Democracy and Boundaries: Conflicts about Membership, Borders, and Diversity

Term: Spring 2010

Subject Code: GPOL

Course Number: 6213

Democracy means self-governance. But who gets to participate in this process, where, and by what means? The basic democratic proposal, that we should govern ourselves, raises hard questions about boundaries. For good reasons, democratic commitments always seem to collide with boundaries - yet the latter may be necessary for democratic practices. These issues take dramatic practical forms in arguments about voting and inclusion, immigration, civil conflict and separation, and political expression. They arise in and across many different countries and regions, from the U.S. to South Africa to India to Western Europe. We will look at these very general issues via specific questions and contexts. First, we will examine citizenship and its relation to democratic governance. What should be the criteria for citizenship and which citizens should be able to participate in self-governance? We will address these questions partly by looking at historic and contemporary forms of exclusion. Second, we consider borders between states, divisions within states, and the problem of immigration. Are there legitimate grounds on which citizens in democracies can bound their own polities? Third, we examine conflict within democratic politics. Presuming that democratic polities manage rather than dissolve conflict, what limits can be placed on modes of action and forms of expression by political actor? We will consider whether and when limits can be placed on political speech and expression, disruptive political action, civil disobedience, and political violence. When and how (if ever) is it legitimate to impose limits in the name of managing deep conflict within democratic polities and expanding democratic practices? We will examine these questions via theoretical texts and empirical studies of recent and ongoing experiences in different parts of the world. We will make special reference to African cases, including the upsurge of violent protest against immigration in South Africa in 2008.

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