Archive for the ‘Assignments’ Category

Welcome, and the links for Friday’s readings

August 31, 2016

Welcome to the Eastman students taking the Concept of Power in the autumn of 2016. This blog will serve several functions. It will disseminate information to students in the course regarding class assignments; it will serve as a platform students can use to write about course-related materials (often as they connect to the goings-on in contemporary politics); and it will serve as an occasional platform that I’ll use to spout off comment on topics of interest to me.

For Friday, we begin our discussions with excerpts of Hobbes’ famous text, Leviathan. You can find the text online here. Specifically, we’ll be reading chapter 17-18 and 21. These chapters all focus on the nature and powers of the sovereign. We will also discuss the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen,” which can be found here.

In both cases, our interest is in the conceptions of power at work in these documents. We’re less interested in, say, the question of whether we think Hobbes’s sovereign is too powerful, or whether the “Declaration” has articulated the proper set of rights. Rather, what we want to think about is how the authors of these documents characterize the nature and functioning of power in society, what sorts of issues these characterizations highlight, and what sorts of issues such characterizations might obscure.

Instructions for the Short Response Paper

September 16, 2014

Your assignment is to write a short essay (500-1000 words, or approximately 2-4 pages, double-spaced). Papers should be typed, in 12 point font, double-spaced, and with one inch margins. All texts you use need to be cited properly, though there is no requirement to use any specific style sheet (so use one you are familiar with). The paper is due Friday, October 26, at the beginning of class. Improperly cited ideas, particularly if they come from texts not assigned for class, can count as plagiarism and can lead to a zero for the assignment, along with other disciplinary action. Deviations from this formatting may be penalized (particularly if it appears that your deviation is designed to hide the fact that you didn’t meet length requirements). This paper is optional, but it is a good idea to write it, particularly if you intend to choose essay-writing as one of your optional components.

This paper is to be a “response paper.” It is somewhat less formal than a full blown college essay. The goal, rather, is to think about, comment, and/or elaborate on the ideas, themes, or issues that the text raises. When commenting on something, we usually defend, challenge, qualify an argument, or we elaborate on a position or an idea. So one takes something that the author says or argues, and then defends that claim, challenges that claim, or qualifies it (that is, defends some version of the claim but not another, or defends the claim in some context but not another). Elaborating on a an idea is a bit different. Here the goal is to develop one of the positions or ideas one finds in a text, perhaps showing implications of it that might not be immediately obvious (for instance, explaining about how Steinbeck and Marx think about human freedom would be to elaborate on issues that their texts hint at but do not develop).

Like all college papers, you need an introductory paragraph that explains the problem or puzzle you are addressing (e.g., “The problem I want to explore is why Marx thinks that what he calls political emancipation is incomplete”), and also presents your main claim or thesis (“I argue that Marx’s critique does make sense, but that there are potentially insurmountable obstacles to realizing the sort of ‘genuine human emancipation’ he hopes for”).

The following questions are designed to get you thinking about the kinds of responses you might have to the texts we have read so far. You can write your response guided by one of these questions, or you develop your own.

  • Chapter 5 of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath describes a process in which farming family is evicted from their land. In your essay, analyze this story from the perspective of two of the theorists we have discussed so far (Hobbes, the writers of the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen,” or Marx). That is, pick two theorists and discuss how they might interpret the chapter. Consider the following questions in developing your analysis: how would the theorist in question account for the events of this chapter? What are the strengths and weaknesses of this interpretation? Or another variation on this idea: What part of the story does each theorist help us understand? What does each theorist’s approach ignore? And which theorist gives us greater insight into the events Steinbeck describes?
  • Are the characters in Steinbeck’s story “free”? Analyze this question from Marx’s point of view and from the point of view of the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.”
  • According to Marx’s sketch in the “Communist Manifesto,” what dynamics will lead to the transition from capitalism to communism? What sort of power is operative in that transition, and is anyone “responsible” for the transition?
  • Consider the following statement: Marx’s “On the Jewish Question” presents a devastating critique of conception of political power that is in “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.” Defend, challenge, or qualify this statement.
  • What is the role of ideas in Marx’s theory of social change? (Examine, for instance, the role of ideas in the transition from feudalism to capitalism or from capitalism to communism; you might also look at what Marx and Engels have to say about other socialist parties in the third part of the essay). Do people’s conscious ideas and intentions play any significant role in social change or social dynamics?

