PSR Interviews #11: Rethinking Identity in Political Science – an interview with Scott Weiner and Dillon Stone Tatum

We can’t even say what identity is, we can’t truly understand why it’s having an effect on the mediation of power. We often want to make causal arguments in political science, so this gap is a real problem. Having a better framework for talking about identity would help us have smarter discussions about it as political scientists” – say Scott Weiner and Dillon Stone Tatum. Learn about identity, identity politics and its meaning for political scienece. A fuller analysis of these topics can be found in the PSR article: Rethinking Identity in Political Science.

PSR: What is the most precise definition of identity? And what are its specifics in the field of political science?

Scott Weiner, Dillon Stone Tatum: Identity is essentially our “address” in the social and political world. That’s not a bad definition but it’s vague. In fact, it’s really hard to say exactly what identity is, and that’s why we wrote this piece. This paper found ten different definitions of identity in major political science scholarship over just a 25 year period. And that’s only in political science, not the rest of social science. Different kinds of political science each have great scholarship on identity (we discuss three in the piece), but each kind of identity works totally differently. We can explain precisely why a Prius, a Porsche, and a Model T are all cars, but we can’t say precisely why these three frameworks are all identities. Given how central identity is to political science, that’s a big problem. We’re trying to understand how identity mediates power without knowing what identity is.

You claim that “political scientists lack a common framework for addressing questions about what identity is, how it relates agents with social and political structures, and how it changes over time”. Would a common framework or toolbox benefit social and political science?

Yes, because identity is a central concept of political science. For the most part, our discipline studies why, when, and how some entities get power while others don’t. One way to do that is to look at identities like ethnicity, gender, or nation and see whether being part of one group is a good prediction of getting power or not. But if we can’t even say what identity is, we can’t truly understand why it’s having an effect on the mediation of power. We often want to make causal arguments in political science, so this gap is a real problem. Having a better framework for talking about identity would help us have smarter discussions about it as political scientists. It would also help us create better and more respectful ways of having discussions with and about members of society whose identity is outside of the norm in some way.

In your article, you focused on three dimensions of identity: ethnicity, gender and national identity. Do you consider these three to be the most important dimensions of identity? If so, why?

Ethnicity, gender, and nation are three highly developed subfields of political science with which readers are likely to have familiarity. We picked these three so it would be easier to make our key point that they all work differently, using examples that readers know and to which they can relate. We also are both really fascinated by these particular identities. This paper actually started out as a series of online chat messages about our research, and we realized that our conversations spoke to a larger issue in political science. Our paper is based off a discussion of these three identities but we don’t claim that they’re necessarily the most important. They are, however, very different in how they conceptualize identity, so they happen to be excellent examples of the point we’re making in this paper.

Having a better framework for talking about identity would help us have smarter discussions about it as political scientists

Could you briefly elaborate on your model of elements of identity? How can studying changes and shifts within recognition, visibility and conceptualisation benefit political science?

In considering identity as a political phenomenon, we focused on three elements of identity. First, we focused on recognition—to what degree are one’s identity claims recognized as legitimate by a political community? Second, we looked at visibility—to what degree are attributes associated with one’s identity (i.e., markers of race, gender, ethnicity, etc.) visible and recognizable to others? Third, we considered the issue of conceptualization—to what extent is the identity conceptualized(able) by a socio-political group. The ability to even have debate about terms like “transracialism” are limited, in a sense, by the way we can express identity frames in language in the first place.

Studying shifts is important for understanding the ways that political movements are able to change (or not) social attitudes. The internet’s role, for example, in allowing asexual people to gain more recognition and stronger conceptualization of their identity has implications for LGBTQ+ politics.

You claim that identity is the way we orient ourselves in a given community on the basis of recognizable attributes. What about the identities with dark visibility or low recognition such as in the case of Rachel Dolezal you highlight? Where is the boundary of this debate?

