My courses teach students how power, interests, institutions, economics, history, and international relations shape public and political life. My students come to understand the politics of their own countries (for most the United States) in light of how politics happens around the world. Learning about the great diversity in the world’s governing systems, as well as the causes and consequences of this diversity, transforms students’ understanding of what is possible, as well as why some social problems are so intractable. It gives them the tools to think rigorously about whether and how we can reform politics so that citizens everywhere can achieve “the good life.”
My teaching also highlights a contention that is at the heart of my research: Individuals’ ability to achieve “the good life” depends not only the characteristics of the nation-state where they live or belong. It also depends on that state’s place in the international system and on the movement of people, goods, money, and ideas in-and-out of states’ borders. Both international relations and the nature of cross-border flows, including human migration flows, affect the conditions under which citizens effectively pursue just representation, government accountability, and liberty. This idea goes to the heart of some today’s most contentious and important political debates.
My teaching highlights the difference between political opinions and values, on one hand, and evidence based political science on the other, while recognizing that there is a tension between the two (Sebell 2015). To this end, I emphasize the importance of critical reading. Students must learn to evaluate the origins of the information they read–who is the author? What institution has published the research? Who funds the research? What evidence do authors provide to support their claims? I also expect them to critically assess varying definitions of contested concepts such as democracy, rule of law, justice, poverty, and citizenship. My students learn to identify the theoretical assumptions behind arguments, as well as the qualitative and quantitative empirical evidence on which arguments rest (or not!). My advanced students learn to develop and test their own theoretical expectations.
Read about my favorite lesson to teach from this class here.
Photo by Phyllis Graber Jensen, Bates College