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Recap: Political Science Research Brunch


On Thursday, October 27, McGill undergrads had the exciting opportunity to hear about the wide-ranging research of five current McGill professors. Organized by the Political Science Students’ Association (PSSA), and moderated by Department Chair, Professor Richard Schultz, the “Political Science Research Brunch” featured presentations by five McGill professors, Stuart Sokora, Jacob Levy, Juan Wang, Vincent Pouliot, and Krzysztof Pelc. Following the presentations, students were invited, in an informal setting, to speak in more depth with the professors about their research, the classes they are offering, and, potentially, getting involved in these projects.

Department Chair Professor Richard Schultz began the event by reminding the audience that McGill University has one of the most highly regarded Political Science departments, ranked number one in Canada and 25th worldwide. Undoubtedly, all of the professors could speak at length about their research projects, however, owing to time constraints, Professor Schultz humorously announced that each would be subject to a six minute time limit.

First to speak was Professor Stuart Soroka, the Director of the Canadian Opinion Research Archive, co-Director of the Media Observatory at the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, and member of the Centre for the Study of Democratic Citzienship. Soroka’s presentation focused on how factors such as an individual’s appearance, gender, race, and religion influence political decision-making. For instance, both attitudes and the likelihood of non-profit groups issuing funding to individuals is often based, at least in part, on the applicant’s “image.” Indeed, Soroka’s research demonstrates the confluence of image and politics, suggesting that political non-profits, endowed with a kind of institutional impartiality, in reality operate and make decisions based on physical and social factors, not unlike the rest of us.

Next to present was Jacob Levy, the Tomlinson Professor of Political Theory. His presentation, drawing in part on his book, The Multiculturalism of Fear (Oxford University Press: 2000), focused on the role of and the dynamic relationship between political, cultural, and religious associations and broader society. Levy argues that these smaller political communities exist in all contemporary democratic societies, and in turn, the state must develop ways to reconcile groups’ interests with those of the larger community.

The third presenter was Professor Juan Wang. Wang, the newest member of the Political Science department, has a particular interest in Chinese politics. Her current book is The Sinews of State Power: Intra-State Collusion in Rural China, and in her presentation, based on research she has undertaken, she concludes that the central Chinese state is well-served politically and economically by adopting the governing practices of local authorities.

Professor Vincent Pouliot, chiefly interested in international relations theory and international political sociology, followed Wang in a discussion on his current project and presentation entitled “The Hierarchical Society: The Sense of One’s Place in International Organizations” (funded by SSHRC, 2009-2012). Pouliot makes the argument that within international organizations, there is an informally recognized kind of “international pecking order.” Contrary to the notion that membership in an organization automatically confers equality onto all of its members, there is, in fact, a power hierarchy among the diplomats of different nations, which correspondingly shapes their behaviour.

The final presenter was Professor Krzysztof Pelc, whose principal interests are political economy, international trade, the role of the World Trade Organization, and international economic law. His presentation focused on the role of the “audience,” in this case the function and influence that third parties have in settling trade disputes. His presentation draws on his article, “On the Strategic Manipulation of Audiences in WTO Dispute Settlement.” Pelc argues that the presence of third parties at negotiations affect the duration period leading up to settlement and its outcome. Accordingly, given the influence third parties can have, Pelc claims that states will try to manipulate third parties to their advantage.

Students in attendance at the “Political Science Research Brunch” gained from the event greater knowledge of the breadth and depth of their department. In addition, the event offered students the opportunity to get acquainted with their professors’ research projects as well as envision the type of work they may be doing if they pursue a graduate degree in Political Science. The Political Science Students’ Association will host more events like this, including an upcoming “Wine and Cheese” to facilitate dialogue between McGill professors and students.

–  Naomi Braude

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  1. Wonderful article!

  2. Thank you Frank! Were you at the Brunch?

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