PSCI 415
Senior Seminar: The Rites of American Politics Spring 2025
Division II

Class Details

Custom and tradition abound in American politics. As adherents of a political creed, we recite the Pledge of Allegiance before school and sing the Star-Spangled Banner before football. As wielders of political agency, we fashion signs to convey maxims with wit and devise chants to imbue marches with force. As skeptics of political officeholders, we observe the familiar patterns of grandstanding when legislators interrogate witnesses at committee hearings and the distinctive cadence of interruption when judges question advocates at oral arguments. As members of a political community, we fill out forms to pay into the coffers of governmental programs and wait in lines to secure the documents that confer governmental benefits. From the patriotic to the participatory, the performative to the pedestrian, our political acts — shared with and repeated by others across our great national expanse each and every day — are always more textured, more illuminating, and more consequential than we could possibly realize in the moment. But what, exactly, do they mean? And how, precisely, do they matter? Proceeding from the idea that these sorts of ubiquitous cultural practices are fundamentally and constitutively relevant for our politics, that they both reflect and instigate fissures and junctions in the political order, this course focuses, quasi-anthropologically, on the choreography of American politics — the narrative mythology, visual symbolism, ceremonial rituals, linguistic tropes, and behavioral habits that sustain America as a polity and shape Americans as a people. Our interest is in the rites that attend not only to our own citizenship but also to our very consciousness as political beings; our purpose is equally to identify, to interpret, and to investigate them.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 16
Expected: 16
Class#: 3699
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: two 3-4 page essays, one 6-8 page mini research paper, an experiential project, a final portfolio of revised work accompanied by a 2-3 page reflection, and class participation
Prerequisites: senior standing in Political Science or permission of the instructor
Enrollment Preferences: senior Political Science majors concentrating in American politics
Distributions: Division II
Attributes: PSCI American Politics Courses

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