Admission & Financial Aid

Admission & Financial Aid


Amherst College Courses

Amherst College Courses


Political Science

Professors Basu, Bumiller‡, Corrales (Chair), Dumm†, Machala‡, and Sarat; Assistant Professors Mattiacci†, Obert, Paul, Poe, and Ratigan‡; John J. McCloy Visiting Professor Gessen; Visiting Professor Robinson;  Lowenstein Fellows and Visiting Associate Professors Bitar and Picq; Visiting Assistant Professors Dendere and Pleshakov.

Curriculum of Major Requirements in Political Science

What do we mean by politics? Amherst’s Department of Political Science treats the study of politics as a liberal art, offering students new perspectives on political phenomena. The Department offers a diverse range of courses in three broad areas of study: 1) Political Theory, 2) Domestic Politics and State–Society relations, and 3) International Politics and Practices. Our courses engage theoretical assumptions that underlie political life and examine different institutional arrangements and political practices. They provide the resources by which students can critically evaluate and engage contemporary political life.

The Major

Majoring in Political Science requires the completion of 9 courses. These courses are grouped into four distinct categories as follows:

100 Level Courses - Introductions:

These courses emphasize writing, critical reading, and analytic interpretation and introduce students to the study of politics from a variety of perspectives. The department recommends that these courses be taken in the first and second year, or immediately following the declaration of the major. FYSE courses taught by members of our department can also count toward as introductory courses.

200 Level Courses - Surveys:

These courses survey broad topics in the study of politics. They engage students in the study of different institutions, countries, regions, theories, and modes of political thought. They focus on such key phenomenon as power, justice, order, conflict, mobilization, and development. These courses may be offered in either lecture or seminar formats.

300 Level Courses - Research Seminars:

Research Seminars in politics allow students to deepen their own inquiries into politics. They encourage students to develop research skills through examination of particular debates and topics in politics. Students should take at least one of these courses in their second or third year in order to facilitate subsequent work in the Department’s thesis program. These courses have prerequisites, limited enrollment, and may have a substantial writing requirement.

400 Level Courses - Specialized Seminars:

Exploring political phenomena requires experimental thinking, exploring new discourses, and engaging in novel practices. Specialized seminars might include in-depth investigations into specialized or conceptually complex issues, may utilize new pedagogical approaches, and may allow students to design and implement research in novel settings. These courses have prerequisites, limited enrollment, and may have a substantial writing requirement.


Prior to declaring a major in Political Science, students should have completed the following:

At least 2 courses in Political Science, one of which should be at the 100 level.

Majors in Political Science must take 9 courses:

Of the 9 courses, students must take a minimum of 6 within the Political Science department at Amherst College, at least one from each of the four levels (but no more than two 100 level courses will be counted toward the major).

Majors may also include among courses to complete the major 1 course from outside the discipline of political science. Such a course should be designated as counting toward the major at the end of registration, or, if the course is completed prior to declaring the major, at the time of the declaration.

Credits are available for study abroad, 5 college courses, and transfer students.

No courses in political science taken under the pass/fail option will count toward completion of major.

In total, majors in Political Science must complete 9 courses for rite, or 11 for honors (a result of 2 additional thesis research courses in the senior year), in courses offered or approved by the Amherst College Political Science Department.

Honors Requirements:

Students intending to write a thesis must successfully complete at least 1 research seminar before the conclusion of the second semester of their junior year.

Students who wish to be considered for graduation with Departmental Honors in Political Science must have an A- cumulative average or higher after six semesters. Prospective applicants should consult with members of the Department during their junior year to define a suitable Honors project and to determine whether a member of the department is competent to act as an advisor and will be available to do so.

Information about topics that faculty members would like to advise on is posted on our website. We will give preference to working with students whose research interests coincide with our own. In assigning advisors for honors work, in addition to the expertise/interests of the faculty, we will also consider equitable distribution of the workload and student preferences. Permission to pursue projects for which suitable advisors are not available may be denied by the Department.

Five College Professors who regularly teach in our department may serve as primary advisors or as second and third readers. In assigning second and third readers, the principal advisor shall play a primary role. Colleagues from other departments at Amherst or in the Five Colleges may serve as second and third readers. Only one member of a thesis committee may be from another department at Amherst or from the Five Colleges.

The Department Chair will organize three meetings for juniors who hope to do honors work, in December, February and April. Students should attend as many of these meetings as possible. Those who are studying abroad should communicate with prospective thesis advisors before leaving and while abroad.

Credits for Study Abroad, 5 College Courses, and Transfer Students:

Students must take a minimum of 6 courses, at least 1 at each level, from within the Political Science Department at Amherst College. Students who are enrolling in elective courses taught abroad for one semester may count up to 2 elective political science courses toward the major; they may count up to 3 elective courses if they are abroad for 1 year.

Students may take up to two courses in political science from Smith, Hampshire, Mt. Holyoke, and the University of Massachusetts. Such courses must 1) be taught by someone with a degree in political science or have substantial political content; and 2) not be redundant with other courses already taken. The chair of the department will decide which 5 College courses will be given credit toward the major.

For transfer students, the Department will accept up to three courses for the major from the school from which they transferred. We may waive the introductory course requirement if the transfer student has had an equivalent course.

For students coming to the College with a BA we will accept 4 courses and waive the introductory course requirement.

Decisions Regarding Credit or Requests to Vary the Requirements for Completion of the Major:

Decisions regarding credit or requests to vary the requirements for completion of the major shall be made by the Department Chair.

†On leave fall semester 2018-19.
‡On leave spring semester 2018-19.

111 Leviathan

This seminar course is designed to introduce students to the study of politics through the close textual analysis and shared discussion of Thomas Hobbes’ famous 1651 treatise Leviathan, or the Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth, Ecclesiasticall and Civil. For Hobbes, human life was fundamentally unstable and dangerous. Without a common political power, he believed that cooperation was impossible and that human sociability would inevitably result in the most savage of wars. In response, Hobbes set out to develop a science by which a potent political authority could be established, and from which a lasting peace might endure. Hobbes named this authority the "Leviathan," and his account has become one of the most important for Western conceptions of sovereignty. What is political authority? What should government be for? What is a commonwealth? Can there really be a science of politics? How do reason and emotions and our imagination condition our experience of politics? What is sovereignty? What is power? What is justice? Hobbes struggled with these questions, and they will form the basis of our investigations in this course. In addition to Hobbes’ Leviathan, readings will include analysis of the political, social, and literary contexts that inform Hobbes’ thinking, as well as some contemporary theory literature on the significance of the Leviathan for modern political life. 

Limited to 15 students. Limited to first-year and sophomore students. Spring semester. Professor Poe.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2014, Spring 2017, Spring 2019

112 The International Politics of Climate Change

Can countries come together to address the challenges of climate change? And if so, which negotiation techniques are more likely to be successful, and why? Does one solution fit all, or would it be better to rely on different formats for pairs of states? This class employs a diverse set of learning techniques to address these timely questions in international politics. First, we will build on cutting-edge academic research to investigate the mechanisms through which climate change puts each country’s economy and political stability under duress. Then, we will utilize role-playing analysis techniques to have each student embrace the perspective of one key international actor (such as the U.S., the United Nations, China, Ghana, Kenya, the World Bank, etc.) and devise a strategy for that actor to decrease the challenges that climate change poses to its economic and political stability. Finally, we will use simulation techniques to reproduce international negotiations to reduce CO2 emissions. Each student, while representing a key international actor and advancing the national interest of that country, will try to mitigate the impact of climate change on the recurrence of violence and war. The aim of the class is to wrestle with the fundamental contradiction between the global scale that international efforts to tackle climate change require and the region-specific challenges that climate change impose on each country’s economy and political stability.  

Limited to 18 students (10 spots reserved for first-year students). Omitted 2018-19. Professor Mattiacci.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2023, Fall 2024

114 Rural Politics in Comparative Perspective

In an increasingly globalized and industrialized world, rural communities are renegotiating their relationship to the state. Rural communities’ expectations of the state and their responses to contemporary politics vary widely both within and across countries. This course will examine the dynamics of state–society relations from the perspective of rural communities, by asking questions such as: How do residents of rural places view the state? What are their expectations of the state? Why do they hold these views? How does the state interact with rural communities, and does this differ from their urban counterparts? What are the implications of these dynamics for democracy and governance? We will employ a comparative approach to these questions by examining rural politics in China, the U.S., and other countries.

Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Ratigan.

2023-24: Not offered

120 Trump and the Media

The current United States president is testing the American media model. Where are the media failing, and where are they succeeding? We will look at the coverage of the 2016 campaign and account for the soul-searching to which the election outcome spurred journalists. We will look at fact-checking as a genre of coverage, the problem of covering the Trumpian tweet, the difficulty of reporting from/on a White House that lies and leaks, and the growing use of anonymously sourced information. We will dig much deeper, however, to examine the foundational premises of American media: objectivity, balance and fairness, market-based competition. What do these ideas mean, and how relevant and useful are they during the Trump presidency? Finally, and most important, we will imagine what journalism might look like if we thought about it differently. The reading in this class will include both media-theory and journalistic texts.

Limited to 35 students. Spring semester. Visiting Professor Gessen.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2019, Spring 2020

121 Happiness Across Civilizations

What is the ultimate goal of the human being? What brings permanent spiritual and physical satisfaction? Can such a thing be achieved? Is happiness a transcendental or temporal state?

Different philosophical schools, religions, sages, and scientific disciplines have tried to answer these questions individually and collectively for thousands of years. In different cultures, happiness has been described as a transcendental spiritual state, such as enlightenment or nirvana, contemplation of God or the divine, and spiritual purity. In others, it has been described as a temporary state, related to immediate satisfaction or pleasure, and it has been used to measure wellbeing and fulfillment in a person’s work life, relationships, and emotional and mental health.

Some of the most impactful answers to questions about happiness appear in the teachings of Lao Tzu, Confucius, and the Buddha; the Greek stoics, hedonists, Plato and Aristotle; Jesus, Muhammad, and their followers; and in the modern era in philosophy, psychology, economics, and public policy. This course presents, situates, critiques, and seeks to articulate the answers contained in these teachings through history and across cultures. We situate each approach in its historical and cultural context and discuss how each one made an impact in its immediate social setting and beyond.

Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Karl Loewenstein Fellow and Visiting Professor Bitar.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2019

131 Wars and Refugees

Can one country intervene militarily against another to prevent it from abusing its own citizens? And should countries always offer asylum to those that are persecuted in their own country? The recent migration flow to Europe from war-torn Syria has emphasized the timely nature of these complex questions that constitute the impetus for this class. The class is divided in two parts. In the first part, the class will explore the way in which the concept of "human rights”  has often provided a rationale for international intervention in civil conflict, at times constituting a theatre of prime super power competition. The class will then look at what happens after the end of those conflicts, to investigate the ever vexing quandary of refugees and migration, and the challenge such phenomena pose to international cooperation.

Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Mattiacci.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2016, Spring 2018

135 Justice

This course will explore the meaning of justice and its realization in everyday life. We will consider individuals’ perceptions of justice and the significance of the concept in the relationship between citizens and government. We will examine how social movements attempt to seek justice and how this quest for justice defines their strategies and goals. And finally we consider how efforts to seek justice are realized, delayed, or blocked in institutional settings, such as in workplace organizations, prisons, state bureaucracies, and the courts. This course will be conducted inside a correctional facility and enroll an equal number of Amherst students and residents of the facility. Permission to enroll will be granted on the basis of a questionnaire and interview with the instructor. Preference will be given to political science majors. If space is available, first-year students will be admitted during the add/drop period.

Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 Amherst students. Fall semester. Professor Bumiller.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2024

136 Regulating Citizenship

This course considers a fundamental issue that faces all democratic societies: How do we decide when and whether to include or exclude individuals from the rights and privileges of citizenship? In the context of immigration policy, this is an issue of state power to control boundaries and preserve national identity. The state also exercises penal power that justifies segregating and/or denying privileges to individuals faced with criminal sanctions. Citizenship is regulated not only through the direct exercise of force by the state, but also by educational systems, social norms, and private organizations. Exclusion is also the result of poverty, disability, and discrimination based on gender, race, age, and ethnic identity. This course will describe and examine the many forms of exclusion and inclusion that occur in contemporary democracies and raise questions about the purpose and justice of these processes. We will also explore models of social change that would promote more inclusive societies. This course will be conducted inside a correctional facility and enroll an equal number of Amherst students and residents of the facility. Permission to enroll will be granted on the basis of a questionnaire and interview with the instructor. Preference will be given to political science majors. If space is available, first-year students will be admitted during the add/drop period.

Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 Amherst students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Bumiller.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2009, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2016, Fall 2017

145 Work

This course will explore the role of work in the context of American politics and society. We will study how work has been understood in political and social theory by considering the scholarship of John Locke, Karl Marx, Max Weber, Judith Shklar, Pierre Bourdieu, Zygmunt Bauman, Luc Boltanski, and others. We will also consider ethnographic studies that explore how workers experience their lives inside organizations and how workplaces transform in response to changing legal regulations. These theoretical and empirical explorations will provide a foundation for reflections about how work structures opportunities in democratic societies and how re-imagining work might unleash human potential. The course will ground these questions about the role of work in the context of American politics and society. At the broadest level we will ask: Do citizens in a liberal society have a right to engage in meaningful work and earn a living wage? What is the changing nature of work in a neoliberal society? What are the goals of the state in regards to the production of a future workforce? What are the impacts of employment discrimination, occupational segregation, and wage disparity based on race or gender?

Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Bumiller.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2023

151 Political Identities

The assertion of group identities, based on language, region, religion, race, gender, sexuality, and class, among other variables, has increasingly animated politics cross-nationally. However, the extent to which identities become politicized varies enormously across time and place. We will explore what it means to describe an identity as political. This exercise entails assessing the conditions under which states, civil societies, and political societies recognize certain identities while ignoring or repressing others. In other words, it entails analyzing the ways in which political processes make and remake identities. What do groups gain and lose from identity-based movements? And what are the broader implications of identity-based movements for democratic politics?

Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Basu.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Fall 2011, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016

152 Guns in American Politics

This class will address the politics of gun ownership, as well as the meanings of guns in American civic life. Focusing on the philosophical, social, legal, institutional, cultural, and economic lenses through which Americans have made sense of the role of firearms in American politics, this class will use firearms policy to explore a range of questions: how has our understanding of self-protection changed or not over time? What was the role of the Second Amendment in the making of the Constitution? How do we make sense of the controversies and debates that have surrounded the “right to bear arms” and its interpretation in legal and historical scholarship? How does mobilization around guns and gun rights reflect and shape racial, ethnic, and gender identities? Where and when do such mobilizations occur? In what ways are U.S. policies and attitudes actually exceptional among developed countries? In this sense, guns serve as a way of putting into sharp focus deeper questions about the institutional and social contexts of belonging and exclusion in U.S. politics.

Limited to 30 students. Spring semester. Professor Obert.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Spring 2025

154 The State

Most humans live in territories that are controlled by a state. Why do different nations have different types of states? Why are some states more repressive than others, more war-prone than others, better promoters of development than others, more inclusive than others? How can we make sense of the varied reactions to state domination, ranging from active support to negotiated limits to apathy to vigorous contestation? Does globalization make states more or less democratic, more or less efficient, more or less able to promote development?

This course goes to the heart of current debates on the “state of the state.” How significant is the state in an era in which its sovereignty is increasingly challenged both by global and domestic forces? What ought to be the proper role of the state in the twenty-first century? These questions are central to the current debates taking place—in the U.S. and abroad—on the extent to which countries should open up their economies, privatize social services, incorporate minorities and immigrants, recognize gay marriages, counterbalance U.S. pop culture, accommodate religious fundamentalism, etc. We will explore these questions by studying political theorists and empirical cases from around the world.

Limited to 30 students. Admission with consent of the instructor. Fall semester. Professor Corrales.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2024

160 Sexualities in International Relations

(Offered as POSC 160 and SWAG 160) From abortion to gay rights, sexuality is deeply entangled in world politics. As LGBT rights become human rights principles, they not only enter the rights structure of the European Union and the United Nations but are also considered a barometer of political modernity. If some Latin American nations have depicted their recognition of gay rights as symbolic of their progressive character, certain North African nations have depicted their repression of homosexuality symbolic of their opposition to western imperialism. The results of sexual politics are often contradictory, with some countries enabling same-sex marriage but criminalizing abortion and others cutting aid in the name of human rights. This course explores the influence of sexual politics on international relations. We analyze how women and gay rights take shape in the international system, from the UN to security agendas, and evaluate how sexuality shapes the modus operandi of contemporary politics.

