PS102: Comparative Politics, Fall 2017

Course description:

This course provides an introduction to the comparative study of domestic politics in countries around the world. You will be introduced to some of the most important concepts, theories, and issues in comparative politics. Studying different political systems allows us to develop important, generalizable knowledge. The goal of this course is to help students acquire a scientific approach to understanding the political world. As you learn to compare and contrast different political systems, you will gain new perspectives on the politics you see and have taken for granted.

We will discuss big questions such as the following: What is a state, and where did it come from? What is democracy, and how do states democratize? Is democracy consequential for citizens’ wellbeing? If so, how? Why is ethnicity politicized in some countries but not in others? Why do some countries have many parties whereas some have very few? What are the implications of different kinds of government? To answer these kinds of questions, comparativists explore cause and effect by developing theories and testing them with data. This scientific approach to studying the political world structures our attempts to answer the questions that intrigue us. In this course, you will learn not only what political scientists know, but also how we know what we know.


Teaching Assistant

PS363: Quantitative Political Methodology (Instructor: Jacob Montgomery), Fall 2016

Course description:

Never before have political scientists had access to so much data about the attitudes and actions of individuals, institutions, and nations. Data on everything from the votes of members of the U.S. Senate in 1855 to terrorist attacks from around the globe are
only a few clicks away.

This class is designed to make you an active participant in this new data-rich world. The goal is to introduce you to the methods and practices by which you can use this data to answer questions that are important to us as political scientists and citizens. What policies are most effective at reducing poverty? Which campaign ads are most effective at persuading voters? Can we affect the behavior of our Facebook friends just by sharing our opinions?

The purpose of this class is to teach you how to use data to answer these kinds of questions. This class will introduce you to the theoretical concepts you need to test claims about the political world and the practical skills you will need to conduct and present statistical analyses.

Although students will certainly be expected to engage with mathematics, formulas, and data analysis, the goals of the class are primarily conceptual rather than narrowly mathematical. The course will focus on helping students to understand the core concepts behind statistical tests, understand their uses (and limitations), learn to apply them appropriately to substantive problems of interest, and learn how to communicate findings to others. In addition, a major component of the course include learning how to collect, manage, and analyze data using computer software, and how to effectively communicate results to others.

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PS102: Introduction to Comparative Politics (Instructor: Brian F. Crisp), Spring 2016

Course description:

One of the primary goals of a course in comparative politics is to familiarize students with a broad array of political systems.  In most instances, this goal is pursued by marching students through case studies of as many countries as possible. Popular textbooks give their readers widely accepted facts about these countries, grouping those facts into categories such as: political culture, parties and elections, interest groups and social movements, government institutions, public policy, etc.

For a number of reasons, this is not the approach we will take. “Facts” that someone else “gives” you are easily forgotten. They also quickly become history, the relevance of which to ongoing events may not be obvious. What is more, we need to think explicitly about the relationship among the categories into which facts are being grouped.  Finally, the countries of interest today (to me) may not be the countries of interest tomorrow (to you).

The approach we will take this semester can best be characterized as the active acquisition and use of a set of tools for looking at the political world. In other words, instead of putting all our emphasis on what textbook writers think expert political scientists know, we will put our emphasis on the big questions and concepts that have occupied comparativists and on building knowledge for ourselves. This is a better approach because it equips you with a set of tools that you can continue to use long after this course is over and because you will retain knowledge you build for yourself much longer than you will retain facts that someone else tries to give you. Plus, we will be free to focus our attention on the historical, recent, and current events of our choosing.

As social scientists we will approach the study of comparative politics using the tools of the scientific method. We will engage questions that explore cause and effect, using falsifiable hypotheses and empirical data to test our theories. We will consider questions such as the following: What is a state and where did it come from? What is democracy, and how do states democratize? Is democracy consequential for citizens’ wellbeing? If so, how so? Why is ethnicity politicized in some countries and not others? Why do some countries have many parties whereas some have very few? What are the implications of different kinds of governments? A scientific approach to studying the political world structures our attempts to understand these types of questions by encouraging the advancement of well reasoned hypotheses that are grounded in theory, including some indication of what it would mean for our hypothesis or theory to be incorrect. The goal is to build theories that allow us to generalize beyond particular people, places, countries, or events to build causal models of the political world that are applicable to as many specific questions as possible.

We will adopt a strategic approach to theory construction, meaning that we will assume that rulers and citizens are forward thinking, goal-oriented, and rational given the behavior they expect of others. A useful approach for understanding the interdependency of actors’ behavior is game theory, very simple versions of which we will use extensively. To test our theories, we will subject our hypotheses to real world data, commonly relying on statistical analysis of quantitative data. 

PS321: Comparative European Politics (Instructor: Margit Tavits), Fall 2015

Course description:

This course provides an introduction to the institutions and issues in contemporary European political systems. It starts with considering the history and development of European states and regimes, including a brief overview of the development and functioning of the European Union. The rest of the course focuses on a number of topics central to understanding the political systems in Europe: the functioning of the parliamentary system, the formation and stability of coalition governments, inter-branch relations, and the logic of multi-party competition. We will also examine issues central to understanding politics and policy in Europe: immigration, inequality, and post-communist democratization. This course will give students a basic understanding on how politics operates in modern Europe, both east and west, and how historical, cultural and institutional differences across countries affect politics and policy-making.

PS358: Law, Politics, and Society (Instructor: James L. Gibson), Spring 2015

Course description:

This course is an introduction to the functions of law and the legal system in American society. The course material will stress the realities of the operation of the legal system (in contrast to legal mythology), as well as the continuous interactions and feedbacks between the legal and political systems. There are four specific objectives to the course: (1) to introduce you to legal concepts and legal theories; (2) to analyze the operation of the appellate courts, with particular emphasis on the U.S. Supreme Court; (3) to examine the operation of American trial courts, especially juries and the criminal courts; and (4) to investigate the linkages between culture and law.