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[casi] Proposal for a Radical Working Group


There is something far wrong with British politics and international
relations academia. Financial pressures, teaching loads and
micro-management of all of our activities have increased dramatically
in recent years and are going to continue to increase. The ability and
desire to do socially useful work are being destroyed. We are steadily
being replaced by those who have internalised the mantras of the
Quality Assurance Agency (which ideologically disciplines teaching in
the name of quality), the Research Assessment Exercise (which
ideologically disciplines research in the name of assessment), and  1+3
PhD training (which ideologically disciplines research students in the
name of training and the funders at the Economic and Social Research
Council and in government departments (who ideologically discipline
research in the name of supporting it). It is a process which makes
many of us feel intimidated into conscious self-censorship. Or  we are
replacing ourselves by internalising the new mind-sets being imposed on
us. This is worse because then we cease to see the boundaries any more
and believe that we are freely choosing
what we are doing. We are not free. If our funding was set by
groups of minimum wage workers or anti-war activists, we would be
scrambling overnight to change our research agendas and set up
courses on 'Defeating Wage Slavery' or 'Anti-Militarism'.

At present, those in British politics and IR academia who are still
fundamentally critical of many of our social structures have no focal
point of organisational structure, mutual support and resistance to the
forces keeping those unjust structures in place. The result is
fragmentation, demoralisation and research which contributes to
individual career progression, institutional survival and esoteric
academic debates but not to action which changes the lives of fellow
human beings for the better.

For these reasons we propose a Radical Working Group based on three principles:

1. Its purpose is the integration of scholarship and activism to bring
about radical social change.

2. It will develop mutually supportive links with other groups and
individuals committed to bringing about radical social change. These
links should extend
(a) across the disciplinary boundaries within academia
(b) outside of academia
(c) internationally.

3. It will work to transform those aspects of academia itself which
act as a barrier to radical social change.

The focus in this proposal on Britain, on politics and international
relations and on those with academic posts is only a starting point. We
also welcome members from outside Britain, outside politics and
international relations, and who are current and former students,
journalists, members of the public, anyone who subscribes to its
principles.  The barriers between us and the hierarchies they signify
must be broken down. This is not about sacrificing scholarship to
activism but about enhancing it through activism. It is certainly not
about sacrificing activism to scholarship: if the Radical Working Group
becomes another mill for generating articles for the RAE, it will have

Do you support this proposal? If so please send an email to: You will then become a
member of the group email list. Please note that, as a matter of
principle, this is a public forum with public membership. All members
will be listed by name with institutional affiliation if any under the
declaration above.

You can send messages to the all members of the Radical Working Group
by emailing

If you do sign up, there will be a sense of 'What next?' Sending an
email to the list about how scholarship and activism do or could
connect in your life would be a good starting point. These can be
archived and made accessible to all.

You can unsubscribe by emailing

You can contact the list owner by emailing

The RWG website is


All three principles require elaboration. All are indispensable and
mutually reinforcing.


A radical approach means siding with those who are the losers rather
than the winners in our existing social structures. The change that
needs to occur is not just the amelioration of the effects of existing
hierarchical and authoritarian structures, but their replacement with
egalitarian and democratic ones so that the effects do not occur. Other
possible terms here are progressive, critical emancipatory, left,
democratic, libertarian, socialist, liberal, new or anarchist. Maybe it
should have none of these labels at all and simply be the Politics
Working Group, on the grounds that it should not be a sub-field of
Politics, but be what Politics is. However, the issue is not Politics
or Economics or any other sub-field, but radicalism. Hence the name
Radical Working Group. The goal of fundamental change does not have to
mean demanding everything change now: indeed, considering the fragility
of society and the uncertainties involved in change, and the barriers
to positive change, this is possibly futile and probably dangerous.

There always was something far wrong about British politics and
international relations academia: it hardly has a heroic record of
working for radical social change. Academia was and remains both an
instrument of elite power and a part of our society's elite. But the
pressure to conform and bury any impulse towards critique as the basis
for radical action is stronger than ever.

It will be a big change if we adopt as a key measure of our success our
contribution to making radical social change happen, as opposed to
getting lots of research funding or a 24 or a 5* or getting published
in the right journals. That will inevitably require us to develop
mutually supportive links elsewhere so that our measures become
accepted measures. We need to develop a strong, explicit, organised
 validation of scholarship directed towards radical social action so
that these become the measures of success.


