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Course Descriptions – Spring 2019

PSC 307 – The American Supreme Court

(Prof. Paul Herron) The Supreme Court is a formidable institution in American politics.  The decisions of the nine justices have had a major impact on both civil rights and governing authority.  This class examines the structure of the federal court system, the evolution of the judiciary, the decision-making process, effects on other branches of government, theories of constitutional interpretation, and a history of the Court.  We also consider specific cases on the current docket and close out the semester with a case simulation in which students serve as either counsel or a justice. To understand the current political conflict in Washington, it is essential to understand how the Court functions as an institution and the consequences of its decisions.


PSC 318: American Public Policy

(Prof. Matt Guardino) Public policy — what government officials decide to do about public issues and problems — is crucial to politics and society. We will examine both how public policies affect inequality, and how inequality shapes public policies and the nature of the policymaking process. We start with theoretical and historical background, focusing especially on the role of power inequalities in shaping policy substance and processes. We then take a close look at how several key factors influence public policy. This is followed by case studies of important concrete issues, including tax policy, health care policy and environmental policy. We end by exploring how the things government does shape the distribution and use of political power in America.


PSC 319: Political Attitudes & Public Opinion

(Prof. Matt Guardino) Public opinion is central to the study of democratic politics. In this course, we will explore a variety of questions related to U.S. public opinion: Where do our political attitudes come from? How much do people know about politics? Do we make political judgments based on our material self-interest or more abstract values and world views? Does the media influence public opinion? And what is the connection between public opinion and public policy outcomes — does the government listen to the governed? We will focus on what public opinion is and how it actually affects politics, what roles we think public opinion should play in a democracy, and how we might bridge the gap between the realities and our ideals.


PSC 321: Chinese Politics

(Prof. Susan McCarthy) This course examines the politics of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). It focuses mainly on the period after the Communist victory in 1949, though it also explores how revolutionary legacies shaped post-1949 governance. Topics studied include competition and conflict within a one-party state; Chinese approaches to development; political participation under authoritarian rule; social organizing and protest; the politics of religion, ethnicity, labor, and the environment; propaganda and censorship; and the effects of capitalist development on the authority and legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Students will come away with an understanding of how PRC politics function and how ordinary people in a non-Western, non-democratic system engage and evade the party-state in the pursuit of their political interests.


PSC 342: Modern Political Theory

(Prof. Mary Bellhouse) We will read original texts by four key thinkers: Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Marx. We will discuss how each of these thinkers responds to the following kinds of questions: What is human nature? What is justice? Are there any unchanging standards of justice and morality that apply to all human beings throughout human history? What is human freedom? Do human beings have natural rights? Do owners of private property have a natural right to do whatever they want with their private property, without the consent of other people? What is the purpose of government? Is it sufficient to merely tolerate one’s fellow citizens, or should citizenship involve a more active sense of community? What is the nature of capitalism? How does Marx’s critique of capitalism help us to understand our contemporary condition?


PSC 361: International Politics of the Middle East

(Prof. Ruth Ben-Artzi) This course provides an extensive overview of politics in the Middle East in the 20th century, covering the period from the Ottoman Empire at the close of World War I to the present. Some knowledge of the Middle East and theories of international relations and will be helpful but are not required. Some issue we focus on include why the region has been so conflict-ridden in the last 70 years or so; why multiple attempts at achieving peace have failed and why some have succeeded; how do economic issues affect the foreign policies of Middle Eastern states; and the causes and implications of recent political changes, such as: “Arab Spring”, the Syrian civil war, policy developments in Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia and how they impact countries inside and outside the Middle East.


PSC 369: International Organizations and International Law

(Prof. Ruth Ben-Artzi) Today, there exists a group of powerful but incomplete and often flawed international institutions, including the World Bank, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the International Criminal Court, the European Union, the World Trade Organization, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Understanding the complex interactions between these organizations and national governments and individuals is essential to understanding the modern world. This course offers an overview of major international organizations (IOs) and the challenges they face in a changing world and vis-à-vis domestic institutions. We will examine the pros and cons of IOs, discuss their shortcoming, and consider the benefits and challenges of international law as it seeks to standardize solutions to global problems.


