11.007 | Spring 2005 | Undergraduate

Resolving Public Disputes


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course Description

This course introduces students to the American policymaking process through the lens of public policy disputes. At the heart of the course are two questions: Why and how do we fight over social problems? And how do the processes we use to resolve those disputes affect the distribution of power, the use of information, and most importantly, outcomes? A key premise is that politics is largely about persuasion; thus, we begin by focusing on how people decide what they care about and how they persuade others to see the world as they do. In the second part of the course, we examine how problems get defined and solutions devised, paying particular attention to the role of values, information, and money in those processes. In Part III, we look at how public disputes typically get resolved in the U.S. - in the legislature, agencies, courts, and local forums. Finally, we consider some less traditional but increasingly popular approaches to resolving public disputes, such as direct democracy, regulatory negotiation, and consensus building. Throughout the course, we link theoretical discussions about public disputes to actual policy debates over such issues as same-sex marriage, smoking, education, terrorism, genetically modified foods, globalization, campaign finance, and pollution control. In addition to helping students understand the dynamics of policy-making in the U.S., the course aims to help students formulate and articulate - both orally in and writing - their own views about politics and how public issues ought to be resolved.

Course Requirements

This is a seminar course, so students must come to class prepared to contribute thoughtfully to a discussion of the assigned reading. In addition, students are required to read a reputable daily newspaper - preferably either the New York Times or the Washington Post (student rates are available for the New York Times). Finally, students participate in debates and simulations and write four short essays over the course of the semester.

Evaluations of Student Achievement

Students are evaluated on the quality of their contribution to the class as well as on their written work. Grades are based on the following approximate formula:

Class Participation (Attendance is mandatory. Missed classes are reflected here.) 20%
Four Short Essays (Late papers lose 1/2 grade/day.) 80% 

Reading Material

Most of the reading materials for the course are available on MIT server. In addition, the following book, which is required reading, is also available:

Stone, Deborah. Policy Paradox. Revised ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2001. ISBN: 0393976254.

Format Notes / Writing Essays


  • All essays should be doubled spaced and printed in 12-point type.
  • Page limits are firm; I will not read beyond the assigned length.
  • Make sure that you number each page.
  • You do not need to create a cover page, but make sure your name and the date appear on page 1.
  • Use reference-list format for all cited work. That means that the citation in the text would look like this: (Jones 1995, 3). (You list the author’s last name and the date; if you are quoting, you provide the page number; and the entire parenthetical expression appears before the punctuation.) In your reference list, which appears at the end of the document, you list the source (in this case, a book) as: Jones, Bob. The Complete Works. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995. You can find a more complete guide to reference-list format in the Chicago Manual of Style, which is available at every library.


  • Use short, simple sentences rather than long, complicated ones.
  • Use the active voice rather than passive voice whenever possible.
  • Make direct, concrete statements rather than vague, indirect statements.
  • Write for an educated general audience, not for me or for members of this class, who have read the material.
  • Avoid jargon.
  • Above all, make everything you write lively and interesting!


  • All deadlines are firm. Please get in touch with me in advance if you anticipate a serious problem in getting an essay to me by the due date and time.
  • Please be vigilant about plagiarism, as it is an extremely serious offense and quite easy to avoid. When you quote another author, or simply paraphrase her ideas, you must cite the source. There are no exceptions.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2005
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Written Assignments