The Politics department represents four major fields of political science in the United States: political theory, American politics, comparative politics, and global politics. Research and teaching in politics at The New School for Social Research are informed by historical, comparative, and theoretical frameworks that bring people together across these fields.
Historical understanding and comparative referents provide an indispensable base for judgments about contemporary political issues and problems. As political life entails concerns about cultural horizons and forms of inequality, students are encouraged to learn and use a wide range of theoretical approaches, including feminist thought, critical theory, and cultural studies.
Most members of the faculty and many of our students pursue projects that span across the conventional fields of political theory, American politics, comparative politics, and global politics. Important topics such as immigration and citizenship, gender and politics in democratic regimes, and the nature and prospects of international justice often cannot be placed in one of these four fields.
For this reason, courses offered by the Department of Politics are organized by fields that describe the main areas of the faculty's research (these fields do not appear on students' transcripts or diplomas):
- Democracies in theory and practice
- Institutions, policy, and governance
- International politics
- Political development in historical perspective
- Political thought and its history
- Politics in economic and social context
Democracies in Theory and Practice
Studies of democracy aim to understand the basic claims made on behalf of democratic actors and the main problems that such claims must attempt to resolve. Analyses of democracy are now framed in part by the broad expansion of democratic institutions in many parts of the world. We seek to compare democratic practices and institutions in newly emerging democracies with those in countries where democratic political life is more established. Some faculty and students have analyzed recent transitions to democracy, as in Latin America and South Africa. Others have focused on limits to democracy (such as those arising from severe social inequities) in countries where democratic institutions have long been in place. Yet other members of the department focus on basic theoretical problems about democracy in light of dramatic recent changes.
Identities, Culture, and Politics
Courses focused on identities and culture in politics take several forms. We examine the nature of social identities and consider how these identities become politically important. We analyze the claims of different groups for recognition and justice. And we consider how conflicts between groups can be managed in more and less democratic ways. Courses in this area include both empirical and theoretical inquiries, and the latter are both explanatory and normative.
Institutions, Policy, and Governance
Courses in this area aim to understand the origins and dynamics of different kinds of political institutions. The study of institutions concerns their practical effects, in large part via explicit policies. It is linked with the study of how governance occurs and power is exercised. Thus, courses in this area link studies of institutional form, policies, and modes of decision-making to normative debates about fair and democratic procedures. To address these issues means paying special attention to states in their historical and contemporary forms.
The courses in this group link the study of comparative politics with international relations and international political economy and include the United States within a comparative and international framework. The study of international relations has undergone major changes in the last two decades. New theoretical debates have emerged and empirical subjects have become more diverse, due to the end of the Cold War and the upsurge in new forms of internationalization. Several members of the Department of Politics are now engaging with the international dimension of problems that they initially studied within the boundaries of other fields. Several have examined the political dimension of international movements of people through immigration, labor migration, and the creation of refugee populations. Others have studied relations between states amid increased levels of political and economic transactions. A key question is how commitments to democracy and social welfare within countries can be reformulated and fulfilled in a new international setting.
Political Development in Historical Perspective
These courses provide an analysis of politics that is historically grounded and broadly comparative. Within this area, the study of the political development of the United States has a large role. Courses examine such topics as the historical origins of the nation-state as a form of political organization, the transformations of political life that occurred during and after the rise of representative forms of government, and the emergence and reshaping of dominant conceptions of citizenship.
Political Thought and Its History
As political thought is part of history, rigorous historical knowledge is required to analyze the history of political thought critically and imaginatively. Such knowledge is also important for understanding the main themes and arguments of contemporary political theory. Students are encouraged to address questions that have been the subject of significant empirical research and to make use of that research in their inquiries. They are also encouraged to gain familiarity with basic theoretical themes in other social science disciplines and to explore the social and cultural dimensions in the tradition of political thought.
Politics in Economic and Social Context
To define politics as a field means that political relations have their own distinctive dynamics, irreducible to other social relations. Yet relations between politics and social and economic life remain important for theoretical and practical reasons. Courses in this group draw on and develop several traditions of inquiry that combine different disciplines, especially political economy and political sociology. Courses address contemporary issues that arise where political life intersects with other areas of society - for example, the relationship between social and economic inequality and politics, the proper range of democracy in institutions outside the polity per se, the nature and effects of civil society in different countries, and the relationship between economic growth, social development, and democratization.