Theory at UVA: Curriculum and Teaching
With seven full-time political theorists now on the faculty, the Department of Politics is able to offer a richer array of graduate courses in political theory than ever before. Graduate students specializing in Political Theory at UVA can expect to be exposed to a wide variety of subject matters and theoretical approaches, both familiar and unfamiliar. No one perspective dominates, however, and an atmosphere of robust pluralism prevails within the theory program in particular and the department more generally. Apart from the regular course offerings, there are ample opportunities for students to design independent study courses with appropriate faculty members. Graduate students can also take advantage of a vibrant political theory seminar at which faculty members and graduate students present their own research. This typically meets several times each semester. In addition, in any given year, many outside speakers of interest to theorists visit UVA.
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Current Course Offerings
Theory courses now regularly taught at the graduate level in the department include:
Introduction to Political Theory: The department's
field survey proseminar for the political theory subfield. Content
depends on instructor, but has included such diverse topics as:
authority and anarchy, including texts by Joseph Raz, Michael Taylor
and others; issues surrounding the interpretation of historical
texts in political theory, addressing the work of Quentin Skinner,
Leo Strauss and others; theories of the social contract from Hobbes
through the Enlightenment; and ancient, modern, and contemporary
reflections on tyranny and freedom.
The Foundations of Political Inquiry: Addresses
modern and postmodern philosophies of social science, covering such
topics as: hermeneutics and interpretation; positivism and post-positivism;
the status of critical theories; the concepts of rationality in
social explanation; the adequacy of "rational choice"
theory; the relation between facts and values and other topics.
Typical readings might include texts from Max Weber, Karl Popper,
Charles Taylor, Peter Winch, Roy Bhaskar, Richard Rorty, Alasdair
MacIntyre, Ian Hacking.
Plato and Aristotle: An in-depth look at the Platonic
dialogues; with special attention to Plato's early Socratic dialogues
and the Laws as well as the Republic. Thucydides is also covered,
along with Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics and Politics.
Rawls and his Critics: Focuses on works by John
Rawls at all stages of his career, along with critical responses
by such authors as H.L.A. Hart, Thomas Nagel, Robert Nozick, Norman
Daniels, G.A. Cohen, and others.
American Political Thought: The course covers the
period from the Puritans through Lincoln. All readings are primary
sources, and include writings by Adams, Paine, the Federalists,
the Constitutional convention, Tocqueville, Calhoun, and Lincoln.
Continental Political Thought: Focuses on what
can be called the phenomenological strand of modern European political
thought. Stresses discussions of the relationship between politics
and culture; the role of knowledge and technology in society; and
the conceptions of narrative and history. Authors covered include
Rousseau, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger, Adorno, Benjamin,
Foucault, Irigaray, Gadamer.
Pessimism: A seminar exploring the idea that there
is a distinctive and often unrecognized pessimistic tradition of
political thinking to be traced out in modern Western social thought.
Focuses on a group of authors who belong to this tradition, and
who take seriously the possibilities that progress is an illusion
and that freedom and happiness may be incompatible. The course addresses
texts by Rousseau, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Leopardi, Freud, Weber,
Unamuno, Camus, Cioran, Horkheimer/Adorno, Foucault, Cervantes.
Concepts of Law: An in-depth exploration of the
major schools of thought within recent and contemporary jurisprudence.
Topics include: The legal positivism of Bentham, John Austin, H.
L. A. Hart and Joseph Raz; the "new" Natural Law theories
of Fuller, Grisez, Finnis, and Robert George; Ronald Dworkin's theory
of law; the nature of legal authority; issues concerning legal responsibility;
critical legal studies; Posner and the Law and Economics movement.
Theories of Political Obligation: Examines the
main arguments in the contemporary literature concerning moral requirements
to obey the law. Among topics covered are John Locke and consent
theory; the principle of fairness; the natural duty of justice;
arguments from gratitude; "associative" theories; 'philosophical
anarchism', and consequentialist approaches to the problem of political
Respect, Love and Recognition: Explores the recent
wave of interest in political principles of respect and ideals of
social recognition for identity groups. As well as theoretical questions
about the nature of respect as an ethical disposition, the course
also discusses: the legal recognition of same-sex couples; fashionable
efforts to make democracy more 'deliberative'; and the relation
between theories of distributive justice and claims about social
status. Readings include texts by Kant, Hegel, Rawls, Charles Taylor,
Will Kymlicka, Axel Honneth, Avishai Margalit, Stanley Benn, Robert
Frank, Michael Warner and others.
Political Ontology: Deals with the various contemporary
attempts to promote post-metaphysical understandings of the self
and its social environment, and with the ethical and political implications
of such projects. Addresses, among others, the work of William Connolly,
Judith Butler, Ernesto Laclau, Jurgen Habermas, Jacques Derrida,
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Future Course Offerings
New and projected graduate theory classes may include:
Political Theories of Identity: With units on theories
of identity and difference (addressing work by Seyla Benhabib, Wendy
Brown, William Connolly, Charles Taylor, and Michael Walzer); race
and colonialism (addressing texts from James Baldwin, W.E.B. Du
Bois, Frantz Fanon, Stuart Hall, Patricia Williams and other critical
race theorists); and gender and sexuality (addressing writings of
Judith Butler, Angela Davis, Catharine MacKinnon, and Susan Okin)
Political Rhetoric: Covering historical and contemporary
aspects of rhetoric and its public uses, including critics, apologists
and practitioners of the art of rhetoric in political life; readings
include relevant Platonic dialogues' Aristotle's Rhetoric; recent
work by David Johnston and Quentin Skinner on rhetoric in the late
Renaissance and early modern period; texts by J. L. Austin, George
Orwell, Richard McKeown, Chaim Perelman, Leon Festinger, Richard
Rorty and others.
Prospective students interested in political theory
at UVA are also urged to check current offerings in the departments
of History, Philosophy, Sociology, English, Religious Studies, and
the Law School, in which many relevant courses are regularly taught
by faculty members with interests in political and social thought.