Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Dawn of the Dead

. Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Drezner's been hinting about his zombies-and-IR-theory research program for about a year now, and the first sign of where he's headed with it appears in this Foreign Policy excerpt from his forthcoming book:

The specter of an uprising of reanimated corpses also poses a significant challenge to interpreters of international relations and the theories they use to understand the world. If the dead begin to rise from the grave and attack the living, what thinking would -- or should -- guide the human response? How would all those theories hold up under the pressure of a zombie assault? When should humans decide that hiding and hoarding is the right idea? ...

What follows is an attempt to satiate the ever-growing hunger for knowledge about how zombies will influence the future shape of the world. But this is a difficult exercise: Looking at the state of international relations theory, one quickly realizes the absence of consensus about the best way to think about global politics. There are multiple paradigms that attempt to explain international relations, and each has a different take on how political actors can be expected to respond to the living dead.

The whole thing is entertaining, as one might expect, and Drezner offered some further context on his blog. He clearly intends this as a teaching tool, and like a somewhat-similar Godfather-and-IR-theory tract from a few years back, I am sure it will be useful for teaching. I look forward to reading the book version when it comes out in December. But Drezner hints that he may want this to be something more:

The Atlantic's Max Fisher gets what I'm going for here, noting that:

Zombie theory sounds an awful lot like counterterrorism or cybsersecurity theory, to give just two example. But the beauty of zombie theory is that it applies too all sorts of emerging trans-national security threats, including those we have yet to anticipate or imagine.

These could include pandemics, environmental catastrophes, immigration flows, etc. In other words, almost any international threat other than traditional state vs. state controversies. While these are certainly interesting issues, much current IR theory is focused on international interactions like those he describes. The book's table of contents seems to indicate that his goal may be to survey the theoretical literature on these questions in a way that is understandable and accessible to students who know more about popular culture than IR theory. That is a worthwhile exercise on its own, but it isn't clear whether he intends to add to previously-existing theory or merely seek to summarize and apply it.

In either case I am sure it will be a great read.


John Lovett said...

Zombies are a very interesting concept in all areas of political science. Andrew Gelman has an unpublished piece where he applies some work he's done in methodology on interviewing tough-to-interview populations (ie prisoners) to zombies. (I'm having problems accessing it right now, but it's a hilarious read.)

Da<strike>w</strike>n of the Dead
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