POL S 273 A: The Concept Of Political Power

Summer Term: 
Meeting Time: 
MW 9:40am - 11:50am
SWS 032

Syllabus Description:

Political Science 273 – Concepts of Power:

University of Washington

Summer 2016

Mon & Wed, 9:40-11:50am

Location: SWS 032


Instructor: Sean Butorac


Office: Gowen 024

Office Hours: Mon & Wed, 12-1pm at Cafe Solstice


Course Description & Objectives

Course Description

This course will explore the various ways in which power has been imagined and defined by political theorists past and present, including Machiavelli, Locke, Mill, Marx, Foucault, Arendt, Wolin, MacKinnon, and Ture & Hamilton. The course will be organized into four units, each of which orients us toward different conceptions of power: I. Power in the State and Society, II. Power in Dominant Groups, III. Disciplinary Power, and IV. Collective Power and the Possibilities of Freedom.

The course orients itself around these and many other questions: What is power? Is it something that can be seized, possessed, and displayed, or is its influence only visible in its effects? Who possesses or exercises power, and how do these people or groups justify and legitimate their power? Does power primarily work negatively to repress, confine, and punish us, or does it primarily work positively to cultivate and direct our capacities? If power does encourage and enable us to develop and flourish, what social groups are systematically excluded from these positive incitements of power? Do we obey power begrudgingly, or might we find pleasure and reward in complying with its imperatives? How have the forms taken by and the tactics employed by power – that is, the nature and aims of power – changed dramatically over the ancient, modern, and ‘post-modern’ eras? If power is increasingly scattered and invisible, how might we meaningfully resist it?


  1. To become fluent in how the concept of power is conceptualized and deployed across the canon of political theory.
  2. To recognize how concepts of power may produce and reproduce ideas of gender, sexuality, nationality, and/or race in American life. 

  3. To improve personal skills in close reading and analytical argumentation.
  4. To improve personal skills in analytical, interpretive, and critical writing.

  5. To enhance our political vocabularies so that we may bring these to bear on contemporary political issues and participate thoughtfully in public deliberation.
  6. To gain an appreciation for, and actively practice, political theoretical critique as an enterprise that entails valuing as well as challenging other theorists’ ideas, premises and contributions.


Requirements & Assessment

Your grade is based on class participation, two papers, and a presentation. The weighting of assignments and schedule of deadlines is as follows:

  1. Participation:                                                                             25%
  2. Response Papers (2 pgs): dates vary, due at 9:00am             15%
  3. Paper #1 (5-6 pgs): due Mon, July 25th   at 9:40am                 25%
  4. Paper #2 (7-8 pgs): due Fri, August 19th at 11:59pm               40%


1.Thoughtful and sustained class participation. This course will be run in a seminar format. Students are expected to complete the assigned readings before class, to arrive on time and prepared for discussion, and to interact respectfully with their fellow students and instructor. I am interested in the quality, not necessarily the quantity, of your contributions. Effective participation means not only speaking, but also listening and asking questions. The assessment of your participation will include:

(a) demonstration of careful reading

(b) quality of in-class analytical thinking

(c) quality of questions/challenges raised in class discussion

(d) thoughtful and respectful interaction in the classroom

(e) performance on any in-class quizzes, quick writes, or group work


2. Three short response papers (2 pages each). Over the quarter, students are responsible for completing three short response papers in preparation for section. Your papers may respond to any set of assigned readings. Your analysis should focus on the dimensions of the texts related to power, do not simply reconstruct the theories writ large. A successful response paper will address many—though certainly not all—of the questions outlined in the course description. Make judicious use of quotations—I am interested in your voice, reading, and analysis of the text. I encourage you to complete at least one paper early in the quarter, as this is a low stakes way to familiarize yourself with the conventions of political science/theory writing. Papers must be submitted to Canvas by 9:00am on the day the reading you are writing about is assigned. For example, if you are writing a response on John Locke, your paper must be submitted by 9:00am on Monday, June 27th.


3-4. To prepare for both papers, students will bring complete rough drafts of their papers to in-class writing workshops. If you cannot attend a workshop, contact me at least 48 hours in advance for an alternative assignment. If you are sick and contact me less than 48 hours in advance, I will require a doctor’s note. Failure to attend a workshop or make alternative arrangements will result in a 20% deduction from your final paper grade.


Course Materials & Required Texts

Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, second edition.

John Locke, Second Treatise of Government, preferably Hackett edition.

Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, preferably University of Chicago Press, second edition.

J.S. Mill, On Liberty, preferably Hackett Edition.

Books are available at UW Bookstore, at other booksellers, and at the UW libraries. If you do not purchase the required texts from the UW Bookstore, please do your best to secure the same edition of the text (e.g. same publisher and edition). All other course materials are available on the Canvas page for this course. I strongly encourage, but will not require you to print these materials.


