Today we have another guest post by Charity Butcher, Associate Professor of Political Science at Kennesaw State University. She can be reached at cbutche2[at]kennesaw[dot]edu.
In the transition to online teaching, many instructors might be tempted to abandon the use of simulations. While simulations present their own challenges in an online environment, I believe that they are valuable enough to be worth the effort. For example, simulations provide an opportunity for students to collaborate with one another and to interact with the instructor in real time, activities they may otherwise not get in an online course. Simulations can also provide a nice break from asynchronous assignments that are often found in online courses.
I have used the Council on Foreign Relations Model Diplomacy simulations in both face-to-face and online courses. For an online course, I schedule the simulation for a 2-hour synchronous block of time. I conduct a survey of students to find their availability and preferences on simulation topic (I typically give them a couple of choices from the Model Diplomacy catalog). I then divide the class into groups of 5-7 students based first on their availability and second their preferred topic. In case students are not able to participate, they can complete an alternative paper assignment.
Having a reliable technological format for the simulation is very important. I use Collaborate Ultra, which is built into the Desire to Learn (D2L) Brightspace course management software. You could also use Zoom or Google Teams. Prior to the simulation, I provide students with a quick guide so that they know what to do to log into the software we are using. I also include “Getting Started Instructions” that ask students to log in early to fix any problems and to have a phone available for back-up audio in case of microphone problems (an option in Collaborate Ultra and other platforms). I tell students how to avoid audio feedback by muting their microphone when not talking and recommend that they use a headset or headphones with a microphone. I don’t require students to use video.
Prior to the simulation, I have students write position memos as usual. During the simulation, flexibility is key, because almost always at least one student has technology problems. I begin the simulation by establishing the rules by, for example, mandating the use of the “hand raise” button. I also let everyone know that the National Security Advisor will run the meeting, calling on people when it is their turn to speak. I am present only to make sure everyone participates and to answer any questions that may arise.
The simulation consists of four “rounds,” with each round on a PowerPoint slide that I display to the students. These rounds are: Presentation of Opening Positions (15-20 minutes); Debate and Deliberation (about 60 minutes); Presidential Decision (15-20 minutes); and Wrap-up and Debriefing (15-20 minutes). More information about each of these rounds can be found on the Model Diplomacy website.
Once the simulation is completed, the students who had the role of President submit the decision reached in writing (having verbally presented the decision during the simulation), and all students write final policy review memos.
We are going to be honest with you from the outset: this blog is not concerned with our teaching experience, but rather with an ongoing research project that we are working on with our colleague Johan Adriaensen and our student assistant Caterina Pozzi (both also Maastricht University). And it gets worse: this is a blog that ends with a cry for help.
We are working on a research project studying undergraduate curriculum design in European Studies, International Relations and Political Science. Surprisingly, there is relatively little research on actual curriculum design within the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, in particular when it comes to such broad fields.
But what is missing is a thorough attempt to build a database of programmes in European Studies, International Relations and Politics, and to compare the characteristics of these programmes.
This is where our ongoing research project comes in. The project builds on previous work by Johan and us, published in the Journal of Contemporary European Studies and European Political Science (in production). Both articles concern the training and monitoring of generic skills in active learning environments. Our new project takes a broader perspective on skills and methods in curriculum design. We conduct a meta-study of undergraduate programmes offered by the member institutions of APSA, ECPR and UACES. We particularly explore three key themes: (1) the teaching of skills, practical experience and employability; (2) the degree of interdisciplinarity; and (3) the flexibility and coherence of the programme.
All in all, we hope to provide (1) a unique and comprehensive database of how curricula are organised in practice. On this basis, (2) we will distinguish various types of curriculums and evaluate their advantages and disadvantages. Our final objective is to (3) formulate best practices for university teachers and programme developers. As such, the database also promises to be a useful resource for university policies, in particular in light of challenges such as the constantly changing objects of study in European Studies, International Relations and Politics and an increasingly diverse and international student body.
Although we are still in the phase of gathering data, we can already share a couple of interesting observations with you. For one, while some universities seem to think that programmes in European Studies, Politics and International Relations are no longer really necessary, it is good to see that this has certainly not meant that future students cannot choose from a wide array of such programmes.
