Environment & Society – Call for Abstracts

Credit: Chad Raymond

Environment & Society has issued a call for abstracts on mega-projects:

Small is no longer beautiful. Small is out-dated, old-fashioned, inefficient and ugly. The future now consists of an ambitious series of massive plans and schemes for new infrastructure projects, beltways, roadways, railways, investment corridors, disaster-proofed cities and countries, carbon capture and storage, reforestation, wall building, migration fostering, terra-formation, space exploration, global sports events and so much more. The proponents of mega-projects resurrect modernist dreams of yesteryear, yet they offer utopian visions of an uncharted future. Although many of these mega-projects are still being planned or are in nascent stages, it is clear they have the potential to transform everyday life for many people and as a result they are likely to provoke resistance.

In this issue of Environment & Society we invite any papers which explore different aspects of mega-projects. This could include their environmental or social consequences, politics surrounding their planning and/or realization, and the visions and/or assumptions that animate them. It could entail exploring the organized collective opposition to these schemes, such as protest events, campaigns and social movements, or subtle acts of refusal. It could also examine the futures that mega-projects promise, their consequences and the alternative futures they foreclose. It could focus on highly visible lumpy schemes that are territorialized and driven by governments. Alternatively it could examine massive and far-reaching systemic changes in technology or social trends that reshape how large groups of people think or behave but which arise from consumer choice, political action and private entrepreneurship as well as state guidance. Continue reading

Making Games As Teaching Tools

Today we have a guest post by Dr. Andrew Biro, Head of the Department of Politics, Acadia University, Nova Scotia, Canada. He can be reached at andrew [dot] biro [at] acadiau [dot] ca.

Chad Raymond recently wrote a couple of posts (herehere, and here) about having students create board games based on course content. I did something similar in my Politics of Water class last fall, as a capstone exercise in the last couple of weeks of the course. It was a fun way to end the course, and by inviting high school students to play the games, it gave my students the sense that they really could use games to engage in a teaching exercise.

Students worked in groups of 4-6 to design a board game that incorporated some “lesson” from the course. The course is rather eclectic. Topics include geopolitical conflicts over water, municipal water privatization, engineering mega-projects (big dams), and gendered access to water in the household. This gave students lots of choices, and they produced eight fairly diverse games. Continue reading

Cultural and Historic Preservation Conference

And now for something completely different . . .

The Noreen Stonor Drexel Cultural and Historic Preservation program at Salve Regina University, Newport, Rhode Island, will host its annual conference on October 13 and 14. The theme for this year is “Gentrification & Preservation: A Reappraisal.” The conference will explore the relationship between gentrification, preservation, and the community – broadly construed.

“Gentrification” is a term that carries a great deal of emotional weight. It is frequently tied to issues of class and race, and historic preservation efforts are often accused of being a handmaid to gentrifiers.

The conference’s keynote speaker is Dr. Lance Freeman, professor of Urban Planning at Columbia University. Dr. Freeman is a leading researcher in the study of gentrification, particularly the various relationships connecting race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, and housing markets.

The conference schedule includes site visits in Newport as well as a session in the Newport Art Museum. For additional information, visit http://chpconference.salvereginablogs.com/ or email chpconference@salve.edu.

Theoretical Theatre: An innovative teaching method for EU Studies: Guest post from Viviane Gravey

This guest post by Viviane Gravey (UEA) was first published on Ideas on Europe.

The European Union has an image problem. The “permissive consensus”[1] (aka non-informed consent) that supported European integration up to the early 1990s is long gone, and the image of “the European construction” as a guarantee of peace is no longer sufficient. Even the last European Commission thought a “new narrative for Europe” was required. Of course, not all of the EU’s legitimacy problems are about its image or European citizens’ lack of information. As important (if not more) is a political debate on whether national sovereignty should be shared, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of shifting power to a supranational level.

As researchers studying European policy and politics, we all make different choices about where we draw the line between raising awareness of what the EU is and what it does and taking a stand on European politics. The possibility of a referendum on British membership of the EU will make this discussion, on whether to get involved and how to do so, all the more crucial. In this post, I suggest that a first and necessary step in engaging the wider public with Europe is to think about how we teach the European Union – and how we can do it better. As a student of EU environmental policies, I have long been keen to draw insights from environmental policy studies for wider EU studies discussions.[2] In this post I go a step further, reflecting on how an innovative teaching practice,  “theoretical theatre”, developed in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia could be adapted to teaching EU studies.

