Elke Zuern

Elke Zuern

Undergraduate Discipline

Politics

AB, Colgate University. MA, MPhil, PhD, Columbia University. Research interests include social movements in new democracies, popular responses to poverty and inequality, violence in democratization processes, collective memory, memorials and reconciliation. Regional specialization: sub-Saharan Africa and extensive fieldwork in South Africa and research in Namibia. Author of The Politics of Necessity: Community Organizing and Democracy in South Africa (University of Wisconsin Press, 2011). Recipient of a Mellon postdoctoral fellowship at Amherst College and a Lowenstein fellowship; articles in Democratization, Comparative Politics, Politique Africaine, African Affairs, South African Labour Bulletin, Transformation, and African Studies Review. SLC, 2002–

Current undergraduate courses

African Politics

Fall

This course offers a comprehensive introduction to African politics, challenging common assumptions and misunderstandings of the continent. We will investigate persistent political institutions, as well as mechanisms of political and economic change. Key questions include: How are postcolonial African states distinctive from other postcolonial states? How do the politics of patronage, prevalent in many African states and societies, affect processes of political and economic change such as democratization and the implementation of structural adjustment and poverty alleviation programs? What role have external influences, from colonialism to current forms of European and North American influence, played on the continent? What impact has China’s rising role (alongside other Asian states) had? What choices and trade-offs have Africa’s postcolonial leaders and citizens faced? This course will not investigate the experiences of all African states but will address these questions by drawing upon the experiences of a few countries: Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia, and South Africa. We will begin with an in-depth analysis of the colonial experience, decolonization, and the state of affairs in the early postcolonial period. Key thematic questions will be addressed concerning the nature of the postcolonial African state; the relevance of identities along ethnic, class, religious, and gender lines; and patterns of state-society engagement. The second section will build upon the first by investigating processes of political liberalization/democratization and economic development to unearth the contradictions and promises of these processes.

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Related Cross-Discipline Paths

Democracy and the Market

Year

This intermediate seminar will address the question of how liberal democracy and market capitalism reinforce and contradict one another. It will also explore alternative ideals. We will begin with the seemingly timeless debate concerning modernization and consider the lessons of past successful state-led growth strategies without democracy. This brings us to the question of whether such state-led strategies, with or without democracy, are still possible in the post-Cold War era in light of the so-called Washington—and now post-Washington—consensus. To understand the challenges that individual states face, we investigate the wave of democratization that occurred from the late 1980s and the ways in which economic conditions and economic policy contributed to the pressure for change and limited possible outcomes. We will also consider the role of social movements in pressing for change and the discrepancies between what many people mobilized for and the results of regime change. This leads us to consider inequality in both the political and economic realm and the interaction between the two. Corruption forms another key challenge that is often highlighted or ignored for ideological and partisan reasons. We will approach corruption debates from a number of disciplinary perspectives to assess what is really at stake. Finally, the course will investigate a wide range of country case studies, transnational movements, and international actors (IOs, INGOs, donors) and consider both their defense of liberal ideals and the alternatives that they offer.

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Related Cross-Discipline Paths

Previous courses

Democratization and Inequality

Fall

The last three decades have seen significant growth in the number of democracies around the world. As more countries become democratic, increasing numbers of citizens are formally endowed with political equality. US presidents from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush and Barack Obama have praised the advance of democracy as a key factor in promoting peace both between and within states. This course will investigate and compare processes of democratization from Europe to Latin America and parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. We will explore individual cases of democratization to consider the influence of domestic, as well as foreign, actors and political, as well as economic, conditions. Key questions include: To what extent do similar processes bring about democratic transitions in different regions and moments in time? What role have various forms of violence played in transitions to democracy? We will also explore the domestic and transnational effects of the growing number of new democracies. What impact does a transition to democracy have upon the political influence of ordinary citizens, upon the openness of government institutions, and upon the processes of rule? In what ways does political equality empower citizens? Do transitions to democracy bring about fundamental policy shifts to better meet the needs of the majority? Do citizens of new democracies perceive their democratic government as the best possible regime? Throughout this course, students will investigate the relationship between democracy and different forms of inequality.

