Political Science

Undergraduate Program

What is Political Science?

Why do Hindus and Muslims live in harmony in one city and fight bitterly in another just a few miles away? Why is the U.S. the only industrialized nation without national health insurance? What is the legacy of slavery in the U.S.? Why are there so few women in Congress? How is radicalism in the Middle East changing? Why and how does democracy flourish—or decline? Just what is democracy? How do emotions shape our political behavior? What do war movies tell us about the USA? Would less government lead to more social justice? What is social justice? How does smuggling (of drugs, guns, and people) reshape international relations? How do immigrants see the American Dream? What is the American dream? How does climate change affect politics? Do states or multinational corporations call the shots in the global economy?

Political science is about questions like these. You can grapple with every one of them –and many more— in the classrooms of the Brown political science department. We study how people –nations, regions, cities, communities— live their common lives. How people solve (or duck) their common problems. How people govern themselves. How they think, talk, argue, fight, and vote.  We seek to develop understandings of institutions, ideas, practices, and relations that constitute public life, and modes of inquiry that promote citizenship.

Political Science at Brown

The Political Science department graduates approximately 75 undergraduate concentrators annually, making it one of the larger social science concentrations at Brown. The field of political science traditionally consists of four subfields:  American politics, international relations, comparative politics and political theory. Concentrators are required to take two intro-level courses in two of the four subfields, a methods class, a political theory course, a senior capstone seminar, and then five electives for a total of ten courses. Eleven courses are required if the methods requirement is fulfilled with a course outside the department.

We offer smaller freshman, sophomore, and senior seminars, as well as larger introductory and upper-level lecture classes. We have a robust Honors Program in which students work closely with faculty advisors to write a senior thesis, a yearlong original research project. Additionally, faculty often work in collaborative research partnerships with concentrators. Many of our students secure politics- and policy-based internships during their four years at Brown.

The four major subfields of Political Science are described below.

American Government and Politics

Students of American government and politics seek an understanding of politics as practiced in the United States. In addition to courses on the American presidency and the U.S. Congress, the department offers specialized courses on such topics as public opinion, campaigns and elections, the politics of race and ethnicity, constitutional law, policy formation, state and city politics, and American political thought. Some of the broad questions in this field are: How and why did American political institutions, ideas, and practices develop as they have? How does one go about evaluating them? Are American political institutions, ideas and practices unique, or are they similar to other societies? How might American politics be improved?

POLS 0010, Introduction to American Politics, is recommended preparation for most other courses in American Politics. To acquire first-hand experience with the American political system, students are encouraged to participate in Brown’s program in Washington D.C.

Comparative Politics

Comparative politics focuses on explaining politics within states. It seeks to provide an understanding of how and why different societies sometimes develop different kinds of political institutions and sometimes develop similar institutions. For example, why are some states stable democracies, others authoritarian or hybrids? How can we account for the current ‘retreat of democracy’ and rise of populism? Some comparativists compare contemporary political systems in order to judge which types best provide particular values: order, equality, freedom, or economic security and well-being for their citizens. Still others use comparative politics as a way of discovering general laws and theories that will explain human political behavior and its variability. Comparative politics courses are of two basic types. One offers comparisons of a particular set of problems or institutions in a number of different countries. A second type offers in-depth analyses of the basic political institutions and processes of a single country or group of countries in a world region.

POLS 0200, Introduction to Comparative Politics, introduces students to comparative discussions of states and societies, as well as conceptual frameworks and methods that provide the foundation for more advanced courses.

International Relations

The field of international relations studies the dynamics of the international state system. It is concerned with developing an understanding of why states and nonstate international actors, including the United Nations, multinational corporations, NGOs, terrorists, and other non-state actors, interact as they do. International relations is interested in the dynamics of international conflict and cooperation, both in areas of war and peace and in the international economy. Why do wars start? Who wins and why? How can wars be prevented? What is the role of international law and organizations? What are the politics of world trade, development, foreign investment, and international finance? How states make foreign policy decisions is another important area of study. National security policy, nuclear deterrence, arms control and defense spending decisions are typical examples of foreign policy decisions.

POLS 0400, Introduction to International Relations, introduces students to international politics. This is the foundation for a wide variety of offerings at the mid-and upper levels, such as international political economy, international security, American foreign policy, climate and energy politics, and human rights.

Political Theory

Political theory is concerned mainly with the foundations of political community and institutions. It focuses on human nature and the moral purposes of political association. Political theorists explore foundational ideas such as freedom and autonomy, the social contract, human nature, morality, political friendship, obligation and consent, sovereignty, and slavery and domination.  To clarify these concepts, political theorists draw on enduring political writings from ancient Greece to the present and on various writings by moral philosophers. Political theory also focuses on empirical research into the way political institutions function in practice. Here political theorists subject beliefs about political life found in important political writings to re-examination in the light of ongoing human behavior. In either case, political theory seeks to ultimately deepen political thinking and to spur citizens to responsible and creative political action.

POLS 0110, Introduction to Political Theory, provides students with an overview of the main lines of thought in political theory. Advanced courses focus on concepts, topics, and thought in political theorizing.

Beyond the Concentration

Our graduates have an excellent track record of securing jobs in fields that are related to politics, including public and government service, advocacy, journalism, think tanks, and consulting. Many of our graduates go on to attend graduate school in the areas of law, political science, international relations, and public policy.