Oct 09

Supernatural China and the Ghost House

A highrise in Macau, seen through the ruined 17th century Church of St. Paul. Photo by Shawn Smallman

Every Halloween I write a blog post about the supernatural or the mysterious, from a book review regarding a Russian mystery, to a description of the best podcasts to make you afraid.  Last summer I did fieldwork on public policy and infectious disease in southeastern China, during which I traveled to Hong Kong, Macau and Shenzhen. I was delighted by the ancient temples in Hong Kong, and fascinated by the enduring strength of traditional religion in the region. In fact, I was very disappointed to find that I was leaving Hong Kong one day before the “Festival of Hungry Ghosts” began on August 25th. But I was surprised to find that even urban and energetic Shenzhen is haunted by its past. This is surprising since the city has a population of perhaps 12 million people today, while it had a population of at most 30,000 in 1979. When I visited the Shenzhen Museum (which is both free and excellent, if you are interested in urban development) they had pictures of neighborhoods in the 1980s that were little more than fields. These pictures were juxtaposed with photos of Shenzhen currently, where developers compete to build the highest skyscraper. There can have been few places where development has so quickly erased the past. The city is filled with sweeping avenues, towering sky-scrapers, world-class architecture and graceful parks. It was painful to contrast the new public works in Shenzhen with the sometimes antiquated state of subways, bridges and roads in the United States. Yet even here, the city is haunted by disturbing memories. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/10/supernatural-china/

Oct 06

International Students

As faculty, we often focus on what takes place in the classroom, but it’s useful to remember how much learning takes place throughout our students’ entire college experience. International students are a particularly important part of that process, as Stephanie Argy discusses in “Sharing the World,” which was just published in Portland State Magazine.

Shawn Smallman, 2017

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/10/international-students/

Oct 03

The Campus Politics of Online Teaching

A few years ago I moved my teaching entirely online. One of the joys of online teaching is that it allows faculty to better know our students. In a conventional classroom, I would come to know the four or five students who spoke the most. In my online class every student must do two detailed discussion posts a week. There is always someone in the class who finishes their first lengthy post by saying, “I don’t normally talk in class, so this is unusual for me to say so much . . . ” Teaching online also allows for greater creativity, and has enabled me to rethink my pedagogy. Over the last two years I have become inspired by the principles of the negotiated syllabus, in which students choose their content in the course. In my classes students take increasing responsibility for the content as the course progresses. For example, in my Global Drug Trade course this quarter every student creates a 12-15 page research paper, which they share with their peers in the final week of the class. This is the only content in the course for this week. At the same time that my course is based upon a negotiated syllabus, the entire content of the class is shaped around the principle of Universal Design, which fosters the learning of diverse groups, such as people for whom English is a second language, and those with different learning needs. I teach at a public university that has historically has an access mission, and I believe that teaching online enables me to continue to serve those students who would otherwise have difficulty completing their degree. As such, online education reflects our core institutional values. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/10/the-campus-politics-of-online-teaching/

Oct 01

The Syrian conflict

“Members of the XI International Brigade of the Republican International Brigades at the Battle of Belchite ride on a Soviet T-26 tank.” Испанская_11_интербригада_в_бою_под_Бельчите._1937-edit

The Syrian Civil War (2011-present) has been a test of our current world order, much in the same manner that the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) was before World War Two. In both cases, diplomacy and the international organizations proved unable to stem the violence. The two conflicts are also similar in that each has revealed the fissures of the modern global era, and quickly devolved into a proxy conflict. In both cases foreign fighters flocked to the battlefront for ideological reasons. The international volunteers in Republican Spain’s International Brigades (as well as the mostly Communists and anarchists in the POUM militias) have their Islamist parallels in the Syrian civl war. While their ideologies were completely different, in each case you saw young people streaming to the battlefield not because they had been sent by a state, but rather because they felt a sense of duty to a cause. In Spain, the nationalist leader Franco welcomed foreign units from France, Germany, Italy and Morocco, which perhaps parallels how states such as Iran and Russia have sent support to Bashar al Assad in modern Syria.

Of course there are differences in the two wars. After the Spanish Civil War most foreign combatants were welcomed home. Perhaps the key difference, however, in the struggle has been that in Syria a major non-state actor -Hezbollah- has proven to be a key and unified power on the battlefield. Still, even a cursory comparison of the two conflicts leads to a strange feeling of deja vu.

