Whiskey & International Relations Theory
By Patrick Thaddeus Jackson and Daniel Nexon
Podcast running since February 5, 2020
‘Welcome to Whiskey & International Relationswhere two middle-aged academics drink whiskey and talk about IR theory; it really is exactly what the title says “. This is how episode 9 of the podcast works Whiskey & International Relations Theory begins. The podcast is produced by Patrick Thaddeus Jackson and Daniel H. Nexon, two of the most prolific scholars on North American International Relations (IR) theory. You set up the podcast in early 2020 to complement more hands-on IR podcasts, such as: Undiplomaticwith a theoretically oriented alternative. However, the podcast’s launch turned out to be very timely for a known reason: While Whiskey & International Relations Theory was started before the pandemic, episode 3 was already recorded under lockdown. Since then, most of our teaching, research, and life has (largely) gone online. Blogs, video calls, online seminars, and podcasts have become a second topic and become key resources in making the transition to distance learning, collaboration, and communication. Attempts to create online platforms for IR scientists, students, and practitioners are by no means new – and both Jackson and Nexon were among the pioneers in the field. For example, Nexon is the founder of The Duck of Minerva, one of the most successful IR blogs.
For more than two decades, both organizers have published in detail about the IR theory, often in collaboration. Their joint contributions include work on relationalism and attempts to map recent developments in IR theory (see, for example, Jackson and Nexon 1999; 2009). The idea behind it Whiskey & International Relations Theory this conversation is to be continued. The podcast (re) introduces some classic books and articles into IR theory and provides a platform for current debates. By February 2021, 15 episodes had been published covering a variety of authors and contributions including Kenneth Waltz (Ep. 1-2), Cynthia Enloe (Ep. 3-4), Alexander Wendt (Ep. 5-6). Yaqin Qin (episode 7-8), John Ruggie (episode 11), Susan Strange (episode 12), David Campbell (episode 13-14) and J. Ann Tickner (episode 15) and the debate on ‘race and securitization theory’ (Ep. 9-10). Since addressing all of the episodes would be beyond this brief review, let’s focus on Jackson and Nexon’s exemplary discussions of a monograph – Kenneth Waltz ‘ International Politics Theory – and the ad hoc panel on “Race and Securitization Theory”. We believe these four episodes summarize well the podcast’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as its ways to approach complex and contentious debates.
Learning from the past: waltz International Politics Theory
The first two episodes deal with Kenneth Waltz’s 1979 monograph International Politics Theory. Why did Jackson and Nexon start their podcast with Waltz? As they argue at the beginning of the first episode: “Waltz is to IR what Talcott Parsons is to sociology: it is quite difficult to understand what has happened in this area […] without understanding International Politics Theory“(Episode 1, 9:40). Despite its canonical status, Waltz’s contribution is usually a straw man, and there are actually not that many “Waltzians” in the field. Furthermore, as Jackson and Nexon claimed in an earlier publication, “Waltz’s approach to theory and theorization has been grossly misunderstood” (Jackson and Nexon 2013, 15, italics in the original). The podcast therefore offers the opportunity to revisit, read and reinterpret it International Politics Theory. After brief and concise lectures on the author and the context of the book, Jackson and Nexon carefully introduce and discuss each of the nine chapters. This is where one of the greatest strengths of the podcast comes into play when you reconstruct Waltz’s main arguments in a dialogue with one another. Their discussion takes place mainly at the level of internal criticism. Jackson and Nexon attempt to provide a “fair” assessment of Waltz’s work, including its shortcomings and contradictions, but also highlight his contributions to anchoring debates about theory – and the broader philosophy of the social sciences – at the core of IR. Jackson and Nexon show very well how the text shaped them as scholars and the field of IR in general. This self-reflective dialogue makes the podcast particularly interesting from an educational perspective, as it provides insight into the processes behind the published article and shows how ideas grow and change over time. The episode closes by placing the book in the context of recent developments in international affairs such as US-China relations.
