Power, Justice, Discrimination

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreSGA2FC4014

Semester and Year Offered: Monsoon 2018 and Monsoon 2019

Course Coordinator and Team: Sunalini Kumar

Email of course coordinator: sunalini[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: BA; registered as full time MA Urban Studies student


Course Outcomes:

  1. On successful completion of the course students will be able to:
  2. Understand key political concepts – power, discrimination, justice – and how these relate to each other.
  3. Appreciate the historical as well as contemporary dimensions of important political ideas.
  4. Connect the abstract and theoretical to the concrete in specific situations in the field of politics.
  5. Critically engage with their immediate environments – questions of justice, discrimination and power and how they appear in students’ lives.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

  1. Power: The question of power is explored through the both conceptual and empirical material. The conceptual material introduces students to the path-breaking work of theorists like C. Wright Mills, Michel Foucault and Steven Lukes on the one hand; and feminist philosophy on the other. Thus they will understand more deeply the idea that the personal is political (feminism), and power does not simply repress but is also productive (Foucault). In Bachrach and Baratz’s important contribution, power is agenda-setting; and psychoanalyst David Smail points to the combined operation of ‘distal’ and ‘proximal’ influences in an individual’s life in creating a matrix of power within which the individual experiences life. These different but complementary understandings of power will help students to see it in their own environment. The empirical and historical material in the unit covers two historic political movements of the twentieth century – Black Power and the less well-known but equally significant articulation of Dalit Power in India. A study of these movements will ground students in their immediate political and social environment as well as connect to global debates on race, merit and inequality, and allow them to engage with the theoretical discussions more pro-actively.
  2. Justice: The question of justice can be approached in multiple ways. Instead of starting with normative western theory on justice including recent ‘global’ justice innovations, students will be asked to think about the difference between justice as a social and political phenomenon and the traditional, retributive or punitive ideas of justice. Therefore, the connections between traditional/popular understandings of justice as about law and punishment, and the modern state’s project of social justice as well as its ongoing failures will be explored. This unit uses diverse pedagogical material to open the conversation on the historical marginalisation of certain groups and their over-representation in the criminal justice system as delinquents, undertrials, and convicts. Justice as a political practice and as a political ideal is the other focus of this unit. Toward this aim, a brief foray into the history of social and political movements in the country that have explicitly used the idea of justice/social justice as an organising idiom would be helpful; these include the non-Brahmin movement in Tamil Nadu in the 1920s and the rise of Kanshiram and the BSP in Uttar Pradesh. The unit will finally consider theoretical readings on justice including the feminist distinction between the ethic of justice and the ‘ethic of care’.
  3. This unit explores different aspects of discrimination. The focus on caste, gender and race as loci of power and injustice have been established in the previous units; students will be encouraged to think of these in the context of discrimination. In addition, this unit will introduce other fields and settings where discrimination occurs. The first module will understand the persistence of identity, bias and prejudice within a putatively modern setting: the market. The first module highlights the occupational segregation of Muslims and Dalits within the workforce and the question of economic justice within the household and specifically around domestic labour. The second module will address theoretical understandings of discrimination in its various aspects; and through a critique of the idea of formal justice as enshrined in normative theory from the standpoint of disability. Each ‘kind’ of discrimination poses new theoretical and intellectual challenges to academic understandings of discrimination, and students will be able to understand the complexity of the concept through a study of these.

Assessment Details with weights:

The course will have three types of assessment situations.

  • Continuous assessment mode on the basis of their participation in class and their engagement with the material. This involves primarily short pieces (combined: 35%)
  • The second assessment will involve an individual project/long essay on the investigation of a chosen theme (30%).
  • The third assessment will be final examination (35%).

Reading List:

  • Mills, C. Wright (2000; first published 1956) “The Higher Circles” from The Power Elite Oxford, Oxford University Press, pp. 1-29.
  • Joseph, Peniel E, 2006. “Introduction: Toward a Historiography of the Black Power Movement” from Black Power: Rethinking the Civil Rights–Black Power Era London, Routledge, pp. 1-25.
  • Wendt, Simon, 2006. “The Roots of Black Power” from Peniel Joseph, pp. 145-165.
  • Lukes, Steven 1974 Power: A Radical View Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 14-60.
  • Foucault, M. and Paul Rabinow (1991) The Foucault Reader: An Introduction to Foucault's Thought New York, Pantheon Books, pp. 188-22
  • Hartsock, Nancy, 1983. Money, Sex, Power: Towards a Feminist Historical Materialism Boston, Northeastern University Press, pp. 145-155.
  • The Death Penalty India Report, 2016. (monograph) Published by the National Law University, Delhi, pp. 1-174.
  • Narayan, Badri, 2014. “The Elephant Rises: Kanshiram’s Cultural Politics and the Rise of the BSP” from Kanshiram: Leader of the Dalits New Delhi, Penguin Viking, pp. 107-145.
  • Chatterjee, Partha. 2006. "BR Ambedkar and the Troubled Times of Citizenship." Political Ideas in Modern India: Thematic Explorations New Delhi, Sage Publications, pp. 73-90.
  • Tronto, Joan C, 2005. "An ethic of care", in Cudd, Ann E.; Andreasen, Robin O., Feminist theory: a philosophical anthology, Oxford, UK Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing, pp. 251–263.
  • Gilligan, Carol. 1982 In a Different Voice Cambridge, Harvard University Press.
  • Jodhka, S. and Katherine Newman, 2007. “In the Name of Globalisation: Meritocracy, productivity and the hidden language of caste” Economic and Political Weekly Vol. 42, issue 41, 13 October 2007.



  • Mirch Masala (1987) dir. Ketan Mehta, Channel Four/National Film development Corporation.
  • Film: The Square (2013) dir. Jehane Noujaim, Noujaim Films. 108 min.
  • 13th dir. Ava du Vernay, Kandoo Films. 100 min.
  • Jai Bhim Comrade dir. Anand Patwardhan, Anand Patwardhan productions. 199 minutes.
  • India Untouched: Stories of a People Apart (2007). dir. Stalin K. 108 min. Drishti Media.
  • Fandry (2013) dir. Nagraj Manjule. 104 minutes. Navalakha Arts, Holy Basil Productions.