Activist Campaigns in Global Politics

Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto, Winter 2021

From the abolition of the slave trade and the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the banning of landmines and signing of treaties to combat climate change, activists, NGOs and social movements have played an important role in shaping state behaviour and making global politics more just. But with meagre financial resources and no military capacity in a world dominated by powerful states, how are these non-state actors able to effect any change at all? To answer this question, this course examines the politics and practice of justice-focused activism. It draws on an extensive literature in psychology, sociology and political science about the conditions under which activism succeeds and fails. Students will examine historical and contemporary activist campaigns, and learn how to build their own. Through this course, students will develop a historical, theoretical and evidence-based understanding of how global activism works, and an appreciation of the many complexities and trade-offs involved in developing and responding to activist campaigns.

Human Rights and International Relations

Department of Political Science, University of Toronto Scarborough, Fall 2020

For centuries, human rights, in one shape or another, have influenced the practice of global politics. This course examines this phenomenon in two main sections. In the first part of the course, we will examine how human rights claims have been used by state and non-state actors to pursue certain objectives, including empire building, war, democratization, great power balancing, as well as organizational and personal material self-interest. This section of the course will look at both historical and contemporary cases, including the rise of Islam and French colonialism in West Africa, civil war in Sudan, as well as the behaviour of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. 

In the second part of the course we will examine some of the major controversies and debates surrounding human rights in global politics.  Our discussion will focus on the following questions: Are contemporary human rights universal or are they just the most recent manifestation of Western imperialism? Is the use of military force to achieve humanitarian objectives ever justified? Should social movements looks to international law to advance their struggle? Can we trust the empirical claims made by human rights NGOs and social movements? Have we made any human rights progress over the last few decades? And will human rights survive COVID-19 and the decline of the West? 

International Cooperation and Institutions

Department of Political Science, University of Toronto Scarborough, Winter 2020

The liberal international order appears to be collapsing, NATO is experiencing significant internal tensions, Britain is planning to withdraw from the European Union, and few states have curbed their carbon emissions despite signing the Paris Agreement in 2016. While these issues receive much attention, international cooperation remains a central feature of international politics. In fact, for thousands of years, humans have demonstrated an impressive (and destructive) capacity to cooperate on mass scales, unlike any other species on the planet. The human capacity for widespread cooperation is seen today in an international system that includes hundreds of international institutions designed to help facilitate collective action on a number of policy issues, including the environment, refugees, security and trade, among others.

This course explores the topic of international cooperation and situates it within the history and psychology of human cooperation. It draws on insights from International Relations and Evolutionary Psychology to help us make sense of why states cooperate, the obstacles to cooperation they face, and how international institutions are used to help them overcome these obstacles. This course also examines why states cooperate on some issues but not others, why cooperation breaks down, and what the future holds for international cooperation.

Human Rights and International Relations 

Department of Political Science, University of Toronto, Fall 2017

This course is about human rights in international politics. Over twelve weeks, we will probe a number of important and pressing questions. What are human rights? What is the International Human Rights Movement and where did it come from? Why do human rights violations occur and what can be done to stop them? Why do some victims of abuse get more international attention than others? How do “new rights” emerge on the international agenda? Can torture ever be justified from a human rights perspective? And is the world a safer and more secure place today than in the past? To address these and other related questions, we will draw on an extensive literature in political science. We will ground our discussions in real world cases, including the use of starvation blockades against civilian populations during World War I, the use of child soldiers by rebel groups in civil wars in Africa, and the international sanctions against apartheid South Africa, among others. We will also look at the actions and strategies employed by Dalit, disability, and women’s rights activists to propel their causes onto the international stage.

War, Peace and Security in International Politics (with Jamie Levin)

Department of Political Science, University of Toronto Scarborough, Summer 2014

Matters of war, peace, and security have been central to the study of international politics. However, the meaning and nature of these three phenomena has changed over time and remain hotly contested. What is war and why does it occur? What constitutes ‘peace’ and how can we best achieve it? Who is most deserving of security and what sources of threat are most dangerous? Should we be more concerned with the proliferation of nuclear weapons, war between great powers, or melting polar ice caps? Over the course of the 20th century, IR scholars have contributed important insights into these, and other related, questions. This course aims to take stock of and grapple with the varying answers given to these questions.

Global Security (with Will Greaves)

Department of Political Science, University of Toronto, Summer 2012

The field of Security Studies has undergone enormous changes since the end of the Cold War. Contemporary Security Studies is asking new questions raised by the big changes taking place in global politics. Some of these new questions include: What and who poses threats to global security? Whose security should we be most concerned about? Has the world become more secure since the Cold War? How do major developments in global politics such as globalization, climate change, epidemic disease, transnational terrorism, complex peace operations, humanitarian interventions and the emergence of new regional powers affect global security? While some of these changes are new developments in the international system, others are part of long-standing historical patterns. This course will examine these and other issues. It will provide a survey of contemporary security theory, and situate trends and issues in global security within that theory. Changes in the study of, and how we think about, security during and since the Cold War era will be examined, with particular emphasis upon the changing sources and objects of security.

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