For three years I have been running in place in terms of my research. It’s not that I haven’t worked. I’ve delved into new literature and even did some writing. I’ve blogged about it here and here. Yet somehow, despite lots of notes, books read and false starts, I’m left where I started – lots of ideas and ambitions, but no clear research strategy.
How do I restart my research? My last publication was in 2009, when I shifted to this “new project.” The final draft of my last major work, German Foreign Policy: Navigating a New Era, was sent to the publisher on April 3, 2003, the day my first son was born. With young kids I purposefully cut back on research, but now I have a desire to write and produce but progress is elusive.
The problem is that I lacked a clear center. The themes have been shifting- the changing nature of sovereignty, the impact of the communications revolution and social media, the profound challenge created by energy and environmental crises, the dysfunctional nature of economic policy throughout the industrialized world and the shift of power and influence from the West towards countries like China, India, and Brazil – whew! How do I come up with a clear framework? At times I think I have a track and then somehow it goes astray.
So I started to think. What is the point of my research, why am I motivated to move away from examining German foreign policy? The answer is because I feel myself lucky and intrigued to be living in an era of real crisis and transformation (the theme of this blog). As a social scientist I find it fascinating to be on the planet at this time, watching as one era folds into another, bringing about profound change.
A motive of mine is to focus on what I see as the biggest barrier to successful navigation of this period of transition – old thinking. Old thinking is everywhere! When I see someone call Obama a “socialist” or a “Marxist,” I shake my head in amazement — can’t they see how obsolete looking at the world in those terms has become? When people argue against globalization, talk as if a fossil fuel based economy is sustainable or speak of American power as if it still has the force it did in the last century, I realize “old thinking” dominates much of the political discourse.
That’s true in the US, but not so much in Europe. I’m surprised by how Americans dismiss the European Union. When the Eurocrisis started a couple years ago bloggers said things like ‘bye bye Euro’ and a few dismissed the possibility that the EU could survive. I realized they were imagining people in the EU to be thinking about politics just like they were – with ‘old thinking.’ This is especially true from Great Britain and the US, the two former hegemonic powers where old thinking remains strongest.
Yet within the EU, new thinking has already become entrenched. The EU achieved the goals set by the Kyoto accords without harming their economy and are cutting ambitiously moving forward. Germany plans to be off fossil fuels by 2050. Military power is considered best used for humanitarian interventions sanctioned by the UN and not raw pursuit of national interest. Sovereignty has already been replaced by subsidiarity, and globalization is taken as a matter of course.
That’s it – the European Union needs to be the center of the research. All policies and issues connect, and it takes me back to a literature I know well and have been studying since the 80s – European integration! Moreover, I think there needs to be some work done really stressing the revolutionary, positive and sustainable aspects of the EU at a time when people want to prematurely embrace its demise. The fact the EU won the Nobel Peace Prize this year only adds to its relevance.
The Euro crisis opens the door to analyze the global economic crisis, its causes and the way out. The EU’s strong focus on human rights, the environment and energy opens the door to address those issues, including the diversity between France’s embrace of nuclear energy to Germany’s (apparent) rejection of the same. The diverging paths of the US and EU since the Iraq war, including questions about the future of NATO, open the door to discussing terrorism and the nature of war/conflict in this new era. Issues involving Islam and the West are profound in Europe. The whole package requires a new theoretical approach to politics, building on the neo-liberalism and identity theories of the 20th Century.
That necessarily includes the impact of the information revolution ranging from the internet to social media and beyond. But with the EU as the core, I can now envision how it will fall into place, including how all the work I did the last three years is not for naught — I simply needed something to center it. To find that I went back to my roots as an academic, a focus on Europe and the EU. In fact, my concluding chapter in the book on German foreign policy has those very arguments which I can build upon.
Of course! The answer has been in front of me all the time. I thought I had to venture away from my specialization to look at media and change. The key is to integrate these ideas into what I’ve already been doing. Time to get writing!