HS/SO/PO 331 - Understanding Contemporary Spain: Politics, Society, History

Why are Spaniards exhuming mass graves of the Civil War? How can the country tolerate an unemployment rate of 16 percent? Why does a country with a historic reputation for machismo boast such progressive laws on gender and gay marriages? How come political corruption remains so prevalent? Will Spaniards change the constitution in order to placate the increasing demands of separatists in Catalonia and the Basque Country? 

Spain remains a country filled with paradoxes. During the Great Recession (2008-2013), it exhibited spiraling rates of unemployment, multiple bank failures, and a cascade of evictions. Yet, unlike other Southern European countries, it maintained political stability, implemented the directives of the European Union, and emerged from the crisis with its central institutions in tact. Recently, however, things have changed. New citizens parties from the right and left have challenged the hegemony of a two-party system, corruption scandals have caused many to lose faith in government, and a secessionist movement in Catalonia has grown so strong that it is unclear whether it can be satisfied without a large scale reform of the constitution. At the present time, the central institutions of the Spanish state are being thrown into question. All of this makes for an interesting time to study politics and recent history. 

This course examines political and social issues relevant to Spaniards today. It begins by discussing recent history in order to contextualize the major themes of the past few decades. It then moves to those subjects that emerged out of the transition to democracy – regionalism, terrorism, political amnesties  – and still account for many of the peculiarities of the political system. The course then analyzes Spain’s Second Transition around the turn of the twenty-first century when two parties alternated in power and confronted a new gamut of issues concerning immigration, Islamic fundamentalism, foreign policy, gender and family relations, historical memory, political corruption, and ultimately an economic crisis.  The last third of the class addresses the Catalan independence movement, new political parties, the end of bipartisan politics and the emergence of coalitions governments for the first time since the transition. Lastly we will examine the effects of the pandemic and the current global crisis on Spanish politics.

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Political Science

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