Short Writing Assignment

March 30, 2012

In a brief essay (500-1000 words) address ONE of the following questions. Normal citations rules apply (i.e., be sure to cite any text that you use to address the question).

(1)  Arendt argues that no government could ever be founded only on violence alone. What are her reasons for suggesting this? You should consider using one of her examples or developing your own.

(2)  Arendt tells us that power is the “very condition enabling a group of people to think and act in terms of the means-end category” (p. 150). What does this mean, and why is power a necessary condition for thinking and acting in the means-end category? You should consider using an example to illustrate Arendt’s point.

(3)  One of the more moving discussions from the video we watched was when one of the leaders of the March on Washington talked about going back to the Mall after the march had ended; he described the poignant emptiness, the fliers blowing in the wind, and the memory of the greatness of the event. Explain this person’s memories and descriptions in terms of Arendt’s conception of power and action.

(4)  According to Arendt, civil disobedience ought not to be understood in terms of individual conscience (or in terms of conscientious objectors). Why not? And what is Arendt’s alternative framework for understanding it?

Expectations on Self-Assessments

March 6, 2012

Let me first direct your attention back to the syllabus. I state there, on page 3 (and again on page 4), that this class is designed to reward steadiness/effort, skill, improvement, creative risk-taking, and initiative. So my broad expectation in your self-assessment essays is that you will try to explain to me, focusing explicitly on the various requirements for the course, how you have engaged in or displayed these characteristics. I would consider approaching the self-assessment as a kind of narrative explaining how much you have grown or learned in the class, and where you hope to go in the next half of the semester. And be specific. Talk about how you have engaged in this growth: are there specific assignments you have done that really contributed to your understanding of the material? What kinds of activities do you intend to engage in for the last half of the semester?

Beyond that, you need to focus on the specific requirements for the course. You have all been assigned a few short quizzes and a long essay; many of you have also done oral presentations. As you explain what grade you think you deserve, talk about your performance on these assignments and what that performance demonstrates regarding the effort, skill, improvement, risk-taking, and initiative you have shown. You should also talk about your participation in class, which is a requirement for this course. If you don’t talk much in class, you should explain how other activities you engage in should count. And here let me encourage those of you who are somewhat shy in public speaking to participate more on commenting on the blog. That can demonstrate engagement even if you do not talk every day in class.

Furthermore, you need to discuss the “Optional Components” in the class; you are required to write blog posts/comments or do group projects. If you have done some of this, then great. Talk about what you have done and how it helps to justify the grade you think you deserve. If you have not done any of these components yet, I’m not interested in excuses. I do want to hear, however, what you think you’ll be doing for the rest of the semester to ensure that you complete the requirements for the class. If your intention is to do a group project, then explain who you’ll be working with; talk about what you think you’ll be doing in the project. If you want to write some longer blog posts, what are some of the subjects you think might want to cover?

How long should the self-assessment be? I have no set page requirement. Your main goal is to explain how what you’ve done in this class meets the expectations I have laid out in the syllabus. And you should focus not just on ticking off requirements, but on how your actions related to the course fit with the broader spirit and intentions of the class. You get to determine how many words it takes to explain all of this, but please note that I am using these assessments as a major component in determining your grade. If you turn in something that you’ve put no work into, that says to me that you are not really putting much effort into this class.

Paper Topics #1, Spring 2012

February 19, 2012

Select ONE of the following paper topics.  Papers are to be 5-7 pages long, double-spaced, with 1 inch margins, and in 12 point, Times New Roman or Garamond font.  Papers are due THURSDAY, MARCH 1, at the beginning of class.  Whenever appropriate, make sure you support your arguments and claims with textual evidence. Don’t over-quote, however; it is often enough to refer to the relevant passage with a parenthetical reference (Weber, p. 10) or a footnote. If you have an edition of any book different from the ones listed on the syllabus, make sure you indicate this in a bibliography or a footnote.  Please cite the specific Marx essay you are referring to, and cite Marx as the author.  Note that, for the purposes of this assignment, the professor’s lectures are considered to be in public domain: you don’t need to cite them. However, when the professor says, “Weber thinks blah blah blah,” then you need to cite the appropriate places in Weber.