Identity is inherently social and relational—in other words, identity is not just something we can claim about ourselves, it’s something that depends on recognition and visibility. There are two things that the unrecognizable or invisible forms of identity highlight for us: (1) The continuing struggle that some groups and individuals experience in having their lives affirmed by society. It has only been since the 1970s, for instance, that homosexuality was de-pathologized as a psychological diagnosis. Recognition is not a given—it is a site of contentious politics; (2) It allows us to interrogate the why question in regards to non-recognition—in thinking about cases like Rachel Dolezal’s, we were less interested in commenting on the claims she was making than by the conflict that ensued as her identity claims were rejected.

Identity is inherently social and relational—in other words, identity is not just something we can claim about ourselves, it’s something that depends on recognition and visibility.

What are the key contributions your article brings to the field?

The biggest contribution we hope to bring to the field is to create a common frame of reference for diverse research agendas to talk about identity. While identity is a central feature of political research, we found that there were deep sub-disciplinary boundaries that foreclosed dialogue. We want to poke holes in those boundaries, and expand the frontiers of what we can do with a more comprehensive framework.

MORE

Article: Weiner S, Dillon S T (2020), Rethinking Identity in Political Science, Political Studies Review 2021, Vol. 19(3), 464–481.

ABOUT

Scott Weiner is a professorial lecturer in political science at George Washington University. His research focuses on identity politics in the Middle East with a focus on state building, kinship, and gender politics on the Arabian Peninsula. From 2013-2014, he was a Visiting Research Fellow at the American University of Kuwait.

Dillon Stone Tatum is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Francis Marion University. His research focuses on liberalism and world politics, critical security studies, and international political theory.

Questions and production: Eliza Kania, Brunel University London

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Special release: Career Development and Progression of Early Career Academics in Political Science: A Gendered Perspective by Shardia Briscoe-Palmer and Kate Mattocks

A special PSR blog release based on a PSR article: Career Development and Progression of Early Career Academics in Political Science: A Gendered Perspective by Shardia Briscoe-Palmer and Kate Mattocks

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In this article, we wanted to explore how people build academic careers in political science, with a particular focus on those at the start of their careers, early-career academics. Because we also know that women are underrepresented in the discipline at all levels of seniority (Pflaeger-Young et al., 2021), we were particularly interested to see whether we would find any gender differences in experiences of career development.

As part of our research, we carried out a survey, which was sent to the Political Studies Association’s Early Career Network. We also did eight interviews with individuals who indicated they would be interested in speaking further on the topic. We asked respondents their thoughts on the job market, training, support for career development at their universities, mentoring, and networking – all activities important in building and strengthening skills, as well as reputation and membership in an academic community. We also asked more generally about experiences of isolation and discrimination, as our previous research has shown that these are some reasons people struggle to progress in an academic career (Mattocks and Briscoe-Palmer, 2016).

With regards to the job market, the top three concerns looked similar for men and women: lack of job opportunities, a competitive job market, and financial challenges (this ranking was 1/3/2 for women). But a greater percentage of women were concerned about those factors than man. There were also other differences: combining a career with family life was identified as a worry by 63% of women and 42% of men, for example.

In general, we found that men were both more likely to have a mentor (60% of women and 71% of men) and to report positive experiences of mentoring relationships. One finding that emerged is many women would prefer a mentor who is also a woman. With regards to networking, 51% of women and 50% of men said that they participated in networking. However, gender disparities became evident when we asked about why people did not participate in networking: 74% of women and 46% of men reported that a lack of confidence was a reason that they did not participate in networking events. So, overall, we find that while men and women ECAs participate in networking at the same rate, men reported greater confidence in doing so.

Women reported more instances of discrimination from students, colleagues, and institutions. Nearly one-fifth of women (20%) and 4% of men reported discrimination from students. Interestingly, these men were from outside of the UK, meaning no British men reported discrimination from their students. Women were much more likely to report difficulties based on ethnicity and geographical origin (for example, not being a native English speaker).

Ultimately our findings showed a gendered effect of some aspects of professional development, in particular a disparity between concerns about academic careers, as well as experiences of mentoring, networking, and teaching (specifically discrimination from students). We found no gendered differences in experiences of training offered by universities and in the rate of networking.

