Last Fall, I visited a number of Political Science departments in Universities around New York looking for an appropriate place to commence my PHD studies. This comes after 16 years of international political science and international diplomacy work in a number of complex political environments and fragile states in conflict or post-conflict situations. Having just come out of a number of years of working as Senior Political Affairs Officer in the Congo (DRC), including Chief of Political Affairs in South Kivu, I thought that I would have something to contribute to modern scholarship of conflict and its resolution, state-building and post conflict development, human rights and effective protection mechanisms and of course, political mediation and negotiations. I certainly have my own ideas and 16 years of experiences to support the research I proposed to conduct and the thesis I wanted to present.
It never even came to that! I have two Masters, one from a top-20 Business Graduate program and one from Columbia University in the big apple. I was told when visiting the departments in NYU and a bunch other city based universities that I not only needed to be writing an active blog but also already needed to show progress – pages and chapters – of a potential book! They totally turned me inside out!
I want to invite you all to read my posts on this blog. While I might be berated as being politically naive, given my background, I think humbly, I might have the smatterings of a good PHD researcher. And here are the points I would like to make:
1. If I was already writing that book and it was at the stage where I could share chapters with academic pundits, would I really need a PHD?
2. What does a blog or a book-in-the-works actually have to do with researching in a structured PHD program? To me, a PHD research program would allow me to gather quantitative and qualitative data on an identified theme which would draw useful conclusions and add to the body of research and analysis on that particular subject. Using a blog to prove that I can write or analyze is counter-intuitive. Just look at my CV (Look mine up at LinkedIn.com).
3. What is the current trajectory of the Social Sciences and in particular Political Science Schools? They have been subsumed in the operational nature of their science-based counterpart programs – programs such as micro biology and nuclear physics research are leading the industry on evolution of the science – but not political science. As a practitioner, gone are the days that professors can sit in leather-covered chairs in dark and cool library offices writing their “thoughts” on current political issues. They have to be more operational and more embedded in the actual live scenarios.
I see that very soon, Political Science PHD programs should require candidates to have a certain level of political negotiation and state-building experience in active environments in the field. I see that part of the PHD program should include active research in the field of inquiry. This would automatically lead to scholarship in the form of writing articles and publishing. A lot of practitioners have a lot to contribute to universities in “filling out” their under-grad and grad political and human rights programs with field research in active environments, and this would add volumes to the flatliner under-grad education in this subject.
Why do I say this? Because the Arab Spring happened and because the fast evolving world of cyberspace means that information has a lag time of ZERO. A lot of attention has been paid to the fact that the Egypt revolution was a “Facebook” revolution. More importantly however, Egypt, Tunisia and Syria have confirmed the collapse of the traditional political pyramid of government and the re-fixing of political power at the level of the individual. Today, individuals not governments share information about current events in their countries and regions, individuals post U-tube videos and start Facebook campaigns against corrupt and inept political figures. It is individuals now that have the power to communicate and establish the FACTS as they are perceived and understood, via social and mass media. The power of the government as an institution therefore is now open for inspection and audit by every single individual that wishes to do so.
Secondly, Wikileaks proved an important point that the sanctity of old and established norms of government and political ascendancy now don’t apply any more and have been superseded by the right of the people to transparency of information and governance process. That is why hackers are important – today government agencies have to be extremely good to hide secret or covert operations or decisions, otherwise they are exposed. While info gleamed from government sources is not always used to fulfill the good Samaritan function of keeping government honest, and I frankly do not support hacking except in this strict interpretation, it underscores my point that politics have been operationalized to the level of the individual. Political academia has to also move with the times! Academia is still a very closed shop and even if I was willing to pay for a PHD, how would I ensure that my long and deep experience is useful to others that wish to be involved in similar endeavors in the future, and also ensure that I had a valuable output speaking truths about my theme?
Lastly, and most importantly, not all countries and individuals have access to internet and applications as we are lucky enough to have in the Americas and the West. In some countries such as a lot of them in Africa, their communications infrastructure is not adequate to support broad-based internet access while low-income economies frankly put computers and android phones beyond the each of most common populi. Other countries such as China and Saudi Arabia impose national restrictions on who and how one can use the internet and social media. In either case, practitioners such as myself who have a high degree of credibility with local actors can often circumvent these restrictions to get information out in a timely and exact manner. We try to do that. Consider the value of such human connectivity as a means of expanding research and scholarship on these issues and concerns.
Social and Political Science PHD programs – wake up! You are like a Jaeger shot sinking into a pint of Lager! Reinvent and open up to riding the changes in research and scholarship.
What do you think?
The photo is just a cameo. This post is not directed at one particular professor.
Categories: Book Reviews