Y573 | 3443 | Monroe

Formal political theory is a generic label for a number of modeling traditions in political science. The dominant traditions within formal theory are those of rational choice theory and game theory. Rational choice is a theory of how individuals make decisions; game theory is a theory of how rational individuals interact. In economics, the rational choice model is used to characterize the behavior of consumers and firms. In political science, rational choice has been used to model almost every imaginable type of political actor: voters, candidates, interest groups, parties, nation-states, legislators, bureaucrats, and so on. The first section of the course is devoted to studying basic technical aspects of game theory and rational choice, and examining how game theoretical models are constructed and applied in political science. Formal theory is not limited to rational choice and game theory, however. Some types of formal theory focus model internal choice mechanisms and as a consequence do not assume rational decision-makers (e.g., bounded rationality models, connectionist / neural network modeling). Others assume that individuals are chosen rather than making choices (e.g., evolutionary game theory). Still others do not require individuals to be the actors at all (e.g., computational modeling, dynamic modeling). The second section of the course will be spent examining a selection of these approaches. In the final section of the course, we will try to place formal theory in broader context. In particular, we will also discuss the strengths and limitations of the rational choice framework, how it might be modified to deal with these limitations, and under what circumstances it should and should not be applied. Particular attention will be given to the increasingly important interaction of formal theory and empirical analysis. Formal theory has been applied across the subdisciplines of political science and may, therefore, be of use to students in all subfields. The ubiquity of formal theory will be illustrated with applications in comparative politics (elections, legislatures, coalitions, party systems, democratization), international relations (alliances, deterrence, war, international organizations, trade), American politics (elections, Congress, interest groups, divided government, realignment), public policy (collective action, distributive politics, political economy), and political philosophy (constitutions, democracy, justice, Marxism). Most students should take Y572 (Mathematical Tools for Political Science) concurrently with, or prior to, Y573. Grades for the course will be based on problem sets and exams.