Bard College at Simon's Rock: the Early College
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Political Studies Courses

Introduction to Politics

Politics 100 | Abbas | 3 credits

This course explores the concept, domain, and discipline of politics. We engage with various attempts to define and determine the nature, form, content, and extent of “the political.” In doing so, we try to access the tense and conflicting sources of our own current understandings of politics, its subjects, and its objects. Working with and through texts over the course of the semester, we come up with our own speculations about what constitutes the political; when, where, and how politics happens; what it means to think, ask, and act politically; and what being a student of politics may entail. This introductory course errs more on the side of questions rather than answers, even if only to show that studying and thinking about politics requires an ability to submit to the fullness of a situation, to ask good questions, and to be patient and humble in the absence of clear-cut answers. In this way, we equip ourselves with some of the conceptual, experiential, and analytical tools to be put to use in our subsequent engagements with the study, activity, and experience of politics.

No prerequisites. This course is generally offered once a year.

Seminar in Global Politics

Politics 210/310 | Abbas | 3/4 credits

This course approaches global politics through some fundamental questions pertaining to our everyday lives as citizens of this world. The lenses used are multiple and integrated, and attentive to questions of power, inequality, boundaries, justice, war, immigration, terrorism, as well as other essential issues unspoken of within the grand worries of our times. The course is a multi perspectival introduction to many questions we have always thought about, and on which many of us already have opinions. In order to confront current problems, the course maintains, we must assess, improve, and build the edifices and the scaffolding of both our thought and action. Our manner of approach is inseparable from the nature and demands of objects we encounter, so our relations to them are essential as we decide how to play a role in the world. The course will intersperse (1) an introduction to key terms and approaches, (2) a range of approaches from international relations and global politics as two distinct tendencies in the study of world politics today (3) case studies on some central political problems in the contemporary world. While this will not be an exhaustive course, we will certainly be compelled to configure and articulate a rigorous, thoughtful, and integrated take on pressing issues confronting us today.

Prerequisites: To take the course at the 200-level, there are no prerequisites. The 300-level requires Politics 100 or any other 200-level course in social studies, or permission of the instructor. This course is generally offered once every two or three years.

The Politics of Cultural Forms: Timescapes and Topographies of the Post/Colony

Politics 215/314 | Abbas | 3/4 credits

The course probes the embodiment of politics in cultural forms pivoting, in this version, on cinema and cinematically-inspired artworks. It is an exploration of the cultural lifeworlds of colonial peoples, as it manifests through history, during and after (or so some say) colonization. Achille Mbembe speaks of the postcolony as an entanglement of timescapes. Cinematic texts, timescapes in their own right, provide unique insights into not only these temporalities, but also the spatial organizations of political and legal power, extending Eyal Weizman's framework of forensic architecture in relation to terror, occupation, and postcolonial violence. The course attempts to bring into relief the interrelation between the spatial, visual, and temporal aspects of ordinary life in the post/colony. In addition, cinema serves as an accessible and visible component of a "culture industry" whose actions and political economic history under and beyond colonialism can shed light on the dynamics of old and new colonialisms, as manifest in big events and everyday life, at play and at work, in grief and in love, in the public and private spheres, alike. There are many ways of imagining what is produced, distributed, consumed, labored for, within this industry that not only illuminate colonization of a life-world, but also expose colonization as a lifeworld, producing its own forms of subjection and redemption. The regional focus of this version of the course is the South Asian subcontinent, with its cinemas brought into conversation with British colonial cinema and other postcolonial cinemas in the Middle East and North Africa where possible. There will be required weekly screenings of films outside of class time.

Prerequisite: 300-level: one 200-level course in politics and one 200-level course in literature or film. 200-level: one 100-level course in social studies and one 100-level course in literature or the arts. This course is generally offered once every three or four years.

