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Q on IR subdivisions and nexus between econ & security


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I'm considering applying for a PhD this fall, and I'm trying to crystallize the fields and research questions I'd really like to focus on. My academic background includes an undergrad in econ and a 1-year Masters in IPE (both from European universities). However, during the course of my academic and professional trajectory, my research interests basically have shifted more and more towards the security studies side of IR.

In this context, I wanted to ask you guys for some direction/suggestions regarding two broad research fields that i've been looking into.

1) Considering the above background, I'm naturally quite interested in the interplay between econ/IPE and international security. I've done some work on this in my masters, and I've been fascinated by the research of scholars trying to bridge this gap (e.g. Gilpin, Mastanduno, Kirshner, Gowa, Mansfield, Ripsman, Drezner, etc.) Just to give some examples (these are quite broad; obviously I would narrow them down in my application), this would include the interdependence literature, works on economic sanctions and the economic base of influence and national power, the international politics of natural resources, and the political economy of the defense industry. I'm looking for some pointers on which universities/other academics would be specialized in these kind of issues, since I've only recently begun to explore the different niches of U.S. polsci departments. I guess that MIT would be a good example, but how about others?

Also, would the splicing of IR's two main subfields provide a viable area for an academic career, or would I be at a competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis those who concentrate on the one or the other?

2) Continuing along the same lines - since I got a good basis in formal work in my econ degree, I'm also interested in exploring how a formal methodological approach applies to strategic studies and national security, à la Shelling, Carl Kaysen, etc. I don't have a lot of background on this yet, but I'm eager to get into, for example, game theoretical approaches for modeling arms races, coercion through military threats and economic sanctions, deterrence theory etc. I wanted to see if you guys had some suggestions on where to start my reading for this, in order to proceed in the right direction.

Many thanks for all of your input!

Edited by Thucydides
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My impression is that you are in a very strong position. Security studies lends itself extremely well to political-economy approaches because there is no real methodological litmus test in how you need to work in security studies-- taking a look through International Security, for instance, it's easy to find a mix of historical-qualitative, quantitative, formal theoretical, and economic methods. Basically, you'll just have one very powerful additional tool, and you can likely choose to do work on topics closer to either security studies or IPE as you develop your thesis. But IPE is a difficult enough approach to master that I think you'll be viewed as having a strong advantage. From there on it's just up to you to answer interesting questions in a compelling manner.

I might mention security studies and IPE as two distinct interests that you also desire to overlap in your personal statement, as a way of ensuring your readers that you are already deeply established in one field that you will continue to do some work in. But you knew that already, didn't you?

I think Stanford and Berkeley both offer strong support in security studies/IPE linkages, if you plan to apply to top programs. Michigan, Ohio State, NYU, and Rochester come to mind as places with heavy quantitative/methodological focus... but this really is not my area, so I can't say much (except that MIT was also the first place to come to mind for me).

Reading suggestions... Fearon is one of the giants in game theory/security studies, as is Bueno de Mesquita. I think Bueno de Mesquita co-authored a review article on the "Rochester School" of positive political theory that you might find useful as background (but I must admit, none of my own professor ever mentioned or endorsed the approach). Axelrod's work is considered canonical now, though it's not purely security studies.

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In terms of formal security papers, the nice thing is that it's a relatively small cadre of people.

Fearon's early work has popularized formal conflict stuff. Find his webpage here. Of particular note is the 1995 paper in IO, the 1994 paper in the APSR, and the 1997 JCR.

His teacher was Robert Powell, whose list of papers you can find here. His 2006 piece in IO is well known, as his his book, In the Shadow of Power. In fact, In the Shadow of Power might be a nice starting point in terms of summer reading. From what I understand, Powell does not take on students at Berkeley.

Another big name in the field is Branislav Slantchev of UCSD, whose work you can find here. Schelling's influence is obvious, particularly in the Power to Hurt paper.

In terms of a reading list of books:

Robert Powell, In the Shadow of Power

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and David Lalman, War and Reason

BdM2S2, The Logic of Political Survival

Andrew Kydd, Trust and Mistrust in International Relations

Thomas Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (not formal)

Thomas Schelling, Arms and Influence (not formal)

Those are all pretty fun to read. In my department we just had a class on formal models of conflict (along with some historical background); you can find the syllabus here. My favorite paper in that group is the mechanism design paper by Fey and Ramsay (yes, I'm a homer); find the paper here.

