Category Archives: Profession

Things I have been thinking about

I’m trying to get back in the habit of posting here, even if it’s not super important, interesting, or research-related.

Yesterday, I submitted another small grant application for OPOSSEM. We need some MediaWiki development work done, and [surprise] I haven’t been able to find anyone able or willing to work for free. Hopefully, with some funds available, we can hire a firm to get the wiki-based textbook going. Also, I exchanged a flurry of emails this morning about next steps: including getting an official launch message out there, figuring out how to recognize and reward user contributions, and hopefully starting a project similar to the Wikipedia Ambassadors program, but for the OPOSSEM textbook. Of course, that will be easier once the programming is done on the MediaWiki site.

I also exchanged a round of emails with various folks about open-source publishing, not strictly OPOSSEM-related, but also in journals. It is apparently an issue that is percolating at the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences. A similar debate is going on in the U.S. Of course, there’s also the recent debate about Elsevier and their prices for bundled journal subscriptions. I don’t have anything to add here, but I do find the politics of this interesting. And, I do tend to think that much knowledge is publicly funded through university and targeted research funding, and therefore, the fruits of that funding should be a public good, as widely available as possible. However, faculty members tend to be a conservative bunch, and really it’s going to require academics to be a little less resistant to change and more open to new and different metrics of “quality” than whether a small number of gatekeepers at certain journals deem content to be of quality.

Finally, last week I learned something new about academic hiring practices in Canada, and I’ve been thinking about it a bit since we have a couple of on-going searches in our department right now. I knew that all academic ads in Canada include some language about first priority for Canadian (resident or citizen) applicants. Clearly, it’s not an insurmountable hurdle, since I got hired up here, and many others do as well. I had always assumed it was a sort of Canada-first employment policy that applied to all jobs. Turns out it’s not. It just (or mostly?) applies to academic jobs, which was explained to me by Daniel Béland during coffee chitchat during last week’s graduate student conference (awesome, BTW…. the US could stand to have more of these opportunities for grad students). In any event, I skimmed a couple of articles about the policy to supplement what Daniel told me, and now, I find it fascinating.

Short version: In the late 60s, a number of academics were worried about the influx of Americans into the Canadian academic job market, and [though I don’t know whether it was material or cultural interests driving it] they framed a movement around the effect this was having on the content (i.e., too much American sociology, not enough CanCon) of the curriculum in Canadian universities. In 1982, the movement successfully got a provision added to immigration law to protect academic jobs from non-Canadian academics. At least one article suggests that the movement had the effect of increasing CanCon in campus curricula in the social sciences.

I’m curious about the effect the law has on the Canadian academic job market, and also on the training of Canadian PhDs. Economists certainly would have one hypothesis about the effects of protectionism on an industry, but I wonder whether that applies here. And, of course, I wouldn’t really want to touch that debate directly with a 10 foot pole. My sense is that enough universities find ways around the law if they really want to, and there is a fundamental problem in Canada of not enough growth in tenure-track jobs to satisfy the number of PhDs we produce collectively (and I do think the academy has a collective responsibility to try to employ as many of the qualified individuals we train, or stop training them). So, it’s complicated. And, interesting. And that’s all I have to say about that. 😀

Random thoughts on epistemology, ontology, and methodology

So, before I forget…. I wanted to commit to paper (eh, teh Internets) these random thoughts that I had before, during, and after research design class today…

