Star Turn: Andrew Hurrell

October 19, 2001

'This is your life' could well be the alternative title to a powerful lecture on international relations with particular resonance for one Oxford University postgraduate. Julia Hinde reports

Andrew Hurrell's introductory lecture on international relations could not be more timely, coming as prime minister Tony Blair jets around the world building alliances in the wake of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Some 250 students are packed into the Examination Schools on Oxford High Street. Among them is Chelsea Clinton, newly enrolled at Oxford University.

The mention of the Clinton years brings a few glances her way, but the throng is engrossed as Hurrell maps out the ground to be covered - globalisation, ethnicity, nationalism - with repeated mentions of September 11 and how the events in New York and Washington pose challenging new questions for academics and policy-makers.

The lecture is very traditional. Hurrell, a lecturer in international relations and a fellow of Nuffield College, projects his voice around the vast hall using a microphone in an hour-long monologue. There are no overhead projectors, no illustrations, no questions, yet most students are transfixed.

This, an overview of international relations since 1985 - the fall of communism, the rise of globalisation, the growth of Europe - is, after all, a lecture on their lives so far. "It's a period they can engage with," Hurrell explains. "It means something to them - it's their period."

His own children are of undergraduate age, and he says he has "become more aware of what their world means".

"I can't just throw out a reference to the Korean war or Vietnam and assume this generation will understand," he says.

Hurrell often makes reference to the political doctrines and schools, such as neo-Marxism, liberalism and realism, that the undergraduates have read about in their first year.

But he carefully avoids the abstract, talking about episodes such as the cold war in conjunction with how different schools view such periods.

"There's a tendency to teach subjects in the way academics understand them. To say X says this and Y says this. But that doesn't capture students. You want to make people see how it works in the real world."

Hurrell, who presents the lecture in a smart business-like suit, is obviously getting it right. Students found him "animated". One comments on how "he obviously cared about what he was talking about and wanted to explain it to us".

The breadth of the lecture and the thorough precis, with suggested further reading, handed out before he begins impress his audience. "There are some really good tips," says one second-year.

The lecture - delivered in a concise easy-to-understand package - leaves me wanting more. Among the talk of liberalist and realist perspectives, Hurrell offers some of his own views. We have gone beyond the pluralist world of states of the early 20th century towards an international global society, he says. Yet this is still marked by a disparity and inequality of power.

We are caught between a cosmopolitan aspiration of solidarity on the one hand and the power of states on the other.

As for September 11, Hurrell says it raises questions about the extent to which terrorism stops being a state-related issue. Until now, groups such as the IRA and Eta in the Basque Country have attacked states, often wanting states of their own. "Are we moving beyond that to a world of true transnational terrorism, where they demand things that go beyond states?" he asks.

Hurrell says the events also challenge nations' capacity to fight back and reassert control. "Individual states are responding. It questions the power and inevitability of globalisation. Can we move back to a world of states - to a world where Microsoft matters less and the Marines matter more?"

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