Politics

Meg Mott
Lynette Rummel

Politics looks at how power operates in the world. Whether we’re looking at politics in Africa or theoretical justifications for violence, political scientists are attuned to the role power plays in human activities. Classes in political science focus on such questions as: What is power? Who has power? How did they get it? What are they doing with it? The manner in which we investigate those questions can be as concrete as public policy and as complex as post-structural thought.

Politics enhances one’s ability to read critically, to develop coherent arguments, to consider multiple perspectives and to be attuned to the complexities of the world we live in. Studying political science provides the necessary confidence to engage in current political controversies.

Students working in politics develop a nuanced understanding of informal and formal structures of power and a heightened sense of their capacity to act as political subjects in an increasingly complex world.

Meg Mott

I’m interested in how systems of thought play out in people’s decision-making. I did my dissertation on the Spanish Inquisition, looking through archival sources to see how natural law and nominalism influenced the inquisitors. What interests me most about theory is what it looks like in action. I don’t read these dense books in order to ace some multiple-choice exam but in order to see how their systems of logics influence our actions.

Lynette Rummel

Within politics, my own training has been in international, comparative and area studies. In general terms, my research interests pivot around the questions of global inequality in the world, both economic and political, and for the most part are regionally grounded in Africa and the Middle East. While my own background grows out of a commitment to empirical and site-based fieldwork, I continue to encourage broader theoretical rigor and sophistication. But at the bottom line, I hope to be helping each and every student that comes my way to not only better understand the world in which they live, but to help them think about what they might be able to do to make a difference in that world as they go forward.

Areas of Interest for Plan-level Work:

  • International relations
  • Political theory
  • Comparative politics
  • Area studies (such as Latin American studies, African studies or Middle Eastern studies)
  • Women and gender studies
  • Constitutional and international law
  • Critical theories (such as feminist theory, post-colonial theory and critical race theory)
  • Political ecology
  • Anarchist studies
  • International political economy
  • Third World development

Starting Points (Basic and Introductory Courses)

COMPARATIVE POLITICS: DEBATING DEMOCRACY (SSC338)
This course will offer a basic introduction to comparative government. Democracy will serve as the organizing theme of our investigations, and various case studies, including the American political system, will be considered in some depth. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

INTRODUCTION TO POLITICAL THEORY (HUM1107)
This class considers how politics has been discussed within the Western tradition. Although the primary readings cover more than 2,500 years of political writings, the themes are surprisingly few. In each era, political writers struggled to answer the problem of how best to grant power over people and how to enhance citizenship within that power structure. Along with primary readings, we will examine two cases that illuminate the role of political thinking in contemporary struggles to end poverty and racism. The first case promotes a radical humanist pedagogy, known as the Clemente series. The second case considers the Black Panthers’ efforts to dismantle America. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

A MAGHREBIAN MOSAIC: POLITICS IN NORTH AFRICA (SSC388)
The Maghreb provides a particularly suitable frame for the consideration of comparative politics as a sub-field in the discipline of political science. United as a region in so many respects, yet internally and cross-nationally unique and separate, the countries of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria will be examined in their historical context yet with an eye to their global political relevance today. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

EMERSON, PRAGMATISM AND DEMOCRACY (CDS539)
This class considers democratic practices through the writings of one man, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and through the essays of one philosophical movement, pragmatism. In the past few years, there has been a surge of activity as scholars try to decide what is pragmatism and who is a pragmatist. This class is less concerned with definitions and labels and much more interested in what pragmatism can tell us about the nature of American democracy. Prerequisite: Permission of instructor     Introductory | Credits: 4

DEBATING THE GOOD (HUM1415)
Training in debate, an important component of education in many traditions, develops skills in critical thinking, public speaking and the careful construction and assessment of arguments. Debate cultivates the kind of flexibility of thought that enables the sympathetic understanding of opposing perspectives while also helping to clarify one’s own moral and intellectual views. It is also fun. Students in this course will learn debate skills; the majority of the class time will be devoted to actual debates. Prerequisite: Permission of the instructors     Introductory | Credits: 2

ANCIENT POLITICAL THOUGHT (HUM1337)
Why read Plato and Aristotle? Because every philosophical footnote goes back to Plato. Because Aristotle’s four causes continue to inform continental and Islamic thinking. Because the politics each one envisions provides the intellectual basis for everything from neo-con imperialism to critical pedagogy. This class will move slowly through Aristotle’s and Plato’s political writings using criticism by Martha Nussbaum and Jill Frank to bring these ancient writers into our lived reality. Prerequisite: Permission of instructor     Introductory | Credits: 4

