Review of PS3272 – International Relations of Sub-Saharan Africa

For other reviewed modules, check here.

(Alternate title: PS3272 – A good module to couple with its CP counterpart)

Introduction

I had taken a module relating to the politics of Africa last semester and quite liked it – knowing both Dr. Elaine’s teaching style and a bit of course content from the previous mod made this mod attractive. So I signed up for this mod thinking that I would at least have a bit of background knowledge going into it and hence would have an easier time.

What I expected

Considering the title seemed to be looking at the IR of SSA, pretty much what the title said. Less domestic politics and more international politics.

What I got

A rather detailed survey of some issues affecting countries on the African continent. The module examines understandings of the African State and its beginnings before moving on to State participation in regional and international bodies. There is a good focus on two particular lens (extraversion and neo-colonialism) as well as a couple of weeks talking about securitization and the security-development nexus. The course ends off with the Rise of China in Africa, partnerships/interactions with MNCs and diasporic effects to cover quite a broad range of topics.

I took this module under Dr. Elaine who taught the previous module and quite liked her style. In particular during the IPE section of this module, she gave sufficient contextual knowledge for those that lacked background to appreciate what she was teaching without overloading them with information (which I could tell since I had been doing two IPE/GPE modules in the same semester – enough to appreciate, not overloading students and having them miss the point). So that’s pretty good as well – she’s clearly familiar with what she teaches and what questions students would have. Come to think of it, a lecture-tutorial approach seems to work well for this module, since I think too long a lesson would result in reduced attention paid to the latter half of what was taught. Each lecture left one feeling as if they had learned a lot of content (which is true because each lecture covers a lot of depth in one particular topic), so one certainly isn’t left feeling a little bit empty after attending a lecture.

[Webcasted?] Nope.

[Course Materials?] All PDF readings – yay for saving money!

Assessment & Workload

One is assessed as follows:

  1. Term Paper (25%) – 2.5k words, +-10% (I like these essays with a soft word count). Basically one can write about any topic they wish (subject to a check via essay abstract by Prof to ensure one’s generally on the right track), and it’s not limited to one country like the term paper for the previous module was. Course readings would prove helpful but insufficient if one desires to expound further (because the readings just give some basic theory and examples), so research is definitely required. The essay abstract won’t be graded but failure to submit will be penalized.
  2. Midterms (20%) – Tests on content covered in the first half of the semester. It helps because if you make your notes for this, then when it comes to finals you only have to make notes for the other half of content covered post-Recess Week. The midterms we did were two essays from three (or four, I can’t remember exactly) choices to be completed in an hour and a half. So ample time to write about four to five pages and do brief planning.
  3. Tutorial and Forum Participation (15%) – The usual: Do one’s readings so they can contribute effectively in tutorial discussions (which sometimes includes debates that are quite fun) and forum participation can consist of discussing issues in the forum so answering multiple students that have the same questions is more effort efficient. That, and giving one’s opinions on the essay abstracts of others as a sort of ‘peer-review’ would also count towards forum participation.
  4. Final Examination (40%) – This took the form of an unusual format: 20% being a compulsory question under Section A (In your opinion, what are two major developments in Africa’s international relations in the 21st century? Discuss the impact of these developments on the ability of Africans to exercise agency in their international relations.) and 20% a single essay chosen out of three possible options under Section B. The question for Section A is released about a week before Reading Week begins, so it serves the purpose of letting students prepare their best answers for Section A instead of fluffing on the spot and letting them dive deeply into the more specific questions posed within Section B once they’ve cleared Section A. Overall for two hours, it’s extremely manageable.

The workload for this module is relatively light to moderate for some, due in part to the nature of the readings. There are a guaranteed three readings every week of approximately 20+ pages (but less than 30), so expect to be clearing about 60 pages a week for this module. Depending on how fast one reads and notes, maybe an hour and a half to two hours would be sufficient on a weekly basis. Factoring in extra time for researching one’s term paper and preparing notes for midterms, one could expect to spend about five hours over two weeks for this module, which isn’t too bad but isn’t very light by any means.

Expected Grade

I was expecting to see something along the lines of a B+ or A-, considering that for my midterms I got a B for my second essay and an A- for my first essay which averaged out to about a B+. Not sure about my class participation and Prof suggested major revisions of my essay after it had already been written during Recess Week, so I was somewhat ‘blargh but it’s done already but following her guidance might show me how to overcome my flaws better’ and grudgingly rewrote it in a Week 9 or so.

Actual Grade

A full A, which is most surprising. Even if my essay came back with an A (which it did :O), that would only mean that it would be an A- at best (looking at the weightage above). I felt happy to use some knowledge from the previous module and my IPE modules during the finals (#ContentSynergy), so perhaps that helped a little. TGBTG 🙂

Conclusion & Tips

I would recommend this module for anyone who has already taken Dr. Elaine’s module earlier and want to find out more about this Continent – what plagues it, yes, but also where there are areas of hope amidst all the doom and gloom. Dr. Elaine is a capable instructor (as are pretty much all, or maybe most, of whom I’ve taken modules under) and she enjoys conducting consultations with students as much as any other teacher would. To paraphrase what I understood of this module’s purpose, taking this module would give one the international puzzle piece that answers some questions posed in the previous module, and also raises some new questions that are partially answered by what’s taught in the module on domestic politics. A moderate workload, yes, but interesting course content gets one through it fairly easily.

  1. Always do your readings, period. Ideally before lectures, so you don’t have a deer in the headlights look going in. Some Profs may cover areas one should focus on in the readings and that’s a decent rationale for postponing readings until after the lecture, but I struggle to recall similar instances like that in this module. So it’s less of ‘alright here are what y’all need to focus on, your can do readings after this lecture’ and more of ‘I assume/expect y’all to know what I’m talking about, here are some examples, counterarguments, nuances and one/two broad questions to think about after this lecture.’ Like PS3240, the readings given aren’t for fun and do form a substantial basis of the theory used within the module so do them before Reading Week.
  2. If you’ve got extra time at the beginning of the Semester (Weeks 1 and 2 are REALLY free), READ AHEAD. Target the week you’re planning to write an essay on (because you’ll have an idea what weeks cover which themes and which readings talk about said themes) so that you’ve got enough time to plan something you want to write and do the research accordingly. Of course if you happen to write something covered in Weeks 1 and 2 then that’s great, but if the topic you wish to write about is only covered in Week 12 and you don’t read ahead then you’ve given yourself only a week to plan, research, write, edit and proofread your paper. So don’t handicap yourself – be prudent and read ahead at the beginning of the sem when you’ve got less on your plate.
  3. Consult, consult, consult, especially for the term paper. Why so much emphasis on it? Because it’s pretty much the key deliverable for this module – the earlier you write your abstract (which usually happens after planning and research), the earlier you can consult for advice, write the paper, consult again, and get a product you’re happy with before submitting it like…4 weeks before the official deadline. That extra time will prove critical as the sem goes on and work piles on – so make use of the resources (including the Prof’s time) given to/set aside for you. Dr. Elaine doesn’t say what you should write but encourages you to think about some questions – this helps you in your thought process and in the end you have a sharp, strong thesis supported amply by evidence. Which doesn’t just help one get a better grade, but remains with one long after they’ve graduated (hopefully). In short, there’s no need to spam consults, but try to consult at least once or twice regarding course material understanding or paper direction since it makes everyone’s lives easier (You understand better and Prof understands what conceptual problems the class might have).

Click here for a preview of the materials I went through!

 

 

 

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One thought on “Review of PS3272 – International Relations of Sub-Saharan Africa

  1. Pingback: The Grace of 5% | Ramblings of Roe

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