Friday, February 24, 2006

Long-winded seminar round-up

Apologies for the slow blogging lately. I'm in the middle of putting together the final third of what I hope will be my introductory chapter and literature review and I'm trying to get it in for my supervisor by the end of today!

So yes, two weeks' worth of first year seminars to comment on. Last week Josue Fiallo presented his proposal, which will examine judicial reform in Central America and the Caribbean. My reading of his argument was that the region is relatively under-developed in this respect and so I put it to him that there was an underlying teleological assumption there. Was he assuming some form of linear progress towards a North Atlantic ideal? If so, how do we account for the variance in elites' acceptance of the rule of law, most notably in the context of America's war on terror and legal black holes in Guantanamo Bay? There was also a question about whether he could abstract from the sub-region he'll be studying to the wider region? Is the rest of Latin America - and especially the Southern Cone - as 'backward' in legal reform as he argues?

Josue was followed by Jeremy Williams, who is a political theorist. Refreshingly he is making some bold, controversial claims that eugenics can be justified and proceeded to upset a number of people in the seminar! I didn't follow it all, but I was struck by his argument that owing to issues of cost and parental obligations to the state (in return for their right for IVF), that given the choice between four embryos - one which would result in a mental infirmity, two others that would give a genetic pre-disposition to alcoholism or criminality and a fourth that was 'clean' - then we should go for the fourth. My sole contribution was to ask that, in the absence of the 'clean' embryo, which would the state be entitled to impose upon the prospective mother? Was he arguing for a hierarchy in which 'clean' is followed by the genetic pre-disposition and finally the mental infirmity? He said he would have to go back and think about it. I look forward to returning to this!

And so to this week. Sofia Sebastian wants to look at the involvement of international organisations on democratisation. In particular this would be the EU and its influence on the process in South East Europe (SEE), with Serbia and Croatia as possible case studies. However, she was making comparisons with Central East Europe (CEE), which raises questions: why the different level of EU involvement in the latter and not the former? How do we account for that? Might not a comparison between one SEE state with a CEE state be more productive? Anyway, it seems she's at the start of her investigations, so we'll probably watch this space.

Finally, Kanokrat Lertchoosakul presented an outline for her work on Thai political activity. She wants to examine why it is that these activists who were prominent in advocating democracy and left-wing ideas in the 1970s have now become conservative and alligned to the present populist government. I must admit I wasn't entirely sure how her project was going to be developed and this appeared to be reflected in the convener's observation that there were three ways that it could be developed. Nevetherless, not knowing anything about Thai politics and society, I found the presentation extremely interesting - and it shows why I like the seminar. The various projects taken on are extremely diverse. I was also struck by Kanokrat's comment that in the 1970s Thailand was 'exceptional' for having a political amnesty for dissidents, compared to the rest of South East Asia. I'm not qualified to say much, but I wondered whether that was really the case.

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