Mark J. Kaswan, Ph.D.

Beyster Fellow, School of Management and Labor Relations
Rutgers University
and Part-Time Instructor, Department of Political Science
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Critical, normative political theory with an eye to its application.
I received my Ph.D. in political science from UCLA in 2010 with a specialization in political theory. My research focus involves the foundational principles of social institutions, but while my methodological approach is rooted in the history of political thought, my questions look to the present and future. More specifically, my interest in identifying ways to extend and more deeply embed democratic practices in social institutions in our own society and around the world leads me to research into the theoretical foundations of cooperatives. As socio-economic institutions founded on principles of democracy that claim nearly a billion members worldwide and are well-established in all of the advanced democracies, this interest in cooperatives connects me to research in democratic theory, political economics, organization theory, community theory and utilitarianism, drawing from an interdisciplinary array of fields including political theory, economics, philosophy and sociology.

In my teaching I draw from my own practical experience, including an extensive career in non-profit administration and governance, to help students connect the philosophical and theoretical ideas discussed in their reading with contemporary questions including the nature and function of political, economic and other social institutions. I am particularly interested in community-based learning, both to provide students with opportunities to gain experience that can help them connect the classroom to the real world, and to give them tools by which they can reflect on the political and ethical implications of their chosen careers.

I currently hold a Beyster Fellowship with Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations. Sponsored by J. Robert and Mary Ann Beyster and the Foundation for Enterprise Development, the Beyster Fellowship is focused on issues of workplace democracy and broad-based employee ownership. At the upcoming Beyster Fellows Workshop at Rutgers (Feb. 24-25) I will present a draft of my paper, "To Own is to Control: Ownership and Democracy," which considers theories of property and ownership to make a normative argument that, for employee ownership to be meaningful, an employee-owned enterprise must incorporate democratic practices at the governance and/or operational level (and preferably both). It then examines some of the dimensions and dynamics of democracy that must be taken into account in implementing a democratic system.

The fact that the Beyster Fellowship is non-residential means that I've been able to take a part-time teaching position at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. My course, Survey of Political Theory, is an introductory course in political theory that seeks to provide students with a broad overview of the field from Plato to J.S. Mill. The main objectives of the course are to enable students to get a sense of the range and scope of political thought, and to understand the diversity of perspectives on some of the perennial questions of political theory. My syllabus is available from the link below.

Curriculum Vitae (pdf)
Research Interests (pdf)
Teaching Philosophy (pdf)
Teaching Experience (pdf)
Syllabus for Political Science 195: Corporate and Community-Based Internships (UCLA) (pdf)
Syllabus for Political Science 200: Survey of Political Theory (UNLV) (pdf)
“The Politics of Happiness and the Practice of Democracy”
(Carole Pateman, chair; Ray Rocco and Guilia Sissa, Political Science; Perry Anderson, History)
My dissertation, The Politics of Happiness and the Practice of Democracy, is concerned with different ways of conceptualizing happiness and the political implications of those concepts for the social structures around which society functions. The dissertation proceeds through a close examination of the work of William Thompson and his mentor Jeremy Bentham. What is clear is that, while both seek “the greatest happiness,” the conclusions they reach are radically different: Bentham’s theory is an important contribution to liberal capitalist ideology and mainstream democratic thought, while Thompson lays the foundations for cooperative socialism and radical democracy. The question I sought to explore was why, if Bentham and Thompson start from the same premise, they end up in such different places. I conclude that the differences arise because, in contrast to Bentham’s individualistic hedonism, Thompson understands happiness as a deeply social concept, the nature of which is strongly affected by the institutions that structure social interaction. Maximizing happiness, in Thompson’s view, requires that social institutions be based on principles of voluntarism, equality and democracy, with democratic practices embedded in their very structure. I argue in the dissertation that Thompson’s work forms the ideological basis for the modern cooperative movement—which, with some 800 million members worldwide (including 130 million Americans), may be considered the world’s largest social movement.

Click here to view a detailed abstract and sample chapters.

At the Two Centuries of Utilitarianism conference in Rennes, France, June 2009  
  My thanks to Zhenghong Chen for these photographs.