You'd actually be surprised how little is out there that straddles. I'm finishing up my course paper for the aforementioned formal IR class. It's on the relationship between trade and war onset, and while I was able to find a PILE of empirical papers (see especially Erik Gartzke's The Capitalist Peace), I found almost NO theoretical papers. An exception is a signalling paper by James Morrow in 1994 or so (can't find the link---1994 JPR entitled "How Could Trade Affect Conflict?")

I would recommend neither Ohio State (not for this kind of thing anyway---excellent IR group, but not necessarily in this vein) nor MIT (the security studies people there are kind of...well it's different). I would recommend considering places that offer the best possible technical training, as both formal IPE and formal security studies are getting rigorous at a very fast rate. Stanford, UCSD, Rochester, NYU, Princeton, and Wisconsin come immediately to mind. Wisconsin is still producing relatively qualitative students, but with the reshaping of their IR faculty (adding Lisa Martin and Andrew Kydd, getting Jon Pevehouse back, etc.), they have a lot of people in place for doing rigorous work that crosses IPE/security boundaries. Now, you might not have a lot of colleagues to talk to; my officemate here and I both considered Wisconsin and really liked the faculty, but it wasn't ideal in terms of the people we'd be taking classes with and coauthoring with.

To make an actual list:

Stanford

UCSD (assuming the bloodbath is all the way over, which it appears to be)

Rochester

NYU

Princeton

Wisconsin

Michigan

Duke

I'm sure there are some others, but these all would interface with what you've mentioned pretty well. And now that I've rambled on too long, back to my very crappy proof.

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I'm curious to hear what you mean about MIT. My impression is that they have a lot of students doing work on policy-relevant topics, so maybe not heavy theory, but a lot of data analysis.

I would recommend neither Ohio State (not for this kind of thing anyway---excellent IR group, but not necessarily in this vein) nor MIT (the security studies people there are kind of...well it's different).

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I'm curious to hear what you mean about MIT. My impression is that they have a lot of students doing work on policy-relevant topics, so maybe not heavy theory, but a lot of data analysis.

I just don't come along MIT alums all that often in the kind of stuff that I read. Which recent alums did you have in mind? I could certainly be wrong.

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Nobody in particular really, but when I researched the school I found a chunk of their current grad students seemed to be clustering in the general area of policy-relevant security studies, including quantitative, though not necessarily formal theory or cross-over into IPE. It's probably a good point that you're not reading their stuff, but in general they do have very strong faculty.

Also, thanks for the syllabus link. I've been curious about formal theory myself, for not being exposed to it much at all as an undergrad. One friend writing her dissertation now insists that formal theory in IR is strictly game theory, but I think that's incorrect based on what I've been reading. (Not that our original poster Thucydides quite pledged to do strictly formal stuff.)

I just don't come along MIT alums all that often in the kind of stuff that I read. Which recent alums did you have in mind? I could certainly be wrong.

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Nobody in particular really, but when I researched the school I found a chunk of their current grad students seemed to be clustering in the general area of policy-relevant security studies, including quantitative, though not necessarily formal theory or cross-over into IPE. It's probably a good point that you're not reading their stuff, but in general they do have very strong faculty.

Also, thanks for the syllabus link. I've been curious about formal theory myself, for not being exposed to it much at all as an undergrad. One friend writing her dissertation now insists that formal theory in IR is strictly game theory, but I think that's incorrect based on what I've been reading. (Not that our original poster Thucydides quite pledged to do strictly formal stuff.)

Some do data analysis, yes, and I did not mean to imply otherwise. MIT's comparative advantage in the area, however, remains in its traditional security studies group, where students learn very, very hands-on kind of things. If one checks the research link on their Security Studies Program's website, one sees International Security, Foreign Affairs, etc. These are typically thought of as traditional security studies outlets rather than mainstream journals---I love reading them, but at many places, they will not do much for tenure.

Typically IR stuff is strictly game theoretic, yes. I don't know that anybody has, say, applied social choice theory to the behavior in international institutions. There are lots of fun things one can do---if you're interested in learning more, I'd recommend leafing through Osborne's Introduction to Game Theory, which is very readable and chatty enough to get a sense about applications.

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