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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#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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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.

Things I Learned in the Hot Tub at my Conference

Academic conferences are number 74 on the “100 Reasons not to go to Graduate School” blog.  Yes, conferences can be stogy, boring affairs where good papers on good panels are rare, and productive feedback from discussants is even rarer.  But academic conferences are also the best opportunity to make connections with like-minded scholars.

As a young scholar, I viewed each academic conference as a race to attend as many panels as possible on subjects of interest.  Now I see academic conferences as water stops in a longer marathon, a moment to reconnect with like-minded scholars and regain lost enthusiasm.  My best conferences are those that leave me excited to get back to campus to start new projects, finish projects I’ve been procrastinating on, create a new course, etc.

So many of us get caught up in preparing our offering to the conference that we miss valuable opportunities to cultivate existing or establish new relationships with other scholars.  Here are some (perhaps too obvious) tips for taking advantage of the potential oasis of academic conferences:

  • Choose panels prior to the conference to make sure you have ample time for networking with like-minded scholars.
  • Choose panels based on potential or established relationships with other scholars rather than just the panel theme.
  • Don’t be afraid to leave a panel 20 minutes in if you think your time could be better spent in conversation in the lobby.
  • Attend as many formal and informal social events as possible with like-minded scholars.
  • Schedule breakfast, lunch, and dinners prior to the conference to reconnect with like-minded scholars.
  • Every meal should be shared with someone.
  • Schedule time to sit in the lobby to meet new like-minded scholars.
  • Talk to everyone.  In the lobby.  In the elevator.   In the hot tub.
  • Spend at least one evening in the hotel hot tub where the best conversations tend to happen.

Tell us about your conference experience/advice!

Caroline Heldman
Occidental College

Conference Advice from a (Semi) “Western Veteran”

I’ve been to a lot of Westerns.  Which means I have wandered the downtown streets of Denver, Vancouver, Portland, etc., coffee-shop styrofoam cup (actually, more like 100 percent recycled paper cup) in hand, trying to look busy (except in San Antonio where it is strangely impossible to find coffee near the Alamo.

Years of riding up and down hotel escalators has taught me a few things.  First and foremost, this is a great job!  While each of us can get bogged down in the minutiae of our institutional and departmental cultures, we’re the lucky ones that get to talk about fun stuff with students, unpack interesting questions, and trade ideas (or share drinks and trade ideas) with good friends in great cities year after year.

The Western is a great conference.  What keeps me coming back is the welcome community of scholarly inquiry the association members and leadership have created.  It is the one conference that recognizes there are many different ways to be a political scientist.  It’s a place where you’re much more likely to get useful, instructive feedback on your work, instead of the ego-driven, caustic, one-upmanship type of feedback you might get elsewhere (can you tell I just got an article rejected).

If this is your first conference, I have some advice for you.  Make it a point to break out of your comfort zone.  And if you’ve been going for a while, make it a point to welcome new people into your comfort zone.  Too often at conferences, I’ve seen people stick with their “tribe” and not really make an effort to “build both vertical and horizontal networks” (sorry… political science geek out)!  This can be an extended “friendship” tribe of grad school friends or it can be the “subfield” tribe of people you keep running into on panels.

Building “bonding social capital” is important to do at these conferences.  But equally important is to make space for those serendipitous moments of insight you might gain from attending a panel in an area you know nothing about.  And while panels can become pedantic and derivative, our colleagues almost always have the ability to reframe the way you see a problem you are working with or even point you to new areas of study.

This might sound like dumb advice since we’re so often taught to narrow our disciplinary focus. When you’re a younger academic, the idea of having to conform to standard norms of what it means to do this work is palpable.  But the really good work comes from those scholars that stray from the norm… the scholar who incorporates the good work in other disciplines and sub-fields to change the conventional wisdom.

So talk to someone you’ve never met.  I know it can be scary… it is for me.  As social scientists, it should be obvious to us that we’re all social creatures.  But sometimes, we forget that lesson.  Rather than see the conference as an “opportunity” or as a “chance to get free drinks at the reception,” we should see them as a chance to build a broad, diverse, and pluralistic scholarly community.  Too often, we get caught up in the “seriousness” of our work, when at its basic level, we do the work primarily because it is interesting to us.

So let’s have fun in LA!

Tell us about your conference experiences/advice.

Jose Marichal

California Lutheran University