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Foundations of Social Theory

Ferguson, J. (PI)
Section Number
Modern social theory is based on intellectual horizons emerging in Europe from the 17th to the 19th/20th centuries. This burst of new ideas was intertwined with some of the darkest chapters in Europe's history: the enslavement, subjection and exploitation of vast populations across the globe as Europe's imperial domination expanded and deepened. This course will explore how virtually all the most consequential ideas emerging from now canonical thinkers - on human freedom and autonomy, reason, popular self-determination, property rights, civility, liberal toleration, equality, empirical social sciences and much else - arose as direct answers to the new epistemic, moral and political challenges of empire and colonial conquest. The world of empire indelibly shaped and created the intellectual legacy that informs modern social theory on a global scale - both its internal critiques, its liberal, and emancipatory potentials, as well as its many illiberal, racist and exclusionary strands and impulses. Each section has original texts, commentaries, and background readings that place these texts in their deeper historical setting. Many of these commentaries trace how practical theories of 'lower' or minor selves - the subject people of the colonies, slaves, and other - were integral to the very development of ideas of the modern, autonomous and reasonable self in the western world. Prerequisite: By instructor consent. Significant work outside of class time is expected of the student for this course.
Letter (ABCD/NP)
Academic Career
Course Tags
Political and Moral Philosophy
Academic Year
Section Days
Start Time
1:30 PM
End Time
4:20 PM