Monday, 29 November 2010

Stepping back...

I've had a major blow this week, both personally and academically. My beloved mentor is seriously ill, and it's such a shock. When I read his e-mail, I just broke down in tears. Now I'm in slightly better shape--numb but still depressed, of course. I've had to face the fact that the man who inspired me to do the PhD won't be supervising it through to completion. It's made me question everything and reflect on life...and with all this philosophising, I haven't been able to concentrate on my reading.
But I know that this is what I'm supposed to be doing. He wants me to succeed in this project we designed together. And dedicating my dissertation to him means I'll have to work hard and make it the best piece of writing I can possibly produce.

This week, I've been stepping back and looking at my project. On Friday I'm going to discuss my lit review with my co-supervisor (now my main supervisor), so right now I'm just putting together a few ideas about what it is exactly that I want this project to accomplish...

--I know what I don't want it to be: another redundant Fulbright study that doesn't say anything new. They all have the same findings--exchange students act as effective cultural mediators, friendship networks are valuable PD tools, etc.
--I know I still want to focus on Americans abroad. It's original (research usually looks at foreign Fulbrighters coming to America), and I'm an American abroad so I know what to ask from my own experience.
--I know I want a political/IR angle, because that's my background and that's what I'm into.
--I think Turkey would be interesting for a comparative case because of the religion/culture aspect and the possibility of EU accession in coming years (relates to Trans-Atlantic relations, US-EU), as well as their political/cultural anti-Americanism.
--I think Belgium would also be a good one because of their cultural anti-Americanism--this would help isolate causes/perceptions of anti-Americanism and cultural/political effects of PD in the other 2 cases.
--I think it's all about triangulation. More methods and more aspects of the PD/student exchange phenomenon means more interesting/accurate results.

But, having said all of that, I'm still not entirely sure what's going to happen with the direction of my project. And I think that's ok for now...

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Lit Review Essay

That's how I write, too--some of my most brilliant work has resulted from last-minute panic and lots of coffee...

I submitted my lit review essay yesterday, the first piece of work in my PhD. It wasn't great, but I think it gave a good overview of what I've read so far. I struggled with it because the literature has been all over the place--political science, psychology, education, international relations, sociology, history, cultural studies, etc. It made it really hard to come up with a summary, so in the end, I used that diversity as my summary. My main point was simply that this topic is very interdisciplinary and future research should use a broad scope.

Was that a good point, or just an academic cop-out? We'll see on Friday when I meet with my supervisor...

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Globalization and Root Beer

As part of my planning for Thanksgiving dinner, I just did a Google search for french fried onions, and found this retailer. They sell American groceries in the UK. My American friends back home will look at the website and laugh at the prices (£4.50 for a 2-L bottle of Root Beer???), but my American friends in the UK will look at the website and actually consider paying the exhorbitant prices for things they've been missing (a root beer float sounds pretty good in the land of tea...). Libby's canned pumpkin seems to be a big seller (I brought a big can back with me this time, worth £4.30 on this website, along with jellied cranberry sauce that goes for £2.45!).

This doesn't even touch on the wide range of American companies & products we have access to in our every day lives in the UK. Everyone always mentions McDonald's taking over the world, but we've got other companies here, too:
Burger King
Pizza Hut
T.G.I. Friday's
North Face
Ralph Lauren
American Apparel

and I'm sure many others that I haven't remembered...

How do we participate in 'culture learning' when globalization has made it so easy to access a taste of home? If globalization means Americanization, as some scholars have argued, then why do Americans still feel culture shock when they go abroad?

Monday, 15 November 2010

Literature Review: U.S. Image Abroad

I love the extremes: Kenya's been at 94% in 2000 and 2010, and only 1% of Jordanians had a favorable view of the U.S. in 2003

This week, I have been writing up a lit review essay for my supervisor, so my reading has been all over the place. The most recent new readings, though, have been about America's image abroad. Some of them I've liked, and some I've found a lot of fault with...Pre-9/11 books and articles have some variety in topics, while all of the post-9/11 books focus on what America can do to restore its image and credibility (mostly in the Middle East). Very little has been written since the election of Obama, but what has been all seems to point to the same conclusion: the election of Obama restored America's image more than anything else could have done. The question of "why do they hate us?" has been criticised throughout the literature as too simplistic and largely misguided. People around the world didn't hate America--they hated American policies, i.e. waging war in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention our unconditional support of Israel, lack of cooperation on Kyoto's environmental efforts, and questionable trading practices. The election of Barack Obama was seen as a "clean slate" for America's image abroad. Hope and change was not just a campaign slogan for America, it was a promise to the world that Obama would bring hope and change as "leader of the free world."

That said, I haven't found much written since his inauguration...How has America's global reputation fared over the past couple of years? What more can be done to improve it?
--Close Guantanamo (suggestion from a guy at a party, who had been very pleased to see Obama's day 1 executive order to close it, and very disappointed to see that it hadn't been done yet. I found myself struggling to explain why it hadn't happened yet. I'm a staunch defender of this President, but even I couldn't think of an excuse...)
--End Iraq War (50,000 troops remain after the official end of combat missions? Seriously?)
--Get Wall Street sorted. They blame America for the economic collapse, and they'll keep resenting that until they see real efforts to repair that broken system...

On the positive side, they liked the health care bill, and seemed to appreciate its significance more than most Americans did...

Monday, 8 November 2010

Literature Review: The Special Relationship

US-UK relations...too close for public diplomacy to have an effect?

This week, I've been mostly reading about the political side of my project--the "Special Relationship" between the UK and the US. It's been much more interesting than some of the other readings I've done, but also pretty unsettling...
I had a meeting with my supervisor, and my project is changing already. Everybody told me this would happen, but I didn't expect it to come up so soon. I guess it's better to change it early rather than later, after you've invested (wasted) more time in it. Like a certain friend of the family who purused a PhD in history for many, many years, only to change his mind and go to law school (at least he did well in law school!).
That's an extreme example, anyway--my project isn't changing that much. It's just that the lit review so far has shown me that there are 2 basic approaches to my topic, and I happen to find one of them more interesting--and it's not the one I thought it would be when I wrote my research proposal last year.
Back to the Special Relationship--my project needs to change because the US-UK case is an extreme example. We're too close to really measure whether or not student exchange has any effect. If public diplomacy's goal is to make others sympathetic to our foreign policy, in the UK-US case, it's pretty irrelevant. No matter how many students we ship back & forth across the Atlantic, the Americans and Brits will most likely always be sympathetic to each others' foreign policies. It's strategic, symbolic, self-reinforcing, etc.
So if it's so irrelevant, why am I studying this? Because studying extreme cases is, in itself, interesting. But in order to make this a worthwhile 3-year research project, I might just need to make it a comparative study--look at American Fulbrighters in a country that's not an ally, or a country that is techincally 'friendly', but still full of anti-American public sentiment.