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Being and Becoming, Behavior and Institution: Jean Laponce and the Political Science Profession

Prepared for delivery at IPSA World Congress, Montreal, Aug. 2014

John Meisel and John Trent

Abstract: In the great debates of the 1960s, behavioralism was often placed in opposition to institutionalism. The dragon of institutionalism had to be slain before behavioralism could come into its own. Today many would agree with the sentiments of the old song “you can’t have one without the other”. Almost by definition you might say, it seems like the great leaders of the discipline understood this truism intuitively. You have to labor in your study and in the classroom to bring forth your research findings and then you have to sweat in the mines of the profession so that the research can take wing and be broadly recognized. You have to put your shoulder to the institutional wheels of the department, associations, research groups, publications and program committees – and the myriad other administrative tasks professors must undertake. Jean Laponce is such a leader. His research and writing are well recognized, his contributions to the institutions of the discipline less so. This paper, while recognizing his labors in Canadian political science institutions, will concentrate on his contributions to the International Political Science Association where he not only filled all the major functions but thought about how to improve the institution. Even more, Jean Laponce recognized -- and taught others -- that for an institution like the IPSA to flourish it has to count on the contributions of its core members.

Biographical Notes: John Meisel meiselj23@gmail.com  John Meisel is the Sir Edward Peacock Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Queen's University, Past President of the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Political Science Association. From 1980 to 1983 he was Chairman of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission. His principal research interests were political parties and elections, Canadian unity and the interaction between politics and the arts. He was the founding editor of the International Political Science Review and for many years continued to edit it alone or with Jean Laponce.

Biographical Notes John E. Trent, jtrent@uottawa.ca John Trent is a Senior Fellow of the Centre on Governance at the University of Ottawa where he was formerly a professor and chair of the university’s Department of Political Science.  His current work concentrates on the reform of international institutions, the development of the discipline of political science, and on federalism and French-English relations in Canada.  Recent publications include: Federalism for the Future: Essential Reforms (with Gérald-A. Beaudoin, Joseph Magnet, Benoît Pelletier & Gordon Robertson), Modernization of the United Nations System (2007,  www.barbara-budrich.net ; www.renoufbooks.com in Canada), and (with Michael Stein) The World of Political Science: A Critical Overview of the Development of Political Studies around the Globe: 1990-2012, Opladen, Barbara Budrich Publishers and The UN & Canada (2013).  He is past Chair of Research Committee 33 on the Study of the Discipline in the International Political Science Association (IPSA) where, with Michael Stein, he is Co-editor of the 12 volume international book series, The World of Political Science: the Development of the Discipline. Professor Trent has been the former Secretary General of the International Political Science Association, Executive Director of the Social Science Federation of Canada, founding Vice-President of the Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS) and past-president of the Société québécoise de Science politique.

Part I: Homo IPSAeNsis

“Are you from Mad Magazine?”

If one were to design the ideal IPSA person, homo ipsanensis, one could do no better than draw inspiration from the life of Jean Laponce. Born and educated in France where he graduated from the Science Po, he then obtaining his doctorate and early teaching experience in California before spending his professional career at the University of British Columbia.

JAL (pour être plus bref) a donc ‘vécu’ la science politique dans le système rigoureux français aussi bien que dans ceux plus ouverts des Amériques. Il était donc très familier avec les traditions intellectuelles européennes et américaines, y compris sa  variante californienne, aussi bien qu’avec  l’hybride britanico-américano-continental, bien aimé par les Canadiens.

Among his abiding academic interests is the manner in which language affects thought and action and is, in turn, shaped by socio-political realities. He has studied and enlightened this domain in multifarious contexts, thus illuminating a centrally important aspect of human experience and its political dimensions. This has distanced him as far as is possible from the parochial quibbles which so often hobble scholars and fatally limit their intellectual horizons.

Deeply involved with IPSA from its very beginnings, he established close working relationships and ties of friendship with colleagues of many lands, speaking many tongues, and swimming in many intellectual traditions. He thrives in the world of ideas and so immediately became immersed in the various academic communities making up the IPSA universe.

His openness of spirit facilitated his recognizing and understanding the conventions and folkways of our colleagues in divergent settings and ideological contexts. Although IPSA has been a remarkably harmonious community even while the world and academic disciplines were rent by profound intellectual and doctrinal schisms, Jean frequently provided the bridges and links enabling us to serve our field of study in a mutually supportive, productive and creative way.

