The Political Theory of Home

The Political Theory of Home

Political Science 54

The Political Theory of Home

Spring, 2010

Professor Dumm

Home is supposed to be a refuge, the place where they have to take you in, as Frost once put it. But as he also knew, it is a place of conflict and death as much as comfort and birth. We are hidden from the world in our homes, but we also take pride in our homes, however modest, or even in their modesty. Home is a place of personal remembrance where we do not fight the battles of immortality, but instead follow another way through life, a parallel imagining of where and how we may be in the world, and away from the world. It is the most private of places, and a site of privation because of that. It is the oikos, (the household, where economy began) not the polis (the public place of political argument). And yet home is of political significance paradoxically, because it is supposed to be a refuge from the storms of politics. Hence, for instance, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security as a reassurance to the American people following the terrorist attack of 9/11.In this course, we will explore the idea of home and its political significance in Western thought. Among the writings and authors we will study – The Odyssey, Books of Genesis, Exodus, and Ruth, Fustel de Coulanges, Vico, Shakespeare, Heidegger, Said, Winthrop, Thoreau, Jefferson, Addams, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Pogue Harrison.

Class meetings will primarily entail discussion – I will occasionally present material myself -- and I ask that you be prepared by having assignments read in advance. I will be seeking weekly response papers (starting in week three) and you will be given both a midterm and final, both of which will be take-home. Because this is the first time I am teaching the course, the syllabus is tentative, and open to change. I ask your patience, and note that this gives you an opportunity to contribute to the development of the course (and to the book I am beginning to write).

Books for purchase (at Amherst Books, downtown Amherst):

Robert Pogue Harrison, The Dominion of the Dead

The Bible (King James edition)

Homer, The Odyssey (Fagles translation)

Thoreau, Walden

Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie

Edward Said, Out of Place


1/25: Introduction, no reading

Anxiety Over Home

1/27: Heidegger, “Building, Dwelling, Thinking” (distributed in class)

2/1: KJ Bible, Genesis, Chapters 1 through 4

2/ 3: Odyssey, Book One

Home As Return

2/8: Odyssey, Books Two through Six

2/10: Odyssey, Books Seven through Thirteen

2/15: NO CLASS

2/17: Odyssey, Books Fourteen through Twenty-four

2/22: Genesis, Chapters 11 through 25

2/24: Genesis Chapters 26 through 50

Home As Quest

3/1: Exodus, Chapters 1 through 20

3/3: Exodus, Chapters 21through 35

3/8: Ruth, Chapter 1 through 4

3/10 Ruth, discussion continued (no reading)

Spring Break

Home As Place, I: The Dead

3/22: The Dominion of the Dead. Chapters One and Two

3/24: The Dominion of the Dead, Chapters Three through Five

3/29: The Dominion of the Dead, Chapters Six and Seven

3/31: The Dominion of the Dead, Chapters Eight and Nine

Home As Place Two: The Living

4/5: Walden, Chapters One and Two

4/7: Walden, Chapters Three through Six

4/12: Walden, Chapters Seven through Eleven

4/14: Walden, Chapters Twelve through Fifteen

4/19: Walden, Chapters Sixteen through Conclusion

4/21: Little House in the Big Woods

4/26: Little House on the Prairie

Home As Exile

4/28: Out of Place, Chapters One through Four

5/3: Out of Place, Chapters Five through Seven

5/5: Out of Place, Chapters Eight through Eleven