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More in this section MSc Geopolitics & Security

A week in the life of the MSc.

This busy, though quite typical schedule, illustrates the sorts of themes and material our students are likely to encounter. 


MillenniumLogoThe penultimate day of the Millennium International Relations conference was attended by our students who listened to panels on borders and sovereignty debates and saw some of the cutting edge research being conducted on Geopolitics and materiality. 


After attending the last morning of the Millennium conference, in the evening (and in association with PassengerFilms), we were treated to the showing of two films: The Great Mapmaker (1964) and Frozen River (2008). The evening was directed at exploring the way in which geopolitical issues are reproduced through visual material and cultural representations.

(Alasdair Pinkerton (Royal Holloway) & Jason Dittmer (UCL) discussing Canadian cartoons)

The Great Mapmaker was introduced by Dr Philip Hatfield, Curator of Canadian and Caribbean Studies at the British Library. Later we saw the Presentation of cartoons and comics of the Canadian North by Dr. Alasdair Pinkerton and Dr. Jason Dittmer. They explored the critical geopolitics of comics and how they portrayed the way in which the idea of the North has been central to the Canadian imagination and forms of national identity. The North is as much a cultural creation and perspective as it is a physical, geographical location

After the interval, Klaus Dodds gave an introduction to the feature Frozen River (2008) an award-winning low budget film set in the harsh and barren landscapes near the St. Lawrence River, addressing illegal migration, multiple sovereignties and the insecurities of family life on the US-Canadian border. 


Tuesday mornings means Terrorism and Counter-terrorism for the students who have chosen that popular option.

The afternoon session is then devoted to theory and methodological approaches—and today we're dealing with conceptual and philosophical basis for particular approaches to data collection and analysis. Some of the students chose qualitative approaches, others quantitative and there is also the opportunity to take an option in political theory. 


Wednesday featured a Q&A session with Dr Debbie Lisle from Queen’s University Belfast. These sessions are based around a pre-circulated paper to promote deep student engagement. Debbie spoke candidly on her paper on the politics of hospitality and security in the London Olympics bid. Drawing on the events of the summer, the students asked Debbie questions around the security failures of the G4S scandal and the politics of private security and corporate sponsorship. They quizzed Debbie on how ideas of community and national identity were fostered.

Later in the evening, the MSc programme was proud to co-sponsor a packed evening lecture with Professor Sara Ahmed, Goldsmith’s London as part of the College’s Humanities and Arts Research Centre (HARC) funded event on ‘Welcoming Strangers’. In the context of Debbie’s paper earlier in the day, Sara introduced her project on ‘wilfullness’ in relation to strangeness, cosmopolitanism and debates around hospitality/hostility.


Some of the students took the option Transnational Security and Targeting Law. During this week’s session they discussed the evolution of effects based targeting and its relationship to modern law. They particularly took up the question of whether the killing of Osama Bin Laden was lawful.

Thursday is also a reading/library preparation day for Friday and the following week. In preparation for Friday’s sessions, the students were set readings around contemporary notions of sovereignty and Arctic/Canadian territorial disputes as well as historical readings of political-economic ‘emergency’ and ‘crisis’ in 1970’s Britain.


The morning’s Principles of Geopolitics and Security session was run by Prof. Phillip Steinberg. These sessions are split into two, first is a contextual discussion of the broader intellectual questions. In this case, the group were asked to consider what it would mean to construct territory in a space that is dynamic, and that is not amenable to permanent settlement or agricultural “improvement”? And perhaps most crucially the discussion led to how have people who have historically lived in such spaces practiced geopolitics (and thereby enhanced their own security)? The second practical hour of the session saw the students then consider the Inuit Circumpolar Council’s Declaration on Sovereignty, and respond to specific questions regarding the way in which the Declaration refers to the geophysical nature of the Arctic and its potential applicability for social movements operating in other environments.

FBAfter lunch together in Founder’s building (pictured above), we returned for Resilience and the Governing of Emergency and explored the way crisis was governed during a period of industrial unrest and political instability in 1970’s Britain, setting the groundwork transition from a civil defence infrastructure towards today’s Civil Contingencies apparatus of emergency planning, business continuity and crisis management. The students engaged in a close reading of a series of archival documents from the Civil Contingencies Unit under Edward Heath’s government and explored how they responded to the crisis born about by oil shocks from the 1973 Arab Israeli War as well as punitive industrial policy and nationwide union militancy. 

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