Course Meeting Times
Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours/ session
Why You Should Take This Class
This class will teach you about politics around the world, focusing on subjects like democracy, the political roots of economic development, and how America's political system compares to that of other countries. If you are interested in political science as a major, minor, or concentration, this class will prepare you for more advanced subjects. If you just want to understand what is going on in the world, this class will provide you with useful theoretical frameworks and factual background on some of the most important countries. It also fills the MIT HASS-D/CI requirement.
What This Class is About
This class first offers some basic analytical frameworks - culture, social structure, and institutions - that you can use to examine a wide range of political outcomes. We will use theoretical arguments and empirical evidence from several case studies to address a number of broad questions in political science: Why are some countries democratic and others not? How does democracy affect economic development and political conflict? Why do some countries centralize power while others threaten to fall apart through secession and civil war? Country examples include Germany, Iraq, Italy, Mexico, and the United States, with regular references to countries in other regions (e.g., Africa, South Asia, and East Asia). The lessons drawn from these countries will prepare you to analyze other countries of your own choosing in the paper assignments. At the end of the course, you should be able to understand and discuss a range of political events around the world, drawing on the theoretical explanations provided in the class.
There are no prerequisites for this course.
You are expected to read through this package carefully and are responsible for knowing the class schedule. If something in the syllabus is not clear, it is your obligation to ask about it.
Readings total approximately 100 pages per week and should take you about three hours, depending on how fast you read. The books required for the class are:
Putnam, Robert, Robert Leonardi, and Raffaella Nanetti. Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994. ISBN: 9780691037387.
Dahl, Robert A. How Democratic is the American Constitution? 2nd ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003. ISBN: 9780300095241.
You are expected to participate actively and intelligently in class discussions. As a rule of thumb, you should plan to spend about an hour going over your notes from the readings and preparing for class each week after you have completed the readings. If you must miss a class, please notify the instructors in advance. (A list of legitimate and illegitimate reasons for missing class is attached to this syllabus.)
Our somewhat odd habit is to assign students a participation grade for each session in which there is substantial class discussion (typically, the second session of each week). Those absent from class will receive grades of 0 on a scale of 0-10; those who arrive late (i.e., after we have officially begun the class) will lose 5 points on the same scale. Those who are present but do not participate at all during class discussion or are unprepared when called upon will receive a grade of 6. All other students will receive grades based on the quality of their participation. Overall class participation grades at the end of the semester will be a straight average of participation grades, with the two lowest grades automatically discounted.
Rules for Class Attendance (PDF)
Class Debates and Presentations
There will be one in-class debate, in which all students are expected to participate. You will receive two grades for the debate - one based on your individual performance and one based on your team's performance. You also will also be expected to present the results of your research paper to the class, to comment on the papers of others, to discuss articles on current events, to participate in breakout sessions, and to contribute to class discussions as appropriate. For some people, that may mean pushing yourself to talk more than feels instinctively comfortable; for others it may mean holding yourself back. If participation becomes unbalanced, we will feel free to "cold call" people. The debate format is available in the assignments section.
In your formal presentations, especially those dealing with your research paper, be sure to practice and to time yourself. We strongly urge you to use visual aids (transparencies, notes you have written on the blackboard ahead of time, handouts, etc.). With a strict time limit, some people fail to move quickly into the empirical meat of their topics; you should make sure to frame your question clearly in the beginning and then move on swiftly. You should also make sure to articulate the "so what" of your project at the beginning - that is, why people should care about your results. You should be able to describe the question, why it matters, what the main arguments are on each side in the first minute of your talk, and what you will argue in the first minute of your talk. Finally, try to end by summarizing your main finding and why people should care. (A list of hints for making good presentations is provided in assignments please go through them when writing your talk to make sure you haven't missed anything.)
There will also be presentations on current events ("show and tell"), described in assignments.
First paper due one day after Ses #9 is intended to be a summary of course concepts to date. Typically, this essay will ask you to compare social-structural, institutional, and cultural arguments for a particular political outcome. For instance, you might be asked to articulate and assess different arguments for why the U.S. has a smaller welfare state than most other developed countries or why the January 2005 election in Iraq produced the results it did.
