BNC and its aftermath

I promise that this post will contain no lists. I do not promise that it will be coherent, funny, informative, or even mildly entertaining. I never do. Today, I can't even promise proper grammar and spelling.

We almost went to Las Vegas for the day when our flight was overbooked, but it didn't turn out that way. Instead, we flew back to Dulles and waited an hour for our luggage and a half hour for the bus. I broke two pieces of luggage, but S says this doesn't mean I get to go shopping. This was before we spent $150 at Target and bought nothing on our shopping list. Not even catfood.

I'm guessing the "no shopping, because you already own 17 bags and three suitcases" thing still applies, even if I manage to return the two bags that self-destructed.

Vegas would have been more fun than a bus to Rosslyn. And warmer.

Once we finally got home I opened iphoto and started looking for pictures to share with you, our Loyal Reader, that would somehow capture the atmosphere that is the BNC. And I found out that I took over five hundred photos during the trip. Two of them were conference related.

Both were photos of people who have been mentioned on this blog, and are therefore not eligible for posting.

I have no images of the conference hotel, the hotel we stayed in, panels or events related to the conference, the places we ate on the days I attended conference sessions, famous scholars in our field, or even the road between the conference hotel and our hotel. None at all.

I do, however, have many examples of the touristy stuff we did on Tuesday and Thursday. So I'm going to post a few of those over on my flickr account. As my boss called on Friday to let me know that he's been busy while I was gone, and could I come in on Monday morning, and the evil PT had six days to come up with new ways to make my life miserable, it's safe to say this might take a few days.

You can get to the photos by way of the following image:


This is the restaurant S, Serena, Cris, and I ate at on Thursday. Many of the characters you know and love (including Priya, who told me about it the next day) were drinking beer down the street, but none of them called to invite us. And yet people wonder why I seem so anti-social. It's because I can't be relied upon to invite myself to things, even when I do manage to remember the phone numbers of people I should call.

In non-alcoholic conference news, I saw six panels. I was part of (not as presenter, unfortunately) two panels. Five of the six panels I attended were awful, and all four of the papers I was interested in (the ones that led me to attend most of the aforementioned panels) were not presented.

When I say awful, I mean it in the "brain trying to crawl out my ear and escape to the beach" kind of way.

I did get to see the qual/quant debate rehashed in a discussion of case methodology and violent conflict.

Conclusions? There must be some key terms that that mean "systems theory spoken here, rather than rat choice and econometrics." Those terms are not systems, modeling, complexity, dynamics, cybernetics, or feedback. Or any combination thereof.

I think I need to figure out how to put a systems panel together for next year's BNC. That way, I know there will be at least a few other people there who don't raise a confused eyebrow at the names Forrester or Meadows.

To add to my general discomfort, I also had a long conversation with someone about the comps from hell. S/he was, as promised by a CM in a conversation on the same subject, understanding and helpful. I again got the response of "I thought you knew that, and just didn't want to talk about it."

I'm growing very tired of that reaction. I'm wondering why no one saw fit to share this belief with me. Say, three years ago? But that's a different post.

The generally positive result does not mean that the conversation was not awkward and exhausting. It also does not mean that I no longer need to deal with the comps from hell. Like taxes and death, those comps.

The presenters on one panel I chaired were great, even though I had little prior interest in either the topic or the methodology employed.

Through the constant shifting of panel membership, I also ended up on a panel with a scholar whose work I admire and to whom I should have introduced myself a long time ago. This was good, as he does work in two of the areas I am interested in.

The very last panel on the last day I was there made up for a great deal of annoyance with both people and the conference format as a whole. I thought I was at a panel on teaching, but it turned out to be mostly about complexity theory and its role in political science and IR theory. Two scholars whose work I've read and admired presented, I got to ask that question that gets noticed (by the presenters and the discussant, actually, which was pretty cool) and another professor in the audience wants to see the syllabus I've started putting together and suggestions of readings for a class he's teaching.

I even got to put in a plug for the importance of grad students in expanding the concerns of IR to include things like complexity, systems, network theory, and technology. Hubris, maybe, but it did seem like a good thing to mention that, as we're generally computer literate and comfortable with things like non-linear causality, as well as actively searching for new ideas, anyone who wanted to push those things might want to ask their friendly neighborhood grad student for help.

Also, I'm at a school with faculty who encourage the work I want to do, and I still spend a lot of time trying to teach myself the theory behind it. I'm all for establishing networks in IR for sharing resources, ideas, and panel abstracts with people who aren't so lucky. The number of IR people who are interested in complex systems isn't large enough for people to work in isolation.

Have no fear that my comment was of the "annoying and the source of a bad reputation that will bite you in the ass later" type. I was amazingly deferential (and not only with deference as measured against my usual standards) and the reaction was one of interest and business-card-exchange. Those are good things, right?

The third presenter is putting together a textbook for IR theory that sounds like it will be exciting and useful. If nothing else, his decision to categorize constructivism as "realist-constructivism," "liberal-constructivism," and other hyphenated categories was comforting and familiar. And he invoked Quantum Guy, a much beloved subject here at PTSD.*

So a good time all around, even if I did see GS right afterwards and fail to rescue her from a conversation because I was talking to complexity theory guy #3. That's three people who are potential members of my academic peeps.**

Another was at the TUWSNBN reception that night, but despite the signalling of another systems-loving grad student I was far too busy scaring someone to join the conversation. Probably for the best, as I'm never at my most sparkling when surrounded by too much noise and too many people.

In other news, I finally snapped over the age-old "why are you doing IR instead of ..." question. The one that always means "You don't belong here" even when it sounds perfectly polite.

