Mushy oats, agency and structure and independent research

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While I was preparing my breakfast meal, I came to the realization that these miniscule, delicious oats scattered with slices of bananas reminded me of the dichotomy between agency and structure which seems to define the debate between pos-structural and modern constructivist understandings of how the concept of “security” is constituted within the international system. I quickly came to a second realisation which was that I had spent far too much time reading and researching a swathe of obscure, abstract international relations theory literature such that my perception of a simple meal had been distorted in such a unfathomable (and to be frank, quite concerning) manner. I then realised I better start eating my oats before it got cold and mushy. Then I realised that all the stuff I had read and re-read finally made sense. Such is the nature of undertaking an independent study and research subject – a little known creature lurking in the midst of the GWU course offerings which I think merits a few words.

Research is a strange thing – and experience which combines “pull out your hair in frustration” moments with the ecstatic “eureka” moment that has motivated the thinkers and ponderers looking at apples falling from trees or sitting in bathtubs throughout history to devote their time and effort to uncovering the mysteries of the world around us. For the past few weeks, this is precisely what I have been doing – endless readings of journal articles, countless hours on Google scholar and requesting obscure books from all over the DC area. And the strange thing about it all? It is completely and utterly voluntary. Independent research is precisely that – no lecturers to set your readings, no prescribed textbooks, just an idea and a supervisor to guide you along the often rocky road to publishing a substantial paper at the end of the semester. Quite frankly, in amongst the I heart DC cups and sweaters that I will be bringing home to Sydney in a few months, I think a substantial piece of research on the subject of international relations theory would be a pretty nifty souvenir (but then again, keep in mind I did interpret a bowl of oats and bananas as a debate between two core theoretical concepts – make of that what you will). But beyond that there is quite simply the fact that for the first time in my academic life, I get to set the subject and research in somethign that I have a passion about. .

I write this on a table whose surface is barely visible because it is strewn with highlighters, printed out journal articles, ripped put pieces of notebook paper and sticky notes on top of which sits a stack of cans of red bull and a giant ball of colourful jolly rancher wrappers which supplied me with the necessary caffeine and sugar to sustain my efforts through the milieu of academia. All the research and readings haven’t driven me to “The Shining” “here’s Johnny!” crazy (yet) though really there couldn’t be a more perfect setting than the hallways of City Hall if I ever did. In other words, undertaking independent research is not for the faint of heart. However, for those who are driven by a particular passion and would jump at the ability to spend a whole semester devoted to a subject of their choice for a subject (as obscure and crazy as it sounds to everyone else), then it really is a rewarding experience.

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