Selected Topics in Comparative Politics: Extreme Encounters with Power

Spring 2018
TuTh 11-1230
Course Description

This course exposes students to ways in which power is exercised on ordinary people.  It highlights rather unpleasant aspects of the state and reminds us that politics is often not simply a question of who gets what, but of control and domination.  Ranging throughout the world, we will seek to recapture the human experience of politics, as described by scholars, novelists, and journalists and as seen through the eyes of people who have lived through extreme encounters with authority (e.g. state terror, apartheid, police interrogation, detention, attempted genocide).  Many of the readings were selected to bring the student face-to-face with coercion in a way that middle-class Americans rarely confront.  Some readings discuss altruism and “ways out” for people in difficult circumstances.  Considerable attention will be paid to the complex relationships that link the powerful and powerless and to actions that are both more charged and less abstract than we usually discuss in political science courses.

Since many of the readings are personal, ground-level accounts and many of the authors are skillful writers, I hope students will find the selections interesting and not overly long.  Students will, however, need to devote considerable time each week to reading and make special efforts to draw out analytical themes and generalizations, wherever possible.  With some guidance, students will be expected to react to the readings, to assess the author’s arguments in terms of their own values and knowledge, and to think systematically about the issues raised.  The instructor expects to be regularly surprised (and delighted) by insightful remarks and unique perspectives. 

Many of the course readings are disquieting in any number of ways. Students who enroll in the course should be ready to grapple with challenging and sometimes harrowing topics.