Dr. Robin Lauermann, professor of politics, edits this series

(What is From the Field? Read our series welcome post to learn more!)

Welcome to the new season of From the Field, our program’s student blog series!  For this segment we will feature analyses of four books engaged in our major capstone.  As we move to different books across the semester, I will add an editorial post to introduce each of the new pieces.

Domestically and internationally, our current context is fraught with change and uncertainty.  Our selection of books in the capstone course this fall provokes students to think about their dispositions and skills in navigating the complexity of political life.  After all, politics – or collective decision-making – relates to all areas of life, whether by its relevance for policy in any domain or its transferability beyond government to any personal or professional setting in which more than one person’s perspective factors into a decision.  In fact, in his Nicomachean Ethics (Ross ed. 1999, Book I, Chapter 2), Aristotle argues that political science is the meta science that organizes the rest of human life and its function – this nature of our field is what provides opportunities for our students not only within government but also in many sectors/ industries beyond.

Though politics as collective decision-making is inevitable, and the humans within these various systems are flawed, collective work need not be synonymous with partisanship (more broadly a lack of consideration for more than just one group with stakes in the outcome), gridlock, conflict and/or poor decision-making.  This reality may seem impossible as we navigate unprecedented leadership changes in the US House of Representatives, as well as conflicts in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and elsewhere.  Some conflict may well be inevitable, but working to resolve it where we possible will only better serve our societies.  One facet that can assist us in navigating these decisions more constructively relates to our disposition towards the others with whom we need to work to reach decisions.

In his book If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face:My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating, Alan Alda shares the fruits of his work helping scientists – and others – to communicate better.  From accessibility to empathy, Alda illustrates how intentional postures – and some engaging improv – allows us to better connect with others, especially when they do not come the same perspectives as we do.  Alda’s book provoked not only great conversation and growth in class, but also some humor as we tried out some of the improv strategises that he discusses in the book and uses at the Alda Center for Communicating Science.  After playing “Last Letter, First Letter” at the start of the semester, I only had to remind us periodically with those words, and students were connecting to each other’s ideas by name, not just with the most recent comment in our seminar conversation, but ones that came much earlier in the day’s conversation.

Read on to the next post in the series, the first of four that will focus on Alda’s book.  Enjoy!


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