PSCI 309
Problems and Progress in American Democracy Spring 2012
Division II
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Class Details

“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 six central elements of political life–religion, education, civic engagement, difference, representation, 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set of readings drawn from empirical political science, contemporary democratic theory, American political thought, historical documents, political punditry (from the left and the right), and current events, our focus, like Tocqueville before us, is on teasing out both the lived experience–the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 the extent to which America is a religious nation, whether recent changes in higher education have affected the health of democratic politics, the effects of technology on civic engagement, 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: Format: discussion
Limit: 19
Expected: 19
Class#: 3567
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: two experiential projects with accompanying write-ups of at least 5 and 7 pages, six 2-3 page ethnographic reflections, and class participation
Prerequisites: a previous course in American politics or Political Theory or permission of instructor
Distributions: Division II
Attributes: EXPE Experiential Education Courses
LEAD American Domestic Leadership
PSCI American Politics Courses

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