Syllabus: Decolonizing Political Science

by | 3 May 2021

We are republishing a slightly abridged version of Prof Robbie Shilliam’s brilliant Decolonizing Political Science syllabus (full version with assessment available here). We also welcome other radical syllabi (both those practiced and ideal) and hope that the act of sharing these compelling pedagogic practices help others to develop their teaching in new directions.

Not all phenomena studies by political scientists are usefully examined by reference to their colonial pasts and afterlives. But it is the case that Political Science owes most of its key frameworks to colonial contexts and concepts. As a formalized field of study, Political Science emerged in the USA, in the late 19th century, in a context defined by questions of empire and citizenship, and race and behavior. The study of politics per se precedes this institutional departure point, but much of this preceding study was woven around imperial and colonial ventures from the Renaissance onwards. In the course of the 20th century, the field developed new areas of inquiry related to decolonization and the postcolonial world.

The purpose of this course is therefore to decolonize the academic study of politics, not politics per se. That said, we’ll probably grapple with the prospect that the academy cannot be so easily delinked from other institutions and structures of colonial power. In any case, after we’ve started by recasting Aristotle as a critical thinker of settler colonialism and imperial rule, we’ll recontextualize, reconceptualize, and reimagine four popular subfields of political science: political theory, political behavior, comparative politics, and international relations.

We’ll look at the colonial contexts and logics that render key concepts legible in these sub-fields. Some of that is in the readings, some of that we’ll talk more about in class. We’ll also engage with sources and ideas outside of the colonial canon to imagine how we might cultivate knowledge of these themes differently. That’s why I’ve given two weeks to each subfield, and my labelling of them as 1 and A provokes you to imagine that, in intellectual terms, the anti-colonial response is not indebted to the colonial imposition but is its own starting point.

We’ll focus on a key theme associated with each subfield: universal rights in political theory, citizenship in political behavior, development in comparative politics, and war and peace in international relations. And we’ll pivot our examination around some key authors/movements: Immanuel Kant and Sylvia Wynter for political theory; Woodrow Wilson and Frantz Fanon for political behavior; Lucien Pye and Walter Rodney for comparative politics; Martin Wight and the Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific movement for IR.

These foci are not meant to represent any subfield with fidelity, least of all their internal diversities. Rather, the foci will hopefully allow us to explore some of the abiding colonial logics that have framed their sub-fields as well as alternative logics. We’ll finish by considering the study of politics from the borderlands rather than from the agora inside the polis.


1. Introduction: In the aftermath of Black Lives Matter 2020 / Capitol Insurrection 2021

  • Statement from the American Political Science Association, June 2020
  • Statement from the British International Studies Association, 2020
  • International Studies Association Statement, 2020 Statement-Condemning-Racism
  • APSA First Statement on Capitol Insurrection ErcEoMUXUAAeXSb.png
  • Revised ASPA Statement on Capitol Insurrection apitol-final.pdf?ver=2021-01-11-145232-487

2. Colonialism, Empire and the Polis

  • Malkin, Irad. 2004. “Postcolonial Concepts and Ancient Greek Colonization.” MLQ: ModernLanguage Quarterly 65 (3)
  • Dietz, Mary G. 2012. “Between Polis and Empire: Aristotle’s Politics.” The American PoliticalScience Review 106 (2)
  • Frank, Jill. 2004. “Citizens, Slaves, and Foreigners: Aristotle on Human Nature.” AmericanPolitical Science Review 98 (1): 91–104.
  • Cambiano, Giuseppe. 1987. “Aristotle and the Anonymous Opponents of Slavery.” In Classical Slavery, ed. Moses I. Finley, 28–52. London: Cass.

3. Political Theory 1

  • Norbert Bolz, “Kant, the Old Racist”, Telos(scope), Oct 2020
  • Chaly, V.A., 2020. Immanuel Kant — Racist and Colonialist? Kantian Journal, 39(2), pp. 94- 98.
  • Immanuel Kant. 2011. “Of the Different Races of Human Beings.” In Kant: Anthropology, History, and Education, eds. Robert B Louden and Günter Zöller, 82–97. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Immanuel Kant. 2011. “Determination of the Concept of a Human Race.” In Kant: Anthropology, History, and Education, eds. Robert B Louden and Günter Zöller, 143–159. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

4. Political Theory A

  • Elizabeth Phillipose, “Decolonizing Political Theory”, Radical Pedagogy 2007
  • Sylvia Wynter. 1991. “Columbus and the Poetics of the Propter Nos.” Annals of Scholarship 8 (2): 251–286.
  • Sylvia Wynter. 2015. “The Ceremony Found: Towards the Autopoetic Turn/Overturn, Its Autonomy of Human Agency and Extraterritoriality of (Self-)Cognition.” In Black Knowledges / Essays in Critical Epistemology, ed. Sabine Broeck, 184–252. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press

5. Political Behavior 1

  • Blatt, Jessica. 2018. Race and the Making of American Political Science. Philadelphia: Universityof Pennsylvania Press, ch.1
  • Adams, Herbert B. 1882. The Germanic Origin of New England Towns. Baltimore: Johns HopkinsUniversity.
  • Wilson, Woodrow. 1887. “The Study of Administration.” Political Science Quarterly 2 (2): 197–222.
  • Ambrosius, Lloyd E. 2007. “Woodrow Wilson and the Birth of a Nation: American Democracyand International Relations.” Diplomacy and Statecraft 18 (4): 689–718.

