EGMT 1540: Slaves, Strangers, Citizens

What does it mean to be a citizen, not in the abstract, but within the world as we have it? And when we invoke ‘we’—as in ‘We the People’—what lies hidden behind that we? Samuel Johnson’s 1755 Dictionary of the English Language, echoing definitions from antiquity, defined “citizen” as “a freeman of a city; not a foreigner, not a slave.” This course rethinks the possibilities and dangers of ‘we’ by examining this triad in our lexicon of political life: the citizen, the stranger, and the slave. Influential accounts of liberal arts education continue to insist that the value of such an education lies in its capacity to form citizens. Yet such accounts have often had too little to say about the close links between citizenship, education, and the production of the citizen’s others: the enslaved (who is unfit for such formation) and the alien or migrant (who has been formed or malformed elsewhere). And so we’ll ask: What are the relations among citizenship, slavery, and strangeness? What is citizenship, such that it seems always to bear the traces of these shadow figures, the one who is beyond the community (the stranger) and the one who is bound to the will of another (the slave)? How do the afterlives of modern slavery and settler colonialism shape present day political debates concerning immigration, race, democracy, and justice? And how might attending to the underside of modern citizenship, that is, to the agency and the vantage of those historically excluded from citizenship—especially diasporic Black, Native, and Latinx traditions of thought—enrich our understanding of and participation in democratic life? Bringing together multiple disciplinary fields—including political philosophy, history, literature, religion, and more—our posing of these questions will be inescapably descriptive and constructive, involving questions both of ‘is’ and ‘ought’: in other words, the stakes involved press upon us a risk—the risk of examining how such questions have been posed in the past and exploring how they ought to be taken up in the present.