Tutor profile: Paul L.
Subject: Political Science
What is the difference between the study of politics and the study of political science?
Political science involves much more than simply studying political events or trends and explaining their causes or outcomes. This is due to the "scientific" nature of political science, which revolves around the method - similar to the scientific method. While political scientists do analyze political systems and events, they are also dedicated to building knowledge through the construction of theories used to explain the phenomena in question. Similar to proving a theory in the hard sciences (chemistry, physics, etc.), political scientists begin with an appropriate research question intended to advance the discipline, develop a hypothesis, carefully select cases, and apply rigorous qualitative and quantitative methods in order to test their hypotheses. In analyzing events and constructing theory, political scientists are often trying to determine causal relationships or prove correlation, while identifying the proper variables (independent, dependent, intervening) and mechanisms which explain the phenomena. Finally, political scientists ultimately aim for their theories to have predictive value, in order to determine when similar phenomena may take place in the future.
Subject: International Relations
What is constructivism and how is it practically applicable in understanding real-world events?
In international relations, constructivism is the belief that state behaviour and other elements of international relations are not purely outgrowths of rational self-interest based on power or material wealth, but rather the product of social construction through interaction. Said another way, outcomes are the result of ideas, rather than material forces. For example, a constructivist would argue that power or money only hold value, and are therefore only pursued, because they are understood or agreed to be important through the interactions of people. If societies, or enough individuals, decide big-game hunting is no longer an honourable pursuit, it loses this honour due to the new understanding. In this way, it can be argued that things are only the way they are because we have agreed to attribute a meaning to them. While this idea can become incredibly abstract (this chair is only a chair because society has decided it is), it is not difficult to see how the notion of ideas mattering in international relations is a plausible one. Think of how many world events past and present have been attributed to ideology or religion; a constructivist may argue that these belief systems only exist due to their social construction. Similarly, narratives which are created and propagated by leaders, media, and the grassroots, can change perceptions of events and affect state behaviour.
Subject: European History
What role did nationalism play in the Russian Empire's entry to the First World War? Was the situation different than in other European countries?
The role played by nationalism in Russia prior to the First World War was not the "bottom-up" variety as in the Austro-Hungarian German Empires, for example. While nationalist movements did exist in Poland, Ukraine, Armenia, and elsewhere, they were not as developed as elsewhere in Europe such as in Western Europe or in Austria-Hungary. Similarly, domestic nationalism in the form of pan-Slavism did play a role in Russia's decision to defend Serbia following Austria-Hungary's declaration of war, although this role was limited. The way in which nationalism contributed to Russia's entry into the First World War was through its use as a tool of power by the Russian state to achieve geopolitical ends. Domestically, the Russian state understood the potential military power of the mobilized population of a modern state, and sought to harness this power for use in the inter-state arena, as can be seen through numerous domestic nationalist initiatives, as well as manipulating and guiding the Russian media. Most importantly, however, the Russian Empire utilized nationalism to manipulate ethnic group in strategic areas in order to undermine the strength of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires. Within Austria-Hungary, Russia used various means to encourage nationalist sentiment among Ukrainians in Galicia, as well as Slavic nationalists in the Balkans. In The Ottoman Empire, Russia harvested positive relations with Greece in seeking advantages in the Dardanelles, and supported the Kurdish minority in Eastern Anatolia. In this way, state-sponsored nationalism utilized by the Russian state played a considerable role in increasing tensions between its neighbours, and contributing to the European powder keg which exploded following the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in 1914.
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