Virginia Woolf


Feminist Political & Social Thought

Mon & Thurs. 1:30 - 2:50

Dalrymple D42


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Political Theory
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course description:

When Mary Wollstonecraft argued that the French revolution was only half-successful, she was not complaining about its form (a liberal republic) but its substance (only half the citizens could pursue its blessings). Since then, feminist writers have continued to point out not only the gender contradictions within the liberal project, but also how a gendered analysis reveals the crisis of war (V. Woolf), the inconsistency of the founding myth (C. Pateman), the masculine desires embedded in law (C. MacKinnon), the post-socialist condition (N. Fraser) and the difficulties women pose and encounter in a liberal arts college (G. Griffin).


The first goal is to acquaint ourselves with some of the arguments within the feminist project. The second goal is to explore how feminism helps us to reconsider the terms of our late capitalist, "post-socialist" condition. Feminist theory does not just tell us about women and their condition. More importantly, it tells us things about liberalism, the social contract, jurisprudence, and education that aren't always recognized.


Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (any edition).

Gail Griffin, Calling: Essays on the Teaching in the Mothertongue (only available at the Marlboro College Bookstore).

Catharine MacKinnon, Feminism Unmodified (Harvard U.P. 1987).

Nancy Fraser , Justice Interruptus (Routledge, 1997).

Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract (Stanford U.P. 1988).

Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas (any edition).


Over the course of the semester, you will be writing three essays, two brief (5 pages each) and one extended (8-10 pages). All of these essays should have a clear argument (your voice) and engage with the readings (other voices). There are a number of ways to structure a political theory paper:

  • the big question method (example: Nancy Fraser). Begin by asking a big question, i.e. What is the "post-socialist" condition? Tell us what you think it is. How does Fraser use this term (and why does she use quotation marks)? Have you come across this term/concept in other readings? Compare and contrast its use. What condition does this concept address? (This is a big part of the game. Political theorists do not philosophize in a vacuum; they are concerned about the way we think in this world.) What does this condition look like at Marlboro, in your home town, on myspace? (In other words bring the idea to a place you know.) How do you contribute to this condition? How do you disrupt it? (If "post-socialism" seems too obscure, replace it with sexism.)
  • story/theory (example: Gail Griffin). Begin by describing a situation. Show us (don't tell us) how you felt marginalized or diminished by the event or how you marginalized or diminished someone else. Let the details of the story convey all the confusions of this experience. Stop and breathe. In the subsequent section, use the texts to analyze this experience, to unpack the confusion, and to lay out the terms of power. If there is room, you might challenge your theory using a different author.

Here is a helpful link when it comes to writing political theory (used with permission of author):
Some Notes on Writing Political Theory

grading criteria:

Attendance is critical. If you have to miss a class, please let us know. Reading is essential. Class discussion assumes that each one of you has a good grasp of the reading. Active participation in the class discussion is necessary. Writing clear and lucid prose is the stuff of the whole affair.

Here is a link to the rubric used to grade your papers. Grading Rubric
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