PSCI 6610

Professor Jacinda Swanson

Spring 2017

3412 Friedmann

W 4-6:30 pm

Office Hours: Mon. 1-1:45, 3:30-4:30pm, Wed. 1-1:45, 3:30-3:45pm, & by appt

Friedmann 3309




Contemporary Political Theory


Overview and Objectives:

This course is intended to provide an introduction to some key texts and themes in the contemporary period, roughly the 20th and 21st centuries, of the approximately 2500-year history of Western political theory. (Western political theory first emerged as a field of inquiry in ancient Greece.) Even within the time period we are studying, we will not be able to discuss many important theorists and ideas. We will, though, cover some important theorists writing within the following schools of thought and on the following types of issues: freedom/liberty, justice, gender, equality, democracy, power, economics, liberalism (and critiques of it), feminism, civic republicanism, poststructuralism, and Marxian theory.


As we will see, even in the Western world, theorists have thought about politics and government in very different ways. Yet, there are numerous themes or topics that recur throughout the history of political thought, including the following: the characteristics of human nature; the relationship between the citizen and the state/government; the origin of government; the ends or purposes of government; freedom; rights; equality; legislation; justice; political obligation/duty; citizenship; the different types of political regimes/forms of government, including democracy; the powers and functions of government; revolution; property; and economics. Studying some of the different forms of contemporary political theory allows us to see how issues like justice, power, or the purpose of government can be thought about in different ways and what the strengths and limitations of each of these different ways are. It will also enable us to see how what is considered “political” is itself variable and disputed.


In this seminar, we will be taking the texts and their arguments seriously, paying close attention to how authors define concepts, the logic of their arguments, and the ethical, social, political, and economic consequences of their arguments. This will require close, detailed readings of the texts. In other words, this class seeks to further develop your skills in systematically analyzing political arguments and theories, rather than simply summarizing them, which will require a particular (analytical) approach to reading, discussing, and writing. (Analyzing involves, for example, determining a writer’s assumptions, how she/he defines key political concepts, the logical steps in her/his argument, how her/his different ideas fit together, etc.) We will also be attentive to the similarities and differences among the authors. The aim is not only to gain an in-depth understanding of the specific theorists we read, but also, more generally, to increase your ability to read and grasp the arguments of other political theorists as well as your ability to formulate appropriate and compelling theoretical frameworks for (empirically) studying various political phenomena, whether it’s in the field of U.S. politics or comparative politics.


Required Texts:

Please purchase the specified edition of these books, so that everyone in class is using the same edition (and thus the same translation and pagination), which will facilitate seminar discussion. Please bring the relevant book to class since we will often read and analyze passages from the readings in class. The edition you use is also an issue with regard to your paper citations—you’ll need to let me know if a paper you submit cites another edition.

·         John Rawls. 2005. Political Liberalism, expanded ed., 2nd ed. New York: Columbia University Press.

·         Michael J. Sandel. 1996. Democracy’s Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

·         Iris Marion Young. 1990. Justice and the Politics of Difference. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

·         Hannah Arendt. 2006. On Revolution, intro. Jonathan Schell. New York: Penguin Classics.

·         Michel Foucault. 1990. The History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction, reissue ed., trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage Books.

·         Articles and chapters available through WMU library’s various article databases, online journal subscriptions, and e-reserve system (, under the listing for this class; most of these books are also on reserve at Waldo Library). You are expected to bring a hard copy of these readings to class.


Recommended text:

·         Michel Foucault. 1984. The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow. New York: Pantheon Books.


Course Requirements:

Please notify me if you have a documented disability that requires accommodation (see It’s crucial that you do so during the FIRST WEEK of the semester so that we can make appropriate arrangements.


Please see the university’s religious observance policy at


A complete and updated copy of this syllabus can be found online, at the link for this class at Assignments will be handed out and/or emailed to you (at your WMU email account).


Feel free to contact me via email with questions about the readings, assignments, and so forth.