Women reported more instances of discrimination from students, colleagues, and institutions. Nearly one-fifth of women and 4% of men reported discrimination from students.

These findings are not an explanation for the underrepresentation of women in the profession, but they do add to the evidence base of challenges that women can face. On their own, each experience we describe might seem trivial. Taken together, they paint a picture of a system in which some people have more

access than others. We argue that we need to continue to study and highlight structural inequalities and wider cultures of sexism, racism and other types of discrimination in academia. More work is necessary on this topic to understand representation in the discipline in more detail (Emejulu, 2019). Most urgently, we need to have a deeper understanding of career development and progression from an intersectional perspective, and also take into account other gender identities, disability, and socio-economic factors.

This is even more important given that Covid-19 has made existing inequalities even stronger (Bhala et al. 2020). Women have borne the brunt of caring responsibilities (Andrew et al., 2020). The pandemic has had a drastic impact on recruitment in political science, and job prospects are bleak (McKay, 2020), meaning less stability and more competition, and an even more challenging future for early career academics.

REFERENCES

  • Andrew A, Cattan S, Costa Dias M et al. (2020) Parents, especially mothers, paying heavy price for lockdown. Institute for Fiscal Studies, 27 May. Retrieved from https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/14861
  • Bhala N, Curry G, Martineau AR (2020) Sharpening the global focus on ethnicity and race in the time of COVID-19.The Lancet 395 (10238):1673-1676.
  • Emejulu A (2019) Can Political Science Decolonise? A Response to Neema Begum and Rima Saini. Political Studies Review 17(2): 202–206.
  • Mattocks K and Briscoe-Palmer S (2016) Challenges Facing Minority Politics PhD Students in the United Kingdom: Women, People of Black and Ethnic Minority Origin, and Disabled Persons. European Political Science 15(4): 476–492.
  • McKay L (2020) ECRs in the lurch. Political Studies Association, 23 November. Retrieved from https://www.psa.ac.uk/specialist-groups/group-news/ecrs-lurch-new-analysis-finds-no-recruitment-surge-make-spring%E2%80%99s 
  • Pflaeger Young Z, Amery F, Holden Bates S, et al. (2021) Women in the Profession: An Update on the Gendered Composition of the Discipline and Political Science Departments in the UK. Political Studies Review 19(1): 12-36.

MORE

Article: S. Briscoe-Palmer, K. Mattocks, Career Development and Progression of Early Career Academics in Political Science: A Gendered Perspective, Political Studies Review 2021, Vol. 19(1), pp. 42–57

ABOUT

Shardia Briscoe-Palmer is an Early Career Academic at De Montfort University. She researches gender, race and social (in)justice. Shardia is also a doctoral researcher in Political Science and International Studies at the University of Birmingham.

Twitter Political Studies Review @PolStudiesRev

Kate Mattocks is a Lecturer in Politics at the University of East Anglia. She researches cultural policy, particularly as it relates to issues of cultural identity and cultural diversity, and academic labour.

Twitter Political Studies Review @PolStudiesRev

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Podcast #13: Women in the Profession: An Update on the Gendered Composition of the Discipline and Political Science Departments in the UK – Zoe Pflaeger Young

Has Political Science as a discipline, as well as Political Science departments in the UK made significant progress in terms of gender equality? “Given the higher profile of gender issues and the increase in measures and initiatives aimed at addressing gender inequalities, we might expect to see considerable progress in the presence and status of women, especially among those universities that have put active policies in place” – says Dr Zoe Pflaeger Young. “However, our survey conducted in 2018 shows that there has only been incremental rather than transformative change” – she adds.

Listen to a podcast, based on a PSR article: Women in the Profession: An Update on the Gendered Composition of the Discipline and Political Science Departments in the UK by Zoe Pflaeger Young, Fran Amery, Stephen Holden Bates, Stephen McKay, Cherry Miller, Taylor Billings, Rebecca Hayton, Marianne Holt, Jasmine Khatri, Molly Marvin, Lola Ogunsanya, Alice Ramdehal and Rosie Sullivan.

