Critical theory: politics and society

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POLITICAL SCIENCE 4065 (3.0), (W) 2016


Course Director: Cory Jansson


Seminar: Wednesdays, 4 – 7 PM

Place: Ross Building, Room S156

Office hour: By apptmt.

Those who do not move, do not notice their chains. – Rosa Luxemburg

In what ways is Western thought a violent, exploitive and alienated ideology? This course looks at critical theory through the lens of radical theory – the theoretical canon seeking a social transformation for all members of society through the eradication of capitalist rationality that collectively dehumanizes and alienates us all – as a window to explore and critique politics and society. We will start by looking at Hegel’s theory of the master-slave dialectic, which explicitly and implicitly informs much of the radical theory tradition. To ensure we do not get lost in the abstractness of Hegel’s thought, we will connect his work to one of the most important political movements of the past two centuries – the Haitian revolution – before moving on to take stock of actually existing issues facing us in the neoliberal tyranny of everyday life.

Required Texts:
*Gerald Horne (2015), Confronting Black Jacobins. New York: Monthly Review Press.
*Various readings available online through journals, embedded links and library course reserves.
* Weekly Reading Response/Attendance (best /10) 35

* Participation 15

* Presentation 5

* Short Essay (1500 words – due Feb. 24) 15

* Final Essay (2500 words – due Apr. 13) 30


Total 100

Weekly Reading Response/Attendance: A one page reading response to the weekly readings is due at the beginning of each class. Please write one or two (or ten!) questions at the end of your response, so we can potentially discuss them in seminar. If you miss a week, you will need to write a three page reading response, which is due at the beginning of the next class you attend. The best 10 reading responses will count.

Class participation: Please come to class prepared and ready to discuss the readings. Equally important, please be open, honest and respectful with each other inside and outside the classroom. Positive, safe and honest learning environments are crucial to a good class. It is absolutely critical that you read all of the readings each week and come to seminar with a sense of what each author’s thesis is. Being prepared means being able to discuss and reflect on the main points of each article.
Presentation: Students will choose a week to present and then prepare a 5-7 minute talk. Please prepare one question for discussion. For clarity’s sake, I recommend students pose the question at beginning of their presentation, so that their colleagues can have a few minutes to think about the question. It would also be a good idea to also restate the question at the end. Note: the presentation is not a summary of the readings. It is a selective presentation of what you believe are important and interesting points made by the author(s). The point of the presentation is to explore important themes/issues in the reading and generate lively discussion.
Short Essay: Choose one question – (1) Critical theory remains important for understanding politics and society today. Explain. (2) What is critical theory and what is its goal? (3) How does critical theory allow you to understand your life and social world more critically? (4) What does Rosa Luxemburg mean when she writes, “Those who do not move, do not notice their chains?” (5) Why does primitive accumulation remain an important concept in critical theory? (6) Why is the relationship between domination and freedom the basis of all critical theory? (7) Pick a theorist from the critical theory tradition and briefly explain why you think their contributions are valuable. (8) “The challenge of modernity is to live without illusions and without becoming disillusioned.” Why is Antonio Gramsci’s insight important for critical theorists? (9) Why should everyone care about critical theory? (10) What do critical theorists mean when they write that capitalism is an “irrational” system? (11) In the Theses on Feuerbach, Marx observes: “Philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” Explain. (12) In what way(s) is Hegel’s master/slave dialectic the foundation of all critical theory? (13) How does the Haitian Revolution influence critical theorists today? (14) Give a few reasons why the Haitan revolution has been marginalized by most critical theorists? (15) In what ways does Hegel’s master/slave dialectic help explain the Haitian revolution? (16) Why is Federici’s book important for understanding the transition to and continuation of capitalism? (17) How can Hegel be used to understand Fanon’s critique of French colonialism? (18) In what ways is Malcom X the epitome of Gramsci’s notion of an “organic intellectual”? (19) What is primitive accumulation and why is it important for critical theorists? (20) How does the film, “The Wind that Shakes the Barley”, explore the relationship between freedom and domination? (21) What is the difference between an organic and traditional intellectual? (22) Why does Coulthard believe sovereignty claims are part and parcel of settler colonialism? (23) In what ways do the books, The Black Jacobins and Confronting Jacobins, compliment each other in broadening how we understand the development of freedom? (24) Why is Fanon’s “The Fact of Blackness” a seminal work for critical theorists? (25) Explain why Marx’s theory of primitive accumulation remains an important critique of classical political economy and neoliberal economics.
DUE DATE: February 24.
Long Essay: Choose one of the themes/issues/articles from the course outline and explore it further. You can also write a paper on a topic of your own choosing, so long as it is related to critical theory and you discuss it with me beforehand, preferably before March.
DUE DATE: April 13.


JANUARY 6: Introduction
JANUARY 13: The Master-Slave Dialectic
Readings: Hegel (1803), Phenomenology of Spirit,Lordship and Bondage” + “Unhappy Consciousness”; Susan Buck Morss (2009), Hegel and Haiti (Duke), pgs 14-20.
JANUARY 20: The Haitian Revolution I
Readings: C.L.R. James (1963), The Black Jacobins, pgs. 3-62; Gerald Horne, Confronting Black Jacobins, pgs. 1 – 126.