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First-Year Studies: Africa in the International System

FYS

Investigations of the politics, economics, and societies of sub-Saharan Africa often, unfortunately, present African states and their populations in isolation from the international system. This course investigates the politics of African states and their populations as part of world politics from colonialism to formal democracy in order to explore the myriad connections between advanced industrial states such as the United States and geographically distant and economically less-developed African states. We will engage in a rigorous examination of the politics and economics of colonial and postcolonial rule and then move to a focus on the genesis and impact of recent economic and political transitions. Key questions include: How are postcolonial African states distinctive from other postcolonial states? In what ways are postcolonial states linked to their former colonizers? How do ethnicity, class, and gender identities play into contemporary politics? What role have Western states played in the presence or absence of democracy in African states? How do the politics of patronage affect processes of political and economic change? What impact have international financial institutions played in aggravating or alleviating conditions of poverty? What choices and trade-offs do Africa’s postcolonial leaders and citizens face, and what role do African states and their citizens play in the international community? This course will not investigate the experiences of all African countries but will address these questions by drawing upon the experiences of a number of states, including: Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, Zaire/Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and South Africa. We will draw upon a variety of methodological and disciplinary approaches to gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of contemporary African politics as they are embedded in and affect international politics.

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Responding to Ebola–An International Relations and State-Based Perspective

Spring

This course will employ analyses from the social sciences to understand the spread of Ebola and the local and international responses to it, as well as the impact of those responses. This is an ongoing epidemic that attracted significant attention only in mid-2014. As a result, much of our analysis will be based on learning from past experiences and using them to understand the present. The key themes to be explored include: media representations of the outbreak; the contributions of critical postcolonial thought; the position of African states in the international system; the impact of colonialism on state formation in West Africa; the distinctive features of the Nigerian and Liberian states; challenges of state rebuilding after civil war; distrust of the state and the West; the securitization of epidemics; the role of patents and local politics; and the impact of NGOs, IOs, African regional organizations, and the US military in the region. There are no easy answers, and this course does not seek to provide them. It will, however, demonstrate the reasons behind the relative success in fighting the epidemic in Nigeria in contrast to Liberia and Sierra Leone. Most crucially, it will present a roadmap for critical thinking about the political, economic, and social implications of epidemics.

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The Political Economy of Global and Local Inequality: The Welfare State, Developmental State, and Poverty

Year

In the last few decades, there has been a dramatic increase in inequality at both the national and international levels. While there is increasing acceptance of the importance of monitoring inequality (e.g., by the World Bank, UNDP), there is far more disagreement about national and global inequality trends, what the fundamental determinants of inequality are, how inequality should be measured, what causes shifts in inequality, what impact it will have upon domestic and global politics and economic relations, and what policy responses are appropriate. This interdisciplinary course will consider a wide range of theoretical analyses to address these questions. At the international level, since states are embedded in an increasingly interwoven market system, we will discuss the issue of persistent market inequalities by analyzing different theories of market competition and their implications for international trade. This analysis of international competition will allow us to study the constraints within which individual states operate in order to promote domestic socioeconomic development policies. In the fall semester, we will discuss the theoretical debates and their implications; in the spring, we will analyze the concrete development experiences of a number of countries in order to consider the interactions among development, democracy, and economic inequality. In both semesters, we will discuss the relationship between the welfare state and the developmental state and how they have shaped the links among development, inequality, and poverty. Issues of taxation and industrial policies will be combined with analyses of state capacity building and the ways in which domestic and international power structures shape a state’s ability to bring about socioeconomic development. This seminar is designed for students who are interested in studying concrete problems in development along with the analytical/theoretical factors that underpin them. It requires no prior background in economics but does require some background in the social sciences. Students are advised to take the class for the whole year in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the subject.

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