Friday, May 16, 2008

Once More unto the Breach

In the morning, it all starts again. Gotta get some shut-eye.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Post-Grading Strategy

Student papers are turned in once again on Thursday. This weekend will be hellish. Simon and Nelly’s wedding is the weekend after, so I must do everything I can to have the papers done within a single week. I need to be hyper-productive Friday-Monday. I think I’m going to cancel my office hours on Wednesday and stay home to grade. I’m hoping I don’t have to turn back any papers late. Taking papers with me to the wedding is ridiculous.

Anyway, after Craig and I get back from the wedding, that gives me two weekends of work before I grade finals. Our final exam is on the first day of exam week. The final exams require no comments, so I’m hoping I can crank those out in a few days.

I’ve decided that the next book on the timeline list is Raghid El-Solh’s Lebanon and Arabism: National Identity and State Formation. I’ll put off the Great Arab Revolt for a while. I’ve also picked up a few books on French colonialism. I need to photocopy these excerpts:

Persell, Stuart Michael. The French Colonial Lobby: 1889-1938. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press. 1983. pp. 97-114, pp. 140-158.

Thomas, Martin. The French Empire at War: 1940-1945. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 1998. pp. 62-63, pp. 100-129,

Martin, Thomas. The French Empire between the Wars: Imperialism, Politics and Society. New York: Manchester University Press. 2005. pp. 40-45, p. 115, pp. 162-163, pp. 185-208, pp. 218-226, p. 295, pp. 323-326.

Those will provide snippets for the timeline, but they can wait, too.

I’m embarrassed to say that the Solh is the only thing on my list by an Arab. But Arab writers are not publishing on the subject in English and I’ll be damned if I slug through books in Arabic for what we’ve determined is already an unpublishable conference paper. Truth be told, I think that this paper is a lot like my lone grant application this year. It’s not so important that it get me very far. It’s just important that I write it to prove that I still can still produce a paper. Baby steps.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Fromkin's Been Nailed

I finished extracting what I needed from Fromkin. I’m not sure he was a good choice now. The problem is that he loves long, dateless descriptions that skip back and forth across time. Usually descriptive texts that are useful, I scan into the timeline. But that can realistically be one or two paragraphs, maximum. Fromkin will give interesting descriptions with nothing at all to date and the descriptions go on for several pages. I simply can’t scan in whole pages, especially when it’s clear that he’s skipping back and forth over time, even while not dating a damned thing. What I need to read is a book that’s more like Zamir about the Great Arab Revolt (which looks really not so great after reading Fromkin!). I think my future timelining has to rest on ferreting out which book is date-rich. That one always has to come first. If nothing else, having the chronology already done for me would have allowed me cut and paste more out of Fromkin.

I’m thinking of adding another book on the Great Arab Revolt, Eliezar Tauber’s The Arab Movements in World War I. The book was reviewed by Philip S. Khoury, Jeffrey A. Rudd and Charles D. Smith and sounds a great deal like the Zamir—a book short on interpretation and long on mind-numbing detail. Smith, the author of what has become the standard textbook for courses on the Arab-Israeli Conflict, points out his errors, but on the other hand praises the book as the state of the art. The weaknesses tend surround issues of ignoring Rashid Khalidi’s work on Palestinian identity and Arabism, especially when he is so anxious to stress local nationalisms prominence at the expense of pan-Arabism. Khuri was the most lukewarm reviewer. Rudd was much more positive. Smith, interestingly, while the most critical, was also the most enthusiastic as well. All three reviewers stated that they would have liked to see Tauber both develop his own argument and engage the arguments of other scholars.

Do I need another book on this list? It’s a good one to read. I dunno. I probably should send the last blog to Ellis and ask him if he thinks this is a viable conference paper. Maybe I should just punt the idea. It’s late. I need to crash.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Plan So Far

I don’t want to lose more time, especially since I don’t get much down time before the next onslaught of grading. I basically get this weekend and next weekend to work on the timeline. The weekend of the 16th, I have to grade like the wind. Normally, I’d be able to plug and chug over the weekend of the 23rd as well, but Nelly and Simon are getting married and Craig and I will be in Vegas for the wedding.

I had a chat with Nelly just before I went on my little grading hiatus. I think it helped me clarify the issues I’m having with the paper. And the comment that Gretchen made was quite to the point—I need a clear explanation of how hierarchy plays into creating an institution. We can play checks and balance games forever. I’ve said that the hierarchy don’t need to all be true believers. How is the discipline maintained? Let’s see if I can spell this out clearly.

