Alister Wedderburn

Alister Wedderburn

Comic Relief: Unpacking the politics of pop culture

20 February 2018

Culture, as a concept, has often fallen by the wayside in international relations theory. Alister Wedderburn, a new postdoctoral fellow at the Bell School, has designed a course for the first semester of 2018 to change that. With TV, film, literature, leisure practices and objects of the everyday at its core, the big reveal of ‘Cultural Approaches to International Relations’ is that politics and culture are indivisible. “We look at the world through lenses we can’t remove,” Wedderburn says. “What the ‘cultural approaches’ course offers is a way of studying how those lenses shape political subjectivity and political possibility.”

While some traditional theories of international relations may disregard culture as “window-dressing”, a growing number of theorists see it as a place where power inevitably circulates. Wedderburn cites the Danish cartoon crisis from 2005 and the Charlie Hebdo shootings of 2015 as two instances where comics and violence became interlinked. His own interest in pop culture and international relations delves from the politics of humour to cartoons and comics. The themes that underpinned his own PhD on the topic – aesthetics, visual culture, resistance and the everyday – now inform his new course. For Wedderburn, the ‘cultural turn’ is a party to which international relations is only very belatedly arriving. “Without thinking about culture, we’re missing something important,” he says.

This new course is available in Semester 1 2018 as a special topic in our Master of International Relations.

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