It is my third day at the American Political Science Association conference. I have presented at the Electoral Integrity Project Workshop and I have no more work to do. So, my feeling is a bit that of an ethnographist just landed in a village inhabited by an exotic tribe – the American Political Science tribe. The fact that the conference takes place in a Hotel is already a bit alienating for me – three Hotels to be precise, because one Hotel could not suffice for the number of participants – more than 7000 are officially registered. Of course, I regularly get lost. I have asked myself and asked other people why European conferences take place in Universities and American ones in Hotels but had no response. Perhaps the Americans prefer holding the convention in a Hotel because in this way they get the feeling that academia is business and thus, in the US scale of value, a serious thing.
As I said in the previous post, my image of American political science was that extreme scientism and quantitative methods would prevail. It is in part true – I have been panels were I was bombarded with numbers and I had actually the feeling that the presenters cared a lot about their regression techniques and little about the issues themselves they were discussing. Lots of papers are based on very complicated and actually economically costly methodologies, but it seems that here people are not affected by the trivial money problems that are a constant obsession in places like Italy.
However, I saw how the community is so big to leave space to diversity and how non quantitative scholars created their spaces of resistance, such as the Qualitative session and the Method Café (which is a sort of moderated group discussion about qualitative methods). There is also some space for the kind of more policy-advice oriented political scholarship, which does not use complicated methodologies but relies on regular contacts with the policy community.
Interestingly, African studies seem better represented here than at mainstream European politics conferences. Yesterday I was at the business meeting and at the reception of the African Politics Conference Group. It seems that the organized sessions are a sort of families where someone can take shelter from the overwhelming magnitude of the conference – the members all seem to know each others.
Another feeling I get here and I do not get in European conferences is this sort of competitive, aggressive spirit. It is full of competitions for prizes – best article, best dissertation, best book etc etc. And, of course, there is a lot of competition for jobs – alas, in this the situation is not that different than in Europe, although my feeling is that the rules of the game for getting a job are quite distinctive: perhaps harsher, but clearer.
In the end, in the social sciences we seem to be further far than in the natural sciences in creating a single transnational community. Does it mean more space for diversity? Or does it mean provincialism on both sides? I leave the answer to the reader