For other reviewed modules, check here.
(Alternate title: PS2257 – Africa’s kinda screwed yo)
Given that I’ve done modules involving most regions of the world (sans South America, and I’d say my knowledge of North America is tenuous at best), I found myself lacking in any knowledge whatsoever of this continent. So this module seemed appropriate to take for those reasons.
Also as it was a seminar style class, I wanted to get a feel for how my 4k mods would be like in the future. Trying a 2k seminar mod made sense.
What I expected
Knowing not much about Africa or what this module would offer, I went in thinking it would talk more about how various ideas or events affected domestic politics. It was classified as a Comparative Politics module after all, and given that I had taken PS2234 – Introduction to Comparative Politics that focused a lot on the processes of interest articulation/aggregation and all that, I thought it would be like that again, but for African states.
What I got
A thematic approach focusing exclusively on Sub-Saharan Africa (basically the middle to lower part of Africa that’s below the Sahara Desert). It’s pretty cool in the sense that it looks at how one can identify various themes within the continent and because the continent’s so big, you’re basically drawing examples from any states that exhibit these phenomena or have this particular history.
Also because it includes a brief history of Africa (Alantic Slave Trade/White Man’s Burden/Alantic Slave Trade), I think it strikes a nice balance between breadth and depth. One might feel they lacked depth in studying every country to a considerable extent, but to do so would be quite impossible within the constraints of a single module. At the same time, it’s hard to say that the module lacks breadth because of how different the themes studied were: Women in African politics, Democracy, Insurgencies and Civil War, Patrimonialism and Corruption, stuff like that. FGM/C (female genital mutilation/cutting) was also elaborated upon to some extent, which is quite cool because one learns of how scholars are trying to explain and change or avoid this practice and how their attitudes interact with locals that carry out the practice.
[Course Materials?] PDF readings, no textbook. Yay for saving money!
Assessment & Workload
One is assessed as follows:
- Individual Class Participation: 10%. Attendance is counted but of course don’t just be present, do the readings and answer or pose questions. 10% might not seem a lot, but it’s in your interest to not slack in this aspect.
- Group Seminar Facilitation: 15%. Basically one forms groups of about four to five members and they choose a particular theme and country to focus on. The seminar facilitation lasts for about an hour in which they cover briefly their country of interest and how their theme of interest relates to their country, then they facilitate discussions based on pre-prepared questions in order to better flesh out the topic. One can try other ways of conducting the seminar (games or skits, perhaps), but they’ll naturally need to check with the tutor before they proceed with their planning. Most group members contribute but if nobody wants to lead then step up so that everyone has a better shot at doing better for this component.
- Midterms Test: 20%. Consists of a map quiz (10%) that has one filling a blank map of Africa from memory (all states including islands like Seychelles and Comoros) as well as 2C1 essay questions (10%). Most did quite well for the map quiz scoring full marks so it boils down to one’s performance in the essay question (which is theme-based argumentative style.)
- Response Paper: 20%. One is asked to write a response paper consisting of about 1k words to a particular document, so in our case it was Agenda 2063 that we were replying to. Treat this as an analytical, argumentative or discursive essay and one should do okay. The tight word limits, however, make it something that one might need to plan well for.
- Research Essay: 35%. A longer essay of 2.5k words that has one focusing on one country and analyzing a micro situation within that country. Arguably the more specific the theme the better, because the tutor doesn’t want broad strokes generalizing whatever is happening, but detailed analysis of one’s choice of study. Also includes writing an abstract for the essay and submitting it on the online forums so that others can get their class participation marks by responding to abstracts of other students – the abstract won’t be marked but late submission of it will be penalized. Nothing much to say here, just do the usual research and formulation of arguments and consult consult consult to get a better idea of where one’s essay is going.
As one can tell, the absence of final examinations (a rarity among PS mods) makes this module popular for those looking to take less final papers. However these ‘no-final’ mods usually involve a lot more work during the semester because their continual assessment components have considerable weight, so…yea. Good time management and keeping up in readings is definitely important for this module.
Workload is moderate, not moderately-light. Expect to spend about 2 hours every week (or 3 hours over two weeks) for this module to clear the readings and prepare for the seminar – it’s a combined lecture/tutorial after all. Also including the papers one has to write…maybe more. But once they’re done it’s a huge relief and it’s back to the 2h/w or 3h/2w model mentioned above.
I kinda screwed up my response paper with a B- and didn’t do well enough on my research essay (B+) to pull it up, so I wasn’t sure how much I would get, but I was definitely leaning towards a flat B. Like I was 100% sure I would end up with a B for this mod and had already prepared an S/U for it.
Quite by the grace of God (I’d say), I ended up with a B+ which is pretty unexpected. And because it lacked finals, it gave me a bit more time to study for my other modules after I had cleared the essays quickly so…that’s good.
Conclusion & Tips
A good crash course of those looking to study the domestic politics of most African countries. International relations aren’t covered in this module (they’re in a 3k module also taught by the same tutor), but it’s actually quite solid a foundation to work from. One doesn’t learn so much the theoretical foundations as they do the practical ways examples manifest themselves within various themes, and it combines nicely with the 3k African IR module to give one some depth in understanding African politics as an undergrad.
- I’d heartily recommend this map quiz for those looking to drill for the map test. Just do it about five or six times and you’ll be able to consistently score full marks for the map test, helping one to speed through the actual map test during the midterms and get to the essay questions. Certainly helped me to get full marks for the map quiz through its method of chunking rather than using crazy acronyms or something 😀
- Each seminar’s so important because so much content is covered that you lose any chance to learn it other than the slides (and also to get attendance/class part marks) if you skip it on purpose. So like…don’t, I guess.
- Do read the readings in greater detail instead of just skimming through them – they’re specifically chosen to help one better understand the theme being covered for that week, and one can draw examples from these readings in the research essay or use them for class part to better develop ideas. Also start on your group seminar facilitation early and get it vetted so you don’t need to rush it at the endpoint of the semester when things are a lot crazier.