A concentration is a set of courses taken in a particular subfield of political science. In the late 19th century, when political science began to emerge as a distinctive area of scholarly inquiry, American politics was the dominant subfield in the United States. By the middle of the 20th century three additional subfields had evolved: comparative politics, international politics, and (normative) political theory. As the discipline matured, most political science departments began to use the subfields to organize their curricula and faculty recruitment. Meanwhile, some of the larger departments at major research universities evolved additional subfields in public policy, public law, and/or research methodology (including quantitative and systematic qualitative analysis).
Today, questions about government and politics cut increasingly across disciplines as well as subfields. Many research topics in comparative politics, for example, are relevant to political theory, international relations, and American politics. Moreover, individual political scientists often rely on theories of motivation and behavior that emerged originally in the disciplines of economics, sociology, or psychology. These presuppositions about action and agency embodied in these theories have created competing approaches to each subfield, as well as commonalities across the subfields and cross-fertilization across disciplines.
As a Government major at Wesleyan you will have the opportunity to develop expertise in a particular subfield by choosing one of the four concentrations listed below. In most cases, you complete the concentration by taking its introductory course as well as three of its upper-division courses. Certain courses may be applied to alternative concentrations, but each course may count only once toward the major. First-year initiative courses (usually numbered in the low 100s, e.g., GOVT110 and GOVT121) count toward the 32 credits you need to graduate, but may not be counted toward the Government major or toward any concentration within the Government major.
American politics specialists study politics and government in the United States, analyzing the ways in which the inhabitants of a large nation-state committed to the principles of constitutional democracy have sought to govern themselves. Among other things, the concentration is concerned with the ways in which constitutional and democratic values have shaped public institutions and how these institutions have affected, and been influenced by, policy choices. American politics courses focus mainly on the contemporary United States, but they also provide historical and comparative perspectives without which the nation’s current political system cannot be fully understood. At Wesleyan, as in political science departments at most other universities, American politics includes several sub-specialites: national institutions (the presidency, Congress, Courts and the executive branch); political mobilization (parties, elections, interest groups, social and political movements); state and local government (state politics, urban politics and intergovernmental relations); public law (constitutional law, civil rights and civil liberties); and public policy (policy analysis, substantive policies). The American Political Science Association recognizes public law and public policy as separate subfields of political science (alongside political methodology and the four subfields described here), but at Wesleyan, as at most other smaller universities in the United States, public law and public policy are incorporated into the American politics subfield.
Comparative poitics involves the systematic analysis of political regimes, as well as the systematic study of cultural, social, economic, and historical factors that shape and constrain political institutions, ideologies, and public policies. Most comparativists focus on nations within geographical regions that share important elements of language, culture, or history, with special attention to political institutions, political culture, and political economy. Among political scientists, comparativists are those most likely to staff and contribute to regionally-focused interdisciplinary programs such as (at Wesleyan) East Asian Studies, Latin American Studies, and Russian and East European Studies. Comparativists tend to focus on politics within countries (especially countries outside the United States), rather than on interactions among countries, which is mainly the purview of the International politics subfield. Necessarily, however, comparativists need to be aware of interactions among nations, just as international relations specialists need to be aware of domestic politics.
International politics specialists tend to focus on interactions among nations, rather than (like many comparativists) on particular regions or specific historical periods. They also study the structure of the international order that shapes and constrains interactions among countries. Within the international politics subfield the major specialties include international political economy, international security, and international law and organization. International political economists examine economic relations among nations at the regional and/or global level. International security specialists study the causes and consequences of war, including the foreign policies and weapons systems that promote or deter conflict, as well as nuclear proliferation and nuclear diplomacy, the use of conventional weapons, and ethnic and national conflict. Emerging areas of scholarly interest within the international security specialty include the causes and consequences of disease, gender bias, environmental challenges, human migration, water supply, and food availability. Specialists in international law and organization examine institutions and norms that affect relations among nations.
Political theory is engaged with current political issues and is self-reflective about political life. It has a strong ethical component and develops alternative conceptualizations of how we might organize social and political relations. Political theory thus understood is an aspect of the whole discipline, interwoven with each concentration; it also has its own tradition of discourse, from ancient to contemporary theorists. The tradition focuses on the ethical bases for relationships of authority among individuals, those invested with legitimate and illegitimate power. It studies the forces that expand and limit human potential. In Western political theory, theorists tend to have research specialties in one or more of three historical periods: ancient (the Golden Age of Greece and Rome); modern (from Machiavelli and Hobbes through Marx and Nietzsche); and contemporary. Theorists read and teach broadly across these historical periods.
Listed below are courses that correspond to each concentration. Additional courses may be added to each concentration in the future, and some of the courses noted below may eventually be dropped. Our "Which Concentration Is That Course In?" webpage has the most up-to-date list of which courses count toward which concentration(s).
American politics: GOVT151, 201-259, 371-380. This concentration includes the introductory course (GOVT151) and the following upper-division offerings: sophomore-level survey courses (GOVT201-209); advanced upper-division courses (GOVT210-259); and seminars and tutorials (371-380, 401-412). The concentration requires GOVT151 and at least three upper-division courses in American politics. GOVT366, Empirical Methods for Political Science, may be credited toward the concentration. Ideally, prospective American politics concentrators should take GOVT151 in the frosh year. One or more of the sophomore-level courses, GOVT201-209, should ideally be taken next.
Comparative politics: GOVT157, survey courses (GOVT270, 271, 274, 278, 284, 296, 297, and 302), and seminars (GOVT301, 304, 305, 381, 382, 383, 384, and 385). The concentration requires GOVT157 and at least 3 upper-division courses in comparative politics. With the permission of the student's advisor, GOVT155 may be substituted for GOVT157.
International politics: GOVT155, 311-333, and 386-390. The concentration requires GOVT 155 and three upper-division courses in international politics. Students should also consider the Certificate in International Relations awarded by the Public Affairs Center.
Political theory: GOVT159, 337-359, and 391-398. The concentration requires either the introductory political theory course (GOVT159) and three upper division courses in political theory, or four upper division courses in political theory. In either case, two of the upper-division courses must come from the GOVT337, 338, 339 sequence. This sequence of courses (classical political theory, modern political theory, and contemporary political theory respectively) surveys the work of major theorists in the Western tradition.