This similarity extends to the realm of military affairs. Much like the Spanish civil war, the Syrian conflict has also proved to be a test of modern military equipment and tactics. In both conflicts external actors lent aid not only to support their allies, but also to test their systems. In the 1930s it was Germany that drew the key lessons from the battles in Spain, particularly regarding the role of close-air support. Western democracies did not pay similar attention to how technology had changed warfare (especially Britain and France), which proved to be a major mistake. In the case of Syria, Hezbollah has made immense progress in urban warfare tactics, while Russia has used the conflict to display its naval and air capabilities. Together with the Iranians, the Russian intervention has changed the course of the war. There can be little question now that the momentum now is with the Syrian regime to such an extent that President Assad can aspire to reclaim control over the entire nation, with the possible exception of the Kurdish region. This is a dramatic change from the state of affairs even two years ago. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/10/the-syrian-conflict-2/

Sep 22

Drug War in the Philippines

Orthographic map of the Philippines. By Addicted04 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m teaching a fully online course on the Global Drug Trade this fall. In the Americas when we think of the drug trade we typically think of cocaine and the Mexican Drug War. Yet the drug trade is a global trade, which runs from the fields of poppies in Afghanistan, to the fentanyl produced in East Asia that is destined for North America. The Drug War has led to appalling violence in many nations, such as the Philippines.

President Duterte came to power in June 2016 as a populist, with a long history of outrageous statements and extreme positions. Regarding drug users and traffickers, Duterte said that he would “slaughter them all.” Immediately after his inauguration thousands of people were killed by death squads, or were shot by police upon the mere suspicion of doing drugs. The President’s policy was initially popular, but over the last few months people have tired of the unending violence.

In the United States, one could argue that the War on Drugs really dates to 1973, when President Richard Nixon established the Drug Enforcement Agency. This approach conceived as drugs as a security threat to be dealt by strengthening the border, increasing the number of police, and using the U.S. armed forces and allied militaries to target drug traffickers. In 1999, the United States adopted Plan Colombia to fight both the drug cartels and guerrillas in Colombia. The U.S. gave over eight billion dollars to Colombia to expand its armed forces, purchase military equipment, carry out aerial spraying, and fight the cartels. Despite this substantial investment, the supply and price of cocaine in the United States did not decline, even after the death of Pablo Escobar, the leader of the Medellin cartel. The center of drug trafficking, however, did shift to Mexico. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/09/drug-war-in-the-philippines/

Sep 15

Remembering Colonialism’s Horrors

Burning of a Village in Africa, and Capture of its Inhabitants (p.12, February 1859, XVI). By Wesleyan Juvenile Offering [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The human costs of colonialism were staggering. Slavery was integral to the political economy of imperial powers from the 16th to 19th century, because of the huge profits that it generated. At times France received more wealth from slave production on the small colony of Haiti than from any other of its colonies, including New France. In King Leopold’s Ghost, Adam Hochschild has described how perhaps half the population of Congo -roughly 10 million people- died during Belgian rule in the 1880s.

From Australia to the Americas Indigenous Peoples were dispossessed of their lands, and confronted by a cultural genocide that lasted centuries. Some native peoples of the Caribbean nearly vanished during a horrific period of epidemic disease, land loss, and overwork. The experience of the Spanish conquest was so terrible that many Indigenous families in the Caribbean simply chose to stop having children after the Spanish arrived (or were unable to maintain families), so that their populations declined with stunning speed. In Potosí, Bolivia thousands of Indigenous Peoples and African slaves died mining the silver that funded Spanish wars and palaces. While epidemic diseases devastated Indigenous communities, so did the entire structure of colonialism, which led to a demographic collapse throughout the Americas. This was so extreme that it lasted for centuries. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/09/remembering-colonialisms-horror/

Sep 15

The costs of drugs

A Cannabis plant. By Cannabis Training University (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Marijuana is being legalized in the United States and globally far more quickly than almost any observer could have anticipated. Canada will legalize marijuana nationally in 2018. Given the horrific violence associated with the drug war in Mexico, such steps will reduce the power of organized crime. As early as 2014 the price for Mexican marijuana was falling sharply, and this trend will continue. Still, all change comes with a cost, and Oliver Milman’s recent Guardian article points out one. In his piece,“Not so green: how the weed industry is a glutton for fossil fuels,” Milman argues that marijuana production in greenhouses uses a shocking amount of electricity, which is often produced with fossil fuels. I don’t doubt that the global discussion about drug legalization, at least for marijuana, will continue. As it does, countries will have to wrestle with many complex policy issues, including the environmental impact of this crop, as large corporations produce it at scale.

