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POLS 130

Introduction to Political Theory

This course offers an introduction to and exploration of selected topics in Political Theory. The word theory comes from the Greek root theoria, which translates loosely to vision. Theory, then, is a way of seeing or making sense of the world around us. At its best, political theory provides us with frameworks of understanding that illuminate the political world around us and allow us to grasp the dynamics that are at play in our institutions and practices. Theory provides powerful tools of critique that allow us to explore power and privilege in politics and envision a different path forward. Theory can be pragmatic and radical, narrowly realist in its thinking or sweepingly idealist in its imaginative scope. Theory does not always provide right or wrong answers about the best way to approach politics but rather trains us to reflect deeply about political life and ask better questions. Traditionally, Political Theory has been rooted in the Western tradition, in the canon of European thinkers, who have made tremendous contributions to how we think about freedom, leadership, citizenship, and sovereignty. Some of our most significant conceptual tools come to us from this tradition. Along with them, we inherit their myopia on questions of race, power, and privilege, and it is important to grapple deeply with their ideas but also to examine them with a critical eye and note their silences and make them speak to the problems of our time. This course begins with an introduction to these foundational concepts and then adds on to and broadens what it means to be canonical by including a range of critical perspectives. We will engage with profound thinkers on race and class, on anti-colonialism and radical resistance and conclude the semester by interrogating the thin line between democracy and totalitarianism. In this class, we will encounter texts by Machiavelli, Hobbes, Rousseau, and Marx, but also DuBois, Gandhi, Fanon, Arendt, and others, reading them in chronological order with an eye toward changes in concerns and concepts across time. We will explore the connections between theory and practice in our conversations and work to apply these complex concepts to contemporary issues in politics, society, and culture in our practice of theoria.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Social Science 1 course

Fall Semester information

Smita Rahman

130A: Political Theory