A state becomes institutionalized when:

(1) A hierarchy exists to impose order under among the depoliticized under pain of violence. This hierarchy is the minimal organizational requirement the state.

(2) The capacity to impose violence is effectively monopolized by the state so that all other hierarchies with a capacity to impose violence, whether internal or external believe that it is unrealistic to attempt to do so in the given space. This is often called sovereignty, but due the juridical meanings that have cropped up around this word, making it some sort of “right,” instead of an empirical phenomenon, I’d rather not use it.

(3) Existing politicians have selective incentives to enforce the rules upon one another, typically because individual politicians perceive that forcing other politicians to obey the rules enhances their own individual capacity for increasing or maintaining power and opens avenues for imposing policy preferences.

(4) There is no realistic means for a politician to practice within the space except by playing by the established rules. This may, in essence, be covered by condition 2.

Now the important questions that follow are

(1) How do these conditions emerge?

(2) Where do the rules come from?

My answer to this question is that due to the importance of human agency in the creation of institutions, the origin of an institution can only be understood genealogically; they cannot be understood theoretically. The idea is that you and I and everyone else are all different people. All things being equal, we will all behave to identical stimuli in different ways. If we respond in uniform ways, it is only because the situation is structured. That is, it has a set of practical limitations that privilege certain responses over others. The more structured the situation, the more uniform the response.

There can be no theory that explains where an institution comes from, because structure is created, however unintentionally. We can only understand how a state comes into being by means of genealogy. That is, all we can do is trace the relevant sequence of events. We may know that human beings tend to impose political order on other human beings, but beyond the knowledge that we tend toward order, we can only trace how any specific order came into being with the understanding that the content of the specific order, its rules, was entirely unpredictable. If one could “run time five times over” as if our study were an experiment in which every random variable might conceivably work out differently, each time we would probably have different results.

So institutionalization, the means by which a set of rules seem to take on a life of their own, can be understood theoretically. Simply put, for as long as the four rules above hold true, then the institution will be institutionalized. When they do not hold true, one should expect continuous change in political context. The four conditions may become true in any number of ways. That road is probably different for every institution in every time and place.

I’m still saying all of that badly. But it’s a little better now than it has been. I apparently am having trouble with inferences as a result of the brain damage, so I stumble around what I mean to say for a while before the right words come out of my mouth. It’s quite irritating.

Testing the Theory (in Thirty Pages)

Now of course, we come to the writing challenge. My theory suggests that prior to the establishment of order in a given time and space, things should be fairly chaotic. We can, however, trace the genealogy of events to show how exogenous and unpredictable factors transformed political context. In short, we argue convincingly that neither the emergence of the four conditions of institutionalization nor the set of rules that make the institution were predictable. The strategy

(1) Provide a genealogical narrative tracing the emergence of the rules of the institution and the four conditions above, which led to the rules’ institutionalization

(2) Counterfactual analysis of the genealogy. I have to draw on the reader’s imagination to show exactly how things might have worked out utterly differently at several different points in the narrative. Otherwise the claim that we can understand the events only by means of genealogy isn’t credible. Obviously, one can’t prove a negative, but one must at least put forward credible reasons to believe that the negative is true.

This seems to be daunting, but it turns out to be nothing compared with subsequent tasks. To show that at a given point the institution becomes institutionalized, one has to go over the subsequent history and show that:

(3) All four of the rules are in force for the period in question. Obviously if all three rules are in place and the institution’s rules are in flux, the argument is not causal.

(4) The rules of the institution are taken for granted in the rhetoric of the period. This is the process tracing for the project. The way we know that there is a psychological change in the way individuals treat the institution is seeing if their rhetoric changes. Before “institutionalization” other ways of organizing the space should very commonly be part of discussion. Afterward, whie such discourse probably won’t disappear, it ought to drop markedly.

This is, of course, not a project that can be churned out in thirty pages if I intend to prove all of this. The genealogy alone would (and, in the first iteration of the paper, did) go on forever. Then I would have to skim through the rest of Lebanese history to show that the dynamics of political action were institutional and were shaped thereafter by the emergence of the institution that we traced in the genealogy.

Nelly suggested that I might just present the paper as a “think” piece—a direction for future research that I’d like to get feedback on. I can’t publish it, but I could at least present it at a conference or two. So that’s the plan so far.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Ding Dong, the Wicked Witch is Dead!

Rejoice in Munchkinland! Grading is over. Fuck, I’m so tired. I gotta be up at the crack of dawn to print their comment sheets out, too.