The ingrained habit of reaching to all languages and cultures found expression in numerous ways. One enriched my own life considerably. It led Jean and me to attend one or more plays in every city hosting an IPSA Congress or Round Table, whenever this was possible. It follows that we occasionally heard and saw performances in a language we did not know at all – Japanese, for example. We were often amazed by how much we were actually able to take in and how much mime enriches thespian experiences. His enjoyment of these sorties attested to Jean’s extraordinary appetite for becoming acquainted with cultures other than his own.  This versatility facilitated his comprehending the nuances of thought and behaviour of IPSA colleagues exhibiting widely diverse backgrounds. As President, he thus understood the motives, priorities and comportment of members of the polyglot universe of our Association.

His effectiveness within the IPSA leadership was achieved primarily because of the high regard he enjoys within our profession and his capacity of finding winning ways of furthering both the academic and institutional goals of IPSA. Another immensely effective crutch was his familiarity with its organization and culture. This grew largely out of two sources:  his personal talents and an unsuspected stroke of luck. The first flowed from his impressive wisdom and thorough knowledge of the political science discipline and of its profession’s style. Secondly, as editor or co-editor of the International Political Science Review he participated for years in the meetings of the IPSA Executive Committee, thus acquiring an unmatched and awesome knowledge of the Association’s problems and their solutions, of the personal strengths and foibles of its leading players and of historical precedents. Like Serge Hurtig, he grew into the embodiment of IPSA’s institutional memory. These factors gave his voice enormous weight and provided many Presidents and other decision makers with the capacity to guide world political science on the basis of past experience – triumphs as well as errors.

If I may resort to a personal aside growing out of this observation, I believe that it was a mistake to decide, as IPSA did at the Madrid Congress, to discontinue the ex officio standing of the IPSR editors at Executive Committee meetings.

On the basis of his achievements one would expect Jean to be tall and possessed of a commanding stature. This, as those of us who know him, realize, is decidedly not the case. He is short, slight and anything but domineering. He is, in fact, every centimetre the academic. This was attested to unforgettably on one occasion when Jean and I went for a walk during an IPSA Round Table in Kingston, Canada. We used one of the breaks – a long pause santé - to go for a walk.     We encountered two little boys playing in a front yard. They gazed at us as we passed, with an inexplicably puzzled look on their faces. “Are you from Mad Magazine?” one of them asked. When we denied the charge, the other urchin said, “Well, you must be professors.”

This was not only a hilarious  town-gown episode, but also reflected a profound reality, at least in so far as Jean was concerned. His appearance was and is thoroughly imbued with his defining academic self. No matter what disguise he might assume, his looks, manner and thought processes are marked by an indelible scholarly hue.

Although enshrining much of the past, Jean is usually ahead of the pack. Considering the technological revolution currently shaking up information gathering, storing and distributing, it is necessary to note that Laponce has been and is a superb master of trolling for data and insights in libraries. This permitted him in all his work as editor and scholar, and even when choosing research domains, to infuse his work with rare freshness.  I know no one as adept and adroit as he at squeezing knowledge from all over, as they say, from literary and now electronic depositories of learning.

Despite my having been its founding editor, the idea for an IPSA periodical was Jean’s. He was President in the early ‘seventies and felt the need for an IPSA literary organ. He dragooned me to take on the editorship. I confess that, as very close friends, Jean and I meddled together in a number of academic and learned domains and plotted jointly on many fronts. Jean was not only the Deus Ex Machina but also a hands-on toiler in the vineyard with respect to the ideas, design, publishing arrangements and the host of other operations performed by journal midwives. After he completed his presidency he joined me as co-editor. We performed the dual role for many years.

The foregoing sketch of some bundles of Laponce characteristics illustrates why he is the perfect Homo Ipsaensis.