You will write one longer (3,000-word) paper, involving independent research on a topic approved by the instructors. This research paper topics is due one day after Ses #5; this "topic" must include at least a statement of the question you intend to ask and a preliminary list of the sources you will consult. After this date, you will not be allowed to change your paper topic except under truly exceptional circumstances. The first installment of the research paper is due on one day after Ses #14; this version must contain the set-up of your question and your preliminary findings, though it need not include a finished conclusion. It should be polished and free of grammatical or stylistic errors, though the format of the bibliography, footnotes, and such may be preliminary. Research paper interim 3-minute presentations due in Ses #13; these should be limited to three minutes, during which time you should justify your research design and summarize your findings. Each paper will then be discussed by at least one person.
Research paper due with 2-minute presentation on Ses #21 (i.e., the week before Thanksgiving). This version must incorporate comments on the first version of the paper, in addition to including new materials. You will present your paper in class earlier that same day; these presentations are limited to 2 minutes, so they should probably be confined to any major changes since your original presentation. Long papers must then be re-written for a separate grade based on comments from us and your classmates; rewrite of research paper due one day after Ses #25.
A list of potential topics for research papers is available in assignments, as well as a list of past student paper topics. This list is intended to help you start thinking about topics; it is not intended to be a comprehensive inventory of possible subjects. If you opt to analyze a claim made in the popular press, make sure to focus on a mainstream argument that is mainstream; do not pick something that most educated people would find goofy. If you select a topic from the list on regime change, you may wish to follow a basic formula: first a narrative of events, second an analysis of which factors were responsible for these events, and third a discussion of which factors were most important in explaining the outcome of that particular case. Another approach, recommended for underclassmen, would be to take an article or series of articles on a prominent political subject, state the underlying claim in these articles, imagine ways to test that claim, gather the data to do so, and then report your findings.
All papers are due by 4 p.m. to the professor's faculty mailbox in the political science department. Alternatively, they can be emailed as a Microsoft® Word attachment to both the professor and TA by 4 p.m. the day they are due; it is your responsibility to make sure that they can be opened in Microsoft® Word. Papers that are late will be penalized by one-third of a letter grade (i.e., A to A-) for each day late. If you need an extension, please request it ahead of time. Extensions requested a week or more in advance will be automatically granted; extensions requested the night before are virtually automatically denied. We would like to practice blind grading, so please do not include a title page or put your name in the footer; instead, put your name on a separate page after the paper. Also, at the risk of stifling self-expression and generally sounding like a pain, we ask that all essays and short papers be double-spaced and submitted in Times 12 font. (Otherwise we learn people's fonts after the first paper, which defeats the purpose of blind grading.)
Extensive resources are available to you if you want help with writing. These resources include the MIT Writing Center on campus (accessible by email), the TAs, the course Web site, and the instructors. Please take advantage of these if you have any questions or doubts! Some hints for writing papers are attached; we cannot urge you strongly enough to internalize them.
There will be an ex-camera final exam that will address some aspect of political and economic development in Iraq, based on issues we have covered during the semester. For instance, you may be asked to assess the desirability of certain institutional arrangements in Iraq (e.g., federalism). Alternatively, you may be asked to address the extent to which constitutional engineering can enhance Iraq's prospects for establishing and consolidating a democratic regime. The topic will be discussed in greater detail during the last week of classes.
Your grade will be determined as follows:
|ACTIVITIES ||PERCENTAGES |
|Map Test ||5% |
|Class Debate (Half from Team, Half Individual) ||10% |
|Other Class Participation (Including "Show and Tell") ||15% |
|Short Paper (1,000 Words) ||10% |
|Rewrite of Short Paper ||5% |
|Research Paper Topic ||5% |
|First Installment of Research Paper ||10% |
|Final Research Paper ||10% |
|Presentations of Research Paper ||10% |
|Revised Research Paper ||5% |
|Final Exam ||15% |
You should not fret too much about your grade. But it is worth paying attention to three aspects of the class that the grading scheme is meant to highlight:
- Oral participation, which constitutes over one third of your grade;
- the research paper, whose written and oral components of that project come to approximately the same amount; and
- compared to most MIT subjects, the course is front-loaded. I hope you will find this aspect a refreshing change.
