Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Oil and Water

I am working now to plan my classes for the Fall semester. For the first time I will teach the capstone seminar, which is a class all seniors in the department must take. The idea is that these well-informed junior-scholars should bring to the course all the things they've learned in the major. This class should cap off their college learning experience.

The fact that our majors have a lot of different interests is both a blessing and a curse. They should bring their varied strengths to the table, ideally allowing us to have great discussions. The negative side to this is that one must pick a topic that is broad enough to engage all of the students. In addition, every other member of the department visits for one week of class and leads the discussion based on readings of their choosing. So it has to be a topic that all of my colleagues can find some readings on without putting themselves through too much of a hassle. Last year's topic was human rights. That was a great topic. Even I, in enviro land, was able to connect it with my own work and interests. I talked about human rights and the environment in developing countries.

I have chosen "cooperation and conflict" for my course title. It is not only broad enough to allow my colleagues to talk about anything, but also to engage our wide range of students. Our students focus on law, criminal justice, politics, political research, international studies, or international relations. For my portion of the class, I plan to focus on oil and water. These are core issues that produce a lot of conflict worldwide. Oil has been the key conflict issue for decades (in my opinion second only to religion, which is of course the number one of all time issue people fight about. Can you name a war that wasn't about religion in some way?)

Water is "the next oil" if you can forgive the expression. People around the world are experiencing the privatization of water rights. Two excellent films on the topic are FLOW (For Love Of Water) and the more recent Tapped. Flow focuses more on the international aspect of water rights, while tapped is more about the American bottled water industry, though the two issues are intertwined. My own research is about how people enter into conflict or cooperation when making decisions about wetlands. So, that's an easy fit.

My initial idea was to talk about cooperation and conflict in terms of oil and water. There are many good books out there on these topics (Blood and Oil, Soil Not Oil, Conflict Over the World's Resources, Reflections on Water, and Water Wars are all books I'm considering for the class). And yes, there are two titles there from Vandana Shiva. She is also interviewed throughout the film FLOW. She rocks. This is the core of my planned summer reading list, though I am also planning some fun reads (A Suitable Boy, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and Lacuna are on the shelf right now). And yes, there are two titles from Barbara Kingsolver. This is because she also rocks.

In the last weeks, however, oil and water have taken on a new meaning for me. Perhaps for you, too? I am working now to see how I can integrate the deepwater horizon disaster into the class. I am certain there is a lot of both cooperation and conflict happening throughout the process, but am not certain anything will be published about it between now and Fall 2010. Maybe we can address it through newspaper articles. That may be the only source at this stage.

Despite the horror of that disaster, I am looking forward to the class. Honestly, any issue that might grab the attention/interest of my students is appreciated. Though personally I'd rather this one never happened.

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