PSC 370: Special Topics: Globalization and the Muslim World

(Prof. Gizem Zencirci) Conventional wisdom often assumes that there is a “clash” between the West and the Muslim World. As a result, Muslims are frequently portrayed as either victims of Western imperialism or as terrorists that refuse becoming part of a globalizing world. of or as resisting dynamics of globalization. In this view, globalization is seen as a process that operates independently of the contributions of Muslims themselves. In contrast, in this course, students will be introduced to an alternative perspective which approaches Muslims as “agents” of globalization, thereby refusing the idea that Muslims are situated at the margins of key cultural, economic and political processes. The course will cover a wide range of topics, such as Islamic banking, Islamic finance, women’s rights, human’s rights, minority rights, terrorism and the internet; and will focus on minority Muslim populations in the US, in Europe as well as challenges Muslims face in Muslim majority countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia. The focus will be the everyday life of Muslims as they make a capitalism of their own. Students interested in globalization, religion, capitalism and identity will find much to explore in this course.


PSC 384: The Politics of the 1960s in America

(Prof. Mary Bellhouse) In this course, we study the politics of the 1960s in America, a turbulent and fascinating time! The main topics in this course are the Civil Rights movement, the Black Power Movement, Malcolm X, and the Black Panther Party; the American war in Vietnam; the anti-War movement at home; the anti-establishment Counterculture; and the beginnings of the Women’s Liberation movement. We look closely at the kinds of decision-making under four presidents–Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon–that led to the escalation of the American War in Vietnam and to the defeat of the US in that war. We turn to different genres, from films to short stories and letters, to help us reflect on what the Vietnam War was like for American soldiers and civilians and for Vietnamese soldiers and civilians. We watch superb documentary films and listen to 1960s music throughout the semester.


PSC 416: Race and Politics in the Americas (also BLS 416)

(Prof. Tony Affigne) Since the arrival of Columbus in the Americas, political power in this hemisphere has been structured along racial lines. This is an advanced course about politics in the American Hemisphere, including nations of North America, the Caribbean, Central America and South America. After completing this course, you will understand contemporary racial politics in the United States and elsewhere in the world. You will be prepared for engaged citizenship, for graduate study in a related field, and for a professional career informed by racial understanding.


PSC 419: Policy Analysis and Advocacy

(Prof. Adam Myers) This course is a hands-on introduction to policy analysis at the state and local levels. After learning about the role of research and analysis in the policymaking process, students work in groups on a research project of contemporary relevance to Rhode Island policymakers. Students formally present their research and advocate for their preferred policy outcomes as a part of the class.


PSC 421: Political Thought in Science Fiction

(Prof. Tony Affigne) Science fiction literature, film, and television offer their creators limitless opportunities to depict human nature, cultures, and technologies—and political systems—in new and unexpected ways. The result has been a wide range of fictional worlds, in which all the various social and political systems from history, and others wholly imaginary, provide backdrops for stories of human progress and decline, encounters with alien civilizations, and the transcendence of biological limits on human capacities. How have science fictional accounts of societies and behaviors reflected the best and worst of humanity’s political experiences and aspirations? What distinct ideologies, alternative social orders, and political systems have authors described? To answer these questions, this course explores a variety of books, short stories, and films from this genre, viewed through the lenses of classical political theory, post-colonialism, feminism, and political ecology.


PSC 425: Mass Media & Politics

(Prof. Matt Guardino) This course provides a critical overview of the news media’s historical and contemporary role in American political life. We will focus on the complex and often contradictory relationship between media and government; the structure of news organizations and the political-economic pressures that shape the words and images that appear on TV and on your smartphones; how the professional process of news production influences political coverage; how the media affects public opinion, voting behavior and social activism; and ongoing technological and economic changes. In covering these themes, we will explore how the news media actually operates, how we think it should operate in a healthy democracy, and how we might bridge the gap between the realities and our ideals. We will also pay close attention to the form and content of the news we encounter each day about critical events and issues like the aftermath of the 2018 congressional elections, gun control proposals in the wake of mass shootings, government anti-terrorism programs, police violence, partisan debates over public spending and taxes, and the controversy over North Korea’s nuclear program.


PSC 450: Political Science Internship

(Prof. Tony Affigne) One of the most valuable experiences you can have as a political science student is to earn academic credit while working in a public agency or public interest organization. PSC Internship allows you to earn academic credit for an internship in a government, political, or nonprofit public service organization. We will meet as a “class” only four times during the semester, but you will spend 8-10 hours per week at your internship placement. Your course grade will be based primarily on the “Student Intern Performance Evaluation” submitted by your internship supervisor at the end of your placement. Internship placements will be coordinated through the Rhode Island State Government Internship Program, or you may arrange an internship independently, in consultation with Prof. Tony Affigne, the department’s internship coordinator for Spring 2019. We will help you find an appropriate internship, to match your goals and interests.