POL S 201 A: Introduction to Political Theory

Meeting Time: 
TTh 1:00pm - 2:20pm
PCAR 192
Emily Christensen

Syllabus Description:

POL S 201: Introduction to Political Theory

Winter 2019

Revised 2/19/19


Tue/Thu   1:00-2:20pm

PCAR 192


Instructor: Emily Christensen


Office Hours: Tuesdays, 2:30-3:30pm & Thursdays 12:00-1:00pm; Gowen 44


Teaching Assistants:

Mathieu Dubeau; mdubeau@uw.edu

Micah Stanovsky; micahs3@uw.edu

Dennis Young; dyoung4@uw.edu


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 justice? How is this ideal 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 the ways in which we can exercise resistance to power?




Paper Project—The paper project will consist of two components, with revisions.


Part One: Argument Reconstruction—students will reconstruct the logical steps of one of the theorist’s arguments [1-2 pages]. After receiving TA feedback, students will make revisions and submit with their final paper.



Part Two: Argument Development & Application—students will make revisions to their argument reconstruction based on TA feedback and develop their own analysis/critique. They will apply their analysis to a contemporary social or political issue [5 pages total].


Exams—The midterm and final exams will consist of two sections: course concepts and short essays. 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 as provide them practice and a greater understanding of expectations on exams.


Participation—This course 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. Thoughtful and sustained class participation is required. Effective participation means not only speaking, but also listening and asking questions. TA 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: 30%,

Argument Reconstruction 10%         

Final (w/revisions) 20%                                

Midterm Exam: 20%                                     

Final Exam:  25%

Participation & Quizzes: 25%



Course Schedule:


Week 1:

Tuesday, January 8: Introduction to the Course; What is Political Theory?

No reading assigned.


Part 1: The Political Contract & (In)Justice


Thursday, January 10

Reading: Plato, Apology & Crito


Week 2:

Tuesday, January 15

Reading: Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Part I: Chapters 13-16); 32pp


Thursday, January 17

Reading: Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Part II: Chapters 17, 18, 20, 21); 39pp

*Argument Reconstruction assignment distributed



Week 3:

Tuesday, January 22

Reading:  John Locke, Second Treatise of Government (Chapters 1-5); 23pp


Thursday, January 24

Reading:  John Locke, Second Treatise on Government (Chapters 7-9, 19); 43pp


Week 4:

Tuesday, January 29

Reading: Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract (Chapters 1 & 3); 54pp


Thursday, January 31

Reading: Charles Mills, The Racial Contract (Introduction, Chapter 1—p. 9-19, Chapter 2—p. 41-62); 39pp

*Argument Reconstruction due Friday 2/1—extension to Saturday, 2/2


Part 2: Freedom & the Individual


Week 5:

Tuesday, February 5



Thursday, February 7

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

Malcolm X, “The Ballot or the Bullet”; 20pp

Exam Review




Week 6:

Tuesday, February 12


Thursday, February 14—MIDTERM EXAM [re-scheduled due to snow day]



Part 3: Power & Resistance


Week 7:

Tuesday, February 19

Reading: Reading: Karl Marx, Capital (The Secret of Primitive Accumulation), & The Economic & Philosophic Manuscripts (Alienated Labor);

Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto

*Final Paper prompt distributed



Thursday, February 21

Readings: John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (Chapters 1 & 3); 34pp



Week 8:

Tuesday, February 26

Reading: Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (Volume 1: Introduction, Volume 2: Introduction & Chapter 10)


Thursday, February 28

Reading: W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (Chapters 1, 2, 4, 8); 45pp



Week 9:

Tuesday, March 5

No reading assigned

*Final Paper due Wednesday 3/6


Thursday, March 7: 

Reading: Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality (Preface & First Essay); 31pp



Week 10:

Tuesday, March 12

Reading: Michel Foucault, Discipline & Punish (Part 1: 1. “The Body of the Condemned” & Part 3: 2. “Corrective Training”)


Thursday, March 14

Reading: Judith Butler, Undoing Gender (Chapter 1)

Wrap Up & Final Exam Review


FINAL EXAM: Friday, March 22; 2:30-4:20pm








Classroom Policies:


Email & Office Hours

Your learning and engagement with this course are 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.



All assignments will be grade on a 100 point scale and converted to a 4.0 scale at the end of the quarter using the grading conversion rubric that is uploaded to Canvas under course files.


Academic Integrity

Any material that you quote, paraphrase, summarize or draw ideas from requires proper citation. 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. All papers will be turned in via Canvas and checked with Vericite, a plagiarism detection software. 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. Laptops are to be used solely for the purpose of note-taking and accessing the readings. If technology related distractions become a problem in class, I will ban laptops and students will be required to print out readings and take notes by hand.


Late Work

Papers submitted after the deadline will incur a penalty of 5% per day. Missed exams cannot 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 is strongly encouraged in discussion. Disagreement 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 me and your TA 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: 
September 29, 2019 - 9:05pm