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Popular global studies program nears its 20th yearGlobal studies faculty who will be teaching the program's core courses in the 2023-24 academic year. From left: Tejas Parasher, Margaret Peters, Eric Min and Hannah Appel.

Popular global studies program nears its 20th year

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By Peggy McInerny, Director of Communications

UCLA International Institute, October 12, 2023 — Established in 2005, the global studies program of the International Institute offers an interdisciplinary major and minor in the study of globalization in its socioeconomic, political and cultural dimensions.

Students learn how international markets work, how the nation state and the international system interact and engage with nonstate actors, and how the interaction between local and transnational cultures impacts societies worldwide. Majors are also are required to attend a global studies summer travel study program, several of which are offered each summer.

The small but vibrant program has enrolled and graduated roughly 50 students in the major each year over the past three years, with larger numbers of students (sometimes double or triple) completing the minor.

The curriculum explores both the benefits and costs of globalization, said Margaret Peters, chair of the global studies program and associate professor of political science.

“We now listen to music from all over the world, and our food scenes have all these international cuisines — a real change from when I was growing up,” she said. “Globalization has also been a big factor in helping pull over 500 million Chinese citizens out of crushing poverty. But there is inequality and environmental damage and other costs, so we investigate such questions as: Who gets hurt? Who wins?”

Until last year, all global studies majors were required to write a 50-page thesis based on original research as their senior capstone project. But in the 2022–23 academic year, the program introduced a choice of three options for the project.

“The new options give students much broader choices to follow their interests,” said Peters. “Students can still write a thesis if that’s what they want to do, but now they can also write a shorter research paper over one quarter or — and this is the option I’m most excited about — do an internship related to globalization,” said Peters.

“A [for-credit] internship is a great way for students to take their global studies major into a workplace and see how what they have learned works on the ground.”

Bruins who wish to apply to the program are encouraged to apply in their sophomore year, so that they may proceed to upper-division core courses and electives in their junior year. Transfer students benefit from being able to take a course equivalent to Introduction to Global Studies (based on the UCLA curriculum) at 11 eleven community colleges in California, enabling potential majors to gauge their interest in the subject matter before they arrive on campus, and proceed sooner to upper-division classes once they do.

The program as a whole is administered by hardworking professional staff. “The real driving force of global studies,” says Peters, “are its talented student advisers, Sandy Valdivieso and Liz Alvarez. The program wouldn’t run without them, they are truly amazing at what they do.”

 

Climate change is one of the many global challenges requiring global responses that are explored in
the global studies curriculum. Shown here are two enormous fires of 2020, one in Australia (left; Clay
Stephens/ Bureau of Land Management) and one in the Angeles National Forest (right; U.S. Forest
Service). Courtesy of Flickr. 

 

Dedicated students and a team of experienced faculty

“Global Studies students are a truly talented part of the UCLA population,” said assistant professor of political science Eric Min, another faculty member in the global studies program.

“Each year, I am not only impressed by how genuinely interested they are in understanding global affairs and globalization, but also by how smart they are. I especially enjoy being able to see them intellectually grow, as I teach some of them twice over the course of the major.”

The many international students who major and minor in global studies bring valuable perspectives to classroom discussions. Peters, for example, often asks foreign-born students to help explain certain topics, such as the complications of the U.S. visa application process or the impact of the exchange rate, on their lives as Bruins.

“I think having students explain things to each other can sometimes be much more powerful than me explaining it as the professor. It gives American students a sense of what these things mean for people who don’t have the privilege of being a U.S. citizen,” she remarked.

Most of the permanent global studies faculty have been teaching in the program for several years. In addition to Peters and Min, they include Hannah Appel (anthropology), Laurie Hart (anthropology), Shaina Potts (geography) and Tejas Parasher (political science), a political theorist who joined UCLA in fall 2022.

“When Mike Thies (political science) departed as program chair in 2021, he left us in a really good position,” said Peters, explaining that the program’s core courses — and the faculty who teach them — were well established by that time.

“Shaina spearheaded and teaches Introduction to Global Studies, I developed and teach Markets & Resources, Eric redeveloped and teaches Governance and Conflict and Hannah and Laurie have been trading off Culture and Society,” said Peters of the program’s four required lecture courses, all of which regularly draw students from diverse majors across campus.

Going forward, Potts and Parasher will trade off the Introduction to Global Studies course. Potts will teach from a critical geography perspective and Parasher, who is teaching the course this fall, from a global justice perspective. “The basic background material on globalization will be the same, but students will study the material from different angles,” said Peters. The program is hoping to offer the course twice a year, perhaps as early as the 2023–24 academic year.

