Skip to main content

Course Descriptions

Courses Primarily for Undergraduate Students

POLI_SCI 210 – Introduction to Empirical Methods in Political Science

This course provides an introduction to the empirical methods political scientists use to answer questions about politics, and the reasons why such methods matter. After exploring how hard it is to make good descriptive and causal inferences about politics, we will examine three basic strategies for overcoming the obstacles to reli- able knowledge about the political world: experimentation, large N or quantitative studies (AKA statistics), and small N studies that use qualitative reasoning.

At the end of this course, you will be able to:

POLI_SCI 101-6-24 – First-Year Seminar: Political Controversy

This course presents a choice between enjoying the sensation of ‘being right’ and the possibility of moving one’s personal and political agenda forward in concrete ways. Lately, political culture has been almost exclusively about the former to the detriment of the latter. In this course, participants will exercise political skills in the classroom and apply them to their own political advocacy. This course stresses the radical difference between political skills and political punditry, one requiring practice and application, the other requiring only primitive rhetorical skills. This course will ask students to develop their civic knowledge, communication abilities, and networks of relationships that will define their role as an active civic actor, providing genuine hands-on experience as an engaged citizen. Participants are asked to faithfully articulate views from a variety of perspectives, inevitably, from perspectives that run contrary to their own. The goal of political skill is distinct from debate, the later centered around winning, the former around understanding. This course also introduces entering first-year students to Northwestern University, how to navigate the institution, the curriculum, and how to craft their own academic experience.

POLI_SCI 101-6-21 – First-Year Seminar: Resilience Theory

A seminar devoted to the slow, close reading (in English translation) of a globally significant text from Greek antiquity that has had nearly unparalleled cross-cultural and historical impact -- Plato's "Republic." Special attention will be paid to its 21st political resonances.

POLI_SCI 101-6-25 – First Year Seminar: The American Way of War

This course traces the development of American military strategy, and how this history helps to inform debates about current and future U.S. defense policy. The course opens with a broad survey of the underpinnings of American thought about the relation of warfare and national interest. Attention then turns to the American involvement in the massive military buildup and assault on Iraq in 1991. The American military has been involved in operations of varying degrees of intensity in that country for over a quarter-century.

The Iraq War of 2003-2011 and US military operations in Afghanistan since 2001 have brought to the fore debates about the conduct of counterinsurgency. We will consider these debates in this course, along with the emergence of multi-domain warfare (i.e., political warfare and information warfare alongside kinetic operations). Our attention then turns to increased reliance on low-profile Special Operations Forces and other strategies that are designed to counter foes and to help friendly governments increase their own military capabilities. Assistance can extend to more complex stability operations, which we also will consider. We will weigh debates about targeted killings (i.e., drones) and private military service companies and the American conduct of warfare. We will also consider the larger issue of open-ended operations and the growing number of places (including Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya) where American forces regularly engage in warfare (of varied intensity) in countries with which the US is not at war.

Our attention then turns to recent challenges of hybrid warfare (i.e., hacking and “fake news” and their roles in conflicts), and the effort to define what actually counts as “warfare” and as “politics as usual.” We will then consider the Big Picture. What do potential future American ways of war look like? Do we keep doing counterinsurgency, and is this really just counter-terrorism? What is the difference, and how do we know? What does “wining” look like? Or is the future going to be about Atomic Revolutions, spheres of hegemony and that sort of state versus state way of warfare? Looming not far in the background is the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

POLI_SCI 101-6-23 – First-Year Seminar: Billionaires, Populists, and Ethno-Nationalists

The news is filled with accounts of novel right-leaning political movements: the alt-right, the Koch brothers, the National Front in France, Jair Bolsonaro's movement in Brazil. What kinds of politics do these seemingly diverse movements advocate? Are they similar enough to legitimately be grouped as "right" movements, or are they too distinctive? Are they just the old-fashioned right from the 20th century in new aesthetics, or have they changed substantively? We will explore these questions reading a series of books and articles about contemporary right-leaning political actors in the U.S., Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere.

