POL S 201 A: Introduction to Political Theory

Summer Term: 
Meeting Time: 
TTh 9:40am - 11:50am
ART 006
Emily Christensen

Syllabus Description:

POL S 201: Introduction to Political Theory

Summer 2018

Tue/Thu   9:40-11:50 am

ART 006


Instructor: Emily Christensen


Office Hours: Tues: 11:50-12:50am & Thurs: 8:40-9:40am

Smith 24


Course Description:

This course examines three key themes in political theory: freedom, justice and power. In order to gain a deeper understanding of these concepts, we will critically engage with foundational texts in Western political thought, put them in conversation with contemporary works, and think about their implications for politics and government today—especially relating to issues of racial, gender and economic inequality.


The first part of the course will focus on social contract theory: we will examine the nature of political community and the origins of the social contract, the relationship between freedom and government, and the obligations and responsibilities of citizenship. We will seek to understand and analyze the following questions: What is freedom and what is justice? How are these ideals best realized through government? What does it mean to act politically?


Next, we will turn our attention to freedom and the individual: in this section we will examine competing accounts of what it means to exercise freedom and discuss the social and political implications of depriving particular groups of freedom. We will ask: What rights should be afforded to the individual? What are the causes and implications of various forms of social and political domination?  


Finally, we will explore the concept of power and discuss potential avenues for resistance. In other words: How can we define and conceptualize power? What are that ways in which we can exercise resistance to power?




Paper Project—The paper project will consist of two components, with revisions. In the first component, students will reconstruct one of the author’s argument and add their own analysis and critique [2-3 pages]. Next, after receiving instructor feedback, students will make revisions and then apply their analysis to a contemporary social or political issue [7-8 pages total].


Exams—The midterm and final exams will consist of two sections: course concepts and short essay. In the first section, students will be required to define key course concepts and explain their importance in 2-3 complete sentences. In the second section, students will answer short essay questions that will require an understanding of author’s arguments as well as a demonstration of their own critical analysis. 


Quizzes—Quizzes will be given at random during class and will mimic the course concept questions on exams. The purpose of these quizzes is to assess students’ learning and reading comprehension, as well provide them practice and a greater understanding of expectations on exams.


Participation—Every class meeting will consist of a combination of lecture and discussion.  Students are expected to complete the assigned readings prior to the day they are listed on the syllabus, to arrive on time and prepared for lecture and discussion, and to interact respectfully with their fellow students. Thoughtful and sustained class participation is required. Effective participation means not only speaking, but also listening and asking questions. My assessment of your participation will include the following criterion: demonstration of careful reading, quality of contributions and critical questions, thoughtful and respectful engagement during discussion.



Grade Breakdown:

Paper Project: 25%, (draft 10%, revisions and final 15%)

Midterm Exam: 20%

Final Exam:  25%

Quizzes: 10%

Participation: 20%



Course Schedule:


Week 1:

Tuesday, June 19: Introduction to the Course; What is Political Theory?

No reading assigned.


Part 1: The Political Contract & (In)Justice


Thursday, June 21

Reading: Plato, Apology & Crito


Week 2:

Tuesday, June 26

Reading: Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Part I: Chapters 13, 14; Part II: Chapters 17, 18, 20, 21)


Thursday, June 28

Reading:  John Locke, Second Treatise on Government (Chapters 1-5, 7-9, 19)

*Paper Project Prompt (part one) distributed; Writing workshop


Week 3:

Tuesday, July 5

Reading: Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract (selections)


Thursday, July 7

Reading: Charles Mills, The Racial Contract (selections)


Week 4:

Tuesday, July 10

Readings: Henry David Thoreau, “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience” (not required)

Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”;

Malcolm X, “The Ballot or the Bullet”


Thursday, July 12—MIDTERM EXAM

No assigned readings


Part 2: Freedom & the Individual


Week 5:

