Research Interests

Last year, I read Graham Allison’s book Destined for War. The book was initially captivating and expounded a compelling realist theory on the origin of war between rising powers and those they threaten to replace. Repeatedly, Allison quotes the ancient Athenian and historian Thucydides, stating “It was the rise of Athens, and the fear that this instilled in Sparta, that made war inevitable”[1]. This single line, which rests at the heart of Allison’s argument, comes across as reductionist. If this were the case in Sino-American relations, we would expect to find the U.S. in a state of alarm, trying to hold back the red tide of Chinese power. This is what I wish to study: whether the U.S. is in this state of fear. If the U.S. truly is fearful of an impending clash with the Chinese, we would expect to see the U.S. strengthen ties with allies as it prepares for what could be the worst. My research would focus on the Trump administration’s foreign policy hitherto, examining whether this fear exists in either the rhetoric or embodied actions.

For future research, I am greatly interested in China’s so-called Century of Humiliation. I am fond of Allison’s attempt to prescribe a psychological state to contentious foreign relations, but I do not believe it is fear that most accurately describes the West’s attitude toward China. Instead, I think retribution and redress might better encompass China’s attitude toward the West. Other historical examples along the same mantra of revenge have proven to be rather significant, such as pre-World War 2 Germany. My future research might look at the collective psychology of revenge or something along these lines.

[1] Allison, Graham. Destined For War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? Mariner Books, 2017.

4 thoughts on “Research Interests

  1. This looks like a very fascinating topic to study. I am not entirely sure how I would start my research about a topic like this. However, if you find that the US is in fact in danger of clashing with China, it would be interesting to try and discover the reasons behind why the US does not seem too worried about it. Hypothetically speaking, would another administration handle the situation differently? Is there a way the US could take precautions to end up advantageous?
    I think it would be an interesting experiment to try and study the same questions from China’s perspective as well. This may lead to a comparative study of the way the two countries see their and the other’s future. You could pose the question: Which country is more aware or more prepared for a potential crisis and why? Does the distinct history of each of the countries play a role in their current attitude towards the situation they are facing?
    Personally, I would be very fascinated to read about the last part of your post: the collective psychology of revenge. I think it sort of shows the human side of international affairs.
    Good Luck with your topic! Looking forward to reading it.

  2. Jordan,

    You have some ideas for a potential a great topic! I think that it will be a challenge defining the parameters of “fear” for the United States. If that can be done, then I agree with Lori that a comparison would be good, examining the perception of each country from the other viewpoint. I think a factor that needs strong consideration is the increased trade and growth of the Chinese economy. There have been many scholars who say the growth of the economy is what will provide a sustainable peace. There are others who have stated the corruption provides a facade that the economy will keep growing, but the structure of the government will not allow “true” growth in the economy. Let me know if as you find that there are economic considerations as you research the possibility or expectation of a conflict with China. Best of luck, and I am excited to see what you come up with.

  3. Jordan — you are off to a good start here with some good thoughts on the directions that your research might take. Allison’s work provides a fine starting point. As you continue your work I would encourage you to dive into the scholarly literature on the general topic area (covering ideas such as sanctions, as you note, but also theoretical material in IR realism that emphasizes ideas of trade and interdependence in explaining puzzles like this). Starting to investigate scholarship on your broad/general topic area is a good next step since identifying the debates among scholars (debates about what we understand / what we don’t understand) is one important part of identifying your own specific research puzzle. As you think about the puzzle itself I would suggest that you think more about explanatory (“why…?” “what explains…?”) questions. Ultimately you are working towards a good “why…?” or “what explains…?” question that points to something that you want to explain. The “whether the us is in a state of fear?” is a good starting point, but it is also a background research question (a fact collecting question, and you can collect those basic facts now in order to then work on identifying that explanatory puzzle). I look forward to seeing how the research develops as you continue your work!

  4. Definitely wanted to make sure I commented on your topic, Jordan, since ours are in the same vein. On a separate note, I think it would be smart to compare some of the literature we’re looking at and keep each other in the loop. Something I might think about if I were you is what timeline would be appropriate for your analysis. You mention the Trump administration’s foreign policy here, which I think is appropriate since it’s what we’re living, but I wouldn’t immediately discount the foreign policies of the Obama and Bush administrations. The “fear” in the Thucydides trap builds over time, so looking at the last ten or twenty years might be something worth considering. I also like your idea of bringing in China’s historical context to their current foreign policy — in fact, I suggested the same thing in my post. While I’m not sure whether psychology’s methods mix well with those we’ll be learning about over the next few months, I think the cultural argument could definitely be powerful. Looking forward to seeing where you take this!

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