Dealing with the Present: The Debate About Race and securitization theory
The flexibility of podcasts, with their low production costs, quick turnaround, wide reach, and the ability to invite other guests and experts to participate, makes them ideal for engaging in ongoing debates. Episodes 9 and 10 are a good example of the medium’s ability to address topical issues and debates within the IR. The two episodes are based on the conversation between Jackson, Nexon and their three guests Jarrod Hayes, Nawal Mustafa and Robbie Shilliam and offer a timely and nuanced discussion and analysis of the so-called securitization and racism debate. The debate was triggered by a first article in Security dialogueand accuses the securitization theory of being inherently racist and the subsequent responses in the same journal, as well as the impact on various social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. The podcast format allows the discussion to evade the superficial and limiting disputes with 280 characters on Twitter, making for a refreshing change. Jackson, Nexon, and their guests can slowly work through the articles and, perhaps more importantly, delve into the underlying discussions and topics.
Episode 9 begins with a reconstruction of the debate, highlighting some of the key issues in order to better understand the tensions and implications. This is followed by short interventions by the three guests, each of which provides a further background by placing the conversations in broader thought traditions. This is important because North American IR theorists don’t seem too familiar with both securitization theory and critical race theory. Shilliam addresses anti-racist thinking, particularly the diversity and fractality of the radical black tradition, and emphasizes the importance of generosity in academic debates. Hayes contextualizes securitization theory, including attempting to de-essential the concept of security, and discusses how it helps us understand constructions of “normal” politics. This is complemented by Mustafa, a former PhD student who became an anti-racist activist and thinks about the connection between science and activism and the risk of a depoliticization of the radical thought traditions of blacks. These posts allow the podcast to stand out from a very partisan debate. By locating the allegations against the securitization theory within its development and the broader discussion of race, white supremacy, anti-racist activism, the conversation between Jackson, Nexon, Shilliam, Mustafa, and Hayes can go beyond the shortcomings of the first piece and its limitations. The interventions suggest and carry out generosity, underscoring the importance of academic standards, and inviting us to have a much-needed conversation about race and racism within the IR theorization. However, they also point out the responsibilities of magazine editors and the pitfalls and dangers of social media in academic debates.
Conclusion: look into the future
Finally, Whiskey & International Relations Theory presented – from the point of view of IR theory – an important addition to existing publication channels. Of course, a podcast has its advantages and disadvantages, and these need to be considered. A podcast should not be seen as a substitute for established channels or as a solution to all problems in science. For example, a thorough examination of the original texts through reading and discussion in class remains essential. In the future, if this format continues to spread, there could also be a risk of creating lower quality podcasts if students have difficulty rating them. However, we believe the podcast makes an important contribution in two ways: addressing the problem of canon building and making IR theory accessible. First, the high quality of the podcast is due not only to the well-established interaction between the two organizers, but also to their attempt to expand the canon of IR theory. It should be noted that the podcast’s main audience is in the North American IR. What may be on the fringes of North American IR may be more recognized in other parts of the world, and vice versa. However, we believe the podcast will also be of interest to European and non-western audiences. It is important that the question of the audience also touches on the politics of canon formation in the discipline. We agree with the organizers that it is necessary to revisit the classics here and there.
We also agree that IR theory now has a wide range of classics, not just in what is usually referred to as “mainstream” but also in its more “critical” corners. From a critical point of view in particular, it may sound promising to leave the classics behind, but there is also the risk that the baby will be thrown out with the bath water and a discipline will emerge with no (loose) sense of tradition or core as a website for debate. In the end, nobody can escape the politics of canon formation – this now also includes feminist or decolonial thinking in IR. Rather, it seems important to us to reflect on the politics of canon formation and how each (new) canon excludes and includes and creates (new) hierarchies and silence. Finally from one instructive From our point of view, we believe that the podcast, with its detailed analysis and contextualization of the various texts discussed, is very well suited for hybrid teaching as it provides a good introduction to advanced theories of international relations for both PhD and undergraduate students. As, Whiskey & International Relations Theory also represents significant efforts to dismantle the paywall in global education.
Jackson, Patrick Thaddeus, and Daniel H. Nexon. 1999. “Relations before States: Substance, Process and the Study of World Politics”. European Journal for International Relations 5 (3): 291-332.
———. 2009. “Paradigmatic Errors in International Relations Theory”. International Studies Quarterly 53 (4): 907-30.
———. 2013. “I can has IR theory?” The working paper on the duck of Minerva 1.2013.
Further reading on e-international relations