Tuesday, July 17

Readings: Marx, The Economic & Philosophic Manuscripts (selections)


Thursday, July 19

Readings: John Stuart Mill, On Liberty & The Subjection of Women (selections)

*Paper (part one) Due


Week 6:

Tuesday, July 24

Reading: Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (selections)


Thursday, July 26

Reading: W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (selections)

*Graded Papers handed-back; Paper Prompt (part two) distributed


Part 3: Power & Resistance


Week 7:

Tuesday, July 31

Reading: Michel Foucault, Discipline & Punish (selections)


Thursday, August 2

No assigned readings; Writing workshop [Peer Review]


Week 8:

Tuesday, August 7

Reading: Judith Butler, Undoing Gender (selections)


Thursday, August 9

Reading: Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality (selections)


Week 9:

Tuesday, August 14

No assigned readings; Final Exam review

*Paper (part two & revisions) Due [EXTENSION: Paper Part II and revisions is due Friday, August 17th at 11:59pm]


Thursday, August 16: FINAL EXAM



Classroom Policies:


Email & Office Hours

Your learning and engagement with this course is important to me and I am always happy to field your questions, concerns, or comments in person or over email.  I will try my best to answer your emails in a timely manner, however, it is my policy that I will not respond to emails 24-hours prior to an exam or paper due date so please make sure to plan ahead. 

Substantive questions about the course material are always better suited for in-person discussion.  Thus, I hope you take advantage of my office hours or schedule alternative meeting times if necessary.


Grade Appeals

My aim is to give every student a fair grade that reflects their understanding of, and engagement with, the course material.  If you feel that you have been graded unfairly on a paper or exam or would like further clarification and/or feedback, I am happy to meet with you for discussion.

In order to appeal your grade, you must (1) wait 24 hours from getting your assignment back to request a meeting; (2) carefully read all of my comments on your paper/exam; (3) schedule a meeting within one week of receiving your graded assignment; and (4) come prepared with written memo that outlines why you believe your assignment has been graded in error.


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. University policies and guidelines regarding cheating and plagiarism can be found at https://depts.washington.edu/grading/pdf/AcademicResponsibility.pdf



For the benefit of our discussion and out of respect for others, please put phones away during class. If your phone rings, beeps or buzzes, I will answer it and have a nice conversation with your mom or text back your boyfriend of BFF. Laptops are to be used solely for the purpose of note-taking and accessing the readings. If I notice you are shopping for shoes online or Facebook messaging, I will confiscate your laptop and read your recent browser search history aloud. 

Late Work

Late work will not be accepted in this nor will missed papers or exams be made up without verification of a personal/family emergency or medical condition.


Diversity Statement

The diversity of student backgrounds and perspectives in this course is an enormous benefit. Many discussion topics in this class may be controversial and elicit competing viewpoints and spirited debate and disagreement is strongly encouraged in discussion. Disagreement and debate can foster a deeper intellectual understanding as long as students maintain respect for perspectives that differ from their own.


Religious Holidays

If you wish to observe a religious holiday that is not recognized by the University calendar, please let me know in advance, so that I can accommodate your absence from class.



Your experience in class is important to me, and it is my goals to create an accessible and inclusive learning environment for all students. If you experience barriers due to a disability and need academic accommodations, please contact Disability Resources for Students, 448 Schmitz Hall, V: (206) 543-8924, TTY: (206) 543-8925, uwdss@u.washington.edu. If you have a letter from Disability Resources for Students documenting the need for academic accommodations, please present this letter to the instructor at the beginning of the quarter so that accommodations can be discussed and arranged.

Catalog Description: 
Philosophical bases of politics and political activity. Provides an introduction to the study of politics by the reading of books in political philosophy. Organized around several key political concepts, such as liberty, equality, justice, authority, rights, and citizenship. Offered: AWSpS.
Department Requirements: 
Introductory Courses
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
October 17, 2018 - 9:10pm