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        Politics Student Handbook

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    • Courses in the Department of Politics combine a theoretical framework of political ideas with real-world implications. These interdisciplinary courses help students attain a better and more complete understanding of how politics operates and why policies work. In these courses, students discuss the personal, national, and global implications of these questions.

      Please consult the New School Course Catalog for a full list of courses. Spring 2023 courses include:

      Dictatorship in History and Theory, GPOL 5023
      Federico Finchelstein, Professor of History, and Andreas Kalyvas, Associate Professor of Politics

      This seminar examines the conceptual and political history of dictatorship. It traces its origins to antiquity but focuses on modern notions and historical cases of dictatorship, from Bonapartism to fascism and Cold War dictatorships in Latin America and Europe. We treat dictatorship as a central yet evolving borderline concept through which we can explore and interrogate the themes of emergency rule, state of exception, revolution, and the making of the modern state by emphasizing the relationship between power, sovereignty, law, sedition, war, and violence. The seminar also focuses on the justifications that have informed theories of dictatorship in an attempt to elucidate and reconstruct the broader paradigm of politics that became associated with this concept. We critically investigate the historical impact of the concept and the practice of dictatorship in terms of violence and its antagonistic relation to democracy. 

      Donald Trump as History, GPOL 5024
      Oz Frankel, Associate Professor of History

      Donald Trump’s improbable journey from the Trump Tower to the White House is often described as “without precedent.” Yet Trump’s campaign and presidency have reworked familiar themes in U.S. history: nativism, populism, the politics of nostalgia, politics as spectacle, and the recurrent efforts to rejuvenate or re-masculinize American society. This seminar revisits these topics in some detail as it critically explores diverse historical frames and perspectives available for shedding light on the Trump phenomenon. Conversely, we ask in what way Trump’s presidency alters our view of history and requires new historical thinking about the American political system and public sphere and ideology and the relationship between process and individual actors in history. 

      Democracy and the Masses, GPOL 6121
      Sandipto Dasgupta, Assistant Professor of Politics

      Ever since democracy was conceived, it has been animated and haunted by the figure of the masses (or crowds, mobs etc.). Until less than a hundred years ago, the inextricable association with the masses was what made democracy both dangerous to rulers and appealing to revolutionaries. Only in the 20th century did Western political thought successfully detach the two: Democracy was now a set of constitutional procedures and rights; the masses were to be exiled to the domain of surveys and psychology. Only in recent times have we seen an unsanctioned and unruly return of the popular or the masses back into politics, resulting in a much-discussed "crisis of democracy." In this course, we revisit the conjoined concept of democracy–masses through four periods in history: Greece from the 6th to the 4th century BCE, 19th-century France, the post–Civil War United States, and 20th-century (anti-/postcolonial) India. All were times of momentous social and political transformation. All witnessed different groups of previously excluded "masses" (the poor, the workers, the freed slaves, and the colonized, respectively) storming the stage of politics. Consequently, these periods also produced some of the richest reflections on what democracy is and should be and on the hopes and dangers of a politics of the masses. The course invites students to rethink both the concept of democracy and the politics of the masses from these historical vantage points. They get an opportunity to read major political thinkers—Plato and Marx, DuBois and Gandhi, and others—through the contentious times that produced them. The course material consists of both primary texts from those periods and secondary commentaries.

      Politics of Futurity: 21st-Century Social Movements, GPOL 6122
      Deva Woodly, Associate Professor of Politics

      In this course, we explore approaches to political theory and practice that go beyond what Iris Young calls "the distributive paradigm" of both liberalism and 20th-century socialisms and seek to understand what a 21st-century paradigm that centers the politics of care might include. We discuss the way political horizons are constructed in popular discourse and political action; the structural relations of race, coloniality, and indigeneity and what it would take to change those relations; abolition democracy; the politics of gender; disability justice; and the political economy of degrowth. The purpose of the course is to explore ideas that might shape the politics of the 21st century (and beyond) as well as the political consequences and possibilities implied by pursuing them. 

      Interpretive Methods, GPOL 6195
      Rafi Youatt, Associate Professor of Politics 

      This course is a graduate introduction to interpretive methods in the study of politics. It starts with key logics and debates around modes of inquiry in the discipline. The bulk of the course focuses on practical strategies and tools for researching politics. Students read about case selection and comparison, field research, political theory and method, political ethnography, discourse analysis, the use of histories as secondary sources, creativity and methods, interviews, and archives. 

