I have been teaching the class on "Actors, Institutions, and Legal Frameworks in International Affairs" off and on for a number of years since I helped develop the course as part of the committee that was tasked with a role in the establishment of the School of International Affairs of Penn State University. The course was meant as a hybrid of sorts. Its objective was to move beyond (and perhaps through) the traditional courses in international organizations, or law or the traditional courses in international affairs. Each, of course, is deeply embedded in its own core ideology. The law courses are constructed from out a world view that centers law as the authoritative expression of social order and principles. The international affairs courses share with law a deep commitment to the ideologies of the state, at least in the form in which they have emerged for what are now the liberal democratic orders of developed states. That is an ordering of the world that (like every other) believes in a a place for everything/everyone and everything/everyone in its place in which there are vertical orderings of authoritative connection to political and economic power (public and private orderings, and to its expression (law, contract, custom, etc.).
Indeed, it is possible to suggest that these traditional courses, as conventionally structured, serve more as an apologia for a constructed world view and as the instrument for its rationalization in ways that then naturalize the subject and treat it as inevitable and incontestable. In a sense, that framing premise well serves the core objective of education, where education is understood primarily as a means of socializing the young, the untrained, and the community. Education embeds societally important values and perspectives to ensure that the existing political, economic, religious, etc. structures are carried forward. There is nothing wrong with that. Education in that sense, as indoctrination, as a societal and political catechism, has a long pedigree. Education as indoctrination been used by communities of believers for a very long time, whether those communities are political, economic, societal or religious. They have ended to raise objection mostly when elements of a community (either within or outside of it) object to a catechism or portions of it. Ironically even rebellious education int he West is a form of (counter) indoctrination where its critical approach serves other but equally potent ideological masters.
Education can also serve as a means of lifting the gaze from out of the premises within which it is located. Education might, for some, serve a useful purpose, not as indoctrination, but rather as the space of greater enlightenment--an enlightenment that can then be taken back within the ideologically constrained worlds in which we must make our lives. One lifts the gaze in two senses. First it is possible to do so within an ideological community to try to better see the way that its orthodoxies are being challenged and with that challenge the way that ideology either drives or is driven by change or events. Second, it is possible to do so between self-referencing ideological systems, of distinct and self contained ways of seeing and ordering the world. Taken together it may be possible to reverse the study of the way the world is ordered by starting with the characteristics of that ordering and then attaching to it the systems of filtering those characteristics in ways that make it possible to squeeze "useful" meaning from them. The object would be to attach an ideology to characteristics last, and to engage in the study of the characteristics first.
This is not to suggest the criticism-self criticism exercises of systems by their own followers, which is what tends to pass for analysis in may quarters. Instead, it is to suggest thee exercise of moving beyond ideological perspectives in the study of human behaviors organized through the language of law or the structures of political, economic, or societal communities. It is an effort to engage, in as clear eyed an examination as possible, in identifying the characteristics, misalignment, and challenges of these communities as they seek to engage others while also meeting internal challenges to their own orthodoxies. This is not an easy task. One is always deeply embedded in one's own way of seeing and understanding the world. Even efforts to see the world as other "naturally" see it may be affected by one's own "home" view. Yet it is an effort worth making, if only to better understand the realities of the complexities of the world in which one operates, in order to better understand other when they seek to speak across ideological communities. One can do this and remain loyal to one's own world view "home base."
In any case, I thought it was worth the effort to be guided by these ideas in the preparation of a class ostensibly focused on three of the key critical elements of international affairs--its actors, their institutions, and legal frameworks (the language of such affairs). The object of instruction would be on meaning making, that is on the ways in which communities create and impose coherent systems of meaning on their surroundings and on their sense of themselves as themselves and in the world. Success or failure? Only time (and my students) will tell, It was worth the effort, and I invite those interested to have a look and share their thoughts.
What follows is the application of these ideas in the the form of the course on ""Actors, Institutions, and Legal Frameworks in International Affairs." The Course learning outcomes objectives and grading, plus the course concept statement and syllabus follow.