In regards to my previous post about going to school in Canada, McGill University in Montreal was mentioned as an institution many Americans attend. However, smaller schools are usually not included in such mentions primarily due to size...but this does not say anything about quality. For those who are stuck on this connection to larger institutions, new Mount Allison professor James Devine has lectured at Concordia and earned his PhD at McGill. Here's a recent spotlight on one of Mount Allison's newest faculty members.
Five Questions with Political Scientist Dr. James Devine
Dr. James Devine is an assistant professor in political science at Mount Allison and received his PhD from McGill University. His research areas include: international relations and foreign policy in the Middle East; the politics and foreign policy of Iran, international rivalries and protracted conflicts; democracy and authoritarian politics in the Middle East.
1. Why do you like studying the Middle East?
It is endlessly fascinating. The Middle East is also in the headlines so I feel that I am engaged in something important. I think students react to it very well also. Even students who are not pursuing degrees in political science are interested in the region and its politics.
2. What are some of the challenges of researching in the Middle East?
One of the main problems with doing research is access to information. Getting into some countries can be difficult and in many countries the press is very restricted. However, I have been fortunate in my work on Iran. I have been able to spend time in the country and the press in Iran is, by regional standards, still very active.
3. What are the consequences of the recent leaks of numerous confidential American diplomatic cables on the web site WikiLeaks?
These leaks provide us with a glimpse of what goes on behind closed doors. Even if they do not really tell us anything we did not already know, the quotes, and the details, make for fascinating reading. Of course, many people have also taken satisfaction from the way governments and world leaders have been embarrassed by the disclosures. Political voyeurism aside, leaks such as these also provide an added degree of political transparency. Transparency in politics is necessary for an informed public and is therefore an essential feature of liberal democracies. So, the more transparency, the better — or so it may seem.
The problem is that, in practice, effective diplomacy often needs a degree of secrecy, or at least privacy. Perhaps the best example of this is the beginning of the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis in the early 1990s. The two sides were only able to start talking, and make progress once they moved secretly to Oslo, where they could negotiate out of the spotlight.
In the current situation, the leaks complicate efforts to maintain some stability in the Persian Gulf. The Iranians know the Saudis do not trust them, and vice versa. However, they have both managed the relationship very carefully and refrained from the type of rhetorical warfare that we saw through the 1980s and parts of the 1990s. With the Saudis’ comments now public, the Iranian government somehow has to react to them. Although Tehran has played down their significance, the leaks have put extra pressure on a political accommodation that is already strained by events in Lebanon, Iraq, and Gaza, etc.
4. What led you into academics?
I was raised in an environment where politics and history were important. My father was born in Belfast in a mixed Protestant-Catholic family and had to move to the Republic in the 1920s. He also served in the Second World War and had a library filled with books on politics and history. So, I was exposed to these topics at a very young age. Also like many academics, I have never really been able to picture myself doing anything else.
5. What are you interested in outside of work?
I have turned into a “computer geek” over the years. When I got my first computers they were very expensive and if they broke, it was the end of the world — or so it seemed. So, I had to learn how to fix them myself. I really began to enjoy working on them. Even now I still enjoy building and repairing systems. I find it very relaxing. At any given time I will have a bunch of computers around the house in various stages of repair. Also, since I have moved to Sackville, I have been cycling around the countryside a great deal.