Theory

Hate, loss and Neoliberalism

I’ve been teaching a “Foundations of Global Studies Theory” course for a few years. I begin the course with a section on classical and modern liberalism, before moving to neoliberalism, because liberalism is a foundational theory for most issues in Global Studies. What has struck me over the years is how little ideological attraction most students feel towards neoliberalism. Although I have taught the class multiple times, I have only ever had a single student who was an ardent proponent of neoliberalism. They also wrote one of the best papers that I’ve ever received, and are now working in an excellent job in the financial sector. Still, most of my students have an almost visceral distaste for neoliberalism, and this has strengthened over time. …

Conspiracy theories and the 2009 influenza pandemic

The Journal of International and Global Studies is an open access journal, which has just published my article: Whom do you trust: Doubt and Conspiracy theories in the 2009 Influenza Pandemic. The article examines how people in widely separated world regions responded to the pandemic with motifs based around trust and betrayal. While the article focuses on influenza, it also discusses other diseases such as polio and Ebola. Currently the Ebola in West Africa has been waning, and Liberia has finally been declared to be free of the disease. Even now, however, public health workers have to struggle against a powerful narrative of denial, which depicts Ebola as a tool created by the West to sell expensive medications. As I discuss in the article, such narratives have deep roots.

Shawn Smallman

Randall Munroe, XKCD Creative Commons Attribution and non-commercial use 2.5 license

South Africa and Nuclear Security

Image of South Africa taken by NASA. Source: CIA World Factbook, South Africa
Image of South Africa taken by NASA. Source: CIA World Factbook, South Africa

Terrified of outside intervention, the South African military created six atomic weapons, which were dismantled after the collapse of apartheid. The nuclear material, however, was preserved, despite requests (by the United States and others) that the South African government convert this material into a less-dangerous form. This material is stored at a site called Pelindaba, which is the country’s main nuclear research center. In 2007 two separate teams attacked the facility, and were defeated by sheer luck. A recent account of this event makes for terrifying reading, less because of how close the attackers came to succeeding than for the lackadaisical response of the South African government. According to this account, recently posted on African Defense magazine, President Obama has twice written private letters to President Jacob Zuma, to ask that South Africa convert the uranium into a form less readily converted into nuclear weapons. The South Africans have failed to respond. This article merits careful reading.

The concept of human security is currently gaining traction in International Relations theory. This paradigm defines security as those issues that threaten not only the state but also the population. This approach has many merits, particularly given the rise of non-state actors as threats, and the impact that climate change may have on entire populations. Advocates of a security paradigm known as realism, however, critique human security as being a “slippery slope.” If you adopt this approach to security, what problems are not security issues? While I believe that human security has many advantages over realism as a means to address global challenges, this particular critique by realists does give me pause. Events such as the attack on Pelindaba are particularly dangerous, in way that seems to merit a clearly defined theoretical approach. One can only hope that behind the scenes South Africa is taking more steps to ensure security at this site than seems to be the case based on this report.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

Is the Nation-State Relevant in a Globalizing World?

Guest Post by Professor Evguenia Davidova, Portland State University

Every textbook on nationalism or international studies starts with the assertion that the
international order constituted by sovereign states was established with the Westphalian
Peace in 1648. From the nineteenth century onward, the nation-state phenomenon spread
rapidly without anyone claiming a copyright on the concept, according to Benedict
Anderson. Until recently, the nation-state system, which assumes congruence between
the political and national unit (according to Ernest Gellner), was the norm in the world
system, and many wars were initiated in attempts at various territorial rectifications (for
example, the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913). And yet with the advancement of socio-
economic, political, and cultural globalization from the 1970s onward, many in positions
of influence began to question the relevance of the nation-state. Challenges came from
multiple power blocs: commercial, financial, political, military cultural, all of which
transcend national borders, from the TNCs, IGOs, and INGOs to the “global war on
terrorism” to the rise of supranational organizations, such as the EU.
The 2015 national elections in Greece is a poignant example of massive rejection of the
devastating role that the “troika” (the European Union, the International Monetary Fund,
and the European Central Bank) played in Greek internal politics. Many Greeks
perceived the imposed austerity measures as a violation of national sovereignty and a
significant core has considered opting out of the Eurozone and restoring their national
currency. It was a major victory for the forces on the left.
At the same time, EU/IMF interventions and the recent global financial crisis contributed
also to the rise of far right nationalist movements and parties claiming to be defenders of
national sovereignty. Their advancement into the mainstream of European politics has
been a rather a common phenomenon within the EU. It can be argued, therefore, that the
nation-state has maintained its vibrancy despite all the attacks and challenges. At least to this point.

