Policy Research Seminars

Policy Research Seminars focuses on critical thinking and methodology.

In the seminars, faculty members supervise small groups of students engaged in research on a specific topic in public and international affairs. Students also participate in a research-methods lab designed to teach them quantitative and qualitative research methods.

Topics for Spring 2020 include:

Monday, 1:30-4:00 PM
Emily Pronin

Political partisanship and polarization sometimes seem to be the norm in American politics. We will study the psychological roots of these problems. This seminar will explore the psychological causes and consequences of people’s tendency toward partisanship and polarization in the political realm. The problem of political partisanship generally involves bias in favor of a particular cause or group, at the expense of a more objective, fair, or rational analysis. The problem of polarization involves real — or, often, perceived — vast differences between political factions that become barriers in reaching agreement, achieving compromise, and otherwise communicating peaceably and effectively. This course will introduce students to psychological research concerning fundamental aspects of human cognition, social interaction, and intergroup perception of relevance to partisanship and polarization. We will focus on careful readings of experimental (mostly) research, with the interest of growing your capabilities in processing psychological research, thinking about it critically, and developing research questions. Furthermore, you will be challenged to apply psychological findings and theory to current political problems of polarization and partisanship that are of particular interest to you, as you practice bridging the gap from basic psychological research to real-world problems.

Emily Pronin is Associate Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs.

Monday 1:30-4:20
Deborah Yashar

What rights do children have to citizenship? What responsibility do states have toward children? And what is the ethical or legal basis for making these decisions? These political questions are particularly salient in the context of migration and refugee flows, war, poverty, and ethnic conflict. When do children have a right to a homeland and citizenship? When do they have the right to basic needs – now and in the future? And how do nation states decide policies for children living within their borders. States, international agencies, and academics have long debated these questions (asking whether rights derive from their status as human beings; as members of a given nationality or ethnic group; as dependents, dependent on and responsible for the decisions of their parents; or something else).

To address these questions, the course will discuss policy debates, theory, and empirical cases. The course is divided into four parts. We start by analyzing how international agencies have addressed and debated citizenship and the rights of the child, for example, The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Second, we will address policy debates about children in the context/aftermath of war (such as WWII and contemporary civil wars). What rights do these children have in their home states? When and why do other states agree to receive them and what rights do states accord these children. Third, we will analyze undocumented child migration in the context of poverty and violence (outside of war). What responsibility do neighboring states have to children that cross borders without papers – a salient contemporary debate in the US, as we debate DACA, detention camps, and social services. We will end the course by debating children’s rights to participate in politics: since they cannot vote or be elected, what rights and opportunities do children have to speak up for a future that has been decided for them – a question so visibly posed by students protesting in Chile for a more equitable future; in the US for gun control; and in Sweden and now around the world for climate change. When can/do children participate (as allies and/or critics of policymakers) to effect political change?

The seminar is designed to give you the tools, both substantive and methodological, to be able to produce independent research and write an academic-style paper. The main challenge will be for you to do three things simultaneously: learn substantively about the Politics of Children, Citizenship and Migration; familiarize yourself with the analytical research skills taught in the Methods Lab; and produce independent research in your JP.

Deborah J. Yashar is Professor of Politics & International Affairs; and editor of World Politics.

Monday, 1:30-4:00 PM
Julian Zelizer

The presidency of Donald Trump has been one of the most contentious periods in American political history. Since his inauguration in January 2017, every day has brought another controversy. The news is flooded with stories about a new scandal, the backroom conflicts taking place in the Oval Office, and the latest twitter storms to come from the Oval Office. Corruption, conflict-of-interest, and impeachment dominate the headlines. The pundits have devoted an enormous amount of energy to analyzing what his first term reveals about the character of the Republican Party and how Democrats have, or have not, responded.

Yet at the same time extremely consequential policy changes have taken place during the past few years that we are only beginning to understand. Some have occurred through legislation, including corporate tax cuts and criminal justice reform. Others, a majority of the shifts, have occurred through executive action, ranging from environmental regulations, to border policies, to the Affordable Care Act. Given all the noise coming out of Washington, most of these developments have gone under the radar.

Using historical methods, students in this research seminar will take a first cut at the Trump presidency by analyzing the major shifts in public policy since 2017.

Julian E. Zelizer is the Malcolm Stevenson Forbes, Class of 1941 Professor of History and Public Affairs.