Indeed, the curriculums that we have coded so far look quite different. For instance, our own BA in European Studies seems to pay much more specific attention to methods and skills development through separate courses (and many of them). Another striking difference between programmes, is the extent of choice offered to students; while some programmes consist of large, compulsory courses mostly, others include a wide array of electives or ‘tracks’ from diverse fields of studies (sometimes with over 100 or even 200 optional courses!).
The latter is also one of our main challenges: it is not always clear what exactly constitutes a programme’s curriculum. Often, the respective websites are not very clear – generally university websites are rather dense – and it is impossible to find core programme documents that might help us here. This is particularly the case for Eastern European and US programmes, which often revolve around a major/minor set-up.
Hence, we need your help! If you are based at a university and/or are teaching in a programme that is a member of APSA, ECPR and UACES, your input would be very welcome. If there is any documentation that you think might help us code Eastern European and US programmes, we would be very grateful if you could send it to email@example.com.
We do offer something in return. First, we will keep you posted through Twitter and blogs. Second, we hope to organise panels and workshops on curriculum design at conferences, such as during this year’s European Teaching & Learning Conference in Amsterdam. If you would like to contribute to such get-togethers, do let us know. Finally, our aim is to eventually provide colleagues with access to our database, starting with those of you who help us move the project forward!
Talking to colleagues matters. While all students produced negotiation briefs, very few used their briefs as a basis for preliminary discussions with colleagues. Some did seek to build alliances with like-minded partners, but few outside the formal leadership group of HR/VP, Presidency and institutions attempted to build bridges to those they thought would have opposing positions. All recognised the importance of knowing what their partners wanted, but not all acted on it. Those that did felt better prepared for the meeting.
Respond to the draft agenda. Several students felt that the agenda did not sufficiently reflect the issues. However, even though it was circulated well in advance, none of the member states engaged directly with the HR/VP to discuss whether it could be amended, even though it was deliberately anodyne to enable flexibility.
Time flies. Everyone felt the pressure of time, especially in the second hour. They all thought they had more time for discussion than they did and did not consider time allocated for the debrief. Despite the Chair encouraging them to move as swiftly as possible to the second question, it was neglected.
Being heard matters . . . but so does taking part. With any group of students there will be those who are more forthright and vocal, so part of the challenge is to encourage everyone to participate as fully as possible. Ultimately, the time is theirs and this year everyone made at least some contribution. France, Germany and Hungary were all quite active, while Ireland less so. The UK representative struggled to get the attention of the chair, partly because of the table layout, but also because she felt constrained by the impact of Brexit—thereby, wittingly or not, reflecting the reality of these meetings since 2016!
I drew three lessons from the simulation that I can apply to the future:
Picking a good leadership group matters. This is quite a challenge as roles are assigned early in the term and it is not always clear at that stage who will have the requisite skills to manage the meeting. But this year, I feel my choice was vindicated – the HR/VP was effective and was ably supported by the EEAS and Commission.
Time management is crucial. This year I deliberately reduced the number of questions to two to allow even more time for discussion and negotiation, but did not anticipate that the discussions would become so dominated by the first question. Next year I will reduce the initial tour de table from 3 to 2 minutes and in the pre-briefing with the HR/VP really emphasise the need to be strict on time. We’ll see if that makes a difference.
Build on the negotiation component of the module. There is an opportunity to include more training in negotiation prior to the simulation. Adding a short exercise in preceding weeks that deals with specific negotiating scenarios would improve the practical aspects of the module and probably the simulation itself.
Today we have the first of two guest posts from Nicholas Wright, of the political science department at University College London. He can be reached at nicholas [dot] wright [at] ucl [dot] ac [dot] uk.
My favourite class of the autumn term is when we simulate a crisis meeting of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) as part of my ‘EU in the World’ postgraduate module. It’s a great opportunity to turn from (sometimes quite dry) conceptual and theoretical discussions about EU actorness (or lack thereof) and test out in practice some of our assumptions – e.g. about how negotiation and decision-making work in the FAC, how far traditional power attributes bestow advantage, etc. It’s also a great opportunity for the students to take the lead while I remain on the sidelines and observe.
