Request More Information
2012-2013 Politics Courses
Campaigns and Elections: 2012 Edition
The 2012 US election is shaping up to be an exciting moment in American political history. President Barack Obama entered the White House in 2008, promising hope and change, and energized large numbers of the electorate that, historically, had not previously been electorally engaged. Four years later, many Americans feel disillusioned about the economic and political scene and believe that things in the United States are headed in the wrong direction. Many Americans see an economy that is not improving and a social and political world that is deeply divided and full of anger—from the “Tea Party” to the “Occupy Wall Street” movements. While these sentiments are not entirely correct, they are widely believed by many in the media and the populace alike and will have a potent impact of the outcome of the 2012 elections. This course will examine these current sentiments as the backdrop for understanding the 2012 electoral cycle. The course will focus on what political science can tell us about electoral politics, with the electoral process itself being one of the most fundamental aspects of American democracy: allowing citizens to choose their representatives, from local town or county boards to the occupant of the White House. Accordingly, we will examine present and past research on numerous questions relating to elections, such as: Who votes and participates, how, and why? How do income, religion, race, and geographic region play into electoral behavior? What about institutions such as electoral rules, various debates and the Electoral College? What about the role of mass media and the social media platforms? What about the art of persuasion; that is, do campaigns matter, or is it simply about the economy? These are a sampling of the puzzles that we will tackle and, while the course will certainly spend a considerable amount of time looking at the Presidency, we will focus on Congressional and local races, as well.
Modern Political Theory
Political theory presents a tradition of thinking about the nature of political power: the conditions for its just and unjust use; the rights of individuals, minorities, and majorities; and the nature and bounds of political community. Rather than tackling pressing political problems one at a time, political theorists seek systematic solutions in overall visions of just societies or comprehensive diagnoses of the roots of oppression and domination in existent political orders. In this course, we focus on modern writers who shaped the Western political imagination; that is, the conscious and unconscious ideas about rights, power, class, democracy, community, and the like that we use to make sense of our political lives. Thinkers to be considered include: Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Mill, and Nietzsche. In studying their work, we will seek answers to the following questions: What is the nature of political power? What is the content of social justice? Does democracy threaten basic individual rights? Is it more important to respect the individual or the community when the interests of the two conflict? Is a market economy required by or incompatible with democracy? What aspects of human potential and social worlds do different grand theories of political life illuminate and occlude? Finally, this course will also pose the issue of the worth and legitimacy of European modernity; that is, the historical process that produced capitalism, representative democracy, religious pluralism, the modern sciences, ethical individualism, secularism, fascism, communism, new forms of racism and sexism, and many “new social movements.” Which of the ideas that jostle for prominence within this tradition are worth defending? Which should be rejected? Or should we reject them all and, instead, embrace a new, postmodern political epoch? In answering these questions, we will be forced to test both the internal coherence and the continuing relevance of the political visions that shape modern politics.
International Relations: Conflict and Cooperation in Global Politics
Kenneth Waltz famously wrote, “Wars occur because there is nothing to prevent them.” Is this true? If so, what is to blame? Is it human nature or the anarchical structure of the international system that leads to conflict, and how are today’s conflicts different from those of the past? Is world peace possible? We will investigate these questions, analyzing contemporary international politics through various theoretical lenses. In an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, international peace and security are not only military concerns but also economic, human rights, and environmental protection issues. Is the United States, with its superior military, the world’s most powerful state? Or is it China, due to its growing economy? On what basis and through what mechanisms do nongovernmental organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Greenpeace, and transnational social movements for women’s and indigenous people’s rights challenge states’ sovereignty and influence their actions? Beginning with an examination of the historical development of the modern international system, we will explore different theories and approaches to the study of international relations and discuss sources and uses of power in the global arena. Applying the various theoretical perspectives, we will investigate the evolving nature of violence, including terrorism, that spills across borders; the growing gap between the world’s rich and poor; the role of international law in global politics; and the ethics of humanitarian intervention.
American Politics and the Constitution
Both a historical artifact and a living document, the US Constitution has shaped—and continues to shape—the lives of ordinary Americans in often extraordinary ways. In this course, we will examine the development of American constitutional politics. We will begin with an exploration of the impact of American political culture and early historical events on the Constitutional text and its later interpretations. We will place special emphasis on the shifting meaning that Americans have attached to fundamental rights and liberties. Next, we will address some of the theoretical debates about the impact of the Constitution on our lives, its existence as both a written and unwritten document, and its intended and unintended effect on American democracy. Finally, we will examine some of the most visible contemporary political debates—including states’ rights, sexual and reproductive freedoms, equal access to education, and voting rights and electoral rules—by learning about the politics of Constitutional lawmaking and by reading some of the key Supreme Court opinions that shaped these issues. Throughout the duration of the course, we will attempt to answer the following questions: How does the Constitution shape our everyday lives? What effect, if any, do the Supreme Court justices’ political views have on American politics? How democratic is the US Constitution?
The Political Economy of Global and Local Inequality: The Welfare State, Developmental State, and Poverty
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.
