Does Security Research Reflect Gender Socialization Patterns?

HYS 11 6 13This past Wednesday (Nov 6), I presented at the Herbert York Fellowship Symposium, held at the Lawrence Livermore National Security Laboratory (LLNL). It was sponsored by the IGCC (UC Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation) to give the doctoral fellows a chance to meet and listen to each other’s work. Although I had been pretty stressed about my own presentation, it turned out to be a great experience. I just want to offer a few observations about the symposium itself and the extent to which it may represent the U.S. post-Cold War security agenda.

One of the most interesting aspects of the conference was the location and participation of the LLNL employees. Prior to this trip I had never thought about the national security laboratories. I knew of Los Alamos, the site of the Manhattan Project, but I always had the impression that it was run by the military. Instead, the national laboratories are part of the Department of Energy. Most of the labs, including Livermore and Los Alamos, are actually run by contractors, explaining why the feel of the organization seemed to me more corporate rather than government bureaucracy.

Naturally, the emphasis of their research is on science and technology, but I got the impression that there seemed to be a growing emphasis on the importance of political science in international crisis risk assessment. This contradicts all the voices in the media and congress who keep trying to make an argument that our research is irrelevant. Two of the panel discussants were Political Science PhDs working at the LLNL, and the Lab was definitely interested in selling (ahem, making us aware of) employment opportunities there.

My only regret regarding the locale of the conference is that I wasn’t able to stay the following morning for the Lab tour. In particular, the National Ignition Facility sounded fascinating. They also offer community tours, so if you are ever in the San Francisco area, I highly recommend trying to schedule one. It is definitely on my to do (if someone wants to watch the baby) list.

The fellowship program funds “work on dissertations related to the priorities of the Lawrence Livermore (LLNL) and Los Alamos National Laboratories (LANL)” (via IGCC). Thus, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to assert that the content of the presentations on Wednesday reflected current and future U.S. national security interests. [There is, however, a separate fellowship related to nuclear threats and policy] A significant portion of the research centered on issues of sub-national violence and international cooperation. Geographically, the focus was definitely on the Global South.

There were also some interesting discrepancies in terms of gender. Five out of the fourteen fellowship recipients are female – a little over one third – so not too bad. However, only one of the eight panel discussants was a woman, and that was on our all female panel. Moreover, all five topics from the women were on some form of international cooperation: trade, international government organizations, electronic waste recycling; while every single male topic was on some form of violence, including a couple of very graphic presentations. I do not want to imply that one should read too much into this, but the disparity is very striking.

You can check out all the fellowship recipients and their dissertation topics at: Meet the 2013-14  Herb York Fellows

What do you think? And what has everyone been up to while I have been trying to keep up with a still growing list of deadlines?

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