Part 2: Jean Laponce and the International Political Science Association

John Trent

John Meisel, aussi bien que  les autres auteurs de ce panel, William Safran, John Coakley, et Rémi Leger, ont créé un portrait collectif de Jean Laponce en tant que savant et chercheur. Nous avons appris que ses contributions à l’analyse de la protection des minorités et de la langue et du territoire ont été vraiment avant gardistes. Il a aussi fait des contributions au développement des politiques concernant les relations entre les Anglophones et les Francophones du Canada. Il était un des participants à  la révolution comportementaliste. En tout, Jean Laponce a écrit sept livres, en a co-rédigé 9 autres et a produit plus que 140 articles et d’innombrables documents pour des conférences. Puisque séduit par l’interdisciplinarité, il a osé aborder des domaines inusités tels la géopolitique, la biologie-politique et la neuroscience. Principalement il a analysé l’ethnicité, le nationalisme, la langue, le territoire, les minorités, la religion et les élections. Mais, il n’était pas seulement un chercheur et un auteur. Tel que proposé dans le titre de notre article, les leaders de notre discipline, tel Jean Laponce, doivent aussi contribuer au développement des institutions de leur profession, y compris les départements, les universités, les associations et les revues savantes. C’est sur cet aspect institutionnel de la carrière de Jean Laponce que je veux concentrer mon attention.     

In his career, Jean has made contributions to our profession at many levels.  Aside from positions in his department at the University of British Columbia, he has been on the Executive Councils of the North Western, Canadian and International political science associations and the Social Science Research Council. Before going on to the international association he was president of the Canadian Political Science Association. And he has been vice-president, president and past-president of the IPSA. But Jean brought something innate to the discipline. He was a Frenchman. A Frenchman who migrated to North America, first to obtain his doctorate in the United States, then to move on to teach at the University of British Columbia in the land of minorities and linguistic politics. In joining IPSA he brought back behavioralism to mix with the European institutionalism. And he found himself at home in the international association which still has its legal base in France, where it had been fostered by Jean Meynaud  and its long time main-stay, Serge Hurtig, who has served IPSA for 50 years and was honored at our last Congress. In all this, Jean Laponce was aided by his ebullient wife of many years, Isa, who back-stopped and inspired him in his work and career. He was also supported by his inbred sense of humour and daring-do. Let me illustrate this with some of the titles of his articles…

Dieu: droit ou gauche?

Experimenting: A Two Person Game between Man and Nature

Of Gods, Devils, Monsters, and One-Eyed Variables

Relating Biological, Physical and Political Phenomena

Political Science: An Import–Export Analysis

Linguistic Minority Rights in the Light of Neurophysical and Geographical Evidence

Nation-Building as Body Building

Heroes and Villains: Locating Politics between the Positive and the Negative

Do Languages Behave Like Animals?

Political Science: Drunken Walk or Functional Evolution?

And last but not least:

Canadian Political Science between the Relevant and the Irrelevant, the Rational and the Irrational, the Micro and the Macro, the Core and the Peripheries, its growth and Diversification in the Past Thirty Years. 

One could ask many questions: what does this guy think about when he is in his study all alone? Or which comes first, the title or the article? Or is nothing sacred in Jean Laponce’s universe?

Now let us get back to the essentials.  Just to square the circle, I want to use Jean Laponce’s behaviour , his ideas, attitudes and activities, in the International Political Science Association (IPSA) to continue to make the point that behaviour and institution building go together – and while I am at it, to make a few contributions to the historiography of the international association. In the IPSA, Jean has done everything. In addition to his career path as president, he founded the International Political Science Review and was its co-editor from 1985 to 2003 and he founded and chaired the Research Committee on Geopolitics. Research committees in the IPSA are sort of like Senates where one retires from ones institutional trajectory in order to innovate in the discipline. I remember a friend and colleague, Peter Aucoin, telling me that when he had finished his institutional duties in Canada, what a breath of fresh air it was to work and learn together with a group of like-minded leaders in his field from around the world in an IPSA research committee.

But these are just institutional titles. What I really want to concentrate on are Jean’s ideas and beliefs about the IPSA. In particular, I want to elaborate on, first, his implication in the international association’s rather daring move into Eastern Europe and Russia  during the Communist regimes, secondly,  his underlying inspiration for our Moscow Congress in 1979, third,  his advice to the Secretary General, and fourth, his hands-on help for organizing congresses.

It is little recognized that associations are living organisms. Their success is intimately linked to the fore-sight, initiative, vision, planning, commitment and organization of their leadership. A lot of these are intangibles that are often manifested by little acts and special moments of brilliant perception. So it was with Jean Laponce and the IPSA.

