Political Science 305 A: Contemporary Political Theory

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To save paper and improve access to key texts, all the documents for this course will be posted on this site.

Articles posted are for individual academic use only and must not be reproduced or distributed. Please do not give the site password to anyone not in the class. Go to posted articles.


Good reading for the beginning of the year if you want to start positively: Ten things every professor hates.

Here’s my opening gambit: Cell phone use is prohibited in this class. Use of tablets or laptops is allowed, but only to reference class materials or take notes. I wonder if we can agree that these are good policies? We’ll discuss it in class, but in the meantime you might be interested in these commentaries and research on use of technology in the classroom:

One of many studies showing that multi-tasking laptop use in a classroom is distracting for the users AND their “nearby peers.”

Louise Katz in the Chronicle on why students hand in their phones.

Peter Bregman on how multi-tasking impairs all the skills necessary for success at university.

Report on a study showing that taking notes long-hand yields better recall and comprehension than using a laptop.

Starter documents

1. NB October 31 amendment: Blogpost #1 now due November 29 (not 27). Syllabus version 2 September 10 (merely reverses the dates of Hochschild and Harder readings). Syllabus version 1.

2. Reading list (with complete bibliographic references). Here’s a page with all the readings linked or with library call numbers. In case you can’t get access to this page, you should keep a separate copy of this reference list so that you can use the library copies as back-up.

3. Handout on how to read theory

Weekly information

Week 1:

NO CLASS on September 4. Please read Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”
First class: September 6. Introduction to the course, including discussion of Le Guin.

Week 2: Opening debate: the biological body and social belonging

September 11: Harder, “Does Sperm Have a Flag?”

Reading questions:

  1. “The presumption [of parentage], in itself, is a legal provision that masquerades as enabling a biological fact. In fact, paternal presumptions are biological fictions that enable legal truths,” writes Harder (113). Explain what she means.
  2. “What are the implications of insisting on genetic relationship as the basis of national belonging?” (120). How does Harder answer this question? (Specifically consider this: in a judgment that premises citizenship decisions on “blood,” Harder says, the Federal Court of Appeal offers criteria for belonging that are like other “familiar and diabolical instances” [120] or that are “illiberal” [121]. What is Harder getting at?)
  3. The final section of the article, “Birth, Citizenship, and the State” contains the most political theory, and it’s worth focusing on as it will connect with a number of the other articles we’re reading in the course. Overall, Harder argues in favour of “non-birth-based” forms of political membership. What suggestions does she make in defence of this position? Can you think of other reasons to support it, as well as pitfalls of removing biological relatedness from criteria for national citizenship and other forms of political belonging? (Keep your answer to this question in mind as we move to read Kim Tallbear’s article on Thursday.)

There was a recent flurry of media coverage when the Conservatives voted on a policy to end “birthright citizenship” (jus soli), in part as a response to so-called “birth tourism.” Why might a party on the political right oppose jus soli? How are their reasons for doing so different from Harder’s?

September 13: Tallbear, “Genomic Articulations of Indigeneity”

Reading questions:

  1. What is an “articulation,” according to Tallbear? What is being articulated (and then rearticulated) with what in her account?
  2. What is “genomic indigeneity” and how does it contrast with various other understandings of indigeneity?
  3. What are the narratives of the “vanishing indigene” and “we are all African”? How do these narratives represent the genomic significance of different peoples?
  4. What, in the end, does Tallbear conclude about various ways of asserting kinship?

Here’s a short podcast on the politics of Native American DNA featuring Kim Tallbear.

Old 2014 interview with Dr. Tallbear.

Dr. Tallbear also did a Twittertorial in 2016 on why US politician Elizabeth Warren could NOT “prove” she was Cherokee by taking a DNA test.

More on this, posted after Elizabeth Warren published the results of her genetic test.

Class notes

Here’s an upcoming live streamed event called “The Gift and Weight of Genomic Knowledge: In Search of the Good Biocitizen,” which shows where these debates lead. It features my former PhD student, Catherine Clune-Taylor, so that shows you where a PhD in Philosophy can go!

Short paper #1 on Harder due Sep 13, to be returned by September 14 at 5pm for those who request early grading.

 NB: September 17 is drop/add deadline.

Week 3: Kinship and the family in the late liberal state

Optional reading: Rubin, “The Traffic in Women.”
This is a classic article from 1975 that established a key critique of existing understandings of kinship–especially in anthropology, but in ways that have been deeply influential in political theory and feminist theory too. Even if you don’t read the article, take a look at this worksheet.