·         seminar participation, 23%

Participation includes regular, active participation in weekly seminar discussion (10%), as well as writing 5-13 (depending on class enrollment) one-page maximum (1.5-spaced, 11 or 12 pt. font, 1” margins) in-depth analyses of an important concept or argument from one of the week’s assigned readings (13%). These analyses should NOT attempt to summarize an entire reading. With the exception of Feb. 8, 15, and 22, you should analyze the author’s own ideas, rather than the author’s critique of another theorist. Each week, students will be assigned to provide such an analysis for specific portions of the readings; each student should email me a copy of her/his analysis by 1 pm on the day before the class (i.e., Tue.), which I will then read, comment on, and photocopy for the rest of the class; each student will read her/his analysis to the class during our discussion of that reading (in the name of time, students should limit themselves to reading their analysis and take no more than 5 minutes). These one page analyses will be graded and should contain appropriate citations (see below). Regular, active oral participation in weekly seminar discussion should reflect a careful reading of the texts and include thoughtful questions about the readings; students should keep their comments and questions brief and should make sure they do not dominate the discussion, so that other students also have adequate opportunity to participate.

·         3 short (5-6 page) papers, 16% each

These papers will be on assigned topics and based on the assigned readings; they do not require outside research. Students will be allowed to revise and resubmit their papers for re-grading, provided they submit a memo explaining their revisions and thoroughly address my comments on their first paper submission. If they revise and resubmit their paper, the grades from the first and second submissions will be averaged; a higher grade on the second submission is not guaranteed, especially if my comments are not adequately addressed and the paper is therefore not substantially better. Students will have two weeks maximum from the original due date to resubmit their revised paper. Students should make sure that revising their paper does not negatively impact their other assignments in this course.

·         take-home final exam (approx. 12-15 pages), 29%

It will be based on the assigned readings and does not require outside research. The questions will be distributed in advance (see below), so that you can work on them during the last several weeks of the semester.


Note: Because I am typically in my office only on Mon. and Wed., you’ll need to email your papers and final exam to me (unless you’re turning them in early, when I am in my office). If you turn in a paper via email, do NOT assume I have received it just because your email apparently went through. Make sure you receive an email back from me confirming receipt of a printable file.


You are responsible for making yourself aware of and understanding the policies and procedures in the Graduate Catalogs that pertain to Academic Honesty. These policies include cheating, fabrication, falsification and forgery, multiple submission, plagiarism, complicity and computer misuse. (The policies can be found at under Academic Policies, Student Rights and Responsibilities.) If there is reason to believe you have been involved in academic dishonesty, you will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct. You will be given the opportunity to review the charge(s). If you believe you are not responsible, you will have the opportunity for a hearing. You should consult with me if you are uncertain about an issue of academic honesty prior to the submission of an assignment or test. A finding of responsibility for academic dishonesty on any assignment will result in failure of this course (see the Graduate Catalog).



For various reasons—proper scholarly practice, because the papers and exam are to be grounded in a close reading of the texts, and in order to properly back up your interpretation and argument—you are REQUIRED to give a citation for EVERY claim you make about the theorist’s definitions, arguments, assumptions, etc. in ALL papers and exams you submit in this class. (I should be able to look up every point you make in order to confirm that you are making a plausible claim about the theorist’s argument.) Your paper should not consist, though, of a bunch of direct quotes strung together: do not use too many direct quotes or overly long quotes (1-2 lines max), because you always need to explain/interpret the quote and to indicate its relevance to your argument, both of which take up valuable space. Use quotation marks to indicate when you are borrowing more than 3-5 exact words of the author. When you paraphrase the author’s ideas, you should substantially reword the author’s words, otherwise it’s PLAGIARISM. Unless indicated otherwise, simply cite page numbers by putting them in parentheses at the end of the sentence(s) for which you’re providing a citation. If you are using an edition of the reading different from the assigned one, you will need to give me a copy of that edition when you turn in your paper so I can look up any points I may need to verify.


