Middle East Technical University                                                                              Spring 2012
Department of Political Science and Public Administration



ADM 5156


Wednesday 14:40 to 17:30


Instructor: Dr. Ömür Birler

Office: A310

Phone:x 2002

E-mail: birler@metu.edu.tr

Office Hours: Thursday 2 to 4 pm.



Course Description


Within the scenery of contemporary political theory, the fundamental premise of the theories of Marxism and critical theory, i.e., understanding dynamics of the capitalist society and developing a critical response in order to change it, seem to occupy a rather secondary place. Moreover the questions and methods commonly raised and utilized in the field of political theory appear to be at odds with the foundations of dialectical materialism. This, in turn leaves the contemporary Marxist tradition’s approach to contemporary political theory with certain reservations. There are, however, a series of thinkers who actually attempt to reconcile these seemingly contradictory perspectives; that is, to establish a political theory without giving up the main concerns of Marxism and critical theory.

As a graduate level seminar, this course offers a survey of contemporary Marxist political theorists. What brings these five theorists, Zizek, Badiou, Ranciere, Balibar and Agamben, together is their common interest in critical theory and shared roots in structural Marxism, particularly in the works of Althusser. Accordingly the structure of the seminar will follow these three layers; first the foundation and introduction of the key terms by critical theory, followed by Althusser’s discussion of ideology and the subject and finally examination of each thinker.

The study of these five figures will be conducted in a structured way so as to assist us to grasp first each thinker’s relation and their response to the tradition of critical theory and structural Marxism and second to analyze their own agenda for political change. It is the purpose of this seminar to question the role of conceptual tools, which are used perhaps not exclusively but typically in the field of political theory in these agendas for political chance. Henceforth for each thinker we will dedicate two weeks during which the discussion of major questions of political theory, namely the modern subject, power and ideology, regime and democracy, the sovereign and citizenship as conceived by Zizek, Badiou, Ranciere, Balibar and Agamben, will be preceded by each thinkers unique contribution to dialectical materialism.








Course Requirements and Grading


1- Attendance and participation in class discussions:             10%


As a graduate seminar the class format is centered on lectures and in-class discussions. Regular attendance and participation are required. Students must have completed the reading listed for each session before the class.


2- Questions for in-class discussion and presentations:          10%


Each week you will be asked to submit one paragraph (3-4 sentences) analytical question in response to at least one of the readings of the week. The purpose behind submitting these questions is two-fold: to prepare you to the class discussion and to provide a framework for the student presenting the readings of the week. Therefore questions should be submitted 24 hours before the class.


3- Presentations:                                                                      25%


Each student will present one of the readings for the week. Number of the presentations will be decided according to total class enrollment. Presentation should provide a general overview of the reading in your own words and should try to answer to the questions handed by the rest of class. In this respect the grading of the presentations will be done with regard to their effort not only in successfully summarizing the readings but also in responding the class questions.


4- Reflection Papers:                                                               25% (17.5 pts. each)


Each student is required to write two reflection papers focusing on readings from different course units. The papers must be 5-6 double spaced pages and should be handed in-class before the related class topic and hour. Students can NOT choose to write their reflection papers on the material that they will present.


4-Final Paper:                                                                          30%


This paper should explore one of the questions and/or thinkers of your choice from the social and political theory literature and should be written in the form of an argumentative essay that uses appropriate evidence and argument to defend a basic thesis. This paper should not exceed 15 double spaces pages.


In order to follow a healthy writing process, students should prepare a proposal of 1-2 pages. Proposals should be submitted by on April 24, 2013. The submission of the final paper is due on the last day of final examination period, June 8, 2013. Late submissions will not be accepted unless you provide a medical report.


Required Readings: All reading materials will be uploaded to METU Online web page and will also be available as hard-copies at the copy shop. .




Schedule of Classes


Week 1: Introduction


Week 2: Critical Theory

Max Horkheimer, “Traditional and Critical Theory” in Critical Theory: Selected Essays, pp: 188-244.

Theodor W. Adorno, “Art, Society and Aesthetics”, in Aesthetics Theory, 1-16.

Walter Benjamin, “Critique of Violence”, in One Way Street, pp. 132-154.

Herbert Marcuse, “Liberation of the Affluent Society,” and “Reification of the Proletariat”, in Critical Theory and Society: A Reader, pp: 276-292.


Suggested Readings:

Martin Jay “Genesis of Critical Theory” in Dialectical Imagination, pp: 41-86.

Alan How, Critical Theory, Chp: 1 &5.  

