Understanding Post-modernism through Marshmallow Challenge
Postmodernism is not an easy subject to study in political science. Unlike proponents of liberalism, conservatism or socialism, postmodernists detach politics from the discourses centered around political parties, utopian visions, or efficient government systems; rather, postmodernism engages in a radical critique of the existing systems of belief.
Postmodernists carefully scrutinize the narratives which all other political ideologies have and develop their ‘true’ arguments upon. In other words, postmodernism states that each political idea or ideology seeks to create its “story of truth” and use it to support its arguments, especially in juxtaposition with conflicting views and ideas. Therefore, postmodernism can be referred to as the study of political meta-narratives (“stories about stories”).
How can students learn more about Postmodernism?
We decided to use the Marshmallow Challenge as a tool for experimenting with Postmodernism. The Marshmallow Challenge became a huge success thanks to the popular TED talk by Tom Wujec. In this experiment, the objective for undertaking the Challenge was slightly modified, i.e. students were asked to not only build the tallest free standing structure, but importantly, build their structure around their political idea.
In doing so, the project was arranged in two steps:
Step One: We asked students to…
- Choose one political concept, key word or issue that we covered earlier in the course (e.g. power, equality, democracy, liberty, authority, etc).
- Choose any one of the political ideologies that we studied (liberalism, conservatism, socialism, social democracy, feminism, environmentalism, etc);
- Develop one narrative (story) of “truth” (Why what we are saying is true or right?);
- Develop one narrative/story of “fallacy” (Could it be that what we believe in is misguided or biased?).
Step Two: After that students were asked to…
- Choose their either TRUTH or FALLACY narrative and come up with a symbolic (physical) structure that would literally or laterally represent the idea;
- The structure needs to be created by using the same tools and by following the same rules required for the Marshmallow Challenge, i.e. 6 teams were asked to build the tallest free-standing structure in 18 minutes using no more than 20 sticks of (uncooked) spaghetti, one meter of tape, one meter of rope, and one marshmallow. The marshmallow must be on top and cannot be deformed to hold it in place. The structure has to stand firmly on its own; it cannot be propped up, held, or suspended from the ceiling.
Here’s how teams completed their projects:
Key Word: Global Warming
Truth Narrative: Global Warming is happening.
Fallacy Narrative: Global Warming is a natural phenomenon.
The Marshmallow Structure: Build as a reclining cone which represents the unbalanced nature of human activity which in turn inevitably leads to the breakup of the global ecosystem. [Project Update: as it was pre-programmed, the team’s structure has ‘successfully’ collapsed presumably due to human action. No casualties were reported].
Team: The Rectangle
Key Word: Death Penalty
Truth Narrative: Death Penalty violates the fundamental human right
Fallacy Narrative: Death Penalty decreases crime rate
The Marshmallow Structure: Replicates the Eiffel Tower as a symbol of freedom with a marshmallow sitting on top which represents an act of execution of a convicted criminal.
Remarks: The Rectangles Team managed to create the tallest structure with a 2.35 quarter-long spaghetti (measured in The Shawn’s Scale), that’s 62 cm or 24.4094 inches.
Key Word: Collective Farming
Ideology: Marxist Socialism
Truth Narrative: Fair and equal distribution of goods and services
Fallacy Narrative: Lacking sense of ownership and growth incentives
The Marshmallow Structure: Spaghettis tied up with a rope at the bottom symbolize the restrictive nature of socialist economic model with ‘an authoritarian marshmallow’ sitting on top and creating the unbalance in society.
Team: The Last Minute
Key Word: State
Truth Narrative: The Policeman texted his superiors – “The Country is secure, their messages were intercepted and the terrorists were stopped”
Fallacy Narrative: The Policeman texted his superiors – “The Country is secure, their messages were intercepted and the protesters were stopped”
The Marshmallow Structure: A solid and free-standing structure representing the powers of a traditional authority.
Team: The Holy State of JAASOD
Key Word: Authority
Truth Narrative: Playing by the rules, preserving the tradition and culture is right.
Fallacy Narrative: Innovation, merging of new ideas is right.
The Marshmallow Structure: The Structure stands firmly on the symbol of the Holy State of JAASOD [remarks: team’s flag] signifies the solid foundations of traditional authority upon which the interaction between new ideas and old values takes place while the rope unevenly tied around spaghettis represents the inevitability of history’s ‘turns and twists’ that made the present reality what it is.
Team: The A-CLASS
Key Word: Democracy
Truth Narrative: Democracy is the right way of governing in a modern country.
Fallacy Narrative: Democracy can also exist in an illiberal country.
The Marshmallow Structure: Replicates the A-Letter which reflects the team’s spirit and values. In a broad sense, the structure is based on the assumption that people do know what they want and they make choices based on a complete knowledge of the matter, which may also turn out to be inaccurate. In addition, people’s choices are affected by many factors, such as propaganda and conflicting interests (e.g. the Brexit issue, US President D. Trump’s election campaign, etc.)
Key Word: Climate Change
Truth Narrative: Humans have been destroying the ecosystem, by releasing CO2, greenhouse gases, destroying the ozone layer, thus changing the climate.
Fallacy Narrative: What if it is just the cycle of Earth, we are currently living in just a period of time, just like a dinosaur that had gone extinct naturally because of a comet or volcanic eruption. What if we are confusing climate change with natural fluctuations of temperature?
The Marshmallow Structure: Represents the fragility of the global climate. Attached rope when pulled too hard can potentially crash the structure.
Story and Images by: Murad Ismailov