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Political Science Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Claire Curtis

Posted by: Erin Blevins | March 18, 2014 | No Comment |





Dr. Claire Curtis has been teaching at the College of Charleston since 1998, challenging her students to ask questions and think in her courses.  She has taught courses on Political Thought, Liberalism, Utopia, Sexual Harassment, and the political science Capstone.  In addition, she has also taught in the Honors College and the First Year Experience program.   Dr. Curtis is a very active member of the college community and has served on many committees.  We were able to chat with her to learn about her passion for teaching, research, and service.


What inspired you to become a Political Science Professor?

I had great professors in College and knew that I wanted to go onto graduate school because I loved school and wanted to learn more.

Why do you think Political Theory is important to the college experience?

I think that political philosophy asks the questions that are the foundation for any other kind of inquiry in political science.  Political philosophy does not simply ask questions about what is justice or freedom or equality.  It also offers windows into how we, as humans, have thought about what it means for us to be human: What motivates us? How should we live? What do we deserve?

As a researcher what issue do you find most interesting so far?

How people decide to live together peacefully

What’s your next big research topic?

During my sabbatical I plan to write a book using Martha Nussbaum’s most recent work on political emotions and her earlier work on the capabilities approach to analyze contemporary utopian fiction.

How would describe your teaching style?

Conversational.  I like to ask questions – in lower level classes I ask a lot of questions that will help students to understand the material we are reading. In upper level classes I like to ask questions that do not have ready made or easy answers. I am curious about what students think about the issues we discuss.

Your Utopia/ Dystopia class is extremely popular.  What would you attribute this to?

I think students like to imagine radically better worlds ( we all do!) and this is a class that gives them space not only to analyze how others have imagined such worlds but to also create their own utopia.

What does your Utopian Society look like?

So if I were to develop a utopia….for me there are two questions: is this being used as an aspirational model for how we could be living together?  Or is this a description of a better world that could be enacted?  I am more interested in the former than the latter.  I think utopia is interesting because it makes people think differently about things that they currently take for granted.  I think that the first step (for me, and utopia can never be universal) is that any utopian society has to recognize that one person’s happiness or satisfaction cannot come from another person’s degradation.  The problem (and political science students are very good at seeing this) is how to build systems: policies, structures, laws, distributive and production mechanisms that can enact this.  This is why the utopias I like best (The Dispossessed and Marge Piercy’s pocket utopia in He, She and It) are not aiming for luxuries in people’s material lives, but they are aiming for “luxuries” (beyond what we need) in people’s communal lives.

But that does not really answer your question – what would my utopia look like:  I am intrigued by communal child rearing.  My utopia would definitely include the sharing of work necessary to the community and work that no one wanted to do.  As any student who has taken this class knows: we definitely need to be wearing jumpsuits with lots of pockets.  Choosing meaningful work and, more importantly, being able to choose meaningful work.  Lifelong education.  Lots of greenspace!  And if we could simultaneously be figuring out how to live on a different planet, then I would sign up for that as well.

What do you want students to take away from your classes?

Curiosity about how the world works

What is your favorite book?

Ursula LeGuin The Dispossessed (with Plato’s Republic a close second)

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

Playing softball, reading, going to the beach or on outings with my kids.

If you could sit in on a CofC class, which one would it be and why?

Maybe Music Appreciation, I have always wanted to know more about music.

What is your favorite class to teach and why?

POLI 150, Introduction to Political Thought, because it is often a student’s first introduction to political philosophy.

What’s been your best moment as a professor at the College?

Every semester there is a moment where a student who had maybe seemed less than compelled by the subject matter finds some way into the questions we are asking and that student gets independently excited about what we are doing.



under: Faculty

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