The meaning of “world affairs”

06.04.2016 |

by Ralph Pettman


This lesson shows why you need to understand particular approaches to world affairs.

What do you think of when you hear the words world affairs? Do you think of current events of the kind discussed every day on TV or the radio, on your smart phone or computer, or in newspapers and magazines? Do you think of particular issue areas like terrorism, or what’s happening to the world’s share prices, or global climate change, or domestic violence worldwide? Or do you think of regional relations like those taking place in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, or North and South America?

These are all common ways to talk about world affairs. They’re used by analysts (e.g., journalists) to describe and explain what is happening. They’re also used by practitioners (e.g., policy-makers) to decide what to do.

Behind them all, however, are particular approaches and perspectives. Any discussion of world affairs articulates a specific doctrine. Listening to an account of how the world works means listening to one or more ideologies.

If you can identify these doctrines and ideologies, then you’ll know what everyone wants you to think and believe as well as what they’re (intentionally or unintentionally) trying to hide. You’ll be able to recognize what you’re being told and what you’re not being told. And what you’re not being told is often more important than what you are. How can you know what you’re not being told, though, if you don’t have an overview of all the ways in which world affairs work?

This lesson is the first step toward gaining such an overview. It only covers the basics, but this is enough to show how every account of world affairs is trying to persuade you to see things in a particular way. You’re steeped in a large number of these accounts. They’re like the air you breathe and the water you drink. Unless they’re really toxic, you tend not to notice them.

Getting an overview has another advantage. When you’re faced with world affairs, you’re faced with a whole host of complex events. They’re like minestrone soup. The discipline is full of nourishing bits and pieces, but it’s a mess. You need to organize this mess in order to understand what’s happening. This course provides that understanding. It’s comprehensive and coherent, so you can use it to stay better informed.

In the next lesson, the three main dimensions of world affairs are discussed. You’ll learn about the strategic, economic, and civic aspects.


Recommended book

“A Concise History of the Modern World: 1500 to the Present: A Guide to World Affairs, Fourth Edition” by W. Woodruff


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