This year, our meeting focused on Turkey’s military deployment in northern Syria. The students had just two and a quarter hours to reach a consensus and draft answers to two questions:
Should the EU respond any further to the crisis?
Does the EU need to reset its longer-term relationship with Turkey, particularly regarding Turkey’s path to possible future EU membership?
The outcome of the meeting was interesting. Beyond rejecting any form of EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) military or civilian mission, the group could not reach consensus on anything. Caught up in discussion of the first question, which I had intended to be resolved swiftly, they had insufficient time to adequately address the second. The resulting diplomatic statement offered little in the way of concrete action while substantive discussion of the EU-Turkey relationship was postponed for a future meeting.
This outcome was initially considered a failure in the subsequent debriefing. But in dissecting what happened, the ‘failure’ highlighted to very good effect the challenges posed by this kind of policy discussion, especially when actors with clear status quo positions seek to prevent a more proactive policy response.
Using the simulation:
The simulation takes place in Week 7. In Week 3 students are informed about the topic, provided with briefing documents, and assigned their roles. The class is capped at twenty students so not all EU member states can be represented. One is assigned the role of HR/VP (High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy) who acts as chair, and one each acts as the holder of the rotating presidency, the European External Action Service (EEAS), and the relevant Commission Directorate-General. The remaining students are assigned a member state and wherever possible they represent their home state.
As preparation, students submit a 1,000-word negotiation brief in Week 5. Although the simulation itself is formative, the brief is assessed and must set out the historical role of their actor in relation to the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), their goals and red lines, and a strategy for how the meeting will be approached. Students may disclose the contents of their briefs to one other, but only after submission.
In Week 6, the HR/VP, in consultation with the rotating presidency, EEAS, and Commission, produces a preliminary agenda for the meeting. From that point, students are actively encouraged to consult with each other up until the simulation starts. To facilitate this, I created a discussion forum on the module’s Moodle page, and this year students also used WhatsApp.
The simulation starts with a brief introduction where I remind them of the ground rules including the time limit. Then the HR/VP takes over the task of facilitating the discussions, beginning with an opening tour de table.
Approximately twenty minutes before the end of the simulation, I introduce a ‘live’ update that is intended to disrupt their deliberations, test their ability to think on their feet, and get them to demonstrate their understanding of their actor’s interests and priorities. In this case it was a Turkish decision to suspend the 2016 refugee agreement with the EU, which resulted in a hastily drafted additional paragraph at the end of students’ conclusions.
We conduct a twenty-five minute debriefing after the simulation. Students consider whether they achieved the goals they had identified in their original briefs, reasons for why this happened, and what they could have done differently.
relations (IR) textbooks often relegate the topic of international law to a few
pages or subsume it within the general topic of cooperation. Beyond defining
the different sources of international law, little effort is made to compare
those sources or connect international law to domestic laws. Moreover,
international law tends to be discussed mostly in terms of treaties or framed
as primarily an enforcement problem. International
law deserves more nuanced coverage than current introductory textbooks suggest.
address this issue, I have developed a debate to promote critical analysis of
international law’s varied sources. This debate is adaptable, scalable, and links
well to IR issues. Best of all, it sparks student interest because it draws on
a popular MARVEL movie—Captain America:
The storyline of Captain America: Civil War follows the creation of the Sokovia Accords as a response to the killing of civilians by superheroes. States wrote the Sokovia Accords in order to monitor and, through the United Nations, regulate the activities of superpowered individuals. In the movie there are six scenes relevant to the Sokovia Accords. Students can view the entire movie or use publicly available YouTube video clips to watch the relevant scenes: intro fight scene part 1 and part 2, grieving mother scene, initial presentation, first debate, second debate, and prison scene. A version of the Sokovia Accords text is available on the MCU fandom page.