POLI_SCI 101-6-22 – First-Year Seminar: The Press & the Political Process

Presidents and presidential candidates often claim that the press is either “liberal” or “conservative.” But many factors drive what the public receives as news. Those factors include: the economics of the business; information biases that come from striving to be “objective;” work routines by journalists; and the need to tell a story in a simple fashion so that readers and viewers can easily understand the subject. This fall we will be following the actions of the Trump administration, the reaction in Congress, the mid-term election and the on-going investigation into the possible collusion of the Trump campaign with Russia during the election. Trump declared the press is “the enemy of the people” during his campaign and now as president, what impact does that have on politics in America?

POLI_SCI 201 – Introduction to Political Theory

This course is an introduction to political theory. Students learn about the central themes, questions, and concepts that animate political theory and the history of political thought. They closely read and analyze canonical texts in the Western tradition, in addition to related texts from other traditions.

POLI_SCI 220 – American Government and Politics

This course is an introduction to the scholarly study of American politics. Substantively, we will examine the ideology, development, structure, and function of the American political system. Through these inquiries, we will also introduce students to the practices and research approaches of political science as a distinctive academic field.

Readings for the course will examine how the nation’s government has developed over its history; how its founding ideals are entrenched in governing institutions; and how these institutions—and other forces—shape political behavior. Throughout, we will examine the key features that constitute the American political system: The Constitution and the American political tradition, ideology, federalism, Congress, the president, bureaucracy, courts, political parties and elections, the media, civil rights and liberties, interest groups, and social movements.

Typically, courses such as this follow a fairly common pattern of topics including constitutional foundations and stable features of the American political system. This approach entails an assumption that American politics are both fairly distinctive from comparable nations and fairly stable. In the Fall of 2018, we will try something slightly different, incorporating some “Currents” insights about contemporary events, including instabilities in the American system, drawn in part from research by political scientists in other fields such as Comparative Politics. These will be incorporated in an ongoing, parallel, way in each course meeting based in part on student questions and inputs.

Because this is an introductory course, we cannot cover every subject in great depth—you will not be an expert on American politics at the end of this course! But we will provide you with some tools and dispositions for more carefully analyzing our polity, as well as give some directions for how you can take that study further, both here at Northwestern and throughout your life.

POLI_SCI 240 – Introduction to International Relations

The course is divided in three parts. In part I we will focus on explaining the causes of war, and reflect on current security problems, particularly in terms of inter-state conflicts. In part II we investigate how we have moved from traditional inter-state relations to a globalized economic environment in which states, non-state actors, and international organizations interact. Part III discusses some problems of common pool resources and possible solutions.

More specifically the emphasis in part I will be on achieving a theoretical understanding of how one might explain the occurrence of war or peace. This course is not a discussion of current events, although they might be introduced to clarify particular perspectives. In other words, the emphasis is on developing a “toolkit” that you can use to understand international relations in general. The emphasis is not on memorizing details and empirical data, although of course you will need to understand key concepts and definitions. Instead you should ask yourself what caused war in this instance but not others? What were the key factors that influenced outcomes?

Explanations of conflict occur at the individual level; at the state level; and at the level of the international system. We will use these different levels of analysis, or different images, to explain the outbreak of WW I. Analyzing this conflict will demonstrate the various approaches to understanding complex, macrohistorical phenomena in general. We will then apply some of these methodological insights to understand the absence of super power conflict during the Cold War, and to study security issues that have emerged since then.

In Part II we turn to global issues in the areas of international economic management (particularly trade). How did the post-war international economic order differ from the 1930s? How will the rise of economic powers such as China possibly affect this international order?

Part III touches on global problems that go beyond traditional inter-state relations. We will particularly examine two global commons issues. First, we will analyze the problems of global oceans management, particularly fisheries. Second we will turn to the issue of global climate change. More specifically, we will focus on the international agreement on chlorofluorocarbons (the Montreal Protocol) and conversely the failure of the Kyoto protocol. We will then discuss the current “state of play” on the Paris accord.

