The social animal, as Aristotle called humanity, lives its life in different roles, interacting with others. We humans can be students, friends, children, parents, spouses, dental hygienists, city council members, crochet club vice presidents, and much more, often at the same time. (You don’t cease to be your parents’ child when you become a University of Michigan freshman, and, weird as it sounds, you might run into a professor of yours in the grocery store or gym.)
Political science studies the forces, structures, rules and norms that shape those roles and relations. So politics isn’t just something that happens in Washington, D.C. or Brussels. It includes a broader set of practices and institutions, particularly conflicts and contestation between individuals, groups, and institutions. Some are much closer to home: think about the way current economic forces shape the incentives and opportunities of college students. Or think about a division of labor in the family. Or think about the way consumers’ choices can affect the environment or other people.
Political theory, a subfield of political science, takes a step back from the brute facts of our social life and, instead, inquiries into how we might think about all those roles and relationships. Is “game” a good metaphor for all social relationships, for example? (Is a friendship like playing a game of chess? Why or why not? If it isn’t, should it be?) Is the idea of a nation state, which means there are strict boundaries between “citizens,” on the one hand, and “foreigners” and “immigrants,” on the other, a good way of organizing the billions of humans who live on earth, or an unjustifiable and arbitrary historical relic?
This blog represents the efforts of University of Michigan students, mainly freshmen and sophomores, to explore these kinds of questions. Their goal is not to offer answers, but learn to think better about politics and political ideas: to think more precisely, more analytically, and more broadly than most of us do in our everyday lives.