PSCI 378
Origins of the State Fall 2022
Division II

Class Details

When and how did the state come into existence as a form of political organization? This course explores theories of the origins of the state, asking how myths and other speculative accounts in the Western tradition draw boundaries between past and present, as well as between self and other. Paying attention to common oppositions such as nature/civilization, primitive/advanced, anarchy/social order, feminine/masculine, ruler/ruled and stasis/progress, we will investigate how these antagonisms work together to create the conception of the state that still dominates politics today. Course readings touch briefly on social contract theories (Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau, Kant) before turning to the core material for our exploration: alternative accounts of the origins of the state based on ancient Greek and Roman mythology and the ethnological writings of nineteenth-century socialists (Marx, Engels, Bebel, and others). More recent perspectives and critical interpretations will be drawn from feminist theory (Spivak, Pateman, MacKinnon, Folbre) and critical anthropology (Cassirer, Fabian, Graeber & Wengrow). Among our questions: Is it really possible to pinpoint a moment in time when the state came into existence? And if the aim is not to provide a historically accurate account, what exactly is at stake in constructing or demythologizing theories of the origins of the state?
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 16
Expected: 16
Class#: 1935
Grading: no pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: oral presentation and three papers (3 pages, 5 pages and 12-15 pages)
Prerequisites: Not open to first-year students.
Enrollment Preferences: Political Science majors and concentrators in Political Theory
Distributions: Division II
Attributes: PSCI Political Theory Courses

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