POLI_SCI 250 – Introduction to Comparative Politics

This course has two goals. The first is to introduce students to some of the basic ideas of comparative politics. Comparative politics is the study of the domestic politics of countries around the world. In contrast to international relations which focuses on relations between nations, comparative politics studies events within nations. By comparing events within countries, comparative politics tries to construct theories that help us to understand politics across a wide range of countries. If you care about issues like poverty and development, democracy and dictatorship, war and peace, not to mention ethnic conflict, revolution, and globalization, and you want to think intelligently about them, you must study comparative politics.

The second goal of the course is to teach students how to think like political scientists. This means that they will become familiar with the rules of causal inference, the ways that we can show that one phenomenon causes another. If you want to understand something, you have to know where it comes from and what effects it has (what causes it and what it causes). The rules of causal inference are the basis of reasoning about just about any subject. Students will learn how to identify the dependent and independent variables (alternatively known as effect and cause) in examples of political research and show how one follows from the other. By the end of the course, they will be able to both critically evaluate the causal arguments of others and construct their own causal arguments.

 This course differs from many traditional courses in comparative politics. Most courses focus on the politics of individual countries around the world (for example, England, France, Russia, India). They are something like “Around the World in Ten Weeks.” The focus here will instead be on the theory of politics, the ways that political scientists actually study politics. We will consider topics rather than countries. Most of our time will be spent discussing arguments about how politics works. We will refer to many individual countries, but only in order to build and evaluate theories not to learn about those countries per se.

The course is divided into two halves that look at two main topics in comparative politics. In the first half of the course, we will focus on the process of political development – how countries become (or do not become) stable and secure democracies. In the second half, we will study political institutions like electoral rules, executive-legislative relations, and federalism and their effect on politics. While these topics do not cover all the issues that scholars of comparative politics study, they will give students an idea of some of the issues that comparativists address and how they address them.

POLI_SCI 301 – Classical Political Theory

The word "classical" in the course title refers to "ancient Greek." Arguments about such things as justice, liberty, security, authority, power, legitimacy, membership, virtue and equality are part of political life. But what does it mean to think theoretically about political matters? What does it mean to have a deep political conviction that can stand public scrutiny? What distinguishes rigorous deliberation from hurling opinions? These questions animate the entire history of the intellectual enterprise known as "political theory" from antiquity to today and across geographic and cultural divides.

This course introduces students to a globally influential written record of sustained reflection on precisely these issues. In particular, this course will address the shape of citizen-centered politics in 5th and 4th century Greek antiquity (in democracies and oligarchies, and with attention to patterns of military service as well as governing institutions like open-air assemblies and cultural practices like large scale public festivals). Students will examine selections from multiple great texts including Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War, Plato’s Republic and Aristotle's Politics.  The 21st century resonances of these sources will also receive attention.

POLI_SCI 307 – Deportation Law and Politics

The course reviews the history and theory of citizenship and deportation policies. Students will learn about deportation and "transportation" laws in colonial-era Britain and the colonies, as well as United States deportation laws from 1776 through the present. There will be some lecture but most of the class time will be used to discuss the readings and train students in how to conduct original legal research using databases with case law, Congressional hearings, and federal regulations, as well as immigration law enforcement statistical information. Two weeks will be devoted to citizenship and deportation policies outside the United States. For the final paper, students will be asked to compare a policy from before 1996 with a deportation policy after 1996. Students must attend at least three hours of immigration court hearings in downtown Chicago before the fouth week of the quarter. No exceptions. This can be accomplished in one visit. (The court is easily accessible by public transportation.)

POLI_SCI 321 – Urban Politics

This course explores political life in American cities. We chart the dynamics of urbanization in the United States, paying close attention to the major political and social issues that have accompanied that process. We begin by investigating how cities developed around major structural and demographic shifts, such as industrialization and large-scale immigration from Europe. We then focus on the institutions that emerged to govern cities and address the social, economic, and political problems that arose in the wake of urbanization. By examining the activities of political machines, informal coalitions, grassroots constituencies, and leaders in key arenas, we learn how political power is marshaled and distributed to set agendas, solve problems, exercise social control, and advance particular interests in cities. The second half of the course shifts our focus to recent and ongoing changes in the political life of cities. We explore how the major structural and demographic changes of the last quarter century–deindustrialization, suburbanization, deepening economic inequality, and the emergence of increasingly multiracial populations–have altered urban politics. We pay special attention to the new policy problems generated by these changes and how groups and political actors address them within today’s distinctive local and metropolitan contexts. By the end of the course, students should have a firm grasp of the complexities of American metropolitan life and how politics operates in our cities and suburbs.