Populism and Polarization: Today and in History
To many politicians, pundits, and people in general, the social and political scene in the United States in the 21st century appears to be one of turmoil, disagreement, division, and instability. We regularly hear about a polarized and deadlocked political class. We read about increasing class and religious differences and the alleged divides between Wall Street and Main Street or between those who are secular and those who are religious. And we see often-disturbing images at so-called “Tea Party” rallies and “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations. This seminar will explore the veracity of these recent impressions of the American sociopolitical scene and examine these current trends and developments in the much needed appropriate historical and long-term context. Via the numerous tools of social science, we will explore the various facets of populism and polarization and ask the questions: Is America actually polarized and deeply divided? What are the social and policy implications of polarization? Is policymaking forever deadlocked, or can real political progress be made? How does all of this play into the 2012 elections? What are we to make of the frequent calls for change and for healing America’s divisions? This seminar seeks to examine these questions and deeper aspects of American political culture today. After reviewing some basics of political economy, we will study American political cultures from a variety of vantage points—and a number of different stories will emerge. We will cover a lot of ground—from America’s founding to today. We will be looking at numerous aspects of American social and political life, from examining the masses, political elites, Congress, and policymaking communities to social movements, the media, and America’s position in a global community. We will be talking about politically charged and often divisive issues, including abortion, immigration, race relations, and homosexuality. This seminar will be an open, nonpartisan forum for discussion and debate. As such, this course will be driven by data, not dogma. We will use modern political economy approaches, based in logic and evidence, to find answers to contemporary public policy problems and questions of polarization. We will treat this material as social scientists, not ideologues. Prior courses in American history and the social sciences are required.
Many of the most bloody and brutal scenes of violence since the end of the Cold War have been ethnic in character; a fact that seems to belie the possibility of a slow and steady march toward global political stability. The proliferation of such violence over the last thirty years has caused scholars and policy makers to more critically examine the sources and potential solutions to the problem of ethnic conflict. Despite much evidence to the contrary, commentators still frequently attribute the sources of such strife to ethnic diversity and the history of animosity between various ethnic communities. In this course we will challenge these commonly held assumptions about the cause of ethnic violence and explore some possible solutions for preventing further conflicts or resolving existing ones. Looking at this problem from a more holistic perspective, which engages with the economic, cultural, and political motivations underlying ethnic violence, we will ask such questions as: what are some of the main sources behind political conflicts deemed “ethnic”? What is the role of the international community in managing ethnic conflicts? What is the effect of democratization on territorial integrity of the state and political conflict between ethnically divided communities? And what constitutional designs, state structures, and electoral systems are most compatible with ethnically divided societies? We will attempt to answer these questions by studying both theories of ethnic conflict and conflict management and case studies, including Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Russia, Georgia,Spain,Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, India, and Ethiopia. Intermediate.
International Organization: The Politics of Global Governance
The most pressing issues of our time—climate change, global pandemics such as AIDS and SARS, world hunger and poverty, terrorism, refugee crises, human trafficking, global arms trade and drug smuggling—are what former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan referred to as “problems without passports,” because they transcend national boundaries and cannot be solved by states acting unilaterally. Rather, Annan argued, such challenges require “blueprints without borders.” An international organization may be the most, if not the only, appropriate forum for tackling transnational issues. This course examines international organizations per se, but its main focus is the broader concept of how the international community organizes to address collective problems. Increasingly, states choose to pool sovereignty in supranational institutions like the European Union and to cede authority in certain issue areas to intergovernmental organizations—both global, such as the United Nations, and regional, such as NATO—that then take on a life of their own. At the same time, nongovernmental actors, including nonprofit human-rights organizations, as well as multinational corporations, are interacting—both challenging and collaborating—with states in the international arena. What collective problems exist at the international level? What solutions are states and other actors pursuing? Why do some international organization efforts succeed and many fail? We will investigate these questions through a discussion of the international organization’s role in the areas of international peace and security, human rights, sustainable development, and global justice. Prior coursework in international relations or in related courses is required.
Justice, Action, Legitimacy and Power
This seminar examines five frameworks of normative and social analysis, focusing on the issue of how to understand power, action, legitimacy, justice, and gender in contemporary social worlds. We will read works by four of the most influential and systematic contemporary political theorists—John Rawls, Jurgen Habermas, Michel Foucault, and Hannah Arendt—and by feminists, as well as other theorists, who either criticize or extend their works. In this way, we examine—first on their own and then in comparison—the resources, implications, and limitations of different conceptions of social justice, human flourishing, political legitimacy, the organization of social power, and the nature of gender relations. We test the relevance of different approaches by examining the ways in which they either contribute to or impede feminist criticism and other egalitarian movements. Stark differences will emerge between the five theoretical perspectives examined. For instance, a variety of positions will emerge on the issue of the worth or legitimacy of European modernity, the historical process that produced capitalism, representative and constitutional democracy, religious pluralism, the modern sciences, ethical individualism, secularism, fascism, the discourse on human rights, communism, new forms of racism and sexism, and many “new social movements.” While they are all late- or post-modern thinkers, the authors we study disagree radically on the possibilities that modernity opens for social justice, political legitimacy, empowered human action, or new and insidious forms of domination and inequality. Issues to be discussed include: What is the content of social justice, and can it be realized in contemporary social conditions? What is the relationship among identity, action, and politics? Can democracy be realized in advanced capitalist societies; and, if so, what institutional and social forms does it require? Should we view the process of Western modernization as representing genuine moral and political progress or simply as replacing older with newer and more insidious forms of domination? Does a feminist perspective contribute to, modify, or lead to the rejection of contemporary theories of justice, action, legitimacy, and power? Emphasis will be on close and sustained readings from original texts.