September 18: Okin, “Gender, the Public and the Private”

Reading questions:

  1. What is “the public”? What is “the private,” according to Okin? Notice that she describes at least two ways the distinction is parsed in political theory.
  2. Why does the use of the distinction between public and private in liberal political theory have negative consequences for women, according to Okin?
  3. How have feminist critiques of the public/private distinction changed the topics and methods of political theory? What do feminists mean when they say, “the personal is political”?
  4. What is privacy, and what is it good for?

Powerpoint slides for Tuesday

September 20: [optional] Brown, “Liberalism’s Family Values”

Another optional article that articulates in relatively complex ways how liberalism is connected to normative understandings of families and gender roles. Think of this piece as a kind of sophisticated update and challenge to Okin.

Here’s a description of strengths and weaknesses in the short papers, based on the first round of papers and only briefly summarized in class.

Powerpoint slides for Thursday

(Supplemental short paper #1 on any of the material to date due Sep 20, only for late-joining students who missed the Sep 13 assignment)

Victorian domestic scene

Week 4:

September 25: Young “Reflections on Families”

Reading questions:

  1. What does marriage regulate, according to Young? What privileges and oppressions does it generate?
  2. How does Young define “family”?
  3. What alternative approaches to the legal regulation of families does Young dismiss? What is her policy alternative? Are you convinced by her justification for this alternative?
  4. What is different in Canada in 2018 than in the mostly US context of the 1990s that Young describes?

Powerpoint slides for Tuesday

The 2016 Census data tables make fascinating reading, not least because they define family as well as describing it.

A news story illustrating the application of classic liberal principles to address an injustice: equal treatment, equality under the law, anti-discrimination etc. that keeps the institution of marriage and its associated benefits more or less intact (i.e. it could be read as an example of rejigging the distributive paradigm of justice without –much!–rethinking the institutions within which redistribution occurs). h/t Meghan.

September 27: Hochschild, “Global Care Chains”

Reading questions:

  1. What is a “global care chain”? What is “emotional surplus value”?
  2. What does the existing literature on “globalization” focus on, according to Hochschild, and how does she hope to supplement it?
  3. “Just as global capitalism helps create a Third World supply of mothering, so it creates a First World demand for it,” writes Hochschild. Explain the economic and social patterns she describes that underlie this supply/demand relation.
  4. “The personal is global,” concludes Hochschild, riffing on the feminist slogan “the personal is political.” Does reading her analysis make you think differently about the arguments in Okin and Young?

Powerpoint slides for Thursday

Short paper #2 on Okin or Young due Sep 27


Week 5:

October 2: Harder, “The State and the Friendships of the Nation”
Dr. Harder will be in class to talk about this article and take your questions.

Reading questions:

  1. What is the Alberta Adult Interdependent Relationships Act (AIRA)? What does it attempt to govern?
  2. What is “neoliberalism,” in particular in its “roll-back” and “roll-out” forms? What has neoliberalism as a governing project done to state intervention on the family, according to Harder?
  3. In what respects is the AIRA a project of neoliberalism, according to Harder, and in what ways is it a socially conservative one? Is there anything progressive about it?
  4. What is “conjugality”? What is the significance of debates about the meaning of conjugality to Harder’s argument?

Here is the full text of the Act.

October 4: Catch-up/wrap-up/preview

There is no new reading for today. Please review the Harder article and look at the text of AIRA as we’ll be doing a full-class exercise on political theory, public policy, and the family.

Here’s our worksheet.

Interesting story from the UK on civil partnerships being extended to opposite-sex couples.

Short paper #3 on Harder or Hochschild due Oct 4

Week 6: Citizens and nations: who’s in? who’s out?

NO CLASS October 9

October 11: Arneil, “Disability, Self Image, and Modern Political Theory”

Reading questions:

  1. Up to page 228 of her article, Arneil summarizes the views of various historical and contemporary political theorists–Filmer, Locke, Hume, Rousseau, Kant, Taylor, and Rawls. Make a note of the different claims she attributes to each of these thinkers, and how they are linked.
  2. What is the “tragic narrative,” according to Arneil, and how does it inform political thinking about disability?
  3. What are the political potential and limits of an ethic of care in thinking about disability?
  4. Arneil offers an account of interdependency as a way of thinking about the political challenge of disability. Note her five criteria. How would you characterize Arneil’s political objectives in articulating this alternative?

