12th January 2012: Different Approaches In Scholarly Research

From an email to futures studies and strategic foresight colleagues:


Successful projects for the Australian Research Council must have a research design that compares and evaluates several different approaches — e.g. [for strategic foresight projects] Integral, CLA [causal layered analysis], GBN [Global Business Network] scenarios, political forecasting, simulation methods — and not just ‘advocate’ a position. Examples I currently have for the PhD include strategic culture (Alastair Iain Johnston’s PhD Cultural Realism), American military policy for victory (William C. Martel’s Victory in War), American foreign policy (Walter Russell Mead’s Special Providence), nuclear proliferation that compares two leading theories and has FOIA findings (Scott Sagan’s The Limits of Safety), and war-fighting (Stephen Biddle’s Military Power which uses historiography, case studies, formal mathematics, statistical analysis, and simulation). Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis built an entire career as the US ‘Dean of Cold War history’ out of looking at the Cold War’s genesis and then revisiting and evaluating the material from different historical archives and sources. After seeing the richness and sophistication of this work, I find ‘advocacy’ or ‘critical’ work based on one stance to be just un-nuanced.


There is an art to writing rejoinders and scholarly debate. But when someone writes pithy one-liners and quotes selectively (to mis-characterise) from others’ work, this is a sign of personal agendas and the positive illusions that arise when we get too close to our own ideas. It’s not scholarship, it doesn’t advance the debate, and ultimately I’ve learned personally that it’s best to ignore it.