People

Simply "Power"

Dr Sean STARRS is an expert in the field of political science. His idea of incorporating power equality into classrooms has also demonstrated his excellence in teaching.

"Real democracy is not just about elections every four years. We have to think of democracy in all aspects of our lives, including in the classroom," says Dr Sean STARRS.

Sean Starrs as The Product of Globalisation

Dr Sean Kenji STARRS is currently Assistant Professor in the Asian and International Studies Department (AIS) at City University of Hong Kong. He is also a Research Affiliate of the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), under the supervision of his role model, Noam Chomsky (the eighth most cited social science thinker in history).

Recently, he has obtained the 2015 - 2019 Hong Kong Research Council's Early Career Scholar (ECS) Grant ( HKD998k - the largest in CityU's College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences ) for "Does Corporate Nationality Still Matter in the Era of Globalization? Investigating Ownership and Power in the Twenty-First Century". Dr Sean Starrs' research proposal was described as "theoretically original and sophisticated yet also practical in terms of the potential applications of the knowledge produced", according to the ECS grant review.

Dr Starrs was born in Vancouver, Canada. He grew up and and has lived in New York, Denmark, Japan, and New Zealand. This multicultural upbringing has instilled in him a multi-perspectival worldview — never taking one opinion or ideology for granted, especially the current winds of conventional wisdom.

At the core of his research interest, he reconceptualises the idea of national power and tries to understand power in the human condition. Who owns it, where is national ownership concentrated, why, and how do we restructure it?

In his ECS grant, he plans to investigate that while American corporations are still dominant especially at the technological frontier, should these corporations be considered American if they operate around the world?

"In other words," Dr Starrs questioned, "does the nationality of capital still matter? Is Apple Inc. still American, is British Petroleum still British, is Hutchison Whampoa still Hongkonger? We are often told that since the big corporations are globally footloose, we should not scare them away with too many regulations or their workers should not have too high wages. But if the world's top corporations are still nationally bounded and dependent on their home market, then this means that we can have the power to change them for the better."

Opening Students' Eyes with Weekly Think-pieces and Travel Experiences

Dr Starrs this year instructs "AIS2200 Introduction to International Studies Through Film". From course designation to implementation, he intends to engage with abstract themes in International Studies through the use of film and instil within students the habit of critical thinking in their daily lives.

His course was a huge success. There is a total of 140 successful enrolments this year with 30 waitlisted enrolments, compared to 70 last year and foreseeing 180 next semester.

Given the high popularity of his course, he smiled modestly and said, "Well, students are actually very interested in learning more about the world. Sometimes they even bring their friends to come listen to my lectures despite sitting on the floor." Dr Starrs encourages students to speak up and form their own opinions in his lectures. Through the use of weekly think-pieces, online discussion, and film critiques, students will be challenged to question the conventional wisdom and demonstrate compassion for society.

Subverting the Power Hierarchy: Professors and Students as Being Equal

Many students at CityU find Dr Starrs a very presentable and down-to-earth professor. Students are laughing and creating a good atmosphere in class. This is no accident, as Dr Starrs explains how it correlates to the way he presents himself. He believes that maintaining a rigid hierarchy between him and his students is not conducive for students to learn effectively as they must challenge him to learn critical thinking. "I try to deflate my ego and get students feel comfortable in front of me. I wear colourful shirts and use ridiculous gestures in class. I always think about how to present myself so as to create a less hierarchical atmosphere," he said. "I hate my students calling me Dr Starrs. I make them call me Sean," he said.

Rooted Passion in Teaching and Research Projects

Dr Starrs is very passionate about his teaching at CityU. "Being a professor is my dream job! I get paid for exactly what I love to do. It's fun, I learn; students learn. It's unbelievable!" he said with excitement. He sees both teaching and conducting academic research as his ultimate career goals and right now he genuinely loves his teaching at CityU.

His upcoming research interest will be comparing the rise of Japan and the rise of China. Last but not least, he hopes that his expertise in international relations, particularly his understanding of the ownership of corporate power could help change the world and overcome some of the major world issues like poverty and the environment.