Demagogues and Dictators in Democracy / GPOL 5050

Authoritarian leaders buoyed by populist politics can rise to power in electoral democracies. Using a range of contemporary and historical case studies, this seminar examines how and why democratic elections can lead to authoritarian regimes. Under what conditions do democratic institutions fail to restrain leaders who seek power beyond their mandates? What are such leaders’ sources of legitimacy? How do they govern? How do they reshape national economies? Turning our lens away from an exclusive focus on authoritarian leaders themselves, the seminar analyses the social, political, and economic conditions that give rise to authoritarian transformations in democratic societies. Amidst a global resurgence in populist politics, the seminar also critically explores the uses and limits of the vocabulary we use to describe contemporary political orders: what do concepts like “democracy” and “authoritarianism” illuminate, what do they obscure, and what alternative vocabularies might we consider for thinking and talking about varieties of political regimes?

Border and Walls / LPOL 3016A

This undergraduate seminar asks: What are borders, and why do states police them? What are the politics that generate beliefs that we need borders? How are barriers between states constructed, and who are the actors that participate in their construction? And how, where, and why do people negotiate state boundaries? In this course, we analyze borders not only as physical barriers, but also as bureaucratic obstacles to movement and walls in virtual space. Much research about politics focuses on what happens within individual states or an international state system. But borderlands–physical or virtual–often have their own politics distinct from those of the states on whose peripheries they exist. In the course we emphasize research that seeks to understand politics in contexts that transcend the boundaries of states. Through a variety of case studies drawn from different continents, we consider the local political economies borders generate, and the ways people find to move around and across them. We also examine questions such as: how do walls made by authoritarian regimes differ from walls built by countries considered to be democracies? Finally, we consider how the study of borders and walls can change how we think about politics within states.

Privatization and Commodification / GPOL 6378

This graduate seminar examines some of the social, political, and economic processes by which the commons are made into objects to be owned and sold for private profit. In recent years, national and transnational enclosure movements have transformed an unprecedented range of public goods and services into privately owned commodities. Across the globe, through increasingly complex and opaque ownership structures, more and more of these goods and services are held by ever-smaller numbers of individuals. Meanwhile, legal regimes and public consciousness have shifted, accommodating the privatization of institutions from armies to elementary schools. As processes of enclosure accelerate and expand in scope, the politics of property have become central to our understanding of not only traditional objects of ownership like land, but also places and things that we may be accustomed to seeing as beyond ownership, such as plant genomes or outer space. During the semester, we discuss the theoretical and legal foundations of property in a variety of traditions; we analyze how and why people’s understandings of what constitutes a commodity have changed and we consider historical examples of shifts in beliefs about what (or who) may be owned; we examine in contemporary and historical perspective conditions that make expropriation of the commons possible; and we trace pathways through which both contemporary enclosure movements and their opponents have transformed people’s lives and local, national, and global politics.

Politics and the Literature of Social Reflection / LNGC 1417A

In this first-year undergraduate seminar, we examine a tradition in social research that lies beyond the usual boundaries of the field of politics yet speaks directly to it. This is the tradition of immersion, which we define as close engagement with human communities of interest to the author, and analysis written from a personal point of view. Most of the authors we read shared in, by force of circumstance or by choice, certain aspects of the conditions about which he or she wrote. Today, we might categorize some such work as participant-observation research or ethnography. For this course, we read work that undertakes to describe and reflect upon the social and political landscape of their authors’ day and place. In our discussions, we consider fundamental questions in the study of human society and interrogate the relationship between the observer and the observed: who gets to tell people’s stories? Wherein lies the right to describe and analyze others’ lives, and who decides? Finally, we consider wherein lie the limits of empathy and moral imagination: what is the relationship between authorial experience and understanding of others’ experiences?

Field Seminar in Comparative Politics / GPOL 6349

This Ph.D. field seminar seeks to engage both new and enduring questions in comparative social research. It is designed to encourage students to think critically and creatively about the study of politics and the political in comparative perspective and to provide the intellectual foundations for the development of their own research agendas.  In the course, we read works of social research that take seriously the spatial and temporal contexts that embed relations of power and exchange. Such contexts may be local or global, and comparisons may be explicit or implicit.  A central objective is to generate new questions for comparative inquiry—questions that emerge through our engagement with fieldwork-based research and open novel avenues for theorization. The seminar is open to graduate students from any department at the New School for Social Research; some seminar participants may wish to use the course in preparation for the qualifying exam in comparative politics, but it is not designed exclusively for this purpose.