1.  Chapter 5 of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath describes a process in which farming family is evicted from their land.  In your essay, analyze this story from the perspective of two of the theorists we have discussed so far (Hobbes, the writers of the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen,” Marx, and Weber).  That is, pick two theorists and discuss how they might interpret the chapter.  Consider the following questions in developing your analysis: how would the theorist in question account for the events of this chapter?  What are the strengths and weaknesses of this interpretation?  Or another variation on this idea:  What part of the story does each theorist help us understand?  What does each theorist’s approach ignore?  And which theorist gives us greater insight into the events Steinbeck describes?

2.  You are currently being asked to write an essay for the class, “The Concept of Power.”  Does writing this essay simply contribute to the alienation, meaninglessness, and domination we find in modern forms of life, or can it contribute to some sort of liberation?  Explain your answer, and draw upon the work of Marx and Weber to help you.

3.  Consider the following statement: Marx’s “On the Jewish Question” presents a devastating critique of the liberal conception of government as expounded in “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.”  In this essay, defend, challenge, or qualify this statement.  In other words, does Marx offer an important or devastating critique of the claims made in this document?  Why or why not?

4.  It has often been suggested that Marx and Weber present rather different explanations for the origins of capitalism.  Marx is usually said to focus only on a materialist analysis, such that capitalism arises largely due to anonymous forces generated in the mode of production.  Weber is usually said to focus primarily on ideas and their role in shaping social institutions and people’s behaviors.  But how different are Marx and Weber’s explanations of the origins of capitalism?  Does Weber offer a different explanation, or is he merely supplementing Marx’s analysis?

5.  Both Marx and Weber seem to have rather gloomy attitudes toward modern capitalism, with Marx focusing on the ways in which modern industrial society is alienating, exploitative, and dominating, and Weber focusing on the meaninglessness of the “iron cage.”  In this essay, explain and evaluate these two theorists’ diagnosis of the problems with contemporary capitalism, along with their competing prognoses about what, if anything, might happen to the capitalist form of economic organization.  How do Marx and Weber differ in their diagnosis about what is potentially wrong about capitalism?  And how do they differ in their analysis of whether capitalism might end, or what might replace it?

Take home final (due Thursday, May 6)

April 21, 2010

General instructions: The final exam consists of two parts; the first part consists of a few short identifications of some of the key terms we’ve discussed in this class.  The second part consists of two short essays.  Please answer each question.  The final exam will be due to me on Thursday, May 6 by 2:00 in the afternoon.  I will be in my office (Eastman Theater, 402) between 1:00 and 2:00 on that day; you can give me your exams then.  You may also e-mail me your exam, and I will send you a confirmation e-mail.  If you do not receive a confirmation e-mail you must assume that I have not received your exam.  It is your responsibility to see to it that I get a copy of your exam.

I. Short identification (6 points each): for each of the following terms, write a 3-4 sentence identification.  Your purpose here is to identify the meaning of the term, explain its importance, and perhaps give an example that helps explain the term more fully.

  1. Genealogy (for Foucault)
  2. Biopower (for Foucault)
  3. Power (for Arendt)
  4. Authority (for Arendt)
  5. Briefly: what is the “juridico-discursive” conception of power and what is Foucault’s attitude toward it (pp. 85)?

II.  Short essay (30 points): Please answer the following question. 

Question 1 (2-3 pages):  What is the “repressive hypothesis” and how does Foucault challenge it?  Hint: in explaining Foucault’s challenges to the repressive hypothesis, it might be useful to categorize them; Foucault, for instance, challenges the historical accuracy of the repressive hypothesis, but he also rejects the conception of power at work in the repressive hypothesis.  It might be a good idea to explain both of these challenges.

