Autobiography of Gerald Schneider, Prepared for “Dictionary of Eminent Social Scientists: Autobiographies: Paris: Fondation Mattei Dogan”, 2010
Some life courses are more or less foreseeable, other ones not at all. Although I am personally an adherent of forecasting approaches, I doubt that my personal background would have allowed an outsider to predict that in 1997 I would become a professor of Political Science at the University of Konstanz and thus in the Lake Constance region where I spent my youth.
I was born on April 14, 1962, in Zürich as the third of four children of Rosa Schneider-Schwengeler (1928- ), a secretary and housewife, and Walter Schneider (1929-2004), a civil engineer and entrepreneur. I grew up within a middle-class background in Elgg, a small town outside of Winterthur, Switzerland, where I went to high school. When I received my degree in 1981, there was little indication that I would embark on an academic career. In fact, I was the first member of my family to ever undergo doctoral training. I am, however, sure that my semi-orphaned mother would have chosen a similar path if she had grown up during a time when young girls with a working class background had the chance to attend university. I owe my parents an ever-lasting love for the arts, especially literature, an unbroken interest in politics and a liberal worldview.
I spent some time in journalism before entering the University of Zürich in 1983. I was juggling between economics and political science then and finally followed my heart and chose the small Institute of Political Science in Zürich for my further education. My interest then was mainly in domestic politics. This, however, changed under the influence of Daniel Frei, an inspiring political scientist, who was an eminent international relations scholar in the 1970s and 1980s and who hired me as a student assistant in 1984. His untimely death in 1988 meant that I lost the support of an intellectual mentor for the final three years of my doctorate and to some extent also much longer. I have since then nevertheless received the unwavering support of a number of senior colleagues. I want to single out the late J. David Singer and Nils Petter Gleditsch, two conflict researchers, who became fatherly friends and quasi-mentors. Both reanimated my interest in peace and conflict studies in the 1990s and have served as role models through their exemplary work as supervisors.
My dissertation was an empirical study on time horizons in government decision making. After its completion I sent this study to Berkeley professor Aaron Wildavsky, who responded with a note saying that “A great career is awaiting you”. Although such flamboyant encouragements are certainly flattering, the postdoc years were not easy. But I have to admit these difficulties were largely self-imposed. I was then quite dissatisfied with what I considered to be the lack of systematic theorizing in political science. In my view, if you have enough fantasy or if your alcohol intake is sufficiently large, anything, unfortunately goes, to paraphrase Cole Porter and Paul Feyerabend. In other words, in conventional political science every hypothesis seems often possible. The neglect to think deeply about the logical underpinning of decisions and to distinguish rigorously between the feasible and the purely imaginable was the reason why I resorted to game theory in my postdoc project on European integration. Interestingly, a growing number of researchers embarked on similar endeavours at this time and tried to understand with the help of rational choice logic why certain decisions were made and, importantly, why other ones are not made. Some of these colleagues like Simon Hug, Thomas König and Bernard Steunenberg became my friends and co-authors over the years. The postdoc project ultimately also led to the inauguration of a new journal, European Union Politics, which I have edited together with Matt Gabel and Simon Hix since 2000. Throughout this period we were driven by the vision of changing the field for the better. Some of the more traditionalist colleagues perceived us nevertheless as angry young men who wanted to Americanize European political science. I take it as compliment if we were at least partly successful in making our field more professional and in moving it towards “normal science”. Generally, I am quite proud that some of my former students are actively publishing in major journals and that they study real problems rigorously and with the aim of changing the world. It is a nice side-effect that a number of them have in the meantime become professors themselves.
Although I hold the Chair in International Relations of the University of Konstanz, much of my research is on the border between Comparative Politics and International Politics. My research interests are decision making and the causes and consequences of armed conflict. As I see the European Union as a major attempt to overcome divisions within Europe, I am particularly interested in political integration. My research tries to combine the rigorous development of theories with systematic tests of the hypotheses that I have deduced. To this end, I often rely on game theory and various statistical approaches in my articles and books. Most political decisions are based, in my view, on bargaining, and that is why negotiations, whether they are successful or not, are at the forefront of my research. My belief, by now a bit overused joke, is that I conceive of the world as a permanent bargaining process due to my marriage to Merete Rasmussen. I met Merete during the summer course in methods at the University of Essex in 1987. Many of my achievements would not have been possible without her criticism, Danish humour and support. Our two children, Morten Anders and Leah Chantal, do, at this stage, not consider an education in the social sciences to be anything worthwhile.
I try to convince them, my students and sometimes also my colleagues that we need sound social scientific research if we want to address the most severe human challenges in a convincing way. As bargaining pervades most social interactions, we need to understand these negotiations. Although it was impossible for me to predict to which professional endeavours my academic life would lead to in the long term, it is conceivable to foresee in the short term whether a bargaining process risks ending in disaster. It is my belief that we need to think much more and rigorously about early warning, and I intend to devote a great deal of my remaining academic life to this task.