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What is power? Despite the importance of notions of power across the social sciences, there is a broad lack of consensus. Is power essentially domination or resistance? Is it freedom, empowerment, privilege, or oppression? Are there forms of unequal social power which are morally neutral or even good? Is power the kind of thing held by individuals, races, genders, classes, discourses, causal mechanisms, institutions, or social structures? What is the connection between social and physical power? Does power obey laws? How does power relate to technology? Or knowledge? Or agency? Or ideology?
This course begins with the observation that power is often described as a causal relation–an individual’s power is supposed to equal their capacity to produce a change in someone else’s behavior. This suggests that the better we can understand the nature of cause and effect, the better we can understand power. Fortunately, in recent decades philosophers have made significant progress in theorizing causation.
Hence, this seminar will put two very different bodies of theory in conversation: critical theory about power and philosophy of science about cause and effect. We will trace classic philosophical accounts of power and causation (in European and Chinese philosophy), as well as more recent developments in philosophy of science, political theory, and other fields.
The insights we gain in this course from analyzing the nature of power should empower us to more effectively transform society. It will help students in the social sciences to understand the nature of causation in the social world, and it will help students interested in political action to better understand the nature of power. Thinkers to be considered may include: Aristotle, Amy Allen, Hannah Arendt, Bourdieu, Judith Butler, Nancy Cartwright, Foucault,Gramsci, Byung-Chul Han, Han Feizi, Giddens, Hobbes, Hume, Locke, Steven Lukes, Machiavelli, J.L. Mackie, Marx, Nietzsche, Sunzi, and Max Weber.
Format: seminar; Remote
Grading: yes pass/fail option,
yes fifth course option
critical annotations for every class, midterm review essay (4-6 pages), final essay (10-12 pages)
Religion majors, STS concentrators,
This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
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