Upcoming Courses (Fall 2019-Spring 2020)
American Government and Politics (PSC 201)
If you’ve been following the news over the last few years, you know that American politics is in turmoil. This course is designed to shed some light on that turmoil, by helping you (1) attain a basic understanding of the United States’ political development and institutions, (2) understand why our government works the way it does, and (3) become a more critical analyst of government, politics and political news. Our core theme will be political economy, or the relationship between the processes and practices of democracy, on the one hand, and the operation of the national and global economy, on the other. In working through this theme we will pay special attention to key public policy debates as they have been shaped by the 2018 congressional elections and preparations for the 2020 presidential election, and to how the basic features of American government and politics illuminate the issues and events that appear in the news every day. We hope you will leave this class with a solid understanding of how the government and political system operate, as well as an expanded sense of the possibilities for and the limits to American democracy, and thus a better ability to make informed decisions as an engaged citizen.
Law & Society (PSC 300)
This class examines some of the various relationships between law and society, with a focus on punishment, criminal law, and the American justice system. We will consider theories that seek to justify criminal punishment and will then analyze those theories in a series of case studies. We will explore retributive theory (punishment because it is “deserved”) and utilitarian/consequentialist theory (punishment because of the consequences that it will produce). Thereafter we will take up the elements of the criminal act, the guilty mind, homicide, justification and excuse, attempt, mental illness, the prison system, criminal procedure, sentencing, policing, juvenile justice, and the death penalty. Our goal throughout the course will be to examine the ways in which the American legal system allows us to better understand our society and its values.
Research Methods (PSC 302)
This team-taught course is a hands-on introduction to the political science research process. After covering the philosophical foundations of social science research, we survey a wide variety of approaches and techniques, with due attention to both quantitative and qualitative methods. Students learn how to come up with research questions, formulate theories and hypotheses, develop research designs, analyze and interpret different types of data and evidence, and evaluate substantive arguments. By the end of this course, students will be ready to undertake a significant political science research project on a topic of their choosing. PSC 302 is a required course for Political Science majors and is open to majors only.
The American Supreme Court (PSC 307)
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. We begin with a history of the Court, the structure of the federal court system, the decision-making process, and theories of constitutional interpretation. Then we will cover specific cases on the current docket by covering prior decisions in the applicable area of law, considering both sides, and listening to oral arguments. To understand the current political conflict and stalemate in Washington, it is essential to understand how the Court operates and the impact of its decisions.
Civil Liberties (PSC 312)
One of the primary features of American constitutional law is the concern with and protection of civil rights and liberties, which during many times in our history has generated conflict with other national commitments such as majoritarian democracy. We will be exploring the development of a variety of rights and liberties including: property rights, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, privacy, racial discrimination, equal protection, and the rights of the criminally accused. These rights have transformed over American history, particularly during the tenure of Chief Justice Earl Warren (1953-1969). Much of the course will focus on the jurisprudence of the U.S. Supreme Court, but we will also consider the impact of other political actors and institutions. This is not just a class about judicial interpretation. The goal is for you to leave here with a strong understanding of both contemporary controversies and the historical development of civil rights and liberties. You do not need a background in law, but it is necessary that you have a basic grasp of American politics and history.
American Political Theory (PSC 348)
This course focuses on race in America. We begin by reading a superb and shocking book on what slavery was actually like in America and how slavery was central to the making of American capitalism. We then turn to the early 20th century and the terror of lynching, the Great Migration of Blacks out of the South, and racist myths and violence featured in everyday objects and entertainment. Next we study the Black Liberation struggle of the 1960s, especially the radical thoughts and actions of Malcolm X, Ella Baker, James Baldwin, and the Black Panther Party. (One of the books for the course is The Autobiography of Malcolm X, another is Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time.) We conclude by examining the contemporary condition in America with respect to race. Course themes include: 1) what is omitted and distorted in dominant narratives about race in America; 2) race in relation to economic class, masculinity and femininity, and norms and myths of sexuality; 3) the continued use of violence against African-Americans, including state violence; 4) race and wealth inequality, including the case for reparations; and 5) different forms of resistance to racist practices.
Gender and Politics (PSC 380)
This course provides an introduction to the study of sex, gender, and sexuality in relation to power. The main focus is on the United States since the 1950s. We begin by studying the American Women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s and the context in which that movement erupted. We’ll learn about a variety of historical events in the United States (including the failed effort to pass an Equal Rights for women Amendment to the US Constitution in the 1970s and the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s) and study some key theoretical arguments that are very useful for thinking about what sex, gender, and sexuality have to do with power. We’ll study how norms of gender, sex, and sexuality find expression in American institutions (including Supreme Court decisions), public policies, and in everyday practices and lived experience, including at work, at home, and on the PC campus. We‘ll examine how sex, gender, and sexuality are connected to race and class. We’ll watch films that complement our readings, and we’ll discuss the politics of gender in the 2020 presidential campaign.
Politics and Visual Culture (PSC 382)
This course explores how visual culture is intimately connected to power, control, oppression, and political resistance. Visual culture includes everything from photographs, films, and videos to hairstyles, clothing, and tattoos. We’ll ask how meanings are produced in visual practices, and ask who is seen and who is made invisible in the dominant visual culture. We’ll explore how visual practices construct meanings of race, class, gender and sexual orientation. As a case study, we’ll consider early 20th century photographs and films depicting lynching and how and why white audiences took visual pleasure in seeing lynching imagery. We’ll analyze how visual images are often tied to moralizing stories, mythic and melodramatic stories used to justify inequality, violence, and exploitation. Other course topics include: changing gender meanings in visual culture; visual practices of Western imperialism; contemporary practices of posting photographs on social media; visual surveillance as a mechanism of power; advertising; visual politics on the PC campus; films about race; recent debates about whether or not to take down Confederate statues; contemporary community-based social justice art projects from around the world; and visual aspects of the 2020 presidential campaign.
Mass Media, Political Economy and Political Power (PSC 488)
We know that the media affect our ability to act as informed, responsible and critical participants in democratic politics. Much less well appreciated are the political-economic structures and power relations that shape how the media themselves operate. This seminar takes up that challenge with a close study of the interactions among governments, corporations and the media in industrialized capitalist democracies. How have nations in different times and places organized and structured their media? How do the political debates and historical residues that shape media systems affect the character and quality of democracy? We will explore general theoretical perspectives on media political economy and its relationship to democracy; survey the historical roots of media systems in North America and Western Europe; and compare media structures in contemporary industrialized capitalist democracies. We will spend the second part of the semester on case studies of key government policies that have shaped the U.S. media system, ending with a critical discussion of big-picture concerns about information, communication, power and democracy.