To solve a problem we first need to describe it. I help my students understand and practice different approaches to problem solving, including political theory and social scientific methodologies.
I am committed to a democratic classroom: I aim to create and sustain a democratic learning community that is sensitive to diverse learning styles and skills. In practice, this means asking my students what they know about our course theme during our first meeting, and adjusting my teaching accordingly. I emphasize individual and collective goal setting, and we conduct peer and self-assessment to promote and reward improvement.
African American Political Thought
- Syllabi: undergrad version, research prep version
- Description: This course is an intensive introduction to African American Political Theory that uses political theory methodologies that have been developed within the discipline of political science. Our goal will be to explicate and evaluate the philosophical claims that have shaped, and continue to shape black political practice in the United States. Some of the major questions we shall explore this semester are: How have blacks living in the U.S. responded to mainstream U.S. political theories such as liberalism and conservatism? What has been, and what should be the relationship between political theory and political practice? What theoretical, practical, and other connections exist among blacks living throughout the world in what some have termed an African Diaspora? We will also consider how social categories such as class, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, and geographical region intersect with race, and what impact such intersections have, and should have on black political thought.
Discrimination and the Law
- Description: Discrimination, the act of drawing distinctions, looms large in our social judgments and interactions. How might we distinguish between “benign” and “invidious” forms of discrimination? In this honors seminar we examine the criteria used by legal actors in drawing such lines. The structure of the course is both thematic and historical. We begin with the matter of racial discrimination—the genesis of U.S. anti-discrimination law. We then move on the consider how this legal paradigm has been extended and amended to cover other categories such as sex and gender, sexual orientation, and physical and intellectual ability
Feminist Political Theory
- Description: In this seminar we shall investigate a wide range of theoretical frameworks that have been employed in the fight for sexual justice in the United States. Two overarching goals will guide our study. We start with the deceptively straightforward task of defining gender, sex, and politics. We then move into an investigation of the theoretical frames invoked to address the political concerns of women at particular historical moments. How have feminists responded to core political theories such as liberalism, Marxism, conservatism, psychoanalysis, and utopianism? How might recent multicultural, postmodern, gay and lesbian, and queer theories be used to explicate and address lingering and new feminist issues? Students will be asked to weigh the merits and deficiencies of both the descriptive and prescriptive arguments offered by a variety of theorists en route to developing their own judgments through discussion and writing.
Gender & Sexuality: Capstone Honors Seminar
- Description: Assumptions about gender and sexuality are always present in politics, even when laws and policies do not mention such identities. In this seminar, we will read feminist, gay, lesbian, queer, and transgender theory in order to bring to the surface and analyze gender and sexuality assumptions driving contemporary politics. What is gender? What is sexuality? How can law and public policy be used to address discrimination and oppression based in these identities, and their intersections with other socially salient identities such as race, class, age, and ability?
Introduction to Political Theory:
- Syllabi: grad version, undergrad version
- Description: Political theories relate to our political environment, and come in both descriptive and prescriptive forms. But what distinguishes our political environment from other aspects of our social world? Whether a government is monarchical, theocratic, democratic, or socialist is obviously a political matter. But other matters are less clear-cut such as the structure of families, the provision of health care, the promotion and cultivation of the arts, the psychological trauma of war, and our moral obligations to non-human animals and the natural environment. What is “politics,” and what does it mean to theorize about it? The course is based upon close readings of some of the key political theory texts from ancient times to the 21st century.
Political Theory & Identity:
- Syllabi: undergrad version, honors version
- Description: What does identity have to do with politics? In this seminar, we take up this question from the perspective of the scholarly debates that have shaped the discourse within the discipline of political theory since the early 1990s. Which theories (or models) best capture the relationship between personal and public conceptions of familiar modern identities such as race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender expression, age, and ability? How might we best portray the intersections that exist between and among such identities? What is and/or should be the relationship between individualism and group affiliation/classification? As we grapple with these questions, we will also consider identities not usually discussed under the rubric of “identity politics,” such as criminality, medical status, homelessness, family membership, and rebellion. Our ideas about “the political” will also come under scrutiny as we study formal political venues such as political representation, social movements, and law and public policymaking.
Political Theory and the City
- Description: What is a city, and how do historical and contemporary conceptions of city life relate to enduring political questions pertaining to citizenship, equality, freedom, civic engagement, identity, education, work and play? In this seminar we use ancient, modern, and contemporary political philosophy to explore these and other matters pertaining to urbanity. Our main focus will be on U.S. cities. However, we shall also from time to time broaden our focus to consider city life elsewhere through a more global lens.