You may have noticed from BISA’s draft conference programme that it has a new Working Group: the Network of Activist Scholars of Politics and International Relations (NASPIR). We will be having a lunchtime meeting at the BISA conference in Birmingham 1.00-1.45 on Tuesday 16 December (room S10 Strathcona building – opposite the Arts building if you exit the Arts building by the back door) – all welcome.
The purpose of the Working Group is to promote British politics and international relations scholarship concerning non-violent action against oppression. The premise of the Working Group is that, at present, the academic discipline of politics and international relations in Britain frequently serves the function of diverting attention from or legitimating oppression. Such oppression may be domestic or international, and may take many forms, including physical violence or denial of economic, social, cultural or political rights. Those carrying out the oppression may be states, corporations or other non-state actors.
NASPIR’s convenor is Eric Herring (University of Bristol). To find out more or join, visit NASPIR’s email list http://groups.yahoo.com/group/naspir/ or visit its website http://www.naspir.org.
NASPIR already has 175 members, and has also been recognised by the UK Political Studies Association as the Specialist Group on Political Activism. The membership is a mix of politics and international relations academic staff and research students; academic staff and students from other disciplines; and non-academic activists. NASPIR’s members include Andrew Chitty, Anna Stavrianakis, Bela Arora, Dibyesh Anand, David Miller, David Cromwell, David Hudson, Doug Stokes, Eric Herring, Jutta Weldes, Ken Booth, Maureen Ramsay, Martin Shaw, Michael Randle, Milan Rai, Piers Robinson, Neil Cooper, Ruth Blakeley, Emma Mayhew,. Thomas Diez, Adriana Sinclair, Claire Moon, Glen Rangwala, Julian Saurin and Paul Williams.
The output of the Working Group is likely to develop in terms of clusters of research on various topics – such as British foreign policy, anti-war and anti-militarist activities, gender politics, the politics of the news media, the environment, democracy, and the relationships between academia and oppression. These will be complementary to various existing BISA Working Groups, and it is hoped that membership of this Working Group will overlap with that of others. The Working Group welcomes research students and taught course students as well as established scholars. The Working Group will develop mutually supportive links with, and welcomes as members others who share its perspective. These links will extend across the disciplinary boundaries within academia, outside of academia and internationally.
An important objective of the Working Group is to ensure that those in academia come through their professional training with their values intact and are able to protect and promote those values in their professional lives. As what we choose to study and how we choose to study it are unavoidably political, the traditional academic pretence of neutrality is unsustainable. Scholarly standards are enhanced by explicit acknowledgement of that situation and by accounting for how one deals with it.
The activities of the NASPIR BISA Working Group are likely to include the following:
Mapping out of relevant research agendas attractive to undergraduate, Masters and PhD students and which will lead to individual or collaborative research projects. The collaboration could be amongst academics or could include non-academic activists.
- Securing funding for research projects. This could involve mutual support in working out how to retain a normatively worthwhile research agenda while still securing funding from bodies such as the Economic and Social Research Council.
- Developing resources for monitoring news media coverage of current issues on which Working Group members have expertise in order to disseminate their research.
- Exchanging information about how to develop contacts with and provide support for sympathetic journalists, NGOs, officials and MPs in the development and dissemination of Working Group research.
- Putting together special issues and special sections of academic journals. It will be important to create political space in leading mainstream journals. This will probably be more valuable than setting up a separate journal. The October 2003 issue of the Review of International Studies contains a forum on Noam Chomsky and world politics, with papers by NASPIR members Eric Herring (University of Bristol), Piers Robinson (University of Liverpool), and Doug Stokes (University of Wales, Aberystwyth). There is also a paper by and Noam Chomsky himself (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
- Organising sets of panels for the main academic conferences. NASPIR has three panels at this year’s BISA conference in Birmingham, and NASPIR member Doug Stokes has organised a round-table on ‘Critical Security Studies, Peace Studies and Activism: Common Agendas in an Age of Terror?’. There will also be a substantial NASPIR-member presence at ISA in Montreal in March.
- Developing ongoing working relationships between clusters of Working Group members who specialise in particular issues and the relevant activist organisations.
- Establishing a Working Group website hosting draft papers, information on relevant events, commentaries on current events, calls for project collaborators and many other things. Plans for this are already very advanced.
- Maintaining a list of volunteers willing to offer research assistance. These volunteers may be students or they may be non-student activists.
- Maintaining a list of speakers with speaking tours of institutions to disseminate and encourage research. The speakers may be academics and non-academic activists.
Developing a library of syllabi and bibliographies.
Providing a forum to discuss how to ensure that scholarship will be enhanced by the Working Group’s engagement with activism and its abandonment of the myth that academia can be objective.
Developing the Working Group’s own ‘indicators of esteem’ as they were called in the Research Assessment Exercise, such as annual prizes for best thesis, article, book and scholarly contribution to activism.
Coordinating research-based rebuttal in the media or in academic journals of misrepresentations of the roles of Britain and its allies in world politics.
Running launch events for noteworthy books, articles, reports or actions which promote the purpose of the Working Group.
Writing a textbook.
Linking up to groups such as the American Political Science Association’s Caucus for a New Political Science. Its website http://www.apsanet.org/about/sections/section27.cfm says 'The purpose of this section is to help make the study of politics relevant to the struggle for a better world.' This is very much in line with aims of the NASPIR BISA Working Group.
Developing online study resources and promoting them outside formal education.
Promoting research which leads to a better understanding of why some academics engage in scholarship aimed at supporting non-violent action against oppression and other do not. This is expected to include an exploration of the extent to which professional training generally represents a process of ideological disciplining.