ANGLO-AMERICAN POLITICAL IMAGINATION (CDS530)
“Americans come to political thought,” suggest Isaac Kramnick and Theodore Lowi, “because ideas have consequences.” Unlike Europeans, who valued systematic thinking and the use of abstractions and formalisms, Americans have operated under the assumption that wisdom comes from experience. This class considers the various ideas of American political thinkers, from the Puritans to the postmoderns, along with their consequences. Along with primary readings, we’ll also look at how one community in Roxbury, Massachusetts, used their experience during Boston’s urban renewal to resist elite interests and become political actors. Prerequisite: Permission of instructor     Introductory | Credits: 4

LATIN AMERICAN POLITICAL IMAGINATION (CDS526)
When the southern Europeans sailed west they brought with them an understanding of politics informed by counter-Reformation concerns and natural law reasoning. Instead of valuing individual and property rights, as did their Protestant counterparts to the north, these Catholic conquistadors and missionaries developed a theory of politics that found justice in nature and human flourishing in hierarchy. We’ll look at the writings of Francisco de Vitoria, Jose Marti, Jose Enrique Rodo, Simon Bolivar, Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz and Paolo Friere to begin to make sense of how Latin Americans imagine their political communities. Along with these theoretical writings, we’ll consider a case study on the violence of everyday life in Brazil. Prerequisite: Permission of instructor     Introductory | Credits: 4

POLITICAL THEORY AND THE ECOLOGICAL CRISIS (SSC539)
Political theorists often write in times of crisis. When states are at war, when corruption rules supreme, political theorists step back and write down their thoughts. How can we live together? How should we organize our needs? What responsibility do we have to others? From Plato to Foucault, political theorists have wondered how we might better govern ourselves. This class considers the writings of prominent political theorists in the context of our current ecological crisis. The end of cheap oil will require new mechanisms for generating wealth and new arrangements for taking care of our basic needs. But it won’t necessarily require new concepts. The goals for the class are two-fold: one will be to gain familiarity with classic texts in political theory; the other will be to apply those ideas to our current ecological crisis.   Introductory | Credits: 4

Pursuing Interests (Intermediate and Thematic Courses)

AFRICAN-AMERICAN POLITICAL THOUGHT (SSC540)
Since the beginning of this country, African-American thinkers have pondered how a constitutionally-based democracy justifies race-based discrimination. We’ll use the writings of W. E. DuBois, Patricia Williams, Audre Lorde and Cornel West to think through various strategies to deal with systemic violence perpetrated against people with darker skins.     Intermediate | Credits: 4

INTERNATIONAL LAW & ORGANIZATION (SSC224)
The purpose of this course is to introduce students to some of the most basic issues and ideas in the sub-field of international law & organization. Student research projects/papers will serve as the backbone of the class, as specific laws and organizations will be considered in light of their relevance to the particular problems and questions chosen for individual, in depth study. Prerequisite: Background in social science/political science     Intermediate | Credits: 4

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS THEORY (SSC217)
This course will attempt to examine the major contending theories in the field of international relations today. The philosophical origins and traditions of contemporary realist, pluralist and globalist approaches will be considered, as will be their more current formulations and contributions. Prerequisite: Social sciences background or permission of instructor     Intermediate | Credits: 4

EARLY MODERN POLITICAL THOUGHT (SSC367)
The early modern era was a time of great change. The Enlightenment values of reason and individualism were gaining legitimacy. This shift had enormous political consequences, making it possible for the emergence of a state legitimated not by divine will or dynastic habits but by consent of the governed. Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Victoria and Spinoza were all influential political writers without political influence. This class looks at how two teachers, two exiles and an ex-communicant changed the way we think about political reasoning and social relationships. Along with studying their ideas we’ll look at how each one of them spoke to the power from a position of powerlessness, bringing the West into the modern era of politics with their words. Prerequisite: Previous course work in political theory or philosophy     Intermediate | Credits: 4

FEMINIST POLITICAL & SOCIAL THOUGHT (CDS531)
How do women talk about their lives, their social situation, their political condition? This class looks at the writings of theorists and essayists who use words to make sense of women’s place in the house, the community, the law. Prerequisite: Previous work in philosophy or political theory     Intermediate |
Credits: 4