I recommend introducing the debate after exploring topics like the treaty making process (i.e. negotiation, ratification, implementation, and compliance), the two-level game model of IR, the importance of ratification for legal obligation, or variations in the criteria to enter into force. Students should be reminded that, under international law, failure to follow the accords is more likely to generate tort liability (requiring compensation) than a criminal prosecution.
teams of students (~2-4 students per team) debate the following resolution:
Resolved: The Sokovia Accords are the best
legal instrument to regulate the use of force by superheroes.
remainder of the students in the class serve as judges. Before the debate, each
team should submit a short summary of its arguments to the instructor and
debate itself is divided up into five sections:
Opening Statements. Debaters sit in front of the class with their team. Flip a coin to determine which team starts and after Rebuttal Planning reverse the order. If possible, meet with student teams before to discuss rhetorical techniques, dividing up the speaking, and responding to judges.
Questioning by Judges. Judges ask questions of each team. In classes leading up to the debate draw attention to how arguments are questioned.
Rebuttal Planning & Judges’ Conference. Each team is excused to the hallway to plan. Ask the judges: Which arguments are they most interested in? Which are most/least compelling? How they plan to push each team during the next phase?
Rebuttals and Questioning. Each team rebuts arguments and answers questions. Judges may interrupt to ask for clarification or questions.
Closing Statements & In-class Debrief. Each team makes an uninterrupted closing statement. Time permitting, de-brief by focusing on the experience rather than arguments. What did students think was the most challenging aspect of the debate? When are debates most effective? What did they most like about the activity? Then applaud the efforts of the debate teams and remind the judges to send in their rulings before the next class.
the Sokovia Accords will get students to compare the different sources of
international law and re-engage with previously covered topics. To promote further investigation of the
connection to domestic laws, tell students that the United States has yet to
ratify the Accords. This small change generates questions about the interaction
of domestic laws and rights with international treaties seeking to establish treatment
standards (for example, the Sokovia Accords allow for indefinite
If students are able to review additional material, a recent article by Verdier and Voeten (2015) provides an explanation for customary international law not based on reciprocity, which can be used to examine the effects of violating an international law on the community. Pevehouse and Goldstein’s (2017) textbook provides a basic overview of some alternatives to treaty law on pages 216-217. Finally, to create a courtroom feel to the debate, abridged versions of cases can be added on custom (The Paquete Habana, Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons), general principles (Italy (Gentini) v. Venezuela, Prosecutor v. Tradic, and Corfu Channel Case), jus cogens rules (Roper v. Simmons, Prosecutor v. Furundžija), or even cases concerning the state responsibility (US (Chattin) v. Mexico, Mexico (Mallen) v. US).
This guest post comes from Cathy Elliott (UCL). A detailed instruction pack for this activity can be downloaded via the link at the end of the post.
One thing that students in my International Development class find intriguing is the fact that, in a previous career, I used to work for the British Government in Pakistan. Relatedly, one of the things I find difficult is students’ received ideas about what a job in international development like that might be like. When students join the class, some fall unreflexively into a discourse of “us” “helping” “them”. Others, meanwhile, bemoan unequal power relations in the world, imagining that a supplicant Pakistan is being pushed around by overbearing British development workers coercing them with huge amounts of conditional aid on offer.
The first position smacks of White Saviour attitudes and is at best patronising to local people and movements pushing for their visions of change. The second, meanwhile, bears little resemblance to my actual experiences of trying to spend relatively small amounts of money in ways that would be acceptable to the governments of both countries. Students also come to my class in search of solutions to global poverty and one recurrent grumble on my student evaluations is that they do not leave the ten week module knowing how it might be “fixed”. Meanwhile, I want them to question these sorts of technocratic attitudes that encourage them to seek the simplistic solutions.
In response, I have developed a 3 hour simulation game that
attempts to give a glimpse of what the world of international development is
actually like. It is based on my own experience of living and working in
Pakistan for three years, and of course other experiences are available. However,
I have found it a useful activity for getting students to understand some key ideas
from the literature, including the role of power and networks in policy-making,
the importance of powerful discourses including international goal-setting
agendas such as the Sustainable Development Goals, and the open-ended,
processual and contingent nature of political and policy-making practices.
