Friday, December 10, 2010

Happy Holidays!!

So, because Facebook will not let me post pictures to any degree of success (which is probably a great thing if it hinders my procrastination), I figured I would finally give Fiona the picture she deserves.  If anyone has been lucky enough to see Fiona's post, you will understand how much it is a tribute to our WP class:

Welcome to the Dark Side UC World Politics.


As Todorov and Wendt could be besties, I am glad that we have all come together --- with our love of World Politics, gingerbread cookies, and toys meant for five year-olds (i.e. play dough, nerf guns, Silly Bandz).

I hope that everyone has a very merry holiday season and enjoys the winter break!!
(And if you're in D.C. right now, just :) and look out the window...)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

IR: the Stuff of "Smoke and Heat of Epistemology" (Wendt)

15 weeks.  105 days.  6,300 minutes.  (Approximately.)  And the semester is over!!  Though we can measure time, it is always amazing by the speed at which it flies.

Its outcomes are pretty unpredictable, too.  Our last world politics class was not what I was expecting (at the beginning of the year, or even a few weeks ago).  Presumptuously, I think I envisioned that our class would know a good deal about World Politics.  Maybe on the last day we would go over the merits of the different themes we discussd, speculate about the future, and eat some Georgetown cupcakes.  Instead, we spent the last day as most IR scholars, politicans, and theorists do:  debating, which is a completely valid ending to the semester because it just shows that IR waits for no agenda and its "problems" never end, especially because the answers are debatable.

The simulation itself was challenging, but a good challenge, nevertheless.  I had never participated in simulations or much debate-style learning before this class, but it was an enjoyable (and at times frustrating) way to put opinions on the "table."  Though I would have favored being a different interest group, it was rather self-reflective to be the United States.  Though some groups groaned that our topic was "easier," there was a lot of research to delve into why the U.S. acts as it does and what actions have (not) upheld such policies.  Because the goals of the development conference were based on the Washington consensus, it became difficult to priortize and validate which were the U.S.'s most sound objectives.  We also had to determine how much to act in our own interests or how much to compromise for the interest of developing countries.  Ironically, for being a country of "free speech," our group did notice its lack of "loudness," per say.  This put us in an interesting position because the U.S. as hegemon typically is regarded for an opinion on important matters, as happened during the simulation.  Yet, our group learned to collaborate, each becoming an expert in his/her own policy.  Without a "spokesman," we were forced to synthesize our information, speak, and become more actively involved in the debate.

Consequently, I do regret that I did not always express my opinions in class... because that is all they are, opinions.  Whether tangents or completely valid, it is always good to add new voices to a discussion because if not, it has a tendency to circumlocute.  However, this class definitely helped me re-think how I structure arguments and their accompanying logic.

Though I am no expert in the field of IR, I guess none of us are.  Some have more political backgrounds or are better tuned into current events, but as a few of us lamented in the beginning of the semester, we were taking the course in order to learn.  And we did.  Through the living-learning community, labs, and class discussions, again, World Politics = Life.

Concluding, World Politics did become a great introduction to SIS and AU in general.  Its overview of many topics (development, poverty, sovereignty, terrorism) made me question current issues as well as which aspects I might want to pursue in the future.  Though I cannot definitely tell you whether I am a realist, liberal, or constructivst (but hey, at least I know what those things are [though, I may side with a more constructivist/realist mix], I can side with the constructivist doctrine of change.  Thanks to World Politics, my social reality is no longer the same.

The End is Just the Beginning

As I look back on the last semester, I’m not entirely sure what to think. I came into the class knowing nothing about world politics or international relations, knowing nothing about writing papers or thinking critically about things. And even though I know a lot more about these things now, I can’t help but think that I still barely know anything. There’s so much left to learn. 

Despite my obvious lack of participation, I really did enjoy this class. I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, but it definitely exceeded my expectations in terms of what I've learned and how I've learned to think. I’m extremely glad that I chose to do University College also, and that from the options of those I chose world politics. I can’t exactly compare our floor to other UCs or non-UC floors, but I feel like we’ve formed some pretty close friend groups, and a lot of us work well together, despite some of the differences in personalities and hidden hostilities that come from living together. What I do particularly like about this group of people is that while we all have at least one thing in common - our interest in world politics - we are also all so different, from different backgrounds, with different experiences, and with very different political and social views. I also enjoyed the wednesday labs. I got to see a lot of places that I otherwise probably would never have gone to on my own; the french embassy, the state department, the soccer and baseball games, the opera, the pentagon.... 

