Introduction to American Politics (POSC 219)

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?

History, Time, and American Political Development (POSC 319)

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.

Guns in American Politics (POSC 152)

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, this class will use firearms policy to explore a range of questions: how have principles of understanding 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 which have surrounded the “right to bear Arms” and its interpretation in legal and historical scholarship?  How do 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 different?  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.  

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

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. 

Violence and Politics (FYSE 111)

Violence lies at the very heart of both political institutions, such as the state, as well as the expression of political beliefs.  Focusing on domestic rather than international forms of conflict, this course will address questions of what violence is, how it is organized in society, and what it means to those who use it.  We will first identify ways to think about violence as a political activity - why do actors choose violent over non-violent means of resisting governments or expressing dissent?  Is violence ever rational?  What purposes does it serve?  How is violence different from other kinds of political interaction like arguing or debating?  Next we will think about how violence is organized - that is, how do political leaders, parties, police forces, and paramilitaries, for example, try to control and manage the use of force?  When do private individuals and groups choose to protect themselves and when do they turn to the state?  Building on the theoretical interventions of scholars such as Arendt, Weber, Sartre and others, we will use empirical studies of the political use of force from around the world to ask how violence shapes political phenomena such as elections, protest movements, taxation, and nationalism.