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POL S 509 A: Political Theory Core

Meeting Time: 
Th 1:30pm - 4:20pm
THO 215
Joint Sections: 
POL S 401 A
Prof. Noga Rotem
Noga Rotem

Syllabus Description:

The Psyche and the World

Political Science 509/401: Political Theory Graduate Core Seminar

Autumn 2022


Noga Rotem

Th, 1:30-4:20 pm

Office hours: by appointment






How should we think about the relationship between politics and psychic life, political structure and private pathologies?


Some feminist and affect scholars argued in the last few decades that less-than-conscious feelings such as rage, joy, anxiety and mourning, might be politically salient. The urgency to study the politics of these feelings may have increased over the last few years of emotionalized politics. Nonetheless, many political theorists remain apprehensive about the consequences of politicizing inner life, often citing the need to protect ‘the private’ from the nosy (at best) or totalitarian (at worst) intrusions of the political world. Others are worried about the pettiness and irrationality of the psyche and the threat these pose to politics.


Despite (or because) of this discomfort, the question of the relationship between the psyche and the world haunts the history of political thought, at least since Plato argued in Republic that the psyche is a diminutive polity, and that pathologies in citizens’ souls bring about degeneration in the state. Plato simply posits this analogy rather than defending it. This seminar asks, however: Is the analogy defensible? Plato hoped that the magnified scale of the city will help elucidate the soul. We, however, might turn Plato on his head and ask: might private symptoms tell us something about the political world in which they emerge? That is Frantz Fanon’s argument. Mental illness, he writes in The Wretched of the Earth, is a “direct sequel of colonial oppression.”


We will start with Frantz Fanon (Wretched of the Earth; Black Skin, White Masks) and Plato (Republic), both see the polis as refracted in the psyche, and then turn to Thomas Hobbes (Leviathan) and Hannah Arendt (The Human Condition; Rahel Varnhagen) on the relationship between the city and its troubled souls. We will also read contemporary work in Political Theory by Judith Butler, Glenn Coulthard, Diego Rossello, Sharon Sliwinski and others.


Some of the questions that we might explore are: What are the dangers and promises of politicizing inner life? Of applying medicalized and/or therapeutic tropes to scholarship in political theory? Does the turn to the psyche mean lowering the expectations of worldly politics? Diminishing its scale? What’s the difference between acting politically and the neurotic behavior that Freud called ‘acting-out’? What might acting-(out) in concert with others look like? Or in other words—can mental symptoms form political resistance? Last, what is the relationship between land and mental health, dispossession and mental illness?

Requirements will include active participation, one oral presentation about a week’s readings, and a research paper.



Texts (available at the bookstore)





Hacket Publishing


Hobbes, Thomas





Arendt, Hannah (**electronic copy is available through the library**)

Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewess


New York Review of Books


Fanon, Frantz

Black Skin, White Masks


Grove Press


Park Hong, Cathy

Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning


One World


Requirements and evaluation, 509 students:

  1. Quality of participation + a weekly post about the readings (due 8 am the day of the seminar, 1-2 paragraphs): 20%
  2. One oral presentation about the week’s reading: 20%
  3. 1-page research paper prospectus (due on week 5): 10%
  4. Final paper: 50%. Paper drafts (10-12 pp) are due on week 9 and should be circulated to all seminar participants. On week 10 we will have a mini-conference where each paper will be assigned a discussant and we will all read and discuss each other’s work. The final draft of the paper will ideally incorporate some of the feedback offered in class, and is due at the end of the quarter.


Requirements and evaluation, 401 students:

  1. Quality of participation + a weekly post about the readings (due 8 am the day of the seminar, 1 paragraph max): 20%
  2. One oral presentation about the week’s reading: 20%
  3. 1-page research paper prospectus (due on week 5): 10%
  4. Final paper: 50% (15 pp). Alternatively, you could choose to submit 2 shorter papers (7 pp each; 25% each). Prompts will be distributed on weeks 5 and 10. Papers are due 10 days after the prompt has been distributed.




If you would like to request academic accommodation due to a disability, please contact UW Disability Resources for Students (DRS), Please also discuss any accommodations you might require with me, so that we can arrange for it.


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 ( Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (




Class schedule:

* = on Canvas

One: Sept 29

Judith Butler, The Psychic Life of Power, Introduction*

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Paranoid and Reparative Readings*

Bonnie Honig, Despondent? Or Respondent? (de-)Medicalizing Resistance


Two: Oct 6

Frantz Fanon, Black Skin White Masks (intro; 64-102; 120-132; 163-175; 191-197; 198-206)

The Wretched of the Earth (1-23; 26-7; 44-47; 56-59; 145-155; 167-8; 181-205; 216-7)*


Three: Oct 13

Plato, Republic. Books 1-2; book 3: skip 398b6-412c9 (pp.80-96 in our edition); book 4


Four: Oct 20

Republic. book 5: skip 449a-466e3 (136-157 in our edition); book 6: skip 505b5-end of book 6 (202-207); book 7: skip 521b4-540c2 (pp. 215-236), read 540c3-end of book 7 (236-7); all of books 8, 9, none of book 10.

Nicole Loraux, “The Soul of the City,” in: The Divided City, pp. 63-86 (if you are short on time skim pp. 63-74)*


Five: Oct 27

Hobbes’s Leviathan vol. 1 (selections)

Alison McQueen, 2018. “Hobbes ‘At the Edge of Promises and Prophecies,’” in: Political Realism in Apocalyptic Times*


Six: Nov 3

Hobbes Leviathan vol. 2 (selections)

Diego Rossello, 2012. “Hobbes and the Wolf-Man: Melancholy and Animality in Modern Sovereignty,” New Literary History*


Seven: Nov 10

Arendt The Human Condition (selections)*

Sharon Sliwinski Dreaming in Dark Times, Introduction*


Eight: Nov 17

Arendt Rahel Varnhagen (preface, chapters 1, 7, 8, 12, 13).





**submit paper drafts to instructor and all participants**

Cathy Park Hong, Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning

Attend Park Hong’s talk @ 7:30 pm. Register here


Ten: Dec 8



Events related to the seminar (attendance is not required but highly encouraged):

October 12, Elizabeth Anker, Ugly Freedoms, 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm, Petersen Room, Allen Library

October 14, Book Club discussion of Wayward Lives, 12 pm, Gowen 1A

October 26, Sayidia Hartman’s Walker-Ames Public Lecture. RSVP here

December 1st, Cathy Park Hong’s talk


Catalog Description: 
Central themes in political theory and the works of major political theorists, past and present.
Last updated: 
September 28, 2022 - 10:01pm