At times I wonder how come I haven’t come across a similar thought or opinion to mine on the internet regarding a certain topic. There’s a special feeling of satisfaction when I find out pieces of people voicing the same concern. Introducing the “Jigsaw.”
“So what do you study?”
(In a dismissive manner) “Very typical of a woman like you”
“What do you mean?”
“Nothing, don’t mind me. I’m just saying.”
This is an actual conversation between a friend of mine and a student she met from another university during a conference. It seems that even the more obscure professions are victims of stereotypes. Perhaps the existence of these stereotypes can be explained by the little societies formed around an interest – or in our case a Bachelor’s Degree. Truth is, knowledge of International Relations has layers. Most can easily be shared and understood by the general public. Having just learned that you are an analyst, an average person will ask your opinion on the current events in Afghanistan. That is quite predictable these days. Deep down, International Affairs are human affairs after all. Nobody, however, will listen to somebody rambling about Karl Popper or Constructivism; not even a dedicated IR student. And yet, what keeps us former students loosely connected over the years are the common memories, inside jokes, memes and classes. That happens in every college, and in fact, wherever a group of individuals with somewhat similar interests interact together under an institution.
That being said, being too invested into your profession can backfire. While I had so many people to talk to during my senior year, once again I felt solitude. Reading to the point of sleep-deprivation made me feel like an outcast in the eyes of people beyond my university. I sincerely wanted to develop my casual self to connect with people beyond my professional interests. It had to do with my own survival, as I could feel my years as a student ending. I actually believe that despite the objective utility of a Master Degree, many students choose to pursue one as they try to hide from the harsh reality of the job market and our social relations as humans. Whether this was the rational thing to do or not, I chose to find work, any work, immediately after obtaining my Bachelor’s Degree, to tackle my insecurities.
My first position was in the shoes of a technical support advisor for a US multinational tech company. Large enough to be forced to sign an NDA. The more than attractive salary brought people of all walks of life to the company which made it seem like a good place to start. I was disappointed. I was expecting to listen to their stories and have simple everyday conversations. Instead almost every social interaction outside work felt like a burden. Essentially I had traded a modest amount of conversations about International Relations for an endless amount of repetitive technical support stories and gossip.
This taught me something. It doesn’t matter under which corporation or institution you work for. People will be inclined to create a clique around the basic operations in there. If this is a necessary evil, I would rather work at an embassy listening to diplomacy drama. At the same time, expose yourself to people and situations beyond the four walls of an office.
“This is why having friends outside your professional circles is so important. Striking up friendships with people who don’t have any connection to your professional life encourages you to develop nonwork interests and virtues, and thus be a fuller person.” – Arthur C. Brooks, A Profession Is Not a Personality, The Atlantic
It must be acknowledged that it is not always easy to find the social energy to socialize with someone who has a different routine after a ten hour shift. What’s easier than going out for a cold beer with a colleague who just finished at the same time and place as you? This is where the romantic relationship plays its part. I figured out that the woman I’ve had the best time with is a person of arts and has little to do with my professional or educational interests. Despite that, she has everything to do with all the other interests in my life, which ultimately do form my personality. I am separating love from friendship, as you rarely move in together with friends. No matter how tight the schedule, the bottom line is your interaction with the person who reminds you that there is more to life than work. Why would I prefer to spend every night with a person reminding me of my job after a prolonged shift? And if one still wishes for more hours of International Law and Geopolitical Analysis, one should wonder: is it my special other whom I should change, or is it the circumstances that need to be adjusted within the frame of my working hours in order to reach my professional fulfilment? Hence, it is not always desired to spend your evenings with a person of your profession. We all belong to various, overlapping clans.
“In IR Cold War debate (and after), Realists are often identified with the ideological right, but Carr was a man of the left, a determined advocate of the wartime alliance with the Soviet Union who dedicated the rest of his long life to writing its early history (1917–29), a fourteen-volume study.” – Howard LeRoy Malchow, History and International Relations, Bloomsbury, p. 18
Another problem that is bugging me is the association of International Relations students and academics with certain political ideologies. The formal dress code, at least in Greece, is enough to make a person outside of the discipline paint an IR student with the colours of the Right. There are many false oversimplifications within the discipline as well:
a) If you are a Realist, you belong to the Right
b) If you study International law and Human Rights you are team Left
c) People who support Palestine are likely Leftist while people who support Israel are definitely conservative
d) If you focus on issues such as food security and global inequalities, you are a communist
e) The Great Debates in IR speak for themselves
An academic true to his work, however, will detach themselves from the logic of political agendas. People may have a psychological preference for package deals in a winner-takes-all voting system. Unsurprisingly, the domestic lens is simply insufficient for the complexity of contemporary international issues. If needed, one must search pieces of answers across the whole political spectrum. That is the best evidence of academic and political humility.