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Note from Ilona

I am excited to engage with and contribute to the campus community at Soka. As a John D. Montgomery Postdoctoral Fellow at the Pacific Basic Research Center I will engage with students and the larger campus community in multiple capacities: through the courses I teach, by sharing my ongoing research on food security and agricultural policy in development, and by organizing events featuring innovative and relevant research on the region for the campus community. I look forward to engaging with students, faculty, and staff in each of these capacities.

Fall Course: Introduction to the Pacific Basin 100

In this course we will focus on learning how to think about the Pacific as a region. We will engage with the following questions: What is a “region?” In what ways can the countries and peoples that share the Pacific Ocean be considered a region? What commonalities and interconnections do they have, and how have these connections evolved over time? How does this region appear from various vantage points? Why have nations and regions within the Pacific Basin had such different development trajectories over the last century? How is their development tied to larger global processes as well as their relations with other places? To examine these questions and intertwined histories we will read historical, scholarly, and popular media texts and use documentary films to understand the economic, political, and cultural processes playing out.  We will consider theories of the state, development, social change, and economic models that have been enacted or used to explain growth, and lack of thereof, in nations across Asia, Oceania, and North and South America.
In 2012, U.S. President Obama announced a redirection of US foreign policy: a pivot to the Asia-Pacific Region. This pivot is commonly explained as a means to counter the expanding reach of China in the region. But, as any student of the Asia-Pacific region is aware, a focus on its strategic importance is not new. In fact, it is nearly impossible to understand the contemporary political and economic geography of the region without taking into account the long historical interconnections within and beyond this region. In this course, we will trace these relations, considering how they have evolved over time and how they continue to shape the realities we encounter today. We will examine the intertwined present and possible futures, as well as the historical, political, economic and cultural connections and interactions among peoples and nations of the Pacific. In this exploration, students will gain an understanding of—and garner effective tools for writing and speaking about—the Pacific Basin region, contemporary processes of “globalization,” and their historical lineages.

Spring course

In the spring course, “Entitlements and Exclusions: Approaching Human Development in South Asia,” students will interrogate what development is, the nature of citizenship, and the logic of exclusion—all examined through specific empirical questions and the everyday struggles of average people in the region of South Asia. Our exploration of development—its captivating promise, its roots, the lineages of policies, and potential solutions to problems of poverty—will be illustrated through topical themes including: urbanization, sanitation, waste and recycling, the garment industry, climate change, the commons, and organization and responses to development projects.

The idea of development and its promise of improved living standards and increased opportunity has a powerful draw. Too often, however, the ideals and promise of development have been left by the wayside, replaced by the urgency of commandments for economic growth—with the assumption that human development will necessarily follow from economic growth. Far too often this has not been the case. Instead, this approach has often produced widening inequities. Adopting a “human development” framework was meant to remedy these shortcomings. It attends to the human effects of development and uses indicators in the lives of people (mean education and life span)—rather than indicators of a nation’s economic state such as GDP (gross domestic product)—as the measure of development; but as with any metric, these measures each can only tell us so much.

In this course we consider several frameworks for understanding development. Starting with Amartya Sen, one of the most famous theorists of human development, we focus on one of South Asia’s most urgent problems—hunger and access to food—to utilize Sen’s “entitlement approach” to understanding development and the provisioning of basic needs. We then move on to the complexities introduced by invoking the idea of “rights.” While human rights and civil rights offer potentially powerful tools for demanding development and access to basic entitlements,  they also introduce  assumptions—for example, even if the Constitution and the Courts decree that there is a “right to food,” there must be an entity (i.e. the state) willing and able to fulfill this right for all its citizens. This leads us to consider essential questions about the nature and logics of exclusion— and ask why after sixty years of countless development projects, hundreds of millions of people in South Asia live without even the most basic of life’s necessities: food, housing, toilets, clean water. In the second section of the course we explore questions of human development in more depth, attending to their visceral biological and political realities. We examine a range of development projects, responses, and possible solutions. We ground these studies in the theoretical frameworks we covered in Section One to make sense of these cases and deepen our understanding. 

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