Grading scale:












Course Outline:

Jan. 11

Introduction: course content & requirements; overview of common theoretical terms; analyzing political theories



Ball and Dagger, excerpts from “The Democratic Ideal,” “Liberalism,” & “Conservatism” (pdf emailed to you)








Jan. 18

Rawls, Political Liberalism, “Introduction,” “Introduction to the Paperback Edition,” Lecture I;
pp. 308-9, 327-9





Jan. 25

Rawls, Political Liberalism, Lecture II, sections 1-4; Lecture IV





Feb. 1

Rawls, Political Liberalism, Lecture V-VI









Critiques of liberalism


Feb. 8

Civic republican criticisms: Sandel, Democracy’s Discontent, ix, ch. 1, 2, 3 (pp. 55, 65-71, 79-90), 4 (read the theoretical chapters 1 & 2 particularly carefully)





Feb. 15

Iris Marion Young. 1995. “Rawls’s Political Liberalism.” Journal of Political Philosophy 3, no. 2: 181-90. (pdf emailed to you)



Sheldon S. Wolin. 1996. “The Liberal/Democratic Divide: On Rawls’ Political Liberalism.” Political Theory 24, no. 1 (Feb.): 97-119. (WestCat; print out pdf)



E. A. Goerner. 1993. “Rawls’s Apolitical Political Turn.” Review of Politics 55, no. 4 (Fall): 713-8. (JSTOR; print out pdf)





(Sat., Feb. 18






Feb. 22

William E. Connolly. 1999. “Suffering, Justice, and the Politics of Becoming.” Why I Am Not a Secularist, 47-71, 193-6. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. (e-reserve, print out pdf)



Bonnie Honig. 1993. “Rawls and the Remainders of Politics.” Political Theory and the Displacement of Politics, 126-61, 242-56. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. (e-reserve, print out pdf)









Critique of liberalism & feminist theory


Mar. 1

John Gaventa. 1980. Power and Powerlessness: Quiescence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Valley, ch. 1 & 2. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. (e-reserve, print out pdf)



Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference, “Introduction,” ch. 1-2





Mar. 8






Mar. 15

Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference, ch. 3-4, 7







(Sat., Mar. 18







Civic republicanism


Mar. 22

Jeremy Waldron. 2000. “Arendt’s Constitutional Politics.” In The Cambridge Companion to Hannah Arendt, ed. Dana Villa, 201-219. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (e-reserve, print out pdf)



Arendt, On Revolution, Ch. 4 “Foundation I” and Ch. 6 “The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure” (including footnotes, some of which make important points)








Marxian theory


Mar. 29

Stephen A. Resnick and Richard D. Wolff. 1987. “A Marxian Theory.” Knowledge and Class: A Marxian Critique of Political Economy, 1-37, 283-9. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (pdf emailed to you)



Resnick and Wolff, “Marxian Epistemology,” 38-99, 289-304 (e-reserve, print out pdf)





(Sat., Apr. 1






Apr. 5

Resnick and Wolff. 1996. “Markets, Private Property, Socialism, and Capitalism.” In Marxism Today: Essays on Capitalism, Socialism, and Strategies for Social Change, ed. Chronis Polychroniou and Harry R. Targ, 119-42. Westport, CT: Praeger. (e-reserve, print out pdf)



J. K. Gibson-Graham. 2006. “Constructing a Language of Economic Diversity.” A Postcapitalist Politics, 53-78, 211-8. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. (e-reserve, print out pdf)



George DeMartino. 2003. “Realizing Class Justice.” Rethinking Marxism 15, no. 1: 1-31. (WestCat; print out pdf)



Marxian theory question on TAKE-HOME FINAL EXAM DISTRIBUTED







Apr. 12

C. G. Prado. 1995. “Genealogical Analytics.” Starting with Foucault: An Introduction to Genealogy, 33-45. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. (e-reserve, print out pdf)



Peter Digeser. 1992. “The Fourth Face of Power.” Journal of Politics 54, no. 4 (Nov.): 977-98, 1004-5. (JSTOR; print out pdf)



Foucault, The History of Sexuality, [TBD]






Rabinow, The Foucault Reader, “Introduction”



Foucault, The Foucault Reader, “What Is Enlightenment?” & “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History”





Apr. 19

Foucault, The History of Sexuality, [TBD]






Michel Foucault. 1980. “Two Lectures.” Power/Knowledge, ed. Colin Gordon, 78-108. New York: Pantheon Books. (e-reserve, print out pdf)



Foucault, The Foucault Reader, “Truth and Power”







(Wed., Apr. 26