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1/19/11PSC 505 – SEMINAR IN AMERICAN POLITICSSpring Semester, 2011 Prof. James E. CampbellWednesdays 6-8:50 PM Office: 522 Park Hall520 Park Hall Office Hours: Tuesdays 2-4pm e-mail: [email protected]:645-8452INTRODUCTIONThe purpose of this seminar is to provide a broad overview of the state of empirical research onAmerican political institutions, behavior, and processes. This seminar will acquaint students with (1) thestructure, roles, and norms governing American political institutions such as the presidency, Congress,the bureaucracy, political parties and interest groups, elections, and other topics encompassed by theAmerican politics field; and (2) mainstream empirical research into the behavior of various politicalactors in each of these institutional settings. Given the breadth of research in the American politics sub-field, I have of necessity been selectivein both the topics chosen for discussion and the readings assigned. This seminar should be viewed as afoundation upon which one may develop further knowledge of American politics through additionalreadings and course work. This is only the beginning, just "the tip of the iceberg." To complete a field inAmerican politics successfully you must read well beyond what is covered in this as well as in othercourse work.This semester, a segment of the course will focus on research relating to the alledged polarizationof American politics. This is an issue that has received a good deal of attention in the last couple of yearsand there are several interesting books that have been published about polarization recently. PHILOSOPHY OF GRADUATE EDUCATION It may be helpful, particularly for those of you coming directly from your undergraduate degrees,to think about education as being comprised of four related elements. Before graduate school, educationconcentrates on the first two of these. The acquisition of knowledge is the first element. You should knowthe essential facts and research findings that concern American politics and government. The secondelement is understanding. You should not just know the facts but understand how they are believed to berelated to one another theoretically, their causes and consequences. Like undergraduate education,graduate education in political science entails these first two elements, though you are expected to knowand to understand more than what is expected of an undergraduate. However, this difference inexpectation is not the main difference between undergraduate and graduate education. Graduateeducation is not just a few more years of undergraduate education.Unlike most of undergraduate education, graduate education involves a third and fourthelement—the development of a critical capacity and the learning of research skills that allow for theassessment and development of new knowledge. The third element is the development of a capacity forcritical insight into research. You should know and understand the facts, theories, and methods of thefield well enough that you can thoughtfully question the basis of research. You should be able todistinguish good research from bad and great research from good and explain what makes any piece ofresearch great, good, or bad. Research findings should never be believed just because they have beenpublished. Neither should findings be cynically and unthinkingly rejected because they do not fitpreconceived ideas or because they are based on methodologies with which you are unfamiliar. Youshould demand and inspect the evidence and how it was analyzed and you should be able to discernadequate and appropriate analyses from inadequate and inappropriate analyses. Always ask, "why shouldanyone believe this?" A thorough understanding of political science methodologies is absolutely essentialto this critical judgment. You should take as many methodology courses and learn about as manystatistical techniques as possible. You should also always bear in mind that these are tools to be used inthe service of, but are not substitutes for, rigorous scientific thinking. At the end of this syllabus is a set ofquestions that I have prepared that you should use to guide you in critically evaluating the research thatyou read. You should carefully read these questions and go back to them periodically throughout thecourse until they become second-nature to you in your reading.The fourth element of political science education is the development of the ability to contribute tothe literature or "knowledge base" of the field. To undertake and execute research that adds to ourknowledge and understanding of American politics requires a thorough knowledge and understanding ofthe existing research and a critical eye to where that knowledge could be refined, elaborated, revised,corrected, or extended. It also requires an expertise with the methodological tools necessary complete anempirical research project. You must be able to identify an important question, frame a specific andtestable hypothesis, collect or identify properly measured pertinent data, analyze the data with appropriatetechniques, draw careful and reasonable inferences from that data, and draw out the broader implicationsof your findings. In general, you should develop the ability to anticipate why others might not believeyour findings and address the basis for their likely concerns. The first three elements of education place the student in the role of a consumer of knowledge. Thefourth element (the ability to contribute to the literature) is important because the student is in the role ofa producer of knowledge. The student is not just taking from the field, but giving something back. Thiselement is important to keeping the field alive and also helps the student gain additional perspective onwhat is important in a field, what research has or has not been done well, and what further work needs tobe pursued. In short, good producers are better informed consumers and the dichotomy often drawnbetween teaching and research is in most respects a false one.The four interdependent elements of political science education do not develop in sequence andthey do not develop in course work alone. Ultimately, you are responsible for accumulating theknowledge and developing these learning skills. This course and others can help to develop and tests canhelp to assess, in part, your success in these areas. However, in the end, it is your job to prepare yourselfas fully as you can for your career as a political scientist. Some


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