About the Department

In the 1940s, University of Chicago scholars constructed the empirical and quantitative study of politics and government as a behavioral science, thus pioneering the Chicago school of political science. What emerged is one of the most intellectually stimulating and challenging places to study in the world. The department is well-balanced in all four substantive fields and is hailed as one of the leading departments in Political Theory in the country.  Additionally, it has been found to be one of the most plural departments, from a methodological perspective.  The achievements of the department are numerous: teachers like Hans Morgenthau helped shape the field of international relations and alumni include Herbert Simon, who in 1978 became the first-ever political scientist to earn a Nobel prize. The department does not rest on its reputation, however. Political Science is committed to the pursuit of new paradigms for understanding the world and thus prioritizes hiring a distinguished faculty that represent eclectic fields of study, addresses issues of inequity and inclusion within both faculty and graduate students, and encourages faculty involvement with the many interdisciplinary centers on campus.

MAPSS Support for Political Science

MAPSS supports disciplinary concentrators in Political Science through the close collaboration of two preceptors, Alex Bass and Juan Fernando Ibarra del Cueto, and with the assistance of our senior staff. Our Managing Director, Chad Cyrenne, is a Political Scientist who earned his PhD here at UChicago. Approximately 40 MAPSS student concentrate in some area of Political Theory, Comparative Politics, or American Politics each year. Outside of their many options in the Political Science department, students can select from MAPSS courses in Interpretive Methods, Historical Methods, Survey Research, Data Analysis and Statistics, Involved Interviewing, or Qualitative Data Coding. Recent MAPSS graduates who have gone on for the PhD in Political Science include Erin Cikanek at Michigan, Alex Ades at Princeton, Sofia Fenner at UChicago, and Konrad Posch at UC-Berkeley.

Sample Courses

PLSC 34525. Hannah Arendt: On Revolution. (Patchen Markell) This seminar will be focused on Hannah Arendt’s On Revolution, first published in 1963. Alongside a careful reading of the text, we may consider: the place of On Revolution in Arendt’s oeuvre; its significance for recent and contemporary democratic theory; its relation to Marxian theories of revolution; its reception in the 1960s, particularly within the “New Left”; its relation to political and social-scientific discourses about revolution, including particularly anti-colonial revolution, in the context of the Cold War; its relation to the contemporaneous re-emergence of “poverty” as an object of political concern in the United States; and the adequacy, inadequacy, and/or idiosyncracy of Arendt’s treatments of historical revolutions such as the American, French, Russian, German, Hungarian, and Cuban.

PLSC 41700. Social Movements. (Cathy Cohen) This course is an introduction to theoretical and empirical research on social movements. In this course we will take social movements to mean national-level collective mobilizations organized for political change. During the quarter we will examine and debate what a range of scholars across disciplines have written about some of the fundamental questions regarding the emergence, evolution and political impact of social movements. For example, what types of collective action qualify as social movements? What factors lead to or shape the development of social movements? What role do social movements play in the working of American democracy? Finally, why have political scientists largely ignored social movements as a topic for extensive and careful study?

PLSC 42701. Seminar in Chinese Politics. (Dali Yang) This is a research-oriented seminar for graduate students interested in exploring current research on China and in conducting their own research. Our emphasis will be on the changing nature of the Chinese Party-state, and the relations between state and economy and between state and society as the Chinese society, economy and the level of technology have undergone dramatic changes in recent decades. Throughout the course we’ll also pay attention to the course, dynamics, and challenges of making reform. Though the readings are on China, we are to consider China’s development comparatively and in view of recent developments in political science.

PLSC 43701. Methods of Comparative Historical Analysis. (Dan Slater) This graduate seminar critically considers the theoretical impact and methodological rigor of Comparative Historical Analysis (CHA) in political science and sociology. Studies in this tradition employ a variety of research approaches, address a wide array of topics, and explore every imaginable region of the world. Yet its practitioners are “united by a commitment to offering historically grounded explanations of large-scale and substantively important outcomes.” In the seminar’s opening week, we situate CHA in wider methodological and disciplinary contexts, and consider whether and how historically specific arguments might advance the quest for causal generalization in the social sciences. In most subsequent weeks, we pair up readings on specific methodological themes and dilemmas with substantive CHA works on what we might broadly term “political development.”

PLSC 52316. Machiavelli’s Political Thought. (John McCormick) This course is devoted to the political writings of Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527). Among the themes we will explore are: the distinction between principality and tyranny; the status of “founders” in republics; the inter-relationships among individual leaders, the elite and the common people; the (in)compatibility of moral and political virtue; the utility of class conflict; the advantages of mixed institutions; the principles of self-government, deliberation, and participation; the question of military conquest; and the meaning of “liberty.”

PLSC 43901. Representation and Governance: The Politics of Congress and the Bureaucracy. (John Patty) This course will examine the operations of, and interactions between, Congress and the Federal bureaucracy. The course will explore several theoretical frameworks for each of the two branches, culminating in considering how one might unify these relatively disparate traditions within a modern conceptual framework more closely linked with representation of citizens’ policy concerns than existing, institution-specific theories.