Powerpoint slides for Thursday

NOTE: Professor Arneil will be visiting the University of Alberta next semester. Come along to hear her speak on Friday 1 March 2019 (2:00-3:30pm) (H.M. Tory Building 10-4)

still from Simon McKeown, Motion Disabled

Week 7:

October 16: Ferguson, “I ♥ My Dog”

Reading questions:

  1. Ferguson starts with a dilemma. What is it?
  2. He then examines two possible ways of thinking about the dilemma, which he concludes (p. 97) by calling the “humanist critique” and the “animal rights” critique. What are these responses, and what do they both miss?
  3. “If, then, it is the very surroundings of humanity that makes up humanity, why pay any special attention to dogs at all? Why, in other words, not pay equal attention to all things that envelop us as political actors?” (105). Ferguson doesn’t give much of an answer to this question, but how does the chapter wrap up? What do you think about this question?

Powerpoint slides for Tuesday

October 18: Donaldson and Kymlicka, “Rethinking Membership and Inclusion”

Reading questions:

  1. A traditional concept of citizenship, according to Donaldson and Kymlicka, is tied to linguistic agency. What is this concept? Why and how do they want to revise it?
  2. What is the “Argument from Marginal Cases” and why is it “multiply flawed,” according to Donaldson and Kymlicka?
  3. What is “agency,” and how is it best enabled? What is the difference between micro- and macro-agency? What is the scaffolding of choice?
  4. How can we ethically interpret the behaviour of those who are not linguistic agents?

Powerpoint slides for Thursday
Close reading exercise

Week 8:

October 23: Arendt, “The Decline of the Nation State”

Reading questions:

  1. What do you think Arendt means when she talks about the failures of repatriation and naturalization of refugees?
  2. What do you think when you hear Arendt talk about the ‘abstract nakedness’ of being human (297)? What is she referring to? (On p. 300 she says that this is “the greatest danger”)
  3. Why do you think that the second part of the text is called “Perplexities of the Rights of Man”? What is perplexing to Arendt?

Short paper #4 on Arneil, Ferguson, or Donaldson and Kymlicka due Oct 23

Powerpoint slides for Tuesday

October 25: More Arendt.
[optional] Gündogdu, Rightlessness in an Age of Rights

Powerpoint slides for Thursday

Worksheet for Thursday

An interview with Hannah Arendt

News round-up of stories on the Europe migrant crisis

Ebrahim Toure case: for discussion re: p. 286

This week’s migration news story is about people from central America walking north to reach the US border, although this is not a typical migration method nor route.

Week 9:

October 30: Simpson, “The Ruse of Consent”

Reading questions:

  1. What is “recognition” in political theory, according to Simpson? See esp. top of p. 3.
  2. Simpson trained as an anthropologist, so much of her work is “ethnographic”–writing about people   based on fieldwork. She describes a “politics of consent” and a “politics of refusal.” As a researcher, what does Simpson consent to, and what does she refuse? What does she suggest settler politics represents as consent? What does Indigenous politics refuse?
  3. What is “the ruse of consent” of the article’s title?

Video of Audra Simpson speaking on “Reconciliation and its Discontents: Settler Governance in an Age of Sorrow” in 2016

Powerpoint slides for Tuesday

November 1: Catch-up/wrap-up/preview

Powerpoint slides for Thursday

Short paper #5 on Arendt or Simpson due Nov 1

The Aionwá:tha Wampum Belt (above) and Two Row Wampum Belt (Below).

Week 10: Sexuality and biopower

November 8: Foucault, “Part Five: Right of Death and Power Over Life,” from History of Sexuality Volume 1 (pp. 133-159)

Reading questions

  1. We are going to read the last chapter of History of Sexuality Volume 1, but you have a link to the whole book. Take a look at the table of contents, and at least skim the whole book. The most important things to know are: what is “the repressive hypothesis,” and what are Foucault’s doubts about it? What is the “incitement to discourse” with regard to sex? (These two questions are addressed in the first 20 pages or so.) Then, on pp. 92-97, he suggests a rethinking of the study of power, and distinguishes between sovereign and disciplinary power. What is this distinction? Finally, he identifies “four specific mechanisms of knowledge and power centering on sex” (p. 103). What are they, and what figure represents each?
  2. The power of the sovereign, Foucault argues in the opening pages of Part Five, was traditionally the right to put to death. Power has changed, he suggests, into a power over life. What do you think he means?
  3. This power over life, Foucault says, takes two forms: an anatomo-politics of the human body, and bio-power. What does he say about each of these forms?