POLI_SCI 322 – Ideas and Institutions in Urban Politics

City politics have historically been characterized by an inherent tension between democracy and order. Because cities represent large, heterogeneous, dense centers of social and economic activity, these political communities demand a high degree of competent governance to be sustained, while simultaneously facing significant constraints in the kinds of policies they can successfully implement. They are also the sources of some fascinating tales of creative and colorful politics. This course will explore the origins of the distinctive institutions of governance found in American cities, the social conditions and political struggles that led to their development, and the effects that different institutional configurations can have on political outcomes. We will emphasize the interactions of institutions in large American cities, the timing of institutional changes, and the political entrepreneurs who have reconfigured local political systems by endorsing, creating, or supporting new institutions. Together we will attempt to explain important city politics outcomes both historical and contemporary.

POLI_SCI 322 – Constitutional Law I

This course investigates the structure of American government as laid out by the Constitution. It will also examine the many controversies over what, exactly, the Constitution means, who gets to decide, and how. We will discuss judicial review, the powers of Congress and the executive branch, and the relationship between the federal government and the states. Throughout this course, students will develop critical reading, thinking, and writing skills; by the end of the quarter, students should be able to: understand the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court cases, explain how doctrines of law have changed over time, analyze the assumptions of courts and policy makers, and understand how the Supreme Court responds to political, social, and economic factors.

POLI_SCI 336 – Immigration Politics and Policy

This course provides an introduction to immigration politics and policy in the United States with a focus on the contemporary incorporation of post-1965 immigrants. Topics include the role of the state and the history of U.S. immigration policies, public opinion toward immigrants and immigration issues, theories and evidence of immigrant incorporation with an emphasis on race and ethnicity, and immigrant political participation and mobilization.

POLI_SCI 345 – National Security

This course invites students to think social-scientifically about questions of national security. What are the causes of war? What are possible paths to peace? How do state, sub-state and non-state-actors use violence or the threat of it? How has U.S. Grand Strategy evolved over the past century? What are momentarily the most pressing national security challenges? What tools exists to counter these challenges? The course will examine these questions using a variety of different theoretical frameworks as well as analytical techniques. The first part of the course provides an historical perspective on U.S. national security challenges: what were the causes of WW1, WW2 and the Cold War? How did these events shape U.S. national security doctrine? The second part examines topics of national security that gained prominence particularly after the end of the Cold War e.g., ethnic and civil wars, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, humanitarian interventions and economic sanctions. The third part offers a geographical overview of today’s most demanding security challenges. We will study conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Eurasia and their impact on U.S. national security considerations. Finally, we will look at “non-traditional” security challenges such as cyber, human and environmental security.
The key objective of this course is to give students the conceptual tools to understand theory and policy outcomes associated with national security (American or otherwise). Students will be encouraged to learn how to think and write along these two ‘tracks’ simultaneously. By the end of the course, students should be able to employ basic theoretical concepts to analyze national security policy as well as become critical consumers of policy and journalistic writing on the subject. Students are expected to stay current with foreign policy developments by reading a major newspaper (i.e., Financial Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or Washington Post).

POLI_SCI 348 – Globalization

Globalization has come to be seen as one of the defining features of the current world order. Entailing cross-border movement of goods, services, money, workers, and ideas, globalization has implications for both international relations and domestic politics. Supply chain integration has deepened economic interdependence around the world, but has also produced dislocation in domestic manufacturing and a growing political backlash. Globalized financial markets are creating enormous growth opportunities but also expose countries to risks of contagion – as amply demonstrated by the “Great Recession.” In addition to economic forms of globalization, we are witnessing significant movement of ideas and policies across borders, in which non-state actors are playing a central role. While many of these developments were welcomed as means of addressing inequality, spurring growth, and fostering peace, political movements are increasingly emerging to challenge continued expansion of trade, migration, and other forms of integration. The purpose of this course is to provide an overview of the evolution and many dimensions of globalization. Questions we address include: What is globalization? How have different forms of globalization changed over time? How have the effects of globalization varied across states? What is the role of non-state actors in the process of globalization?

