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COURSE NAME: "Introduction to Political Science"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2015

INSTRUCTOR: Michael Driessen
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MW 10:00 AM 11:15 AM
OFFICE HOURS: by appointment

The course introduces students to basic concepts, methods, and theories of the scientific study of politics. In so doing, the class provides a systematic understanding of the foundations of government, political systems, and political behavior. The course familiarizes students with the functioning of political institutions and political power, constitutional frameworks and procedures to obtain public legitimacy, and approaches to different fields, problems and issues of—domestic, comparative, and global—politics in the 21st century.


The course will be run as an introductory seminar, with emphasis on class participation through reading discussions and presentation of written work. Students will read four classic works from the various subfields and discover the wider field of inquiry and enduring problems that occupy Political Science research as a whole. Students will also be introduced to basic political science research methodology and writing styles.


In order to encourage deep, critical reading, students will be required to regularly reflect on the assigned texts and class discussions through a series (6) of short essays (2 pages each) as detailed in the syllabus below. In order to promote and assess active, engaged discussion, students will receive a mark for their participation in each class and the average of these will make up their final participation grade. Students, therefore, should come to class ready to discuss the readings. They should take notes, write down questions, form opinions and always, always bring the reading material to class with them.


Finally, the class is designed to promote the digestion and analysis of contemporary political dynamics. Students will be encouraged, therefore, to apply the classic theories to understand current events. To aid in this task, there will be weekly New York Times quizzes on the Global Headlines. Students can purchase a personal subscription to the New York Times or read the print edition available in the JCU library or the Tiber Café.

Following this course students should expect to begin thinking, reading, writing and acting like a political scientist!
Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Why Nations FailAcemoglu and RobinsonCrown978-0307719225  
Coercion, Capital and European States: AD 990-1992Charles TillyWiley-Blackwell978-1557863683  
Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern ItalyRobert PutnamPrinceton University Press978-0691037387  
Guide to Methods for Students of Political ScienceStephen van EveraCornell University Press978-0801484575  

Newspaper Quizes 10%
Reading Reflections/assignments (4)Due on the day marked in the syllabus30%
midterm 20%
proposal and bibliography 5%
Final Paper 25%
class participationAttendance and Presence of Mind are mandatory for this class. The goal here is to advance towards the art of asking good questions. Quality, not quantity of participation is what counts, although some quantity is better than no quality. Students will be allowed 2 unexcused absences. Each unexcused absence thereafter will result in the lowering of the attendance grade by 1/3rd a letter grade. More than 12 unexcused absences will result in a failure to pass the course.10%

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the cour
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.

As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


Course Calendar

August 31

Class 1

Course Introduction: What is Political Science?


Part I: The State


September 2

Class 2

What is a state?  


Read Tilly, ch. 1


September 7

Class 3

Where does a State come from?


Read Tilly, ch. 2


New York Times Quiz 1


September 9

Class 4

What does a state do?


Read Tilly, ch. 3


Short Essay 1 Due: Describe Tilly’s idea of State


September 14

Class 5

What do people do in states?


Read Tilly, ch. 4


New York Times Quiz 2


September 16

Class 6

Are there different kinds of states? Alternatives to states?


Read Tilly, ch. 5

Part II: The Regime


September 21

Class 7

What should states do?


Read Larry Diamond and Leonardo Morlino (2004), “The Quality of Democracy: An Overview


New York Times Quiz 3

September 23

Class 8

What is Democracy?


 Read Putnam ch. 1


September 28

Class 9

What are Institutions?


Read Putnam ch.s 2 & 3


New York Times Quiz 4


September 30

Class 10

What makes Institutions Perform Well?


Read Putnam ch. 4


October 5

Class 11

What is a Political Culture? What is a Civic Culture?

Case study: Italy


Read Putnam ch. 5    


Short Essay 2 Due: Reflect on Putnam’s study and weigh in on the debate – are culture or good institutions more important for “making democracy work”? Draw in evidence from the US and Italy.


October 7

Class 12

What is Collective Action ?


Read Putnam ch. 6



Mancur Olsen (1965) The Logic of Collective Action, pp.s 1-5, 53-60


New York Times Quiz 5

October 12

Class 13



Part III: Political Science Methodology or How to Read, Think and Write like a Political Scientist


October 14

Class 14

Basic Assumptions


Read van Evera pp.s 1-30

October 19

Class 15

Literature Searches, Bibliographic Work (Library Day)


 Paper Proposal and Bibliography: Due Class 20


New York Times Quiz 6


October 21

Class 16

Qualitative Research & Case Studies


Read van Evera pp.s 35-43, 50-71, 74-88


October 26

Class 17


Quantitative Research


Read Driessen (2010) “Religion, State and Democracy,” skim pp.s 1-16, read pp.s 17-25 very carefully and closely study all the tables


New York Times Quiz 7


October 28

Class 18

Writing Political Science Papers


Read van Evera ch. 4


Part IV: Political Behavior & Public Policy

November 2

Class 19

How do people participate in politics? Classifying and Comparing Party Systems


Read this introduction by Scott Mainwaring to Giovanni Sartori’s party theory (read 1-13 very carefully; skim the rest, make sense of the tables and read the conclusion):


New York Times Quiz 8


November 4

Class 20

Why do people vote the way they do?


Read this introduction to Anthony Downs’ Median Voter Theory:




November 9

Class 21



Group Activity and Essay number 3 Due: Count and describe the party and electoral system of your home country. Reflect on this portrait in light of Mainwaring’s article. Share with the Class what makes your country’s politics special


Part V. Economics, Poverty, Authoritarianism and the future of Politics

November 11

Class 22

Why are some nations rich and others poor?


Read Acemoglu and Robinson ch. 1


New York Times Quiz


November 16

Class 23

What theories have tried to explain this?


Read Acemoglu and Robinson ch. 2


November 18

Class 24

Critical junctures and the power of Institutions


Read Acemoglu and Robinson ch. 4


New York Times Quiz 10


November 23

Class 25

Extractive Strategies


Read Acemoglu and Robinson ch. 5


November 25

Class 26

Better Strategies?


Read Acemoglu and Robinson ch. 7& 11


New York Times Quiz 11


November 30

Class 27

Why Nations Fail


Read Acemoglu and Robinson ch. 13




December 2

Class 28



Short Essay 4 Due: Reflect on Zakaria’s thesis and think about Russia today. Are illiberal democracies the future of global politics?


Read Acemoglu and Robinson ch. 14 & 15


New York Times Quiz 12





Final Exam

Final Paper Due