changing. When I started blogging in 2006, the debate centered on whether junior faculty should blog at all. I don't hear that much anymore. Many, many faculty have little idea what blogging actually means, or how it connects to research, but I feel they are less likely to instinctively view it as evil. After all, bloggers like me are now becoming department chairs.


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