POLI_SCI 352 – Global Development

This course explores the economic and social changes that have constituted "development," and that have radically transformed human society. The course focuses on both the historical experience of Europe and the contemporary experience of countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In the historical discussion, we explore the birth of the "nation state" as the basic organizing unit of the international system; the transition from agrarian to industrial economic systems; and the expansion of European colonialism across the globe. In our discussion of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, we consider the legacies of colonialism for development; the ways in which countries have attempted to promote economic development and industrialization; and issues of inequality and human welfare in an increasingly globally connected world.

POLI_SCI 362 – Politics of Western Europe

This class will introduce students to the politics of Europe. It will cover both the historical evolution of European political and economic systems as well as current issues in European politics. It will focus more on topical and theoretical issues than the politics of individual European states. Some topics to be covered include state formation, the emergence of democracy, political institutions, the welfare state and varieties of capitalism, and the integration of Eastern Europe.

POLI_SCI 380 – Refugee Crises and Human Rights

Are states obligated to provide humanitarian protection to refugees and, if so, what exactly are they obligated to do and are there any limits? With the world facing the largest number of displaced populations since WWII, states are increasingly exercising their sovereignty to close their borders, detain and deport refugees and pursue programs and policies to address the root causes of conflict rather than admit refugees into their countries. Through this course we will consider the implications of these political responses for human rights and international cooperation. We will assess the obligations of signatory states to the Refugee Convention, the role of refugee hosting states, the ways in which the humanitarian system of refugee protection contributes to global cooperation and its shortcomings. In our course we will conduct a simulation of the Indochinese Comprehensive Plan of Action and conduct participatory action research on country conditions using GIS. Through these experiences, students will consider the differences in the kinds of refugee situations we have today and learn about what it means to be a refugee and develop a critical perspective on studying and researching vulnerable and at-risk populations. Through the lens of refugee movement and the lived experience of accessing human rights as a refugee in a world of nation states, we will critically examine key terms in comparative politics such as national sovereignty, cooperation and rule of law and the relationship between refugee movement, democratic stability and state building.

POLI_SCI 390-0-20 – Special Topic in Political Science: Multiculturalism

This course is an introduction to the debate around multiculturalism in contemporary political theory. Students will examine various proposals for and against the granting of special treatments for cultural groups. The debate around multiculturalism has largely taken place within the larger framework of liberalism, and students will thus investigate whether liberalism and multiculturalism are compatible, i.e. whether equality for all and the freedom to pursue different ways of life can be successfully reconciled. Students will be encouraged to relate the class readings and discussions to contemporary news and events. The course is designed to also encourage students to think through the basic premises of the multiculturalism debate: students will thus inquire about what culture is, and why it matters. Students will also explore the applicability of the multiculturalism framework to countries outside the United States and Europe.

POLI_SCI 390-0-25 – Special Topic in Political Science: Racial and Ethnic Politics

This course provides an introduction to the role of race and ethnicity in American politics. We begin by studying the concept and measurement of race with a focus on racial identities and racial categories/classifications. We then examine theories and evidence of how race shapes (a) political attitudes, participation, and mobilization; and (b) political institutions and policymaking.

POLI_SCI 390-0-26 – Special Topic in Political Science: Integrity and the Politics of Corruption

If all seasoned politicians in a fragile democracy are implicated in wide-scale corruption, but if the country is facing an acute economic crisis requiring experience at the helm, what ought to be done about the corrupt, and who ought to decide? What compromises, if any, are appropriate when considering kleptocrats who are effectively holding their people hostage – for instance, rulers who systematically abuse loans from foreign creditors, but who rely on the fact that their vulnerable population will suffer if loans are cut off entirely? What compromises, if any, are morally appropriate when dealing with dictators who threaten to unleash violence unless they are guaranteed an amnesty by the democratic forces trying to replace them? This upper-level course delves into such fraught political problems, revolving around different kinds of corruption and abuse of political power. In order to grapple with these problems, we examine in detail two moral ideas related to “the people.” The first is the idea of the sovereign people as the owner of public property, often stolen by corrupt politicians. The second is the idea of the people as an agent with its own moral integrity – an integrity that might bear on intricate policy dilemmas surrounding the proper response to corruption. In the process of examining both of these ideas, students will acquire familiarity with prominent philosophical treatments of integrity, property, and – more generally - public policy.

