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LSJ 491 A: Special Topics In Rights

Meeting Time: 
MW 1:30pm - 3:20pm
PAR 305
Joint Sections: 
POL S 511 A, POL S 401 A
Jamie Mayerfeld

Syllabus Description:

Advanced Seminar in Political Theory
"Justice and Democracy"
Pol S 401/511/LSJ 491
University of Washington, Spring 2017


Instructor: Professor Jamie Mayerfeld                                   Class:
Office: Gowen 35                                                                   Parrington 305
Office Hours: Tue. 1:30-3:00, Fri. 10:30-11:30                     MW 1:30-3:20

Overview: In this course we will study influential contemporary works of political theory focused on justice and democracy. Among the questions we consider: What is justice, and how can we know? What political, legal, and economic institutions define a just society? How should we understand and respond to the problem of racial injustice, particularly as regards the treatment of African Americans in the United States? What civic practices can help us build a more just and democratic society? What defines a just immigration policy?


A. You are expected to complete the readings on time and come prepared to discuss them in class. The texts are challenging, but also rewarding. You will get the most out of them though careful, critical reading (and re-reading).

B. Discussion is an essential part of this course. Part of your grade will be based on the quality of your contributions to class discussion. Shy students must make an effort to speak up. Talkative students may need, in some instances, to practice restraint. I am looking for regular, thoughtful class participation, informed by knowledge of the assigned readings. If conversation flags, I may institute pop quizzes or obligatory response papers.

C. Each student will give a presentation, roughly 8-10 minutes long, on the assigned reading. The presentation should analyze and critically engage the argument (or an important part of the argument). Your presentation will be based on a 3-4 page paper, which you are required to submit on the date of your presentation. Presentations will be evaluated on the basis of accuracy, clarity, organization, and independent and intelligent engagement with the author’s ideas.

Your presentation should not be a mere summary, but instead an original argument relating to the reading. Your argument may be interpretive (offering an illuminating understanding of the argument in the reading) or evaluative (offering a positive or critical assessment of the argument). Or it may apply the argument to some issue or question not raised in the text. Whatever type of presentation you choose, please articulate a clear position and defend it with relevant reasons and evidence.

D. Two essays, 5-7 pages long, will be assigned. You will be presented with a challenging question, intended to give you an opportunity for in-depth reflection on the texts and the questions they pose. Essays will be graded according to accuracy, clarity, and level of critical thought. The first essay will be assigned on Monday, April 3, and is due on Friday, April 21. The second essay will be assigned on Monday, May 15, and is due on Monday, June 5. Students will present rough drafts of their second essays in the final two sessions.

You may, if you wish, incorporate your class presentation into one of your essays. Please note that essays will be held to a somewhat higher standard of rigor, completeness, and polish than presentations – though these criteria will also inform evaluation of the presentations.

Texts: Readings are drawn from four books, on sale at the University Book Store, and a course packet that will be sold at EZ Copy N Print, 4336 University Way NE. The four books are:

  • John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (rev. edition)
  • Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia
  • Danielle Allen, Talking to Strangers
  • Joseph Carens and commentators, Immigrants and the Right to Stay

Grading: The course grade is calculated as follows:

  • Participation: 10%
  • Presentation:    20%
  • First essay:      35%
  • Second essay:  35%

Maintaining a Respectful Learning Environment:

Engagement with people from diverse backgrounds, embodiments and experiences is essential to critical thinking and at the heart of university education. Students and faculty at UW are expected to:

  • respect individual differences which may include, but are not limited to: age, cultural background, disability, ethnicity, family status, immigration status, national origin, race, religion, gender presentation, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and veteran status.
  • engage respectfully in discussion of diverse worldviews and ideologies embedded in course readings, presentations and discussion, including course materials that are at odd with personal beliefs and values.

Students seeking support or information regarding these issues can find resources at (Links to an external site.).

This course will lead us into discussion of controversial social and political topics. It is important for discussion be open to a wide range of perspectives and for everyone to feel comfortable about participating. Learning will be facilitated if all class participants work to engage in class discussions with respect and empathy for one another. Contradictory views are encouraged, and can contribute to learning as long as everyone remains open to new information and willing to learn from people with different perspectives and life experiences. It is essential to avoid inflammatory, derogatory and insulting words and personal attacks. Such conduct inhibits learning and prevents the free exchange of ideas.

Disability and Learning: Your experience in this class is important, and the instructors are committed to maintaining an inclusive and accessible learning environment. If you experience barriers based on disability, please seek a meeting with Disability Resources for Student (DRS) to discuss and address your concerns. If you have established accommodations with DRS, please communicate your approved accommodation to the relevant instructor(s) at your earliest convenience so we can accommodate your needs. DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities. You can contact DRS at, 011 Mary Gates Hall, 543-8924 (voice); 543-8925 (TDD). (Links to an external site.).

Academic Integrity: Cheating and plagiarism are offenses against academic integrity and are subject to disciplinary action by the University. Plagiarism is copying someone else’s work and presenting it as your own (by not attributing it to its true source). If you are uncertain what constitutes plagiarism, please ask me. The Political Science/JSIS/LSJ/CHID Writing Center also offers guidance on plagiarism: 


This schedule is subject to revision.
A star (*) means the reading is in the course packet.



Mon. March 27: Introduction

Wed. March 29: John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, pp. 3-24, 47-52

Mon. April 3: A Theory of Justice, pp. 52-56, 266-67, 57-58, 62-65, 73-93

Wed. April 5: A Theory of Justice, pp. 109-12, 118-35, 176-90, 242-51

Mon. April 10: Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Preface (pp. xix-xxiv) and pp. 3-35, 42-45, 48-53

Wed. April 12: Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pp. 149-64, 167-82



Mon. April 17: *Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations,” The Atlantic, June 2014

Wed. April 19: *Tommie Shelby, “Justice, Deviance, and the Dark Ghetto,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 35 (2007): 126-60

**Fri. April 21: First essay due into Gowen 101 by 4:30 p.m.

Mon. April 24: *Cheryl Harris, “Whiteness as Property,” Harvard Law Review 106 (1993): 1707-91

Wed. April 26: Danielle Allen, Talking to Strangers, Prologue and Part I

Mon. May 1: *Regina Kreide, “Digital Spaces, Public Places and Communicative Power: In Defense of Deliberative Democracy,” Philosophy and Social Criticism 42 (2016): 476-86. Professor Kreide will join us for a discussion of her article.

Wed. May 3: Danielle Allen, Talking to Strangers, Part II

Mon. May 8: Talking to Strangers, Part III 



Wed. May 10: *Michael Walzer, “Membership,” chap. 2 of Walzer, Spheres of Justice (Basic Books, 1983)

Mon. May 15: *Joseph Carens, “Aliens and Citizens: The Case for Open Borders,” The Review of Politics 49 (1987): 251-73

Wed. May 17: Joseph Carens and commentators, Immigrants and the Right to Stay, entire

Mon. May 22: *Luis Cabrera, “Mobile Global Citizens,” chap. 5 of Cabrera, The Practice of Global Citizenship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010)

Wed. May 24: Presentation of second essay drafts

-- Mon. May 29: No class: Memorial Day -- 

Wed. May 31: Presentation of second essay drafts, cont.

**Second essay is due on Monday, June 5, by 4:30 pm, in the main office of the Political Science Department, Gowen 101.


Catalog Description: 
Focused, comparative examination of topics in rights.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 9:12pm