POL S 447 A: Advanced Seminar In Comparative Politics

Emotions and Politics

Meeting Time: 
MW 2:30pm - 4:20pm
SMI 307
Ellis Goldberg

Syllabus Description:

Political Science 447 Winter 2018 Emotions and Politics Goldberg



Office: 30 Smith

Email: goldberg@u



This course is an introduction to thinking about emotions and politics. It is not an exaggeration to say that political scientists are not generally engaged in studying or analyzing how emotions affect politics or the reverse. This is not surprising for a discipline in which choice, interests, and rationality have long provided crucial analytic points of departure. Anthropologists, sociologists and historians have engaged in extensive study of emotion during the last three decades in ways that challenge both micro-economic (“rational choice”) and post-modern (“Foucauldian”) paradigms.   The absence of such analysis in political science is, however, surprising in a different way given that at least as far back as Aristotle students of politics thought and wrote about emotions and emotional language (rhetoric).


In this course we will read and discuss several different perspectives on emotions and politics. We begin with the Humean understanding that still underlies much contemporary work in political science on emotions and politics. We will then consider several alternate accounts. The read two important works of political theory. One is the product of Enlightenment thought which, although differing from Hume, reflects much 18th century thinking including that of Adam Smith. The other is a very recent work by Martha Nussbaum. We will also read a path-breaking historical account of emotional communities by Barbara Rosenwein. To see how understanding of emotions works in contemporary political science we will review some important recent work including contributions by two members of this department, Jon Mercer and Jamie Mayerfeld. We will be looking at articles that discuss emotions in the context of international relations, political theory, and comparative politics (Wendy Pearlman). One important question we will seek to address is whether emotions are moral evaluations and whether what Rosenwein calls emotional communities may also be thought of as moral communities.


Your grade is composed of participation (20%), two short quizzes (20% each), and one long research paper of no less than 15 pages (40%). READ THIS CAREFULLY: your participation grade is made up of two parts, one written and one oral. You must bring to EVERY class two copies of at least one page of reading notes. You will give one to me and keep one with you. No reading notes will be accepted after the class begins. These notes are collectively worth 10% of your overall grade. I will use the notes to prompt your individual participation in discussion in the event that you do not spontaneously participate. I will keep track of your oral participation and it is worth 10% of your overall grade. Please note that while you can obtain a satisfactory grade (B) without participation it is impossible to get a good grade (B+ or higher) without it.


The long paper must engage actual research on your part beyond the readings in the course. You must choose a topic no later than the third week and discuss it with me. This paper must take some aspect of emotion and use it to investigate or clarify some problem in politics (contemporary or historical).



January 3


Introduction to the class


What are emotions? How do they differ from feelings? What did the philosopher David Hume mean when he said that reason is, or ought to be, the slave of the passions?


Rosenwine, pp. 1-31

David Hume, A Treatise on Human Nature (selection) on the course website


January 8


Emotions as “upheavals.” Martha Nussbaum presents her approach to emotions as evaluative cognitions. To what degree does her understanding of “upheavals” correspond with Hume’s concept of emotions? Does she place it in the same cognitive context?


Nussbaum, 1-88


January 10


It wasn’t always this way. As Nussbaum and Rosenwein make clear, Classical philosophers considered emotions and feelings topics worth consideration. Hume’s writing indicates the importance philosophers of the European Enlightenment placed on thinking about emotions. One of the first major attempts to discuss the origins and role of emotions in social life was Edmund Burke’s “Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful.” Profoundly influential throughout the 18th century it has, according to Google Scholar, been cited more than 5,000 times. What does Burke mean by taste? Why does he distinguish between the passions of self-preservation and those of society? What role does terror play in his argument about the passions generally and the sublime?


Burke, “Enquiry” pp. 57-127


January 17


Burke takes up the beautiful and the emotions it inspires. Does Burke have a “hydraulic” understanding of emotions? What role do the emotions evoked by the beautiful and the sublime play in human society? How does Burke seem to understand the constitution of human society?


Burke, “Enquiry, pp. 128-198


January 22


Why is it important to Nussbaum to deal with the continuity between humans and other animals? In what ways are emotions socially constructed and what does that mean?