POLI_SCI 394 – Professional Linkage Program: Speechwriting

What goes into a great speech, and how do you write one? This seminar explores what makes speeches effective, persuasive, and memorable. We\'ll cover every aspect of the speechwriting process, from early research to final flourish. We\'ll explore why some speeches endure and most are forgotten. We\'ll consider the role of a speech in today\'s ever-changing political and media environment. And by the end, students will learn how to craft speeches that help leaders in any industry move audiences, win the battle of ideas, and change the world.

POLI_SCI 395-0-21 – Political Research Seminar: Military Intervention

Military interventions are the most costly foreign policy tool extent. The purpose of this research seminar is to examine systematically and comparatively why military interventions are launched and what results they produce on the ground. The seminar, in particular, tries to find answers to the following questions: (1) What were the broad policy arguments in favor of or opposed to a particular intervention? (2) Who were the principal players arguing for intervention? (3) What role did international institutions play in the set-up of the intervention? (4) What specific kinds of military force proved particularly useful in the actual intervention? (6) In each case, do we judge the intervention a success or failure, and how do we explain the success or failure?

POLI_SCI 395-0-24 – Political Research Seminar: Racial Politics in American Cities

This course explores how race and place influence political dynamics in American cities and suburbs. We consider specific cases in cities such as Ferguson, Missouri, New York City, Chicago, and Atlanta to explore mobilization, political and civic engagement, contests for political representation, coalition building, democratic responsiveness, and patterns of socioeconomic mobility and inequality. Our overarching aim will be to understand how these two dominant features of American urban life--race and place--interplay and shape the quest for political power, policy influence, and socioeconomic advancement in American cities.

POLI_SCI 395-0-25 – Political Research Seminar: Black Political Thought

This course traces the evolution of the concepts of race, gender, class, and nation through the writings of African American intellectuals. It begins with a theoretical overview of these constructs. It then moves on to the following questions: Have African Americans historically seen race, gender, class, and nation differently than their white counterparts? How has the existence of America's system of racial classification and exclusion shaped African American ideas about these constructs? How do African American intellectuals see racial equality? Do African American intellectuals believe that a "post-racial" society is possible?

POLI_SCI 395-0-20 – Political Research Seminar: Oligarchs and Elites

Is democracy for real or do small groups of oligarchs and elites dominate most decisions that matter for society? "One person, one vote" is a very equal arrangement. But other forms of political influence such as wealth power are distributed extremely unequally. "Millionaires and billionaires" fund candidates they favor and set agendas that serve their interests. Does this help explain the long trend of rising economic inequality despite democracy spreading and deepening? Elites often overlap with oligarchs, but their power is based less on money and more on networks of privilege rooted in things like race, ethnicity, and gender. This seminar delves into these issues. The United States will be among the cases examined in a comparative perspective.

POLI_SCI 398-1 – Senior Thesis Seminar

Two consecutive quarters (fall and winter) during which students work on their senior theses. Prerequisite: 395 and admission to the honors program.

POLI_SCI 490-0-24 – Special Topic in Political Science: Nation Building and State Formation after WWII

This seminar will introduce you to various approaches to the study of nationalism nation building state formation as well as state fragmentation. We thus explore how some diverse communities have been forged into integrated high capacity states. However, we also examine the converse, why do some attempts at state formation fail? We furthermore will explore why some political units, that seemed quite viable at certain junctures, subsequently failed to maintain their territorial integrity. In so doing we will inevitably touch on the causes and consequences of inter-state conflict but also on internal processes that lead to "failed" or composite states.

Back to top