Fall 2022

Pandemic Politics

Listed in: Political Science, as POSC-109


Ruxandra Paul (Section 01)


This course welcomes students from all backgrounds who want to reflect on the political, economic, social, cultural, and ethical questions that the Coronavirus pandemic raises. Pandemics develop non-randomly because pathogens exploit vulnerabilities in political systems, markets, and societies. As a result, pandemics hold up a mirror in which polities and societies can see their true face. What does the Coronavirus pandemic show us about who we are? What can we learn from it? How does COVID-19 intersect with other challenges, such as poverty, environmental change, inequality, migration, terrorism, and technological shift? The course combines news coverage with political and interdisciplinary analysis and uses examples – past and present – from around the world. We will compare COVID-19 to other pandemics, including the Black Plague, cholera, the Spanish Flu of 1918, Ebola, SARS, and HIV/AIDS, to understand how pandemics shape politics, markets, societies, culture, and the arts. Studying pandemic politics allows us to tackle big questions of political science in a new light. What institutions are better equipped for handling global public health emergencies? Do liberal democracies perform better than dictatorships? Does globalization provide a fruitful framework? How does a virus become a security threat, and what does biosecurity entail? Can a pathogen undermine liberal democratic order? What and whom are we willing to sacrifice in our efforts to fight the pandemic? We will also talk about the future. What will our world look like after COVID-19? Will the disease lead to a retreat into isolationism and nationalism, or will it deepen international cooperation, interdependence, and globalization? Will it lead to democratic backsliding, or will it foster an era of renewed civic engagement, activism, and participation? Classes include informal conversations with guest speakers (political scientists, historians, epidemiologists, art historians, local artists). This course satisfies requirement 2 for the IR Five-College Certificate.

Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Assistant Professor Paul.

How to handle overenrollment: Preference will be given to Majors, Sophomores, and Seniors.

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: Emphasis on readings, communication skills (discussions, oral presentations, written work - both academic and public intellectual/commentary style, online participation and engagement), group work, independent research, staying informed (following, sharing, and commenting current events), developing analytical skills that are portable across a wide range of professional and academic settings (developing an informed opinion on the basis of critical engagement with a set of competing arguments, contributing to a debate, synthesizing existing knowledge/research, categorizing claims, assessing arguments on the basis of real-world/empirical evidence, offering constructive criticism, setting goals for oneself and one's team, developing and implementing action plans, identifying effective accountability mechanisms, developing self-assessment techniques and achieving intellectual independence as a learner, etc.).

POSC 109 - LEC

Section 01
Tu 10:00 AM - 11:20 AM SCCE E212
Th 10:00 AM - 11:20 AM SCCE E212

ISBN Title Publisher Author(s) Comment Book Store Price
Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow Harper Perennial Yuval Noah Harari Amherst Books TBD
Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present Yale University Press Frank Snowden Amherst Books TBD
Globalization and Health Rowman & Littlefield Jeremy Youde Amherst Books TBD

These books are available locally at Amherst Books.


2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2022