Topic outline

  • Course Introduction

    This is a survey course, and as such it can either be used by students who are looking to take just one general overview course, or for students who want to go on to more advanced study in any of the subfields that comprise the political science discipline, such as American politics, comparative politics, international politics, or political theory.  This course will survey the different ways in which political scientists study the phenomena of politics and will deepen your understanding of political life as both a thinker and a citizen.  The goal of this course is to introduce you to the discipline's concepts, terminology, and methods and to explore instances of applied political science through real world examples.

    As an introductory course, POLSC101 will focus on the basic principles of political science by combining historical study of the discipline's greatest thinkers with analysis of contemporary issues.  We will also identify and discuss the questions that perennially drive the field of political science, including (among many others): "How do we define the changing nature of power?,” "How do we differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate governance?,” "What are the differences between political institutions and political behavior?,” and "How do leaders define who gets to be heard and counted in a political community?”  By the end of this course, you will be familiar with these issues and capable of discussing them within the context of contemporary politics.

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  • Unit 1: Politics: Foundational Concepts

    Our study of politics will begin with a review of the basic principles of politics and various perspectives on how we define politics and its domain.  We will discuss the changing notion of politics over time and across cultures as we work towards a definition.

    This unit will lay the framework for the remaining five units in this course.  A confident and solid grasp of the principles presented in this unit is therefore crucial to your progression through the remainder of the course.  You will find, for example, that each of the five subsequent units will conclude with a discussion of how the principles you have learned and the issues you have identified apply to a contemporary, real-life situation.  You will need to draw from the foundational material you have learned in this unit in order to respond to these applied situations.

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  • Unit 2: Participation

    In this unit, we will look at the participation of citizens in their governments.  We are all born into a political culture, and our political socialization begins as young as age 3, when we first learn our attitudes toward police officers: think back, did you hear your mom or dad say, "If you ever get lost, find a police officer, and they will bring you home,” or did you hear from your car seat in the back, "Oh no! Slow down! It's the cops!”  One gives you a good feeling toward police, and authority in general, while the other instills fear.

    Our environment continues to shape our political opinions as we grow, and when we become eligible to vote, we also decide whether to join parties or interest groups or even whether or not to participate in political marches or other forms of protest.  Some of us may grow up in a political void and feel alienated, while others try to use the government to promote racist and hate-filled agendas; when their voices are rejected, or even "silenced,” they feel disenfranchised and resort to violence.  In a democracy, hearing everyone's voice is the goal, even if we do not like what our fellow citizens are saying.

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  • Unit 3: Ideologies

    In this unit, we will be looking at the ideologies of the state and its citizens.  Some of these ideologies reflect more on the state, others on the people and their political parties, and others overlap the two.  Some of these ideologies have only come into existence in the twentieth century, while others go back hundreds of years.  Some ideologies mean one thing in the United States and something different to the rest of the world - for example, "liberalism.”  The following subunit covers many of the traditional and best known ideologies, however, the list is not all-inclusive.

    Historically, the political spectrum was seen as one-dimensional, left and right, representing the government's position on the economic and defense issues of the day.  But in the twentieth century, the New Deal and other social issues led to the creation of another dimension, confusing many who were trying to understand where they stood on both the economic/defense issues and social issues.  At the end of this unit you will be able to take a test and see where your political views fall on the multidimensional political spectrum.

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  • Unit 4: The State

    In this unit, we will look at the state, a relatively new creation.  What is a state?  What is the difference between a nation and a state?  Are states sovereign?  Who controls the state?  What is the role of the state?  Do states have a future?  These are the types of questions that will be explored in this unit.

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  • Unit 5: Political Institutions

    This unit looks at the various forms of government a country can adopt and how government forms the foundations of the institutions that countries build.  Although this course tries to give a global perspective on government, a lot of the specifics we will look at will be from the perspective of the United States. 

    The Max Planck Manual has a global perspective and was written for the people of the Sudan as they contemplate and hope for a future of democracy and stability.  If you were from the Sudan, which would you chose: federal or unitary relationships between the central government and the local governments; a president or a prime minister to lead; legislature or a parliament to make laws?  And what difference does it make, anyway?  This unit will explore these types of questions.

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  • Unit 6: World Politics and Globalization

    This unit traces the emergence of a world system of states from the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), which first standardized the conditions for peace among states, through the colonial period and into contemporary globalization.  We will see that global governance has its roots both in the economic interests of states and a general aversion to war.  For instance, you will learn how economic interests led European powers to expand their political control over - and ultimately establish formal colonies (countries or areas under the political control of another, distant country) in  - Africa, the Americas, and Asia. European powers used their colonies both to extract raw materials for the industrial revolution in Europe and the United States and to export excess segments of their own populations.  From an economic perspective, European colonization was exchanging excess Europeans for raw materials like lumber, steel, tea, and crops.  This pattern of exchange has led to complex political dynamics across state borders, the implications of which continue to be felt today.

    This unit will also consider how both trade and a series of 18th and 19th century European colonial mandates eventually led to two world wars and the emergence of what we call the Third World, those countries not included in the Soviet or United States spheres of influence during the Cold War.  Subunit 6.2 introduces security studies, which includes the political voices of indigenous peoples in response to the drive toward globalization.  Subunits 6.3 and 6.4 will focus on some of the emerging issues in global governance, such as the burgeoning influence of nonstate actors and human rights.

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  • Course Evaluation Survey

    Please take a few moments to provide some feedback about this course at the link below. Consider completing the survey whether you have completed the course, you are nearly at that point, or you have just come to study one unit or a few units of this course.

    Link: Course Evaluation Survey (HTML)

    Your feedback will focus our efforts to continually improve our course design, content, technology, and general ease-of-use. Additionally, your input will be considered alongside our consulting professors' evaluation of the course during its next round of peer review. As always, please report urgent course experience concerns to contact@saylor.org and/or our Discourse forums.

  • Final Exam


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  • Course Evaluation Survey

    Please take a few moments to provide some feedback about this course at the link below. Consider completing the survey whether you have completed the course, you are nearly at that point, or you have just come to study one unit or a few units of this course.

    Link: Course Evaluation Survey (HTML)

    Your feedback will focus our efforts to continually improve our course design, content, technology, and general ease-of-use. Additionally, your input will be considered alongside our consulting professors' evaluation of the course during its next round of peer review. As always, please report urgent course experience concerns to contact@saylor.org and/or our Discourse forums.