Subfield Advice

Course Sequencing Recommendations by Subfield 

The following recommendations are merely suggestions; you should speak with your Concentration Adviser about what path will work best for you.

Political Theory
Political Theory involves fundamental inquiries: What is human nature? What are the standards of right and wrong, just and unjust, legitimate and illegitimate? How can we know the answers to such questions? Political theory is also comprehensive: rather than taking as its focus any one particular historical context or political setting, it includes every historical period in its purview, including the present. Studying political philosophy is more like participating in an ongoing debate than mastering a set doctrine. Thus courses in the field are likely to be investigations of several different political philosophers and their various answers to important questions of the discipline.

What would a logical progression be for a student concentrating in Government who is interested in political theory?

There is no single best sequence of courses that students interested in political theory should take.  Gov 10: Foundations of Political Thought, considers fundamental problems in political theory,  exposes students both to canonical and contemporary readings, and considers applications to contemporary issues and questions. Many students  find it an exciting entrée to political theory or a good course to take to fulfill the subfield requirement. Other courses that directly consider the moral dimensions of contemporary politics are Ethical Reasoning 22: Justice, Government 1072, Moral Issues in Contemporary Politics, and Gov 1093, Ethics, Biotechnology, and the Future of Human Nature . Students should also feel free to start with the standard 1000-level sequence in the history of political thought: Government 1060: Ancient and Medieval Political Philosophy and/or 1061: The History of Modern Political Philosophy, which provide a solid foundation in canonical texts from Plato through Nietzsche. Finally, students are encouraged to consider those undergraduate seminars that focus on the moral dimension of politics. Many students appreciate studying a particular topic in political theory in a small discussion-based class.

Students who might be interested in writing a thesis on any aspect of the history of political thought are strongly encouraged to take 1060, 1061, or both.Those who intend to write a thesis in analytical political philosophy are strongly encouraged to take the Research Practice course Gov 63, Recent Political Theory: Topics and Resources.

Comparative Politics
Courses in Comparative Politics include the study of various political phenomena from a comparative perspective (revolution and political violence, political elites, political modernization and development, public policy), and the study of government and politics in particular geographical areas (Latin America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Western Europe). The field is based upon the premise that only through careful understanding and comparison of many political systems can one generate a set of propositions valid for all political systems, or for any one.

Gov 20, Foundations of Comparative Politics, introduces students to the different methods and perspectives that political scientists use to compare political phenomena and societies. While not a prerequisite to other courses in the subfield, it is probably the best place to start. If you have a particular interest in a region of the world, you also should feel free to begin with a course that considers the politics of that region. The Department offers comparative politics courses on Russia, China, Japan, Brazil, Western and Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Africa. There are also courses in comparative politics organized by theme, such as the politics of collective action or political development or democratic institutions.

If you know that you want to write a thesis in comparative politics, you should combine large lecture courses with seminars in your area of interest. Depending on which methodology you choose to employ, you should consider either Gov 61: Research Practice in Quantitative Methods or Gov 62: Research Practice in Qualitative Methods.

International Relations
Courses in International Relations consider political, economic, and military interactions across national boundaries. The field includes the study of international development, international political economy, international law, national security and defense policies of various countries, nuclear weapons and arms control, terrorism and guerilla warfare in a global perspective, international governmental and non-governmental organizations, bargaining and negotiation.

Gov 40 provides an overview of the different perspectives most influential in the subfield.  This is a good place to figure out which method of studying international relations is most congenial to you. If you already know that you have a particular interest in political economy, you should consider Gov 1780: International Political Economy; if you are interested in international law, you should think about Gov 1740: International Law; if you are particularly interested in questions of foreign policy, consider Gov 1782: Domestic Politics and International Relations or courses in the foreign policy of a single country, such as Gov 1790: American Foreign Policy or Gov 1982: Chinese Foreign Policy.

If you know that you want to write a thesis in International Relations, you should combine large lecture courses with seminars in your area of interest. Depending on which methodology you choose to employ, you should consider either Gov 61: Research Practice in Quantitative Methods or Gov 62: Research Practice in Qualitative Methods.

American Politics
The field of American Politics includes the study of political behavior (electoral politics, public opinion, politics of interest groups and social movements), public policy (economic policy, social welfare policy, urban public policy), and governmental institutions (the Presidency, Congress, judicial process and public law, bureaucracies.) Americanists conduct theoretical, institutional, and behavioral analyses of topics in both domestic politics and foreign relations, using a variety of methodologies ranging from literary analyses to mathematical modeling.

Just as with the other subfields, there is no single, standard plan of study for American politics. Despite the many advantages of taking a foundational course like Government 30, you may be wary of taking a foundational course on material you think you already know. In general, however, many students will begin with the foundational course before they take the Sophomore Tutorial. Sometimes Government 30 will give  students a better idea of what interests them within the American government subfield.

Beyond Gov 30, you can think of American Politics courses as examining political behavior (e.g. Gov 1362, Democratic Citizenship, Public Opinion, and Participation in the U.S. or Gov 1372, Political Psychology); institutions (e.g. courses on the three branches of Government such as Gov 1310, Introduction to Congress, or Gov 1358, Presidential Power in the U.S.); policymaking (e.g. Gov 1368, The Politics of American Education, or United States in the World 31, American Society and Public Policy; and identity (e.g. Gov 94ef, Black Politics in the Post-Civil Rights Era, or Gov 94ss, Women and U.S. Politics). Many courses will, of course, cut across these lines.

In choosing your courses, a question to ask yourself is: how focused do I want to make my coursework? If you want to maintain breadth, then take courses across the American politics spectrum. If, however, you want more focus, then consider these tracks. If you want to study the law and legal institutions, start with Constitutional Law, and then progress to more specialized courses related to law and politics (e.g. a seminar on the courts or law). If you want to get into real-world politics, then make sure to take courses on political behavior and institutions. If you are interested in public policy, then you can find courses in education policy, health policy, and environmental policy and politics. If you’re interested in race, ethnicity, gender, and religion, you’ll also see courses being taught in each of these areas. In each of these areas, you can become a mini-expert by taking a self-made sequence of 3-4 courses, combining lecture and research seminar experiences. At the end of your sequence, you’ll have several professors with interests that align with yours, and gained significantly knowledge about this area of the American political landscape.

If you know that you want to write a thesis in American politics, you should consider either Gov 61: Research Practice in Quantitative Methods or Gov 62: Research Practice in Qualitative Methods.