Limited to 30 students. Spring semester. Visiting Professor Picq.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2022

170 Building Nation-States, Markets, and Democracy in Europe

This course examines the making of modern politics in Western and Eastern Europe, tracing the development of nation-states, markets, and democratic institutions from the Middle Ages to the European Union. It sheds light on key questions driving contemporary political debates around the world: How are strong states built? What explains the success or collapse of democracies? When are revolutions successful? Why do some countries transition successfully to capitalism and democracy, while others do not? How can political systems overcome social, ethnic, and religious divisions, and cope with transnational pressures? How can international security be improved? The course provides an introduction to European politics and reveals how the legacies of the past often shape the politics of the present. We cover feudalism, absolutism, revolution, industrialization, democratization, and European integration. Specific topics include state and nation-building, mass democracy, economic development, capitalism and the welfare state, East-West divides, Cold War and post-Cold War political trajectories, the European Union, security, and migration. The course draws on cases from Western Europe, Northern Europe, Southern Europe, and Eastern Europe.

Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor Paul.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018

200 Topics in International Relations

This course will attempt to analyze and illuminate the leading theories of international relations (IR) today, as well as the evolution of the international relations discipline as a whole. It is meant to encourage a critical attitude towards all theoretical perspectives discussed, not only to familiarize students with the major paradigms of IR, but also to appreciate what the “international” means and how, if at all, it can be demarcated from “domestic” politics. In addition, the course will examine numerous complex international and global challenges which humankind faces today. Topics vary from year to year and will include such issues as the relations of the US, the world’s sole superpower, to the newly emerging geopolitical and/or geo-economic centers of power, namely China, Iran, India, Russia, and the European Union; regional and ethnic/religious conflicts, nuclear proliferation, transnational terrorism, refugee and migration flows, global environmental degradation and climate change, demographic stress, as well as socioeconomic and cultural globalizations.

Limited to 18 Students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Machala.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018, Spring 2022

205 Fascism

This course is an exploration of the political form of the modern state known as fascism. We will examine fascism’s roots in political economy, war, ascriptive group identity, legislative and executive forms, political parties, and social movements, paying special attention to how it has been theorized as it emerged during the twentieth century in Europe, and its current resurgence as an idea and practice in Europe and the United States in the twenty first. Among the authors we may read will be Hannah Arendt, Theodor Adorno, Karl Polanyi, Ernst Cassirer, Franz Neumann, Carl Schmitt, Adolf Hitler, Walter Benjamin, Filippo Marinetti, Richard Hofstadter, Sheldon Wolin, Steven Bannon, Judith Butler, and William Connolly. 

Omitted 2018-19. Professor Dumm.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2023

207 The Home and the World: Women and Gender in South Asia

(See SWAG 207)

208 Power and Politics in Contemporary China

(Offered as POSC 208 and ASLC 208) This course provides an introduction to the major institutions, actors, and ideas that shape contemporary Chinese politics. Through an examination of texts from the social sciences as well as historical narratives and film, we will analyze the development of the current party-state, the relationship between the state and society, policy challenges, and prospects for further reform. First, we examine the political history of the People’s Republic, including the Maoist period and the transition to market reforms. Next, we will interrogate the relations between various social groups and the state, through an analysis of contentious politics in China including the ways in which the party-state seeks to maintain social and political stability. Finally, we will examine the major policy challenges in contemporary China including growing inequality, environmental degradation, waning economic growth, and foreign policy conflicts.

Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor Ratigan.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Spring 2020, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Fall 2024

211 The Political Theory of Liberalism

This course is a survey of Western liberal political theory from its 17th-century origins through some of its contemporary expressions. Among the thinkers whose works we may read are Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Mary Wollstonecraft, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Stuart Mill, Isaiah Berlin, John Rawls, Stanley Cavell, and Judith Sklar.

Spring semester.  Professor Dumm.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Fall 2015, Spring 2019, Spring 2021

214 Geopolitics and American Foreign Policy

(Offered as POSC 214 and HIST 215 [US/TE]) The goal in this course is to examine the geopolitics which lies at the intersection of international relations and foreign policy. But what is geopolitics and why is it as often berated as it is embraced by American politicians and policy elites alike? Over the past two centuries, what part has geopolitics played in the currents of world politics and in the conduct of American foreign policy? What role has geopolitics played in the post-Cold War era, after the demise of the Soviet Union and the ostensible triumph of liberal capitalism? Using the methods of diplomatic history and political science, this course will explore critical moments and themes in American foreign policy. Our overall aim is to better understand today’s position of the United States in world politics as well as present domestic controversies over the character of America’s global role. This is also a period which has been characterized by growing tension between two sets of political power dynamics: one is dominated by a territorial logic of power that has as its basis the direct control of specific territory, people and resources; the other is dominated by a more diffuse logic of power that derives from the command of “de-territorialized” global political, economic, technological and cultural forces which emanate from states as well as stateless groups with a global and transnational reach. In an attempt to better understand world politics in the age of America’s preponderance, the course will ultimately examine how American presidents have understood and navigated between these two sets of political power dynamics in articulating and conducting foreign policy, and how the American public and elites have facilitated or complicated this task.

Limited to 25 students. Five spaces reserved for first-year students. Fall semester. Professor Machala and  Professor Emeritus G. Levin.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

215 Democratic Backsliding

According to many scholars, the world is experiencing a democratic recession. Since the 2000s, many established democracies are undergoing erosion in their democratic institutions, even transitioning to autocracies. Also, fewer autocracies and semi-authoritarian regimes are transitioning to democracy. During the Cold War, most threats to existing democracies came from the military or non-state actors, such as insurgents or extremist movements. In this era of democratic backsliding, most serious threats to democratic rule stem from the very winners of democracy—incumbent presidents who came to office by winning elections. This course tries to understand the extent of this democratic erosion worldwide—its dimensions, causes, and possible ways to address it. Readings will draw from theoretical, comparative, historical, and case-based works. Students will also work on independent research projects and class presentations.

Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Professor Corrales.

219 Introduction to American Politics

U.S. politics have been an object of fascination not only for American citizens but also for scholars, students, and observers from around the world. This course provides both an introduction to key scholarly arguments about American political institutions, development and participation as well as a chance to engage with the important question of how distinctive the politics of the U.S. actually are. Focusing our attention initially on the role Congress, the Presidency, the Supreme Court, and the Constitution play in the shaping of policy, we will then examine how Americans actually participate in the political process. This means looking at how parties, the media, perceptions of class, race, and gender, interactions with bureaucracy, and even arguing and fighting shape the way Americans view their place in the political world.  Finally, we will focus on the question of American "exceptionalism"—how different, really, are American political institutions and experience, and what lessons can we draw from the American experiment that might (or might not) help us understand the political process elsewhere?

Limited to 40 students. Fall semester. Professor Obert.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2023, Fall 2023

230 Nuclear Structures and Political Leaders

Following the tense foreign policy exchanges between North Korea and the United States in the fall of 2017, experts disagreed on how to interpret the two leaders' choices of actions and words. Some of them pointed to their personal experiences and traits, such as their lack of prior exposure to foreign policy or their propensity for risky behavior. Other experts emphasized the role of structural factors, such as China’s interests and the US position in the counterproliferation context. These disagreements highlight questions on the interplay between leaders and structural conditions that are both crucial and enduring in the field of nuclear and international security: under what conditions do leaders’ personal inclinations and experiences become pivotal in explaining nuclear policies and strategies? When instead do structural factors such as the balance of power, the spread of nuclear technology, the salience of nuclear concerns among the public, play a key role? This course will explore these puzzles by analyzing key facts and salient debates in nuclear security. In the first part of the course, we will employ traditional teaching techniques, such as lecture and discussion, to explore archival documents and cutting-edge research on this topic. In the second part of the course, we will use instead role-playing analysis techniques to have each student explore the leaders’ decision-making process during nuclear crises.

