Brown’s Political Science Department graduates approximately 100 undergraduate concentrators annually, making it one of the five largest concentrations at Brown. It also has a robust Honors Program in which about eight students annually work with a team of faculty advisors to write an Honors Thesis, a major year-long research paper in which students investigate an important issue of special interest to them. Political Science concentrators follow a wide range of post-graduation paths including graduate, law, and public policy schools; active political engagement at the local, state, national, or international level; and a wide range of other professional and business careers.
The Ph.D. Program in Political Science was re-established in 1986, and it has rapidly grown in recognition and in the quality of students entering the program. An average of eight students enter the Ph.D. program every year across all four fields of Political Science. Most receive fellowships for at least one year, after which many serve as Teaching and Research Assistants. Our graduate students have been increasingly successful in competing for major outside grants to conduct their research and writing, and placement of new Ph.D.’s in good academic institutions, in government, and in the private sector has been increasingly successful. The relative small size of the graduate program also enables unusually close interaction between faculty and graduate students.
The Political Science Department has close connections with a large number of interdisciplinary institutes, programs, and centers at Brown. Five of our 20 faculty hold joint appointments with other units, and many others have close ties with one or more of these other units. Most frequent ties are with the Taubman Center of Public Policy and American Institutions, the Watson Institute for International Studies, the Program in Urban Studies, the Center for Latin American Studies, Africana Studies, and the new Spatial Structures in the Social Sciences initiative. Faculty members have recently received numerous external awards, grants, and fellowships. Altogether the Political Science faculty are a dynamic group of scholars who are diverse in approach, method, and field of study, but who work together closely to encourage creative thinking about the formation and allocation of political values in an increasingly complex world.
Brown’s Political Science graduate program maintains the traditional four subfield breakdown. However, in order to provide a more wide range of course offerings, the undergrad program combines the comparative subfield with the international relations subfield into one entitled: International and Comparative Politics (ICP).
- American politics emphasizes many of these same processes in the United States. The field of American politics focuses on the behavior of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government; the American system of federalism and intergovernmental relations among national, state and local authorities; debates about public policy in the United States such as welfare, education, and the environment; voting and elections; the influence of public opinion, interest groups, and political parties on decision-making; the constitutional foundations and legal processes through which laws are made, enforced, and adjudicated; and the fundamental issues of how race, gender and class influence American politics.
- Comparative politics focuses on the comparative study of the behavior of governments and political institutions and non-governmental actors across the world, focusing on different geographical regions; on different types of political regimes; on governance in developed societies of the “North” and developing countries in the “South;” and on the relationships between political and economic factors in different cultures and societies.
- International politics considers how political decisions are made in a world without a central authority above the nation-state. Traditionally it focused on interactions among states within a global environment, but recent emphases include a significant role for international law, norms, and organizations; for regional institutions; for transnational and non-governmental organizations, many of which pass through or around the boundaries of the nominally sovereign state. Despite the absence of government, values are allocated internationally, and there are clear winners and losers in this process. International politics thus seeks to understand systematically how these allocation decisions are made in the absence of formal government, whether through informal governance or through the power struggles among the many governmental and non-governmental entities that make up world politics.
- Political theory seeks to analyze both historically and philosophically the origins and underpinnings of political values, how those values are structured and how they influence political action. The Brown Political Theory project particularly explores the development of “liberal” political theory and its impact on our ideas about democratic citizenship and the relationship between citizens and governments.
Politics is a ubiquitous feature of contemporary life, and we are bombarded with information about politics every day in the media and in daily conversation. People around the world debate, give speeches, write letters and blogs, vote, and care passionately about politics. The academic discipline of political science reflects this excitement. However, we aim to be rigorous and analytical in studying politics and political choices. Although political scientists cannot make law-like statements of the kind many physical scientists claim to make, they do strive to develop probabilistic or conditional statements of cause and effect and to develop a systematic understanding about politics and government.
Political Science has traditionally been described as the study of “who gets what, when, and how.” Within nation-states, whether at the national, regional, or local level, generally decisions about allocating “goods” and “bads” are made by governments that are empowered to make “authoritative” decisions - by the electorate in a democracy or by control of the state machinery in non-democratic regimes. Governments may be influenced in that process by public opinion, interest groups, political parties, non-governmental organizations and other actors. In international relations, where there is no single authoritative center of decision-making, values are allocated by international organizations, negotiation among states and non-state actors, by a wide range of transnational activities that cross state borders, and on occasion by coercion.
In this allocation process, value may be expanded, contracted, and/or distributed among the members of any political order according to the availability of resources and the decision process itself. Political actors at all levels compete to influence this process, either to enlarge the general welfare or to protect the interests of groups they favor. Thus politics includes the process of making decisions, the implementation of those decisions, and how individuals and groups in positions of authority have influence over “who gets what, when, and how.”
The discipline of political science employs a wide range of methods ranging from formal mathematically derived models, to statistical evaluation of quantitative data, to philosophical understandings of political processes and qualitative studies that investigate the influence of history and place.