  • Do most grad students start out as “problem driven” researchers? That is, don’t we mostly come to graduate studies due to interests in real substantive (as opposed, usually, to analytic) problems that we want to better understand? Nearly every grad admission essay I’ve ever read is about substantive rather than analytical concerns. And, in part, the process of grad school is a bit of indoctrination training to adopt and use different analytic (theory and method) tools to answer substantive questions. Only then do we become methods-driven or theory-driven researchers.
  • Are some scholars cognitively or psychologically more adept at certain types of research methodologies or their capacity to be analytically eclectic? For instance, are hedgehogs better at certain types of work than foxes? Can this explain some of the quantitative or qualitative divide? Or the positivist/post-positivist divide? Or, if interpretative methods are based on empathy and the ability of researchers to both know or understand in the common sense way and know as a stranger or expert (9-13, 19), then might some researchers be better able (due to personality) to empathize with their research subjects better than others? I can think of some people who’s ability to empathize with colleagues (not at my institution) suggests that they would be hard pressed to empathize with research subjects sufficiently to achieve verstehen. Isn’t it better, then, that they aren’t doing interpretive work? Or, is the ability to do meaningful interpretive work (pun intended) dependent on personality? Could we derive a model to predict this? Give researchers a personality test that measures ability to empathize, and then correlate that with some 3rd party coding/measure of the quality of their understanding as demonstrated by their research? Does this mean that Foucault was capable of incredible empathy? I wonder.
  • For class, we read pieces that claimed that quantifying things runs counter to the interpretive turn…. that numbers cannot capture the intersubjectivity of a text (broadly understood to include acts and artifacts as texts) and so have no place in interpretive work. Sure, I get that. But then what of the digital humanities movement, where folks are using textual analysis (counting of words) to describe and interpret and uncover patterns in texts? Admittedly, I don’t know enough about MLA -style interpretivism or the digital humanities, but the glimpses I’ve seen suggest that they don’t view counting words as antithetical to interpretation of texts. So, why can’t political scientists use textual analysis tools for interpretive analysis of texts? (And, in some ways, it seems to me, that many of the presentations I’ve seen of textual analyses are more descriptive than causal anyway….)

What is the comparative advantage of political science in Canada?

Let me start by saying this is not a promise that I will be blogging again regularly. However, I’ve been thinking about this since last week’s graduate research design class, so I thought I’d go ahead and write these ideas down somewhere other than my Moleskine™.

For the first week of class, we read a handful of histories of the political science profession, most of which focused on the development of American political science (much to at least one student’s dismay).

One of the articles suggested that the Canadian market is too small to be a leader in all fields of political science, and instead, if international recognition and contributions were valued, then Canadian political science would be well-served by specializing in the areas of the field in which it has a comparative advantage. This got me and (then because I made them) my students reflecting on what subfields or areas within political science might Canada be reasonably expected to have a comparative advantage. Having been trained and taught in the U.S. system before arriving here, I have some thoughts based on observations of the differences, not only of political science as its practiced in Canada, but also differences in undergraduate education and society in general. So here are a couple of examples.

Examples of fields or areas in which Canada conceivably has or could develop a comparative advantage:

  • study of immigration policy and multiculturalism: The politics of immigration and of multiculturalism have become increasingly important and more widely relevant among advanced industrialized democracies over the last decade or so. To the extent that this has been a preoccupation within Canada for longer, it seems like Canadian political scientists can get and have gotten ahead of the curve in this area.
  • critical theory: Funding for the social sciences in Canada is housed with the humanities at the SSHRC, rather than with the natural sciences and engineering as they are housed in the U.S. I believe this difference in the funding structure (combined with a general tendency toward inclusiveness and multiculturalism, even within the discipline of political science) has given political science in Canada the freedom to develop a more eclectic range of acceptable (by the discipline’s local customs/norms) approaches. In contrast, I suspect that political science in the U.S. (behavioralism revolution aside) has constantly felt the need to justify itself and its ‘scientific’ credentials within the NSF as it is compared (at least implicitly, if not always explicitly) to the natural sciences.
  • federalism (and by extension other forms of multilevel governance): Many students (and also their instructors or the popular media?) nearly fetishize federalism. At a minimum, there is a lot of time spent thinking about and emphasizing how certain things (elections, party systems, policy, etc.) are overwhelmingly influenced by federalism. Surely these insights could be useful for lots of different questions.

Example of fields in which Canada is likely to be at a comparative disadvantage

  • quantitative analysis: Most undergraduate degrees are based on a British model where students specialize from year one and do not get a broad liberal arts foundation. Undergraduate political science majors are usually not required to take any lab science nor to complete even college algebra, let alone calculus. This means that when students go to graduate school, they seldom have the foundation necessary to learn advanced quantitative methods.
  • comparative politics outside the Anglophone world: Again, few students are required to take any foreign language as undergraduates and those that do, often take French (which will help with only a handful of countries). In addition, few undergraduates seems to study abroad and in general, when universities talk about “internationalization,” they mean attracting foreign students, not sending Canadian students abroad. This means that while graduate students can do fieldwork in non-English speaking parts of the world, few of them will have the really solid language skills to do so effectively (unless, of course, they had these from living abroad or from their families prior to school). Updated to add: As case in point, see page 10 of this mission statement from Mac’s president.

I’m sure there are more points that could be added to either list, but these are the ones that immediately came to mind as I (re)read these histories of the discipline last week.