JANUARY 27: The Haitian Revolution II
Readings: James, TBJ, pgs. 85-117, 145 -162; Horne, CBR, pgs. 127 – 206.

FEBRUARY 3: The Blood of Primitive Accumulation
Readings: Karl Marx (1976), Capital, Vol. 1, “The Secret of Primitive Accumulation”,; Silvia Federici (2004), “Caliban and the Witch”, pgs. 7-20, 61-132; David Harvey (2004) “The ‘New’ Imperialism: Accumulation by Dispossession,” Socialist Register.

FEBRUARY 10: Anti-Colonialism
Readings: Aimé Césaire (1962) “Discourse on Colonialism”, Monthly Review

Press; Frantz Fanon (1967), “The Fact of Blackness”, pgs. 82-108, Black

Skin, White Masks; Glen Coulthard (2014), “The Politics of Recognition in

Colonial Contexts”, (ebook through York library), Red Skin, White Masks

(Minnesota Press).

FEBRUARY 17: Reading Week

FEBRUARY 24: Capitalist Education
Readings: Antonio Gramsci (1971), “The Intellectuals,” Selections from the Prison Notebooks, trans. by Q. Hoare and G.W. Smith, pgs. 131-164; Paulo Friere (1970), “Critical Education vs. Banking Education” Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 43-60, 71-86.
Viewing: Harry Belafonte (1960) “Oh, Freedom”; Nina Simone (1965)

“Sinnerman”; The Roots (2012) “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around

(Cover); Mardi Gras Indians (2013) “Indian Red”; Asian Dub Foundation (1997)

“Modern Apprentice”; R.A.F.I.; Dead Prez (2000), “They Schoolz”; KRS One

(2014), “Public Education”; Immortal Technique (2013) “Fake Hip Hop”; The

(International) Noise Conspiracy (2000), “Smash It Up”; Talib Kweli (2002) “Get

by”, Quality; Kanye West (2005) “Hey mama (a capella)” Late Registration;

Yasiin Bey (2012) “N****s in Poorest”; Kendrick Lamar (2015) “How Much A

Dollar Cost”, To Pimp a Butterfly; Rebel Diaz ft/ Dead Prez and Rakka Iriscience

(2015) “Which Side Are You On?”; A Tribe Called Red (2015) “Burn Your Village

to the Ground (Neon Natives Remix)”.

MARCH 2: Neoliberal Sexuality

Readings: Kevin Floyd (2009), pgs 1-78, The Reification of Desire; Laura Kacere (Jan. 24 2015) “Homonormativity 101” Everyday Feminism website; Julie A. Podmore (2013). “Lesbians as Village ‘Queers’: The Transformation of Montréal’s Lesbian Nightlife in the 1990s.” ACME, Vol. 12 (2); Jasbir Puar (2013). “Rethinking Homonationalism,” International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 45.

MARCH 9: Neoliberal Prison
Viewing: Bruce Springsteen (1995). “Straight Time”, The Ghost of Tom Joad.
Reading: Ruth Wilson Gilmore (2007), “Introduction”, pgs. 5-29, The Golden Gulag. (5-29). INCITE Critical Resistance Statement (2001), Gender Violence and the Prison Industrial Complex ; Loïc Wacquant (2010), "Class, Race and Hyperincarceration in Revanchist America", Socialism and Democracy, Vol. 28, Number 3, pgs 35-56.

MARCH 16: Radical Race Politics
Readings: Himani Bannerji (2000), “The Paradox of Diversity: The Construction of a Multicultural Canada and ‘Women of Colour’”, pgs. 1-62, Dark Side of the Nation; Robin D.G. Kelley (1994), “Introduction”, “Riddle of the Zoot”, Race Rebels; Adolph Reed Jr. (2009) “The Limits of Anti-Racism”, Left Business Observer; Sharon Smith (Nov.18, 2014), “The Politics of Privilege-Checking,”

MARCH 23: Neoliberal Addiction
Viewing: Amy Winehouse (2006), “Rehab”, Back to Black.
Reading: Gabor Maté (2008), In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, pgs. 124-157; Maté (2003), When the Body Says No, pgs 1-38, 227-239. Bruce K. Alexander (2001). “The Roots of Addiction in Free Market Society”, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives; Gordon Roe (2005). “Harm Reduction as Paradigm: Is Better than Bad Good Enough? The Origins of Harm Reduction.” Critical Public Health, Vol. 15 (3); Austin Frakt (Dec. 22, 2014), “Painkiller Abuse, A Cyclical Problem”, The New York Times.

MARCH 30: The Neoliberal Personality
Erich Fromm (1956), “Mental Health in an Insane Society” The Sane Society, pgs. 3-20, 185-201. Barbara Ehrenreich (2009), “Smile or Die”, in Bright-Sided, pgs 1-44; Gabor Maté (2000) “Different Worlds” and “Emotional Allergies”, pgs. 47-62. Eva Illouz (June 14, 2012), “How Therapy Became a Multimillion Dollar Industry” HAARETZ website.

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