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Social Movements, Democracy, and Global Politics (upper division seminar)

In this seminar, we will explore why and how individuals come together to form and challenge existing forms of political, social, and economic structures and demand change. Drawing on examples that include ACT UP, the Arab Spring, #BlackLivesMatter, as well as immigrant and animal rights’ mobilizations across the world, we will analyze and discuss the origins, dynamics, and consequences of social movements. Some of the questions that we will address include the following: What constitutes a social movement? Why do people form and join these movements? Why do these movements take certain forms rather than others? What makes certain forms of activism thinkable (and plausible) and others unimaginable (and unrealizable)? What role do emotions play in generating and foreclosing imagination and action? What, if any, is the difference between a “reformist” movement and a “revolutionary” one? How can we assess a movement’s success? Addressing these questions will allow us to explore more general questions about interlocking forms of oppression, collective action, and coalition building, as well as the way actors like the state, private corporations, and social media conglomerates intervene in the life of these movements. A central aspect of the course will entail analyzing and discussing the methodology and research methods that are deployed by different scholars, activists, and artists whose work we engage with in class – including Alexander Chee, Angela Davis, Deborah Gould, Suzanne Lacy, Tianna Paschel, Zeynep Tufekci, Chris Zepeda-Millán, and others – and reflecting on the ways in which they choose to represent and historicize social movements.

Democratic Representation (upper division seminar)

Although we may take for granted the mutual constitution of democracy and representation, this relationship is neither inherent nor “natural”; rather, it is both a modern and contested one. While today representation is seen as crucial for democratic governance, representative government was not initially seen as a form of democracy – that is, as government by the people. It is therefore perhaps not surprising that some scholars conceive of representation as a substitute for democracy while others argue that one cannot be thought (and practiced) without the other. What, then, is the relationship between representation and democracy? In this course, we will explore the connections and tensions between these two concepts with a view to addressing some of the following questions: How did “representative government” alter the meaning of democracy? In what ways is representation compatible with active political participation? What forms of authorization and accountability exist in representative governments? The course begins by focusing on questions related strictly to the state and then moves on to explore how different populations, spaces, and institutions are embroiled in contests of representation (including who gets to speak, see, or be heard) that go beyond elections, but remain thoroughly political. 

 

The Politics of Art and Representation (upper division seminar)

This seminar provides an introduction to the study of the relationship between politics and art. Drawing on political and aesthetic theory, art history, as well as key artworks and projects, we will read, view, and discuss the work of some of the most important thinkers that have written about these topics and artists who have made seminal political interventions. Questions addressed throughout the course include the following: How are political opinions similar (and different) from aesthetic judgments? Should – and could – aesthetic representation become a model for political representation? What are the different criteria by which artworks are judged to be political? What makes art a unique type of commodity? What is the place of aesthetic experience in democratic politics? We begin with Plato’s famous indictment of the poets in the well-ordered city, followed by Rousseau’s imputation that the arts are “garlands” on the chains that enslave people, and continue with works by Immanuel Kant and interpretations of his work by Hannah Arendt. We then examine some of the debates about the relationship between cultural production and economic value. To do so, we will study some of the foundational writings on these topics – including texts by Karl Marx, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, and Pierre Bourdieu. In the last part of the course, we will discuss some of the practical implications of the theoretical topics addressed in the first part of the course by examining examples such as discussions around the 2015 Havana Biennial and the Doris Salcedo exhibition which is currently on view at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art. Throughout the course, films, artworks, and exhibits which complement the readings will be discussed.

 

Power, Identity and Resistance: Liberalism and its Critics (lower division seminar)

This course is an introduction to the foundational ideas of the tradition of liberal political thought, along with criticisms from both the left and the right. Some of the theoretical arguments that will be considered include the following: the nature of freedom and authority; the formation of the state and its relationship to society; the justification of political obligation; and the notions of individual rights and civil liberties. The aim of the course is to invite students to analyze some of the most important disagreements about the principles that structure our modern political lives. In addition to providing students with a vocabulary and a set of categories that will help them engage intellectually with political thought, this course is designed to help students learn how to read critically by identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments of thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Karl Marx, and Carl Schmitt.

 

Política, Arte y Estética (upper division seminar) (Taught in Spanish)

Este seminario está diseñado como una introducción a la relación entre la teoría estética, el arte y el pensamiento político. A grandes rasgos el curso está dividido en dos segmentos: En la primera parte del curso leeremos y discutiremos la obra de algunos de los pensadores más importante que han escrito sobre estos temas, enfocándonos en las siguientes preguntas: ¿Qué significa el arte para la política? ¿De qué depende que una obra de arte sea política? ¿Es el juicio estético un buen modelo para el juicio político? ¿Cuál es la relación entre la representación estética y la representación política? Emprenderemos el camino con las denuncias en contras de las artes hechas por Platón y Rousseau. Continuamos con la obra de Immanuel Kant y Friedrich Schiller y con algunos de sus interlocutores más importantes incluyendo el filósofo Jacques Rancière. Después analizaremos la relación entre producción cultural, capitalismo y valor estético. En los últimos años estos temas han acaparado la atención de críticos y filósofos de arte, así como de una amplia gama de científicos sociales. Para entender por qué estos debates han resurgido con tanto vigor es importante estudiar la obra de los autores que comenzaron a escribir sobre estos temas, incluyendo Carlos Marx, Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Teodoro Adorno y Pierre Bourdieu. Aprovechando que estamos en la Ciudad de México, en el segundo segmento del curso analizaremos casos concretos que atañen a México y que nos invitan a continuar reflexionando acerca de los temas que abordamos de manera teórica en la primera parte del curso, incluyendo: el uso del arte en la construcción de imaginarios nacionales; la relación entre el Estado y la comunidad artística; el impacto del Tratado de Libre Comercio en las artes; así como una serie de temas relacionados con políticas públicas e industrias culturales. En conjunto con las lecturas, se asignarán películas y exposiciones de arte.