PSCI/IS 3115: Selected World Problems: Broken World Politics

This is the course page for PSCI/IS 3115: Selected World Problems with a special focus on ‘Broken World Politics’ taught by Dr. Alex Stubberfield through Virginia Tech’s Department of Political Science and the International Studies Program. Our focus below is ‘Broken World Politics’ and we’ll learn more about the notion through blog posts as they become available throughout Summer Session II. We build the conceptual framework of “Broken World Politics” through consulting ethnographic, autoethnographic, philosophical and theoretical sources. The posts discuss each author in turn but connects them to a central thread in the course discussion – political environmental presents and futures. Though each source is grounded in ‘environmental literature’, the course’s focus emphasizes the human, technological and social dimensions in environmental governance. This will include discussions of forced displacements and removals, refugees, radioactive wastelands, flooded kampungs, technocratic and technological failure, thirst and water privation, war and industrialism, and crises in reason and imagination. Our examinations, thus, focus attention to the problems inherent in environmental governance and the histories of political decisions woven into ‘the environment’ itself in the hope of diagnosing problems in-the-now to avoid broken futures.

We’ll discuss patterns of thinking producing increasingly broken conditions lodged in political decision-making. Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) exemplifies broken world thinking in this scene just before the end of the film. We’ll look for more examples in grounded empirical studies but art and media have been discussing the logics examined in the course for decades.
The highly successful Fallout video game series (1997-2018) poses an alternative near-future and builds its lore through a Broken World geopolitics. The series speaks to the cultural continuity of ideas and incorporates Kubrick’s remarks above as part of its origin story in each of its installments. The video above gives a healthy exhibition of the series lore and the imaginative spaces created through each of Fallout’s installments. Though fun spaces to play in, how do we prevent living in Broken Futures?
The Hoover Dam in Nevada features as a battlefield in Fallout New Vegas – one of the more recent and better received installments in the video game series above. The dam may become a battlefield in our world too as water scarcity becomes an increasingly salient concern in a changing world. Though a little alarmist, the video featured discusses the regional impact of water scarcity and negotiations in shifting water politics related to changing weather patterns and increasing extremes. This shows water as a strategic resource and a source of increasing security concerns related to national development and collective futures.
Water in short supply can impact ecosystems throughout a region and the politics arising from conditions of scarcity can include rationing at a regional level. Whole populations can be affected by the actions of communities and environmental conditions upstream leading to increasingly difficult political decisions built upon degrading conditions. Often times, marginalized populations will take the brunt of broken world politics and we will see how some populations have adapted to harsh political-environmental conditions throughout their history.
George Carlin’s remarks in his stand up special, Jammin in New York (1992) highlights a counternarrative to many public representations of environmentalist discourse. This course is not about ‘saving the planet’ but anticipating problems related to the built environment. The focus, thus, is both political and environmental by showing how politics influences environmental construction and people’s relationship to their everyday worlds; as well as political systems bowing under the stresses of environmental conditions while grappling with the historical legacies and material problems of political infrastructure. Carlin may be right and that environmental conditions may change regardless of human activity. The core of this course is creating a conceptual framework for adapting our political-environmental systems to the demands of a changing planet by recognizing systemic failures and the possibility of broken political futures. Maybe in doing so we can create alternative political imaginaries and better near-futures to the ones presented above.