SPINOZA & FREEDOM (CDS565)
Branded a heretic by the Amsterdam Jewish community and a prophet by postmodern Marxists, Spinoza is not your ordinary political thinker. Reading Spinoza is like putting your mind under a microscope. Who knew we could use geometrical reasoning to explain the trials and tribulations of the human mind? Much of his treatment of the affects has since been confirmed by recent imaging work in neuroscience. Many of his ideas about freedom and democracy are being put to use in the current anti-globalization movement. Spinoza may have written in the early modern era but his ideas continue to incite and inspire. This class will look closely at Spinoza’s Ethics and the Theological-Political Treatise. We will also use secondary sources (by Gilles Deleuze, Antonio Damasio and Annie Dillard) to help us make sense of these dense and wondrous works. Prerequisite: Background in political theory or philosophy     Intermediate | Credits: 4

THEORIES OF DEVELOPMENT (SSC216)
This course will examine the process of theory building and paradigm change during the first three generations of Third World development scholarship. In particular, the three major schools of modernization, dependency and post dependency theory will be analysed in light of their comparative contributions and limitations. Theoretical discussions will be grounded in the empirical context of real life Third World development challenges. Prerequisite: Social sciences background or permission of instructor Intermediate | Credits: 4

THIINKING ABOUT WORLD (DIS?)ORDER (SSC538)
The world is changing right before our eyes. But how it is changing, in what direction it is moving, and why—these questions continue to challenge some of the greatest thinkers of our time. In this upper level, international relations seminar, we will attempt to uncover the various assumptions and/or intellectual traditions that frame the divergent discourses concerning the state of the world today. Prerequisite: Familiarity with International Relations Theory     Intermediate | Credits: 4

AFRICAN POLITICS (SSC208)
The continent of Africa remains to most students a distant and exotic land, difficult to imagine, and even harder to understand. In this course, we will attempt to become familiar with this part of the world—its peoples, its history, its politics, its current predicaments. By studying the many different countries and regions that make up this continent, the goal will be to better appreciate, on the one hand, that which makes African politics so unique, rich and diverse, yet at the same time, to recognize the overwhelming similarities of the struggles of people everywhere. Prerequisite: Previous work in social science or permission of instructor     Intermediate | Credits: 4

LEVELS OF ANALYSIS: DESIGNING FIELDWORK (SSC515)
A research methods seminar for sophomores and juniors thinking about Plan work and/or going abroad to study. The course will focus on “levels of analysis” when approaching research issues and topics. We will examine relevant theoretical considerations and consider applied, empirical representations through student presentations of their case studies. Prerequisite: Permission of instructor     Advanced | Credits: 4

WRITING POLITICAL THEORY (HUM1204)
This writing seminar develops strategies and skills necessary for completing a Plan in political theory. May be repeated for credit. Prerequisite: For seniors on Plan in political theory     Advanced | Credits: 2

Good Foundation for Plan

Students considering a Plan in politics should study broadly across the social sciences as well as other areas of study, in addition to establishing a foundation of classes in politics. Plan students will want to include Levels of Analysis: Designing Fieldwork and Writing Political Theory in their curriculum.

For those interested in writing a Plan in political theory, you are recommended to take at least three theory/philosophy classes before going on Plan. These classes will introduce you to the primary sources in our line of work and are widely available at Marlboro. Besides Meg Mott’s classes and William Edelglass’s, Jerry Levy’s classes on sociological thought fall under this category. One or two classes in comparative politics would be invaluable; the ideas examined in theory/philosophy classes will take on far more complex shades of interpretation when examined in different cultural contexts. And last, but not least, take classes that will develop your argumentation skills. Political theory is largely the art of developing arguments about controversial matters. The more practice you’ve had writing arguments, the easier the Plan process will be.

Sample Tutorial Topics

  • Language Policy in Postcolonial Africa
  • Modern Chinese Student Movement
  • Synthesis of Global Themes in Urban Development
  • The War on Terror and U.S. Foreign Policy
  • Advanced International Politics
  • Mexican Politics since 1988
  • Nationalism, Regionalism and Globalization in Africa
  • Neo-colonialism, Immigration and Riots in the Banlieues
  • Politics and Social Change in Latin America
  • Progressive Education Theories
  • The Politics of Public Health: Readings in Cuban Public Health Policies, with Foucault and his Critics
  • Wittgenstein and Deleuze
  • Writing Feminist Policy
  • Politics of Care
  • The Gaze: Exploring the Philosphy of Simone de Beauvior
  • The Supreme Court
  • Political Ecology of Peace Training
  • Politics of Assessment
  • Politics of Help and the Medical Establishment
  • Retributive and Restorative Justice Reflections and Analysis