Jennifer Forestal

My research investigates how networked technologies like social media have complicated the traditional relationship between space and politics. In my dissertation, "Bringing the Site Back In: Social Media and the Politics of Space," I trace the relationship between public space and political life in the work of John Dewey and Hannah Arendt in order to think about the politics of physical spaces and the "spaces" of social media.

As a way of further exploring the relationships between space(s) and politics, I turn to architecture. Drawing on the work of Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Kenneth Frampton, and George Baird, I show how these architects built upon Dewey and Arendt's conceptual frameworks in order to build and maintain spaces that foster and support democratic communities. Extending their discussions, largely focused on (re)building 20th-century cities, to the digital sites of social media, my dissertation offers a spatial analysis of social media that offers insights into the ways in which we can design, build, and maintain more democratic spaces in the new digital environment.

Teaching Philosophy

Just as my research agenda is driven by critical awareness of and engagement with the spaces that “background” our social and political experiences, so too does this commitment to conscious and active citizenship inform and inspire my approach to teaching.

As a teacher of political science, my goal is to prepare students to be active, engaged citizens who are equipped with the skills and understanding required to navigate the unique challenges of politics in a digital age. In all of my courses, I use primary texts from a diverse set of political and social thinkers in order to challenge my students to consider their own understanding of the rights and responsibilities of citizens, the role of the state and legitimacy of its laws, and the processes of public life. My goal with teaching is to help my students develop the skills and perspective with which to interrogate their own daily practices and environments.

Courses Taught

Introduction to Political Theory

Some of the concepts we cover in this course are “justice,” “rule,” “legitimacy,” and “freedom.” What are justice and injustice? What are the rights and obligations of rule, and what are its limits? What is freedom and how has it changed? How may and how should we pursue different political ideals? We survey answers offered by many different thinkers, writing under a variety of circumstances. Finally, we pay attention to what the theorists themselves are up to: how they argue for their views, whom they are addressing, and how they can be interpreted.

Last taught: Fall 2016

Modern Political Thought

What does it mean to “know” (or “speak”) modernity? In studying some of the most decisively influential and challenging thinkers and canonical texts of Western political theory in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including those by G.W. F. Hegel, Karl Marx, Alexis de Tocqueville, Jeremy Bentham, J.S. Mill, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, and Max Weber, we investigate how “modernity” appears as a political phenomenon and how it invites us to grapple with questions concerning emancipation and alienation; liberty and conformity; democracy, morality, and power. Through these discussions, we will discover what it means to say that we live in modernity and to grasp it and think about it critically, theoretically, and politically.

Last taught: Spring 2016

American Political Thought

Is it possible to sustain a geographically large and demographically diverse democratic republic? Through a study of primary texts drawn from throughout American history, students come to understand the development of American political thought in the United States, from the Revolutionaries to the Civil Rights Movement and beyond. In our exploration of the issues at stake in these debates, we consider the spirit and substance of some of the most important debates that have identified American political thought at different times, especially over the revolution against British subjection, the founding of a compound republic, federalism and the relationship between the states, the representation of citizens, the varieties of individualism and nationalism, the socialist utopia, the pragmatist vision, and the evolving character of State, Nation, and Citizen. 

Last taught: Spring 2017

Seminar in Feminist Theory

This course introduces students to critical discourses and debates within feminist theory and feminist politics, including "difference," "diversity," and "deconstructive" approaches to theorizing gender, sex, sexuality, and subjectivity. As we consider the essentially contested concepts of "woman," "justice," and "culture," the course also pushes students to interrogate the idea of "feminism" and the political project of making judgments.

Last taught: Spring 2017

Introduction to Politics

Politics is all around us. Elections, tax policy, immigration, ISIS, healthcare: these are political debates and issues that we are all familiar with. Political science seeks to understand and appreciate the causes and meanings of these conflicts in a systematic fashion. But politics doesn’t have to be boring. Concepts from political science are evident throughout popular culture—sports, movies, books, and TV shows are full of politics. The discussion of concussions in the NFL? The Iron Man/Captain America conflict in Civil War? The voting on American Idol?  These all illustrate crucial aspects of politics.

In this course, we explore some of the most fundamental political ideas via both traditional social science methods, current events, and pop culture. In our exploration of the issues at stake in these debates, we consider three major dimensions of politics: the ideas that motivate political actions, the actors that engage in political behavior, and the outcomes that are produced by the processes of politics. Politics is an all-encompassing and complex field of study. As a result, we neither settle the question of what politics is, nor the question of how it works, but, rather, we deepen our appreciation of the importance and complexity of the concepts, issues, and debates that are political.

Last taught: Spring 2017