September 14, 2006
Introduction to International Relations (GOVT181)
Professor Katzenstein: “I never thought I would say this, but welcome to the Pepsi Co. Lecture Hall.” That pretty much sums up what America is today.
One of the most interesting classes I’m taking right now is this puppy. The professor, Peter Katzenstein, is very engaging during his lectures, so I am usually awake and alert during the 75 minute lecture (it meets twice a week). Not to mention that Katzenstein talks very (VERY) quickly, so the only way to keep up with the class is to take seven pages’ worth of notes per lecture. My penmanship usually dives around the 20th minute into the lecture; mind you, I would have already written 3 pages by then.
Today’s lecture focused on Constructivism. Professor Katzenstein gave two slips of green paper to two students and asked them to tear them up. They did as instructed and shot looks of confusion to the prof. Next, the two students were given old Polish currency, and again Katzenstein asked them to tear it up. They ripped through Ithaca dollars, million dollar bills, until Katzenstein whips out his wallet.
“Now we go on to real money.”
First up, the dollar bill. Now, for any Cornellian, a dollar bill translates into 75% of a bottle of water, something we don’t mess around with. But, with much hesitation and a lot of coaxing from Katzenstein, the student ripped up the dollar bill. Lots of buzz in the classroom. We moved on to the 5 dollar bill. “It’s my money, not yours,” Katzenstein said. I guess I took that comment the wrong way; I thought if the girl ripped up the 5 dollar bill, she’d get a C in the class. I’m sure Katzenstein just emphasized the ownership of the money, because it feels better to rip someone else’s five dollar bill than it would your own, right…? I would personally just pocket the Lincoln, but she ripped it up. Katzenstein then busted out a 50, then immediately put it back, provoking tremendous applause.
“This is the high part of the course.”
So what does ripping up money have to do with anything International Relations-related? Think about what money really is–paper. When we exchange money, we are exchanging on the basis of trust; we trust the person handing us the green stuff that this green stuff has value which we the in turn can exchange with another person and buy goods at our leisure. Constructivism focuses on the context behind the actions of the states, why certain states have underlying rules that may otherwise be taken for granted in a realist situation. We take money for granted: we trust that the 5 dollar bill in our wallet allows us to buy 5 dollars’ worth of Sour Patch candy (which I’m seriously craving right now) or a burger and fries (notice how everything comes back to food…?).
The great thing is that these interactive bits of class all relate to International Relations somehow and make the lectures something I look forward to attending every week. It also makes the readings totally worth it. And I guess the fact that Katzenstein speaks like the governor of my homestate (You may know him as the “governator”) also makes me smirk.
…this post is now terminated.