Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Political science and current events

Social studies teachers have a mandate to interest students in a wider world. Featuring current events in classes is a primary way to encourage that interest.

Political science (like comparative politics) is different. Generalizations are not developed from individual events (news stories). Comparisons based on specific cases can be enlightening, but they're not the main course.

Besides, it's the end of January. Unless there's a revolution somewhere or the destruction of a nation state, events from this point on will not show up on the exam in May.

So, what should we make of news stories about relevant countries? Are they examples that support the generalizations we, scholars, and our textbook authors have made? Are they contradictions? Are they anomalies or signs of change? Mostly they are cases we can use to test what we know about the regimes and politics we're studying. Like the following examples:

China tries four more transparency activists
China has put four more rights activists on trial, a day after the leader of their transparency movement was handed a four-year jail term.

The activists - like others on trial last week - are accused of gathering crowds to disrupt public order.

Their leader, lawyer Xu Zhiyong, was sentenced to prison on the same charges on Sunday…

The four are part of Mr Xu's informal grassroots group, New Citizens Movement, which has campaigned for government officials to reveal their wealth to curb corruption…

[The arrests] are being seen as a sign that the leadership remains unwilling to tolerate any kind of organised opposition…

52 dead in northeast Nigeria attack by extremists
Security officials say suspected Islamic extremists used explosives to attack a village in Nigeria's northeast, killing 52 people and razing more than 300 homes.

A security official said Monday the attackers planted several explosives at a market around Kawuri village Sunday. A police official who evacuated wounded victims confirmed at least 52 people were killed. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not permitted to speak to reporters…

The security official blamed the Islamic terrorist network Boko Haram, which has killed thousands over four years in Nigeria's northeast…

Nigeria Rebels Claim Attack in Oil-Rich Delta
Rebels are claiming responsibility for an attack on a security patrol boat on a waterway in Nigeria's southern Bayelsa state.

A statement purporting to come from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said late Sunday the attack, though "insignificant," is a reminder of the rebel group's presence in the oil-rich delta. It said the Saturday night attacks in the Nembe-Bassanbiri waterways were carried out by new fighters.

The group threatened to reduce Nigerian oil production to zero by 2015.

Analysts believe the militant group has lost much of its operational capability. Top MEND fighters signed a 2009 deal in which many were paid by the government. Some now provide protection for the international oil companies they used to attack.

But some disgruntled MEND activists threaten continued sabotage.

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