Let us start with the creeping geographical expansionism of the IPSA. Between 1949 and 1973, the International Political Science Association held all its meetings in Western Europe. The reason was very simple: fear of American domination. During most of this time, the Americans alone outnumbered all the political scientists in all the other countries of the world. It was felt that the barrier of the Atlantic Ocean would keep the number of American scholars at a reasonable level so that everyone would get a chance to participate in our congresses on a more or less equal basis. It was only in the 1970s that IPSA felt it could slowly expand. The first step was to – where else – Montreal, on the Americans’ door step but not actually in the house. In fact, it would not be until 1988, 40 years after its founding, that the IPSA would know that political science had sufficiently expanded around the world so it could safely make the great leap into the jaws of the lion by holding  its Congress in Washington.

In between times, the Association had started to take seriously its mandate which is  to “promote the advancement of political science throughout the world”,  in part, “by encouraging the establishment and development of national political science associations”. One of IPSA’s best means of doing this was by ‘showing the flag’, In other words by holding round tables and congresses in regions and countries where the discipline was just starting to take hold or where it was meeting resistance.

As John Coakley and I wrote in the history of the IPSA, “The policy of rotating the congress between continents was not designed simply to expose participants to a range of different cultures and national traditions, though that was an important by-product. It became clear at an early stage that a world congress has a very positive effect on political science in the region in which it is held, providing a stimulus not just to academic endeavour but also to efforts to create a local infrastructure to support the discipline.”[1] Such has been the thinking behind the policies of a number of Executive Committees.  

In part because it was just next door, in part because it had always been part of ‘Europe’ and in part because it was an intellectual and ideological challenge, the Association first turned for expansion toward Eastern – Communist – Europe. In part, it was also because the door was partially open. The Communist powers had decided from the beginning of the United Nations to be present in international groupings to defend their interests. And some countries like Poland and Yugoslavia welcomed a degree of contact with the West.  

As early as 1966, IPSA held a roundtable meeting in Jablonna, Poland. But the major thrust was in the 1970s. Jean Laponce was on the IPSA Executive Committee from 1967 to 1979. He was part of it all. During those years, IPSA held meetings in Bucharest, Romania; Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia; Krakow, Poland; and Moscow. I say ‘meetings’ because these were usually Executive Committee meetings accompanied by academic roundtables of usually about 40 people. This was the stealth plan by which IPSA expanded. Once we found there was some political science activity in a country we invited their representatives to IPSA meetings until we were confident enough that we had colleagues who could host a roundtable and possibly an Executive Meeting. It was in this manner we could help with the spread of political science and meet the local authorities and academicians.

It has to be recognized that the authorities in many countries feared that political science might upset their regimes. That is why IPSA still only has some 50 national members out of 193 independent countries. Thus it took 13 years between our first roundtable in the Communist East and our first Congress in Moscow. Going South was a little more rapid, taking just four years between our first round table in Rio de Janeiro and our first Congress there – because, in Candido Mendes, we had a very dynamic Brazilian president. But then going to the East it took 15 years between meeting in Tokyo and holding a first congress in Seoul. More recently, Guy Lachapelle and his Executives had to work for years to prepare for the leap into Africa with the congress in Durban. They knew full well that the distances and lack of infrastructure would cost the Association dearly in money and participation. But, they also knew that they had to go to Africa to support their colleagues their and to help with the development of the discipline on the African continent.  Development of the discipline is a long process that demands persistence on everyone’s part.

It was not always a smooth path. Not everyone could see what useful relationship there could be between Western political science and ‘scientific Marxism’. But leaders like Jean Laponce persisted and finally brought us to the Moscow Congress in 1979. To state it very briefly, many Western governments, human rights groups and even security services were against us holding a congress in the Soviet capital. The only reasons it succeeded were that, on the one hand, we were certain there were ‘liberal elements’ in an evolving USSR which had a reasonably large academic community and, on the other hand, we had planned carefully, prepared strong agreements and could count on our allies. Once again it was Jean Laponce who set the tone. He said, “We must work hard to create an academic fraternity that stands above international diplomacy”.  And so it was, because when we ‘lost’ some Israeli visas, we almost lost the Congress. Only our network of scholarly fraternity was able to save the day by ‘finding’ the lost visas and ensuring that access to the Congress was shown to be open to all bona fide political scientists.