6. Political Behavior A

  • Charney, Evan, and William English. 2013. “Genopolitics and the Science of Genetics.” AmericanPolitical Science Review 107 (2): 382–395.
  • Frantz Fanon. 1970. “The ‘North African Syndrome.’” In Toward the African Revolution, 13–26.London: Penguin.
  • Frantz Fanon. 2018b. “Social Therapy in a Ward of Muslim Men: Methodologial Difficulties.” InAlienation and Freedom, eds. Jean Khalfa and Robert J. C. Young, 353–372. London: BloomsburyAcademic Press.
  • Frantz Fanon. 2018a. “Letter to the Resident Minister.” In Alienation and Freedom, eds. JeanKhalfa and Robert J. C. Young, 433–436. London: Bloomsbury Academic Press.

7. Assignment workshop

8. Comparative Politics 1

  • Engerman, David C. 2010. “Social Science in the Cold War.” Isis 101 (2)
  • Shils, Edward. 1960. “Political Development in the New States.” Comparative Studies in Societyand History 2 (3)
  • Pye, Lucian W. 1958. “The Non-Western Political Process.” Journal of Politics 20 (3): 468–486.
  • Pye, Lucian. 1965. “The Concept of Political Development.” The ANNALS of the AmericanAcademy of Political and Social Science 358 (1)

9. Comparative Politics A

  • Campbell, Horace. “The Impact of Walter Rodney and Progressive Scholars on the Dar Es SalaamSchool.” Social and Economic Studies 40, no. 2 (1991): 99–135.
  • Rodney, Walter. 1968. “Education and Tanzanian Socialism.” In Tanzania: Revolution byEducation, ed. Idrian N. Resnick, 71–84. Arusha: Longmans of Tanzania Ltd.
  • Rodney, Walter. 1989. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Nairobi: Heinemann Kenya. Chs 1, 6
  • Weber, Heloise. 2007. “A Political Analysis of the Formal Comparative Method: Historicizing theGlobalization and Development Debate.” Globalizations 4 (4): 559–572.

10. International Relations 1

  • Hall, Ian. 2014. “Martin Wight, Western Values, and the Whig Tradition of InternationalThought.” The International History Review 36 (5): 961–981.
  • Hodson, H. V. 1950. “Race Relations in the Commonwealth.” International Affairs 26 (3): 305–315.
  • Martin Wight. 1966. “Western Values in International Relations.” In Diplomatic Investigations,eds. E. H. Butterfield and M. Wight, 89–131. London: Allen & Unwin.
  • Martin Wight. 1972. “International Legitimacy.” International Relations 4 (1): 1–28.

11. International Relations A

  • Jacobs, Robert. 2013. “Nuclear Conquistadors: Military Colonialism in Nuclear Test Site Selectionduring the Cold War.” Asian Journal of Peacebuilding 1 (2)
  • Naidu, Vijay. 1986. “The Fiji Anti-Nuclear Movement: Problems and Prospects.” presented at the United Nations University Conference, Auckland.
  • Teaiwa, Teresia K. 1994. “Bikinis and Other s/Pacific n/Oceans.” The Contemporary Pacific 6 (1): 87–109.
  • Hilda Halkyard-Harawira & Katie Boanas, “Pacific Connections: Women and the PEacepage4image265000768
  • Movement in Aotearoa”, in R. Du Plessis & P. Bunkle (eds.), Feminist voices : women’s studies texts for Aotearoa/New Zealand (Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1992) img-227145356-0001.pdf

12. The Study of Politics from the Borderlands
• Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: aunt lute books, 1987.

1 Comment

  1. Many thanks for this very innovative and informative post
    as independent researcher in political science, in history of International relations and Geopolitics, of course, decolonizing the political science must be the main purpose of the new generation in this field.

    But it is not sufficient to only decolonize the political science while the other disciplines of the human and social sciences continue to be colonized like sociology, history, geography, economics, anthropology, ethnology and so on

    So the main task of students, academics and researchers in social and human sciences consists in decolonizing all disciplines in order not only to interpret the world but to transform it as Maerx Stated in the German ideology


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