PSCI 309
Problems and Progress in American Democracy Fall 2015 Division II; Cross-listed as LEAD309 / PSCI309
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“I confess,” French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in the introduction to his Democracy in America, “that in America I saw more than America. I sought the image of democracy itself, with its inclinations, its character, its prejudices, and its passions, in order to learn what we have to fear or hope from its progress.” What would Tocqueville see if he returned to America today, almost 200 years later? What types of institutions, dynamics, and processes animate American political life in the twenty-first century? With Tocqueville as a guide to thinking about political ethnography, this course investigates four central elements of political life–religion, education, difference, and crime and punishment–that simultaneously pose problems for and represent sites of progress in American democracy. For each subject, we will ask several key questions. How has that particular aspect of political life changed in the recent past? How might it change in the near future? Does it conform to how American politics is designed to work? To how we want American politics to work? Using a diverse set of readings drawn from empirical political science, contemporary democratic theory, American political thought, historical documents, political punditry (from the left and the right), and current events, our focus, like Tocqueville before us, is on teasing out both the lived experience–the character and challenges–of American democracy and examining any disconnect between that experience and the ideals that undergird it. Among the many specific questions we will consider are whether particular religious traditions might be incompatible with democratic values, the extent to which recent changes in higher education have affected the health of democratic politics, the effects of ideological polarization on democratic discourse, and the place of the jury system in securing democratic justice. Throughout the semester, we will not only approach these questions from the joint perspectives of theory and practice but also seek to enrich our understanding by exploring American democracy as it happens all around us with several exercises in the community at large.
The Class: Type: discussion
Limit: 19
Expected: 19
Class#: 1739
Requirements/Evaluation: two experiential projects with accompanying write-ups of at least 5 and 7 pages, six 2- to 3-page ethnographic reflections, and class participation
Extra Info: may not be taken on a pass/fail basis
Prerequisites: a previous course in American politics or Political Theory or permission of instructor
Distributions: Division II;
Attributes: EXPE Experiential Education Courses; JLST Interdepartmental Electives; LEAD American Domestic Leadership; LEAD Facets or Domains of Leadership; PSCI American Politics Courses

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