The aftermath was quite dramatic. Archie Brown, a leading Western analyst of the Soviet regime wrote, “A considerable stimulus to the development of political science in the USSR was the holding of the XI World Congress of the International Political Science Association in Moscow in 1979.”[2] In effect, the 60,000 papers, documents and books we brought to the congress were eventually distributed across the Soviet Union. After the Wall came tumbling down 10 years later, virtually all the former Communist countries were able to set up reasonably viable political science communities within a matter of years. Klingemann, Kulesza, and Legutke have concluded, “The institutionalization of Political Science as a discipline in Central and Eastern Europe is of high importance for the consolidation of democracy… Despite their different backgrounds scholars from these countries have entered the general discourse of the profession. In addition, it has to be stressed that the new institutions of political science have taken on and contributed to solve the various problems their countries face in this particular historical situation… The second more general characteristic is the overall positive evaluation of political science. All the country reports emphasize that political science enjoys respect and recognition.”[3] As it is said, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

My last three anecdotes about Jean Laponce’s behaviour in political science institutions are much briefer but equally revealing.  Let us start with the founding of the International Political Science Review. As the history of the IPSA recounts, “The immediate origins of the IPSA’s journal lie in the world congress that took place in Edinburgh in 1976. In addressing the Council meeting, outgoing president Jean Laponce suggested the establishment of an international political science journal as an outlet for the best work of member of the association, and he was mandated to investigate the feasibility of this…”[4] And so it was that after four years of planning and lobbying,  the first issue of the IPSR appeared in 1980 under the editorship of another Canadian, John Meisel. Laponce would join him as co-editor in 1985. Most people, when they finish their term as president are ready to retire from the active life of the Association. But not our ‘père penseur de l’AISP” who not only thought of the Review and brought it into being, but, when called upon, was ready to put his shoulder to the wheel as co-editor.

The next story is more personal. Jean Laponce’s time on the IPSA Executive over-lapped my 12 year career as Secretary General to a large extent – a fortuitous happening, I might add. On one occasion during this period we met when I was really down in the dumps. I can’t even remember what it was about now.  But, at the time, I was blustering about the lack of support and appreciation by all and sundry. I expected sympathy. But Jean just glared at me from under his immense eyebrows and quietly said, “If you expected praise and appreciation you should never have taken the job. You can only fill this position if you believe the job must be done and done well and you are the person to do it.” Well what could I say to that? I never looked back.

La dernière anecdote concerne le premier congrès de l’AISP tenu à Montréal en 1973. C’était le premier de sept congrès que j’allais aider à organiser. Une semaine avant la séance d’ouverture, les grands bonzes, Stein Rokkan et Jean Laponce, arrivent pour s’assurer que tout allait bien. Immédiatement ils voulaient visiter les lieux du Congrès, dont j’étais bien fier. Il s’adonne que l’Université Concordia, où se tenait le Congrès, était comme un village universitaire situé dans un grand immeuble au cœur du centre-ville. Elle avait tous les équipements modernes. À la fin de la visite, ils étaient tout pleins  d’éloges, jusqu’à ce qu’ils me demandent  de leur montrer la salle de vente des communications. Je suis devenu tout rouge. Je l’avais oubliée! 

It was not a small lapsus on my part. In those days an effective paper sales room was crucial for communication at the congress and for a good part of our finances. Each author was obliged to bring fifty papers which we then sold for $2 apiece. The papers were all neatly laid out in alphabetical order in a large room. And I had forgotten it. But the two presidents were not done. After the ‘great Canadian organizer’ was severely whipped, we found an appropriate room and then found the papers which had been mailed in. Still Laponce and Rokkan were not finished. First they mobilized the large Trent-Alepins family to set up the paper sales room and then off came their jackets and up went their sleeves as they pitched in to place papers until the room was ready. That is what I call ‘leading from the front’. That was another example of Jean Laponce at his best.

JET June 2014


[1] John Coakley and John Trent, History of the International Political Science Association 1949-1999, Dublin, IPSA, 2000.

[2] Archie Brown, “Political Science in the Soviet Union: a new stage of development?”, Soviet Studies (36.3/322-8).

[3] Hans-Dieter Klingemann, Ewa Kulesza, and Annette Legutke (eds.) (2002). The state of political science in Central and Eastern Europe, Berlin, Edition Sigma.

[4] Coakley and Trent op.cit. pp. 76-77.