The moment it became real for me was as I took stock of the brown parcel in front of me. As I unwrapped it, I found my new study guides – the start of my BSc in International Relations. Applying and enrolling online had all seemed quite abstract. I was more used to a physical campus university, the type that is made out of bricks. In the days that followed there were more parcels, some little, some large. The pile of books on my desk became taller and taller.
I’m not new to studying. In fact, I graduated with a BA earlier this year. But I had become severely disillusioned with the path it was leading me down, so I called in my midlife crisis career change a little early. After the first few weeks of my student experience with UoL, I have realised how significantly different this degree is going to be.
Self-guided learning requires discipline, focus, and motivation. But I’m starting to see this as a very positive thing. Teaching yourself, undertaking the required readings, writing mock essays – it puts you firmly in control of your education. I am the only factor hindering my own success. With that in mind, I’ve knuckled down, killed off my social life until May, and immersed myself in the world of International Relations.
For me, studying International Relations is incredibly fascinating. It’s difficult to draw a line between where the studies end and the real world begins – I often find myself watching the news and contemplating the mechanisms and theories which have led to the story that is unfolding. My desire is to head towards international conflict journalism/analysis, and I’m drawn to studying IR because I believe that having an understanding of the wider picture (globally and historically) is highly important. It provides context, nuance, and adds weight to your words.
With this in mind, I thought I’d kick off my first post to this blog with three things that caught my eye this week, related (to some degree) to International Relations.
1. The Forbes Power list
US magazine Forbes recently released its annual list of the world’s most powerful people. For the second year in a row Russian president Vladimir Putin has topped the list, with the US president Barack Obama kept in second. Forbes states that its list isn’t measuring influence but evaluating ‘hard power’, and in the case of Russia it cites the annexation of Crimea, the proxy war in the Ukraine, and establishment of a large gas pipeline construction deal with China.
Interestingly, the top 10 features not only heads of state, but leading figures from religion and technology. The Pope (#4) trumps Germany’s Angela Merkel (#5), whilst Bill Gates (#7), and the heads of Google (joint #9) are ahead of figures such as the UK’s prime minister, David Cameron (#10) and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud (#11).
Unfortunately, Forbes offer very little in the way of explaining their methodology, making it difficult to refute their claims. Analysing this list from varying IR perspectives raises a variety of different questions, such as ‘who has power on the global stage?’. Can the CEOs of companies, and spiritual leaders be compared to heads of state in power terms? In what ways do the institutions of these figures’ power bases (states, companies, religions) free or restrain their power and influence?
A documentary offering insight in to the way in which Human Right’s Watch investigates allegations of human rights abuses has recently become available on Netflix. ‘E-Team’ offers an up-close and personal perspective on mass killings committed during the Balkan conflicts of the early 1990s, and more recent footage examining the actions of government forces of the Assad regime in Syria. The compelling nature of the film itself aside, it raises interesting questions which again link to my earlier point – who has power on the global stage? Can NGO groups such as Human Rights Watch influence state behaviour, or the response of the international community?
3. Buzzfeed’s ‘Project Runway: APEC edition’
If large groups of powerful people dressed identically, whilst looking incredibly awkward, is your thing, you’re in luck: Buzzfeed as created what it has described as ‘The Definitive Ranking Of Costumes World Leaders Have Forced Each Other To Wear At APEC.’
As autumn starts to give way to distinctly more wintry weather, I know I’ll be wrapped up inside, buried under textbooks and study guides. Before long, it’ll be the new year and we’ll on the final descent towards the exam period. So to everyone else out there studying with the UoL International Programmes, especially those that might are struggling to keep on track: stick at it! You’ll thank yourself for it in the long run.
Tim is studying the BSc International Relations independently in the UK.