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POL S 456 A: Institutional Failure

Meeting Time: 
MW 12:30pm - 2:20pm
SAV 155
Joint Sections: 
LSJ 456 A
Becca Thorpe
Rebecca U. Thorpe

Syllabus Description:

The purpose of this course is to think critically about how and why political institutions fail to achieve their goals or operate in a manner that they were originally intended to and the consequences of these failures. We will examine the rise of a permanent U.S. national security state; the politics of housing and polarization of inequality; a centuries-long American drug war; the politics of policing American cities; the rise of mass incarceration; and failing schools on the basis of 1) policymakers' expressed aims; 2) the goals the institutions in question were meant to serve; and 3) the human costs of failure, particularly for the most disadvantaged members of society.

The course is divided into two main parts. First, we will examine leading theories of political power as conceived by the Founders and in a modern era. This will provide a framework to assess the rise of American empire, the development of a military-industrial complex and the growth of executive power over a vast national security establishment. Second, we will examine how a legacy of racial capitalism promotes segregated housing patterns, militarized policing and punitive forms of punishment

As backdrop for this seminar, we will be watching a season of the HBO television series The Wire, which follows police officers, drug dealers, public school educators, politicians and citizens of Baltimore. The series is meant to complement the scholarly texts that we will be reading in the latter half of the course.

Catalog Description: 
Examines why political institutions fail to achieve their goals or operate in a manner they were originally intended to, and the consequences of these failures. Topics include the national security establishment, the drug war, concentrated poverty, mass incarceration, and inner-city schools. Offered: jointly with LSJ 456.
Department Requirements: 
American Politics Field
GE Requirements: 
Social Sciences (SSc)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
May 11, 2023 - 10:00pm