Course Schedule

Unit I: Power in the State and Society

Week 1:

Mon, Jun 20:              Course Introduction; no assigned readings

Wed, Jun 22:              Machiavelli, The Prince, Ch. I-III, VI-VIII, X, XII-XV, XVIII-XIX (57 pgs)

Week 2:

Mon, Jun 27:              Locke, Second Treatise of Government, Ch. 1-7, 9, 11, 13, 19 (76 pgs)

Wed, Jun 29:              J.S. Mill, On Liberty, Ch. 1, 3, 4 (50 pgs)

Week 3:

Mon, Jul 4:                  University Holiday; no class or assigned readings

Unit II: Power in Dominant Groups

Wed, Jul 6:                 Marx, 1844 E & P Manuscripts, pg. 54-79 (25 pgs)

Week 4:

Mon, Jul 11:               Karl Marx, “On the Jewish Question” (27 pgs)

Wed, Jul 13:               Catharine MacKinnon, “Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State:                                                      An Agenda for Theory” (30 pgs)

Week 5:

Mon, Jul 18:               Kwame Ture & Charles Hamilton, Black Power, Ch. 1-2 (57 pgs) 

Wed, Jul 20:               Paper #1 Workshop; no assigned readings                                            

** Paper #1 due Monday, July 25thin hard copy at the beginning of class ** 

Unit III: Disciplinary Power

Week 6:

Mon, Jul 25:               Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, “The Body of the Condemned” and “Docile Bodies” (18 pgs)                      

Wed, Jul 27:               Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, “The Means of Correct Training” and “Panopticism” (26 pgs) 

Week 7:

Mon, Aug 1:                Michel Foucault, “Governmentality”           

Unit IV: Collective Power and the Possibilities of Freedom

Wed, Aug 3:               Arendt, The Human Condition, Ch. 1, "The Human Condition" and Ch. 2, “The                                     Public and Private” (67 pgs) 

Week 8:

Mon, Aug 8:               Arendt, The Human Condition, Ch. 5, "Action" (76 pgs) 

Wed, Aug 10:            Sheldon Wolin, “Fugitive Democracy” and “Norm & Form” (33 pgs)   

Week 9:

Mon, Aug 15:             Individual paper meetings; no assigned readings

Wed, Aug 17:             Paper #2 Workshop; no assigned readings


** Paper #2 submitted to Canvas by 11:59PM on Friday, August 19th **



Grading Policies

Paper Assessment Guide:

Written work in the A (3.5-4.0) range is characterized by a strikingly perceptive, persuasive, and creative analytical claim; comprehensive synthesis and analysis of the course material; straightforward yet sophisticated organization of thoughts and error-free prose. Written work in the B (2.5-3.4) range is characterized by sound, original, and reasonably thoughtful argument/thesis statement; competent analysis of various course material, logical organization; and clear and error-free prose. Written work in the C (1.5-2.4) range is characterized by a relatively underdeveloped, simplistic, or derivative argument/thesis statement; partial, inconsistent, or faulty analysis of course material; convoluted organization; and awkward, imprecise, or otherwise distracting prose. Written work in the D (0.7-2.3) range is characterized by incoherent or extremely confusing argument; superficial or fleeting engagement with the course material; chaotic or irrational organization; and error-riddled prose. Written work that lacks any argument or analysis and is sloppy, earns an F (0.6 and below).

Late Policy:

Uncompleted or missing papers will receive a grade of 0.0. Late
assignments will be docked 0.4 per day. That is: 3.5 paper, if turned in past the deadline, will become a 3.1, if turned in one full day late, will receive a 2.7, and so on. Exceptions will be made given prompt and (if necessary) documented consultation with the instructor. For full consideration, make sure to correspond with me via email prior to a late submission rather than afterwards. Exceptions to the late policy include: family emergencies, health and wellness issues, and logistical emergencies.

Grade Complaints:

My goal is to give fair grades that reflect the quality of students’ work. Please take 24 hours to review my comments on any assignment. To appeal, bring a one-page written response to office hours within ten days, responding to my feedback. We will discuss your appeal and I will take up to one week to re-grade your work in either direction. If you remain unsatisfied or feel the grade is discriminatory or unjust, then you may appeal to the Associate Chair of the Political Science Department, Jamie Mayerfeld, at jasonm@uw.edu.

Academic Dishonesty:

Cases of suspected cheating and plagiarism will be referred to the Arts and Sciences Committee on Academic Conduct, and may result in a grade of 0.0 for the assignment in question. Note that some teaching assistants are quite adept at detecting dishonest work. University policies and guidelines regarding cheating and plagiarism can be found at https://depts.washington.edu/grading/pdf/AcademicResponsibility.pdf.


Other Policies

Laptops are strongly discouraged:

The purpose of this section is to engage in conversations that help us develop a deeper understanding of the assigned texts. If you choose to use a laptop and I find you using it for anything other than note-taking or accessing the readings, you will no longer be allowed to use it during section.

Texts are required in class every day:

Much of this class is devoted to close reading and analysis of the assigned texts. Therefore, students will be asked to leave if they do not bring a digital or hard copy of the text to class.

Come to class alert and prepared to think, talk, and listen:

If you are disruptive, unwilling or unprepared to participate in discussion, I will ask you to leave class. I understand that some of you may be hesitant to speak in class discussions. If so, please see me during office hours to arrange an alternative method of participation.

Catalog Description: 
How to understand and explain relationships of power. Readings from Marxism, Weberian sociology, anarchism, classical political philosophy, and contemporary political science. May also include works of fiction.
Department Requirements: 
Political Theory Field
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 9:36pm