Introduction to Politics
Politics 100 Abbas
This course explores the concept, domain, and discipline of politics. We engage with various attempts to define and determine the nature, form, content, and extent of “the political.” In doing so, we try to access the tense and conflicting sources of our own current understandings of politics, its subjects, and its objects. Working with and through texts over the course of the semester, we come up with our own speculations about what constitutes the political; when, where, and how politics happens; what it means to think, ask, and act politically; and what being a student of politics may entail. This introductory course errs more on the side of questions rather than answers, even if only to show that studying and thinking politics requires an ability to submit to the fullness of a situation, to ask good questions, and to be patient and humble in the absence of clear-cut answers. In this way, we equip ourselves with some of the conceptual, experiential, and analytical tools to be put to use in our subsequent engagements with the study, activity, and experience of politics. No prerequisites.
This course is generally offered once a year.
Seminar in Global Politics
Politics 210/310 Abbas
This course approaches global politics through some fundamental questions pertaining to our everyday lives as citizens of this world, such as power, inequality, boundaries, justice, war, immigration, terrorism, among others. In order to confront current problems, the course maintains, we must, assess, improve, and rebuild the edifices and the scaffoldings of both our thought and action. Our manner of approach is inseparable from the nature and demands of objects we encounter, so our relations to them are essential as we decide how to play a role in the world. For one, the frame of global politics interrogates and challenges the ostensibly outmoded demarcations of conventional subfields of comparative politics, international relations, and political theory. In order to do so, the course intersperses (1) an introduction to key terms and approaches, (2) a range of critical interdisciplinary approaches and perspectives on power, politics, sovereignty, and life itself, and (3) case studies on some central political problems in the contemporary world. The contemporary illustrative problems to which we will direct our attention as we address the more lasting questions are drawn from current discourse. Prerequisites: To take the course at the 200-level, there are no prerequisites. The 300-level requires Politics 100 or any other 200-level course in social studies, or permission of the instructor.
The course will be taught every two or three years. Last taught S11.
Colonial Loves: Cultural Politics, Colonialism, and After
Politics 215 CP Abbas
This course broaches cinema in British India as an industry whose political history under and beyond colonialism can be traced through an analysis that draws upon critical theory, postcolonial studies, and cultural studies. The questions of production, distribution, consumption, and labor, among others, within this peculiar mode of the culture industry will start us off. The course will converge from various directions on the organic and inorganic relations between love, affect, and colonial power within the experiences of coloniality, postcoloniality, neocoloniality, and globalization—both within and outside the geographical confines of South Asia—as illuminating not only the colonization of a lifeworld, but also exposing colonization as a lifeworld. We explore how time, and not merely space, is present and functional in cinematic landscapes—timescapes—and what this can tell us about dominant narratives of liberation, partition, development, growth, violence, memory, forgetting, loving, losing, being, becoming, etc., which are thus produced in the South Asian subcontinent. The hope is to neither simply use colonial relations to read cinema, nor to only use cinema as a lens into the various scapes of colonial and postcolonial existence, but to see both these moments as continuous and necessary. We begin with historical accounts of the arrival of cinema in the subcontinent in the early 20th century against the backdrop of other artistic, cultural, economic, and political negotiations underway at that time. We then trace these dynamics over the past century of cinema in India by surveying films produced in “Bollywood” that evidence a variety of themes of class, religion, language, sexuality, gender, caste, race, etc., as they represent and refigure love, romance, and desire—and the subjects and objects of these—in the colonized lifeworld. To these films will be appended short readings. Students write short essays on assigned films and readings, and work in small groups to research the cinema and media industries of other Third World, postcolonial, and post-imperial countries. No prerequisites.
This course is generally offered once every three or four years. Last taught F07.