Spirited Away: Questions of God and Politics

Politics 219/311 | Abbas | 3/4 credits

The course explores the genealogy of contemporary debates over the relation between politics and religion. It confronts an interesting paradox: often we complain about how so many contemporary political conflicts emerge from an unhealthy attachment to histories of religious war and conflict, but at the same time many proposed ways forward use concepts deeply indebted to those histories. Indeed, many of these concepts emerge from a particular view of European history, and the course investigates other cultural and intellectual paradigms and discourses that may propose different relations between politics and religion. We consider intellectual and philosophical debates, the effect of religious laws and traditions on the practice of politics, and the influence of politics on religious and theological discourse and practice. We turn to the Crusades, medieval political thought, the invention of race, Renaissance attempts at secularism, eventually entering the modern era as one obsessed with creating and administering walls between the political and the theological, the church and the state, among others, overseeing a supposed exit of religion from politics. We also consider modern and postmodern engagements with liberal secularism, and the subsequent attempts to re enchant our political existences. Ours is an era of religious fundamentalism and fanaticism, and also of atheists joining with orthodox theologians to think past capitalism and other terrors. This course goes past the seeming contradiction to ask what sponsors this coincidence, and what kinds of thought and action are demanded of us in this moment.

No prerequisites. This course is generally offered once every two years.

Resist, Remember, Redeem, Remake: The Aesthetics & Poetics of Politics

Politics 221 | Abbas | 3 credits

The material, practical, and conceptual relations between politics and aesthetics are mediated by the poetics of making sense of the world and creating communities of meaning and experience. The etymological intersections between politikos (the statics and dynamics of life within a polis where individuals need and shape each other and the commons enclosed by the polis), aisthesis (perception through the senses and the intellect), and poiesis (making, producing, bringing-forth), are complex, plentiful, and serve as a premise of this course. These are life activities in which we manifest our relations to power, our location within the dominant temporal and spatial regimes, and our capacities of knowing, being, and feeling within the sensorial orders that shape us as well as those that we resist, redeem, and remake. This course focuses on the key inheritances that supply the aesthetic and political categories of our lives today, also analyzing how they are implicated in systems of real subjugation and imagined freedom. By first clarifying the difference between a course in the aesthetics of politics versus the politics of art, we will move on to introduce us to issues and questions pertaining to: the history of “the aesthetic” as a realm of political contestation; the relation between aesthetic and political judgments, and between aesthetic and political theories; artistic and cultural production as site of critique, diagnosis, and political struggle; art as tool in political struggle, but also art as symptom and speculum; questions of form, content, and sensibility in political action; debates over the autonomy or complicity of art; western Enlightenment discourse and the subsequent demands of critical and decolonial aesthetics; the divisions between politics and literature, humanities and sciences, and what they reify; politics, pedagogy, and radical aesthetics; the promise and problem of turning to the senses, the passions, and “the body” as final arbiters of truth and the means to counter the tyranny and horror of the Reason that upholds not only grand but also ordinary narratives of injustice and unfreedom.

No prerequisites. This course is generally offered once every two or three years.

Modern Political Ideologies

Politics 225 | Abbas | 3 credits

This course is a survey of modern and contemporary political ideologies and worldviews. It begins with an exploration of the term “ideology” and its importance to the study and practice of politics. How are ideas composed to form ideologies that in turn structure the world for us? Are ideologies only a modern phenomenon? We see how the key concepts of politics—for instance, freedom, equality, justice, democracy, power, citizen—are framed within each ideology we encounter, en route to figuring out how each ideology then shapes the very domain of politics, and prescribes for us the meaning of our lives, our contentions and contestations, and our basic human and political struggles. The course also hopes to make us more attentive in our use of words, labels, and categories in politics; to see the nuances within the terms we employ in our everyday lives, appreciating their many interpretations and histories; and to rise to the challenge and the responsibility that comes with this appreciation.

No prerequisites. This course is generally offered once a year.

