Focus Areas

Students in our major have the opportunity to study topics such as nation-states, political institutions, social movements, political ideologies, identities, cooperation, conflict, war, and diplomacy. The study of politics is a heterogeneous scholarly field that utilizes a range of research methods and a variety of diverse forms of evidence, both qualitative and quantitative. As a result, the major is designed for students to explore a variety of themes, topics, and methods.

Our major is designed to enable students to concentrate in a particular area of interest while also ensuring that they can acquire a broad breadth of engagement with topics across the discipline. We encourage students to explore how political studies inherently subvert the naturalness and inevitability of what is, by looking historically and cross-culturally at what has been in other times or places, and what might be. Therefore, we have arranged our focus areas within the major transgress geographic boundaries, e.g., not to focus on politics within the United States versus politics beyond the United States, but instead to draw attention to themes and questions that encourage cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary engagement.

Students majoring in Politics must declare a focus area within the major, and all courses in the Politics curriculum are tagged as included in at least one – and usually two – focus areas.

There are five focus areas in the Politics major.

Institutional Politics (IP): Courses in this focus area examine how formal and informal organizations, rules, and norms structure behaviors, social interactions, and outcomes of the political process.

Learning Goals:

  • Explore how formal institutions such as constitutions, electoral systems, and legislatures influence political processes and outcomes.
  • Explore how informal institutions such as norms, belief systems, and shared expectations influence political processes and outcomes
  • Examine why and how political institutions vary across space and time.
  • Understand the emergence, design, persistence, mutability, and dissolution of institutional practices.

Identities and Interests (II): Courses in this focus area examine how power relations and our political choices are both embedded in and constructed by our conceptions of ideologies, interests, and identities.

Learning Goals:

  • Explore why and under what conditions different identities (ethnicity, nationality, gender, race, sexuality, religion, kinship, class, and political affiliation) and interests become politically salient.
  • Develop awareness of co-construction of identities and politics, that is, how social-political constructions of overlapping identities shape allocations of power; and, conversely, how political power shapes meanings, value, and structures of identity and social position.
  • Assess how and why people’s identities and interests inform political ideas and behavior.
  • Discern the use of and apply critical categories of identity and power as analytical tools.

Political Economy (PE): Courses in this focus area examine how political and market institutions interact to create and distribute wealth locally, nationally, and internationally.

Learning Goals:

  • Understand and evaluate competing theories of how political and economic institutions operate and interact.
  • Assess how public policy influences the creation and distribution of power and wealth.
  • Explore how local, national and global institutions work and their impact on political and economic life.
  • Comprehend how normative questions and commitments underlie and are contested in political economy.

Philosophical, Literary, and Legal Studies (PLL): Courses in this focus area examine the normative core and fundamental questions of politics with particular attention to power, value, and authority.

Learning Goals:

  • Discuss and explain multiple understandings of some of the central concepts, assumptions, questions, ideas, and problems in political life, including democracy, freedom, justice, equality, and power.
  • Identify, evaluate, and articulate multiple plausible interpretations of a wide variety of texts, such as philosophical and literary works, art, film, and case law.
  • Learn concepts and interpretive techniques drawn from political philosophy, literature, and law.
  • Develop, advance, and justify normative discussions and arguments, in line with the conventions of philosophical, legal, and/or literary scholarship.
  • Apply concepts found in philosophy, literature, and law in order to interpret, analyze and ultimately intervene in concrete political problems, with an eye to reshaping the possible.

Security, Cooperation, and Conflict (SCC): Courses in this focus area examine the nature and dynamics of political conflict, contention, and resolution, with a particular focus on war, peace, civil strife, international cooperation, conflict resolution, protest, and dissent.

Learning Goals:

  • Understand differing conceptions of security and violence and the implications these conceptions have for our understandings of politics and policy.
  • Learn and develop competing hypotheses about when and under what conditions institutions break down and are (re)constructed.
  • Articulate and assess competing theories about when and under what conditions political conflict leads to violence.
  • Explore how and under what conditions political actors in conflict can successfully negotiate their differences.
  • Analyze the macro and micro dynamics of violent conflict and conflict resolution.