“It’s been a lot of fun to teach the intro class,” says Potts. “We do a week a on many different topics, as the survey course is the entryway into the upper division-courses in the program.”

In addition to core courses, global studies faculty regularly teach senior seminars and electives on a wide variety of topics, including race, class and gender in the global economy; migration; the strategic logic of war and diplomacy; nationalism; debt and development; global justice; and colonialism and globalization.

For faculty, the senior seminars are often the favorite classes they teach at UCLA due to their small size, highly motivated students and discussion format.

“I have found students in the senior seminar classes to be super engaged and willing to do challenging readings,” says Potts. “I find it very refreshing how willing they are, even when they are working out their opinions, to say what’s on their mind and talk through it.”


Migration is another global challenge that cannot be resolved at the national level. Shown here:
refugees arriving on the Greek island of Lesvos in 2015. (Photo: Freedom House, 2015;
public domain, courtesy of Flickr.)

 

Imparting workforce skills

“As teachers, global studies faculty want our students to be curious about the world, develop a lifelong enjoyment of learning and become better citizens for the world,” said Peters.

“We balance that against preparing them for the work world, so we try to create assignments that are both interesting and imaginative, while providing them skills in writing, reading comprehension, presentation and data literacy — that is, understanding the use and misuse of data.

“We don’t consider just quantitative methods and data in the program, but also qualitative ones. For example, if we think about interviewing people as a researcher, we consider how our own biases or positionality might affect the responses people give us. That’s something researchers think about a lot,” said the political scientist.

Last year, global studies underwent an eight-year review conducted by a panel of external reviewers, who were very positive about the program. A written report and recommendations are due to arrive soon, but the faculty and student advisors have already begun exploring ways to implement some initial suggestions for improvements. Expect changes that make this popular program even better in the next few years.

 

Global Studies Faculty: Scholarship

Hannah Appel. Appel’s research spans transnational capitalism, finance and debt, the place of the African continent in global capitalism and capitalist and abolitionist social movements. She is the author of “The Licit Life of Capitalism: U.S. Oil in Equatorial Guinea,” and is currently working on a second long-term ethnographic project, “Pan African Capital: Finance, Banking and Economic Self-Fashioning. ” Appel received a UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award in 2023.

Laurie Kain Hart. Hart’s research examines ethnopolitical conflict, population displacements, migration, racism and ethnospatial segregation. Her recently published journal articles address inner city violence, post–civil war spatial orders in Bosnia and Greece and former child political refugees of the Greek Civil War. She is currently engaged in research on the refugee crisis in Greece and working on “Cornered” (provisional title), a co-authored book on the carceral and psychiatric management of U.S. urban poverty and segregation, based on six years of fieldwork in Philadelphia.

Eric Min. Min’s research focuses on interstate war and diplomacy, international security and conflict management, and elite decision making. He has created, often with collaborators, several comprehensive databases to test core tenets of international relations theory by means of machine learning techniques. Recent journal articles include “Painful Words: The Effect of Battlefield Activity on Conflict Negotiation Behavior” (Journal of Conflict Resolution, 66 (4–5), 2022) and “Speaking with One Voice: Coalitions and Wartime Diplomacy” (Journal of Strategic Studies, 45 (2), 2022).

Tejas Parasher. A political theorist, Parasher’s research focuses on comparative political thought, global justice, democracy and popular sovereignty. His first book, “Radical Democracy in Modern Indian Political Thought,” examines the political thinking of Indians who articulated a theory of popular political sovereignty as an alternative to liberal representative democracy between the 1910s and 1970s. He will give a book talk at UCLA on November 8.

Margaret Peters, chair. Peters’ research centers on the international political economy and migration. Author of “Trading Barriers: Immigration and the Remaking of Globalization,” she is currently working on two large, multi-year, multi-country studies on migration with Yang-Yang Zhao (Dartmouth). One project examines migrants’ reasons for migration and the goals they themselves prioritize, the other looks at the impact of emigration on authoritarian stability and democratic change in sending states. To date, they have conducted surveys and/or focus group interviews with Syrian and Iraqi internally displaced persons and refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Syria; Venezuelan refugees in Colombia, as well as Colombian residents; Central American refugees in Mexico; and Afghani refugees in Pakistan.

Shaina Potts. An economic, legal and political geographer, Potts’ research focuses on international political and economic processes. Her first book, tentatively titled “Globalizing Judicial Territory: Law, Capital and American Empire” (Duke, forthcoming), documents the transnational extension of U.S. common law and its role in bolstering American power and the liberal economic order since World War II. She is currently beginning a new project that will examine minerals critical to the green transition, including their extraction and supply chains, within a legal and financial geography framework.