(Twilight of the) American Idols: Haunts and Haunting in U.S. Political Thought

Politics 226 | Abbas | 3 credits

This survey course in political thought in the USA entwines history and memory of “America” and American politics. Playing on the notions of haunt and haunting, it brings those two together by turning to works that provide somewhat anachronistic starting points that beg to be given a genealogy—a history of “the present”—and also a chronology, sampling political thought from different periods in US history from the founding to the present in order to provide material for reading the former. This allows making evident to ourselves that discovering the hauntings of political thought in the United States requires seeing that the hauntings in the present need to be understood through the past, but can never be resolved by it; neither does memory discover the haunts as they originally were, nor does it leave what is unearthed untouched by the unearthing. This makes our work of remembering the history of American politics to be something other than a court of law or a confessional, neither merely whitewash nor pure torture, but something else we need to define together. Among other things, we examine what is “American” about American political thought, how this identity has come to be and what it has represented over the course of its evolution, how different thinkers have envisioned and critiqued the shape of the American state and culture, what makes democracy American and America democratic, what are the peculiar ways in which time and space interact to yield the concept we call America and the American Dream, and what negotiations with history the American celebrations of newness, possibility, hope, and amnesia entail. We discuss a variety of works, in forms ranging from political treatises, journalism, philosophical writing, speeches, essays, autobiographies, fiction, poems, court decisions, music, plays, and films. This plurality of forms will, hopefully, force us to centralize the relation between various aesthetic and expressive forms and their ethical and political import at an individual and collective level. Through the course, we will familiarize ourselves with the ideas of some key figures in the history of political thought in the United States, practice theoretical and critical engagement with them and the problems they are addressing, learn some skills of democratic participation and collaboration, explore our own political subjectivities, and tackle some American Idols—as Nietzsche urged us to, by philosophizing with a hammer.

No prerequisites. This course is generally offered once every two or three years.

Politics and Policy of Education

Politics 235 | McCartney | 3 credits

Why do we choose as a nation to systematically educate our citizens? As people and nation, how do we decide what we teach, how we teach, who we teach, and what resources we devote to an individual student and educational system? This course is designed to answer these questions, introducing students to the politics and policy of current and historical educational debates with a focus on the U.S. school system—public, independent, charter, and for-profit.

No prerequisites.  

The Feminine and the Political, or, How I Learnt to Stop Worrying and Love the Man

Politics 316 | Abbas | 4 credits

This course approaches the politics of marginal subjects through the vehicle of women thinkers, writers, characters, actors, and artists, who confront the logics of colonialism, capitalism, racism, fascism, and patriarchy by thwarting the voices, fates, destinies, narratives—and loves—conferred to them within these systems as well as within those discourses that seek to liberate them. A key goal is to show that considering political experience and judgment cannot merely involve aggregating different perspectives from discrete lenses of race, class, and gender; the substance these various forms of subjections share needs to be addressed. The subject that tries to speak but cannot, the subject that refuses to answer questions everyone defaults to, the subject that evades political programs designed for its liberation, and still asks for something—more, better—is the existential locus of this course’s journey. In this way, notions of speech, disorder, pathology, trauma, romance, desire, repulsion, faith, et al., become central to approaching the trenchant critiques and rearticulations of state, society, and politics—indeed, of being—as we know them, that emerge in the works featured in this course. We work with multiple manifestations (theory, novels, film, etc.) in a space of close reading and intimate intellectual consideration. We will not presume the site of womanhood or the woman’s body to be an a priori, already known or knowable “object” of political work; instead, we will follow these texts into the lifeworlds of capitalism, colonialism, liberalism, and imperialism inscribed on all our bodies and subjectivities—some more than others, to be sure—and to the politics this asks of us. In pursuing threads of inquiry begun in the course on the subjects of war, we will continue examining the reliance of war and politics on the feminine, not as an object, but as a premise, or at least a category in collusion. Perhaps, in our search, the Feminine will become something to which the Political must confess itself, in a departure from what usually happens.

