Capstone Seminar (PPE 475 and 476)
The Capstone seminar is the highest level class offered by PPE for our majors. It is intended to offer the advanced student a quasi-graduate environment where they are exposed to the frontiers of research on the subject, while also providing them with a comprehensive overview of the topic.
For a description of where Capstone courses fit in the structure of the major, please visit this page. Note that PPE students may also choose to take several Capstone seminars as theme electives, if appropriate (please consult with the PPE Associate Director).
Classes are typically conducted in seminar fashion, meeting once or twice a week for 3 hours. Students are required to write a substantial paper, or several smaller papers, or complete projects. The Capstone paper is not to be confused with the honors paper, which is a distinct requirement available to those who meet the conditions for honors.
Some general goals for Capstone research
1. The student should be able to accurately and clearly summarize what someone else said in a scholarly article. This requires basic understanding of the article's field, as well as the ability to write or speak clearly.
2. The student should be able to raise and evaluate arguments on both sides of issues that an author has raised.
3. The student should be able to criticize, but without being unfair, without setting up straw men, and without neglecting possible counter-arguments to the criticism.
4. The student should be able to give a presentation. If visual aids are used, the student should be aware of issues that might arise, such as the dangers of simply putting an outline on slides and then reading it, or the benefits of including true visual aids such as graphs and tables.
5. In the final paper, at least, the student should be able to synthesize some reading into a position, which is then defended against possible objections. The student should know how to search efficiently for relevant literature.
Offered Capstone Courses, Fall 2015
475-302 Public Choice and Public Policy (Sontuoso)
SEM: W 2-5 PM
This course applies Public Choice theory to the analysis of contemporary policy issues: while maintaining an interdisciplinary nature, it aims at providing an introduction to the analytical tools of economics as applied to the study of current issues in political science. Each class will begin with a survey of some positive theoretical framework(s), including the foundations of the rational choice theory, approaches to the aggregation of preferences, strategic behavior, voting methods, accounts of cooperation, collective action, public goods, and institutions. The last part of each class will then critically apply theoretical knowledge to relevant contemporary policy issues, including current debates on governmental decision-making processes in the US and EU, lobbying in democracies, international security, state capacity and implementation, greenhouse gas reduction, etc. Note: part of the program contains a theoretical (formal) component.
475-303 Electoral Systems and Decision Making (Miller)
SEM: W 5-8 PM
Electoral systems are processes by which votes cast in an election are translated into seats in a legislature. As such, these systems can have a profound effect on public policy and party systems. This course examines majoritarian, proportional, and mixed electoral systems in terms of how these institutions translate votes into seats and can incentivize strategic or genuine choices by voters when casting a ballot. Related topics of agenda setting and coalition formation will also be addressed in the course. We'll start with an overview of the mechanics of these systems and then turn to classic political questions of party competition, resource allocation, and interest representation as they relate to how these systems operate in a comparative context.
475-304 Modeling of Social Phenomena (Funcke)
SEM: TR 3-4:30 PM
During the 20th century social science, and in particular economics, went through a process of increased formalization. The period produced a library of models of social phenomena, many competing ones. In this course we will briefly browse the library, with the intention to explore classical theoretical perspectives of what is a better model and ponder how increased normalization affects the social sciences. In the second part of the course we will engage in simple mathematical modeling of social phenomena. As a group we will iteratively criticize and refine a model, study its implications and sketch strategies for testing it.
475-305 Trust, Lies & Videotape (Hart)
SEM: M 3:30-6:30 PM
The seminar will describe theories and research findings regarding trustworthiness and its counterpart, deception. We will discuss signals that may convey cooperative and deceptive intentions, and people's ability to detect them in different situations and paradigms. Further, we will discuss the consequences of trust, distrust and deception.
Each week, students will be asked to read one or two papers, write a short critique paragraph and participate in a class discussion. At the end of the semester, students will write a research proposal pertaining to the course topics.
475-306 Ethical Issues in Globalization (Lister)
SEM: W 2-5 PM
The process of globalization includes increased interaction among, and interdependence between, the states of the world and the people living in them. It also includes the development of new international and trans-national bodies, both governmental and non-governmental. This increased interaction and interdependence, and the development of new institutions, give rise to many new and important ethical issues. These will be among the most important issues for the 21st century. In this class we will consider such questions as fairness in the international economy (including trade and labor standards); international labor migration and “brain drain”; duties to promote development in less-developed countries; whether and when the debt burdens of less-developed or burdened countries should be forgiven; and how we might address shared burdens relating to the environment. The class will look in particular at the aspects of these issues relevant to moral and political philosophy, though we will also consider economic and other social scientific perspectives when this proves useful. The seminar will be based on reading and discussion [not lecture!] of a number of recent important texts on these issues. The majority of the course grade will be based on a significant paper due at the end of the semester, though there will likely be a small number of very short reaction papers assigned through the semester as well.
475-402 (HIST 455) Risk and Society (Wiggins)
SEM: W 2-5 PM
Since at least Herodotus, historians have been writing about humanity’s attempts to predict dangers and control futures. But while a concern for the future and strategies to mitigate accidents have existed for much of recorded time, the concept of risk is a relatively young construction, emerging only in early modernity. In this course, we investigate the concept of the risk in order to understand how it became a central organizing force in the modern period— perhaps even the defining characteristic of modernity—and, importantly, how it came to be seen as manageable. In the course’s first unit, we read the foundational materials of the theory of the “risk society”—Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens’ early work. Then, in unit 2, move to selections from historians of knowledge who trace the epistemic shifts that developed modern concepts of risk and eventually opened the possibility for its management through the use of statistical probabilities. While the most critical developments in the conception of risk took place in Europe across the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, unit 3 moves across the Atlantic to investigate the ways in which risk and, especially the desire to mitigate it, shaped the United States. In this unit (our largest of the course), we will see how risk assessment and management grew into the largest business in the world. Here, we will look at statistics, actuarial science, insurance, speculation, and financial capital. Along the way, we will see many instances in which categories of identity—race, class, gender, sexuality, ability—are tied deeply into the business of discriminating risk. Finally, the concluding unit reassesses the concept of the risk society through the recent past and possible futures as it considers catastrophic threats that remain pressing— nuclear war, chemical waste, genetic engineering, global climate change, and systemic financial collapse.