European integration is much more than the common currency shared by 19 of the 28 (soon 27) members of the European Union (EU). It is a process that has brought peace to bitter historical enemies, facilitated the economic growth of its members, and served as an attractive beacon that has stabilized the whole region and beyond. Yet it is now facing a multiplicity of simultaneous crises, from the euro crisis to Brexit, from challenges posed by refugee flows to challenges to the rule of law.

In this seminar, we will learn about the history, institutions, and policy functions of the European Union. We will analyze successive stages in the integration process and ask why member states transferred so much power to the EU over the years. We will read and discuss sample works using different empirical strategies and methodologies (mostly qualitative but also quantitative), which examine the political consequences of these transfers of power and competences to the supranational entity, both at the domestic and at the international levels. And we will reflect on the simultaneous crises currently challenging European integration from all angles.

The main purpose of the seminar is to give you the tools, both substantive and methodological, to be able to produce independent research and write an academic-style paper. The main challenge will be for you to do three things simultaneously: learn substantively about European integration; familiarize yourself with the analytical research skills taught in the Methods Lab; and produce independent research in your JP.

Sophie Meunier is Senior Research Scholar in Public Policy and International Affairs and Co-Director of the European Union Program at Princeton.

Monday, 7:30-10:00 PM
Zhao Li

This course examines the role of money and interest groups’ influence in U.S. policymaking. The thorough involvement of money in the political process is frequently cited as a prima facie case for radical reform. However, reforms have typically failed to achieve their desired effects because the reasons why and mechanisms through which money influences policy outcomes remain poorly understood.

The two main goals of this class are to:

  1. Introduce you to contemporary research on how money in politics, specifically campaign finance and lobbying, shapes political representation and policymaking in the United States;
  2. Help you make an original contribution to this small but growing body of knowledge. We will learn facts about how “the system” works (and clear up some basic misconceptions), and then dive into contemporary social science research on these topics.

You will be expected to read and digest academic works on these subjects using your training from other coursework and the Methods lab.

Zhao Li is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.

Monday, 1:30-4:00 PM
Barbara Buckinx

From the resurgence of populist nativism to the school strikes for the climate, many of the current protests and convulsions in liberal democracies are manifestations of a crisis of global governance. Citizens worry about the ways in which their governments are represented — and representing them — on the global stage, and they question whether global problems are being addressed appropriately and effectively. This research seminar explores how the world is governed, focusing on the interactions among states, supranational organizations, multinational corporations, and international civil society organizations. Analyzing formal and informal global governance arrangements and practices, we will consider some of the world’s recent successes and failures in the areas of peace and security, economic development and equality, human rights, health, and the environment. Which rules and institutions of global governance are adequate for the task at hand and how might others be reformed? The primary purpose of the seminar is to give you the necessary background and tools to produce independent research.

Barbara Buckinx is Associate Research Scholar in the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs and Director of the Project on Self-Determination and Emerging Issues at the School's Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination.

Monday, 1:30-4:00 PM
Tim Nelson

The United States has a higher poverty rate than almost any other developed nation. Between one-fifth and one quarter of American children live below the poverty line, despite our government declaring a “War on Poverty” over fifty years ago. The causes and consequences of poverty touch a number of domains, including jobs, housing and neighborhoods, race and gender dynamics, families, schools, the criminal justice system, and local and national political structures.

In this seminar, we examine how poverty has been defined and measured, consider its underlying causes, and spell out its consequences for people’s lives. We will examine theories of the culture of poverty, discrimination, concentrated poverty and housing markets, work and family as well as other contributors such as unequal schooling and mass incarceration. We will survey the history of US policy designed to address domestic poverty, both more generally and through targeted means, and we will assess the nation’s current programs as to their effects and adequacy.

Tim Nelson is a Lecturer in Sociology and Public Policy at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.

Monday, 1:30-4:00 PM
Johannes Haushofer

This course explores the relationship between poverty, psychology, and economic choice. In particular, we will ask whether poverty has psychological consequences, and whether these, in turn, affect economic decision-making. The course draws on material and methods from psychology, neuroscience, behavioral economics, and development economics, including both lab and field experiments in both developed and developing countries. We will pay particular attention to causal identification of treatment effects, and place emphasis on reading papers critically, forming an educated opinion on the state of knowledge across a group of papers, identifying gaps in the literature, and developing research ideas and designs to address these gaps. In contrast to SPI 404(7) — Poverty in America, this seminar focuses more on psychological causes and consequences of poverty than on other domains; and more on international rather than domestic settings.

Johannes Haushofer is Assistant Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs