Review of GEH1022 – Geopolitics: Geographies of War and Peace

For other reviewed modules, please check here.

(Alternate Title: GEH1022 – Expectations=/=Reality)

Introduction

I had my eye on this module for a long time to clear my GEH basket, so when it was available this semester I was pretty happy when I got it. Expectations were high; as were hopes, and unfortunately they might have been a bit too high.

What I expected

Geopolitics – the study of how geography affects politics. As a PS student, one becomes pretty sensitive regarding the ‘p’ word (politics) so I was intrigued – I had learned how geography might affect local politics and conflicts, but perhaps not on a global scale. And a theme of War and Peace sounded right up my alley, so I went into this module all hopeful and expectant.

What I got

Hm. I’ll be nice – frank, yes, but phrased in a tactful manner.

There’s no need to be rude, after all.

What I got was…a lot of anecdotal experiences shared during lectures along with comic analysis and a lot of…freedom to decide what readings one wanted to read. And guaranteed tutorial participation, but in a pretty high-stakes scenario. Not so much structured content, perhaps.

Prof. Warr (a pretty interesting name, but that’s not his full name) is clearly an experienced geographer who has done much field research, and this passion is evident in the many insights he generously shares during lectures. This appreciation extends also to political comic analysis intended to show aspects of visual geopolitics, so one goes for lecture to see several scattered slides of content and many, many, many examples which form the bulk of what is taught. When I asked someone who had done this module previously for advice on how to do it, I was told to ‘form your theory based on the case studies instead of learning the theory and seeing how case studies substantiate it.’ It was also supposed to be an ‘easy A’, but that was hardly my experience.

Partly due to the lack of a mandatory reading list, for I believe Prof. Warr doesn’t like students, instructors or perhaps both to be bound by an arbitrary list. And so one looks at what they are supposed to read, come across about nine different readings uploaded for a single week and they are supposed to decide what they wish to read – in short, they make their own reading list. This is certainly commendable for the freedom and creativity afforded to students in the name of encouraging academic ownership or responsibility, but those who lack time to decide on what readings they wish to do may find it a little difficult seeing the forest out of all these trees.

When it comes to tutorials, my experience was that they were taught as mini-lectures. One would be asked to answer a question when chosen to speak, and so it made it rather high stakes – screw up that answer and you would definitely have participated, but might not get another chance to participate (unless of course you raised your hand, but that might be a little awkward after someone’s already been called upon to answer). Then again, this guaranteed participation by all instead of quieter students being drowned out/out-participated by more talkative/enthusiastic students so it evened the participation somewhat.

In the end, one forms a favourable impression of Prof Warr – a friendly, nice – almost to a fault, geographer who is really passionate about his research and would heartily guffaw while eliciting laughs due to his jovial nature. Perhaps his manner of instructing the module did not quite gel with what I am usually expected to, but there’s always the possibility I am in the minority. And to his credit, he did draft a ‘core reading’ list a couple of weeks before the finals so that those who didn’t read through all the uploaded readings or form their own reading list wouldn’t be completely lost – demonstrating his capacity to improve in response to some student suggestions I believe.

When it comes to course material, one learns a little about a lot – relations of geopolitics and geography to power, filmic/spatial/visual/practical/formal/popular/environmental/peace geopolitics, political territoriality, nationalism, and finally the relations of global geopolitics to domestic politics. Lots of breadth, not so much depth, unfortunately. A necessary, if debatable, trade-off.

[Webcasted?] Yeap – with predictable results in attendance.

[Course Materials?] No textbooks, a lot of PDF readings lacking a reading list.

Assessment & Workload

One is assessed as follows (lacking the course syllabus, here’s a rough estimate of the weightages):

  1. Tutorial Attendance and Participation (~10%) – As mentioned above, different from the usual tutorials one might expect. Can’t really advise much except just be informed about what topic will be covered, pick a few readings to read and keep an open mind.
  2. Visual Geopolitics Analysis (~20%) – A short assignment (599 words max) requiring one to pick and explain two political cartoons or images they have chosen and linking them back to concepts taught in the module. Rather difficult if one doesn’t clearly know what these concepts are, but…it’s manageable I guess.
  3. Geopolitical Story (~25%) – A slightly longer assignment (1k words max) with similar requirements to the above, just that it’s less of picking images/comics and more of picking a particular case (or cases) to analyze. I was inspired by a Reddit post and wrote my short essay on that – the few times Reddit is helpful in academic writing.
  4. Semester Finals (~45%) – Seven questions are offered, one has to answer any three of them. We were allowed to take the question papers home so the finals I sat through can be downloaded in the link at the bottom (along with the exam paper of the previous year). Time-wise it’s not that difficult, but when one starts to run out of content then it’s a bit more tedious to continue writing.

I’d say the module has a variable workload – moderately heavy if one does every single optional reading, yet light if one does the bare minimum. I did slightly more than the bare minimum so that worked out to be about an hour a week, but that leaned heavily upon my knowledge from past PS modules I’ve taken. I could see one spending up to two and a half hours clearing every single optional reading if they wished, just that I chose to use my time elsewhere.

Expected Grade

I got a B+ for my first assignment and an A- for my second, so I wasn’t expecting very much. Either a B+ or A-.

Actual Grade

Right to expectations, I got an A-. That final exam was probably the most smoke-filled room – to use an old Arts joke, ‘so much smoking until got haze.’ Literally smoked my way through three essays in two hours, and it’s really nice to have gotten an A- for my efforts (at smoking). TGBTG ^^

Conclusion & Tips

I have to say….this module wasn’t all that I expected. Would I recommend this module to others? Well if you find what I described above enticing…the freedom offered in selecting one’s desired readings, the broad scope of issues covered, then I’d say yes, go for it. Preferably with a few friends so that when the lecture lacks content you’ll have someone in intellectual misery with you as well – there’s a shared solidarity of sorts when people are going ‘we’re supposed to reference what we learnt in lectures? what exactly did we learn in lectures ah?‘ and you’re like ‘ayy I know that feel….I wish I didn’t *sobs*‘.

Half-jokes aside, if you’re interested, go for it. I find it a bit hard to actively promote this module because of the culture shock in instruction styles, but perhaps that’s more on me, so yup~

  1. Not much tips, except to do the core readings provided at the end so you don’t walk into the final exams completely clueless. Mostly clueless like me, yes, but completely clueless would be a near disaster I’d imagine.

Click here for a preview of the course material I went through!

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