Politics and Political Theory in the United States: Power, Participation and Choice

Term: Fall 2011

Subject Code: GPOL

Course Number: 5445

This course is about politics and theories of politics in the United States.  We focus on the meaning and prospects of democracy.  We assess theories of politics produced within the United States from World War II into the 21st century.  We examine the contexts in which these theories were produced, and we consider their significance for American politics.  We treat theories of politics both as a dependent variable (in relation to prior theories and the political and social context) and as an independent variable (producing meanings and political effects). 

We start with accounts of how to study theories of politics, including explanatory, positive, historical, and normative political theories.  Then we consider debates about the definition and main elements of democracy, a central referent for theories of politics in the U.S.  We focus on four areas of important theoretical development and controversy: how democracies are founded; the forms and operation of power; how political choices can be made among alternatives; and how different forms of potentially democratic political action and expression (deliberation, participation, etc.) can be linked.  In each area we consider important empirical cases.  Readings include works by Hannah Arendt, Robert Dahl, Ira Katznelson, Steven Lukes, Jane Mansbridge, C. Wright Mills, Mancur Olson, Hanna Pitkin, Nancy Rosenblum, Judith Shklar, and Iris Young.

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