III.  Short essay (30 points). Please select and answer ONE of the following questions:

Question 1 (2-3 pages): The original idea for the “initiative grade” in this class was to have you all engage in self-assessments.  That is, my original plan was to provide the criteria by which I will evaluate your performance on the initiative grade, and then to require each student to write a short essay explaining which grade they deserve, given this criteria.  In this essay, analyze and critically evaluate this sort of grading technique from the perspective of Foucault’s conception of biopower. 

Make sure you offer a clear understanding of Foucault’s concept of biopower.  Also, if you are inclined to say that the act of self-assessment is a path toward freedom, you’ll need to explain what you mean by freedom and how education/writing might lead us toward that end.  Here you may wish to draw upon some of the other theorists we’ve studied (for instance, Arendt or Marx).

Question 2 (2-3 pages): Explain and critically evaluate Arendt’s argument that increasing use of violence in the activity of governance actually increases the impotence of the political system rather than its power (cf. 54-56).  Develop an example that illustrates or challenges Arendt’s point.

Paper Topics #1

February 10, 2010

Select ONE of the following paper topics.  Papers are to be 5-7 pages long, double-spaced, with 1 inch margins, and in 12 point, Times New Roman or Garamond font.  Papers are due THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 25, at the beginning of class.  Whenever appropriate, make sure you support your arguments and claims with textual evidence. Don’t over-quote, however; it is often enough to refer to the relevant passage with a parenthetical reference (Weber, p. 10) or a footnote. If you have an edition of any book different from the ones listed on the syllabus, make sure you indicate this in a bibliography or a footnote.  Please cite the specific Marx essay you are referring to, and cite Marx as the author.  Note that, for the purposes of this assignment, the professor’s lectures are considered to be in public domain: you don’t need to cite them. However, when the professor says, “Weber thinks blah blah blah,” then you need to cite the appropriate places in Weber.

 1.  Chapter 5 of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath describes a process in which farming family is evicted from their land.  In your essay, analyze this story from the perspective of two of the theorists we have discussed so far (Hobbes, the writers of the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen,” Marx, and Weber).  That is, pick two theorists and discuss how they might interpret the chapter.  Consider the following questions in developing your analysis: how would the theorist in question account for the events of this chapter?  What are the strengths and weaknesses of this interpretation?  Or another variation on this idea:  What part of the story does each theorist help us understand?  What does each theorist’s approach ignore?  And which theorist gives us greater insight into the events Steinbeck describes?

 2.  You are currently being asked to write an essay for the class, “The Concept of Power.”  Does writing this essay simply contribute to the alienation, meaninglessness, and domination we find in modern forms of life, or can it contribute to some sort of liberation?  Explain your answer, and draw upon the work of Marx and Weber to help you.

 3.  Consider the following statement: Marx’s “On the Jewish Question” presents a devastating critique of the liberal conception of government as expounded in “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.”  In this essay, defend, challenge, or qualify this statement.  In other words, does Marx offer an important or devastating critique of the claims made in this document?  Why or why not?

 4.  It has often been suggested that Marx and Weber present rather different explanations for the origins of capitalism.  Marx is usually said to focus only on a materialist analysis, such that capitalism arises largely due to anonymous forces generated in the mode of production.  Weber is usually said to focus primarily on ideas and their role in shaping social institutions and people’s behaviors.  But how different are Marx and Weber’s explanations of the origins of capitalism?  Does Weber offer a different explanation, or is he merely supplementing Marx’s analysis?

 5.  Both Marx and Weber seem to have rather gloomy attitudes toward modern capitalism, with Marx focusing on the ways in which modern industrial society is alienating, exploitative, and dominating, and Weber focusing on the meaninglessness of the “iron cage.”  In this essay, explain and evaluate these two theorists’ diagnosis of the problems with contemporary capitalism, along with their competing prognoses about what, if anything, might happen to the capitalist form of economic organization.  How do Marx and Weber differ in their diagnosis about what is potentially wrong about capitalism?  And how do they differ in their analysis of whether capitalism might end, or what might replace it?