PSCI/WGSS 236: Sex, Gender and Political Theory
Last offered: Spring 2015

This course offers a feminist reading of some of the most important concepts and theoretical concerns in the study of politics: freedom, justice, equality, obligation, alienation and objectification.  Each of these terms will be evaluated from the perspective of its potential to address social inequities of sex, gender, race and class.  Is welfare a problem for freedom theory?  In what way might a pregnancy be experienced as a form of alienation, and how does this pose a challenge for theories of justice?  Is it possible to treat another person as equal and at the same time an object of one’s sexual desire?  We will identify the analytical tools and strategies that feminist theorists have employed in order to bring these and other concerns into political theory scholarship, reconstructing traditional ideas of politics and public life in the process.  Theorists whose work we will read include Susan Moller Okin, Nancy Hirschmann, Martha Nussbaum, Iris Marion Young, Drucilla Cornell, Gayatri Spivak, Dorothy Roberts, Judith Butler, Linda Zerilli and Catherine Mackinnon.

This course differs from a more general survey of feminist theory in that “political theory” itself--as a discipline, a vocation, a practice, a conversation, or a tradition—takes center stage as a body of knowledge whose character and concerns we shall inquire into.  As such, the problem of the possibility of feminist political thought in the Western tradition and the subject position of the feminist who self-consciously presents as a participant in that conversation will be the point of departure for our inquiry.  The topics discussed extend as far back as Ancient Greece, but the readings are selected to give you an overview of key debates in feminist political theory in the United States from the 1960s to the present.  The influence of European (French) feminism and  postcolonial theory on U.S. feminist thought will also be explored. 

PSCI 330: Existentialism and Politics
Last offered: Spring 2013

If the classical imperative was to “know thyself,” then the modern one is simply to “be yourself.” The call to authenticity can be heard not only in popular culture, but also in many of the new social movements such as feminism, ethnic consciousness movements, and anti-colonial movements. Is there an essential way of being that underpins distinct ethnic, national, or gender identities? And what exactly constitutes this “self” that one is asked, quite simply, to be? Course readings critically examine the idea of authenticity, casting it in light of philosophical debates on existence, the nature of being, the idea of the self, and the role of individual experience in generating identities and subjectivities. We will begin with Kierkegaard’s account of the singularity of one’s own existence and the dimensions of individuality that cannot be captured by traditional ethics and philosophical categories. We will then move on to discuss other conceptions of being-with-oneself and with others, reading such thinkers as Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi and Simone de Beauvoir. These thinkers prompt us to think not only about our existence, but also about the political, social, and economic relations that condition our being and becoming.

Key texts:
 Soren Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death
Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex
Albert Camus, Caligula and Three Other Plays
Frantz Fanon, Black Skin White Masks
Martin Heidegger, Being and Time
Walter Kaufmann (ed.), Basic Writings of Nietzsche
Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized

PSCI 333: The Sublime in Politics and Political Thought
Last offered: Fall 2014

This course examines discourses on terror, wonder and awe from the Enlightenment to the present, using the idea of the sublime to rethink important events like the French Revolution and the recent War on Terror. The sublime has meant different things to a great number of thinkers in the Western philosophical tradition, going back to a treatise attributed to Longinus, a 1st century Greek rhetoretician. Longinus was concerned with the power of great poets to “elevate” their audiences, transporting them beyond the limits of their comprehension through mixtures of terror, wonder and awe. How did this old text focusing on experiences beyond the rational come to hold such fascination for philosophers and political thinkers during the Age of Enlightenment? What is the relationship between current events in politics and public culture and the recent revival of scholarly interest in the sublime? Beyond revolution and war, course readings will explore the limits of human comprehension and apprehension in environmental politics, debates over fetal rights, and the fear of confronting people different from ourselves. Though we will regularly take up examples drawn from the worlds of art, literature, politics, and the mass media, our central focus will be on the careful reading of philosophical and critical texts, including Kant’s Critique of Judgment and writings from among the following authors: Edmund Burke, Friedrich Schiller, G.F.W. Hegel, Slavoj Zizek, Hannah Arendt, Bonnie Mann, Christine Battersby, and Jean-François Lyotard.

PSCI 334: Theorizing Global Justice
Last offered: Spring 2020

While economic exchanges, cultural convergence, and technological innovations have brought people in different parts of the world closer together than ever before, globalization has also amplified differences in material wealth and social inequalities. Ill health, inadequate sanitation, and lack of access to safe drinking water are increasingly common. Yet, more than ever before, the means exist in affluent regions of the world to alleviate the worst forms of suffering and enhance the well-being of the poorest people. How are we to understand this contradiction as a matter of justice? What is the relationship between justice and equality, and what do we owe one another in a deeply divided world? Course readings will engage your thinking on the central debates in moral philosophy, normative approaches to international political economy, and grassroots efforts to secure justice for women and other severely disadvantaged groups. Key theorists include Amartya Sen, Martha Nussbaum, John Rawls, Thomas Pogge, Nancy Fraser, Paul Farmer, Vandana Shiva, Majid Rahnema, and Enrique Dussel.

PSCI 359 (Tutorial): The Body as Property
Last offered: Spring 2019

From an ethical standpoint, human bodies are fundamentally different from objects that can be owned, acquired, and exchanged. Yet history furnishes us with countless examples of laws, administrative rules, and social conventions that treat the human body as a form of property. The institution of slavery is a particularly egregious example. But there are other examples of treating the body as property that seem more ambiguous, or even benign: the employment contract in which bodily services are offered in exchange for payment; the feminist slogan “my body, my choice”; or even the every-day transfer of bodily properties into creative projects that then become part of the things people own — chairs, tables, houses, music, art, and intellectual property. If it is not itself a form of property, how can we explain the use of the human body to acquire possessions, create wealth, and mediate the exchange of other kinds of property? These and other tensions between the concept of property and that of humanity will be the focus of this course. How is property defined, and how far should law go to erode or reinforce distinctions between property and humanity? Course readings focus on Locke, Hegel, Marx, and critical perspectives from feminist theory, critical theory, and critical legal studies (Cheryl Harris, Alexander Kluge, Oskar Negt, Carole Pateman, Rosalind Petchesky, and Dorothy Roberts, among others).