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Topics in Political Science

Module Code: PO4740

Module Name: Topics in Political Science 2018–19

  • ECTS Weighting: 15
  • Semester/Term Taught: Michaelmas + Hilary Term
  • Contact Hours: 1-2 hours per week. The module is taught primarily through class discussions, not through lectures
  • Prerequisites: The module is not open to visiting students
  • Subject matter: MT 2017 The Military and Politics; HT 2018 Representation and Public Opinion
  • Module Personnel: Lecturers - Dr Jesse Dillon Savage in MT, Lisa Keenan in HT.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

  • Critically evaluate the different theoretical approaches to understanding the role of the military in politics;
  • discuss the role of the military in state formation;
  • understand how the military influences domestic political developments such as regime change;
  • explain the role the military plays in both democracies and authoritarian regimes.
  • Discuss and evaluate differ interpretations of what it means to be represented;
  • explore inequalities in representation and explain why some groups are more represented than others;
  • understand different strategies to improve the representation of various groups;
  • explore how we know the beliefs and preferences of the public;
  • consider the limitations of relying on opinion polling to assess public opinion.

Module learning aims

MT 2017: To build students’ understanding of the relationship between the military and politics. The module will provide students with a detailed understanding of how the military influences politics in a variety of spheres both domestic and international. It will explain the challenge of civil-military relations and the effects that civil-military relations can have on political development.

HT 2018: To explore the debate about what it means for individuals and groups to be represented in a democracy, as well as exploring institutions and policies that can be used in order to improve political representation. Additionally, students completing the module will understand the challenges associated with understanding what public opinion actually is and what views should be represented in the political sphere.

Module content

MT 2017: In this term the module studies the role of militaries in politics. One of the key strategic dilemmas raised by the military is that an organization that has the power to protect a polity from external threats has the potential to threaten the polity itself. The goal of this module is to help understand how this dilemma has been resolved in a variety of contexts. It explores the role that the military played in state formation, how civilian control over the military is institutionalised or breaks down, how the military affects domestic competition and conflict, and how the military can affect foreign policy. These issues are examined cross-nationally, including developing and developed countries, democracies and non-democracies.

HT 2018: The second term of this module focuses on citizens. We will study how citizens are represented by their elected officials and how elected officials can know what views they have been elected to represent. Some of the questions that will be addressed in this class are the following: What does it mean to be represented? How can we measure political representation? Are some groups in society more represented than others? What are some strategies that can be employed to ensure marginalised groups are better represented? How do we know what the preferences of groups in society are? What are the limitations of relying on opinion polling to tell us what citizens think and care about? The module will focus on the issue of women’s (under)representation in Ireland, critically evaluating the introduction of the gender quota at the 2016 general election, and ultimately asking what do women in Ireland want?

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Recommended reading list

For MT 2017: Detailed readings will be given in the module handout. Key readings:
Huntington, Samuel P. The Soldier and the State; the Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1957
Singh, Naunihal. Seizing power: the strategic logic of military coups. JHU Press, 2014.
Talmadge, Caitlin. The Dictator's Army: Battlefield Effectiveness in Authoritarian Regimes. Cornell University Press, 2015.

For HT 2018: Detailed readings will be given in the module handout. Key readings are:
Willem E. Saris and Paul M. Sniderman (eds) Studies in public opinion: attitudes, non-attitudes, measurement error, and change (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004).
Wolfgang Donsbach and Michael W. Traugott (eds) The SAGE handbook of public opinion research (London: SAGE Pub., 2008).
Ian Shapiro, Susan C. Stokes, Elisabeth Jean Wood, Alexander S. Kirshner (eds) Political Representation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Assessment details

60% end of year exam; 40% coursework, split equally between Michaelmas and Hilary terms.

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