Requisite: One course in POSC with focus on global politics. Spring semester. Professor Mattiacci.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2019

231 The Political Economy of Petro States: Venezuela Compared

This is a modified version of POSC 232, The Political Economy of Development. The first half of the course is identical to 232, but the second half will have a different focus: the political economy of oil. This section will explore the extent to which oil is a “resource curse,” the neo-structuralist notion that an abundance of a natural resource, in this case oil, is detrimental for development because it distorts economic incentives (away from diversification) and distorts politics (by facilitating corruption, raising the stakes of power-holding, increasing the chance for abuse of state power, and weakening society’s capacity to hold the state accountable). We will examine these hypotheses by focusing on Venezuela, one of the world’s leading oil producers. Until the 1980s, Venezuela was considered an example of democratization. In the 1990s, Venezuela became instead a paradigmatic case of policy incoherence. In the early 2000s, under the Hugo Chávez administration, Venezuela became a case of political polarization, and some argue, rising authoritarianism. The second half of this course will assess whether the resource-curse theory provides the best account of Venezuela’s politics since the 1980s. To address this question, we will: (1) compare the resource-curse argument with other competing theories of development that might account for Venezuelan politics; and (2) compare the Venezuelan case with other cases in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. This course fulfills requirements for the Five College Certificates in Latin American Studies and International Relations.

Not open to students who have taken POSC 232. Admission with the consent of the instructor. Limited to 35 students. Fall semester. Professor Corrales.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2014, Spring 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2020, Fall 2023

232 Political Economy of Development

This course surveys some of the principal themes in the political economy of lower-income countries. Questions will cover a broad terrain. What are the key characteristics of poor economies? Why did these countries fail to catch up economically with the West in the 20th century? Who are the key political actors? What are their beliefs, ideologies and motivations? What are their political constraints, locally, nationally and globally? We will review definitions of development, explanations for the wealth and poverty of nations, the role of ideas, positive and dysfunctional links between the state and business groups, the role of non-state actors, the causes and consequences of poverty, inequality, disease and corruption, the impact of financial globalization and trade opening, the role of the IMF and the World Bank, and the arguments of anti-developmentalists. We will look at the connection between regime type and development. (Are democracies at a disadvantage in promoting development?) We will also devote a couple of weeks to education in developing countries. We know education is a human good, but is it also an economic good? Does education stimulate economic growth? What are the obstacles to education expansion? We will not focus on a given region, but rather on themes. Familiarity with the politics or economics of some developing country is helpful but not necessary.

Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Corrales.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2015, Spring 2023

233 Introduction to Contemporary African Politics

The African continent is the fastest growing continent in the world and is witnessing many societal changes, from technological advancement to the role of social media in elections. This course will explore questions such as (1) Why are state institutions weaker in African than in other developing regions? (2) What explains Africa's slow economic growth? (3) What can be done to improve political accountability on the continent? (4) Why have some African countries been plagued by high levels of political violence while others have not?

To answer these questions, we will examine Africa’s historical experiences, its economic heritage, and the international context in which it is embedded. At the same time, we will explore how Africans have shaped their own political and economic situations. As we address the core themes of the course, we will draw on a wide range of academic disciplines, including political science, history, economics, literary studies and anthropology. We will study events in several African countries and examine broad patterns across countries.

Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor Dendere.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017, Fall 2018

234 Democracy, Elections and Voting Behavior in the Developing World (Africa)

In the nearly two decades since the well-known political scientist Samuel Huntington wrote about the third wave of democracy, the majority of countries in the developing world have held successful elections. There is, however, great diversity in the quality of these elections. While elections have become more common, they have also become more violent. In this course we will explore processes of democracy and de-democratization in the developing world. We will investigate how democracy functions in low income, conflict-ridden countries, and those burdened with legacies of non-democratic rule. We also will examine the relationship between democracy and development. We will ask: Is democracy the best form of government? Is democracy worth the cost of lives in war? Should the West focus on promoting democracy in the developing world? While the majority of readings and discussions will focus on democratization in Africa and similar regions, we will use the United States as an important comparative case study.

Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Dendere.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017

240 Globalization in Africa

This course will explore contemporary globalization in Sub-Saharan Africa and its effects on political change. Departing from the macro-perspective of Africa's marginalized role in the global economy, this course will focus on the ways that international forces and new technologies are affecting citizens and countries on the continent. Through country case studies and reviews of current events in Africa, the course will explore a diverse set of topics including technological change and development, immigration, art and culture, foreign aid, and China's role in Africa. The course will attempt to highlight the new opportunities for citizens as well as the challenges that remain for African countries in the globalized world.

Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2018-19. Visiting Assistant Professor Dendere.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018

243 Ancient Political Thought

This course surveys ancient Greek and Roman political thought. The course aims to illustrate that, although the ancient Western world was remarkably different from our own, many of the concepts and ideas that dominate our thinking about politics today have been influenced by our inheritance of these classic traditions. Such ideals as democratic citizenship, the rule of law, public and private spaces, and civil liberties, find their first articulation in these ancient polities. Indeed, many of the questions and problems that plagued politics in those ancient worlds – What is justice? What are the obligations of rulers and the ruled? What is the best form of government? – are still vibrant today. The course is divided into two parts: The first, set within the context of ancient Athenian thought, examines the invention of democracy, as well as purported critiques of its functioning (Sophocles, Plato, and Aristotle); The second section examines the concept of “the universal” and its genealogy as a political concept in Roman thought (Cicero, Paul, and Augustine). Through close textual readings and contextual analysis we will engage in a systematic comparison of our assumptions about politics with those expressed in these ancient worlds. And, in so doing, we will attempt to further our understanding of contemporary politics and the problems requisite to our own political practices.

Requisite: At least one course in POSC or LJST. Not open to first-year students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Poe.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2010, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2016

245 Modern Political Thought

Modernity – the age of individualism, increasing social autonomy, and political self-determination – was an era of enormous progression and novelty in political thinking. In it we find new conceptions of political rationality and affect (how to think and feel about politics), as well as reconceptualizations of such key concepts as equality and liberty, the state and civil society. These changes held much promise, shaping institutions that seemed destined to improve economic and social conditions for rapidly increasing populations. Yet the politics that ensued from this "modern" thinking sometimes proved disastrous: The 20th century – once thought to fulfill the promise of modernity – has been the most violent in history. This course surveys the development of political concepts in modern Western thought. We will trace paradigmatic shifts in political ideas as they begin to surface in 17th- and 18th-century European thought, evidenced in the writings of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Kant, amongst others. And we will compare these ideas with the thinking of some prominent 19th- and 20th-century critics, including Marx, Nietzsche, Weber, and Schmitt. Through close textual readings and contextual analysis we will engage in a systematic comparison of our assumptions about politics with those expressed in these philosophical debates. And, in so doing, we will attempt to further our understanding of contemporary politics and the problems requisite to our own political practices.

Requisite: One course in POSC or LJST. Spring semester. Professor Poe.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2015, Spring 2017, Spring 2019

248 Cuba: The Politics of Extremism

The study of Cuba’s politics presents opportunities to address issues of universal concern to social scientists and humanists in general, not just Latin Americanists. When is it rational to be radical? Why has Cuban politics forced so many individuals to adopt extreme positions? What are the causes of radical revolutions? Is pre-revolutionary Cuba a case of too little development, uneven development or too rapid development? What is the role of leaders: Do they make history, are they the product of history, or are they the makers of unintended histories? Was the revolution inevitable? Was it necessary? How are new (radical) states constructed? What is the role of foreign actors, existing political institutions, ethnicity, nationalism, religion and sexuality in this process? How does a small nation manage to become influential in world affairs, even altering the behavior of superpowers? What are the conditions that account for the survival of authoritarianism? To what extent is the revolution capable of self-reform? Is the current intention of state leaders of pursuing closed politics with open economics viable? What are the most effective mechanisms to change the regime? Why does the embargo survive? Why did Cubans (at home and abroad) care about Elián González? Although the readings will be mostly from social scientists, the course also includes selections from primary sources, literary works and films (of Cuban and non-Cuban origin). As with almost everything in politics, there are more than just two sides to the issue of Cuba. One aim of the course is to expose the students to as many different sides as possible.

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Corrales.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2015, Spring 2023

253 Americans Writing Russia, 100 Years On

(See RUSS 253)

270 European Union Politics: Integration and Disintegration

What is the European Union? Where is it coming from? Where is it headed? The EU has evolved from its original ambitions as an economic regional integration project to add political substance, becoming a multi-level structure with its own constitution, currency, court, and form of citizenship, with powerful institutions, increasingly porous internal borders and a common external border. Some have argued that the EU is sui generis, an unprecedented supranational structure that should be studied as such (some have referred to it as an “unidentified political object”). Others have relied on the literatures on international organization and comparative federalism to include it on a continuum ranging from international organizations to confederations and federal states. Yet others have turned to the distant past to find equivalents, arguing that the EU resembles a “neo-medieval empire” (Zielonka).

