APSA 2017: A preview of things to come in San Francisco for WPSA 2018

By Mario Guerrero

Very rarely do the stars align and we get conferences back-to-back in the same city. This past weekend, political scientists around the world converged on San Francisco to discuss their latest research, network, and you know… sweat.

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#WPSA17 Award Winners


Thank you to our conference community and the city of Vancouver, BC for a successful #WPSA17! Below is a list of those scholars who won an award at the 2017 conference for their exceptional 2016 conference papers. If you would like to submit a paper from WPSA17 to be awarded at next year’s conference in San Francisco, please see the information toward the bottom of this post.

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A message from WPSA 2017 President, Julie Novkov

Dear Member of WPSA:
The Western Political Science Association has long had a reputation for hosting a welcoming annual meeting where scholars consciously orient their presentations toward significant problems in politics. It is also the home of annual pre-conference workshops on Latino politics, environmental politics, feminist political theory, and other specialized inquiries. WPSA prides itself on its spirit of lively inquiry with a critical focus on political issues that matter not just to political scientists, but to anyone who cares about the health and vitality of politics, policy, democracy, and civic engagement. 

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#APSA2016 Twitter Analysis

By Eric C. Vorst


The 2016 American Political Science Association annual meeting in Philadelphia was a great place to highlight new research, to learn from our peers, and to make new professional connections. It also provided an exciting opportunity to gain new insight into how networks of discussion evolve in real time over the duration of a major academic conference. Data mining software, content analysis, and social network visualization tools were used to observe how communities of discussion evolved as the conference unfolded, to identify the emergence of key themes, and to map the extent to which these themes reached different communities within the network.  Ultimately, this project helps to provide a unique insight into what political scientists talk about during a political science convention.

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Identity, Controversy, Pedagogy: Teaching Contentious Issues in the Political Science Classroom

By John McMahon and Patricia Stapleton

As fall terms approach, one question seems to preoccupy political scientists more than anything else: how do you teach Donald Trump? At the least, this challenge has provoked blog posts, social media discussions, and conversations over coffee (and stronger fare). Benjamin Kroll of Centre College posed the dilemma thusly:

How does a college professor teach with a commitment to politically neutrality and objectivity under these circumstances? Is neutrality in the classroom even desirable or ethically defensible at this point?

I need to figure out… how I can, as a college professor, effectively teach about the presidential election and American politics while simultaneously 1) clearly demonstrating that many aspects of “Trumpism” are illegitimate expressions of American political culture and values, 2) raising awareness of the potential future spectre of authoritarianism that a Trump presidency might enable, 3) emphasizing that there are legitimate reasons to support Trump even if you do not accept the viewpoints and proposals that are not legitimate, and 4) making sure that all students, Republicans and Democrats alike, feel that they are welcome to express their views in classroom discussions, and 5) making sure to emphasize that despite many of Trump’s illegitimate views and that he is this year’s standard-bearer of the Republican Party, the “mainstream” GOP is still well within the traditional boundaries of American politics and values?

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The professional is political: on having WPSA in Las Vegas

by Julia Azari We’ve just had the WPSA annual meeting in Las Vegas, which means that for three days, in between panels we’ve seen stuff like the fake Eiffel tower, stores selling luxury goods most academics can’t afford, and numerous bachelor (and a few bachelorette) parties. And lots of gambling. Las Vegas is an unusual city in many, many ways – what does it mean for the Western Political Science Association to hold its annual meeting there? I’ve been proud of my involvement with the WPSA because of the organization’s values and because of the kinds of political science presented at its meetings. One of the WPSA’s strong guiding values is inclusion, and the organization boasts strong sections in environmental politics, gender and sexuality politics, and political theory. Vegas provides, to say the least, a strange backdrop for all of this. With a drought raging in Nevada and neighboring California, hotels on the “Strip” feature fountains and flower gardens. In that sense, it’s an outright questionable choice for an organization that has a strong environmental politics presence. Panels like “Reading Women of Color in Political Life: Lawmaking and Public Office” and “Intersecting Identities: Hierarchies, Claims, and Productive Possibility” make an interesting juxtaposition with the highly sexualized environment of Las Vegas. The town has become more family-friendly in recent years, but evidence of sex work and sexualized entertainment is omnipresent – perhaps most crudely in the cards with pictures of naked women that litter the ground. (I wonder if they discussed this at the panel called “Vaginas, Breasts, and Buttocks: The Politics of Unruly Body”) Vegas is one of the few conference venues I’ve been to – maybe the only one – where the experience of women is actually distinct from that of men. Despite the city’s efforts to provide other forms of entertainment like shopping, and shows where everyone is fully clothed, the Strip is full of images of women as sexual objects. This leaves women – and men who don’t wish to see women this way – in an unclear relationship with our surroundings. At least as importantly, what does it mean for us to support this kind of venue? The third question on my mind in Vegas was inequality. The presence of high stakes games and high-end shopping while people sit outside with cardboard signs was jarring – though perhaps no more than what we see in most big cities. The Vegas strip also provides some positive news on this front. Nevada’s minimum wage is above the federal standard, and I was informed that the tipped minimum wage in Vegas is not common “unlike East Coast states” and that servers on the strip are unionized and make about $13/hour. This does shed a different light on the meal prices in Vegas, which were the subject of many complaints while the poli sci crowd was in town. I complained too, but it might be worth stopping to think about how our affordable meals out are the result of incredibly low wages for servers. Practicing one’s values as an individual is difficult. For an organization, it’s even more complicated. As a discipline, political science has been grappling with this, balancing its commitment to holding the conference in places that treat LGBT citizens fairly with its desire to support the post-Katrina New Orleans (which of course ended tragicomically with a hurricane and a canceled conference). Over the past week, we’ve seen a number of public and private organizations threaten to boycott travel to Indiana because of the religious freedom laws recently passed there. But academic disciplines – particularly ones like political science that study power and society – have other ways to express their values, and to ask questions about problematic choices in social life. Put simply, this is what we do. We don’t have to avoid – we can engage. This is perhaps the most striking aspect of holding the WPSA conference on the Las Vegas strip – the conference center in Caesar’s Palace, perhaps even more than other venues, is designed to remove participants from any sense of the larger context. We spent most of our conference time tucked away in a very nice conference center, in rooms without windows or any other clue about the surroundings that might betray a sense of place. This isolation is always a bit disorienting, but especially so in Las Vegas. The strip might not exactly embody values like environmentalism and feminism, but it certainly highlights the need to study these topics.