Dr Hans Gutbrod
PhD in International Relations (2000)
What Discipline is Good For: Learning at LSE
Simply put, I had a fantastic time in the International Relations Department at LSE. Thinking back to my undergraduate experience in the early 1990s conjures a long list of names – Michael Banks, Christopher Coker, Michael Donnelan, Fred Halliday, Mark Hofman, James Mayall, Geoffrey Stern, and Peter Taylor. They all left a deep impression, and in different ways were great teachers, perhaps too because Hilary Parker kept everyone in line. Yet what I liked most was that life in the Department was zany. There was a spirit of genuine curiosity, and everybody enjoyed pushing ideas further.
Perhaps this zaniness was helped along by the unboundedness of International Relations. After all, IR is more a set of concerns than a real discipline. We were, as Fred Halliday would often remind us, on shaky grounds in our theorizing, as we would often go borrow from other disciplines. It was as if there was a consciousness that we were trespassing collectively, and this promoted a sense of camaraderie.
As a standard taxonomy of educational objectives has it, universities should help people to achieve good judgment, both about matters at hand, and about choosing criteria appropriate for assessing a situation. The core of that idea goes back to Aristotle. Yet beyond that, there may be an even better goal of encouraging playfulness, with ideas and concepts. Up and down those corridors, that opportunity to roam and play is what we got in rich measure. One version of this idea has been put forward by the novelist David Foster Wallace. The viral video version, with soppy music, has been taken off-line, but the original speech is well worth watching when reflecting on what having a great education is about.
Post-LSE, the trajectory of curiosity took me to various startup ventures in academia and development, as well as to the Caucasus, where I ran a research organization (in the picture I am reading one of our reports). Discipline is only a worthwhile virtue if you use it to achieve better things, which is why you have to be disciplined about being zany, to gain a fresh angle, come up with a different finding, or put yourself in a novel place. I am not sure that this insight was taught, but it’s one of the many things I learned at LSE.