The disciplinary boundaries of academia need to be transcended for two
reasons. First, the barriers to radical change and the methods of
removing those barriers are cross-disciplinary.  The system that means
that something as fundamental as life-span is driven to a great extent
by income is not just about health, just about politics, just about
economics, or just about any other single thing. Second, within
academia, a radical IR scholar will  - or should! - have more in common
with a radical psychologist than a traditional IR scholar. Above all,
you must be a radical, who happens to be an academic.

Radical academics need to get involved with radicals outside of
academia. Those engaged in political action outside of academia
desperately need the analysis, the moral support and the status that we
can offer them. And academics desperately need a reality check to see
if what they are doing is worth doing.

And the links need to be international because the forces against us,
and those who would be with us and who we would be with, are

Many politics and IR academics are already involved with radicals in
other disciplines, outside of academia and internationally. But in most
cases this is outside of their academic lives, and even when it is
within their academic lives it tends to be done in isolation or small
groups.  One of the biggest barriers to doing something about the
current situation is the current situation itself. Set against each
other in an ever-accelerating race for ratings and funding, we work
immense number of hours and barely have time to have meaningful lives
outside of work never mind meaningful lives at work. There is simply no
alternative but to reprioritise some significant part of our working
lives in order to do socially useful work. It is difficult to make up
in your spare time for 60 hours per week of working for reactionary


It is crucial to make radical change happen within academia. Without
it, radicals will suffer and be forced to stay on the margins.
Furthermore, anyone who claims to be working for radical change
elsewhere while opposing it actively or passively in their own
institution is no radical.

The myth of the objective academic must be abandoned, a myth still
widespread in academia. Academic and political activity cannot be
compartmentalised: academia is unavoidably political. Hence scholarly
standards are enhanced by explicit acknowledgement of that situation
and accounting for how one handles the issues related to it.

What the radical changes should be and how to bring them about are
matters which cannot be settled in any pat way. But at least they are
the right questions, and some tentative answers are possible.

First, academia should concentrate its engaged scholarship where it
will have most effect, and this usually means ending and insisting on
redress for the anti-emancipatory actions of one's own state and the
institutions operating within it. When criticism of Western policy is
made, it needs to involve not merely the instrumental argument that it
has failed but also when appropriate the principled argument that it is
wrong. We need to engage with the issues and crises that present
themselves such as the current situation of potential war with Iraq.

Second, academics need to be much more aware of their own relationship
to anti-emancipatory power so that they do not unwittingly become
co-opted by it. They need to understand the ways in which the ideals of
those entering professional life generally can be undermined and they
need to develop strategies to protect those ideals (see Jeff Schmidt's
astonishing book 'Disciplined Minds' and his related website Those entering professional life face a
process of indoctrination, by means of big promises being made (for
academics a life of scholarship), milieu control (the isolation
produced by excessive working hours), unquestioned authority (we are
required to not merely go along with what is happening but to treat it
with respect and admiration), guilt tripping and shaming (if we don't
get on board with the QAA or whatever, we are letting our colleagues down
and lack worth), total personal exposure (our work permeates and
overwhelms the rest of our lives), "scientific" dogma (such as the aims,
objectives, methodologies, targets and assessments that we have to worship
even though they fly in the face of our daily experience), taking away
true self confidence (academics are racked with self-doubt about
our social function - are we frauds? Parasites?), and offering the only
path to salvation (get with the programme, chase those scores, those
publications, resistance is futile).

Surviving academic training with your values intact means knowing what
you are up against, preparing to take action, working with others,
resisting subordination and dealing with vulnerabilities. Helping those
around you requires the same things. It also requires you to take a
hard look at how your own department, your own faculty, your own
 institution operates. And how you operate within them. For an
extensive discussion of what this might involve, see chapter 16 of
Schmidt's book.

Academia has many people wanting to be socially useful yet feeling that
they are failing. The failing is generally not personal. At its heart
is a profession and system of professional training and monitoring that
ostensibly assesses skill and ability but primarily assesses and
inculcates ideological discipline. Time to see it for what it is and
put a stop to it.


Within BISA there is nothing that fulfils the role of the proposed
Radical Working Group. It has the Balkans Group; British International
History Group; Contemporary International Relations Theory;
Contemporary Research in International Political Theory; Defence Group;
English School; Environment Group; Forum on Africa and IR; Global
Ethics; Gender Working Group; Group on Diplomacy; Identities and
International Relations; International Political Economy Group;
International Relations and Global Development Group; International
Relations and International Communication; UN Group.