Prerequisite: Permission of instructor.

Politics by Other Means II: Citizens, Soldiers, Revolutionaries

Politics 326 | Abbas | 4 credits

War, colonization, democracy, and revolution, though distinct concepts, have interesting continuities, not least of the manner in which they inscribe those who are at once subjects and objects of these experiences: citizens, soldiers, revolutionaries, and permutations thereof. These words can connote either discrete events with lessons to be learnt, or realities that never seem to have either beginnings or ends, depending on where we find ourselves on the terrain of class, race, gender, colony, nation, power, ideology, and various other accidents of time and space. This course continues the inquiry into the ways in which human beings create politics that was begun in Politics by Other Means I. It seeks to explore the materiality of war and politics commissioned with the state as the locus, not least by placing the strategic and empirical realities of war in a framework of the calls of duty, obligation, love, and death, to which we respond. What is the relation between war and politics, and how has it changed over time? What and who makes a war a war? What can a state demand of whom, and why? How are these demands made and received? Is what is worth living for, also worth dying for, also worth killing for? Is it even possible to be a subject of something without being subject to something? Readings drawn from politics, history, philosophy, and literature, will help us examine the relation between war, colonialism, democracy, and revolution, the politics of subjects that struggle with the inexorable temporality and spatiality of the state, and the ways in which the subjectivities of citizen, subject, soldier, revolutionary, rebel, terrorist, freedom-fighter have come to be over history and across the globe.

Prerequisite: Any 200-level course in social studies. This course is generally offered once every three or four years.

Marx After Marx

Politics 327 | Abbas | 4 credits

This course is devoted to close readings of Karl Marx and two Marxists. In its previous iteration (Fall 2007), Georg Lukacs and Walter Benjamin were featured as key 20th century Western Marxists. This time, the featured Marxists will be V.I. Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg. The course turns to explicit treatments of imperialism, colonialism, and reactionary politics broadly understood, to map the terrain of Marx’s turn to politics, asking whether and how it was a turn “away” from philosophy, conventionally understood. We will assess him as a political analyst, revolutionary, historian, economist, and philosopher, highlighting the questions of goal, strategy, tactic, and political organization. This will involve a serious familiarization with the history of the political battles waging in roughly the century between the failed revolutions in Europe and the first world war (as presaging Europe’s fascist turn). The writings of Lenin and Luxemburg will testify to two different legacies of Marx in relation to political philosophy and strategy, different from and predating the turn to an emphasis on culture and critique as issues of political strategy receded. The course will attempt to take the rich lessons of critique and a nuanced understanding of politics into the realm of grand political action in history to see what lessons can be derived for political possibility in the current moment. Other key political thinkers and actors of the late 19th and early 20th century will be featured as well.

Prerequisites: Politics 100 or Politics 225 or a 200-level [or above] course in relevant social or literary studies. This course is generally offered once every three or four years.

The Democratic Imagination

Politics 328 | Abbas | 3 credits

This seminar will survey some of the major currents and problems in the history of modern democratic thought. Is democracy an ideal, an ethos, a system? A judgment, a tool, or a mechanism—and what determines this? We will address how democracy and its supposed associates, such as freedom, equality, justice, and self-government, are shaped in relation to each other in various historical and geographic contexts, and how these appear in different models of democracy. We will also look at the relation of democratic thought to notions of “the people,” publics, deliberation, representation, revolution, sovereignty, authority, legitimacy, etc., and at how everyday framings of our relation to the state and society emerge. While the course will begin with classical texts on the theory and practice of democracy, works in contemporary democratic theory—such as those that deal with deliberative, radical, liberal, and agonistic conceptions of democracy—will help place longstanding debates in a current context and help us ask and answer important questions about the possibilities and promises of a real democracy. We will also consider how democracy has responded to endemic exclusions over its history and how we judge democracies today. Historical analysis of some major events in the history of democratic practice will mediate this inquiry and we will see how the big shifts in the democratic imagination are so keenly reflective of what people have pushed democracy to do, and how these imaginings most organically straddle the supposedly separate realms of theory and practice! In this regard, the relation between democracy and civil society in a global context will also be addressed. Readings will draw on thinkers including, but not limited to, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Condorcet, Schumpeter, M.I. Finley, Gordon Wood, David Held, Seyla Benhabib, Jurgen Habermas, Carole Pateman, Iris Young, Sheldon Wolin, Claude Lefort, Carl Schmitt, Ernesto Laclau, and Chantal Mouffe.