All things considered, I'd definitely recommend university college and this class to any incoming freshmen. I'm really looking forward to the group research projects next semester also. From what I've heard, everyone has really good ideas. It will be exciting for everyone to do a large-scale project on something that actually interests them (rather than representing McDonalds in a global development simulation, or discussing how foreign auto manufacturers are really doing the best for American workers and consumers). 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Sovereignty Protecting Difference

While I agree that sovereignty can protect difference, as is said in Horizons, I don’t think that it always does well, or that it is the only thing that can. It is true that if there is a group of people that are different from most of the population, they may be more protected by becoming a sovereign nation. However, that is often not the best solution. A sovereign nation that is in some noticeable way “different” than other surrounding nations can be subject to being treated as inferior within the international system. Being sovereign from other nations makes that group have even less in common with the others than they would if they were not sovereign; therefore, they are more likely to be treated as different in a negative way. It could lead to situations such as the Europeans conquering the Americas: they had very little, if anything, in common, and saw them as inferior because of it. 
On the other side is the argument that if they are not sovereign, they would be discriminated against in their own nation, leading to a worse life in general. They would not have proper rights, even though they would be in an unthreatened nation. The extent of their loss or rights would depend on how advanced the nation is, how used to difference they are, and how different the others are. The problems that would result in that group not becoming sovereign would not necessarily be worse than the problems that would result if they did. 

Why We Have To Remember Her

Instead of dedicating his book to the usual loved one or ones, Todorov dedicates The Conquest of America to “the memory of a Mayan woman devoured by dogs.” This is a particularly striking image, as it is probably meant to be. While it only shows the cruel fate of one woman, it represents all of the others that resisted the European conquerers and got repressed or otherwise brutally slaughtered. Todorov explains the story of the Mayan woman in more detail in the epilogue of the book. He says that he tells the story and dedicates the book to that Mayan woman in the hope that “we remember what can happen if we do not succeed in discovering the other.” 

One of the biggest problems states and people in the world had (and still have, to some degree), is understanding the "other." A lack of understanding of other people, customs, and cultures can cause a lot of communication problems. By dedicating the book to the Mayan woman, Todorov acknowledges and makes known some of the worst outcomes that such misunderstandings can have. He presents it as a lesson to be learned, something that we should not let happen again. 

My Last Reflection

so..all good things come to an end and this is no different. People always say that so I thought I'd use it too :) I enjoyed world politics class. I enjoyed the fact that everyone had different views, yet were not blind to the valid points other people made. Being in the class helped me figure out how I actually felt about certain issues, like education, the definition of poverty, development, sovereignty, identity ect. I did not come into the class knowing alot about realism, liberalism, or constructivism. I did not look at cnn or read a newspaper everyday. I could not and still can't spout quotes about history. I do feel that I have narrowed down a few things that I am interested in pursuing further. World Politics was a starting point giving me the basis to look further into the global world from my own point of view, in my own way. I still don't know what I want to do but, I'm learning what I like and what I don't like. Which means I am moving in the right direction. Thank You to PTJ and Erin and others in my class teaching a little something something about world politics :) I may have learned what I don't like, but I know I still want to do international studies.

to an anonymous Mayan woman devoured by dogs

This dedication sparked in me the same feeling I felt when I read Lucille Clifton's poem:

"at the cemetery, walnut grove plantation, south carolina, 1989"
among the rocks
at walnut grove
your silence drumming
in my bones,
tell me your names
nobody mentioned slaves
and yet the curious tools
shine with your finger prints.
nobody mentioned slaves
but somebody did this work
who had no guide, no stone,
who moulders under rock.
tell me your names,
tell me your bashful names
and I will testify

the inventory lists ten slaves
but only men were recognized.

among the rocks
at walnut grove
some of those honored dead
were dark
some of these dark
were slaves
some of these slaves
were women
some of them did this
honored work.
tell me your names
foremothers, brothers,
tell me your dishonored names.
here lies
here lies
here lies
here lies

Lucille writes to honor the slaves that were not mentioned on her tour of the walnut Grove Plantation. She writes and though she does not enumerate their hardships, she tells their story. They have been forgotten and overlooked. They did not matter in history to the person giving the tour. They did not matter enough to be named, and women did not count at all. my favorite part of the poem is the the repetition of here lies and the word play she introduces in the end with the word hear, as if to say to the reader, hear the lies they have been telling. In a way I feel that Todorov's dedication is a way to honor those who can not tell their story anymore. Those who no longer have names. The people who died at the hand of the Spanish who came and conquered them.