Module Ten, Activity One

What's in a Word (Or Concept)?

What's in a name, or a word, or a concept? Every day in school you come into contact with words and ideas that may be new to you or that you don't use during your normal conversations with friends and family. However, many of these words and concepts are important in helping us understand the world in which we live. Each subject-or discipline- like science, history, mathematics, English, or the social studies, has words and concepts that help us understand the material that we study in that subject.

This is certainly true for the study of politics and government. As you will learn in this module, there are both similarities and differences in the ways politics and governments are practiced in the many countries of Africa and in the United States. However, there are terms and concepts that help us learn about politics and governments no matter where in the world we focus our study.

In this first learning activity, you will have the opportunity to review some terms and phrases that you may already know; however, some of the terms and phrases may be new to you. An understanding of these terms will help you in learning about politics and governments in Africa.

Some of the terms that we will review have a commonly agreed upon definition. However, some of the terms do not have an agreed upon definition. Individuals may differ in how they interpret these terms, or just as importantly, how these concepts are demonstrated in politics and government. In these cases, you will not be expected to give the "correct" definition. You will be asked to give your perspective and to recognize that there are other definitions or understandings of the same term.

The concept of democracy is an example of a word that has multiple understandings and possible ways of being demonstrated. You have learned that democracy is government of the people, for the people, by the people. This basic definition is probably accepted around the world. However, there are many governments in Africa and other parts of the world that claim to democratic, but whose political system and practices are considerably different from that with which citizens of the United States are familiar.

Your teacher will reproduce and distribute to each student the following table. In the left-hand column are a number of political terms, most of which you should be familiar with. In the middle column, you should write a definition of the term that reflects your perspective. In the right hand column, you should write an alternative perspective or definition. In the case of some terms, you may not be able to come up with an alternative definition. In such cases, just leave the space blank.

You are encouraged to use both computer and library resources to assist you in completing this project. Your school library should have a Political Dictionary or Dictionary of Political Terms. If at all possible you should access a web-based political dictionary.

You can find political dictionaries by doing a simple web search.

Table One: Political Terms

Table 1 political terms

Go on to Activity Two or go to one of the other activities in this module