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POL S 273 A: The Concept of Political Power

Meeting Time: 
TTh 9:00am - 10:20am
MLR 301
Dennis Young

Syllabus Description:

POL S 273 – Concepts of Power Spring 2024

Instructor: Dennis Young, PhC, (he/him/his)

Lecture Time and Location: Tues, Thurs 9 – 10:20 AM, MLR 301


Office Hours: Thursdays, 10:30 AM to 12:30 PM, or by appointment (limited availability)

Zoom Link:


Teaching Assistants:

Lauren Collins (she/her/hers)


Office Hours: Tuesday 10:30-11:30am and Friday 12:30-1:30pm in Gowen 30. By appointment over Zoom: 

Course Description:

Politics is often described as the study of power and power relationships. But what does it mean to have power? How does one define power in a political context? Is power something that can be possessed, or is it merely all in the eye of the beholder? This course will examine and address ways that political theorists have analyzed the question of power, and provide students with a set of tools to develop their own understanding of what power is, and how power relations influence contemporary society. We will explore the role of power in government, economics, race, gender, nationality, and knowledge in order to develop a robust analysis of the myriad of ways that power influences everyday life. The course will draw on texts from a variety of political traditions including Western political theory, Marxist critiques of capitalism, black radical political thought, anarchist thought, anti-colonial political thought, feminist political theory, and indigenous scholarship. The assignments will consist of three papers. The first paper will be shorter and will have students practice analyzing political theory texts. The other two papers will ask students to compare and apply different conceptual understandings of power to contemporary issues. By the end of the course students will have a broad overview of theories of political power, and practice making their own arguments about how power influences political life.

Course Requirements:

This is a reading intensive course focused on developing critical thinking skills, strong understanding of crucial theoretical concepts, and learning to make arguments grounded in textual evidence. To that end, the assignments for this course focus on writing papers that bring together ideas from multiple thinkers and making nuanced, specific arguments engaging in high-level analysis. The first assignment will serve as a building block assignment intended to help students develop their writing skills for the course, and prepare for the second set of papers, which will be longer and more analytically intensive. In addition to the papers, students will be expected to actively participate in course discussions, and three times during the quarter, will bring a set of questions to class to help structure discussion. Due dates will be posted on Canvas. The breakdown of assignments is listed below:

Writing Strong Paragraphs Assignment – 20%

Paper #1 – 30%

Paper #2 (Final Paper) – 35%

Course Engagement – 15%





Writing Strong Paragraphs – Students will write strong paragraphs addressing 4 questions about readings from the first part of the course. Each paragraph will be between 250-400 words, for a total of not more than 1600 words. This exercise will help students develop a better understanding of what I am expecting in terms of analyzing and interpreting political theory evidence to make an argument.


Paper 1 and 2 – The full assignments for the papers will be distributed 1 week in advance of the due date. Students will be asked to compare and contrast two texts and to make an argument bringing together insights and theories from both texts. Students will write a 5-7 page argumentative paper. The argumentative portion is the most essential part of the assignment, and the highest marks will be awarded to students who develop a strong argument that also considers potential counterarguments, draws on textual evidence to make the argument, and demonstrates a convincing grasp of course material. The full requirements will be distributed as well as the prompt will be distributed about a week and a half before the essay is due.

Course Engagement - This grade will be calculated based on your participation in discussion (in section or lecture), your demonstration of having carefully read the assigned materials, and other demonstrations of engagement with course material. You will receive full points for the week if you attend discussion section and demonstrate some type of participation, including asking questions, adding to class discussions, attending office hours, or another demonstration of conceptual understanding. Just attending all classes is not enough to guarantee an A in participation, students must demonstrate engagement in the course. 

Catalog Description: 
How to understand and explain relationships of power. Readings from Marxism, Weberian sociology, anarchism, classical political philosophy, and contemporary political science. May also include works of fiction.
Department Requirements: 
Political Theory Field
GE Requirements: 
Social Sciences (SSc)
Last updated: 
February 13, 2024 - 8:33pm