I had already planned to revisit my last post because while I wasn’t quite satisfied with it, I also didn’t want to lose the moment by endlessly tweaking it.  Commenter, Una, however, responded to a different point in the post, and gave me an even better cause and topic: when and how to admit you don’t know something.

My first response to Una’s post was to write the reply I posted. My second response was ‘people will think I’m an idiot!’ My third response is this: one of the things I am proudest of learning from my mentor is to freely admit when I don’t know something. I, and she, do this for a variety of reasons, but I think the most important is that feigning knowledge interferes with the learning and slows the working process down. Learning something to the point of becoming truly knowledgeable takes time, and that learning is delayed or hampered when one pretends to already understand.  Moreover, when some knowledge is assumed, it is often thus never covered. I have no patience for repeating information already discussed, but equally I hate not knowing everything that I want to know about a topic. Admitting what I don’t know from the outset eliminates the need for any dance of inquiry.

Having defended starting out as a novice, I take and agree with Una’s point that it is disingenous (and, as so often happens is IR, outright harmful) to represent oneself as an expert on one subject based on knowledge of another. For a few of my friends, this is a well-known trope, but one that unfortunately continues to be ring true. This is in fact another reason why I feel so strongly about admitting ignorance: because while I do have substantial knowledge verging on expertise in some areas, I don’t and can’t know everything about every relevant topic. I need to fill in the gaps, and that begins with acknowledging that, in this example, I know nothing about Bosnia, but I want to.

This is also why I am so thankful to have commentors; not only do I know that I am not simply writing to myself, but because I hope to find others who will help me learn. In that vein, any recommendations on post-conflict Bosnia and the peace and/or democracy process are very much appreciated.

I have been avoiding this reality for some time, taking on an African country whenever a project demanded such a case study, ignoring the fact that many of my friends and colleagues are now more knowledgable about substantial parts of the continent than I am (even excepting that I haven’t managed to read more than the headlines in months).  I’m currently working on a project for my Democracy, Governance, Stabilization and Post-Conflict Reconstruction class in which I have to choose a problem of democracy, governance and/or stabilization in a post-conflict country and, of all the countries available, I picked Bosnia.  And I love it.  I can’t pronounce or even spell any of the names that I am reading about, but Bosnia is suddenly fascinating to me, because it is an excellent case study for what is now really driving me: the problem of de-normalizing and de-norming violence as a means of conflict resolution and normalizing trust relationships across lines of fractionalization.

I still wake up every spring wishing I was in South Africa, and I know I’ll continue to choose case studies from the continent (I’m already considering  Somalia, South Africa and Sudan as case studies for the normalization project), but my head just isn’t in it anymore.  I began studying IR and anthropology in order to study Sub-Saharan Africa, but as I’ve progressed thru my studies, I’ve discovered so many questions that can’t be answered in Africa alone.  In this point in my life, I would rather focus my energies on them, rather than limit myself to a single geographic area, however vast and diverse.

From Schrodt’s “Seven Deadly Sins of Contemporary Quantitative Political Analysis”:

The typical paper I receive has some subset – and often as not, the population – of the following irritating characteristics:

  • A dozen or so correlated independent variables in a linear model;
  • A new whiz-bang and massively complex statistical technique (conveniently available in Stata or R) that is at best completely unnecessary for the problem at hand, since a simple t-test or ANOVA would be quite adequate to extract the few believable results in the data, and not infrequently the technique is completely inappropriate given the characteristics of the data and/or theory;
  • Analyzes a data set that has been analyzed a thousand or more times before;
  • Is 35 or minus 5 pages in length, despite producing results that could easily be conveyed in ten or fewer pages (as one finds in the natural sciences)

At least now, having taken a quantitative methods course, I now understand why the analysis is useless, where as before I would just skip it to read the conclusions.  Actually, I still do this, because as he states, the paper is usually 15+ pages too long.  However, I don’t understand what his problem is with Stata.

As if the rabbi’s basketball fandom wasn’t enough, this weekend marks the beginning of the World Cup.  I haven’t followed soccer since college, but it is in South Africa, so I love that.  In honor of both of my loves, here are some Thursday cartoons.

It’s that time again!  This is one of my favorite parts of summer, because it combines great dresses, good music, dancing and ridiculous wonkery as we auction off some of the leaders in foreign policy.  Seriously, this is a make or break event for those in the know.

Details here, and of course the awesome poster.

Working on 4 separate posts – none of them for D&S – only to realize they’re all trying to say the same thing… which is not something I am currently willing to admit.  Clearly I will have to, soon, but for now I’m just going to ignore them in favor of Ice Road Truckers.

Realizing that if I really do in fact want to write about the differences between state and international governing systems and what impact that has on activism, I’m going to have to do it another time.  Two paper ideas at a time is plenty when it’s not finals.


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