Applying political theory
Browers encourages learning, service outside the classroom
By Kim McGrath
Office of Creative Services
Michaelle Browers joined the political science faculty in 2000. She is on leave this year conducting research in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan on how Arab Shi'is' status as political minorities has influenced their thinking on social and political justice, the rights of religious minorities and women, and freedom of thought and speech. She is proficient in Arabic and has traveled extensively in the Middle East. She teaches courses on political ideologies, feminist theory, democratic theory and political Islam.
Tell us about your summer study program in Morocco?
I initiated the program with Byron Wells, professor of Romance languages, and the Center for International Studies. Students are based in the city of Fez for a six-week program and take one course in English and six hours of language study in Arabic or French. They also engage in a homestay with a Moroccan family. The program is rounded out with weekend excursions and an end-of-course trip to other parts of the country. The first year we had three students; this past summer, for the first time, we had to turn students away to maintain the faculty-student ratio that keeps the quality of the intensive cultural immersion experience so high. To accommodate student interest in the region, we are exploring the possibility of establishing a second program in Egypt.
What does Wake Forest offer political science majors?
Wake Forest provides an environment where professors get to know their students and to follow their education through to graduation and beyond. Our department's faculty take seriously the task of guiding and mentoring students through research, internships and community service.
Is interest in political science on the rise?
Political science has always been a popular major at Wake Forest, but interest has expanded over the past several years. One reason is that the department's faculty maintains an active presence in the intellectual life of the campus and does a good job of integrating their research interests with their teaching. But another reason has to do with the type of students Wake Forest attracts. Our students come here interested in understanding the world around them and with a desire to transform and give back to the world. Political science equips students with the analytical tools required to make sense of the complex issues and relationships of contemporary politics and prepares them to become informed citizens and leaders.
What brings political theory to life for your students?
I view political theory as an opportunity to explore ideas that strike us as foreign — whether because they seem to come from a different time or from a far-away place. It also allows us to question those ideas that seem so familiar that we tend to use them without full awareness of their substance and history — ideas such as "liberal" or "democracy," for example.
What kinds of service learning take place in political science classes?
In my own democratic theory course, students undertake service aimed at realizing or testing democratic values. Students have worked for political campaigns, local nonprofit organizations and local schools. I have also advised students pursuing their academic and service interests overseas in the Middle East or South Asia. One recent political science major with an interest in South Asia managed, over the course of her undergraduate study, to spend one summer researching child marriage legislation for the United Nations Development Program in New Delhi, another summer teaching dance as a form of self-expression to children in parts of India grappling with the effects of the tsunami, and a third summer completing an independent research project funded by the Richter Scholarship that explored child labor conditions in Bangladesh and India.
Studying political theory, then, is not an abstract, static activity.
One way of viewing political theory is to see it as a form of travel. We travel to see things that are different and new, to compare, and ultimately as a way to rediscover ourselves. In ancient Greece, the theoros (or theorist) was an individual who traveled widely and observed foreign customs and practices with the aim of bringing back knowledge of use to his own polity. When we study the history of political theory we make the same observations, whether we are traveling physically or imaginatively. Thinking theoretically about politics allows us to better understand who are we and imagine what we might yet become.