PLSC 48700. Crime, Conflict and the State. (Ben Lessing) Scholars of civil war emphasize the importance, and perhaps primacy, of criminal profits for insurgencies, especially in the post-cold war era. But theories of civil war generally rest on an assumption that insurgents aim to replace state power. This seminar approaches the issue from the other end of the spectrum: armed conflict between states and “purely” criminal groups—particularly drug cartels. Cartel-state conflict poses a fundamental puzzle: Why attack the state if you seek neither to topple nor secede from it? After a brief survey of the literature on civil war and organized crime, we will study recent work on criminal conflict, particularly in Latin America. We also consider the related topics of prison-based criminal networks and paramilitaries, and explore how crime and political insurgency interact in places like West Africa and Afghanistan. Throughout, we evaluate the concepts, questions and designs underpinning current research.

PLSC 57200. Network Analysis. (John Padgett) This seminar explores the sociological utility of the network as a unit of analysis. How do the patterns of social ties in which individuals are embedded differentially affect their ability to cope with crises, their decisions to move or change jobs, their eagerness to adopt new attitudes and behaviors? The seminar group will consider (a) how the network differs from other units of analysis, (b) structural properties of networks, consequences of flows (or content) in network ties, and © dynamics of those ties.


Political Theory Workshop
The Political Theory Workshop is a forum for the presentation of new research in all varieties of political theory and political philosophy, including work in the history of political thought; contributions to normative political theory; theoretical engagements with problems in contemporary politics and public policy; and theoretical reflection on fundamental political concepts or phenomena. The Workshop subscribes to no particular methodology or political ideology, and welcomes participants from all departments and disciplines.

Comparative Politics Workshop
The Comparative Politics Workshop serves as a critical forum for the presentation of work-in-progress in the field of comparative politics. Comparative politics is a broad and methodologically eclectic field. The common thread running through the research presented in our workshop is the search for broad theoretical propositions and fresh empirical insights through the comparative study of politics. The types of questions raised in this workshop include: What explains the levels of violence in civil wars? Under what conditions do clientelism and patronage politics emerge? Why do poor people sometimes migrate internationally to countries that are just as poor as the countries they left? If economic growth encourages democratization, is this because modern economies are wealthier or because they are more egalitarian? Do democracies affect public policies differently than authoritarian regimes?

American Politics Workshop
The American Politics Workshop is a forum for University of Chicago students and faculty to present and discuss research in all areas of U.S. politics.

Gender and Sexuality Studies Workshop
The Gender and Sexuality Studies Workshop (GSSW) provides an interdisciplinary forum for the development of critical perspectives on gender and sexuality. The workshop’s primary purpose is to promote studies of the ways in which gender and sexuality shape human experiences and are embedded in other social practices. In bringing together work in gender studies and queer theory, workshop members build interdisciplinary analytical tools in order to evaluate presentations with informed perspectives on how gender and sexuality theories inform and constitute one another.

East Asia Workshop
The workshop has a long tradition of promoting inter-disciplinary conversation among students and faculty members whose interests lie in East Asia. Topics discussed in the workshop cover politics, economy, society and culture. We encourage students and faculty from different academic fields to present their original work. Presenters come from disciplines like sociology, political science, economics, anthropology, history, etc. This workshop provides a valuable venue for them to present their on-going projects and receive critiques and encouragement. We also invite outside speakers to give talks.

Human Rights Workshop
The Human Rights Workshop provides an interdisciplinary forum for faculty and graduate students to engage in serious discussions of new human rights scholarship.

Social Theory Workshop
This workshop explores issues in social theory across a variety of disciplines in the social sciences and humanities. The emphasis is less on developing social theory than on exploring in a sustained fashion the social theoretical implications of the participants’ work. Themes to be addressed are likely to include the relationship between social and cultural transformations; questions of the public sphere, civil society, and democracy; the relations between modernist and postmodernist forms of social theory; and conceptual issues posed by globalization.

The Contemporary European Philosophy Workshop
The Contemporary European Philosophy Workshop seeks to foster a space of ongoing and interdisciplinary dialogue among students and faculty from across the humanities and social sciences working with and within Continental philosophical traditions. The Workshop provides a space to discuss European philosophy in its historical and contemporary development, its relationship to other philosophical traditions, and the central theoretical role it has come to play in disciplines across the humanities and social sciences. Possible figures to be discussed include: Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, Heidegger, Levinas, Merleau-Ponty, de Beauvoir, Sartre, Lacan, Kristeva, and Fanon, amongst others. We also welcome work on ancient, early modern, and modern figures when approached via the Continental tradition.

Centers and Institutes

The Institute of Politics

Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality

Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture

Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory

National Opinion Research Council

The Pozen Family Center for Human Rights

Survey Lab

Urban Network

Consortium for Chicago School Research

Crime Lab

Related Departments of Interest to MAPSS Students

AnthropologyDivinity SchoolCommittee on Social Thought, Harris School of Public Policythe Human Rights ProgramLaw, PhilosophySociology