Pamela J. Stumpo
POL S 414
How people interpret and shape the political world around them through the use of such cultural resources as language, symbolism, myth, and ritual. The various uses of these cultural elements establish the place of the individual in society, influence the perception of political events, and create opportunities for individual and mass political responses.
Full Term Description: How do people interpret and shape the political world around them through the use of such cultural resources as language, symbolism, myth, and ritual. Does culture matter in explaining political phenomena? What are the importance of these myths, symbols and rituals? How should political scientists define culture? How should they use it in their arguments about the places they study? Political scientists have struggled with these issues since Max Weber first raised the issue that culture could be used as a factor to explain political outcomes. Some authors believe culture is the driving force behind political outcomes, others see its importance as secondary or even, non-existent. Most who use it in their arguments struggle to define it or explain what it is, with some achieving more nuanced definitions than others. The goal of this course is for students to begin to familiarize themselves with some of the ways in which political scientists think about culture and also to reflect on how they might use culture in their own arguments about political events. Students are not expected to know one definition of “culture” by the end of the course and exactly how it should be incorporated into political science theory. Rather, students are encouraged to deeply engage the texts and understand the types of arguments made by authors who have addressed the subject.
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
Texts: Most of the readings for the class will be available online; however, students will have to purchase a few of the required books at the University Bookstore. We will read some of the most well-known texts in this area of study, including Weber, Almond and Verba, Huntington, Elkins and Simeon, and Geertz. Then, we will consider two cases in depth – one in the U.S. and one in the Middle East - by looking at authors who use the “culture” of their research location in new and creative ways. We also view films that offer perspectives on what “culture” is and how it affects politics in these two cases.
Class assignments and grading
Students should come to class having done the reading and ready to discuss it. They are expected to struggle with their own ideas about the topic and will have an opportunity to put their thoughts into practice in a final research project that uses primary source material.
Grades: The grade for the course will consist of a series of short response papers based on the reading (30%), a take-home midterm exam (30%) and a final research paper where students are asked to apply the theories about culture we have discussed in class to a case study that they will research in the library (40%). I also reserve the right to give pop quizzes to make sure students are keeping up with class readings.