Simulation Two, day three

The environment did actually make it on to the final conference document, albeit as the final point on the list. Several people expressed the opinion that they thought that the issue was important, but that they did not want to permit the radical protesters to participate on account of their unclear constituency. So the EU group added the point to their revised list, and no one questioned it during a subdued floor debate about the relative priorities of foreign direct investment, privatization, and anti-corruption measures.

The floor dynamic was interesting, since a) a lot had been done outside of class between sessions, as I had anticipated and indeed encouraged; and b) the local IM network was buzzing, and most of the students had four or five chat windows open at a time as amendments were proposed and discussed. Just like in a real conference, the important negotiation was handled outside of the public exchanges…but this "outside" was more technologically mediated than would normally be the case, I think. Maybe in the future when IM-savvy folks start becoming official representatives.

Of course, the public exchanges weren't irrelevant. As usual, they played an important legitimation role, as people introduced lines of reasoning that drew on public commonplaces so as to create compelling cases for such initiatives as the disappearance of "social policy" from the list of development priorities and the importance of flexible labor markets. This last was particularly interesting, since both India and McDonald's were in support of the notion, but configured it somewhat differently: McDonald's emphasized their need to hire and fire workers to sustain profitability, and India emphasized the claim that more competition would create more jobs overall. Similar patterns of commonplaces, actually, revolving around how markets lead to efficiency and growth. That was basically unquestioned for the whole duration of the simulation, except for the successful Polish opposition to the anti-union amendment…which was nowhere near as radical a challenge as might have been mounted.

So we had a fairly realistic, narrow discussion about the technical details of development. Maybe next year I'll try a different initial proposal, so that the discussion gets broader and more conceptual. There's a time and a place for realistic depictions, but in the end I am not convinced that a class simulation is really the place for that. As a pedagogical tool, simulations are (to my mind) about encouraging people to make arguments and to negotiate, and only secondarily about the exact fidelity of the group to what they are representing. Sure, they can't go too far off the reservation, but there's a lot of room to maneuver and reconfigure; it's this latter that I am more interested in promoting and observing. This is why I don't generally call people for being "out of character," as long as they have a plausible argument connecting their position to some specification of their group's identity and consequent interests. After all, if interests were fixed in advance, there would be no need for negotiation and interaction; reaching an agreement would be a simple matter of calculation, and no need political struggle at all.

Personally, I fear such a world. Three cheers for messy, ambiguous contestation!

[Posted with ecto]

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