Schoolhouse Rock!

A Science of the State? a Critical Introduction to Political Science

Instructor: Rafael Khachaturian
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

Politics is often called an “art.” So how can it also be a science? Is a science of politics possible—or even desirable? First emerging out of the late nineteenth century confluence of Western nationalism, imperialism, racism, and capitalism, political science was initiated as a science of, and for, the modern state. After World War II, as the United States became both the world’s pre-eminent power and the bulwark against communism, the discipline consolidated around ideologies of progressivism, pragmatism, and modernization. The conception of liberal democracy that emerged at the time became the implicit benchmark to be met by other, “modernizing” nations and societies, with outcomes whose legacy persists today. But, what does political science purport to do? How can we understand the formation, function, and horizons of this discipline? What are the goals and aspirations, overt and covert, of this specialized type of knowledge? What, by its methods and orientation, does it actually achieve? What kinds of thinking and intellectual possibilities does it limit or foreclose? And what, if anything, is the alternative?

In this course, we will interrogate the origins, history, and present of political science as a distinct field of knowledge. We will focus on how the self-identity of this knowledge regime is inseparably entwined with the United States’ transformation into a global superpower, such that it constructs, frames, and communicates theories and facts about politics and the social world that it purports to study—and in the process, “creates” a world in its own image. In the process, we will reflect on certain key questions: What is the relationship between political science and U.S. nation-making and empire? How did this discipline change in response to the totalitarian experiences of the twentieth century? How has political science reproduced liberal ideologies, including its conceptions of citizenship, civil society, constitutional democracy, and national identity? Why has this liberal foundation also entailed exclusionary and hierarchical discourses of race, gender, and class? What internal critiques have been formulated against the hegemonic ways of doing political science—and even against “political science” as a whole? Among the readings will be selections from Gabriel Almond, Jens Bartelson, Jessica Blatt, John Burgess, David Ciepley, Robert Dahl, Nicolas Guilhot, John G. Gunnell, David Easton, Michael Hanchard, Ira Katznelson, C. Wright Mills, William Novak, Ido Oren, Carole Pateman, Cedric J. Robinson, Dorothy Ross, Theda Skocpol, Robert Vitalis, Immanuel Wallerstein, and Sheldon Wolin.

Course Schedule

Thursday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
March 09 — March 30, 2023
4 weeks


Registration Open

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