Teaching the Field of International Relations in Canada: A Focus on Journals

Teaching the Field of International Relations in Canada: A Focus on Journals

The comprehensive examination is a rite of passage for those seeking PhDs in North America, laying out an intimidating list of the most important works in one’s field of study. The comprehensive examination process is a formative experience in multiple senses of the word—the deep dive into existing literature offers a broad enough knowledge base to teach introductory courses on the subject, familiarity with the main debates in the field allow graduate students to understand their intellectual position in the field, and passage constitutes a landmark in the process of initiation into the academy.


The reading lists serve an essential social function in teaching the field, establishing the most influential authors, works, and research communities. In a recent research project looking at the prestige economy among journals included in the reading lists at Canadian universities, Michael Wigginton and I compared 13 comprehensive examination reading lists from Canadian doctoral programs in International Relations (there are 20 such programs in total, one does not have a fixed list and six did not respond). The world of academic publishing is often a mystery to graduate students entering programs, yet future career success depends heavily on the ability to navigate the field’s journals. But how would a neophyte recognize what those journals are? The rapidly proliferating sector of graduate school advice blogs and books often suggest turning to reading lists to help identify the top journals.

Canadian reading lists continue to reinforce the prestige gap between English-language and French-language journals

Three major findings emerged from our research. 

  1. Canadian institutions—even French-language institutions—amplify the already hegemonic position of English language journals in the discipline. Only one French-language journal, Recherches internationales, ranks in the top 25 most-assigned on Canadian reading lists, and articles from Canada’s flagship French-language publication, Études internationales, appear only twice in our sample. Despite prior criticism from French-language IR in Canada, Canadian reading lists continue to reinforce the prestige gap between English-language and French-language journals. If Canadian IR is a bilingual community, why are French-language journals largely absent from reading lists?
  2. Canadian journals are not the success story previously presented. In 1975, THB Symons argued that insufficient attention was paid to international affairs in a report on the state of Canadian universities, and suggested that founding a Canadian journal would be an important step in rectifying this issue. A quarter century later, Kim Richard Nossal argued that the founding of three Canadian scholarly journals on international affairs addressed that request. However, these journals are almost entirely absent from reading lists at Canadian universities, with only one article in International Journal assigned at more than one institution. The success of Canadian IR journals appears to have been overstated, as the very institutions that edit, review for, and publish in these journals do not assign their articles on reading lists.
  3. The journals are heavily American, but also include a sizeable European presence. Out of the top 25 most commonly-assigned journals, fifteen are from the USA, seven from the United Kingdom, and one each from Norway, France, and one from a Europe-wide scholarly association. Also interesting is the subject breakdown of journals. While two international political economy journals appear, there are four security studies journals. Of those four, one is squarely within the more European tradition of critical security studies (Security Dialogue) and one makes the list because of a special issue on critical security studies that includes a number of European contributors (Contemporary Security Policy). While majority of “top journals” are American—and International Organization is leaps and bounds above any other—the Canadian field projects an important European critical tradition.

When teaching the field of International Relations to graduate students, the discipline is hegemonically Anglophone and geographically pluralistic

Recent conferences of the International Studies Association, American Political Science Association, and Canadian Political Science Association have featured discussions around the nature of “Canadian IR.” Our investigation into the case study of journals on reading lists suggests that, when teaching the field of International Relations to graduate students, the discipline is hegemonically Anglophone and geographically pluralistic. Rather than a distinctly bilingual and Canadian flavour, it is this mixture that captures the current journal ecosystem presented to graduate students at Canadian universities. 


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This blog is an adaptation of: Murphy, Michael P. A. and Michael J. Wigginton, “Canadian International Relations, American Social Science? Evidence from Academic Journals and Comprehensive Reading Lists,” forthcoming in International Journal.

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