Special Topics in Political Theory: Just Political Participation

Spring 2017
MWF 1-2
50 Birge
Course Description

Robust democracy requires participation by the people in political processes and decisions. And, presumably, a just democracy requires people to participate in ways that are just. What might that mean? Does just participation mean that everyone follows the same rules or does it require something more than that? Is it just casting a vote? Making your preferences heard before ballots are cast? Could just participation include more than just choosing among the options presented to you? Might it involve helping to set the agenda? Could participation require that you listen as well as speak or vote?  And who gets to participate? Everyone in the State? A select part of the population? Those who are most representative? Those affected by a particular issue, law, or policy? Do just discussion and decision making processes grant everyone the same opportunities for participation? Or are some allowed, maybe even encouraged, to participate more than others? What if our commitment to participation for all ends up excluding or marginalizing some? Are spaces and discourses of political participation ever neutral?  If not, what is to be done?


This course explores what just participation might entail through contemporary Western political theory. We will begin with liberal democratic theories of fairness and participation. Then we will use multicultural, feminist, queer and other theoretical critiques to consider political participation from the perspective of minority or subordinated groups. We will not search for definitive answers or hard-and-fast conclusions about what just participation is or should be. Rather, we are interested in getting a better sense of participation’s many possibilities and problems.  

Instructor: Paul Martorelli