Sociology of Power and Authority

Fall 2017 at University of Virginia

The Sociology of Power and Authority was offered in Fall 2017 at the University of Virginia. It was an upper-division undergraduate seminar with 20 students, meeting for an hour and fifteen minutes twice a week. On the first day of the course, several students revealed, unprompted, that they had been participants in the counter-protests downtown on August 12, 2017, and had witnessed the murder that took place there; many students expressed an interest not only in studying power and authority, but violence as well. Interestingly and importantly, these early student-to-student classroom interactions enhanced the intellectual quality of discussion in the class, and of the responses to my introductory lectures to the readings. I found that this semester more students, more often, were willing to engage in depth of thought and to argue with each other as well as with their professor. They were a living, breathing repudiation of the idea that discussing difficult matters in class restricts discourse. I want to be clear that I view my students as the cause of this atmosphere; they were remarkable in their conduct and respect for each other, despite rather deep and extensive disagreements about theory, culture, and politics.

The syllabus followed relatively closely a Monday-Wednesday rhythm. On Mondays, a classic reading — usually a difficult text — would be due; On Wednesdays, a shorter piece or pieces addressing the current “intellectual situation” were assigned. In the syllabus below, these “Wednesday readings” are preceded with a dash. After week 6, the students provided these themselves and gave brief presentations on them; these are not listed here.

It’s extremely unlikely that this class will ever fade from my memory. I felt extraordinarily fortunate to be asked to lead a situation in which both academic and everyday cynicism seemed to fall by the wayside, and in which intellectual ambition was manifest and yet untethered by the usual dictates of instrumental reason. I here provide a stripped-down version of the syllabus — a syllabus anchored, really, by two texts (Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem and Fassin’s Enforcing Order). We will follow this with posts to PublicSeminar.org written by the students from the Sociology of Power and Authority, consisting primarily of edited versions of the final papers they wrote for the class.

–Dr. Isaac Ariail Reed, Charlottesville, VA, January, 2018


Week 1: Legitimate Domination: Max Weber

Max Weber, Economy and Society, Volume 1, pp. 212-254, pp. 266-271. University of California Press, 1978.

–Christopher B. Daly, “Trump Epitomizes the ‘charismatic leader’ where

power is personal,” Chris Daly’s Blog, July 26, 2016

–Samuel Moyn, “Freud’s Discontents,” The Nation, November 2, 2016

Week 2: Political Theology

Michael Rogin, “The King’s Two Bodies: Lincoln, Wilson, Nixon and Presidential Self-Sacrifice” pp. 81-114 in Ronald Reaganthe Movie and Other Episodes in Political Demonology. University of California Press, 1987.

–Jeffrey C. Alexander, “Heroes, Presidents, and Politics” Contexts 9(4): 16-21. 2010.

–Peter Thompson, “The Frankfurt School, Part 1: Why did Anders Breivik fear them?” The Guardian Monday March 25, 2013.

–Stuart Jeffries, “Why a forgotten 1930s critique of capitalism is back in Fashion,” The Guardian, Friday, September 9 2016.

Week 3: Bureaucracy

Robert K. Merton, “Bureaucratic Structure and Personality,” in Social Theory and Social Structure, Free Press, 1957,pp. 195-206.

–Adam Elkus, “You Can’t Handle the (Algorithmic) Truth” Slate, May 20, 2015.

Week 4: Arendt on Eichmann and Beyond, part 1

Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Penguin Classics, 2006, pp. xvii-111

–Mark Lilla, “Mr. Causabon in America” New York Review of Books. 2007.

–Dorit Geva, “A Rose by This Name: Populism, Gender, and Nationalist Ideology in the French National Front.”Sociology of Culture Newsletter, 2017.

Week 5: Arendt on Eichmann and beyond, Part 2

Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, pp. 112-205.

–Alan Ryan, “The Art of Being Erich Fromm,” New York Review of Books. 2013.

–Jeffrey C. Alexander, “Rage against the Enlightenment: The ideology of Steven Bannon.” Sociology of Culture Newsletter, 2017.

Week 6: Nazism and the German state

Film: Conspiracy, directed by Frank Pierson.

Film: The People versus Fritz Bauer, directed by Lars Kraume.

Week 7: Arendt on Eichmann and Beyond, Part 3

Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, pp. 206-298.

Week 8: What is authority?

Alexandre Kojeve, The Notion of Authority (A Brief Presentation). Verso Press. 2014, pp. 1-47, 95-100.

Week 9: Power, authority and violence, or race and policing, part 1

Didier Fassin, Enforcing Order: An Ethnography of Urban Policing. Polity Press, 2013, ix-112.

Week 10: Power, authority and violence, or race and policing, part 2

Didier Fassin, Enforcing Order, 113-173.

Week 11: Power, authority and violence, or race and policing, part 3

Nov. 6: Didier Fassin, Enforcing Order, 174-229

Week 12: Violence and the law

Hannah Arendt, On Violence. Harcourt Brace Javanovich. 1970. pp. 35-87.

Hannah Arendt, “Civil Disobedience” pp. 49-103 in Crises in the Republic, Harcourt Brace & Company, 1972.

Week 13: Style and politics

Richard Hofstader, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” Harper’s Magazine, 1964.

Week 14 : The eternal return to Hegel

G.W.F. Hegel, “Lordship and Bondage” Phenomenology of Spirit.

–Final Lecture and Discussion.

Also for you:

Isaac Ariail Reed

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