 

 

International Studies versus Global Studies

NASA image: NASA Identifier: sts040-73-037
NASA image: NASA Identifier: sts040-73-037

I’ve just done a peer review of an outstanding article on the field of International Studies, which again raised the question of the difference between International and Global Studies. Although I’ve touched on this topic before it is worth revisiting this issue, because the differences are significant. International Studies is a field that emerged within the parent discipline of International Relations within Political Science. The field developed because scholars were dissatisfied with the heavy focus on inter-state relations, as well as a stress on quantitative methodology. It’s important to note that the positivist approach that was so powerful in the United States (especially in the fifties and sixties) was never as influential in Canada and Europe. Still, within the United States, the field of International Studies still bears signs of its birth from Political Science. Those scholars who visit the International Studies Association conference for the first time are likely to be struck not only by its sheer size, but also by the dominance of traditional social science methodology. If you read the two major journals in the field –International Studies Review and International Studies Quarterly– they are dominated by International Relations scholarship from classical Political Science. Many articles focus on Realism, Constructivism and Liberalism in IR. …

Sumner and Tribe’s International Development Studies

"View Of Kaeng Krachan Dam,petchaburi Province,thailand" by cbenjasuwan at freedigitalphotos.net
“View Of Kaeng Krachan Dam, Petchaburi Province, Thailand” by cbenjasuwan at freedigitalphotos.net

Andy Sumner and Michael Tribe’s International Development Studies: Theories and Methods in Research and Practice is a brief overview of the field in a textbook format. The author’s intent is to introduce the reader to key ideas and debates in development studies. The study begins by asking what is the meaning of development, and then discusses the history of the term. Subsequent chapters are concerned with large questions, such as “What can we `Know’ in Development Studies?” Because the book has a focus on research and methods, the book includes a chapter on how we should define rigor, and how research should shape practice. The chapters follow a standard format, which includes numbered sub-headings and brief summaries at the end of every chapter. …

Kwame Appiah’s Cosmopolitanism, A Book Review

"Glass Globe" by suphakit73 at freedigitalphotos.net
“Glass Globe” by suphakit73 at freedigitalphotos.net

Kwame Anthony Appiah’s Cosmopolitanism is an engaging, well-written examination of the idea of cosmopolitanism, which will lead students to think deeply about the meaning of global citizenship. At the core of the book is Appiah’s question, what obligations do humans have to each other? I used the book last year in my “Foundations of Global Studies Theory” class, and had the opportunity to read my student’s reflections on the work in their book reviews, which has shaped this review. Based on their feedback and the class discussion, I think that this book would be an excellent choice for an “Introduction to International and Global Studies” course.

Appiah’s work is deeply shaped by his own bi-cultural upbringing, with roots in both Ghana and England. One of his strengths as an author is the ability to make students see how these issues apply to their own lives by relating philosophical questions to his own experience. He also frequently uses case studies or thought experiments to make his point. In both my student’s book reviews and the class discussion my students tended to refer to these examples, which led them to remember his arguments. Appiah’s writing style was clear, jargon-free and accessible, another boon in my class where students were reading authors such as Marx and Chakrabarty. …

Rubric for an Online Quiz

I am teaching a hybrid class, “Foundations of Global Studies Theory,” which has a weekly quiz on the readings. Every student is expected to write a two to three paragraph answer every week to a question like this: “What were the strengths and weaknesses’ of Adorno and Horkheimer’s article? One critique of critical theorists is that they can be “culture snobs,” who look down on forms of popular expression (music, television). Do you think that this is a fair critique based on this article? Is this article still relevant to contemporary society, or was its usefulness confined to its historical period?” I try to give every student feedback on their quiz response every week, but it’s challenging to do with 40 students in the class. To help with this issue, I’ve created this rubric, which I’ve found is very helpful:

 

Book Review: Dipesh Chakrabarty’s Provincializing Europe

 

"God Of Art, Supreme God Of India Culture" by Sura Nualpradid at freedigitalphotos.net
“God Of Art, Supreme God Of India Culture” by Sura Nualpradid at freedigitalphotos.net

        Last fall I assigned Dipesh Chakrabarty’s Provincializing Europe in my “Foundations of Global Studies Theory” class. The book was very challenging for most students, and I ultimately decided that it might be more appropriate for a graduate level course. At the same time, the work is a foundational text in Postcolonial Studies, which seeks to examine the ways in which Western intellectual history continues to shape programs and expectations in less developed countries. Chakrabarty argues that Western theories are both “indispensable and inadequate.” Inherent to most Western social science theory is the concept of historicism; in other words, there is one evolutionary model that societies pass through, which also happens to be that of Europe.  For this reason, most Western social theorists do not take religion seriously, nor do they necessarily question using Western concepts such as Marxism to understand the class consciousness of Indian workers. In this sense, Chakrabarty demonstrates the Eurocentrism that runs through Western social sciences. …

New syllabus for a hybrid Global Studies theory class

I’ve been teaching my courses as web-infused classes for some time, which means that I put key materials on-line: the syllabus, key terms for every class, a lecture outline, rubrics and readings. I’ve also used an online “dropbox” for students to submit their work. I’ve found that students really appreciate being able to read the lecture outline before class, and that they are more likely to read their papers if I give them feedback on-line. I appreciate that the system allows students to track their grades, so I no longer get the question, “Can you tell me what my grade is now?” And I never have to worry about losing a paper that a student has submitted. …

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