a collection of unrelated things

Three things I did today:

I failed miserably at any sort of socially-acceptable behaviour by obviously changing the subject (when death of a colleague and mentor was mentioned) and then mentioning I was changing the subject.

I dropped a glass of soda in the middle of a crowded restaurant and walked away without offering to help clean it up.

I listened to John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt talk about the Israel Lobby at a local bookstore and actually thought it wasn't a half bad talk. They explained their views, in person, a lot better than they do in the book and they sounded surprisingly normal.

More on the last activity in a later post but, for now, a few thoughts on teaching freshers. Or, rather one main thought on teaching freshers World Politics.

What is the point of teaching them World Politics? Should I ensure they know the main concepts, even if it were possible to define "sovereignty" or "realism" OR should I make sure they are comfortable discussing these concepts, have some idea of how they are used in World Politics and can come up with exceptions where the concept has not worked?

I've been focusing on the latter--in my last class, I sidestepped defining "sovereignty" to discuss how sovereignty has been used. We talked about how the Peace of Westphalia occurred in a specific, historical and cultural setting (Western Europe) but the concept of sovereign states then spread throughout the rest of the world, thus ignoring existing patterns of political authority. I talked them through the examples of Australia (not "discovered" till much after Westphalia and not settled by Europeans till almost 250 years later. One justification for settlement being that Australia was not a sovereign state, in the sense that the Europeans defined sovereignty) and (recently) Burma.

We then talked about "internal" challenges to sovereignty (again, the example being Australia and the declaration by Aboriginal people of 26 January, Australia Day, as "Sovereignty Day").

Did we discuss definitions of sovereignty? No. Did we discuss scholars and their interpretations? No.

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