Blog 2017-12-03T23:31:46+00:00

Welcome to my blog! Every week, I will post at least one article on something involving wicked problems either in peacebuilding or comparative politics. I define those fields very broadly, so you’ll probably be surprised by some of the topics I end up covering.

Subscribe for my newsletter to learn about new posts, and other things that cross my desk. Topic suggestions are also welcome; I invite you to submit ideas through our contact form.

Systems, Peacebuilding, and Comparative Politics

This week, the first students will begin using the tenth edition of Comparative Politics: Domestic Responses to Global Challenges while I put the finishing touches on my web site and begin writing a comparable text for my other field which is tentatively titled, From Conflict Resolution to Peacebuilding. Not surprisingly, I have been thinking a lot about how the two fields overlap, but mostly about the ways in which they have little in common. Until recently, I’ve worried more about the gaps in what my colleagues in peace studies know about current trends in political science. Here, however, I want to focus on the implications of the one thing we peacebuilders focus on that comparativists often ignore—the role of systems. Ironically, comparative politics researchers got there first, which I learned in my first course in 1966. For someone coming from math, physics, and engineering, the writing of David Easton and Karl Deutsch grabbed my attention and kept it to the point that I have based my textbook on systems approaches from the beginning. For good or ill, systems theory fell out of favor in political science at a time when it was becoming more important and more useful in dozens of other disciplines, including peace and conflict studies, although I have to say that colleagues in the hard sciences and management have made a lot more progress. In particularly, the more consistent use of systems-like approaches could help comparative politics in at least the following ways as I have seen [...]

By | January 2nd, 2018|Categories: Uncategorized|Comments Off on Systems, Peacebuilding, and Comparative Politics

On Trust

As a comparative political scientist and peacebuilder, I have to be interested in trust, and I have to be worried about the declining trust both in the country I live in and in the ones I study. Restoring and rebuilding trust seems to be a requirement for making significant progress in solving any of the vexing issues in our social, political, and economic lives today. And the news on that front isn’t terribly encouraging these days….r Luckily, a book and an article crossed my desk this week that address how trust can be restored, albeit in very different ways. First is Rachel Botsman’s delightful book, Who Can We Trust.  She starts from a premise most of my colleagues share. Trust in our institutions is declining. She goes on to unpack what trust in general means more than most of the people I work with in at least two ways. To begin with, she talks about "trust leaps" or the fact thattrust almost always involves taking a metaphorical leap into the unknown which is one of the main reasons why Palestinians have a hard time trusting Israelis (and vice versa) or why President Reagan is famous for the line, "trust, but verify.” Then, she talks about "trust stacks" in which we start by trusting an idea, then the platform it is built on, and finally in other people you might (or might not) trust. But what grabbed me the about her book is that it meshes with an idea [...]

By | December 26th, 2017|Categories: Books, Current Events and Trends, Events, Ideas|Tags: , , , , , |Comments Off on On Trust

On Dealing With Our Divisions

At the unusual set of holiday parties I normally attend, this year’s discussions have all been about how to best deal with the threats to democracy and security that the election of Donald Trump and the rise of the new right in Europe have led to. I kept hearing two tough questions which I have been thinking and worrying about for decades. How, on the one hand, do we effectively say “no” to the policy mistakes and injustices we see happening all around us? How, on the other hand, do we do so in a way that allows us to work together with at least some of the people we disagree with so we can find constructive solutions to our problems? In my life as an activist and a peacebuilder, I’ve tried to do both, but, like many of us on the left, have often found the two goals hard to combine. However, combining the two goals has taken on new urgency in the last year or so since many of us have come to the conclusion that we have to do both but don’t really know how to blend the two. Like most of my fellow party goers, I’m pretty angry with what’s going on in Washington and in other world capitals. As angry as I am, I also realize that the many problems we on the left will not be able to solve any of the underlying problems we face on our own. If, as a side [...]

By | December 18th, 2017|Categories: Current Events and Trends, Events, Examples, Ideas, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , |Comments Off on On Dealing With Our Divisions

Build Peace 2017

Last week, I joined over 400 people in Bogota for the 2017 Build Peace conference. It was the fourth "edition" of this annual event which has gotten bigger and better each time.  Originally created to explore the intersection between peace and technology, the conference has moved beyond that to include the arts and broader questions of social change. This year, we focused on "making paper count" which is an obvious issue in countries like Colombia where an agreement has been reached but there is plenty to do before peace truly takes hold.   All too often, agreements don't last. Indeed, by some counts, half of all agreements fall apart and the parties are back on the battlefield within five years of a conflict's end. So, we gathered at the University of the Andes to explore technology, the arts, Colombia, peace, and more. As has always been the case at Build Peace, we had a mix of plenary sessions with keynotes, dialogues, and short talks with more workshops than we had ever had before. Indeed, we spent more time listening and more time working together than we ever had before at one of these events. As I expected, I spent a lot of time working with colleagues from Drexel University's new peace and engineering program and from the Peace Tech Lab at the United States Institution of Peace. I first went to Build Peace because I knew that we peacebuilders need to incorporate everything from big data analysis to new software [...]

By | December 10th, 2017|Categories: Current Events and Trends, Events, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , |Comments Off on Build Peace 2017

On Turning 70 (Politically)

Round number birthdays are always a good time to reflect on the past and ponder the future. Given who I am, that means thinking about the political times we are in, how we got there, and what we could do about it. For just about everyone I know and wherever we live, these are not good times. So, it made sense for me to think about the political past, present, and future in the week when I simultaneously turned 70, launched, and agreed to do a core peacebuilding textbook. In these and the other projects I’m working on, my goal is to encourage as many people as I can to work together to produce the profound social, political, economic, environmental, and other problems we face. So, treat this blog post as an invitation, one that will take me a while to spell out. […]

By | December 2nd, 2017|Categories: Events, Examples, Ideas|Tags: , , , |0 Comments

The State of American Democracy

Last week, I had the privilege of participating in the first of five working conferences on the State of American Democracy held at my beloved alma mater, Oberlin College. It was organized by the college's rock star level professor, David Orr, a long-time climate change expert who has realized that the problems we face run far deeper than the environment and extend to the ways we govern ourselves at all. So, David assembled an amazing team of analysts and activists from the left and right to begin figuring out what we could and should do to address a set of issues that long antedated last November's election and only have been exacerbated since. We heard from well-known experts from the left (e.g. Reverend William Barber and Jane Mayer) and the right (JD Vance and Peter Wehner) as well as activists and analysts who specialize in political science, law, environmental studies, and social media. More importantly, the 150 or so participants took advantage of the time together to network and develop strategies that we could take forward in our home communities and on the issues we particularly worry about. My own takeaway was simple and added to urgency I have been feeling for the last few years. We live in a world of wicked problems whose causes and consequences are so inextricably intertwined that we cannot solve them separately, easily, or quickly--if we can solve them at all. At the very least, they require creative policy responses that are not [...]

By | November 20th, 2017|Categories: Current Events and Trends, Events, Examples|Tags: , , , |0 Comments