Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The problem with an IR 'must-read' list

Since putting up the previous post, I've been toying with the notion of a 'must-read' list for graduate students in International Relations. I even have something in draft. But the more I think about it, the more uneasy I am with the whole idea. The field seems to have become so fragmented that I'm not sure there are any books or articles that every grad student simply must read. Fifteen or twenty years ago, I suppose one might have said that every IR grad student had to read, say, Waltz's Theory of International Politics, but I'm not sure that's true anymore. So what one is left with is a it-would-be-nice-if-you-had-read-this list, rather than a you-must-read-this list, and the former kind of list is not going to excite anyone much, it seems to me.

7 comments:

thusbloggedanderson said...

Interesting: a field without a canon. I wonder what, if anything, that implies?

LFC said...

A good question. Though it's not exactly that the field doesn't have a canon. It's more that a lot of the (arguably) canonical works don't really help grad students w their projects that much, or so I suspect they and their profs believe, and it's your project and your research that will give you a chance at getting an ac. job.

LFC said...

p.s. Well, your project and some other things, to be sure.

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If one takes a canonical or an 'arguably canonical' work to mean a work that a grad student might be v well-advised to read for comps, my own diss had several such works in its biblio. But then i didn't get an ac job. Not that i'm suggesting a cause-and-effect here. I prob wdn't have gotten one irrespective of how many canonical works i engaged w or referred to. It might though be an interesting exercise for someone to go through the available bibs. of IR dissertations and see how many arguably canonical works are in them. Not sure exactly what that wd prove, but might be interesting. I s'pose it might "prove" that the field actually doesn't have a canon...

thusbloggedanderson said...

Philosophy is the same way, I guess, in that few of the works listed by Wolff are going to be subjects of anyone's project.

I took the exercise to be more like "works it would be kind of embarrassing to have to admit never reading." Which for ex is why he's cool leaving off Hegel, because Anglo-US philosophers generally take pride in having read nothing by Hegel.

LFC said...

Anglo-US philosophers generally take pride in having read nothing by Hegel.

I've no reason to doubt that. However, Wolff's intellectual trajectory and positions are not typical of most analytic Anglo-American philosophers. Wd take too long to go into in detail, and anyway he's written a lot about himself at his blog and elsewhere, including an entire autobiography available via the links at the top of his blog.

Short version: he wrote his dissertation in the 1950s on Kant, then in the 1970s had what he has described as a 'revelation' about vol.1 of Capital that led him to devote much of his writing to Marx, incl. a book about Marx's literary style and its relation to the substance. His best known bk is In Defense of Anarchism. (I've read little of Wolff's work, outside of his blog.)

LFC said...

If we take your formulation "works it would be embarrassing to admit never having read," I'm still not sure philosophy and IR are the same. I'm not sure there any IR works an IR scholar would be *hugely* embarrassed, as opposed to *slightly* embarrassed, at not having read.

LFC said...

correction:
are any IR works