Traditional Subfields

American Politics

American politics courses use historical and contemporary examples to understand the political system the founders established, and the ways it has shaped politics.  We examine institutions, parties, voting, protest, the media, social values, policy processes, law, inequality, and group diversity—as well as how these interact to create the dynamics of American politics today.

Concentration courses are designated by “American Politics Subfield” after the description in the printed catalog or “PSCI American Politics courses” in the “Other Attributes” section of the online catalog. They usually have a course number with middle digit “1” or “0”. The introductory course is PSCI 201. The capstone course is PSCI 410, Senior Seminar in American Politics.

International Relations

International relations involves the same issues as domestic politics, but has none of the same ways of resolving them. In international relations, there are no central, legitimate institutions of authority to which contenders can appeal, nor even agreement on who those contenders are or should be. Examining how legitimacy can nevertheless be defined and even evolve, and how conflicts of interest can still be resolved, highlights the degree to which politics does and does not depend on institutions.

Concentration courses are designated by “International Relations Subfield” after the description in the printed catalog or “PSCI International Relations courses” in the “Other Attributes” section of the online catalog.  They usually have a course number with middle digit “2” or “6”. The introductory course is PSCI 202. The capstone course is PSCI 420, Senior Seminar in International Relations, which is sometimes designated 420/440 when the topic straddles the boundary with comparative politics.

Political Theory

Political theory is concerned with the principles, concepts, norms and assumptions that inform many areas of public and private life. It is often called “political philosophy.”  Williams courses in political theory ask fundamental questions about human nature, the basis for society and cooperation, the meaning of justice, the importance of the individual, the place of community, and the nature and source of legitimate authority.

Concentration courses are designated by “Political Theory Subfield” after the description in the printed catalog or “PSCI Political Theory courses” in the “Other Attributes” section of the online catalog. They usually have a course number with middle digit “3”.  The introductory course is PSCI 203. Concentrators are also required to take either PSCI 231 or PSCI 232. The capstone course is PSCI 430, Senior Seminar in Political Theory.

Comparative Politics

Whereas the field of international relations focuses upon the actions of sovereign states toward one another, the comparative study of politics looks mainly at what goes on inside countries. It asks, for example, why political life differs so much from one country to another, how political regimes change, sometimes suddenly, and where sovereign states come from. Thus comparative politics is often about what citizens of countries with stable and relatively effective governments take for granted.

Concentration courses are designated by “Comparative Politics Subfield” after the description in the printed catalog or “PSCI Comparative Politics courses” in the “Other Attributes” section of the online catalog.  They usually have a course number with middle digit “4” or “5”. The introductory course is PSCI 204. The capstone course is PSCI 440, Senior Seminar in Comparative Politics, which is listed as 420/440 when on a topic that merits combination with International Relations.


Many courses can be counted as concentration courses for two subfields. In 2008-09, PSCI 205 (Leaders in Contemporary Conservative Thought) counted for both Political Theory and American Politics, while PSCI 248T (The USA in Comparative Perspective) fit—no surprise—both American and Comparative.

Examples of Individual Concentrations

Justice, Right and Law

Laws reveal much about how societies would like to operate, as well as providing a window on what people in them actually do, though think they shouldn’t. In this way, law maps areas of substantial but incomplete agreement about permissible behavior and about the role of rules in shaping society. Laws draw on different ethical traditions, grow from unique societies, and are shaped by the institutional and political context.

Introductory course: Introduction to Political Theory (203). Concentration courses: Constitutional Law I & II (216 & 217); International Law (223); Environmental Law (317); War & the Constitution (319).  Capstone: Senior Seminar in American Politics (410).


Democracy has been hailed as one of the greatest human achievements, balancing freedom with responsibility, the individual with the community. Has it meant the same thing through time, or in different countries? Is it simply Western? Ought it to remain our aspiration?

Introductory course: American Politics (201). Concentration courses:  American Political Thought(230); The Idea of Democracy (238); Political Thinking about Race (239); Democracy in Comparative Perspective (254). Capstone: Senior Seminar in Political Theory (430).

Revolution, Rebellion and Civil Disobedience

What happens when organized political movements confront an established order, or when such an order collapses under its own weight?  When people break laws and overturn institutions in order to change repressive laws or irresponsible power, they face many of the temptations of power themselves in their attempts to create new institutions. From rebellions in Latin America to the Civil Rights movement to the fall of the Berlin Wall, these movements raise fundamental questions about politics, history, the nature and limits of legitimate power, and human progress.

Introductory course: Introduction to Political Theory (203). Concentration courses: Theory and Practice of Civil Rights Protest (213); American Political Development (314); Comparative Politics of Nationalism & Ethnic Conflict (343); Cuba and the United States (349-T). Capstone: Senior Seminar in Comparative Politics (440).

Some Individual Concentrations Chosen by the Classes of ’98 to ’04:

  • Politics of Disempowered People
  • American Law
  • The Afro-American Political Experience
  • International Order
  • Distributive Justice
  • Public Policy and Disadvantaged Populations
  • Violent Conflict
  • Gender and Policymaking in the U.S.
  • Politics & Economics of the Pacific Rim
  • Human Rights; Environmental Politics and Policy
  • Ethics & Public Policy
  • Injustice and Liberation
  • Europe; International Political Economy
  • Freedom & Authority
  • Media and Social Problems
  • American Foreign Policy
  • Minorities in the Majoritarian Process
  • Latin American Politics
  • National Identity in the 21st Century
  • Freedom
  • Justice in Theory & Practice
  • Political Bargaining
  • Race and Gender
  • Multiculturalism
  • Transitional Democracies
  • Activism
  • China’s Future
  • Tribal Governments & the U.S. Government
  • Justice
  • The Politics of Being a Woman, Global Icons
  • Globalism and the Citizen
  • Rising Powers
  • Legal Theory
  • Africa