Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Favorite Class at SAIS: Leaders, Followers, and Political Power

Cady Deck, Certificate '19 + Johns Hopkins SAIS MA '20 shares her favorite class at SAIS.

SAIS Paul H. Nitze Building - located just steps from many of the nation’s most
prestigious think tanks, research centers, and global corporations as well as
famous landmarks like the White House and the U.S. Capitol.
Every HNC Certificate + SAIS MA student has to take two Asia Studies classes, and one China Studies class at SAIS in addition to taking economics classes and fulfilling core requirements. One of my favorite classes this semester is a Southeast Asia Studies class called Leaders, Followers, and Political Power. This is not a class about the “great man theory” of history. It is a class designed to answer two main questions: why do leaders lead and why do people follow them. Over the course of the semester, we have analyzed how leaders attain power utilizing different combinations of coercion, charisma, traditional authority, economic reward, or appeals to identity, ideology and nationalism. We have also looked at reasons people follow leaders, both psychological and political, which is especially interesting at times when leaders do or condone terrible things.

One of the benefits of going to a school in DC is that a lot of the professors are former government officials. In fact, two of my professors this semester have had long careers in the government. Professor Karl Jackson, for example, has an especially interesting history, which makes classes very exciting. He served as the national security adviser to the vice president, special assistant to the president, senior director for Asia on the National Security Council, among other positions. In other words, he had unique access and opportunities to meet with a lot of world leaders, especially Southeast Asian leaders. Every week students present on the readings and answer questions from the class and the professor. Afterwards, we discuss leaders’ personalities, their leadership qualities, the characteristics of their followers, etc. During the lectures and class discussions, Professor Jackson frequently interjects with personal anecdotes, telling us his own impressions of the leaders when he met them back in the day. Learning about leaders from their autobiographies or other biographers is interesting, but the opportunity to ask Professor Jackson about his personal interactions and first, second, or third impressions of the leaders is unparalleled.

Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies is located in DuPont Circle,
a vibrant area in the heart of Washington, DC.
My initial interest in this course actually came from a class I took at the HNC. In the China on the Border: Provincial Relations on the Periphery class, I wrote my research paper on China-Southeast Asia relations, specifically focusing on China-Myanmar relations. I even had the opportunity to travel to the China-Myanmar border over spring break, where I examined the refugee/border resident situation. I focused on the China side of this relationship, but grew more interested about politics in Myanmar, especially the government’s response to all of the ethnic conflicts within Myanmar.  At SAIS, I wanted to explore this interest in Southeast Asia and expand my knowledge on regions other than China. In the Leaders class, I am writing my semester research paper on Myanmar’s current State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. I have gained a better understanding of Southeast Asian politics and leaders, but more specifically, Burmese politics and Suu Kyi’s leadership style and motivations.

Knowing more about the broader region, the domestic politics of surrounding countries, and their leaders is a different angle from which to analyze challenges or areas of conflict in regional relations. At the HNC I learned a lot about the Chinese perspective on various political, social, and economic issues domestically and globally. As a China Studies concentrator, that perspective is invaluable. Coming to SAIS complements my experience at the HNC because I can pursue other interests that may also be helpful in understanding future relations between China and other countries. The Leaders class this semester is just one example of the way in which students can expand on what they learned at the HNC at SAIS.

Written by Cady Deck, Certificate '19 + Johns Hopkins SAIS MA '20