The premise is quite simple: for the duration of the class we
will be in the fictional country of DevelopmentLand, which bears a striking
resemblance to Bangladesh in every way unless something different has been
specified. The students (usually between 40 and 60) are split into small groups
and assigned roles with detailed descriptions. The groups are broadly as
Minister of Health and her advisory team
UK Department for International Development
group representing the country’s religious leaders
British consultancy firm
international maternal health NGO
local national maternal health NGO
group representing local traditional birth attendants
local NGO that saves lives by teaching children to swim
NGOs working on neglected tropical diseases
On their cards, students are given information about where they went to university, who they already know and whether or not they speak English. I try to organise the groups so that friendship groups within the class map onto networks that you might expect. Sometimes I also add a group of journalists.
The aim of the game is straightforward. The groups have to
persuade the Minister to work with them to develop health policy in the country.
Each group has to prepare a 5 minute presentation to persuade the Minister.
However – and this is the really important bit – the Minister can work with
more than one group if they are able to work together in a consortium. For
groups that decide to work together, they can also pool their time. This means
that if two groups work together, for example, they jointly get ten minutes to
present. A class-wide “win win” situation is therefore possible: there is no
reason in principle that all the teams could not get together and put a
proposal to the Minister that she and her team would find acceptable.
This has never actually happened, though, because – in
classrooms as in life – the game is rigged. The Minister and international
donors are preoccupied by meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. The
Minister is also keen to be re-elected and the group of religious leaders may
have a role to play in enabling or, crucially, wrecking her chances. Some of
the groups find that their very good cause doesn’t fit in well with her aims
and it is more challenging for them to find partners to work with. Some groups
don’t speak English or have dinner with the right people. And not all the
groups know everything about what is going on in the other groups. They can
usually find out by asking, gossiping and listening in but it often doesn’t
occur to them. Intriguingly, no-one yet has produced a crumpled fiver from
their wallet to grease the wheels, although I sometimes spread the mischievous
rumour that previous classes have tried this!
The groups spend about 90 minutes making what they will of
the situation and then they do their group presentations. Afterwards, they talk
among themselves about what they think will happen, while the Minister and team
make a decision, which they then present back to the group. The debrief session
afterwards helps students make sense of the experience and understand, with
guidance from me, how their experience fits into the broader theories we have
been studying, as well as my own experiences.
One thing I like about this exercise is that it gives
students an insight into ordinary everyday politics, as they are most likely to
encounter them. There is no dramatic threat about to overwhelm DevelopmentLand
and the always unrealised possibility of a win-win ending means that there are
no bitter enmities, only ordinary political rivalries and invisibilities. The
international donors are powerful, but so are the government and other local
players, and all of them are operating in a landscape of power relations that
they did not create and cannot reshape on their own. This gives students an
understanding of the crucial point explained by Maureen Mackintosh: “Deciding
what should be done is relatively easy. But achieving it requires alliances
with others”. The infuriating nature of having to work with
other people in conditions of unequal power is a great learning experience,
above all for students of politics. As one student put it: “It helped me
understand the process of politics, particularly the necessity of working with
people with different agendas”. Another made me happy by remarking: “It was a
challenge to cynicism – maybe things can
change, but there aren’t easy answers.”
Michael Buroway once wrote that “[o]ne cannot both play the
game and at the same time question the rules”.
This doesn’t seem right to me; surely it is only through playing the game that
we can understand the rules, their consequences and possibilities for effecting
change either working within them or by transforming them. Policy simulations
like this give us some tools to help students begin to play the game and to ask critical questions about the
rules that they probably could not access otherwise.
Mackintosh, M. 1992 ““Creating
a Developmental State: Reflections on Policy as Process” in Gregory Albo, David
Langille and Leo Panitch (eds) A
Different Kind of State? Popular Power and Democratic Administration
Toronto: Oxford University Press Canada: p. 44)
M. 1979. Manufacturing Consent: Changes
in the Labor Process Under Monopoly Capitalism Chicago: University of
Chicago Press : p.79
Today we have a guest post from Kyle Haynes, assistant professor of political science at Purdue University. He can be reached at kylehaynes [at] purdue [dot] edu.
