Political Science | American Politics: Legislative Politics
Y661 | 28157 | Bianco

Topic:  Legislative Politics

This class is a graduate-level, take no prisoners survey of the
contemporary literature on the U. S. Congress in particular and
legislatures in general.  It gives a broad overview of research
trajectories, critical questions, and important findings in the
congressional studies.  It is a first step – but only a first step –
in preparing for an American field exam or beginning a research
career that focuses on legislative politics.

I do not teach this class as a seminar in applied rational choice
theory or as a debate between alternate theoretic approaches.
Rather, the focus is on empirical implications and testable
hypotheses.  Rather than debating the validity or aesthetics of
assumptions and approaches, we will focus on what a piece of
research tells us about how Congress (and legislatures in general)
works.  My yardstick is simple: a theory or hypothesis is good if it
helps us learn something about congressional politics that we didn’t
already know, and is not worth spending time on otherwise.

I will skew the readings in favor of recent research, neglecting
many classic pieces that anyone interested in legislative politics
really needs to know.  I will distribute lists of additional
important and classic readings at the beginning of each class
session, and will discuss how the assigned readings fit into the
larger research stream.

Class assignments are simple.  This is a discussion class, not a
lecture course, and I expect everyone to be full participants,
regardless of their principle field or standing in the program.  I
will distribute a list of questions before each class that are
intended to frame but not limit discussion.  You are responsible for
doing the assigned readings, writing a one-page paper on one of the
questions, and coming to class prepared to be a meaningful
participant in the discussion of all readings.  I take the last
requirement seriously – saying “nothing made sense” or “no comment”
is not a satisfactory response.  If you can’t make head or tail of a
piece of research, you must come to class with a good sense of where
your uncertainties lie.

In addition to the weekly assignments, you will be responsible for
preparing a ten-page research proposal that builds on, critiques, or
extends one or more of the works read in the class.  The proposal
needs to include a brief set-up, description of a hypothesis or
critical test, an oprationalization of the hypothesis or test, and a
description of the data needed to test the hypothesis.  Extra credit
will be given to actual data analysis.  The paper will be revised
based on class comments and represented during the latter part of
the class.  There is no midterm or final exam.