Fresh Faculty of the Week: Andrew Poe
By Sonum Dixit '13, News Section Editor
Andrew Poe, Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science, earned a B.A. from St. John’s College, an M.A. from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego. His research interests include contemporary democratic theory, political emotions, nationalism and its alternatives, and the history of modern European political thought.

What made you decide to apply to teach at Amherst?

It’s a sort of complicated story. The academic job market is terrible right now. My dissertation advisor, Tracy Strong, taught here during the last half of the 1970s. He felt like Amherst was a place where he found some of the best students of his career. After a while your dissertation advisor becomes like family. When I got the offer from Amherst, he insisted I remove my candidacy from other places. Amherst has a long history of having people at the center of political thought and it has a great tradition for being a political theorist. This is my first teaching job after getting my Ph.D. I was a research fellow for the Institut für Sozialforschung (Social Institute) at the University of Frankfurt for a year. I came back to the United States because my wife was expecting and both of our families are from around here. With a kid, we were happy to be near our families again.

How has your been experience at Amherst been different from other teaching experiences?

I’m used to of teaching classes of 300 people. As a teaching assistant (TA) at University of California, San Diego, I lectured to upperclassmen because TAs aren’t allowed to teach introductory courses. This is my first time teaching freshmen. It’s different when talking to 15 or 40 students in comparison to 300. Talking to people as they’re reflecting is how I teach. It is easier to do so with less people.

How was Germany different from here, in terms of lifestyle and political atmosphere and thought?

I study European political theory. That includes a lot of German political thought. Germany is a historically prominent location for theorizing about political action. The Social Institute was started after World War I as a response to deteriorating social conditions. They study radical socialism, or what we call critical theory, which is critical of inconsistencies of Western bourgeois culture. The punk culture is vibrant and politicized.

There are lots of demonstrations. Israel and Palestine are continual points of debate. Some Germans feel a deep historical affiliation with Israel whereas many contemporary German leftists feel an affinity towards Palestine. They were raised with a heavy hand not to have any semblance of anti-Semitism and many think that being anti-Israel and anti-Semitic are the same thing. There were rallies over the strategic bombings in Israel right before Obama’s presidency. Also, there were rallies about Iran during elections.

I was often at meetings leading up to rallies. Most of the people I was hanging out with are part of squatter movements. Europe has a lot of laws protecting squatters, who live in abandoned public buildings, called squats. There was a squat right across the street from the University of Frankfurt. Many marches in Germany start at squats.

What classes do you teach?

I teach an introductory class called “Unraveling Assumptions”, which touches on questions that political theory is asking. For example, how does one start or justify starting political action? My other class is “Ancient Political Thought”, which consists of all seniors.

So far, what are the best parts of teaching at Amherst?

People read here. I don’t want to make it sound like people do not read in California, but I can have a categorically different conversation here. There is a notion that the text matters. You can tell especially with seniors that they care to think. I felt like in California, most of the students wanted me to tell them how to think about the material. I can call the senior seminar a real learning experience. I feel like the room is energized and it is nice to be there.

What are your research interests?

Political emotions and democratic theory. I’m working on a book project on enthusiasm and democracies. The study of political emotions is sort of the new frontier in political theory. Political science has been dominated by political behavior and its examination. Most people did not want to talk about emotions. Political science has been designed as a way of removing emotions, but that focus is changing. Or at least I am banking on my career that it is changing.

At Amherst, the division is not stark between political thought and political science, which is a good thing. It seems like the faculty draw from a variety of sources. They put theoretical concepts on one end and practice on the other. Departments at other schools are still trying to overcome the divisions. Political science is the largest major in the United States but we have to worry how to divide ourselves up. For example, Yale started a new division to divide into groups interested in questions rather than methodologies.

What do you hope to contribute at your time at Amherst?

It seems as though studying political theory is central to a liberal education. I hope that students find time to study political theory at Amherst despite their other interests in order to be engaged citizens. Liberal arts students should have some ability to be critical about political life in a politicized world.

Issue 05, Submitted 2010-10-06 01:50:40