Category Archives: Teaching

Things I want to research at UCSD

I just got back from visiting UCSD’s political science PhD program open house, and it looks like I’ll be going – we’re excited about the prospect of moving back home! And I’m looking forward to sitting on the other side of the desk for a little while. I had lots of interesting discussions with current profs, current students, and prospective students. Here are some things I’d like to work on, eventually.

Product-process distinctions and full-cost labeling in national and international trade policy. This ‘how the iPhone is and is not like a Chipotle burrito’ thread provides a good example of why more work is needed here: they missed what for me is the most obvious difference, that Foxconn is very different from the likes of Niman Ranch. And maybe if shrimp contained carbon (for farmed, via mangrove destruction) or bycatch (for wild-caught) labels, people would eat less destructively.

Social norms, social movements, network theory, food, and animals…lots of this work would actually fit better in the sociology department, which is right upstairs and has a few crossover profs.

Collaborations with local food justice, education, and conservation organizations. One of the theory profs. has lots of good connections to local food policy NGOs, and I plan to start volunteering again at Pazzaz again – and maybe more.

And hopefully I can build on my Fletcher and Center for Animals theses at the International Relations and Pacific Studies’ (IR/PS) Laboratory on International Law and Regulation.

More tangential research I would love to do, although I’m not entirely sure who would collaborate on any of this, either within the political science department or beyond it: speculative fiction and political theory; and games, gamification and nonhuman animals.

My long-term goal is to help move political science beyond the purely anthropocentric, whether through a trans-species rational choice theory (RCT) analysis or by building on the likes of Donaldson and Kymlicka’s recent Zoopolis. In addition to all this, I’ll no doubt get a thorough drubbing in quantitative political analysis, which is what the program is best known for. Bring it.

Epic Meal Time: the personal and the political

 I’m reluctant to post this, for a number of reasons: first, I don’t want to give them money or traffic; second, I don’t want to be “unpardonably lacking in humor“; third, the gendering going on here is so in your face that it’s farcical; and fourth, bacon fetishism really bothers me. But I can’t help it: one of my students posted this last class, and I’ve been mulling on it.

One of my first thoughts was that this would be a good exercise for implementing Walzer’s communitarian complex egalitarianism: just as money shouldn’t be able to buy unlimited political power, nor should one have license to waste so much for so little reason (whatever your friendly industry shills over at CCF might tell you). Another thought: this is among the strongest arguments I’ve seen that we need an ethic of care, and that our gender stereotypes are killing us (and, literally, killing others) with structural violence.

But many of my students didn’t see it this way–it was “just fun”, in a way that issues concerning, say, universal suffrage or child labor wouldn’t be (pace Gingrich). Or maybe food is different? Or maybe the norms I’m discussing are in cascade, and haven’t yet been internalized.

I don’t know, but I did almost hurl when watching this in class.

Food and the paradox of choice


As most of my students have probably figured out by now, I love the RSA Animate series (and the RSA lectures more generally – this recent talk on ethics and public policy by Jonathan Wolff is a good overview of the importance of nuance, and how almost nobody is 100% in favor of any given position), And it makes sense that I would like them: they’re deliciously tangential and chock full of seemingly disparate facts. The most recent one (above), Renata Salecl’s talk on “choice”, is a good springboard to revisit food choices.

I didn’t know who Salecl was, so I Wikipedia’d her, and am entirely un-shocked to learn that she’s Zizek’s ex-wife. And, as an aside, I’m also wondering when post-Marxixts will stop referring to “late capitalism”. . . it’s been late for over a century now, so I’m not sure if historical materialism is going to show up for dinner.

It’s not coincidental that many of the anxiety-inducing choices portrayed in the video are food choices (setting aside, for now, the happily anthropomorphic cow), and this plays into the larger point: that the capitalist system of production emphasizes a cultural model in which choice (a la Friedman’s Free to Choose) reigns supreme. The result, though, is that we get lost in a sea of choice. Salecl goes to far as to say that “the ideology of is actually not…optimistic and it prevents social change.” On the face of it, this seems counterintuitive, but it plays into a rich literature on the role of media and political alienation in the modern world (panem et circenses for the 21st century). Hence the paradox: more choice equals less control.

So what does this have to do with food choices? Lots. Lewis Lapham’s recent piece does a characteristically lucid job of tracing the rise of the new food culture. He doesn’t phrase it in these terms, but much of the battle lines between ‘hands off my burger’ libertarians and the more ‘hands on’ left-liberal and (broadly) environmentalist approach is captured by this response to a WSJ piece on the AMA’s call for competitive eaters to put down their dogs. “They also say that the resources could be better served feeding the hungry. Does anyone have a problem with NASCAR as they burn up thousands of gallons of fossil fuels every weekend? What a bunch of dolts.” Yes, “BIG Eater”, I do have a problem with that.

Brainstorming a Spring 2012 lit and politics course

(Image source) In addition to my Intro to Political Thought class at UMass Lowell, I’ll be teaching two new courses next semester: Intro to International Relations (also at UML) and Perspectives on Human-Animal Relations (at Tufts’ Experimental College). In the Spring, I’ve already approved a Global Food Politics course (my draft syllabus is Here) at UML, and am of thinking of submitting a similar proposal at the Excollege. After tearing through China Miéville’s The City and the City, though, I’m trying to craft a “politics and literature” course that would be sufficiently interdisciplinary to count as ‘experimental’ (i.e., not a ‘regular’ English department class). Here’s my hypothetical course description and book list; any book suggestions or thoughts on how I could proceed with this would be much appreciated!

Overlong potential title: “New Speculative Fiction and Political Philosophy: Stephenson, Le Guin, and Miéville on Anarchy and the State.”

Key Books: Snow Crash, The Lathe of Heaven, The Dispossessed, The City and the City. (To be interspersed with key works in modern political philosophy? I’d add four or five other books to this list, either from the list below or elsewhere.)

Other possible books or authors: Ubik (PKD), other words by Stephenson, The Windup Girl (Bacigalupi), The Left Hand of Darkness, Nick Sagan, Neil Gaiman, Dan Simmons, P.D. James/Anthony Burgess (Children of Men or The Wanting Seed), Alan Moore. (And, if I were to cut out the “new” part, lots of people/works come to mind: Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Aeschylus’ Oresteia, Buzzati’s The Tartar Steppes, Twain’s Connecticut Yankee, Melville’s Bartleby, Kafka, Orwell, Gogol, Asimov, Sturgeon…although some of these are political but not speculative.)

I’m not necessarily married to the idea of focusing on anarchy and the state, but I thought both Le Guin’s The Dispossessed and Miéville’s The City and the City did exactly what speculative political fiction is supposed to do: to allow us to see how our conception of human nature is structured at least in part by our surroundings, and what that means for the way we construct our political systems. I haven’t yet read anything else by Miéville, but I’m about to start either Perdido Street Station (or Cloud Atlas). Any suggestions for other topics, books, or authors that would fit in this category?

Edit (mostly for my reference): Facebook brainstorm comments here.