Dyson Faculty Collaborate on Book about Political Science and the Occupy Wall Street Movement

In September of 2011, Pace’s New York campus in lower Manhattan was in the thick of it. The Occupy Wall Street movement took hold in Zuccotti Park, just three blocks from the New York City campus, and Pace was at the confluence of protest, Wall Street, and academia. Chris Malone, chair of the Political Science department, and fellow political science faculty members Matthew Bolton, Meghana Vasudev Nayak, and Emily Welty contributed to and co-edited a collection of essays, Occupying Political Science: The Occupy Wall Street Movement from New York to the World published this January. From a unique vantage point, the book examines the movement* and turns the mirror back on the discipline of political science itself. These are excerpts from an instant message interview with the editors.

Good timing

Christopher Malone: After the protests started, we thought we should write something on it. About the same time, the publisher of my first book contacted me asking to have lunch. I invited everyone and we started talking about publishing something on the Occupy Wall Street movement. My publisher was very excited by the idea and said he needed a prospectus within weeks. We contacted other authors and put it together in a very short amount of time.

What is poly sci?

Meghana Nayak: Political science studies power and decision-making…and that decision-making can happen among individuals, communities, countries, or institutions. So we ask, “Who gets to make decisions? What are the effects of those decisions…on whom?” Political science is something that involves everyone, whether they realize it or not.

Malone: Much of political science will study political and social phenomena from a distance. The social scientist is supposed to be like the natural scientist: detached and removed, unbiased and so on. It is very difficult to study human beings and their institutions the same way you study biology and planets. We put this book together with the idea that perhaps political science needs to be more proximal to what it studies - physically.

The classroom without borders

Emily Welty: As part of my teaching on nonviolent tactics, I give students Gene Sharp’s list of 198 Methods of Nonviolent Actions. I create a short role play in which I act as an arbitrary despot with oppressive rules. Students choose items on the list in order to protest me. Before Occupy Wall Street, students had been relatively passive - making posters or signing a petition. But during the spring 2012, the class was far more engaged than ever before. They were singing, chanting, organized a blackout with the lights. When I checked the hallway to be sure that we were not being disruptive to other classes, they locked me out of the room! I was delighted - lockouts are a classic nonviolent tactic. I felt that students were deeply “getting” the material in a way that hadn’t before.

Nayak: Several students in my class were involved in the park---some wrote essays about it, or brought up issues in the classroom…and honestly, the questions they raised really shaped the kinds of things we wanted to address in this book. Especially when we realized we couldn't always answer the questions.

Matthew Bolton:  I think Occupy, by challenging traditional gender norms, has pushed me to think about how my research and teaching is influenced by my social location -- being a straight white guy in a discipline, unfortunately, dominated by people who look like me. I think about outside of academia too, in my relationships to family, friends and colleagues.

Something for everyone

Malone: You asked who this book was for. Obviously with a book titled Occupying Political Science, it sounds as if it is primarily for the discipline and those in it. But we hope it will reach a wider audience. Not to pat ourselves on the back (and really the other three because they did much more work on it than I), but the book is quite good in content, in structure, in concept. We think we got something right with it.

*Emily Welty: I think we need to be very clear that this book project was NOT about advising Occupy about what they should do/think/be.