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Ph.D. Courses

Below is a list of courses typically offered in the political science doctoral program. For the most up-to-date and complete list of course offerings, see the Graduate School Catalog.

American Politics

The subfield of American politics at Vanderbilt offers rigorous instruction and unique opportunities for skill-building as it prepares doctoral candidates to excel in academic and research-centered careers. The diverse faculty train and mentor students in a wide array of American politics topics with specialties in the following areas:

  • American institutions, with focus on the presidency, Congress, and the bureaucracy
  • Mass political behavior, elections, and electoral participation
  • The politics of race, gender, and identity

Students electing American Politics as their primary field of study must take two required courses in addition to their preferred American Politics courses to qualify to take the comprehensive examination.

These two courses are:

  1. PSCI 8336. American Political Institutions
  2. PSCI 8337. American Political Behavior I

The American Politics faculty offer expertise in statistical, formal, experimental, and archival research methods. Students must complete PSCI 8355 (Research Design), PSCI 8356 (Statistics for Political Research I), PSCI 8357 (Statistics for Political Research II), and (at least) one more methodology course. We encourage our students to take full advantage of the many opportunities we provide to receive additional methodological training both inside and outside of Vanderbilt.

 

The origins and development of the American presidency. Study of opinion leadership, agenda-setting, veto powers, war powers. Historical and political science theories.

Structure and functions of political parties; theories of partisan change, party formation, and party organization. Influence on rules and the behavior of politicians on party policies.

Theories of voting and behavior of candidates in American elections; models of electoral change; the development and dynamics of public opinion. Effects of elections and public opinion on policy and governmental action. (Taught as American Political Behavior II.)

Theories of decision making and implementation in executive institutions. Application of theory to the executive institutions of American government, including the presidency, cabinet departments, and agencies. The relationships of elected politicians, political appointees, and civil servants in executive institutions.

Theories of citizen decision-making, information-processing, and cognition. Inter-group cooperation and conflict. Identity formation and applications to politics.

The structure and function of American legislative institutions, especially Congress, and their relation to the wider setting.

The origins, development, and operation of institutions in American politics. Study of executive, legislative, and judicial branches and inter-branch relations. Rational choice, historical, sociological, and political science theories. [This is a required course for students with American Politics as their primary field.]

The origins and dynamics of mass political attitudes and actions. Study of political socialization, information, participation, and choice. Economic, psychological, sociological, and political science theories. [This is a required course for students with American Politics as their primary field.]

Political construction of race in the United States. Racial animus in policy making, group-identity politics, and racial connections to wealth distribution and political power.

 

Comparative Politics

The subfield of Comparative Politics at Vanderbilt offers rigorous instruction and unique opportunities for skill-building as it prepares doctoral candidates to excel in academic and research-centered careers. The diverse faculty train and mentor students in a wide array of Comparative Politics topics with specialties in the following areas:

  • Public opinion, elections, and democratic culture
  • Identity politics, inequality, and intergroup conflict
  • Elites and democratic institutions

 

Geographically, the subfield is diverse, with faculty experts on Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America. This geographic diversity is complemented by a number of different interdisciplinary centers on campus, including the Asia Studies Program, Max Kade Center for European and German Studies, and the Center for Latin American Studies. Our faculty are committed to expertise in rigorous and innovative methods of analysis with deep experience in survey methodology.

 

A survey of important literature and concepts in the field of comparative politics. Core class for the subfield.

Theoretical perspectives and methodological approaches to mass political behavior in countries around the world.

Origin of political parties, party organizations and ideologies, party systems, democratic representation.

Recurring and novel topics in Latin American politics, such as the relation between economic growth and political regimes, the role of the Church, human rights, and U.S. foreign policy. Topics vary from semester to semester.

The causes of international and national inequalities in the distribution of wealth. Factors related to economic development and tied to domestic and international income distribution, such as geography, natural resources, culture, democracy, and dependency. Examples from throughout the world, especially Asia and Latin America.

This course examines how autocrats acquire and maintain power. It emphasizes institutional structure as a key factor in autocratic governance.

Use and organization of violence against political actors. Violence against civilians, perpetrators of violence, riots, genocide, and effects of violence. Focus on civil conflict and violence.

 

International Relations

The International Relations subfield at Vanderbilt consists of a diverse group of scholars who specialize in the political economy of conflict. We prioritize rigorous instruction and unique opportunities for skill-building as we prepare doctoral candidates to excel in academic and research-centered careers. The diverse faculty train and mentor students in a wide array of Comparative Politics topics with specialties in the following areas:

  • Theories of international and intranational conflict
  • Microfoundations of conflict processes
  • The economic dimensions of conflict

Our faculty offer expertise in formal theory, data science, and statistical methods of analysis, and graduate students receive training in political economy inter/intrastate conflict. Students electing International Relations as their primary field of study must take four required courses in addition to their preferred courses to qualify to take the comprehensive examination. These courses are:

Political Economy

PSCI 8320: Political Economy of Conflict

PSCI 8327: International Political Economy.

Conflict

PSCI 8321: Interstate Conflict.
(Elective) A course on a topic of intrastate conflict: Examples include civil war, human rights, terrorism, repression, and political violence.