Schelling’s (1966) groundbreaking work on “brinkmanship” explains how deterrent
threats are made credible between nuclear-armed opponents. Schelling argued
that although rational leaders would never consciously step off the ledge into
nuclear Armageddon, they might rationally initiate a policy that incurs some risk of events spiraling into an inadvertent
nuclear exchange. Whichever state can tolerate a greater risk of accidental
disaster could then escalate the crisis until the adversary, unwilling to incur
any additional risk, concedes. For Schelling, this type of crisis bargaining is
a competition in risk taking. I use the following simulation to teach this
simulation begins by randomly splitting the entire class into pairs of
students. One student in each pair is designated as Player 1 (P1), the other as
Player 2 (P2). At the beginning of each game the instructor places nine white
table tennis balls and a single orange table tennis ball into an empty bowl or
small bucket. In Round 1 of the game, P1 must decide whether to concede the
first extra credit point to P2, or to “stand firm” and refuse to concede. If P1
concedes, P2 receives one point and P1 receives zero points. If P1 stands firm,
the instructor will blindly draw a single ball from the ten in the bowl. If the
instructor draws a white ball, both players survive, and the game continues to
the next round. If the instructor draws an orange ball, then “disaster” occurs
and both players lose two points.
game continues to the second round, the instructor removes a white ball from
the pot and replaces it with another orange ball—there are now eight white
balls and two orange balls. It is P2’s turn to decide whether to stand firm or
concede. If P2 concedes, P1 receives one point. If P2 stands firm and the
instructor draws a white ball, both players survive, and the game continues to
Round 3. If, however, the instructor draws an orange ball, both players lose
Today we have a
guest post from Susan Allen, associate professor of political science at the
University of Mississippi. She can be contacted at shallen [at] olemiss [dot] edu.
This semester I
am teaching a course on gender and international politics for the first time. The
first half of the course examines gender and representation, while the second
half explores gender in international politics. I aimed to bridge these two
sections with a simulation that I created on child marriage—something currently
on the agenda of the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights and a
likely topic at the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against
Women (CEDAW) this summer.
Students have been working in groups by regions of
the world to expand their knowledge base beyond
their own experiences. For the simulation, they became spokespersons for
their designated regions. As additional preparation, students read about CEDAW and
an excerpt from Women, Politics, and Power by Paxton and Hughes. I did
not inform them beforehand of the particular issue that would be discussed as
part of the simulation, other than to say that the activity would resemble a communication from CEDAW.
During the simulation’s first class session, students met in their
regional groups to research child marriage, making use of GirlsNotBrides.org.
Each group formulated a regional proposal for what it would
like the full class to discuss in the next two sessions. During these classes, a graduate student and I questioned students about
their proposals to ensure they remained faithful to their roles. The
ultimate objective was to collectively produce a single proposal to be
presented at the upcoming CEDAW.
Based on post-simulation debriefing papers, students had mixed feelings
about how little official private information was they
received prior to negotiations and how much they had to rely on their own
research to formulate a regional proposal. Perhaps as a result, discussion on
the first day was a little slow to develop and their proposals were not as well
fleshed out as I expected. On the second day, the majority of the students participated
enthusiastically (and perhaps chaotically).
One of the most interesting things about this experience for the students
was that they failed to come to an agreement in the time
allotted. Many of them were concerned that they had “failed” the activity. When
we debriefed the following week in class after they had written their papers, many
of the students offered interesting insights about the difficulty of creating a
proposal on something that they as American
college students thought was an “easy” issue. The experience highlighted some
of the practical challenges of creating laws that codify gender
Next time, I might provide students with slightly more structured
guidelines, but I don’t think I’ll do anything to make it easier
for the students to create a unified proposal. I think the challenge and
failure were essential parts of the value of the activity.
Today we have a guest post by Matteo Perlini. He can be contacted at matteoperlini [at] gmail [dot] com.
In a post from August of last year, Nathan Alexander Sears wrote about a simple game he designed that teaches students about IR theory. Based on Sears’s idea, I created “Perpetual Anarchy,” a two-player game where the goal is to maximize the wealth of one’s state. Unlike Sears’s game, mine does not eliminate players or involve diplomacy.
