This month of March brings a particular mirth and joy as we read in FB posts some friends finishing their graduate and post-graduate studies – not to mention the many graduation photos of FB friends’ elementary and high school kids.
With such feeling, I can’t help but retell my own tale of a long tunnel with the intention of sharing personal reflections and identifying moral lessons that may guide others before experiencing the same; hence, this marginalia…
Exactly within two years, I finished my master’s degree in International Relations at Shahid Beheshti University (formerly known as National University of Iran) located in northern Tehran.
During the oral defense for my thesis, one of my professors and members of the defense panel asked me to compare and contrast the impacts of a Middle Eastern political event, if there are any, upon a specific sociopolitical trend in Malaysia (a Muslim country whose official religion is Islam), Indonesia (a Muslim country without any recognized official religion), Thailand (a non-Muslim Buddhist-dominated country with considerable Muslim population in the capital and in the south), and the Philippines (a non-Muslim Christian-dominated country with considerable Muslim population in the south).
This question of Prof. Haji-Yousefi gave me an idea on what to write in my doctoral dissertation, and I really decided to deal on that topic. In fact, I had practically started gathering pertinent reading materials. After passing my two semesters of doctorate (2001) at Tehran University, however, I doubted if I could get any travel allowance to go to Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand to collect first-hand materials and conduct field interviews. Travel allowance for such purpose is not part of my scholarship grant, the concerned personnel of the Higher Education Ministry reminded me.
As such, I settled on pursuing a purely or largely library work for my dissertation. My keen interest at that time with post-positivist theories in International Relations seemingly augured well for this decision. The topics of my research papers in different courses illustriously expressed this personal interest in IR theories in general and post-positivist theories in particular: “Alexander Wendt vs. Kenneth Waltz: A Critique of Constructivist Theory’s Critique of Structural Realism;” “Human Rights in International Relations: A Methodological Survey;” “Iran vis-à-vis Other Regional and Non-Regional Players in the Post-Soviet Central Asia and the Transcaucasus: A Study of Converging and Diverging Interests;” “The Globalizing Impact of Transnational Corporations (TNCs): The Case of Microsoft Corporation;” “Neorealist and Constructivist Accounts of Security Cooperation: A Comparative Analysis;” “Alexander Wendt and Kenneth Waltz on Power: A Comparative Study;” “Robert Gilpin’s Thought on International Political Economy: A Critique;” “Realism, Liberalism and Constructivism on Human Rights Norms: A Comparative Study;” and “The Principle of Self-Determination: Its Conceptual Shift in International Law.”
For the second time, I decided on what topic to deal with for my dissertation. This time I was determined to delve on the ongoing debate between Waltz’s 1979 magnum opus Theory of International Politics and Wendt’s 1999 major work Social Theory of International Politics that respectively represent structural realism and the positivist camp, on one hand, and social constructivism and the post-positivist camp, on the other. After taking up my two required courses in research methodology with an ultra-positivist and empiricist professor, however, I began to anticipate the difficulty for any post-positivist study such as mine to get approval from the septuagenarian professor who approves the methodological aspect of any thesis proposal submitted to the IR department. For this reason, even after taking and passing the required comprehensive examinations, I was hesitant to submit my dissertation proposal to the department.
As in previous years, I was able to buy approximately 100 book titles on various subjects at the 17th Tehran International Book Fair (May 4-14, 2004)—the biggest annual cultural event in Iran. A whole year of savings would make it possible to take this rare opportunity. Among this new collection of books, I first read An Islamic Utopian: A Political Biography of Ali Shari‘ati by a certain Ali Rahnema. Typographical errors of the book simply irritated my eyes which have been used then to proofreading voluminous books as part of my translation works at an international cultural institute. I then picked up Tim Jordan’s Cyberpower: The Culture and Politics of Cyberspace and the Internet (1999). Jordan approaches the discussion by highlighting what he calls “three levels or circuits” of power in the cyberspace, i.e. the power of the individual, the power of the social, and the power of the collective imagination or imaginary. He does so by adopting three concepts of power as his theoretical framework, viz. power as a possession by Max Weber, power as social order by Barry Barnes, and power as domination by Michel Foucault.
I finished reading this introductory book on the politics of the Internet in two days, without knowing then that it would catapult me to a final settlement of my dissertation topic but plunge me into a long dark tunnel of exploring a theory in sociology—and not IR—to account for a macro-phenomenon in the virtual world.
“Barry Barnes’ Theory of Power as Social Order: The Case of International Quds Day in the Cyberspace” is the tunnel.
Congratulations to all the graduates!