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Fantastic Politics: Modern Political Issues Illustrated through Fantasy Worlds

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Session: 

  • Session A: July 13 – July 23, 2020

Time: 

  • 9:30 a.m. - 12 p.m.

Category: 

  • English and Writing
  • Philosophy and Society

Instructor: 

  • Tyler Leigh
Module Description: 

Abstract:

Fantastic Politics will use some of the most popular and well-known fantasy worlds to explore key political concepts and hot topics in politics today. Using examples from Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Hunger Games, and other fantasy worlds, this class will teach students about pressing political issues facing the world today. Through small-group discussions, class debates, and occasional writing assignments, students will learn about the racial politics of Harry Potter, neocolonialism through Star Wars, and many other pressing topics while also being exposed to some of the most famous fantasy books and movies of all time. By the end of the course, students should have a greater understanding of important political issues and will have formed their own opinions that they will be able to share and discuss with others. Importantly, students will not be encouraged to believe one political view over another; instead, they will be encouraged to form their own political views in a fun and supportive environment by thinking for themselves about what they believe. This course will primarily focus on US politics, however there are connections made to international and world politics.

This course will be primarily synchronous, although there will be some asynchronous components (individual activities only; no meetings or group activities will occur outside of class time). Students are expected to be able to meet for the entire class session each day. Most days, the synchronous portion of class will not take up the entire time scheduled so that students have time to complete asynchronous class activities.

Learning Outcomes:

At the end of this course students will have:

  • Practiced reading, digesting, and discussing social scientific academic work
  • Learned to think independently about political issues affecting themselves and their friends/families
  • Gained experience discussing their political views with people who disagree with them
  • Practiced relating themes from literature and movies to real life situations

Possible Assignments:

Personal Reflections: Students will write personal reflections (2 pages, double spaced) on the political topic(s) discussed in class each day, due before class starts the next day. Reflections should include a brief (1-2 paragraph) summary of the topic, followed by the student’s own opinions on the specific topic and how they may have changed or been reinforced by class. For example, following the class on gender politics, students should briefly summarize some of the key debates around gender equality before reflecting on their own opinions. Personal Reflections will be a space for students to think privately about their own beliefs and to develop these beliefs individually.

Class Debates: Students will be asked to take on the position of opposing sides in one of the fantasy worlds and to debate a political issue. For example, on the Day 3: Harry Potter and Race Politics, students may be asked to take on the role of either Death Eaters or Members of the Order of the Phoenix and debate an issue central to race politics, such as whether or not (and why or why not) wizards/witches and muggles should be allowed to intermarry. Following the debate, the class will debrief and connect the debate with issues in the real world.

Policy Proposals: Working in small groups during class, students will have the opportunity to design informal policy proposals to address political issues discussed in class. These proposals will be discussed with the class. For example, on Day 7, small groups of students might be asked to design policies to combat global warming, which will then be discussed as a class.

Final Presentation: On the last day of class, students will be asked to present a political issue to the class and to connect the political issue to any fantasy world of the student’s choosing. Students will first give a brief overview of the fantasy world before connecting specific aspects of the world with a political issue the student is interested in or concerned about. Presentations should provide an explanation of the political issue as well as an overview of the different opinions people hold about the issue. For example, a student interested in religion and politics could present on religion in Narnia and then discuss the role of religion in US politics.

Rough Syllabus

Day 1: Harry Potter and Civil War/Terrorism
Class Introduction
What is terrorism?
What is a civil war?
Are Voldemort and the Death Eaters terrorists or rebels fighting a civil war?
Causes and consequences of civil war and terrorism
 - Inequality
 - State repression
 - Extreme ideologies

Day 2: Harry Potter and Incarceration
Sirius Black and other wrongfully convicted felons
Rights of the accused and rights of those found guilty
 - Habeas Corpus
 - Innocent until Proven Guilty
 - The right to appeal
Death Penalty
Inequalities in the justice system and criminal justice reform

Day 3: Harry Potter and Race Politics
Muggles as an inferior race
The history of race in the US
Inequality and Poverty
Incarceration

Day 4: Star Wars and Autocrats
What is an Autocrat?
Emperor Palpatine and the Empire as dictators and repressors
Dictatorships and state repression
The Right to Freedom
 - What is freedom?
 - Freedom of speech, religion, press, etc.
Freedom vs Security

Day 5: Star Wars and Colonialism
What is colonialism?
What is an empire?
Is the Galactic Empire a colonial empire?
Imperial politics
 - Slavery
 - Mercantilism
Empires and the creation of inequality
Independence Movements and Legacies of Colonialism

Day 6: Gender Politics and the Absence of Women in Fantasy
The exclusion of women from fantasy and if/how things are changing
Are men and women really equal?
What are gender, sex, social identities, and personal identities?
Gender stereotypes
Women in combat roles

Day 7: Wall-e, the Environment, and Climate Change Denial
What and how is Wall-e trying to communicate to us?
The science on climate change
Why do people deny climate change?
What is misinformation?

Day 8: Class Presentations
Students will connect a political issue to a fantasy world of their choice and present it to the class.

Day 9: Current Events
This day will be devoted to discussing current events with particular attention to how current events connect with wider political, historical, social, and economic contexts in the world.

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