POL S 201 A: Introduction to Political Theory

Meeting Time: 
TTh 11:30am - 12:50pm
KNE 220
Prof. Noga Rotem
Noga Rotem

Syllabus Description:

Introduction to Political Theory:

Insiders, Outsiders and the Perspective of Political Criticism

Fall 2021

Tu, Th 11:30 am -12:50 pm


Professor: Noga Rotem


Office hours: Thursday 1-3 pm, or by appointment

Gowen Hall 125


Teaching assistants:

Brian Huang (bphuang@uw.edu)

Becca Peach (rlpeach@uw.edu)

Grace Reinke (reinkeg@uw.edu)

Dennis Young (dyoung4@uw.edu)


Course description:

Who is best situated to theorize about and criticize a society? an insider or an outsider? Can a foreigner or a newcomer be a good lawgiver in a society that she or he is not intimately familiar with? Does being an exile rob one of a perspective? Or does distance illuminate flaws in society that one would not have noticed otherwise? This selective survey of major texts in the history of western political thought, will explore these questions and others, focusing on the role of the political theorist as a spectator and as a critic of society. How do different thinkers establish their impartiality? Does it require abandoning one’s standpoint? Is it identical to being a “voice from nowhere”?


Most of the thinkers that we will read negotiated at least two identities, two loyalties, or two places, with one foot in and one foot outside of the political context about which they wrote. To give a few examples: Aristotle was a foreigner in Athens, Machiavelli an exile who was banned from political office in Florence, Arendt was a stateless exile who fled Nazi Germany and wrote most of her political works after migrating to the US. Fanon and Beauvoir were both foreigners in their own societies—both describe in their writings the immense pain and psychological damage that result from their striving to be included—to be insiders—in societies that nevertheless forcefully and violently rejected and excluded them because of their race or gender.

How did the doubling of place and identity of all these thinkers affect their perspective and their political insight? And what do they have to say about the conditions that enable political critique? In sum: what are the worldly (i.e., cultural, institutional, economic, political) conditions of political theory?


This is a reading and writing intensive course. Students are responsible for all of the assigned reading as well as active participation in quizzes and three written papers.



Required texts


The following texts are available at the University bookstore. Assigned readings not included in the books below will be accessible on Canvas.

For the required texts, I recommend purchasing the editions specified here, as we will turn to the texts frequently in lectures and discussion sections, and pagination and translation may vary between different editions.


Texts for purchase are:


  • Plato, Republic, Hacket Publishing, 2004
  • Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, Cambridge University Press, 1988
  • Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Penguin Classics, 1985


For background material or help with the sources please do not just randomly search the web. There are many confusing and misleading websites. Come to office hours if you are having trouble with the readings, if you want more information, or are otherwise interested in secondary material. A good place to start can be the relevant entries in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, available online. If you are interested in consulting some optional secondary literature to help you with the readings, the following are some great scholarly overviews of the history and development of political thought:


  • Sheldon Wolin, Politics and Vision
  • Alan Ryan, On Politics
  • William Connolly, Political Theory and Modernity


Assignments and grading:

Short piece: (750 words) Assigned Thursday, October 7; Due Sunday, October 17

Midterm essay (1500 words): Assigned Friday, October 29; Due Saturday, November 13

Final take home exam (1500 words): Assigned Thursday, December 2; Due Monday, December 13


Short piece: 15%

Midterm essay: 35%

Final (take home exam): 35%

Discussion section attendance and participation: 15%


General course requirements:

  1. Attend lecture and participate in class discussion

Lectures will often involve large group discussion. Active participation in class discussion is not mandatory but it will significantly improve your ability to engage the works we read and understand them. If you do participate, that will contribute to your discussion section’s participation grade.


  1. Read the assigned materials before lecture

Much of the reading is dense and challenging. Some people dedicate their entire careers to the task of understanding these texts, so if your first encounter with the texts is tough-going, don’t give up, and know that you are in a good company! To make the texts more accessible we offer questions to focus on for each of the readings. Questions appear on the course schedule below.

Students are expected to read the assigned text(s) before lecture. I encourage you to keep a reading journal where you take notes and write down questions about segments of the texts that interest you or that you are struggling to understand. Bring those to class, to discussion sections, or to office hours! These notes will serve you for many years to come as you might return to these texts.


  1. Attend and participate in weekly discussion sections

Because this is a large introductory course, quiz sections provide the best opportunity to engage with your peers and discuss the course material. In order to make this experience rewarding for everyone involved, full and thoughtful participation is necessary. Your participation grade will be composed of attendance in discussion sections, and active participation.


  1. Attend office hours

If you feel uncomfortable speaking in class or quiz discussions, you might want to attend office hours on a more regular basis. In general, and regardless of the level of your class participation, I highly encourage you to attend office hours to discuss the class, the readings, your interests, or just to check in. Your TAs and I all hold regular office hours. Make it a habit to attend either or both.


Other policies

Health and safety in a pandemic

In this class, masks covering nose and mouth are required, and eating and drinking are prohibited. The instructor and TAs have the authority to cancel class if students do not comply.

Anyone who has symptoms should stay home and get tested. Anyone who tests positive needs to report it to the UW COVID-19 Response and Prevention Team (covidehc@uw.edu , 206-616-3344) and quarantine for 10 days.

In a case where the instructor or one of the TA’s need to quarantine, students will be notified by email, and lecture or respective discussion section will temporarily move online. 

Finally, everyone is encouraged to install WA Notify on their phone to facilitate contact tracing.



Cases of suspected cheating and plagiarism will be referred to the Arts and Sciences Committee on Academic Conduct. University policies and guidelines regarding cheating and plagiarism can be found at http://depts.washington.edu/grading/issue1/honesty.htm#misconduct.


Late Policy

Extension requests will require appropriate documentation. If you need to turn work in late, please give prior notice to your TA. Unexpected lateness will result in a dropped 0.3 points each day.


Social Media Policy

The instructor and the TAs will not make any posts about any of you on social media this quarter, and we will ask that you do the same so that we can speak freely and learn together.


Communications and response times

If you have any administrative or logistical questions not of a personal nature please consult the syllabus first, and then email your TA if you are still uncertain. Please email from an @uw.edu email address. Answers to most such questions are often on the syllabus. If you still cannot obtain an adequate answer, email the instructor.

Substantive questions related to course material will not be answered via email – instead, please see your TA or instructor during office hours or make an appointment.

Expect a reply from the instructor to emails within 24 hours, excluding weekends.



If you are experiencing personal, emotional, or financial hardships, there are some excellent resources on campus that many students turn to and are here to offer support.

LiveWell Student Care is a starting point for students in distress and in need of multiple levels of support. They provide wellness coaching to help untangle complex situations (unable to rely on family, not in a good living situation, not connected to health services, experiencing housing instability, or food insecurity, etc.).

Email them at: lwcare@uw.edu, or call: 206.543.2684 to set an appointment.


Let’s Talk is a program that connects UW students with support from experienced counselors from the Counseling Center without an appointment.



If you would like to request academic accommodation due to a disability, please contact UW Disability Resources for Students (DRS), uwdrs@uw.edu. Please present to your TA or instructor any letter you might have received from DRS confirming the need for academic accommodations, so that we can arrange accommodations.


Religious accommodations

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy (https://registrar.washington.edu/staffandfaculty/religious-accommodations-policy/). Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (https://registrar.washington.edu/students/religious-accommodations-request/).




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: 
May 8, 2021 - 3:30am