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Politics of Fear (Spring 2019)

Friday, 9:30am—12:00pm, James Hall 3403
Instructor: Asher Wycoff • awycoff (at) gc (dot) cuny (dot) edu
Office Hours: Thursday, 1:00–2:00pm • James Hall 3416

Course Overview: Emotions have undeniable political force, perhaps none greater than fear. Fear's precise role in political life has long been disputed, with formative theorists understanding it variously as a potent tool of governance, as an affective state governments should assuage, even as the very basis of civil society itself. Debates over the legitimacy of certain forms and means of inciting political fear reach back centuries. Over the course of this semester, we will examine a variety of theoretical approaches to understanding fear as a political idea, drawing on foundational texts from the 16th to the 20th centuries.
We begin the semester with Renaissance and Enlightenment theories of fear as it applies to politics and governance (Machiavelli, Spinoza, Hobbes). Following this, we move on to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century treatments of fear and related concepts (Burke, Hegel, Kierkegaard). These serve as a bridge to contemporary discussions of political violence (Furet, Walzer, Asad). Later weeks of the course examine experiences of fear in settings of mass atrocity and state repression (Arendt, Brecht, Barnes). The course concludes with reflections on efforts to attenuate or routinize fear as a political force (Foucault, Shklar).

Texts: I am asking you to purchase (or borrow) three books for this course, selected for their significance to the political theory of fear, as well as the abundance of budget-friendly used copies. They are listed for sale in the online bookstore. If you obtain the books elsewhere, please do try to get the specific editions listed here; discussion will run most smoothly if we're all following the same page numbers.

All other readings will be available in PDF on Blackboard. If you have any trouble accessing or obtaining the texts, let me know as soon as possible.

Requirements: This course will involve some lecture when necessary, but it is constructed primarily around seminar-style discussion. Hence, it is absolutely critical that you come to class having completed and prepared to discuss the assigned readings. Formally graded requirements are as follows:

Here's a breakdown of how the course is graded overall:

Course Requirement Points Possible
Participation20 points
Reading Presentation20 points
Term Paper Proposal10 points
Term Paper Rough Draft20 points
Term Paper Final Draft30 points
Total    100 points possible

Since the course as a whole is graded out of 100 points, your raw score is also your percentage grade for the semester. I award letter grades according to the usual scale, so 93-100 points earn you an A; 90-92 points earn you an A-minus; 87-89 points earn you a B-plus; 83-86 points earn you a B; 80-82 points earn you a B-minus; etc.

Conduct Guidelines: Although I do not grade on attendance directly, students are still expected to attend class regularly having completed and prepared to discuss the required reading. As not just quantity but also quality of participation is important, I strongly recommend that you stay on topic during class discussions.

I do not permit cellphone use during class, and I also encourage you to avoid using other electronics whenever possible. While I conditionally permit laptops and tablets, I reserve the right to change my mind if they become too distracting. If you use a laptop or tablet in class, please only use it for purposes directly related to the course (consulting readings, note-taking, e.g.). You are encouraged to print out PDF readings for in-class use.

Academic Integrity: In written assignments (and this includes short answer questions on tests), it would be really great if you didn't plagiarize. Plagiarism is the act of presenting someone else's ideas or language as your own. The faculty and administration of Lehman College strive to foster an environment free of cheating and plagiarism. Each student is individually responsible for knowing what constitutes cheating and plagiarism and avoiding both. If you are unsure, the full text of the CUNY Academic Integrity Policy and the Brooklyn College procedure for its implementation can be found at brooklyn.cuny.edu/bc/policies. If a faculty member confirms a violation of academic integrity, and/or if the student admits the violation, the faculty member is contractually obligated to report the violation to administration. That's a headache for all involved, so please familiarize yourself with CUNY's policy on academic integrity and avoid violating it.

Accessibility: In order to receive disability-related academic accommodations students must first be registered with the Center for Student Disability Services (CSDS). Students with a documented disability, or who suspect they may have one, are encouraged to set up an appointment with the Director of Student Disability Services by calling (718) 951-5538. If you have already registered with the CSDS, please provide me with the appropriate documentation and discuss your specific needs with me, and I will do my best provide the necessary accommodations.


Course Schedule

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