Introduction to American Politics
This course provides an introduction to United States politics. The course topics include an introduction to America’s constitutional foundations, elements of mass public politics (public opinion and participation), the role of intermediary organizations (interest groups, media, parties), and the function of institutions (Congress, Presidency, Courts). In addition to mastering the fundamental organization of the national government, students will learn theories addressing “big questions” in American politics, and will discuss different arguments based on the evidence brought to bear on these questions.
How has the American Constitution been debated and understood over time? This course focuses largely on rights and liberties—property, freedom of speech and religion, equality, privacy, criminal process. Issues that we will consider include: What are the rights of the Sept 11th detainees? Should individuals be allowed to burn the flag? Can the state ban homosexuality, prostitution, or pornography? What role should religion play in our public institutions and lawmaking? The historical periods to be covered include the early republic, the Civil War and Reconstruction, World Wars I and II, the Warren Court, and contemporary America. Throughout the semester, our goal will be to understand the changing nature of, and changing relationship between, constitutional rights and constitutional meaning in American politics and history.
Race and Politics
This course examines critical questions and debates in American race and ethnic politics and in doing so—helps to broaden understanding about the American political system. The focus of this course is both historical and contemporary in nature. We will discuss the construction and formation of racial categories and we will also explore how those have changed over time. Topics include citizenship, voting and participation, urban politics, race and elected office, religion and politics, and issues of gender and class at the intersections of race and ethnic politics. Questions this course will address include: How do the categories of “race” and “ethnicity” shape political institutions and policy-making priorities? Why do we need to move outside of the “black-white paradigm” to understand how race works in American politics? What are some of the contemporary dilemmas surrounding race in the American political system?
Law and Society
Over the course of American politics, the United States Supreme Court has transformed from the so-called ‘least dangerous branch’ to a critical player in American life. The American public has responded and many of the most important political questions are decided in American courtrooms. This course will explore the complex relationship between law, society, and policymaking in the United States. In our quest to better understand this relationship, we will examine theories relating to lawyering, court power, and social movements. Major questions we will take up over the course of the semester include: What is the place of the law in social, political, economic, and cultural life? How do citizens impact legal institutions? How do legal institutions shape the actions of political institutions and the actions of individuals? How does the law impact what rights individuals and groups in civil society fight for and the way they frame their claims? What is the relationship between constitutional and political change?
Race and the Law
This course explores the complex relationship between race and the law in United States society. As a result of gains made in the civil rights movement, many had high hopes that America’s tradition of racism and exclusion based on skin color would be erased and that the nation would eagerly embrace the ideals of colorblindness and racial equality. In the post-civil-rights era we have seen many inroads but at the same time, many reminders of racial inequality remain. We begin this course by examining critical accounts of race and the law by well-known critical race theorists. After discussing the socially constructed and problematic nature of race in American society, the course will then explore in detail the role of the legal system in (1) structuring and perpetuating racial inequality and (2) providing a way for racial minorities to work towards equality in the post-civil rights era. The course focuses on a number of areas in the law that have had a widespread impact on race relations in America. Major topics include: education and affirmative action; criminal justice system and racial profiling; gender; workplace and labor discrimination; and voting rights and redistricting. Thus, the inquiry will focus on the successes as well as the failures of American legal institutions. At the end of each topic we will assess the utility of the law in bringing about great racial equality.
American Political Development and the Long Civil Rights Movement
How has the American political system transformed since the Founding? How did it take its current form? Do we understand how the Black Freedom Struggle influenced the development of the American political system? In what ways did the civil rights movement impact American institutions and public policy and how has it shaped the contours of citizenship? These are all questions the course will address. This course puts into conversation two areas of related scholarship that are ordinarily studied in separate disciplines: American Political Development (APD) and the Long Civil Rights Movement. This course will survey the field of APD from its founding to the present. We will examine long-standing debates in APD concerning liberalism, the origins of social policy, the consolidation of the criminal justice system, the judiciary, the construction of the welfare state, organized labor, and the development of the party system. Most of the literature in APD does not account for the role of civil rights groups in the formulation of national policy nor to the development of national institutions. This course challenges this scholarship through an examination of the work of social movements who became part of “the Long Civil Rights Movement.” By placing scholarship on “the Long Civil Rights Movement” in APD, the course will disrupt, challenge, and ultimately improve existing accounts focused on explaining the development of the American state in political science.