This course tackles the big questions concerning the EU’s past, present, and future. How far and deep can the EU project expand? Can it withstand the pressures of global economic competition? Can it find solutions to the current migration crisis without compromising its defining features: porous internal borders and freedom of movement for goods, capital, services, and people on its territory? Will it overcome internal divisions between East and West, between new members and the old core of advanced industrialized democracies that initiated the European unification project? This course introduces students to the concepts, theories, and empirical resources needed to examine European integration and enlargement. We will overview the history and development of the European integration project to understand its institutional framework and relationship with member-states in different policy areas. We will analyze and assess the major theories of EU integration in light of current events. We will delve into specific EU policy areas (economic and monetary union, security, migration, external relations etc.) to understand how the EU shapes the lives of its citizens. We will also study the EU’s relationship with the U.S. and its successive rounds of enlargement towards Southern and post-communist Central and Eastern Europe, which have played an essential role in defining the EU’s current profile.

Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Professor Paul.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2023, Spring 2025

301 Terrorism and Revolution: A Case Study of Russia

Russia was among the first nations in the world to face political terrorism when in the 1870s the leftist People's Will group launched the hunt for Tsar Alexander II. The terrorist trend continued into the twentieth century; in 1918, the Socialist Revolutionary Party attempted to assassinate Lenin. Eradicated by Stalin, terrorism resurfaced in the 1990s, when Russia found itself under attack by Chechen separatists. Legitimacy of political terrorism as the last refuge of the oppressed has been actively debated in Russia for more than a century, and the fact that terrorist groups in question ranged from proto-Marxists to the pseudo-Islamic has made Russian discourse on terrorism uncommonly rich. We will be using a variety of primary sources, such as terrorists’ manifestos and memoirs, as well as conceptual critiques of terror, starting with Dostoyevsky’s novel Demons. First, we will wrestle with the definition of “terrorism” as opposed to “terror.” Second, we will explore the place of terrorism in a revolutionary movement and war. Third, we will look at the counter-terrorism measures applied by the Russian government in the past and now. A case study of terrorism in Russia will hopefully help us to answer a number of questions that are highly relevant today.

Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Visiting Professor Pleshakov.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2023, Spring 2025

302 Disabling Institutions

This course will consider how institutions, often contrary to their intended purposes, serve to disable individuals and limit their life potential. We will examine a variety of institutions, including state bureaucracies, facilities designed to house people with mental and physical conditions, schools, and prisons. We will also consider a range of disablements, resulting from visible and invisible disabilities as well as gender, sexuality, race and class-based discrimination. We will explore how institutions might be redesigned to less rigidly enforce normalcy and to enable the political participation of individuals who currently experience social exclusion. 

Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Bumiller.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017

304 Seminar on Parties and Elections

In this course we will examine how the interactions between the Constitution and the party system have shaped American political development. Scholars of comparative constitutionalism have shown that, while thirty-two countries in the Americas, North and South, have adopted constitutions based on the separation of powers, only one of them, the United States, has avoided collapsing into presidential dictatorship. Our endurance as a constitutional democracy may be rooted in the nature of the American party system, but if our parties are losing control over American politics, are we coming to the end of American exceptionalism?

Limited to 18 students, consent required if not a POSC major. Fall semester. Visiting Professor Robinson.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2016, Fall 2018

307 States of Extraction: Nature and World Politics in the Americas

The global energy boom has increased states’ dependency on commodities across the Americas. States are putting entire territories up for sale in an effort to turn nature into "quick cash." In Latin America, governments have expanded the extractive frontier, mining the Peruvian highlands and drilling the Amazon for oil without prior consultation and despite widespread opposition. Far from reversing historical dependencies, governments on the political Left have exacerbated this commodification of nature. This class explores states of extraction and offers an activist approach to political ecology in the Americas. We analyze water politics, extractive practices from Brazil to Canada, and Indigenous resistance like Bagua and Standing Rock. The course engages theoretical tools and comparative perspectives to grasp current debates in political ecology. It also seeks to foster a critical inquiry to bridge lasting divides between academia and activism.

Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2018-19. Visiting Professor Picq.

308 Democratic Theory

What do we mean by “democracy”? Is democracy the rule of the people? Or is it free and fair elections? Is democracy merely a set of political institutions and practices, such as party systems and electoral structures? Or is democracy something more radical, such as the opposition to any form of domination? How these different meanings operate – how they do and don’t work together – is not always clear. In this course we will examine current debates in democratic theory. Our aim will be to parse different theories of what democracy is and could be. The course will be divided into three parts: Part One will serve as an introduction, questioning the possibility and impossibility of democracy, and paying particular attention to paradoxes of democratic rule. Part Two will focus on agreement, examining logics of consensus and the forms of democracy that might result. In Part Three, we will turn our investigation to disagreement, and the promise of democracy as seen through the lens of more radical and agonistic democrats. Readings will consist of selections from various theorists, including Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Jürgen Habermas, Jacques Rancière, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Carl Schmitt, Jacques Derrida, and Sheldon Wolin, amongst others. 

Requisite: Must have taken at least one POSC or LJST course. Limited to 20 students. Not open to first-year students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Poe.


2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Spring 2018

313 Reading Politics

Hegel once remarked that "To read the newspaper is the modern man's morning-prayer." What may be captured in this seemingly obvious observation is a proposition that political understanding of current events is difficult to sustain without daily reading of a newspaper; that reading itself is a dynamic activity, involving interpretation; that all interpretation is, in effect, translation because in any act of reading, the reader inevitably forms a judgment as to what the text is saying. A century and a half later, Paul Sweezy wrote [E]veryone knows that the present will someday be history…[and believes] that the most important task of the social scientist is to try to comprehend it as history now, while it is still the present and while we still have the power to influence its shape and outcome.”

In the spirit of these observations, this seminar has a three-fold aim: (1) to introduce the habit of reading a newspaper daily; (2) to encourage an in-depth reading of current political events in the U.S. and around the world from an interdisciplinary perspective by drawing upon the theoretical and methodological tools which students have encountered in their college courses across many social science disciplines; and (3) to help students recognize the multitude of fascinating researchable social science topics imbedded in an active reading of the daily press. This groundwork will enable class participants to develop and formulate viable research designs, make normative and causal arguments as well as address rival hypotheses in a research paper which will be due at the end of the semester.

The specific newspapers may vary from year to year. In 2017-18 students read the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and a newspaper of their choice, selected from a list of newspapers in English from around the world.

Requisite: The seminar is open to qualified second-semester sophomores and juniors who have taken at least six social science courses in college, including two in POSC, and at least four additional courses from at minimum two other social science departments. Participants should seriously anticipate writing a thesis during their senior year.

Admissions with consent of the instructor. Limited to 14 students. Not open to first-year students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Machala.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2024

317 International Political Theory

Understanding world affairs requires not only identification of and familiarity with central geo-political and geo-economic dynamics, but also an appreciation of the role of political and ethical norms and ideologies in legitimating, undermining and transforming these central dynamics. To better appreciate the political significance of normative arguments in world affairs, we will first explore a few basic discourses and theories concerning state and imperial sovereignty, just and unjust wars, humanitarianism, communitarianism and cosmopolitanism. We will also explore several key debates in contemporary international political theory, such as the character of international civil society, universal human rights, the rights of refugees and economic migrants, international distributive justice, and human security. Contemporary international political theory is often predicated on the principle that moral obligation extends beyond the borders of states. And yet, what exactly is the scope of this obligation? Is it adequate to meet the challenges of human misery in today’s world? Or, is the discourse of this type of moral obligation primarily ideological: a legitimization of “the end of history”?

Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Machala.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2017

319 History, Time, and American Political Development

Politics are not frozen in time, but are rather the product of developmental processes. Building on a survey of crucial works in the American Political Development (APD) literature and on general approaches (rational choice, sociological, etc.) to understanding institutional change, this course will introduce ways of thinking historically about political institutions in the U.S. Why did the party system evolve the way it did? Where did the rules and procedures of Congress come from? Where and when did important public services (transportation and communication infrastructure, protection for property, social insurance, etc.) become the provenance of state bureaucracies? How has the function and power of the Presidency changed over time? How did western expansion, imperialism, and military experience shape the federal government? These are a few of the substantive questions we will address in this course.