Foucault talking about disciplinary power in English

Foucault being interviewed in 1971 in French (Dutch and English subtitles of Foucault’s words)

Powerpoint slides for Tuesday

November 10: More Foucault

Ontario’s sex education controversy

Al Pacino as Roy Cohn, in Tony Kushner’s 1991 play Angels in America about the 1980s AIDS crisis.

Worksheet for Thursday


FALL TERM BREAK. No class November 13 or 15

Week 11:

November 20: Puar, Terrorist Assemblages, chapter one, “The Sexuality of Terrorism”

Puar’s book was first published in 2007, and made a big splash. It was reprinted in 2017 with a new foreword and postscript. I originally assigned the postscript, introduction, and chapter one, but on rereading I think that’s too much hard text. So let’s focus on chapter one, pp. 37-78, “the sexuality of terrorism.” I’ll say some things in class about the other sections.

Puar wants to bring queer politics together with the politics of race, religion, and nation. In particular, she wants to show how ways of talking about terrorism (especially in the US after the September 11 2001 attacks) trade on what she calls “homonationalism,” which is a term for “national homosexuality,” or “homosexual nationalism,” or, probably most accurately, “homonormative nationalism.”

Reading questions

  1. How does Puar define homonationalism? See pp. 2, 38-39, and the long section on pp. 40-51 (but especially pp. 49-50).
  2. A lot of this text consists of giving extended examples to support the theoretical claims, and I suggest keeping this in mind as you read chapter one. As she says on p. 40, these examples support three “lineages of homonationalism”–feminist and queer analyses of terrorist bodies (pp. 51-61), gay and lesbian consumerism (pp. 61-67), and “liberal multicultural discourses of tolerance and diversity” (pp. 67-76). Write a short paragraph trying to capture each of these three lineages, and note an example that Puar uses to support each one.
  3. There are a lot of allusions in this chapter, to literatures, thinkers, political moments, and terms that you may not know. In class I’ll be explaining the terms “queer,” “heteronormative,” “homonormative,” and “Orientalism,” but you can also look these up!

Powerpoint slides for Tuesday

November 22: More Puar

NB: Deadline for submitting optional short paper #6, which may be on any reading (that you have not written on so far) up to Simpson.

Puar has written op-ed columns based on her argument in TA that model a more popular style of writing and might be useful for you in understanding her point, as well as thinking about how to approach the blogpost writing assignment:

On the “It Gets Better” project for gay and lesbian youth

To be gay and racist is no anomaly

Week 12:

November 27: Morgensen, “Settler Homonationalism”

Reading questions:

  1. What, according to Morgensen, is “settler sexuality”? What is “settler homonationalism”?
  2. “What might ‘terrorists,’ figured as foreign, have to do with ‘savages,’ figured as domestic, when the state identifies objects of colonial or imperial control?” (107). How does Morgensen’s article answer this question?
  3. “Modern sexuality arose in the United States as a method to produce settler colonialism, and settler subjects, by facilitating ongoing conquest and naturalizing its effects” (117). What does Morgensen mean?
  4. Who was “Osh-Tisch” (pictured below)? We’ll use this case study as a way into talking about Morgensen on Tuesday, so be sure you know the historical background.

Powerpoint slides for Tuesday

Worksheet for Tuesday

November 29: Rifkin, “Making Peoples into Populations”

Reading questions:

  1. Rifkin summarizes both Ann Stoler’s book The Education of Desire (which we haven’t read), and Jasbir Puar’s Terrorist Assemblages (where we at least know the main argument). Highlight his summaries of their contributions in the article, and be clear on how he thinks they extend Foucault’s argument. How, according to Rifkin, are they useful to Native Studies, and what do they miss?
  2. The bulk of Rifkin’s analysis proceeds through two famous U.S. court cases involving the right of Indigenous people to make determinations about political membership. Starting at the top of p. 159, he discusses the case of United States v. Rogers (1846). Starting on p. 169, he discusses Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez (1978). Note down what each case involved. Comb through and identify the conclusions that Rifkin draws about each case.

Powerpoint slides for Thursday

Blogpost #1 on Foucault or Puar due Nov 29 0930. Please email as Word doc.