Nussbaum, pp. 89-173


January 24


Disgust and compassion are two crucial emotions for Nussbaum. Why does she spend so much time on them and how are they connected to her concern with human flourishing? How, if at all, are these two emotions connected to the beautiful and the sublime? Do Burke and Nussbaum have similar concerns or are they writing about distinctly different concepts of human emotions?


Nussbaum, pp 174-237; 297-353



January 29


Nussbaum places compassion in tension, at least initially, with reason and places them both in the context of public policy. Just how large a role compassion (and mercy) should play in public life and law is a long-standing question.


Nussbaum pp. 354-456

Kenji Yoshino, “On Empathy in Judgment (Measure for Measure)” on the website

Jeffrie G. Murphy “Forgiveness, Mercy, and the Retributive Emotions” on the website


January 31


Is the past really another country and if so did people there have emotions like ours? How do we know what our emotions are? If not, what is the point of reading pre-modern accounts of emotions (or anything else)? As Rosenwein notes, they certainly confronted death, passion, and power. What are the implications of Rosenwein’s concept of an emotional community?


Rosenwein, pp. 32-99



February 5


Although Rosenwein is correct that Nussbaum is not very attracted to medieval discussions or experiences of emotion she does address two important sources for understanding medieval European views, Augustine and Dante.


Nussbaum, pp. 527-590


February 7


Rosenwein outlines more clearly the nature of emotional communities and changes across time and space (or perhaps we should say social structure). What connection, if any, do you see between emotional communities and moral communities?


Rosenwein, 100-204


February 12


Nussbaum addresses the democratization of emotion in the writing of Walt Whitman and the influence of modernity through the work of James Joyce. You may wish to read some of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass yourself and Joyce. What kinds of emotional communities do Whitman and Joyce (as presented by Nussbaum) refer to?


Nussbaum, pp. 645-714.



February 14


In the field of comparative politics the Humean paradigm continues to be of great importance. Wendy Pearlman has written powerfully of the emotions although she discusses their role primarily as a matter of preference formation.


Wendy Pearlman “Emotions and the Microfoundations of the Arab Uprisings” in Perspectives on Politics on the website

Wendy Pearlman “Narratives of Fear in Syria” in Perspectives on Politics on the website


February 21


In the field of international relations the study of emotions in ways other than the Humean paradigm has become more widely accepted. Two important articles are by Professor Jonathan Mercer who will join us for a discussion.


Jonathan Mercer “Emotional Beliefs” on the website

Jonathan Mercer “Feeling Like a State: Social Emotion and Identity” on the website


February 26


The argument that the strength of emotional ties binding groups is a problem for contemporary politics continues to be important. Professor Mayerfeld will attend our session and help us to understand important arguments about the role of emotions, identity, and national community for politics.


Jamie Mayerfeld “The Myth of Benign Group Identity” A Critique of Liberal Nationalism” on the website



February 28


Willliam Reddy, a noted historian, developed the concept of “emotives” referenced by Rosenwein to discuss a set of important political and historiographical issues about emotions in society and how emotional repertoires change. He takes a position against both postmodern constructionism and rational choice theories.


William M. Reddy “Against Constructionism: The Historical Ethnography of Emotions” on the website

William M. Reddy “Sentimentalism and Its Erasure: The Role of Emotions in the Era of the French Revolution” on the website

William M. Reddy, “Postmodernism and the Public Sphere: Implications for an Historical Ethnography” on the website


March 5


Some crucial academic work on the emotions by Parker and Perry. Following the insight of Nussbaum it is worth reading the central section of William Wordsworth’s long poem, The Prelude, for his view of the French revolution. Wordsworth famously spoke of poetry as emotion recollected in tranquility.


Colin Parker “Fear, Laughter and Collective Power: the making of Solidarity at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk” on the website

Elizabeth Perry “Moving the Masses: Emotion work in the Chinese revolution” on the website

William Wordsworth, The Prelude, Books 9, 10, 11, and 13 on the website


March 7


The classic English language comparison of power and love is probably William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. You can either buy a cheap copy at any used book store or you can read it in on the web here




Additional Details:

W Course.

Catalog Description: 
Selected comparative political problems, political institutions, processes, and issues in comparative perspective. Strongly
Department Requirements: 
Comparative Politics Field
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 9:32pm