Joan Cocks

Joan Cocks

Professor of Politics

"Mount Holyoke is special within the small college system because of an intellectual atmosphere that is cooperative, not egotistical. Intellectual life is pursued not in an arrogant way but to discuss the important questions at hand."

Joan Cocks
Skinner Hall, Room 113

Joined MHC: 1975


  • University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Ph.D.
  • University of Wisconsin, Madison, M.A., B.A.

Specialization: 19th and 20th century political thought and contemporary political theory, with a special interest in nationalism, Marxism, feminism, post-colonial theory, and questions of landscape, place, and the meaning of modern development.

As a political theorist, Joan Cocks is interested in the ways that individuals and cultures understand (and fight over) political concepts such as freedom, power, justice, community, and individuality. In particular, she focuses on the struggles of women, ethnic minorities, and other politically marginalized people, often looking at those struggles through the eyes of insightful political thinkers. In her most recent book, Passion and Paradox: Intellectuals Confront the National Question (Princeton University Press, 2002), for instance, she considers the stances that Karl Marx, Hannah Arendt, Frantz Fanon, and other intellectuals took on nationalist movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Cocks is also author of The Oppositional Imagination: Feminism, Critique, and Political Theory (Routledge, 1989), for which she received a research award from the Rockefeller Foundation.

Winner of Mount Holyoke College's Faculty Prize for Teaching in 2000, Cocks has always been attuned to students' needs. When she encountered international students who were struggling with their cultural identities, she developed a course in Cultural Politics, shaping it with the help of the students who inspired it. In the 1980s, she noticed students jumping from discipline to discipline to find courses in theory, and she set about establishing Mount Holyoke's interdisciplinary program in critical social thought. Drawing on multiple departments to explore the place of thought in history and society, the program allows students to combine traditions of philosophical inquiry as they engage with themes of their own design, such as the causes of peace and conflict, fractured identities in cross-cultural context, or the Western canon and its critics. "It is time-consuming but extremely pleasurable," says Cocks of the intense advising the individualized program requires. "I find the conversations with students fascinating."


  • Confessions, Novels, and Notebooks: The Self and Political Thought
  • Introduction to 19th century Critical Social Thought
  •  Invitation to Feminist Theory
  • Memories of Overdevelopment
  • Portraits of Political Thinkers
  • Contemporary Political Ideas
  • Cultural Politics