Welcome to the Spring 2012 issue of the II Journal!
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The II Journal is pleased to present a few of the highlights of another dynamic year at the International Institute. Apropos of a political year, politics are at the core of each article in this issue. From the political uprisings witnessed across the globe this year, advanced in part by new media, to the political choices made in the everyday work of energy distribution or literary production, to new political players and structures appearing in former dictatorships, politics inform these essays in obvious and subtle ways.
In Fall of 2011 the International Institute hosted a day-long symposium on New Media/Social Change to examine the impact of “new media” (social, network, digital) on international news, political movements, and on traditional news media. In our lead article, New Media and the Middle East: Thinking Allowed, Annabelle Sreberny (Centre for Media and Film Studies, London) analyzes the role of new media in contemporary political mobilizations across the globe. She discusses the role of Facebook, Twitter, You-Tube, mobile phones, email, and the 24-hour news cycle in the socio-political unrest unfolding across the Middle East and Western countries alike. She examines the intersection of new social networks with traditional forms of news broadcasting, and old forms of political activism with its emphasis on meeting spaces such as squares or parks (Tahrir, Benghazi, Zuccotti, St. Paul), and the combinations of media tools and political actions used to topple authoritarian regimes (Libya, Egypt), or respond to the global financial crisis (London, New York, Athens).
While revolutions are by definition political, politics also play a central role in more mundane activities—such as the provision and consumption of electricity around the globe. In The Politics of Energy and What it Means for the Climate, Brian Min (CICS International Security and Development Fellow) explores the role governments play in supplying electricity, and how the type of government (democratic/ non-democratic) determines which sector of society (citizens/ industry) gets priority in the delivery of electrical power. Soaring energy needs worldwide have serious consequences for the climate, and the challenges of meeting increasing demand and addressing environmental concerns often present conflicts for policymakers around the globe, and new questions for political scientists.
The literary process (from writing to translating to editing to publishing to reading), especially in an international context, is full of political repercussions. In Translating Human Rights Testimonies, Christi Merrill (CICS Human Rights Fellow) discusses the ideological implications of translating literary texts, particularly in translations of works describing discrimination into the language of the colonizer. She explores the consequences of categorizing a work as fiction, non-fiction, autobiography, or even literary, and how such delineations can alter the reader’s perception of events described in the text. How are terms such as “truth” or “universal truth” defined in works of literature, especially human rights literature?
This year the University of Michigan Wallenberg Committee awarded Aung San Suu Kyi the 21st Raoul Wallenberg Medal in absentia for her human rights work in Myanmar (formerly Burma). Dominic Nardi (a political science graduate student) delivered the Wallenberg medal to her in December. The next article describes his visit with the human rights activist in Burma. He discusses the political transformations taking place in the country, and Daw Suu’s transformation from resistance leader to politician. He addresses the challenges of rebuilding after 50 years of military dictatorship destroyed the public institutions there. Democracy hangs in the balance as the country struggles with a shortage of professionals who understand public management.
Closing out the issue is a narrative by another student, Colin Yee, who traveled to Liberia with the help of an International Institute Individual Fellowship to complete an internship with the NGO Tiyatien Health. Health services in Liberia are being overwhelmed by an influx of refugees from political turmoil in neighboring Ivory Coast. The internship included conducting research on a community health worker program, which serves as a model for paid health workers.