More broadly, however, this course helps us think about politics in a temporal way. History and political science are intrinsically related, but to understand the current debates and questions we need to be explicit about the types of processes (long-term, short-term, episodic, cyclic, etc.) that shape the institutions and events we see. Hence a key component of this course will be interrogating how scholars address the historiographic problem of studying politics, with the aim of cultivating the analytic tools necessary to situate contemporary political debates in the stream of time.

Requisite: An introductory POSC course in IL (200 level or above) or any U.S. History course (100 level or above) or HIST 301 or AMST 468 or LJST 222. Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Professor Obert.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2019

320 Rethinking Post-Colonial Nationalism

Nationalist fervor seemed likely to diminish once so-called Third World nations achieved independence. However, the past few years have witnessed the resurgence and transformation of nationalism in the post-colonial world. Where anti-colonial nationalist movements appeared to be progressive forces of social change, many contemporary forms of nationalism appear to be reactionary. Did nationalist leaders and theoreticians fail to identify the exclusionary qualities of earlier incarnations of nationalism? Were they blind to its chauvinism? Or has nationalism become increasingly intolerant? Was the first wave of nationalist movements excessively marked by European liberal influences? Or was it insufficiently committed to universal principles? We will explore expressions of nationalism in democratic, revolutionary, religious nationalist, and ethnic separatist movements in the post-colonial world.

Omitted 2018-19. Professor Basu.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Spring 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Spring 2016, Fall 2019

321 Populism in the Era of Global Capitalism

For over a generation now, populist social movements and political parties have resisted globalization. During the ascendance of globalization (1980s–2000s), leftist populism took the lead in mobilizing opposition to globalization, not only by marginalized groups but also by the general public. In the current period, however, the rise of powerful strains of right-wing populism have begun to take over these struggles. We will examine why this has happened as well as explore why far right movements that were once marginal political forces have begun to successfully challenge leftist and even centrist political parties to form influential new populist parties. 

We will analyze how in representative democracies across the world, trust in public institutions and established political parties has all but collapsed because of the inability or disinclination of governing elites to address popular anxieties and societal demands concerning inequality, immigration, globalization and the upheaval in labor markets.

Related themes to be addressed include the relationship between right and left wing populism and representative democracy, the ideological, organizational, and policy differences between right wing and left wing populism, the relationship between populist moments and populist parties (which comes first?), the transnational dimensions of populism as well as populism’s impact on the dynamics of world politics. 

We will also explore the class, ethnic and gender composition of populist movements and the role charismatic leadership plays in populist movements and parties. Although our inquiry into the character, strength and weaknesses of populism in this era of crisis in global capitalism will primarily be theoretical and conceptual, empirical illustrations will include, but not be limited to, India and the United States.

Limited to 25 students. Not open to first-year students. Fall semester. Professors Basu and Machala.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018, Fall 2018

323 From Petrograd to Petrostate: Power and Public in Post-Communist Russia

Russia emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union a budding democracy with aggressively contested elections on the federal and local level. Twenty years later, it is an authoritarian state in which opposition is persecuted and the electorate divorced from any policy-making. This course will examine the dynamics of Russian politics from the anti-Communist revolution of 1991 to the present, attempting to answer the question why this happened. First, we will revisit the legacy of the Soviet era pertinent to “new” Russia – centralism and political repression but also social welfare systems, feminism, and communality. Second, we will look at the socio-economic factors of Russia’s metamorphosis, the products of the Russian version of a free market economy (among others: the emergence of a new dominant minority, the “oligarchs,” and the gap between the rich and the poor). Third, we will examine the concepts of democracy and human rights prevalent in Russia over the past twenty years and ask how different they are from Western concepts of democracy and human rights. Fourth, we will try determining the role of individuals in Russian politics. How did Vladimir Putin dismantle the democratic institutions of Russia so quickly? What was the voters’ reaction to that? What made his victory over the “oligarchs” possible? Was this a case of a leader going against the grain or did he fit the profile of an ideal leader the majority of Russians wanted? Is it Putin’s Russia or Russia’s very own Putin?

Requisite: A previous POSC course. Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2018-19. Visiting Professor Pleshakov.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2015, Fall 2016

324 Power and Violence in America: A Historical Approach to Politics

In this course we will explore the complex relationship between industrialization, the labor movement, race relations, and the organization of violence in America. Students will learn about major events in American history, from the founding of the United States through the end of World War II. The topics covered include labor strikes, riots, and ethnic and racial tensions, as well as the related formation of police forces, private security guards, and vigilante groups. In learning about such conflicts, we will examine the indelible mark that these events left on American political development in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Throughout the semester, students will encounter fundamental questions concerning the distribution of income and the use of force in American society. This course is being taught simultaneously at Middlebury College and will include a virtual classroom component as well as opportunities for inter-collegiate collaboration.

Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Obert.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2015, Spring 2017

325 Anarchisms

Is there the possibility of an anarchic politics, a politics without rule? Political science has often read anarchy as a political problem: The end of sovereign government through civil war, corruption, or collapsing institutions becomes the end of politics itself. But how necessary is government to social collaboration and political action? Is a radical anarchic politics—a politics without government, without domination and without  rule—possible today? This course explores anarchism’s contemporary possibility, attempting to explicate the politics that might come from resistance to rule. Anarchism has historically taken many forms—from organized resistance to state authority and police to the shared “commons” and mutual aid societies, from experimental communes to the general strike. In this advanced political science seminar, students will be asked to think experimentally about these anarchist political ideas and practices. Through close engagement with anarchist political pamphlets, as well as key texts in late modern and contemporary political theory—including Proudhon, Kropotkin, Goldman, Benjamin, Deleuze, and Rancière, amongst others—this course will explore the variations of anarchist political thought. In this way, this course will offer a tracing of anarchism’s developments as a constellation of resistant theories and techniques, as well as their place in contemporary politics.

Requisite: Prior coursework in POSC or LJST. Limited to 20 students. Not open to first-year students. Admission with consent of the instructor. Fall semester. Professor Poe.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017, Fall 2018

326 Foreign Policy Analysis

This class introduces students to the analysis of foreign policy and foreign policy decision-making. The course starts with a historical and cultural exploration of world orders and illustrates how different contexts give varying meanings and goals to the practice of foreign policy. The class then questions theories of foreign policy and their application. In the last module, the course discusses analytical models of foreign policy decision-making: 1) a traditional rational model of international politics with applications of game theory, 2) two level games, 3) bureaucratic politics, 4) organizational dynamics, 5) a poliheuristic model.

Students will apply the analytical models to explore a historical case of foreign policy decision-making.

Global Classroom: This class will use technological resources to pair students with peers from the Universidad de los Andes in Bogota, Colombia. Bi-national teams of students will complete group assignments.

Requisite: An introductory class on international relations is required (world politics, topics in international relations or similar). One or more courses on global history are recommended. Limited to 20 Students. Fall Semester. Professor Bitar.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018

330 The Politics of Protest

Can popular protests affect social change? This course examines protest and other forms of popular resistance by asking questions such as: How do people bring about social change from the grassroots? Under what conditions are social movements successful? What are the implications of popular movements for democracy, good governance, and citizenship? We will study a range of popular movements and acts of resistance, including peasant protest, workers’ rights, anti-globalization protests, women’s movements, and democracy movements. We will also explore various approaches to research on contentious politics, such as interviews, participant-observation, and surveys. Students will conduct independent research throughout the semester, culminating in a final paper.

Requisite: One course in POSC or its equivalent. Experience writing a research paper preferred. Limited to 18 students. Fall semester. Professor Ratigan.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018, Fall 2024

334 American Political Thought

This course is a study of aspects of the canon of American political thought. While examining the roots of American thought in Puritanism and Quakerism, the primary focus will be on American transcendentalism and its impact on subsequent thought. Among those whose works we are likely to consider are Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Walt Whitman, W.E.B. DuBois, William James, Jane Addams, John Dewey, Martin Luther King, Hannah Arendt, Richard Rorty, and Stanley Cavell.

