‘I see, therefore IR’
Much of contemporary global politics has a visual dimension: various political actors – including national governments, international institutions and non-state groups – rely on, and resort to, visual imagery as a way to communicate certain types of policies, events and knowledge. The issue of visual imagery is, hence, of the utmost importance, because it cannot be separated from the ways in which people approach and understand the world around them and its politics.
In this vein, the visual has also a political dimension because particular ways of seeing always enable particular ways of knowing, which, in turn, lay ground for the formulation of certain political practices and ethical responses. Therefore, addressing the implications of vision – what do we (not) see? – and visuality – how are we (not) made to see? – are essential for examining contemporary global affairs.
What’s the deal
This blog is the result of the core module ‘Visuality and International Relations’ which has been taught for the (very) first time during the 2014/2015 academic year at the Department of International Relations and International Organization of the University of Groningen. A core module constitutes the final component of the department’s three-year Bachelor’s Programme and addresses a specific theme related to global politics. It is concluded by the writing of the Bachelor’s thesis.
Part of the assessment methods of students comprised the writing of a policy-oriented paper or, as stated in the core module’s course guide, ‘its equivalent on a topic related to theme of the core module’. So, instead of resorting to a ‘traditional’ form of assessment – paper writing –, at least in the pedagogy of IR (and nothing is wrong with that!), I opted for the latter one and asked my students to do the ‘equivalent’ meaning a more practical assignment.
My intention was to tap the creativity, curiosity and imagination of students in another, say, more ‘non-traditional’ way.
What we did
In this vein, I asked them to use a visual medium – students choose for infographics, cartoons, photography, videos (and here) and stickers – to approach a topic that is relevant to the rationale of the core module. The basic question that they were asked to address is what story they would like to tell through visual media and what this says, or prompt us to think, about international relations; or simply put: how did they image and imagine global politics?
Since no image speaks by itself, I also asked students to produce a short, written outline to explain the process behind the exercise. In order to facilitate, and account for the creativeness of, the practical assignment, I divided my (21) students into (six) groups, which were free to choose their own media, cases and topics.
Together, we decided to make these creative works available to a broader, interested audience. The blog will be feeded by new students’ artwork stemming from my course ‘Visual Global Politics’.
But for now, please see for yourself!
David Shim – core module lecturer