Latin American Political Imagination

M-W-F 11:30-12:20 | Library 102

Meg Mott

course description | the books | papers | grading criteria
course guidelines
course calendar
grading rubric
notes on writing political theory
Aquinas: "On Kingship"
political theory

course description:

When the Southern Europeans sailed west they brought with them an understanding of politics informed by Counter-Reformation concerns and natural law reasoning. Instead of valuing individual and property rights, as did their Protestant counterparts to the north, these Catholic conquistadors and missionaries developed a theory of politics that found justice in nature and human flourishing in hierarchy. We'll look at the writings of Bartolomé de las Casas, Jose Martí, José Enrique Rodó, Simon Bolívar, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, and Paolo Friere to begin to make sense of how Latin Americans imagine their political communities. Along with these theoretical writings, we'll consider the case study of the Madres de la Plaza in Argentina.

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the books:

  • Bartolomé de las Casas, In Defense of the American Indians
  • José Enrique Rodó, Ariel
  • Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, La Respuesta
  • Simon Bolivar, El Liberatador
  • José Martí, Selected Writings
  • Marguerite Guzman Bouvard, Revolutionizing Motherhood

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One-Pagers: The readings were chosen for their political eloquence, for their ability to inspire both how we speak and how we act. As a way of developing your political eloquence, you will write two one-page essays each week for most of the semester. The first one-page (double-spaced) essay of the week will explore a passage from the day's readings. The second one-pager will explore a passage from the reading, in the context of a classmate's one-pager.

Exploring a passage is a fairly specific activity. First copy down the quotation. As you do so, pay attention to the word choices, the metaphors employed, the images invoked. Move inside of the world created by this passage. Palpate the meaning from the inside and then extend it gently into your experience. Exploring a passage does not mean quoting someone else and then running off in an entirely different direction. It does not mean springboarding into random free association. It means letting the words in a book settle in your imagination and then seeing how your mind responds.

The weekly schedule will run as follows: At the end of Monday's class, you will exchange a one-pager with a classmate. On Fridays, you'll hand in a one-pager that engages with both the reading and your classmate's essay. The interdependent nature of this assignment means that you can't afford to blow off an assignment. First, it will jeopardize someone else's process. Second, it will jeopardize your standing in the class.

Here is a link to the one-pager I did for the first class: Meg Mott's One-Pager.

Five-and Ten-Pagers: 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). Here is one idea on how to craft a political theory paper:

Begin by asking a big question, i.e. What are the natural rights of the conquered? Tell us what you think they are. How does Las Casas argue on behalf of the Indians? Have you come across a similar argument in another context? For instance, there may be some similarities between Las Casas' defense of the Indians and Sor Juana's defense of her scholarship. Compare and contrast these two arguments.

Take a moment to step back from the argument. What condition do these arguments 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 about the conditions of this world.) Once you've got a sense of the argument and the condition it addresses, consider any analogies in your lived experience. Where else might a natural law argument pertain? How do you support the condition of conquest?

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

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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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