Not open to first-year students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Dumm.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2014, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2023

350 Race, Ethnicity, and Identity Politics in Africa

This course will explore theories of migration, ethnic, and racial politics from a comparative perspective. We examine these issues using a combination of scholarly articles, literature and film. The course will include writings that examine the politics of race and ethnicity in all major regions of the world, including North America. The aims of this course are three-fold: 1) to acquaint students with the theoretical literatures on ethnic and racial politics; 2) to teach students how to design and evaluate theoretically-oriented research; and 3) to train students to carry out various types of writing assignments that political scientists are frequently required to perform.

During the first weeks of the course we will examine the meaning of race and ethnicity. We will analyze what determines membership in a particular racial or ethnic group, and how fluid membership is. We will also explore different ways to measure ethnic and racial identification. We will then examine how ethnicity affects attitudes, economic development, and social mobilization. We will seek to assess to what extent ethnic and racial identities shape trust and prejudice, and we will examine the impact of ethnic diversity on development and the provision of public goods. We will also explore what factors lead ethnic and racial groups to mobilize politically and what the consequences of such mobilization are. In the third section of the course, we will examine ethnic and racial electoral politics. What is ethnic voting and where does it occur? Why do ethnic parties thrive in some countries but not in others? What is their impact on ethnic relations and democratic governance? The final section of the course will focus on ethnic conflict. We will examine what role identity, democratization, and political institutions play in provoking or mitigating ethnic conflict.

Limited to 18 students. Fall semester. Professor Dendere.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018

355 Animals: Law, Ethics, Biopolitics

(See LJST 355)

360 Punishment, Politics, and Culture

Other than war, punishment is the most dramatic manifestation of state power. Whom a society punishes and how it punishes are key political questions as well as indicators of its character and the character of the people in whose name it acts. This course will explore the connections between punishment and politics with particular reference to the contemporary American situation. We will consider the ways crime and punishment have been politicized in recent national elections as well as the racialization of punishment in the United States. We will ask whether we punish too much and too severely, or too little and too leniently. We will examine particular modalities of punishment, e.g., maximum security prisons, torture, the death penalty, and inquire about the character of those charged with imposing those punishments, e.g., prison guards, executioners, etc. Among the questions we will discuss are: Does punishment express our noblest aspirations for justice or our basest desires for vengeance? Can it ever be an adequate expression of, or response to, the pain of victims of crime? When is it appropriate to forgive rather than punish? We will consider these questions in the context of arguments about the right way to deal with juvenile offenders, drug offenders, sexual predators (“Megan’s Law”), rapists, and murderers. We will, in addition, discuss the meaning of punishment by examining its treatment in literature and popular culture. Readings may include selections from The Book of Job, Greek tragedy, Kafka, Nietzsche, Freud, George Herbert Mead, and contemporary treatments of punishment such as Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, Butterfield’s All God’s Children, Scarry’s Body in Pain, Garland’s Punishment in Modern Society, Hart’s Punishment and Reasonability, and Mailer’s Executioner’s Song. Films may include The Shawshank Redemption, Dead Man Walking, Mrs. Soffel, Minority Report, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Sarat.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2019, Spring 2021, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

370 Cyberpolitics

The digital age shapes politics around the world, in democracies and dictatorships. New information and communication technologies (ICTs) influence political processes, state-society interactions, markets, and policy-making at all levels. They raise questions for research areas as diverse as sovereignty, elections and campaigns, democratization, protest, repression, war and security policy, terrorism and counterterrorism, trade, currency policy, international cooperation, immigration and diaspora politics, identity, and citizenship.

The course asks four big questions: (1) How does digital technology change democratic politics? (2) How do ICTs challenge authoritarian regimes?  (3) Do ICTs boost or undermine international security? (4) Will ICTs render states obsolete by empowering subnational and supranational actors? These structure the seminar in four modules: e-Democracy (social capital, participation, elections, accountability); online revolutions and repression (resistance, mobilization, online censorship and surveillance); cyber security (cyberwar, terrorism, hacking, intelligence, privacy); and beyond the state (international cooperation, markets, transnational activism, digital currencies, subnational actors and transnational networks).

We use current issues and cases (e.g. #Occupy, #BlackLivesMatter, net neutrality, the Arab Spring, online radicalization, the Snowden revelations, Bitcoin, Anonymous ops, Internet censorship in China, etc.) to analyze how cyberspace reshapes politics and political science as a discipline. Students will gain a rigorous and sophisticated understanding of the relationship between technology and politics. The course will help students design, develop, and conduct research in political science.

Requisite: At least one POSC course (200 level or above). Limited to 18 students. Not open to first-year students. Fall semester. Professor Paul.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2023

380 Kremlin Rising: Russia's Foreign Policy in the 21st Century

This course will examine the foreign policy of the Russian Federation of the past twenty years. As a successor state Russia has inherited both the Soviet Union's clout (nuclear arms, a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council) and Soviet debts—monetary, psychological, and historical. What are the conceptual foundations of Russian diplomacy? Can we deconstruct Russian nationalism so as to examine its different trends and their impact on foreign policy? Do Russian exports of oil and gas define Russian diplomacy, as it is often claimed? Is there any pattern in the struggle over resources and their export routes in continental Eurasia?

Requisite: A previous POSC course. Limited to 20 students. Fall semester. Visiting Professor Pleshakov.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

403 Social Policy in China

(Offered as POSC 403 and ASLC 403 [C]) After three decades of unprecedented economic growth, China is facing a new phase of development in which social policy issues such as healthcare, social security, and environmental degradation are taking center stage in the national dialogue. This course will provide students with the substantive knowledge and analytical tools to critically examine these issues, evaluate current policies, and propose feasible alternatives within the Chinese context. The semester begins with an overview of state-society relations in contemporary China, including the processes of policy design and implementation. The Chinese government emphasizes an experimentalist approach to policymaking, resulting in an important role for research, think tanks, and policy evaluation tools in the development of policy. Then, the course will examine the major social policy areas in China: health, education, poverty alleviation, social security, and environmental policy. Throughout the semester, students will also learn the tools of policy analysis, which they will employ in an independent research project on a policy problem in China. This course will enable students to think about social policy design and implementation in the context of the challenges inherent to a non-democratic, developing country with pervasive corruption and weak legal institutions. Thus, this course would be of interest to students seeking to study Chinese politics at an advanced level or those who plan to pursue a career in social policy and development more broadly.

Requisite: Previous experience or coursework related to China strongly preferred. Previous coursework in the social sciences will be an asset. Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Ratigan.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2015, Fall 2015

407 Contemporary Debates: Gender and Right-Wing Populism

(See SWAG 400)

411 Indigenous Women and World Politics

(Offered as POSC 411 and SWAGS 411) Indigenous women are rarely considered actors in world politics. Yet from their positions of marginality, they are shaping politics in significant ways. This course inter-weaves feminist and Indigenous approaches to suggest the importance of Indigenous women’s political contributions. It is an invitation not merely to recognize their achievements but also to understand why they matter to international relations. 

This course tackles varied Indigenous contexts, ranging from pre-conquest gender relations to the 1994 Zapatista uprising. We will learn how Indigenous women played diplomatic roles and led armies into battle during colonial times. We will analyze the progressive erosion of their political and economic power, notably through the introduction of property rights, to understand the intersectional forms of racial, class, and gender violence. Course materials explore the linkages between sexuality and colonization, revealing how sexual violence was a tool of conquest, how gender norms were enforced and sexualities disciplined. In doing so, we will analyze indigenous women’s relationship to feminism as well as their specific struggles for self-determination. We will illustrate the sophistication of their current activism in such cases as the Maya defense of collective intellectual property rights. As we follow their struggles from the Arctic to the Andes, we will understand how indigenous women articulate local, national, and international politics to challenge state sovereignty. 

Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Visiting Professor Picq.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2021, Fall 2022

412 Quirky Citizenship: Autism in the Political Imagination

This course will explore how autism as both a medical diagnosis and a social category has gained significance over the past forty years. The course will situate the study of autism in the broader framework of the disability rights movement. We will consider the evidence for its characterization as an “epidemic” and how medical experts, parents, and autistic individuals have challenged and collaborated with each other. The study of autism will also be viewed in relation to wide-ranging political concerns, including vaccination and public health, economic costs of care, gender identities, and the growth of bio-medical power. 

