The main advantages and limitations of personal experiences in studying International Relations. In humans, the internal affects the external, and the political framework is not exempt from being a collateral. Whether that is to be deemed positive or negative stands in the hands of the decision-makers, but each and every leader, decision-maker – or even anyone remotely associated with having any task to fulfill that would impact the state of international affairs – had to go through a rite of passage to get to that point. Even the way in which they impact those vaunted international relations signifies the further paving of this rite of passage. As such, each and every one has an inward plain that is crystallized by what is directed outwards, thus impacting the overall image of the individual willing to contribute to the shaping of a certain task.
Consequently, when international relations come knocking, the individual trained in that respective field has a plethora of past experiences that dictate how he is to act – whether willingly or unwillingly. William Bloom, in his 1990 book, “Personal Identity, National Identity and International Relations”, claims that “a lack of secure personal identity is experienced as a threat to survival and is felt as anxiety”, continuing the statement by transporting the idea that humane adaptability – especially in social situations, nowadays – scoots the anxiety over, thusly propping up the framework of the individual’s sense of identity.
For example, Paul Williams, in his 2008 book titled “Security Studies: An Introduction”, claims that the UN’s Secretariat has been visibly enhanced “in matters of international peace and security, partly because of their personalities”, the very same book also tackling the importance of personal preferences in peacekeeping operations: “How then might peace research escape the partisanship and looseness of traditional scholarship? For Galtung the answer lay in a combination of multidisciplinarity, political autonomy, a commitment to the scientific pillar of intersubjective agreement and a Hippocratic-like professional commitment to look beyond personal preferences and biases.” stressing the idea that “the notions that peace research was to be global in focus, take a broadly sociological view, and try to rise above a range of social and political prejudices arguably still remain key features of peace studies.” This matter could very easily be situated at the crossroads of the advantageous/disadvantageous impact of personal experiences in international relations – as much as one’s decisions are tailored after their paths to get to making that decision, so is this quandary. An advantage is that the individual is more emphatic in their decision – knowing that they’re fully intent on taking the decision – but disadvantageous in the sense that one might forgo heeding others’ suggestions in dealing with a matter happening on the international arena.
Moreover, with this particular subject marking down such an expansive enclave to traverse through – in order to understand the full territory the international relations field spans across – it is only natural that such a matter would seep down to the masses through art – be it film, comic-books and the like. As an apt example, Marjane Satrapi’s 2007 film, “Persepolis”, the concoction is “too subjective to be a documentary, yet it is a document of a time”[footnoteRef:5], broaches Joanna Di Mattia in her “Persepolis depicts a world in which the personal is always political” article for SBS published on 19 April 2017, reinforcing the idea that “politics is explained through personal experience, and history becomes a record of memories, individual and collective.”[footnoteRef:6] This notion could be interpreted as a disadvantage because of personal insularity – in the sense that one is limited to their perception, claiming that it all there is – whilst also presenting a poignantly advantageous facet of one’s personal experience – politics is what you make it, and whether that is good or bad differs on each and every one’s mileage. That is a limitation in and of itself, what matters more is whether the individual perceives it.
“Persepolis” deals with the upheavals engendered by the Iranian political crisis in the 1970s and 1980s, wherein the growth of the author through those times is the focal point. Satrapi writes in the introduction to “Persepolis” that “an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists”, and some people would be eager to put forth their rejection of that idea, though they would not riposte the principle that personal experiences do influence how one runs a nation. Nevertheless, Ciara Faughnan-Moncieff states, in her article for warwick.ac.uk, that “Satrapi’s work was thus written in a time of political fears and social unease and disintegration, and her work depicting a revolution whose end had not brought about peace is one relevant to her contemporary audience, and the time in which she wrote it”[footnoteRef:8], which raises a salient point – the emergence of upheaval is as brisk as it is ravaging, and is yet a reality we’re still faced with, time and again.
Nora Twomey’s 2017 film, “The Breadwinner”, also concerns itself with personal experiences and their effect – due to the unfortunate happenings in 2001 Afghanistan, the protagonist interlocks her real-life memory with an imaginary one, constructing a phantasmagorical field in which she details her tribulations through the use of metaphors – thusly employing a narrative device that reclines on two plains, to tell a singular story: the personal experiences of Parwana in the midst of the 2001 Taliban seizing of Afghanistan. The proceedings, due to the contrivances used, are streamlined so the viewer can more easily identify how the outward influences the inward – and vice-versa.
Art Spiegelman’s “Maus”, a graphic novel originally published in 1980, contains tales of “the author of the graphic novel that tells his father’s story of surviving the Holocaust”, writes Katie Walrath for Medium.com on December 19 2015, stating that “Spiegelman draws his characters as animals like mice (the Jews), cats (the Nazis), and pigs (the Polish) (…) but this actually did happen to a real person, not a mouse.”, wherein “Speigelman incorporated this legitimate photograph at the end of the series, he allowed his readers to identify who the actual, living person was that lived through this all”. Given that, the experience is as personal (and thence limited) as can get – “At times the differences between history and memory are called into question, as Vladek cannot always get his timeline, or even his facts, straight. This is, of course, understandable; he is an old man. Vladek’s unreliability and paradoxical nature indicates an occurrence of postmodern fiction: unreliable narrators, a nearly omnipresent trope.”, claims Eric Steingold in his “Of Maus and Men: Postwar Identity Through a Postmodern Lens in Art Spiegelman’s ‘Maus’” 23 March 2015 article for popmatters.com.
“Maus” details the atrocities of the Holocaust through a personal lens, while “Persepolis” tackles Iranian turmoil with a veneer just as personal as Spiegelman’s graphic novel, and yet the fact still remains – that personal experiences are inalienable to our decisions and worldviews. We can choose to feign their absence, but they’re always reposing in our subconscious. And that is a limitation, depending on how you view it. First-hand experience is oftentimes hard to rebut, and people claim that what they’ve seen is what there is – but we’re all victims of circumstance, in a way or another. In that regard, it is inarguable that personal experiences influence everything about us, and that trickles down to our very field of expertise – international relations, no less – combatting this perceived limitation being achievable simply by inquiring others about the issue at task, and aggregating opinions and experiences to steer towards a conclusion that’s mutually agreed upon.
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