      Colonialism/Modernity, GPOL 6239
      Carlos Forment, Associate Professor of Sociology; Director of Graduate Study

      This seminar introduces students to some of the most influential interpretations of colonialism (broadly understood) that have been advanced by thinkers in different intellectual-political traditions from across the central core and peripheral fringe. Studying the writings of Anglo-European authors (uneven and combined development, imperialism, the Southern question, the global color line, the boomerang effect) alongside those of their Latin American, Indian, and pan-African counterparts (nationalism, dependency, the subaltern, postcolonialism, decolonial feminism) provides an opportunity to explore their many shared and divergent concerns as well as some of the subterranean continuities and discontinuities that have defined the boundaries of the age-old dispute on colonialism. In examining their writings, we focus on how each thinker analyzed the material and symbolic links between colonialism and modernity (capitalism, liberal democracy, rational and universal principles), and the way their interpretation of them conditioned their depiction of and the hierarchies they established among and between countries, peoples, institutions, and practices of the Global North and South. The purpose of this exercise, however, is not to "provincialize," "universalize," or "particularize" any one aspect or region, as is commonly done by scholars today. Instead, it is to encourage the class to reflect critically on the following two questions (and others closely related to them): 1) Does the anticolonial perspective provide a convincing counternarrative of the emergence and development of modernity (capitalism, liberal democracy, rational and universal principles), and is it capable of challenging the image it has of itself? and 2) What are the consequences of relying on a "concept-interpretation" developed to analyze a specific issue or problem that surfaced in a given "place-time" to make sense of a similar but somewhat different socio-political-cultural formation?  

      Populism and Nationalism, GPOL 6251
      David Plotke, Professor of Politics 

      The last two decades have seen an upsurge in populist and nationalist themes and organized forces in politics in the United States and other countries. Partly through the promotion of such themes, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States in 2016 and nearly won again in 2020. Populist political forces have played a major role in shaping and overturning governments in Brazil, Italy, Sweden, and elsewhere. The most successful such forces have been on the right, though self-described left populist initiatives have gained traction in several countries. What does "populism" mean in contemporary politics, especially in OECD countries? What does "nationalism" mean now, particularly in relation to populist themes and projects? This course focuses on American politics, with frequent comparative referents. We address two big issues, one analytical and one more normative: 1) How can we explain the upsurge of populist and nationalist forces? Is it due primarily to economic shifts, including high levels of inequality and uncertainty for regions and sectors? Should we instead explain populism in social and cultural terms, as a status politics in which racial and ethnic themes play a large role? 2) Populists (and most nationalists) almost always claim to be democrats, even the "real" democrats. They affirm anti-elitism and opposition to complex forms of governance that keep "the people" at a distance. Should we accept that self-description or consider populist projects as putting democratic commitments and institutions in question? 

      Poetic Political Imaginaries, GPOL 6291  
      Victoria Hattam, Professor of Politics, and Radhika Subramaniam, Associate Professor of Visual Culture

      This seminar draws on the generative tension of two fields of inquiry and “knowledge making” that are often at odds with one another—the poetic, or, broadly, the techniques and properties of making and unmaking, and the political, or, broadly, questions of power and affiliation. We explore the distinctions between the analytic and the artistic, the normative and the imaginative, and their implications for the ways in which disciplines and bodies of knowledge are constructed—and which affect the ways in which argument, position, intervention, and research are made or conducted. To do so, we engage with a range of topics including but not limited to mobility studies, political economy, and interspecies relationships and explore the intersections of the poetic and political through multiple modalities—texts, images, affect, sound, rhythm, movement choreographies, and other multisensory experiences. The course is consciously transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary. We are interested in the conceptual, spatial, and phenomenological ways in which borders (of disciplines, things, states, species) are drawn and the possibilities and limitations of transgressing and transcending them. We explore these phenomena through a wide range of material from the social sciences and humanities as well as the visual arts and performance, considering politics in "surround sound"—as a multisensory affair. Throughout we seek the line between the poetic and the political and ask what’s at stake in maintaining or unsettling it.

