Over 100 students and faculty attended the first 2011 Korbel Speaker Series panel on Thursday, September 22, 2011, beginning the year in a healthy debate on “The Specter of Ignorance.”
A four member panel, made up of Josef Korbel faculty spanning expertise in International Political Economy to Comparative Politics to security privatization, raised concerns over the increasing trend of reductionism and simplicity across social science fields. The title of the series, “The Specter of Ignorance: On the Limits to Knowledge and Scholarship Practice,” frames the lectures and discussions that will be presented over the coming academic year.
Dr. George DeMartino, a member of the speaker committee who proposed this year’s theme, called for increased awareness of the consequences of reducing theories to universal generalizations, and forgetting the insights of previous academic work, particularly in economics. “Social Science produces ignorance in the very process of trying to create knowledge,” said DeMartino.
Other members of the panel included Dr. Deborah Avant, Dr. Rachel Epstein, and Dr. Martin Rhodes. Epstein suggested that claims to knowledge are sometimes undermined by methodological weaknesses and the problem of measurement, while Avant looked to the “perils of parsimony” outside academics, within policymaking.
“A lot of times simple wins no matter what,” said Avant. She reminded those in attendance that a responsible academic or policymaker must look at the nuance of arguments.
But the panel was not all doom and gloom. Rhodes said he was optimistic that future academics could incrementally build upon their knowledge. “Ignorance is the driving force of what we do,” said Rhodes, putting a positive spin on how ignorance can instead motivate academic work.
For such an epistemological discussion, one audience member wondered about the practical application for Master’s candidates. Another audience member noted that the fact that such debates were held at the Josef Korbel School put it at the forefront in mitigating the consequences of ignorance.
For Patrick Jones, a first year PhD Candidate in International Studies, the combination of professional Master’s programs and academic discussions such as the Korbel Speaker series allowed a good balance. “You can better apply your craft, and think critically about your program,” said Jones.
The next lecture in the Korbel Speaker Series will be held on Thursday, September 29 at 5:00pm in the Ben Cherrington Hall Cyber Café. Dr. Tufuku Zuberi will present on his book Thicker Than Blood: How Racial Statistics Lie. The event is free, and an RSVP must be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Sarah Crozier, MA Candidate in International Development