Paper presentations update
So a quick update on some of the papers presented this term so far over the last week.
Last Thursday Daniel Lin presented a paper on Chinese legal culture, which appears to be part of a project relating to differences between Chinese and Japanese perspectives on law and how this relates to their political cultures. Always a tricky subject to get onto, I think, with culture. Often it seems that people use the term as a catch-all explanation to define exceptionalism of a particular polity or society. With Daniel's paper I struggled to make sense of what he was trying to say; after refuting various authors, he settled for a popular conception of law, with the Chinese state minded to bend to society. After making some brief references to the state's tacit acceptance of public protest against the US and the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, he then cited various Tang dynasty examples of private cases.
I wasn't entirely sure where he was going with that divergence. And as for his principle - that the state 'bends to societal demands' - isn't hat something that can be found in other societies other than China's? Similarly, I questioned the assumption that the Chinese state is that responsive; Tiananmen Square springs to mind. Similarly, these social protests were partly orchestrated by the government, so to what extent could they be deemed independent.
This Monday we had two more first year students under the spotlight: Matthew Bolton and Sarah Harrison. Matthew kicked off with a look at humanitarian intervention and the changing perceptions of conflict, particularly since Vietnam. Some of the political theorists were keen to take him up on ideas of war (not something I would want to go down), while others wanted to define what 'humanitarian intervention' meant in his paper - not that this seemed to be the primary purpose of it.
Sarah, meanwhile, is examining the electoral success of the extreme right in six European countries. This immediately prompted concerns about whether this was too large a project - something that I hadn't considered. Personally, I was more interested to know how she defined left-right themes (i.e. can immigration or Europe be placed on this political spectrum?) and whether she felt that success could only be defined in electoral terms? After all, extreme right parties do not need parliamentary representation, or indeed be in government, to infuence the policy debate. Finally, I noticed in her (well-written) plan of action that in the three countries where the extreme right had entered government or was a prominent player (Austria, Italy and France), it had seen a subsequent decline in its vote share. What did this suggest about the long term viability of such parties?
Next week it's my turn. And yes, I'm already dreading it!