Within PSA there are specialist groups on American Politics; British
Idealism; British Territorial Politics; Comparative European Politics;
Elections, Public Opinion and Parties; Environmental Politics; Ethnic
Politics; French Politics and Policy; Interpretive Political Science;
Irish Studies Group; Italian Politics; Labour Movements; Marxism; Media
Politics; Participative and Deliberative Democracy; Policing, Justice
and Democracy; Political Marketing; Political Thought; Politics and
Religion; Politics and Society in Mediterranean Europe; Politics of
Health; Politics of South Asia; Post-Communist Politics;
Post-Structuralism and Radical Politics; Public Administration; Race
and Politics; Rational Choice Politics; Scandinavian Politics; Security
and Intelligence; Teaching and Learning in Politics; Urban Politics;
and Women and Politics.

There is an existing Post-Structuralism and Radical Politics Specialist
Group of the PSA.
It aims to promote post-structuralism within and beyond PSA. Its
members do not have to be in PSA and do not have to be in departments
of politics: they also are located in departments of philosophy,
cultural studies and sociology. Its website says that 'its members are
united by advancing a critique of universalism and rationalism and a
perspective on politics that emphasises matters of identity and
subjectivity.' It also says that 'Post-Structuralists may not
necessarily be left-of-centre politically but this group is <HORIZONTAL ELLIPSIS> We are
interested in understanding and advancing the aims of social movements
that also want to broaden the conception of politics and identity that
underpin Western democracies.' Its statement of aims is focused purely
on the production of academic research and teaching from a
post-structuralist perspective rather than prioritising making radical
social change happen. And post-structuralists surely do not have a
monopoly on radicalism. But there is much potential like-mindedness

In terms of model, ally and support, the most promising is American
Political Science Association's Caucus for a New Political Science. Its
website says that
'The purpose of this section is to help make the study of politics
relevant to the struggle for a better world.' It goes on to say:

'Since 1967, the New Political Science section has provided an
alternative space for progressive and activist scholars in the
profession. Originating from a dissatisfaction with the purported
neutrality and dominance of positivist political science, the New
Political Science section has been raising tough questions and calling
upon the profession to bravely engage in critical and committed
approaches to politics for over thirty-five years. The section has a
longstanding commitment to younger scholars who combine high quality
scholarship with an engaged social justice agenda. We encourage
submissions that demonstrate a dual commitment to: 1) normative
theoretical orientations (i.e. critical theory, democratic theory,
socialism, and feminism) and 2) pragmatic insights into the
institutional, economic and cultural constraints operating in the lives
of ordinary citizens--in the U.S. and globally.'

Very promising. It has its own journal 'New Political Science',
organises large numbers of APSA panels, its own annual awards,
newsletter and email discussion list. It passed a resolution on the
current international crisis which it is seeking to have adopted by
APSA as a whole. It is reproduced here:

As political scientists familiar with international politics, many of
whom teach and do research in American foreign policy and international
law and all of whom are concerned about the terrible increase in global
violence in recent decades, we oppose any unilateral U.S. attack on
Iraq and specific aspects of the Executive Branch campaign to eliminate
terror from the world. We support the defense of democracy when it is
attacked but believe that such defense should never undermine the
standing of our nation or dishonor the freedoms and principles that
have distinguished the American way of life. We therefore call on the
President and the Congress to:
1) avoid involving the American military -- in direct violation of
Article 2 of the Charter of the United Nations -- in an attack on Iraq,
a nation which has not declared war on us and against which we have not
adopted a declaration of war. Unilateral action by the United States
can only build contempt for our country in the world community, risk
the commission of war crimes by our decision-makers, build sympathy for
Saddam Hussein, and create the likelihood of unleashing the very type
of disaster the world seeks to avoid. By all evidence Hussein is not a
threat to the national security of the U.S. Precedent and logic combine
in persuading us of the wisdom of diplomatic methods and redeployment
of international inspectors to Iraq instead.
2) restore the rights of the accused to those held in detention, and
end the steady erosion of civil rights and liberties won through great
sacrifices over the centuries for all citizens. We consider it
incumbent on our representatives to advance the spirit of justice and
the rule of law embodied in the American Constitution.
3) prosecute foreign and domestic policy in a manner consistent with
constitutional precedent and international aspirations to world order,
refusing the "pre-emptive" doctrine that proclaims the right of the
United States to intervene anywhere and at any time without concern for
our obligations to the world community under the U.N., Geneva
conventions and a variety of global treaties. In that it will foster
anti-Americanism this doctrine threatens to ignite the very terrorism
it seeks to extinguish.
Whether or not the Caucus for a New Political Science has managed to,
or is aiming to, implement the basic principles outlines at the
beginning of this message is something to be discussed. But at least
there is experience out there to be learned from. And, of course, we
also need to look outside academia for relevant models.

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