Prerequisite: Politics 100, any 200-level course in social studies, or permission of the instructor.  This course is generally offered once every three or four years.

Against Capital and Colony: Conjuring Life Despite/Without/After Empire

Politics 333 | Abbas | 4 credits

This course probes the entanglement and interpenetration of capitalism and colonialism into the unfinished era of decolonization and well into the postcolony. It tracks the emergence of anticolonial movements, their claims, philosophies, and tactics, and their relations to struggles against capitalism. We examine the intersecting genealogies of capitalism and colonialism by proceeding from peoples’ resistance to them. We delve into how people have articulated their desires, positions, friends, allies, and enemies, and how their ideas and actions have exposed the roots, destinies, convergences, and divergences of anticolonial and anticapitalist politics. Special emphasis is placed on apprehending the variations of political method within and across these struggles, and also at different levels of materiality, visibility, and legibility. Thus, an examination of the literary, philosophical, and artistic movements that emerge in anticolonial struggles is central to understanding the broader poetics and aesthetics of anticolonialism, anticapitalism, nationalism, and internationalism. While students build their own archives for inquiry around areas/movements of their choosing, our collective efforts draw on an abundant and hospitable canon of anticolonial and anticapitalist life, thought, and movement histories new and old, from Haiti to Occupy Wall Street, from Australia to Palestine. A hope is that at the end of this course, we might be more able to (1) question the premises shared by colonialism and capitalism and the political thought and imperatives they have naturalized, (2) avoid the trap of separating out the histories of various contemporary oppressions everywhere from the seemingly “local” histories of colonialism and capitalism, and (3) produce political action that does not sacrifice thought.

This course is generally offered once every three or four years.

Contra Diction or: The Politics of Listening

Politics 335 | Abbas | 4 credits

The goal of this course is to turn our attention to listening and away from the emphasis on speaking one’s voice—the dominant framework in most strains of modern western political philosophy. While examining the history of the hierarchy of senses and their associated actions in various political, economic, pedagogical, and legal systems, the course also engages the centrality of listening in radical spheres, which often exposes hidden injustices within these spheres. From the centrality of the Azan in Islam and moments of silence across many cultural traditions, from wiretapping to bearing witness, from national radio propaganda to the blues, we consider the various soundscapes of politics across a range of our actions, passions, and interactions. To this end, we draw from the history of political and aesthetic thought and practice, the history of technology, and the abundant oeuvre of contemporary voice and sound artists from around the world. The title of the course, itself, draws from a series of works by Lawrence Abu Hamdan who addresses the intersection of sound and politics. Students will engage in a range of activities involving listening, and challenge the configurations of sensory experience that produce norms of political subjectivity and coexistence.

Prerequisite: Prior completion of one Politics course at Simon’s Rock, or Seminar II and permission of the instructor. This course is generally offered once every two years.

Politics Tutorial

Politics 300/400 | Abbas | 4 credits

Under these course numbers, juniors and seniors design tutorials to meet their particular interests and programmatic needs. A student should see the prospective tutor to define an area of mutual interest to pursue either individually or in a small group. A student may register for no more than one tutorial in any semester.

Prerequisite: Permission of the instructor.