POL S 527 A: Special Topics in International Relations Research

Meeting Time: 
M 1:30pm - 4:20pm
SAV 140
James A. Caporaso
Topic: Theories of Institutions

Syllabus Description:

Syllabus for Political Science 527

Theories of Institutions

Professor James A. Caporaso

Winter 2019, Monday 1:30 to 4:20

Savery 140

Office hours, Tuesday 1-3





Description.  This course will provide an overview of research and theory on the subject of institutions. Some of the readings will focus on basic theory and will not be tailored to the international system per se.   We will examine central debates about institutional theory, such as what functions institutions perform, how they relate to power, whether institutions are designed or drift toward efficient solutions to social problems, what role norms and custom play in the origin and maintenance of institutions, and what the distributive consequences of institutions are.  Endogeneity issues—what if anything is foundational, what follows from what?—will also be specifically examined in week #10. Examples will be heavily drawn from international and comparative politics. However, because the basic theory of institutions often originates outside of both IR and CP, it is fitting that we include some readings outside of these sub-fields.  


Beyond these general descriptions, I organize the course around competing (and complementary) themes central to some disciplinary perspectives (and marginal to others). Topics and readings are grouped around key variables with disciplinary connotations: power and authority (Political Science); choice and efficiency (Economics); norms and identities (Sociology); and time and sequencing (History).  I intend to focus especially on different disciplinarily-inspired answers to common questions surrounding the origins, maintenance and effects of institutions. 


Readings. I have ordered the following books from the University Book Store. The article and chapter readings are either available in the purchased books, online, or on Canvas.


(1)Joe Jupille, Walter Mattli, and Duncan Snidal.  Institutional Choice and Global Commerce.  Cambridge University Press, 2013.


(2) Paul Pierson, Politics in Time.  Princeton University Press, 2004.


(3) John G. Ruggie (ed.), Multilateralism Matters: the Theory and Praxis of an Institutional Form.  New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.


Class organization.  This class will be organized as a discussion seminar.  I will lead the first class on Monday January 7 and will usually make some introductory comments before each class. After that, one or two students will be assigned to lead class discussion.  What works best is to provide some overview of the week’s readings, to identify 7-8 key questions and to send these questions to the class no later than Sunday evening, 5 pm.  Select and form questions that are theoretically and methodologically controversial, and important, ones that are likely to spark and enliven discussion. Relating the readings of the week to the wider literature is welcome since this is likely to get us to think critically about how things add up, or don’t. Everyone should come to class prepared to discuss the readings.  Indeed, everyone should come to class with questions of their own. 


Evaluations.  There are three short papers required for the class.  The first two are thought papers—exercises in argumentation, coherent theory—rather than research papers (5-7 pages). The emphasis in these two papers is on formulating a coherent theory rather than showing that the theory is right (empirically correct).  I will say more about what a thought paper is, and is not, in class.  The third paper (8-10 pages) is a research design that can be based on one of the first two papers or can strike out in a different direction.  The first paper should be motivated by the readings in weeks 1-4, the second paper by the readings in weeks 5-7, and the research design by the readings of the course in general.  Paper one is due January 28, paper two on February 18, and the research design paper is due on March 11 at our class meeting time. The first two papers are each worth 20% of your grade.  The research design is worth 30%.  Class participation, including your presentations, is worth 30%.



Catalog Description: 
Examination of current topics in the theory and practice of world politics. Content varies according to recent developments in the field and research interests of the instructor.
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:08pm