Teaching Social Phenomena

I am formally capable of teaching in three different disciplinary realms: Political Theory, Political Economy, and Philosophy (currently, I serve as a Teaching Assistant in the latter department).

It seems to me that teaching and research in these areas have a lot in common. What a good teacher in the three fields of my interest does is to offer interpretations of social phenomena – contemporary and historical – that students can analyze and reflect upon, ideally neither ‘accepting’ nor ‘rejecting’ them. The topic, and hence the task of an educator in social philosophy, political economy, political science, and philosophy, is to show the world as a totality: out of every concrete social phenomenon, the interpretation by the teacher and researcher has to uncover its historical processes of becoming, its embeddedness in local, regional, national, and global connections, as well as all possible sides of interpreting it.

Obviously, this comprehensive approach woud require a systematic explication of the totality of the current global political economy as it presents itself in and out of concrete phenomena, and thus remains a regulative ideal. The topics I am situated in, however, pose some problems in teaching because of my choice of totality-based philosophical approach.

Often, I encourage discussions only after pointing out all possible facts and diverse opinions of a topic myself. As a large part of the topics to be approached in such classes are fraught with division and contention, and students need, I think, learn how to argue rigorously first. In times when the political division in this country seems to have reached record heights, to a point when even calls for a rational discussion are now seen as a strategic move (in this case, ‘from the Left,’ whatever that means), I cannot leave issues such as fiscal cliffs, global financial crises, the concept of (lowercase-r) republican civility, or standards of rationality to a classroom full of people whose only acquaintance with philosophy is – I hesitate to even name her here – Ayn Rand.

Another problematic aspect of my totality-based approach is that I de-emphasize the national and especially local settings in favor of pointing out the global implications as they play out in shaping, forming, or at least overdetermining the local and regional origins and ramifications of a social phenomenon. This is often perceived as dismissive of local and national factors, especially to an audience situated in a country which is only slowly getting accustomed to the thought of no longer being the sole global Power Which Can Do Whatever It D*** Well Pleases (this phrase, heard a lot among older Americans, is usually uttered such that one cannot but capitalize all initial letters).

A much more serious aspect of this is, however, that I thereby reinforce my somewhat authoritarian position of universal White validation: my interpretation of globalization, for instance, is the only one not immediately categorized by an adjective, as in “indigeneous globalization,” “women’s globalization,” “Chinese globalization,” et cetera. To an extent – and I do not see a solution for this problem – teaching political theory, and a fortiori political economy, is still a very white, though fortunately decreasingly male discipline. Seeing economic, political, and generally social phenomena with an attention to their global interconnectedness rather than national contexts is inevitably going to lead to me putting undue emphasis on a Western, white and male vision of the world. It is this vision, after all, that is responsible for globalization, global capitalism, and Modernity’s grip on non-Western societies.

Thus, my focus clashes with the broader implications of my discipline. I am, however, continually working on refining methods and approaches to teaching (even only as a Teaching Assistant for now), and am convinced that a totality-based interpretative approach and a classroom encouragement of civility, openness and inclusivity are not mutually exclusive.

This entry was posted in GEDI 2013. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.