LSE to address shortage of research on US domestic politics

Institution’s US Centre seeks to promote multidisciplinary and international research on American policy

December 24, 2015
Demonstration, Boston Common, Massachusetts
Source: Alamy
What do they want? The UK invests ‘very few resources in social sciences training about the US’

Buried within one of the numerous reports published alongside the results of the research excellence framework 2014 is a comment regarding the paucity of research on the US within politics and international studies.

In the 123-page overview report, published in January 2015, subpanel 21 notes that it was “struck by the relative lack of work on US domestic politics” in this discipline.

The observation refers to research in this area across the UK’s universities, but the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has taken the comment to heart; it is one of the reasons why the institution launched a new US Centre in October.

“There are few countries that are more important internationally but less well understood than the US,” said Peter Trubowitz, professor of international relations at the LSE and director of the US Centre.

“One reason for that is that even America’s closest allies, ie, the UK, invest very few resources in social sciences training about the US.”

He added that the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) provided 12 grants, or less than 3 per cent of its total awards, for research on the US over the past five years. Research on China, in comparison, accounted for five times the number of ESRC awards in the same period, he said.

The LSE’s US Centre seeks to “reverse this trend”. The aim of the institute is to promote graduate training, scholarly research and public engagement on the US across all the university’s departments from economics and international relations to law and geography.

Professor Trubowitz believes that the LSE is in a unique position to pursue this mission – partly because of its central London location and global orientation, but also because more than 50 scholars at the institution “work in one way or another on the United States”, particularly in a comparative context.

He also argued that the timing has never been more appropriate. In the past 10 to 15 years there has been “stability” in the US, in relation to its commitment to internationalisation, which meant that for academics “understanding what made China tick was more imperative” than carrying out research on the US, he said. However, he said that the real possibility that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump could become the next US president has led to “anxiety” in this area and questions around what this would mean for the “US’s commitment around the globe”.

The centre, which is based at one of the LSE’s towers off the Strand in central London, does not have its own degree programmes, but is designed to coordinate, advertise and financially support US research across the institution. Professor Trubowitz said that he is keen for the institute to provide summer internships for undergraduate and master’s students to work alongside academics on research projects – a practice he said is “standard” at US universities. He also hopes that the centre will be able to fund PhD students whose research is focused on the US.

He said that the centre has so far received a “non-trivial sum of money” from the university and alumni to “keep us going for several years”, but he admitted that the goals around students would be reliant on further funding through philanthropy.

“My hope is these are the kinds of things members of the LSE alumni network, and there are many in the US, would find attractive,” he said.

Another long-term goal is to establish the LSE’s US Centre as the hub for a global network of academic centres that are “looking at the US from the outside in”.

“I was recently in Shanghai talking to the people at Fudan University’s Centre for American Studies. There are also US centres at the universities of Helsinki, Toronto and Harvard,” he said.

He hopes that these collaborations will help the LSE lead a “reimagining” of the study of the US.

“In the US, disciplinary conventions have separated the study of foreign and domestic policy so if you’re an expert on US foreign policy you don’t spend much time talking about domestic policy, and if you study domestic policy you don’t spend much time thinking about the US in an international context,” he said.

“I personally think that’s a mistake. You would never study any other country that way. It might have made sense when the US was less integrated in the global economy. But now the US is so open. It is so reliant on the global economy.”

In numbers

12 – number of grants provided by the ESRC for research on the US in the past five years

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