"So many societies are in a constant state of struggle. These struggles often revolve around idealistic visions, but they are in struggle with established forces. They are going through upheaval, and they are redefining democracy. We can learn a great deal from these struggles."

Ron Smith's interest in world affairs started early. "I was born into it," he says. His father, an Alabama native, and his mother, from Israel, made politics a frequent household discussion. That back and forth at the dinner table influenced the international relations professor's career trajectory, inspiring him to become a scholar of human geography, a field that examines the ways people transform around them.

Smith began to look at world issues in depth as an undergraduate student in Washington State, where he produced documentaries including one that covered the Seattle World Trade Organization demonstrations in 1999. From his filmmaking, he developed the broad scholarly questions he now pursues: How do people react to large-scale political processes in their everyday lives? And, how do people work to counter these processes through trade unions, community organizations and international solidarity? "It's these sorts of questions that lead me to think about conflict and power throughout the world," he says.

Smith brings his global experience and research to his courses, which include Empire and the Colony and Middle East Conflict and Revolution. He has worked throughout Latin America, as well as with veterans in the U.S. and with communities in Palestine – the West Bank and Gaza – who have been affected by Israeli occupation. Currently, he is examining the practices of siege and how sanctions and isolation regimes impact people.

He believes many of us have become desensitized to revolution, which is a constant in many parts of the world. "In a lot of places, voting is a game to justify maintaining people and structures in positions of power. If you are not happy with the way things are going, maybe just voting once every four years is not going to help," he says. "So many societies are in a constant state of struggle. These struggles often revolve around idealistic visions, but they are in struggle with established forces. They are going through upheaval, and they are redefining democracy. We can learn a great deal from these struggles." 

Posted October 10, 2013

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