What a year! What sort of year?

Insert joke about being two-faced here

I’m dragging myself over the line of 2016. I’m sure we all feel that each new year is more draining than any before, but in this case I have have nothing even vaguely comparable in terms of professional activity. A couple of weeks ago I totted up flights I’d taken, only to spend the days since adding in more and more.

That’s lovely – if you love airport lounges (which I don’t) – but how does it relate to L&T?

Last week, I found myself suggesting Victor’s identity salience exercise (here, but he still needs to write it up for us) to a colleague. It’s a great way of getting to the core of how we see ourselves, and understanding how our identity is made up of various elements that we might not normally see as connected.

I’m now fining myself wondering whether this couldn’t be re-purposed for reflecting on what’s happened this year. So let’s try it.

Firstly, list the 5 most important political developments of the year. This is already a good activity, because it makes you check what happened this year (ahem), and what you think constitutes ‘important’.

Then discard the least important of these, with a justification for dropping it, on its own merits (i.e. rather than the merits of the other choices).

Repeat this, dropping and justifying, until you’re down to what you consider the most important development. Again, justify its importance, but – and this is where we diverge from Victor – now think about how all your initial choices link together.

Logically, this invokes higher-order connections, so that you step away from the specific to the general, inviting you to see patterns in the swirl of all that surrounds us.

So my top 5 – in increasing importance – runs like this:

  • The failed leadership coup in the UK’s Labour party;
  • The continuing lack of concerted international action on Syria;
  • The EU-Turkey deal on migrants;
  • The UK’s EU referendum;
  • Trump’s election in the US Presidential election

Already you can see the scope for debate here: I’ve got some things that didn’t happen; I’m looking at things that are logically connected and possibly the same thing; I’m mixing up levels and types of events. You might even wonder at the order of my top two, given my interests.

In short, I’m already giving myself plenty of material for reflection.

Underlying all these events, I can see issues of populism, of the West’s international role, of the agency/structure debate, of short/long-run effects and more. Indeed, I find myself wondering whether it isn’t also worth reversing things and starting with these general ideas and then listing all the ways that they have manifested themselves this year.

Basically, I’m trying to get myself to reflect in the way that I want my students to reflect, rather than just absorb. The very act of writing this post has been helpful to me for thinking about the world around, both for whence it has come and for where it might be going.

And on that rather Janus-y note, I wish you a happy festive period and will see you again in 2017.

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