The mixture of scholarly thought and hip-hop styles may sound like more of a collision than a blend, but the links between the two are very real. Hip-hop and academia are both deeply concerned with the generational battle, with the back-and-forth between the old guard and the avant-garde. Academia speaks to a community using its own specific vocabulary and voice, developing its own jargon, as does hip-hop, and both love the reflexivity of discussing their own discussions. Both cultures piece together their own original efforts with visible and audible inspiration from their predecessors and contemporaries. Academics quote. Rappers sample. Both collaborate.
In the past, I’ve given my POL 102 classes (and also my upper-division democratization seminars) an assignment that asked them to draw up a new constitution for Oz. I handed out a packet of a post-transition (after the Wizard is deposed) Oz, a description of the country’s current political situation (mostly based on Gregory Maguire’s Wicked), and asked them to write a brief outline for a new constitutional system looking at three basic components:
These are group projects of 4-5 students, who write a two-page paper and give a short in-class presentation “pitching” their constitutional framework. Essentially, I ask them to become “constitutional engineers” for a day.
This year, thanks to the Arab Spring, we can use real world cases. So today my students are presenting sketches of the kind of constitutional system they think is best for a new democratic Libya. I’m very intrigued to see what they come up with.
If you don’t think political scientists really do this kins of “hands-on” activity, here’s a short article from The Christian Science Monitor interviewing UNC’s Andrew Reynolds about his advice for post-transition constitutions for the Arab Spring countries. The issue isn’t just academic for Reynolds (one of the discipline’s premier constitutional engineers): He’s currently in Libya for this very purpose, having only recently left Tunisia.
The determination and bravery of Syrian demonstrators has confounded outside observers and surprised many Syrians themselves. In January, at the dawn of the Arab spring, few thought Syria a likely participant. Yet time and again over the past five months Syrian protesters have stuck their chests into the paths of bullets, trying to face down brutal thugs.