IA department gathers to discuss resurgent nationalism

Photo by Maggie Coit

By Mackenzie Bath

Twice per semester since 2012, faculty and students from International Affairs department have been gathering to discuss important and relevant topics outside the classroom. The theme for the event on Oct. 17 was resurgent nationalism and populism in International Affairs, chosen by student coordinator Jack Levin ’19. Levin is the first student coordinator for the Speaker Series, joining faculty coordinator Heather Smith-Cannoy.

The event began with 43 students filing into Howard 102. They faced a panel of five of International Affairs faculty members. Smith-Cannoy kicked off the event by introducing herself and Assistant Professor of IA Laura Vinson, the newest member of their team. Then Assistant Professor of IA Kyle Lascurettes, Senior Lecturer in Social Sciences Cyrus Partovi and Professor of IA Bob Mandel all introduced themselves and some of the classes they teach.

Each of the professors had prepared short statements on what they thought of the topic, then encouraged questions from the students.

“Nationalism can mean a lot of things,” Smith-Cannoy said. “One way to think about it is this extreme form of patriotism.”

This was the first definition of nationalism, and the other professors added their own to the discussion.

“Nationalism is in one sense really about your country and no other country, it’s a feeling of increased identification with your country,” Lascurettes said. “In that sense it shouldn’t be a trans-national thing. On the other hand, we’re talking about this in IA because this is a trans-national phenomenon. A political movement’s success in one country provides an increase in plausibility for similar changes in other countries.”

“The good news is that the institutions that we’ve created are intact, regardless of who is in the White House,” Partovi said. “I think that the institutions are a lot stronger and this will pass.”

Vinson specializes in African Politics, and looks at this issue from that point of view.

“Is it really resurgent?” Vinson said. “It’s been taking place. Nationalist movements, populist movements, are they really new, or have they been a part of political change for a long time? I think that what strikes me as new is that it’s occurring more in Western States: in the US, in Europe, in France.”

“I do not think the international institutions will survive completely this wave,” Mandel said. “I think the disintegration of the European Union, which I am eagerly rooting for, is an example of an institutional structure that may not survive. I think we need to go back and remember that nationalism doesn’t necessarily mean mindless support for one’s country.”

Coordinators Smith-Cannoy and Levin had some expectations for the event.

“We wanted to increase the sense of community between faculty and students,” Smith-Cannoy said. “Even if you haven’t taken a class from my dear colleague Bob (Mandel), it’s fun to hear what he has to say and it might make students interested to take one of his classes if they haven’t already been exposed to him.”

“I know it’s going to be a vibrant conversation,” Levin said. “There are a lot of viewpoints in IA, and our professors are fantastic. I’m just excited to see what everyone brings to the table, and I’m hoping students are gonna jump in as well.”

Questions from students sparked lively discussions between faculty members. Approximately half of the students in attendance were taking notes, and all were engaged. The discussion was dotted with nods of approval, comments of disagreement and laughs of recognition.

“I want the students to see an array of world views,” Levin said. “Students should challenge their assumptions about the world and learn from professors on how to refine and construct their own ideas.”

The topic of immigrants came up during the discussion after a question from Miranda Mora ’18.

“Do you think that it’s just a coincidence that the levels of immigration are rising and the refugee crisis is becoming more severe, and at the same time, these nationalistic movements are rising?” Mora said.

“Definitely an anti-immigrant sentiment is always a part of the movements that we’re talking about here,” Lascurettes said. “The reaction to globalization and inequality from the have-nots is too often to blame the other, and blame the outsider.”

“This is not a coincidence,” Smith-Cannoy said. “Suddenly we have borders going up, we have xenophobic sentiment, this movement towards nationalism is dangerous.”

Many different ideas were brought up, and students and faculty alike expressed their views freely.

“We look at it as a really fun opportunity to just talk outside the confines of the classroom.” Smith-Cannoy said. “No one’s worried about grading or testing, this is our chance to talk about topics that we hope that everyone in the major finds interesting and to hear student perspectives and get our own perspectives challenged by students. We think of this as fun because it’s low stakes, but something that’s topical.”

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