In fact, those are the worse times, because the person asking generally thinks that they're doing a favor, by pointing out things like your bad fit with a department or your limited career prospects, as if those weren't things that have already been considered in the decision. Or as if they had a better idea of the answer than you. Or as if, and this one is the most irritating, they have a lock on what counts as real IR and what you do isn't included.

I'm not claiming that this was the case in this particular situation. Just that this was the very last occurance in a very long line of my responses that never quite convey the "screw you, in a polite and non-threatening way" attitude that I aim to project.

Unfortunately, this wasn't any of the times that the question was aimed at me. Instead, it was asked of someone else, immediately after the subject had explained why the work s/he wanted to do was a good fit within IR, rather than the ... discipline. And it pissed me off, and rather than walking away (as I try very hard to do) I said what I thought of the question. And then I apologized, even though I'm still a little ticked about it.

Because that is what people who do not say things without thinking and then forget why they shouldn't have said them do. And I am trying very hard to act like one of those people, especially in things like receptions and panels at the BNC.

And when I can't, because I'm tired or nervous or both, I stick to conversations with people who already know me and continue to talk to me anyway.

Can't be any more specific than that, because I also (perhaps foolishly, but I don't think so) gave the blog address to someone who requested it. And while I have no problem sounding like an idiot online, I'm guessing no one else in our pantheon of characters wants that privilege.

Final thought? I'm trying not to think too hard about the average cost-per-business card of the BNC. It's a very high number. Let's leave it at that.

* Did you know that Quantum Guy is one of the most cited scholars currently breathing and publishing in our field?*** See, there's some useful info for you.

** This would be the group of scholars with whom I need to acquaint myself and vice versa.**** It was not made clear to us at the advising sessions whether this was a good thing for our careers in general, or just a chance to add some new people with whom to drink beer when the panels are over. I'm guessing it's both.

*** Should that be "publishing and breathing"? I'm not sure.

**** Why are none of these scholars female? Are they all hiding? Are we too afraid to be both outside the mainstream and women to introduce ourselves?


At 3/27/2006 6:17 PM, Blogger Priya said...

A few comments:
1. On the subject of giving blog name to someone we both know--does that mean then we have to be all scholarly? Not sure I know how so will just keep posting about poverty and footy instead.

2. On the drinking/dinner thing: you could have called to see what was going on. I didn't know anything was going on and, like a sheep, blindly followed folks about. Use your phone--none of us is a cruise director, as you keep saying! No big deal anyway.

3. On the "academic peeps": I myself was too busy being starstruck and totally enjoying it to care much about establishing contacts with BigNamePeople (though the last panel was brilliant and I'll write more on it later). Besides, the aesthetics of the conference were more fun to play off on--not sure what your panels were like but in my Realists' one, all the blokes were in suits and there were probably about 5 women in the fairly large audience. In the constructivists' panel, it was all chaos with one BigNameConstructivist in a red sweater and another in jeans. The audience also had heaps more younger folks.

4. I wanted to add that, sometimes, it's good just to chill out and hang about with other disseratating folks--met friends of someone else who reads this blog, met the students of one of my heroines in the security fields (and planned a panel, perhaps).

5. You should have gone to Las Vegas--I wanted to hear about it and that's reason enough.

6. Finally, I was also there during TUWSNBN reception and that question. It was just a question about why IR. I asked that of the other postgrads I hung out with the next day. Why do we do what we do? Why do it in this field? That's it--a bit like the biographical panels and the last constructivist panels (which was all about biography too).

And, the person it was aimed at is now terrified of TUWSNBN (I ran into s/he the next day) folk! As potential mentors and the seeds (heh) of an intellectual community, we can't keep on scaring students away (or maybe we should weed them out this way?)

That's it for now. I'm sure I will think of more later on since it was a bloody long post, E!

At 3/27/2006 7:28 PM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

1. Eh. I don't plan on changing anything. Just wanted to give a heads up to people who comment and might be concerned.

2. Didn't ask for an invitation. I was just saying that I try not to invite myself to things, and usually forget to do so, and no one gets to be annoyed when I therefore disappear from non-scheduled socializing. And I'm not likely to start using my phone now, if I haven't before, am I? My comment wasn't even really aimed at you.

3. All my panels were fairly formal, there was a mix of younger and older folks, and the last one was the only one that seemed to be made up of people who wanted to talk to each other. I think I'm just crap at picking panels.

4. Hmm. Not sure about the chilling out--I did that with Cris and Serena, but other than the first night I was pretty much just trying to keep up. It's probably a result of scheduling myself too tight and missing two days.

5. We volunteered to get bumped, but they had enough no-shows that we didn't have to.

6. The question was actually, "why not sociology?" and s/he had just answered it. I stand by the way I felt (I made it clear, I thought, that it was how I felt, and not the intent of the question, that was the issue) and I disagree that those questions are really "why do we do what we do?" because some people get them far more often than others.

Anyway, the first question (not my reaction) *was* meant to help weed the person out--or so I was told after you walked away. It was to let them know that the methodology in question might not be that accepted at TUWSNBN, in a "subtle way." So it wasn't a question of IR and why we do what we do. I read the intent correctly, even if I did overreact. But I thought it best to leave those details off the front page of the blog. I think it's safe to say that few people read our comments, though.

I doubt that we really scared the person involved--s/he spent most of an hour talking to a couple of other people after that, so I'd put money on *that* conversation being the scary part.

At 3/27/2006 8:55 PM, Blogger peter said...

so, i take it i didn't miss much....

At 3/28/2006 11:05 AM, Anonymous serena said...

i think i decided that the chain restaurant was the best idea for mexican given that the downhome ones always get C sick for some reason.

At 3/29/2006 2:21 PM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

Peter, you didn't think you would miss anything, did you?

Then again, I heard rumors that other people went to fabulous panels featuring famous people. I just didn't see any of them.


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