A growing need for better EU studies teaching

What makes the EU complex to teach? Part of the answer comes from the EU political system itself. In many European countries like the UK or France, where citizens are accustomed to a confrontational type of politics, the large number of veto players at EU level and the permeating culture of consensus is decidedly alien. Media coverage of the EU does not always help. EU citizens are often presented with a decidedly skewed account of EU policy-makingand very rarely with informative explanations of what people in Brussels – MEPs, Commissioners, ministers – actually do. Another key difficulty for teaching the EU is the need for teachers to find a balance between the history of European integration, the creation of EU policies, and the opposing theories explaining both. Teachers must find this balance while also trying to engage students in current debates on and in Europe.

How to (better) teach the EU is a topic of growing interest among EU scholars – as evidenced by the 1st European Conference on Teaching and Learning Politics, International Relations and European Studies, by the UACES Student Forum seminar in November 2014 or by the section on Teaching and Learning in a recent Journal of Contemporary European Research issue.  These forums are increasingly discussing innovative teaching approaches, such as greater use of simulations or harnessing the Internet for teaching purposes (see for example the Active Learning in Political Science blog).

Teaching theories, a key hurdle?

Out of the many difficulties encountered when teaching the EU, I suggest one of the key problems is to understand the great variety of theories mobilised to study the EU. This is an especially acute challenge when teaching students with no political science background. Applying theories for the first time – taking a step back and managing to explain the same event or issue with different “lenses” – can be pretty daunting.

A few years ago, researchers in UEA’s 3S research group developed an engaging teaching approach that breaks the ice and introduces students to the use of social science theories: the theoretical theatre. In this approach, a group of lecturers each impersonate a different theory/theorist and engage in a lively debate offering different explanations of an event, or solutions to a problem.

The theoretical theatre approach was first developed to expose students to different theories on sustainable consumption. The theories covered in this sustainable consumption theatre were Rational Choice Theory, Social Psychology, Social Practice Theory and Systems of Provision Theory. Each theory was impersonated by an academic who debated the best way to move toward more sustainable consumption from the perspective of their chosen theoretical perspective[3].

For the last two years, I have helped (with my blog co-editors) bringing together another session in a module on environmental politics and policy. In our theoretical theatre, contenders debate the 1932 Kinder Scout Mass Trespass and the development of access to land rights in the UK from the perspective of Stephen Lukes’ three “faces of power”. Instead of impersonating a theory, we chose to impersonate a theorist, with “Stephen Lukes” going head to head with “Peter Bachrach” and “Robert Dahl” in a performance with an arguably smaller comedic element (although we did use 3D glasses).

Both modules got very positive feedback from the students – which may partly be because the students get to see their lecturers dress rather originally to “get into character”. The different directions in which we’ve taken these modules demonstrate the flexibility of the concept – and is a sign of its adaptability to other fields.

An EU theoretical theatre?

I argue EU studies could benefit from such a theatrical treatment. EU studies is a broad umbrella term for what is a very pluridisciplinary field of study that includes law, political science, history and economics – but the theoretical theatre approach should be flexible enough to be applied to a variety of fields.

What would an EU theoretical theatre look like? In order to be easily understood, it would need to be clearly focused on a specific period in time and issue, with at least 2 (ideally 3 or 4) divergent theoretical readings.

The theatre could serve many different purposes: it could be an introduction to competing readings of an historical period (e.g. the empty chair crisis of 1965 or the 2004 enlargement), to debates on the reasons and modality of a given process (growth in power of the European Parliament) or to a key contemporary issue such as the euro crisis.

For example, a theoretical theatre could be organised around the issue of the EU’s democratic deficit and the role the European Parliament could play in addressing that deficit. Such a discussion might include the four following broadly sketched “theoretical readings”:

theoreticaltheatreEU

Pluridisciplinarity in teaching?

In a complex academic job market, teaching skills are becoming very important for early career researchers. The pluridisciplinarity and diversity of EU studies makes it a perfect field to experiment. The approach I presented here, the theoretical theatre, is only one of many examples of innovative teaching methods being used right now across the UK (and beyond). These methods (theoretical theatre included) may also lead to more pluridisciplinarity in teaching, not just in research.

 


[1]Down, I. & Wilson, C., (2008) “From ‘Permissive Consensus’ to ‘Constraining Dissensus’: A Polarizing Union?”Acta Politica43, 26–49

[2] For example, I co-organised a panel on “Debating EU Governance: Insights from Environmental Policy Studies” at the 2014 UACES Student Forum conference

[3] The Theoretical Theatre performance is available here.