Modern Political Ideologies
Politics 225 Abbas
This course is a survey of modern and contemporary political ideologies and worldviews. It begins with an exploration of the term “ideology” and its importance to the study and practice of politics. How are ideas composed to form ideologies that in turn structure the world for us? Are ideologies only a modern phenomenon? We see how the key concepts of politics—for instance, freedom, equality, justice, democracy, power, citizen—are framed within each ideology we encounter, en route to figuring out how each ideology then shapes the very domain of politics, and prescribes for us the meaning of our lives, our contentions and contestations, and our basic human and political struggles. The course also hopes to make us more attentive in our use of words, labels, and categories in politics; to see the nuances within the terms we employ in our everyday lives, appreciating their many interpretations and histories; and to rise to the challenge and the responsibility that comes with this appreciation. No prerequisites.
This course is generally offered once a year.
American Idol: Experiments in American Political Thought
Politics 226 Abbas
This course is a historical survey of American political thought from the founding to the present. Modeled on the notorious TV show, this course stages a contest for the title of American Idol among a wide array of figures, ranging from the Puritans to Tony Kushner, and from Horatio Alger to Malcolm X, who have made the cut to the course to compete for the title. Together we will examine questions like: What is “American” about American political thought? How has this identity come to be and what has it represented over the course of its evolution? How have different thinkers envisioned and critiqued the shape of the American state and culture? What makes democracy American and America democratic? What are the peculiar ways in which time and space interact to yield the concepts we call America and the American dream? What negotiation with history does the American celebration of newness, possibility, hope, and amnesia entail? We discuss a variety of works, in forms ranging from political treatises, journalism, philosophical writing, speeches, essays, autobiographies, fiction, poems, Supreme Court decisions, music, plays, and films. This plurality of forms—not to mention the course title’s unabashed debt to features of American popular culture—forces us to center on the relation between various forms of media and political consciousness at individual and collective levels. Through the course, we familiarize ourselves with the ideas of some key figures in the history of American political thought, practice theoretical and critical engagement with them and the problems they are addressing, learn some skills of democratic citizenship, explore our own views and political identity, and elect an American Idol for ourselves! No prerequisites.
This course is generally offered once every three or four years. Last taught S10.
The Feminine and the Political, or, How I Learnt to Stop Worrying and Love the Man
Politics 316 CP Abbas
The course approaches the politics of marginal subjects through the women thinkers, writers, characters, and artists who confront the logics of colonialism, capitalism, racism, fascism, and patriarchy by thwarting the voices, fates, destinies, narratives—and loves—conferred to them by oppressive and liberatory discourses. A key goal is to show that considering political experience and judgment cannot merely involve aggregating different perspectives from discrete lenses of race, class and gender; the substance common to these subjections needs to be addressed. Speech, disorder, pathology, trauma, romance, desire, repulsion, faith, et al., become central to the critiques and rearticulations of society and politics—indeed, of being—that emerge from the likes of Ingeborg Bachmann, Simone Weil, Helene Cixous, Assia Djebar, Arundhati Roy, among others. We will work to create a space of close reading and intimate intellectual consideration. The “woman” will not be presumed to be an already known or knowable “object” of political work prior to following these texts into the lifeworlds of capitalism, colonialism, liberalism, and imperialism inscribed on all our bodies and subjectivities—some more than others, to be sure—and into the politics they ask of us. Prerequisite: Permission of instructor.
Last taught S10.
Critical Legal Studies: The First Amendment
Politics 318 Resnik
An advanced seminar examining the first amendment rights of speech, press, religion, and assembly, this course assumes some knowledge of judicial process and the U.S. political system. Theory and history are explored through close analysis of landmark court cases in particular areas. The course argues for a pedagogy that will bring to life the principles of democratic process and their utility and vitality in promoting diversity, dignity, and debate in contemporary life. Prerequisite: Politics 100, 101, 214, 217, or Social Science 214.
This course is generally offered once every three or four years. Last taught F08.
