Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, November 17, 2006

Do you understand me now?

Just when I think I understand the English language and the way things work in general, an article like the one that follows comes along. What would your students make of this? Could you use this in a lesson about frame of reference, perspective, and cross cultural understanding?

Pakistan triumph despite Lara ton

[Can you make sense of that headline?]

"Brian Lara's 33rd Test century was not enough to prevent Pakistan strolling to a nine-wicket victory over West Indies on the fourth day in Lahore...

"Lara was at the crease on 28 when the day started, and added 137 with Shivnarine Chanderpaul for the fifth wicket.

"He was dropped in the gully by Hafeez on 48, with Umar Gul [below] the unlucky bowler, and he made Pakistan pay by reaching three figures off 180 balls, with 16 boundaries...

"Dwayne Bravo managed only two before he went leg-before to Gul, the pace bowler's eighth victim of the match, and leg-spinner Danish Kaneria then dismissed Denesh Ramdin for a single.

"Chanderpaul, who should have been stumped off Kaneria on 56, finally fell for 81 to leave West Indies on 278-8, still one run behind.

"A brave 15 from Dave Mohammed and eight from Jerome Taylor could only delay the inevitable as Pakistan paceman Umar Gul took 4-99 off 29 overs and Shahid Nazir ended with 3-63 off 20 overs."

Okay, it's cricket. And that game makes no sense to anyone except those who live in countries that were British colonies after the mid-19th century. (Says I, in an attempt at humor by exaggeration.) Much of the article is gibberish to me and most Americans.

I once had a personable Brit try to explain cricket to me on a bus ride from London to Salisbury and back. Even after the trip, I understood Stonehenge better than cricket.

Alert! American football is as bizarre and incomprehensible to most Pakistanis (and the rest of the world) as cricket is to us. The language we use to describe the game (and some of our politics) is gibberish outside our country. Even many Canadians don't understand American football. Imagine being as confused about American football as you were by the description of the test match between Pakistan and the West Indies above. Really imagine it. It's an important realization.

And, be aware that other bits and pieces of culture -- like, for instance, government and politics -- are as exotic to outsiders as sports. Many people in the world are curious about why George Bush is still president of the U.S. after last week's elections. They are familiar with parliamentary systems.

Did you think that Ahmadinejad's most recent statement was nonsense? Perhaps it makes perfect sense to many (most) Iranians in the context of Iranian politics. Similarly, Putin's consolidation of power in Russia might not have the meaning in the Russian context that Americans or political scientists attribute to it.

Successfully studying comparative government and politics requires that we try to understand all those perspectives. And that we try to understand what looks like gibberish as people describe and explain their own political systems.

And remember, if we don't speak Russian, Chinese, Farsi, Mexican Spanish, or English, things will be in translation, meaning we're another step removed from them.

Once we're cognizant of all that, then we try to apply academic analysis to the cases we study. We do try to be objective and logical. We are outsiders looking into alien worlds; often reading and hearing words translated from another language. We have to be sure we don't assume we're witnessing a free pass to first base when we see a batsman go LBW (leg before wicket) and get hit by a ball. We might be outraged that the batsman is out. And that won't help our understanding at all.

In this context, consider the creation of an English version of the Arabic television news channel al-Jazeera. (Al-Jazeera English hits airwaves, BBC, 15 November 2006)

Are there reasons to see a presentation of the news from a perspective different from our own? What makes a source legitimate even if its perspective differs from ours? What might deprive it of legitimacy? Can al-Jazeera earn legitimacy as a news source even if its editorial policies differ from those in Western newsrooms? Will al-Jazeera report on cricket?

I came across another cricket example, if you need one: The BBC reported recently that "A pair of Indian schoolboys have driven their way into the record books by scoring 721 runs for the opening wicket in a limited-overs match."

The report included these details, which might as well be in Hindi when it comes to my understanding of the report,
  • "Shaibaz scored 324 runs - with 57 boundaries - off 116 balls.
  • "His partner and close friend Manoj scored an equally scintillating 320 runs - with 46 boundaries - off 127 balls.
  • "A whopping 77 extras meant that the total from their partnership went up to 721 runs for no wicket.
  • "Interestingly not a single six was hit during the trail blazing innings."

Do you understand it now?


At 9:39 AM, Blogger Ken Wedding said...

Speaking of cricket and al Jazeera...

al Jazeera does report on cricket. This article provides more news about star batsman Lara and offers more mysterious cricket jargon.

Lara closes in on double ton

"West Indian maestro Brian Lara finished day three of the second Test against Pakistan just four runs short of another double century as he put his side in a commanding position..."


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