When writing a paper (or essay exam), you must identify the nature and extent of your intellectual indebtedness to the authors whom you have read or to anyone else from whom you have gotten ideas (e.g., classmates, invited lecturers, etc.). You can do so through footnotes, a bibliography, or some other kind of scholarly device. Failure to disclose your reliance on the research or thinking of others is PLAGIARISM, which is considered to be the most serious academic offense and will be treated as such. If you have any questions about how you should document the sources of your ideas, please ask your instructors before you submit your work.
|SES # ||TOPICS ||KEY DATES |
|Week I: Introduction |
|1 ||Introduction and Review of Syllabus, Discuss Final Exam, Pick Recitation Time || |
|Week II: The State and Regime Type |
|2 || |
What is Social Science?
Social Science Research?
|In recitation this week: Map test. How to write a research paper. Potential paper topics, including sample article from popular press. |
|3 || |
What is a State and Why have One?
What is a Democracy and Why have One?
|Week III: Social Structure |
|4 ||Lens 1: The Construction of Political Cleavages (Class) ||In recitation this week: Discuss paper topics. |
|5 ||Lens 1 (cont.): The Construction of Political Cleavages (Race, Religion, and Ethnicity) ||Research paper topics due 1 day after Ses #5 |
|Week IV: Culture and Institutions |
|6 || |
Lens 2: Culture and Beliefs
Discussion of Measurements of Culture in Articles
|In recitation this week: Discussion of articles on culture. Review hints for writing papers (in assignments). |
|7 || |
Lens 3: Institutions
Wrap up on Lenses
|Week V: Democratization |
|8 ||Why do Countries Become Democratic? ||In recitation this week: Discussion of first paper and readings for the week. Review hints for writing papers (in assignments). |
|9 || |
Does Economic Development Lead to Democracy?
Review of Lenses
|First paper due 1 day after Ses #9 |
|Week VI: Case Study on the Breakdown of Democracy: Inter-war Germany |
|10 ||Why did Democracy Break Down in Inter-war Germany? || |
|11 ||Class Debate: Why did the Weimar Republic Collapse? || |
|12 ||Wrap up on Weimar and Discussion of Federal Republic ||In recitation this week: Finish class debate |
|Week VII: Research Papers |
|13-14 ||Interim Presentations on Research Papers ||First installment of research paper due 1 day after Ses #14 |
|Week VIII: Political Institutions and Economic Growth |
|15-16 ||How do Political Institutions Affect Economic Growth? ||In recitation this week: Discussion of Weingast article and de Soto's main argument. |
|Week IX: Why is Mexico so Corrupt? |
|17-18 || |
Corruption in Mexico
General Causes of Corruption and Proposed Solutions
|In recitation this week: Discussion of Treisman article. Corruption in Greece. |
|Week X: Culture and Effective Governance |
|19 ||Lecture: Culture and Democracy || |
|20 || |
Why is Northern Italy so Much, Well, Better? (Except for the Food)
Breakout Group Presentations on Putnam's Argument
|In recitation this week: Critique of Putnam's arguments and measurements. Breakout groups on Putnam. |
|Week XI: Class Presentations on Research Papers |
|21 ||Class Presentations on Research Papers ||Research paper due |
|Week XII: The U.S. in Comparative Perspective |
|22-23 || |
What's Right and What's Wrong with the U.S. System?
Breakout Groups on Redesigning the U.S. Constitution
|Week XIII: State-building, Ethnic Conflict, and "Democracy" in Iraq |
|24 ||Attempts to Impose Democracy by Foreign Powers || |
|25 ||Show and Tell on Iraq || |
|Week XIV: State-building, Ethnic Conflict, and "Democracy" in Iraq (cont.) |
|26 ||Discussion of the Final Exam, Wrap-up of Semester, and Class Evaluations || |