Ben Grenrock also has a recent article, “Colombia’s New Drug Problem” in Slate, which talks about the growing movement towards drug tourism in Medellin, Colombia. On the one hand, drug violence has plummeted in the city. Colombia, which endured horrific violence in the early 1990s, has recently signed a peace agreement with the FARC guerrillas. Medellin is a beautiful city, which has enjoyed spectacular growth. But tourists have also begun to come to Medellin in large numbers, partly because they view it as a place to experiment with cocaine consumption. Of course, cocaine has always been available in Colombia. But now the scale of drug tourism has increased substantially, which has strengthened the drug gangs that control its distribution in the city. According to Grenrock, many people in Medellin look with disdain on these tourists. In the case of Medellin, cocaine is illegal, but readily accessible because there is little effective enforcement. As both articles describe, a commodity chain links drug consumers to real environmental and social problems.

Shawn Smallman, 2017

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/09/global-warming-and-marijuana/

Aug 28

Trump’s Image in China

Mural on Hong Kong Building. Photo by Shawn Smallman

I’ve just returned from Hong Kong, where I’ve been doing fieldwork around public policy and avian influenza. I recently came across this mural, which is on the Xiu Ping Commercial Building at 104 Jervois Street. The mural shows a long line of people waiting for food at a restaurant or food stall. A smiling man is ushering away a threatening President Donald Trump, who is waving his finger in the air and scowling. What you don’t see in this picture is the very long line of characters waiting to receive their food. I didn’t have the presence of mind to take a picture of the whole line, but towards the end there was a figure whom I took to be former President Obama, and he was smiling broadly. President Trump’s administration -and the revolving door in the White House- is receiving constant news coverage in China. President Trump is described as a populist and economic nationalist, whose ideas threaten global prosperity and regional stability.

Shawn Smallman, 2017

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/08/trumps-image-in-china/

Aug 25

Typhoons and Hurricanes

Shuttered door in the front lobby of the Metropark Hotel, Hong Kong, before the arrival of Category 10 Typhoon Hato on August 23rd, 2017. Photo by Shawn Smallman

Like everyone else, I’m watching the news as Hurricane Harvey reaches category four intensity tonight. It will reach the coast of Texas around midnight, August 25th. My thoughts are with everyone in the affected region. I also hope that people are paying much closer attention to the news than I was when Typhoon Hato reached Hong Kong this Wednesday. I was staying at a hotel in Hong Kong, and was not following events, because I had been busy traveling back from Shenzhen. When I awoke in the morning I was surprised to see the rain coming down in buckets, but just thought it was a summer storm. I then went down the stairs, only to find myself confused by the shutters that had been installed on the main lobby doors at the Metropark Hotel. I went out another door, and was puzzled to see the sidewalks without pedestrians, the streets without cars, and businesses closed. When I saw that the windows up and down the street were taped with X’s, I realized what was happening.

Typhoon Hato skirted Hong Kong but hit Macau hard. Still, even in Hong Kong it was an impressive sight from the hotel’s rooftop. A burst of intense wind would pass through, whipping the palm trees back and forth. Clouds of leaves would hurl through the air, as they were sucked hundreds of feet into the sky. The rain would pour sideways. Then, I don’t know why, suddenly it would be dead calm. At one point I found myself watching a flock of birds, desperately trying to fly into the wind to avoid being sucked up into the hills. They would gain a little space, they be blown helplessly back. By late afternoon the worst was over, although heavy rains continued for hours. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/08/typhoons-and-hurricanes/

Aug 15

The Value of Lectures

I’m writing this post for my teaching colleagues. One of the things that I have loved about moving to entirely online teaching was that it has encouraged me to thinking deeply about pedagogy. Over the last two years I have become a passionate advocate of the negotiated syllabus and universal design, which I have incorporated into online classes. Still, for twenty years I taught primarily using the lecture format. I would break lectures up with small discussion groups. Perhaps students might read a historical document from Brazil, which they would discuss in their small group, then report out briefly. Or perhaps I would have them collectively draw a map of all the theorists covered in my theory class, and how these people connected. We’d then share these maps with the class. These assignments helped to create a sense of community in the class, and to break up lectures.  Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/08/lectures/

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