David Held Introduction to Critical Theory: Horkheimer to Habermas, Introduction & Chp: 2.


Week 3: Althusser

Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus”, in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, Monthly Review Press, pp. 127-180

                        “Philosophy as a Revolutionary Weapon” in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, Monthly Review Press, pp. 11-23.

Suggested Readings:

Mark Poster, 1974. “Althusser on History without Man”, Political Theory, 2(4), pp. 393-409

Etienne Balibar, 2009. “Althusser and the Rue D’Ulm”, New Left Review, 58, pp. 91-107.

Norman Geras. 1972 “Althusser’s Marxism: An Account and Assessment”, New Left Review, I/71, pp. 75-86

Jacques Ranciere, “On the Theory of Ideology: Althusser’s Politics”, in Althusser’s Lesson, pp: 125-155.


Week 4: Zizek & Ideology

Slavoj Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology. Chp: 1-2


Suggested Readings:

Matthew Sharpe, Slavoj Zizek: A Little Piece of the Real. Chp: 1.

Tony Myers, Slavoj Zizek. Chp: 4 pp: 63-79.

Heiko Feldner and Fabio Vighi, 2009. “Zizek Notion of Ideology Critique in Context”, International Journal of Zizek Studies, 4, 1-7.


Week 5: Zizek & Political Ontology

Slavoj Zizek, The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Center of Political Ontology, Chp: 4

Slavoj Zizek, 2011, “Why Fear the Arab Revolutionary Spirit?”, available online at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/feb/01/egypt-tunisia-revolt.


Suggested Readings:

Andrew Robinson and Simon Tormey, 2005, “A Ticklish Subject? Zizek and the Future of Left Radicalism‟, Thesis Eleven, 80, pp. 94-107.

Robert Sinnerbrink, 2010, “Goodbye Lenin? Zizek on Neo-Liberal Ideology and Post-Marxist Politics”, International Journal of Zizek Studies, 4(2).

Tony Myers, Slavoj Zizek, pp: 111-127.


Week 6: Badiou & Political Ontology

Alain Badiou, Being and Event, Preface & Chp: 1

Alain Badiou, “Thinking the Event,” in Philosophy in the Present: Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek, pp: 1-48.


Suggested Readings:

A. J. Barley & Justin Clemens, Alain Badiou: Key Concepts, Chp: 3-5.

Peter Hallward, Badiou: A Subject to Truth. Introduction & Chp: 4.

Peter Osbourne, 2007. “Neo-classic: Alain Badiou’s Being and Event”, Radical Philosophy,

142, 19-29.


Week 7: Badiou - Communism & Leninism

Alain Badiou, 2008, “The Communist Hypothesis”, New Left Review, 49: 29-42.

Alain Badiou, 2005, “Highly Speculative Reasoning on the Concept of Democracy”, available online at: http://www.lacan.com/conceptsym.htm.

Alain Badiou, 2007, “One Divides Itself into Two”, in Lenin Reloaded: Toward a Politics of Truth, pp: 1-17.

Alain Badiou, 2011, “Tunisia, Egypt: The Universal Reach of Popular Uprising”, available online at: http://www.lacan.com/thesymptom/?page_id=1031.


Week 8: Ranciere & Politics of Aesthetics

Jacques Ranciere, “Distribution of the Sensible”, in The Politics of Aesthtics pp: 7-47.

Suggested Readings:

Slavoj Zizek, “The Lesson of Ranciere”, in The Politics of Aesthtics pp: 69-80.


Week 9: Ranciere – Politics of Equality

Jacques Ranciere, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, Chp: 1 & 5.

Jacques Ranciere, Hatred of Democracy, Chp: 1 & 4.

Jacques Ranciere, 2001, “Ten Thesis on Politics”, Theory & Event 5: 1-16.


Suggested Readings:

Todd May, The Political Thought of Jacques Ranciere: Creating Equality, Chp: 2/

Peter Hallward, 2006, “Staging Equality: One Ranciere’s Theatrocracy”, New Left Review, 37: 109-129.


Week 10: Balibar & Class

Etienne Balibar, Masses, Classes, Ideas: Studies on Politics and Philosophy Before and After Marx, Chp: 4-5.


Week 11: Balibar & Citizenship

Etienne Balibar, We, The People of Europe? Reflections of Transnational Citizenship, Chp: 5 & 8.

Week 12: Agamben & The Sovereign Power

Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Part I, pp: 1-71.


Week 13: Agamben & The Potential in Exception

Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, Chp: 1, 4 & 6.