The article is a part of a special issue: Gender in the Profession-wide analysis of #gendered composition of the Political Science departments in the UK.

Zoe Pflaeger Young is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at De Montfort University. Her current research concentrates on the crisis of social reproduction and family policy in the context of austerity, with a particular interest in shared parental leave and childcare. 

Twitter Political Studies Review @PolStudiesRev

Production: Eliza Kania (PRS/Brunel University London)

Issue 1/2021 including the special issue: Gender in the Profession

The whole issue 1/2021 can be found here.

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special issue ARTICLES

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TRIBUTE

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A seminar: Slipping Off or Turning the Tide? Gender Equality in EU External Relations in Times of Crisis

Authors and editors of the PSR special issue: Slipping Off or Turning the Tide? Gender Equality in EU External Relations in Times of Crisis organise an excellent, thematic seminar on the issue.

Date and time: 19.11.2020, 4pm-5pm
Registration: go here

This is the second event of the Gender and Sexuality Lecture Series with a special focus on ‘A Feminist EU in the World?’. During this event, there will be a special focus on the special issue in Political Studies Review 18(3) edited by Hanna L. Muehlenhoff (UvA), Anna van der Vleuten (Radboud University Nijmegen) and Natalie Welfens (UvA). With amongst others Toni Haastrup.

More details: go here

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Podcast #9: The European Union as a Masculine Military Power: European Union Security and Defence Policy in ‘Times of Crisis’ – Marijn Hoijtink

“Against the background of a sense of crisis in the European Union and in international politics, European Union Member States have since 2016 increased their cooperation within the Common Security and Defence Policy, for example, establishing the European Defence Fund. Scholars have long pointed out that the European Union lacks the necessary ‘hard’ military power to influence international politics, subscribing to and constituting an image of the European Union as not masculine enough. We are critical of these accounts and develop a different argument” – listen to a podcast by Dr Marijn Hoijtink, based on a PSR article he co-authored with Dr Hanna L. Muehlenhoff: The European Union as a Masculine Military Power: European Union Security and Defence Policy in ‘Times of Crisis’

Dr Marijn Hoijtink is Assistant Professor in International Relations and International Security. Her research covers International Relations, critical security studies, and Science and Technology Studies, and focuses on the design, development, and global circulation of (new) security technologies and weapons.

Dr Hanna L. Muehlenhoff is Assistant Professor of European Studies with a focus on ‘Europe in the World’ at the Department of European Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Her research studies the European Union’s external relations from a feminist perspective, focusing on the EU’s women’s and LGBTQ rights promotion in Turkey and the EU’s security and defence policy.

Production: Eliza Kania (PRS/Brunel University London)

Podcast #8: Imagining the European Union: Gender and Digital Diplomacy in European External Relations – Katharine A. M. Wright

“The EU’s normative credentials were significantly shaken as a result of the 2007 financial crisis, this impact of which has been wide-reaching, cutting across the full spectrum of EU policy action and competence. As a result, the EU and its member states have been struggling to move from a reactive to a strategic mode of policy-making, turning what started as a financial crisis into a deep existential crisis about the very identity of the organisation. ” – listen to a podcast by Dr Katharine Wright based on a PSR article he co-authored with Prof. Roberta Guerrina: Imagining the European Union: Gender and Digital Diplomacy in European External Relations.

Dr Katharine A. M. Wright is Senior Lecturer in International Politics at Newcastle University. Her research and teaching focus on gender and security, including at NATO and in EU foreign and security policy.

Prof. Roberta Guerrina (Univeristy of Bristol) is an expert in EU gender politics and policies. She is interested in understanding the impact of gender (hierarchies) on key policy areas traditionally seen as gender neutral, such as Brexit, Security and Defence. 

Production: Eliza Kania (PRS/Brunel University London)

Special Issue 3/2020: Slipping Off or Turning the Tide? Gender Equality in European Union’s External Relations in Times of Crisis

The whole issue 3/2020 can be found here.

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