      Citizenship and the City, GPOL 6448 
      Diana Zacca Thomaz, Postdoctoral Fellow

      How are cities relevant to our political lives? How might the cities in which we live inform our sense of belonging, our ability to claim rights, and our conception of progressive change? This course is designed to provide an interdisciplinary introduction to the connection between citizenship and the city. Even though citizenship today is understood mostly as referring to membership in a nation-state, the city is at the root of citizenship, and not just in an etymological sense. The city has historically been a key locus for the organization of political communities, for the emergence of new actors and claims, and for the policing and social stratification of populations. In this course, we interrogate how racism and residential segregation shape the political (dis)enfranchisement of urban dwellers, analyze the promises and limitations of right-to-the-city agendas, consider the potential of art in reshaping urban politics, and ask how non-citizens might practice urban citizenship. We examine theoretical works and descriptions of cities across the world. Students are encouraged to explore their particular areas of interest in connection with our city–citizenship discussions.

      Rethinking Class, GPOL 6756
      Nancy Fraser, Henry A. and Louise Loeb Professor of Political and Social Science

      The concept of class has had its ups and downs. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, it was widely viewed by leftists as the central fault line of capitalist societies, even as they debated how best to conceive it and how best to understand its relation to other politicized divides. Subsequently, however, class lost much of its conceptual cachet. The increased centrality of post–New Left struggles over gender, race, and empire brought suspicions of “class essentialism” and “class reductionism,” while neoliberalism weakened traditional labor radicalism and labor unions. By the end of the 20th century, “class theory” was widely neglected if not despised. Today, however, the fortunes of the category are on the rise again. With renewed interest in capitalism and socialism comes revived interest in class—in both its orthodox and unorthodox guises. It's an opportune moment, therefore, to revisit class. In this seminar, we canvass major theoretical and practical debates surrounding this concept, both historical and contemporary. We reconsider, for example, the relative merits of structural definitions of class, as a relation to the means of production, versus cultural-political definitions of class, as something made by social actors—as well as the related distinction between “class-in-itself” and “class-for-itself.” We also revisit attempts to theorize intermediate classes and subproletarian strata, as well as various “new class” theories. Likewise, we take up current debates over class as one among several intersecting or interlocking systems of oppression. Finally, we evaluate my own recent proposal to develop a new, expanded conception of class, based on an expanded view of capitalism and an expanded view of what counts as work. When finalized, the list of readings will likely include such thinkers as Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci, W.E.B. DuBois, Nicos Poulantzas, E.P. Thompson, Joan W. Scott, Louis Althusser, Carolyn Steedman, Erik Olin Wright, Pierre Bourdieu, Cedric Robinson, Iris Marion Young, David Roediger, William Sewell Jr, Charles Mills, Lise Vogel, Ashley Bohrer, and me.

      Socialism and Anarchism, GPOL 6799 
      Chiara Bottici, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Nancy Fraser, Henry A. and Louise Loeb Professor of Political and Social Science 

      In the long history of efforts to conceive alternatives to capitalism, two terms stand out: socialism and anarchism. But what is their relation to one another? Are they antithetical or complementary? What are the insights and blind spots of each? Are there good reasons to prefer one to the other—above all, at the present conjuncture? These questions form the heart of our seminar. We address them both historically and systematically. We begin with early texts, such as the Manifesto of the Equals (1796), where anarchism and socialism are one and the same anti-capitalist philosophy, and then explore the historic debate between Marx and Bakunin focusing on the state and the role of the party, to which the split between the two perspectives is usually attributed. But we also examine exchanges between anarchists and socialists on other timely questions, including the family and ecology. Readings by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Karl Marx, Mikhail Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin, Friedrich Engels, Alexandra Kollontai, Emma Goldman, He Zhen, Maria Mies, David Graebner, Chiara Bottici, and others.

      Political Economy Field Seminar, GPOL 7005 
      Victoria Hattam, Professor of Politics, and Jessica Pisano, Associate Professor of Politics 

      In this course, we examine works and debates in both classic and contemporary political economy. Students engage with empirically grounded, theoretically sensitive analyses, considering key questions: How have humans thought about the relationship between politics and economy? What normative commitments and ontologies underlie the different frames political communities use to order thought about the organization of human society and activity? What alternatives to contemporary approaches exist, and how have politics and imagination shaped views of economic value and processes of change in the past? Our seminar addresses such themes as capitalism and its relationship to racialization; understandings of the commons, enclosure movements, and contemporary processes of commoditization and privatization; precarity and democracy; globalization and its limits; design and production; and many others. Instructors consider student research interests in finalizing themes. The seminar is open to PhD students from any department at NSSR. Some seminar participants may wish to use the course in preparation for the qualifying exam in political economy, but it is not designed exclusively for that purpose. MA students with a strong interest in political economy may enroll with the permission of both course instructors. 

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