A Political Scientist in a Journalist’s World


Disciplinary backgrounds affecting classroom discourse.

This past Friday was our first actual class of the programme, the first lecture of our first module, “Reporting Global Change.”  It’s going to last about a month, and is held at the Danish School of Media and Journalism, or DMJX for short. It was an incredibly long day because of both the class’s length and the welcome party after.

I won’t bore you with the details of political theories or globalization frameworks we picked apart in our lectures and TA groups, but I will speak of one thing at length: it was very apparent to me on Friday who had previously had political science courses, specifically on theories, and who had not.  And I don’t mean in any sort of condescending or bad way (though at times I found myself a bit exasperated); it is simply that we probably all come from vastly different educational backgrounds, as far as our previous studies go.

My Bachelor of Arts degree is officially in International Studies, with a concentration in Globalization and a minor in International Affairs.  This basically means that I waited until the last minute to declare a major and had to find something to scoop up the most credits.

Just kidding.

It means that I took a hodgepodge of classes, mostly from the political science department.  These classes were various studies from both regional and global perspectives, and of course a whole host of theoretical and analytical courses in between.  One of these latter courses was Political Ideologies, a required course that finally explained the differences between Socialism and Communism (something hard to come by in my backyard of the States), and brought out some people’s inner Rush Limbaugh.

Kidding. Sort of.

There was one basic concept of these classes that was hammered into us from day one, and something that I carried into Lecture 1 of this programme: when discussing political theories, and picking them apart to show how they are (and aren’t) relevant to current issues, you argue their points from the standpoint of that theory.  You put yourself in the theory’s shoes, so to speak.  Being in the lovely Group A of the teacher assistant-led discussion groups (meeting for a couple of hours in between the professor’s lectures), we discussed the concept of Realism.

Realism states that the most powerful actor (entity) in the international world are individual, sovereign (self-governing) states, and that the most powerful motivating factor behind each’s actions is power. An example to illustrate this would be the USA and the USSR during the Cold War, and the proxy wars each had hands in (read: the Greek civil war circa 1945, the Lebanese civil war from 1975, various conflicts in Africa and South America).  Power was constantly at play here, and the issue of security was forefront on most politician’s minds.

(I don’t want to hash this out for too long, so if you’re still not sure about realism or just want to know more, feel free to ask a question, post a comment, or go to: http://www.iep.utm.edu/polreal/ for a good, scholarly description of what exactly it is.)

Anyway. So we’re in class discussing how best to apply the nuances of Realism to current political issues, specifically the most important global issues (which is another blog entry entirely), and I get into it.  I mean, I really dig this stuff.  I love delving into theories and getting people’s blood going to make them explain their points and listen to mine.  But there was a central problem that would plague me through the 5-minute presentation I had to give with another girl in my class: people took me seriously.  The comments I was making were not my own opinions, but comments through the lens of realism.  Different people kept trying to point out realism’s failings and how little it applied to issues of vast importance like the environment and human rights, but that was the end game of the exercise.  The point of this whole day was to show us that you cannot try to view the world through one lens, nor can you try to see it through all of them.  Things fall out of place.  As journalists, we have to keep in mind the audiences we are writing to and for, and we must pull apart details from complex stories in order to get the main idea across — and how it is relevant to our audiences.

Basically, I feel like a lot of people missed the point of the exercise, or at least how it was supposed to play out.  After trying to articulate some points about Realism, some people in my TA group may truly think of me as the token American out to drop bombs on ‘them A-rabs’.  Not that that came up verbatim, but some unremembered comment I made towards the end of the session had several people (the TA included) looking at me funny, causing me to hastily explain that I was just using the framework, and NOT giving my actual opinion.

Although a little frustrating, it was interesting to have people come in from completely different studies and work out the political theories we were presented with.  Other groups dealt with liberalism, constructivism, and International Political Economy (IPE).

After the class was over for the day, I ran home to get the proper Southern American biscuits I had cooked the night before, to bring them back to the DMJX.  We had a welcome party that night, and many people brought food, snacks, or drinks you might partake of in their home countries.  The DMJX’s Friday bar (Fredagsbar) was going on simultaneously, so we would go in waves to buy the 17kr beers being sold by a girl in a crab suit (the bar’s theme that night was presumably “Under the Sea,” as there was also a guy running around in a shark getup).  There was dancing and general merriment, and I’m pretty sure everyone had a blast.  I dipped out early (around 21:30) to get home and drink with a flatmate and some of her friends; we ended up collecting another Danish student and hit the pavement to go out to more Friday bars.

Though when I say ‘hitting the pavement’, no pavement was hit.  The Polish guy was kind enough to get me on the back of his bicycle, and I didn’t nearly die this time.

I know I’ve mentioned the “Friday bars” a few times, but that is something that deserves its own post with a commentary on the drinking culture here — basically how awesome it is.

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