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Courses

Political Science: International Relations (Professor Montero)

Students will analyze research questions of central concern to political scientists such as whether the quality of democratic governance is fundamentally determined by economic and social development. A wide variety of democratic institutions correlate with socio-economic outcomes. Our section will be interested in testing theories concerning whether majoritarian or proportional/consensual types of democracy provide better conditions for health and human development in advanced capitalist and developing countries.  But regardless of the hypotheses under study, the central learning goals are an understanding of how to use comparative data to form and test hypotheses about how institutions, organizations, and voters respond to differences in political forms and social and economic development across countries and over time.

Potential Research Topics: Students in this section will test hypotheses concerning the political determinants of different levels of social welfare spending, human development indicators such as literacy and life expectancy in a survey of European, Latin American, Asian, and African countries. Do left-of-center governments produce better outcomes or are right-of-center governments just as good or better in generating improvements to human development? Are electoral systems based on proportional representation better for socio-economic development than those based on majoritarian formulas? 

Models of Conflict, Cooperation and Communication  (Professor Marfleet)

Studying the social world is challenging because it is usually impossible to conduct controlled experiments on the big problems. For example, we can't explore how civil wars start, progress or end by randomly choosing a country to have one. That wouldn't be ethical!  Instead, we try to build explanatory models that incorporate relevant factors and account for relationships.  Typically, this is done using accumulated observations and statistics.  One alternative approach is to construct computer models or simulations that incorporate prior findings and theory and that progress dynamically when we run them.  Models like these allow researchers to "watch events unfold" and investigate the impact of varying initial conditions or different sensitivity settings on the outcome.  Often, the results are unexpected and lead to reconsideration of our assumptions and theories. In this course students will explore computer models of three types of social phenomenon:  asymmetric guerrilla-insurgency and warfare; social coordination to solve group tasks; and the challenge of decision making in social networks.  Students will also learn how to modify existing models, program their own, original ones using the NetLogo language for agent-based simulation, and collect and analyze data from repeated trials.        

The Economics of Inequality (Professor Seneviratne)

The issue of socio-economic inequality has taken center stage in the current political discourse and generated popular --- and divisive --- sound bites in mainstream and social media; e.g. "Occupy Wall Street", "We are the 99%", "Class Warfare", etc.  Rapid economic growth around the world has coincided with tremendous wealth creation, uplifting millions from poverty. However, it also coincided with rapid social change, greater insecurity in livelihoods, and widening disparities between traditionally privileged and underprivileged groups of people. Using publicly-available data from the US, we will use economic theory to define and explore different types of socio-economic inequality: e.g. labor income, wealth, health status, housing quality, job security. We will use statistical analysis to examine whether and how demographic characteristics determine inequality: e.g. race, gender, education, geographic location, immigration status, family wealth. Finally, we will track changes in inequality over time and try to determine the causes of those changes: e.g. immigration, globalization, tax policies, affirmative action, etc. Students will develop and implement their own research projects in groups of two or three, and conduct all data analyses in R (an open source software). At the end of the program, students will present their results to the public in the form of a scientific poster.

The Psychology of Numbers (Professor Van Der Wege)

The current wave of globalization has created unease within societies. While globalization has generated new markets and new economic opportunities for millions, it has also coincided with rapid social change, widening inequality, greater insecurity in livelihoods, and growing environmental damage. Despite pleas for protectionism from some quarters, many support and encourage globalization’s ubiquitous trend. Who are globalization’s “winners” and “losers”? How do these groups influence public policies that drive or impede globalization? Using statistical analysis of data from around the world, students in this course will first explore the relationship between globalization and the various social ills laid at its door, such as inequality, poverty, and pollution. Students will then use computer simulations to conduct welfare analyses of public policies that influence the path of globalization. Possible research topics: Does globalization widen the gap between rich and poor, and is this necessarily bad? Does globalization harm the environment and is this a price society is willing to pay for economic prosperity? Are policies that influence globalization aimed at increasing national welfare or do they benefit small, powerful groups at the expense of the majority?

 


Past course themes have included: The Politics of Globalization, Models of Conflict, Cooperation and Communication, Science and Pseudoscience in Psychology, Political Science: International Relations, Economics, and Cognitive Psychology.

 

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