The Real Thing

Coke Real ThingAs I’ve said before, the best writing assignments present students with a contextualized problem — a task — that immediately gives them a role to fulfill, an audience to communicate with, and a format to follow. Role, audience, and format should reflect the types of tasks students might encounter outside of college; for example, a letter to the editor or a policy proposal that presents an evidence-based recommendation on a specific issue. The traditional research paper, with an audience of only the course instructor and a format that is not recognized outside of academia, lacks the authenticity that will lead to improvements in students’ writing.

Doctoral programs in political science typically don’t train people in how to write* or how to teach writing to others, and I’ve only recently begun to better incorporate the principles of role, audience, and format into my own teaching. Here is one example, referenced in my last post on project-based learning.

Last semester’s instructions for a project on tourism, for which a team of students wrote a report and delivered a class presentation:

Choose a location outside the USA and design an international volunteer- or eco-tourism experience in which both the participants and the host community derive long term benefit. Make sure you define “benefit” and be aware that it’s possible to have more than one. Also make sure to include a process that measures who benefits and why to determine if the program’s goals are achieved.

These instructions are okay but not great. This semester’s instructions are better:

Your team of hospitality industry consultants has been hired by Hilton Worldwide to complete a study on the feasibility of an international (meaning outside the USA) volunteer- or eco-tourism experience in which both the guests and the host community derive long term benefits. You team needs to report on the following:

♦  The best international location and type of experience for this venture, with an explanation of why the location and experience is the “best.”
♦  An explanation of the “benefits” that guests and the host community will acquire.
♦  A process that measures who benefits and why to determine if the venture’s goals are being achieved.

I have another example in which audience, purpose, and format might be even more obvious; I’ll write about that in my next post.

*one reason for the stilted jargon-laden prose of many political scientists

Links to the entire Real Thing series:

Global to Local with Podcasts

Homer CakeI recently stumbled across Ecological Economics: A Workbook for Problem-Based Learning, by Drs. Joshua Farley and Jon D. Erickson of the University of Vermont and Dr. Herman E. Daly of the University of Maryland (Island Press, 2005). The book begins with the premise that current social and environmental problems “require armies of independent-minded, collaborative, and passionate problem-solvers, not more Jeopardy champions” (p. xii). Unfortunately, educational systems are typically organized to deliver knowledge as isolated packets that, once encountered, can safely be forgotten. Students infrequently learn how to collaborate, much less apply different types of knowledge in an integrative fashion.

Problem solving often requires that one be aware of and be interested in how problems manifest themselves differently across different temporal or physical dimensions. I find this to be exceedingly difficult to teach to U.S. undergraduates, but I’ve found public TV and radio to be helpful. For example, when looking at environmental change in the context of economic development, I might assign stories about:

These podcasts, videos, and interactive online features are timely and serve as localized examples of global processes that would otherwise remain vague and of no real concern for many students. Also the content is in a novel format, at least in terms of what usually is assigned to students, which gets their attention.

Climate Challenge Politics–Quick Online Game

BBC Climate Challenge is an online interactive game that deals with the politics of solving a transnational problem. It took me about 25 minutes to complete the game and admittedly I charged right in for a few rounds before I really gathered what I was doing.

Click Here to Access the BBC Online Game

the link to the game is somewhat hard to understand. Click on the graphic that says OPEN. The interface for the actual game is not large. You may want to investigate ways to enlarge the screen in order to accommodate those with vision limitations 

The premise is this… You are the leader of your country and you need to make choices about the policies you will enact over several years. Each policy has a cost or a benefit. The cost or benefit categories are : money, food, power, and water. They operate on a sliding scale that goes up and down based on your choices.

bbc_climate_challenge

You select policy cards in each round and once every three rounds you go to an international negotiation to try and establish global CO2 level reduction pledges.

For the record, I barely managed to keep my office and I completely THRASHED the British economy… BUT I did hold up my international agreements.  Success? It isn’t clear…And that’s the nice part about this game. This is clearly a two-level game with competing objectives. You develop a very strong sense (if you play more than once) of the problem with public approval and managing an economy while trying to keep the world from descending into global climate hell.

The game teaches you almost nothing about the global effects of climate change and to be honest I’m thankful. I find many resources about politics and environmental issues have a tendency to highlight the problem of the environment over the problem of the political calculations in dealing with the environment.

Students who are reflective about the game will pick up on the sheer difficulty of making policy decisions and calculating the costs and benefits. Additionally, even if I wasn’t interested in getting reelected by my people, I found myself enacting competing policies year over year. I was an absolute hypocrite dealing out water privatization one round and then enacting massive public works projects the next.

I think for maximum effect students should be made to play this game at least twice recording their choices and outcomes after each round. The game isn’t flashy, or even exciting… but its points are clear and for this I give it a stamp of awesome.