Requisite: An Introductory course in POSC or its equivalent. Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Bumiller.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2023

415 Taking Marx Seriously

Should Marx be given yet another chance? Is there anything left to gain by returning to texts whose earnest exegesis has occupied countless interpreters, both friendly and hostile, for generations? Has Marx’s credibility survived the global debacle of those regimes and movements which drew inspiration from his work, however poorly they understood it? Or, conversely, have we entered a new era in which post-Marxism has joined a host of other “post-”phenomena? This seminar will deal with these and related questions in the context of a close and critical reading of Marx’s texts. The main themes we will discuss include Marx’s conception of capitalist modernity, material and intellectual production, power, class conflicts and social consciousness, and his critique of alienation, bourgeois freedom and representative democracy. We will also examine Marx’s theories of historical progress, capitalist exploitation, globalization and human emancipation. 

Requisite: Two of POSC 213, 413 and 480. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Machala.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Fall 2009, Spring 2011, Fall 2013, Fall 2015, Spring 2017, Spring 2021

420 Drones, Satellites, Cyberwar: Technology and National Security

How does technology change the ways in which we fight wars? Can innovations such as computerized systems, drones, or even social media make wars less deadly? Or do these technologies increase instead the probability that states will fight? To tackle these questions, this class will adopt a chronological structure and we will study some of the major military innovations in the past seventy years. Topics include important moments such as the aerial power revolution, nuclear weapons and the MAD strategy, the “CNN Revolution” in the 1990s, the spread of social media as a tool of public diplomacy for insurgents, the drones’ “war of precision,” and also the recent debate over cybersecurity. Throughout the class, we will parse out two types of technology advancements: those that change the most fundamental aspects of war (such as leaders’ objectives in the conflict and their cost/benefit calculations on whether to become involved or not) and those that merely alter the way the war is fought.

Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Mattiacci.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2019

421 Indigenous World Politics

Indigenous peoples are dynamic political actors in national and global contexts. They have secured their rights in international law, first through Convention 169 at the International Labour Organization (1989), then with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007). They have created innovative political forums and organized global social movements. Global indigenous politics are forging major changes in the international system, thereby disordering conventional understandings of sovereignty.

This course locates indigeneity at the core of international relations and examines indigenous politics from the Andes to the UN. We study international law securing rights for indigenous peoples and analyze indigenous experiences such as the Arctic Council and the election of Bolivian President Evo Morales. The course also explores the epistemological implications of indigenous rights for our understanding of politics. The consolidation of plurinational states in the Andes and indigenous parliaments in the Arctic change the locus of the political, and principles of self-determination challenge Westphalian notions of sovereignty to redefine territoriality.

Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2018-19. Visiting Professor Picq.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2020

467 Social Movements, Civil Society and Democracy in India

(Offered as POSC 467 and SWAG 467) The goal of this seminar is to illuminate the complex character of social movements and civil society organizations and their vital influence on Indian democracy. Social movements have strengthened democratic processes by forming or allying with political parties and thereby contributed to the growth of a multi-party system. They have increased the political power of previously marginalized and underprivileged groups and pressured the state to address social inequalities. However, conservative religious movements and civil society organizations have threatened minority rights and undermined secular, democratic principles. During the semester, we will interact through internet technology with students, scholars and community organizers in India. 

Requisite: Prior course work in POSC. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Basu.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Spring 2017

470 International Migrations and Politics in the Era of Globalization

We live in an era of mobility: movement of goods, services, capital, ideas, culture, and–most importantly–people. International migrations reshape politics, markets, and societies. They generate challenges and opportunities for individuals, families, communities, businesses, political parties, governments, and international organizations. Many current political debates revolve around questions concerning transnational movement: How can states manage migratory flows, both effectively and ethically? Do international migratory flows erode sovereignty? Do they generate democratic deficit? Does migration boost economic growth, becoming a bottom-up engine of contemporary modernization that helps rural communities and developing countries? Or, on the contrary, does migration perpetuate and exacerbate domestic and global inequalities? Does it deplete human capital or does it facilitate knowledge transmission? Does diaspora participation strengthen or weaken democracy? Does transnationalism amplify or moderate nationalist tendencies?

This course examines migrations around the world, in both sending and receiving countries. We will study the impact of migration on citizenship, identity, state sovereignty, security, democracy, development, elections, and social capital. The course explores the theories and realities of international migration in this globalization era. Readings cover cases from North America, Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Middle East. We will compare trends to gain a full picture of human mobility, present and past. We will examine migration across space (cross-nationally) and over time, in historical perspective. The course follows the two key dimensions of migration research. We ask two sets of questions: Why do people move? and How do migrations shape the world in which we live? We examine how democracies and authoritarian regimes deal with different types of migration: e.g. voluntary and involuntary, documented and undocumented/irregular flows. The course will help you design, develop and conduct political science research.

Requisite: At least one POSC course (200 level or above). Limited to 18 students. Not open to first-year students. Spring semester. Professor Paul.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2024

474 Rights

(Offered as POSC 474 and LJST 374) This seminar explores the role of rights in addressing inequality, discrimination, and violence. This course will trace the evolution of rights focused legal strategies aimed at addressing injustice coupled with race, gender, disability, and citizenship status. We will evaluate how rights-based activism often creates a gap between expectation and realization. This evaluation will consider when and how rights are most efficacious in producing social change and the possibility of unintended consequences. 

Requisite: One introductory POSC course or its equivalent. Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Professor Bumiller.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018

480 Contemporary Political Theory

A consideration of twentieth- and twenty-first-century Western political theory. Topics to be considered include the fate of modernity, identity and difference, power, representation, freedom, and the state. This year’s readings may include works by the following authors: Freud, Weber, Benjamin, Heidegger, Arendt, Derrida, Foucault, Berlin, Butler, Connolly, and Agamben. 

Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Professor Dumm.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

486 U.S.–Latin American Relations

Can small and non-powerful nations ever profit from a relationship with a more powerful hegemon? Who gains and who loses in this type of asymmetrical relationship? This seminar attempts to answer these questions by looking at the relations between the U.S. and Latin American nations. The seminar begins by presenting different ways in which intellectuals have tried to conceptualize and analyze the relations between the U.S. and Latin America. These approaches are then applied to different dimensions of the relationship: (1) intra-hemispheric relations prior to World War II (the sources of U.S. interventionism and the response of Latin America); (2) political and security issues after World War II (the role of the Cold War in the hemisphere and U.S. reaction to instability in the region, with special emphasis on Cuba in the early 1960s, Peru in the late 1960s, Chile in the early 1970s, The Falklands War and Nicaragua in the 1980s); and (3) economic and business issues (the politics of foreign direct investment and trade, and the debt crisis in the 1980s). Finally, we examine contemporary trends: the emerging hemispheric convergence, economic integration, drug trade, immigration, the defense of democracy regime, and the re-emergence of multilateral interventionism. 

Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Professor Corrales.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2015, Spring 2019, Spring 2021

489 Markets and Democracy in Latin America

In the 1980s an unprecedented process of change began in Latin America: nations turned toward democracy and the market. This seminar explores the literature on regime and economic change and, at the same time, encourages students to think about ways to study the post-reform period. The seminar begins by looking at the situation prior to the transition: the sources of Latin America’s over-expanded state, economic decay, political instability, and democratic deficit. The seminar then focuses directly on the processes of transition, paying particular attention to the challenges encountered. It explores, theoretically and empirically, the extent to which democracy and markets are compatible. The seminar then places Latin America’s process of change in a global context: comparisons will be drawn with Asian and post-Socialist European cases. The seminar concludes with an overview of current shortcomings of the transition: Latin America’s remaining international vulnerability (the Tequila Crisis of 1995 and the Asian Flu of 1997), lingering social issues, the rise of crime, drug trade, and neopopulism, the cleavage between nationalists and internationalists, the prospects for further deepening of reforms and the political backlash against reforms in the 2000s. For their final projects, students will have two options:  1) participate in a community-service internship in Argentina, Chile or Uruguay during the summer through a college-approved program, followed by completion of a policy-oriented paper based on the internship experience; or 2) write a 20-page research project on a relevant topic. Option 1 will require approval from the instructor and is contingent on funding availability.  

Requisite: Some background in the economics and politics of developing areas. Limited to 20 students. Not open to first-year students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Corrales.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2010, Spring 2014

490 Special Topics

Independent reading course.

Fall and spring semesters. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

498, 498D, 499 Senior Departmental Honors

This course is open only to seniors majors who have been accepted in the Political Science Honors program and have departmental approval.

Spring semester. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2025