In addition to these required courses, students choosing International Relations as a first field are required to complete the following courses in the methods sequence: Statistics 1, Statistics 2, and Statistics 3.

First field International Relations students are strongly encouraged to complete the formal theory sequence which includes Formal Theory 1, Formal Theory 2, and Formal Models of International Relations.

A survey of research on interstate and intrastate conflict, political violence, and war. Theories of conflict and war, microfoundations and economic dimensions of political violence, and political and economic implications of conflict. [This is a required course for students with International Relations as their primary field.]

Analysis of international conflict and war.

Use and organization of violence against political actors. Violence against civilians, perpetrators of violence, riots, genocide, and effects of violence. Focus on civil conflict and violence.

The economic, political, and social consequences of the movement of goods, services, and people across international borders. Economic theories of comparative advantage combined with game theoretic models of strategic behavior, tested using statistical analysis of observational data and case studies.

Survey of contemporary research on international security, covering rational and behavioral theories and various approaches to empirical investigation such as case studies, statistical analyses of observational data, and experiments.  Topics include domestic politics and conflict, arming, sanctions, international norms toward conflict, alliances, diplomacy, intervention, and nuclear proliferation.

Survey of foundational and new research on human rights, from a positivist perspective. Topics include the causes and consequences of human rights violations, international legal structure of human rights, and the politics of contention and its human rights outcomes.

The study of terror and insurgency through a scientific lens. Topics include (a) why does political violence occur, (b) who participates in political violence, (c) how do terror and insurgent groups organize and operate, (d) best practices for counterinsurgency, and others. Class contains modules on geospatial and statistical analysis.

Overview of political science scholarship on civil wars and intrastate conflicts. Focus on war-time processes and civilian behavior. Surveys a broad range of cases.

 

Political Science Methods

Our faculty work in and teach a wide range of methodological approaches to scientific inference. Some political methodology courses (8355 and 8356) are required for all students, others are required for students with certain specializations, and all are available for any student to learn and adopt. The variety of specializations across the political science faculty means most methodological training can be done within the department. Political methodology is available as a second or third field of specialization in our program—students taking it as a field cannot count 8355, 8356, or 8357 toward the field course count.

 

Introduction to Research Design. Explanation and skill building of the process of a research project, from choosing a research question and literature review to selection of methodology and study design. Topics include analysis of tables, measures of association, experimental design, survey research, elite interviewing, in-depth interviewing, large-N statistical analysis, aggregate data, field research, content analysis, case studies, and small-n analysis. Emphasis on concept formation and measurement.

Introduction to statistical analysis and probability theory with applications in political science, statistical distributions, statistical inference, bivariate and multiple regression, logit, and probit.

Advanced topics in statistical analysis with research applications in maximum likelihood estimation, logit and probit analysis, simultaneous equation models, generalized least squares, and introductory time series concepts.

Topics include Statistics for Political Research III (Causal Inference), Archival Research, Experiments.

Social choice and game theory. Instability and disequilibria of group decisions under different decision-making rules. Theoretical model building as a way to generate hypotheses. Rules in decision making, manipulability of outcomes, bargaining strategies and the evolution of cooperation.

Topics include Formal Models of Political Institutions and Formal Models of International Relations.

Advanced game theory and formal modeling with applications in political science.

Data collection methods to build theory and investigate theory empirically. Creating a pre-analysis plan. Practical skills to undertake surveys, focus groups, semi-structured interviews, archival or web data collection, and behavioral tasks. Role of experimental intervention. Ethics on working with human subjects. Access and collaboration with NGOs and policymakers. Logistics such as timelines, budgets, grant proposals, data management, and incentivizing or managing employees.

Questionnaire design, sampling, data analysis, longitudinal surveys, and experimental techniques.

Methods for studying role of social networks in political behavior. Applications to international relations, comparative politics, and American politics. Overview includes survey methods, statistical methodology, experiments, agent-based models, and game theory.

 

Political Theory

Political theory is available as a second or third field of specialization for doctoral students. The political theory faculty at Vanderbilt  specializes in democratic puzzles, specifically those related to invisibility. Our scholarship complements work done in other subfields on race, ethnicity, gender, immigration, and other group-based politics.

The strengths of our faculty include contemporary theories of justice and human rights and feminist social and political theory.

There is a vibrant interdisciplinary theory community at Vanderbilt, including colleagues in the philosophy, English, and sociology departments, the Ph.D. program in Community Research and Action, and the Vanderbilt Law and Divinity Schools.

 

Basic course in political theory. Surveys major texts in political theory, as well as central concepts and debates in the current literature.

Provides a historical and contemporary context for reflection on the meaning of human rights. Focus on the theory of human rights.

Economic, social, and psychological theories of identity. Studies of ethnic, partisan, class and religious identities. Identity's impact on policy, patronage, collective action, and conflict.

Feminist political theorists, both as critics of the history of political thought and as authors of contemporary social and political theory.

Gender and politics. Women's political representation. Gender gaps in political behavior.

Major texts and themes focusing on a single thinker, a school of thought, or a theme.

 

Reading and Research Credits

 

Research credit hours prior to a successful prospectus defense. These credits earn grades of Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory progress from the student’s primary advisor.

Dissertation Research credit hours after a successful prospectus defense. These credits earn grades of Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory progress from the student’s primary advisor.