NB: November 30 is the last day for withdrawal from Fall term courses

Osh-Tisch, Crow boté

Week 13:

December 4: Povinelli, “Transgender Creeks”

Reading questions:

  1. In my lecture on Puar, I defined queer as “deviating from heteronormativity.” This is, pretty much, the “fixed game of contrariness” that Povinelli defines and challenges in her opening paragraphs. Who are the four figures she will investigate? When she says: “Any attempt to use Foucault’s account of sexuality for diagnosing the present faces… three serious problems” [169], what are these problems?
  2. In telling the story of Tjipel, Povinelli is both recounting an Australian Aboriginal story, and making a point in political theory (of course, the story also makes a point in political theory). What do you take away from the story of Tjipel?

Powerpoint slides for Tuesday

December 6: Wrap-up

Powerpoints slides for Thursday

Blogpost #2 on Morgensen, Rifkin, or Povinelli due Wednesday December 12 0930 (please email as Word doc with your first name in the filename)

Artist: Richard Tax Tjupurrula, Tjipal, 1998


1. Grading practice for the course, and checklist for effective participation.
2. Guidelines on writing short papers. Two examples of successful past papers by real students in a different 300-level POL S course (anonymously reproduced with their permission): first one; second one.

There were many A-grade papers in the last batch from this class. Here are three samples, anonymized and reproduced with permission. (I have corrected tiny typographical/referencing errors that might lead you astray, but these are otherwise unchanged):

Sample 1; Sample 2; Sample 3.

Message from November 8: A couple of keen students have asked me if they can do something for extra credit in POL S 305, to pull up their grades. I am offering everyone the option of doing an extra sixth short paper on any reading covered in the first two parts of the course (so up to Simpson). I’ll grade #6 and then count only the top 5 grades toward your final grade–so your lowest graded paper drops away, in other words. The deadline for paper #6 will be Thursday November 22 at the beginning of class. This is completely optional.

The first blogpost will be due Thursday November 29 and I’ll discuss approaches to that assignment after reading break.

3. Guidelines on writing blogpost-style essays. (Here’s a link on writing a good lead.) For a couple of examples (by me, and Madeline Smith, who was a student in a similar class a few years ago) see here. Here’s another exemplary post by my colleague Amy Allen, from a New York Times blog called The Stone, which features posts by philosophers (including some political philosophers) and so is a good source of models.


For individual academic use ONLY. Please do not reproduce or distribute.
Full references are available at this reading list.

Le Guin, Ursula. 2012 [1973]. “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.”

Rubin, Gayle. 1975. “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex.”

Harder, Lois. 2014. “Does Sperm Have a Flag? On Biological Relationship and National Membership.”

Tallbear, Kim. 2013. “Genomic Articulations of Indigeneity.”

Okin, Susan Moller. 1991. “Gender, the Public and the Private.”

Brown, Wendy. 1995. “Liberalism’s Family Values.”

Young, Iris Marion. 1997. “Reflections on Families in the Age of Murphy Brown: On Justice, Gender, and Sexuality.”

Harder, Lois. 2009. “The State and the Friendships of the Nation: The Case of Nonconjugal Relationships in the United States and Canada.”

Hochschild, Arlie Russell. 2000. “Global Care Chains and Emotional Surplus Value.”

Arneil, Barbara. 2009. “Disability, Self Image, and Modern Political Theory.”

Ferguson, Kennan. 2012. “I ♥ My Dog.”

Donaldson, Sue, and Will Kymlicka. 2017. “Rethinking Membership and Inclusion in a Participatory Democracy: Cognitive Disability, Children, Animals.”

Arendt, Hannah. 1951. “The Decline of the Nation State and the End of the Rights of Man.”

Gündogdu, Ayten. 2015. Selections from Rightlessness in an Age of Rights: Hannah Arendt and the Contemporary Struggles of Migrants.

Simpson, Audra. 2017. “The Ruse of Consent and the Anatomy of ‘Refusal:’ Cases from Indigenous North America and Australia.”

Foucault, Michel. 1978 [1977]. History of Sexuality Volume I. This is the only text we are reading in translation. If you want to read it in the original French, you can do so here.

Puar, Jasbir. 2017 [2007]. Extracts from Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times.
Three documents: introduction; chapter 1; 2017 postscript.

Morgensen, Scott. 2010. “Settler Homonationalism: Theorizing Settler Colonialism Within Queer Modernities.”

Rifkin, Mark. 2014. “Making Peoples into Populations: The Racial Limits of Tribal Sovereignty.”

Povinelli, Elizabeth. 2015. “Transgender Creeks and the Three Figures of Power in Late Liberalism.”

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