Operation ‘Read More’ meeting with tolerable success


in Daily updates, Oxford

We have periodicals on microfiche

I spent most of today trapped in the Social Sciences Library (the oft-mentioned SSL) due to the gravitational attraction of a stack of books about neo-liberal institutionalism. Now, I have nearly finished an essay. This is especially welcome since it is due tomorrow morning at 11:00am, during our core seminar.

The essay is about the dullest side of international relations theory: a sub-discipline that I shall label “What are we going to call things?” It consists of extensively argued, frequently seriously embittered tirades about whether X belongs in set A or not. Is Hobbes a realist? Is neoliberal institutionalism liberal, as well as really horrible term? Despite the fact that questions of the kind posed above have almost no relevance outside the bizarre world of junior professorships, you will find them hotly debated. Part of the problem is that these questions don’t have real answers: they only have answers that are more or less plausible to certain people, mostly because of biases they already hold. I’ve been baking in the liberal internationalist oven that is Western Canada for far too long to view realism with anything less than profound skepticism. Likewise, the urge to defend liberalism – particularly variants that account for the more solid bits of the critical theory rebuttal – is fairly automatic. While it’s irksome to have such an obviously constructed and difficult to eradicate bias, it probably doesn’t have too much long-term significance.

There are, of course, important consequences that arise from theory, for it cannot help but inform policy, however imperfectly and indirectly. As such, I can see the value of slogging through these sorts of things. Additionally, it seems highly likely that we will have another interesting and high energy debate during our core seminar tomorrow.

In any case, I must go back to my stack of books and sheath of notes – carrying small elements of their language and argumentation over into my essay, marked with wee footnotes. Then, it will just remain to edit the thing so that it doesn’t have the same ability to drain all the joy from life that a good number of these IR theory texts seem to have specialized in.

Tomorrow, after Philosophy of the Social Sciences, the core seminar, and the Changing Character of War seminar, I have my first supervision this term with Dr. Hurrell. I shall have to review my paper. In the evening. I will be going on a private tour of the Ashmolean Museum, along with Claire and some other fresher graduates. Unlike the Natural History Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum, I haven’t yet wandered into this collection of artifacts pilfered by long-dead British aristocrats. This will mean missing this week’s Strategic Studies Group lecture, but this seems the better option. I look forward to it.

  • The proposed second Oxford bloggers’ gathering seems to be falling apart, since very few people can attend on the proposed night. Is there a night of the week when more people would be able to attend? On what night are people least busy?
  • One thing I found today that I didn’t expect: the Oxford libraries will give you bags of the highest quality if you need them to carry books through the rain. Made of tough clear plastic, with good handles and ‘Oxford University Library Services’ and the university crest printed on them in blue. The handles are even double-thickness plastic, so as not to tear. Quite obviously the finest bags I’ve seen in a long while.
  • Anyone wanting to try their hand at some amateur codebreaking, and who is not too troubled by the morbid, should have a look at Bruce Schneier’s blog.
  • While I’ve mentioned it before, Post Secret remains a fascinating glimpse into people’s lives. One of these postcards apparently belongs to Alithea: the friend of Tristan whose music I endorsed in a recent post.
  • Remind me to buy Earl Grey tea. It’s a terrible thing to be out of.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Meghan January 31, 2006 at 8:19 pm

Buy tea! You can’t read without it.

Milan January 31, 2006 at 10:44 pm

I have done so, just in the last ten minutes.

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