Each state must choose an action every turn: defense, attack or
production. The choice of attack starts a war with the other state. Defense
allows a player to better resist an attack by the opposing player. Production
is an entirely peaceful action that helps increase wealth. The game has weak
intransitive preference orderings: it is usually preferred (but not always!) to
play defense against attack, attack against production, production against
Defense vs. attack: as in the real world, defending is easier than
attacking, so the defender has a bonus in the war (higher probability to win
the war), but attacker must pay reputation costs for her belligerence.
Attack vs. production: attacker has a bonus in the war (higher
probability to win the war) but she must pay reputation costs for her
belligerence. By contrast, if the producer wins, she earns points without reputation
Production vs. defense: both states score, but only the defending state
has reputation costs, so the producer generally scores more.
The game is not strictly intransitive because the final outcome depends
also on the second strategic level.
Second Strategic Level
States must choose how to allocate their budget across two dimensions: war/peace and long-term/short-term. A player must decide whether to give more prominence to one of the following strategies:
Short-term war: armament allocation helps the player win an urgent war,
but the player will not use this allocation in the future.
Short-term peace: wealth allocation helps a player score points during
Long-term war: military technology allocation does not increase the
likelihood of winning an actual war, but increases marginally the player’s military
Long-term peace: civilian technology allocation does not increase the actual
points scored by a player, but increases marginally the player’s production efficacy
As an example, a player who chooses a short-term war strategy will be more likely to win if a war occurs and will also prevent the opponent from capitalizing on long-term strategies, because the opponent loses any technology allocations in that turn.
A few years back I wrote about the The Lego Movie and how it captured the operation of fascism in a form that was both accessible and about as enjoyable as fascism ever can be.
Some readers of this blog were unhappy that I’d ruined that film for them, so it’s only right I try to do that for another generation of scholars and young parents.
The Lego Movie 2 isn’t as good as the first one (confine discussion of whether this is ever possible to yourself, away from me), but obviously I watched it, because, well, Lego.
This aside, there’s still plenty of politics going on in the film., which I’ll write about now with some mild spoilers (because you’re not 9 years old and because you’re a serious scholar).
For the IR types among you, there’s a whole bunch of realism going on, with security dilemmas, anarchy and the brutishness that this engenders in actors. The collapse of the (ultimately benign) dictatorship in the first movie produces a literal and metaphorical wasteland in which actions are guarded and security is everything. The final reconciliation of the actors this time occurs when they identify a common external threat and work together to overcome it.
As a musing on power in its various forms, the movie offers a useful way to conceptualise how actors operate under uncertainty and the tension between collaborative and conflictual action, as captured in the notions of being a ‘master builder’ or a ‘master smasher’.
For the gender scholars, there’s a bunch of gendered roles, paternalism (and maternalism), as well as how children ‘become’ adults going on in all this too. It’s also a classic of the ‘absent father’ trope and all that implies.
But for my purposes, the film is all about constructivism.
The logic of appropriateness runs through the entire piece, as individuals strive and struggle to either fit into their environment or communicate their intentions.
If Emmet’s arc is one of finding a persona and an attitude that works from him (puberty alert!), then Bianca’s is one of learning to signal intentions less ambiguously.
As someone who teaches negotiation, I recognised a lot of these tensions from my classroom, where students are apt to adopt personae as ‘negotiators’ that don’t always sit comfortably with their more general sense of being.
In both classroom and the film, individuals try out different gambits, with varying degrees of sincerity and of success. But ultimately, as the film suggests, it is when there is a more open exchange of views that progress is made, clearing up the confusions and misunderstandings and realigning how we view other’s actions.
Indeed, the whole film turns on how individuals perceive one another and themselves: Finn misunderstands Bianca; Emmet is misled by Rex; Lucy struggles (as in the first film) with her sense of identity; Batman has to learn about living with light as well as dark; and Superman has to find accommodation with the Green Lantern.
Identity here is thus not purely about being true to yourself, but also about being true to others. Whether you accept that being doing both you end up with a happy society – as the movie argues (as movies are wont to do) – is another matter.
But however you take it, this case highlights how we can use cultural products to illustrate and illuminate our teaching: the beauty of politics is that it is pervasive, so we can find it pretty much anywhere we look, if we choose to see.