Politics by Other Means I: Social Movements and Political Action
Politics 325 Abbas
The course explores the ways in which human beings create politics through collective action, ordinary and heroic, which finds its logics outside of given institutions, beyond realpolitik as we know it. By looking at social movements across the globe, and sporting different ideological, moral and pragmatic frames, the course aspires to an alternate formulation of “real” politics, what it can and does mean, where it happens and who participates in it. The course has two broad components. The first involves a review of the literature on political and social movements, and addresses questions such as: When and why do movements occur? Who joins or supports movements? Who remains and who drops out? What is the role of emotions and ideas in movements? How are movements organized? What do movements do? What are movements seeking to move? How are contemporary movements different from older ones? How do movements change, grow, and decline? What do they accomplish? A number of historical cases from all over the world are studied in order to address these questions. The second component, titled the Social Action Workshop, is a more service learning aspect of the course. Students, in groups, map a specified region of Berkshire County for the social and political action groups that exist here. They construct an inventory of these spaces and apply the questions we broach in the classroom to a movement or group of their choice. Prerequisite: Any 200-level course in social studies.
This course is generally offered once every three or four years. Last taught F09.
Politics by Other Means II: Citizens, Soldiers, Revolutionaries
Politics 326 Abbas
The poet Stephen Dunn wrote, “one man’s holiness, another’s absurdity.” War, democracy, and revolution, though distinct concepts, have interesting continuities, not least of which can be found in the human beings who are at once subjects and objects of these experiences: Citizens, soldiers, revolutionaries, and permutations thereof. These words can connote either discrete events with lessons to be learnt, or realities that never seem to have either beginnings or ends, depending on where we find ourselves on the terrain of class, race, gender, nationality, power, ideology, and various other inexorable accidents of time and space. This course continues the inquiry, into the ways in which human beings create politics, which was begun in Politics by Other Means I: Social Movements and Collective Action. It seeks to explore the materialities of the wars we fight by placing the strategic and empirical realities of wars in a framework of the calls of duty, obligation, love, and death, to which we respond. What is the relation between war and politics, and how has it changed over time? What and who makes a war a war? What can a state demand of whom, and why? How are these demands made and received? Is what is worth living for also worth dying for—also worth killing for? Is it even possible to be a subject of something without being subject to something? Readings drawn from political science, history, philosophy, literature, and popular media will take us through various questions into the relation between war, democracy, and revolution, and in what ways the subjectivities of citizen, soldier, revolutionary, rebel, terrorist, and freedom-fighter have come to be over history and across the globe. Prerequisite: Any 200-level course in social studies.
This course is generally offered once every three or four years. Last taught S08.
Hope Against Hope: Marx After Marx
Politics 327 Abbas
This course is devoted to close readings of Karl Marx and two “Marxists,” Georg Lukacs and Walter Benjamin. Stepping away from neat mechanistic readings of Marx, this course engages with the messy nature and substance of possibility and hope in Marxist thought. Appreciating the intriguing relation of Marx to modernity and modernism, the course delves into what it might have meant for Marx to subvert dominant philosophers for whom matter had no weight, to unsettle modernity’s conceits of progress and happiness, and to then postulate revolution, Communism, and hope on the basis—and not to the exclusion—of very heavy, often very wounded, human bodies. Marx stands as a significant diagnostician of alienation and the decrepitude of a world whose ethical, political, material, and spiritual reality tends to slip through the fingers of precisely those hands that create it. Marxist thinkers such as Georg Lukacs and Walter Benjamin worked on the costs and conditions of possibility, enchantment, and hope within capitalism, rethinking categories of dialectics, relation, history, culture, class, art, faith, experience, matter, spirit, time, and space to lend Marx currency in times that had far from borne out his hope. The course will also bring in other Marxist political thinkers such as Theodor Adorno, Ernst Bloch, Bertolt Brecht, Lucien Goldmann, Rosa Luxembourg, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Slavoj Zizek as needed. Prerequisites: Sophomore Seminar, Politics 100, 213, or 225.
This course is generally offered once every three or four years. Last taught S12.
The Democratic Imagination
Politics 328 Abbas
This seminar will survey some of the major currents and problems in the history of modern democratic thought. Is democracy an ideal, an ethos, a system? A judgment, a tool, or a mechanism—and what determines this? We will address how democracy and its supposed associates, such as freedom, equality, justice, and self-government, are shaped in relation to each other in various historical and geographic contexts, and how these appear in different models of democracy. We will also look at the relation of democratic thought to notions of “the people,” publics, deliberation, representation, revolution, sovereignty, authority, legitimacy, etc., and at how everyday framings of our relation to the state and society emerge. While the course will begin with classical texts on the theory and practice of democracy, works in contemporary democratic theory—such as those that deal with deliberative, radical, liberal, and agonistic conceptions of democracy—will help place longstanding debates in a current context and help us ask and answer important questions about the possibilities and promises of a real democracy. We will also consider how democracy has responded to endemic exclusions over its history and how we judge democracies today. Historical analysis of some major events in the history of democratic practice will mediate this inquiry and we will see how the big shifts in the democratic imagination are so keenly reflective of what people have pushed democracy to do, and how these imaginings most organically straddle the supposedly separate realms of theory and practice! In this regard, the relation between democracy and civil society in a global context will also be addressed. Readings will draw on thinkers including, but not limited to, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Condorcet, Schumpeter, M.I. Finley, Gordon Wood, David Held, Seyla Benhabib, Jurgen Habermas, Carole Pateman, Iris Young, Sheldon Wolin, Claude Lefort, Carl Schmitt, Ernesto Laclau, and Chantal Mouffe. Prerequisite: Politics 100, any 200-level course in social studies, or permission of the instructor.
This course is generally offered once every three or four years. Last taught S09.
Rousseau and Friends: Politics vs. Antipolitics in Modernity
Politics 330 Abbas
This course involves close readings of the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau as an exemplary purveyor of a form of political philosophy that makes a turn to the common, the ordinary, the spontaneous, the accidental, the necessary, the bound, the free, the imaginary, the imaginable, the whimsical, the paranoid, the sentimental, the beloved, and the unlovable in us, and tries to conserve a notion of politics as a vital and human in response to forces of antipolitics. In doing so, he certainly inherits a struggle that dates back to the earliest known Western political philosophy, but the mode in which he encounters and embodies this struggle contains clues to forces and dynamics beyond him as he becomes a veritable symptom—as both captive and critic—of modernity. Rousseau’s life and his relations to others and to a society coming to understand itself as modern are a significant part of the picture, thus there is no way to fully appreciate him without attending to the circumstances and the incorporations that made him possible. We will give explicit attention to the predecessors, contemporaries, and successors of Rousseau. He invites, even necessitates, a close analysis of the full scope of the modern and its politics by appreciating and assessing the trends that he instantiates, institutes, and reacts to. Issues ranging from morality, religion, the human, language, self, identity, narrative, performance, science, and aesthetics, to the promise of freedom, community, transformation, and revolution become etched within a philosophy that heralds the political and the social as its only worthy site and destiny. Apart from Rousseau’s own key writings, his correspondence with others will also be part of the course. There will be selected secondary literature paired with readings for every week to bring out the full impact of the time period and the force of the political and philosophical debates. Prerequisites: Sophomore Seminar, as well as Politics 100 or a 200-level course in social studies or literature.
The course is generally offered once every three or four years. Last taught S11.
Politics 300/400 Abbas
Under these course numbers, juniors and seniors design tutorials to meet their particular interests and programmatic needs. A student should see the prospective tutor to define an area of mutual interest to pursue either individually or in a small group. A student may register for no more than one tutorial in any semester. Prerequisite: Sophomore Seminar or permission of the instructor.