Policy Research Seminars

Policy research seminars focus 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.

For more detailed information, please access the SPIA Undergraduate Program Guide to Junior Independent Work.

Getting Started in Data Analysis: Topic Selection and Crafting of a Research Question - Independent research projects start with the selection of a topic and the crafting of a feasible research question. This video maps the initial steps to help those who are trying to write a term paper, junior paper, senior thesis or a dissertation for the first time and do not know where to start or what to do.

Topics for Spring 2022 Include:

Monday, 1:30-4:00 PM — Andy Guess

How should democratic societies respond to the amplification of propaganda, disinformation, and hate speech on digital forums designed to promote free expression? This seminar will explore topics related to misinformation, hate speech, and (social) media’s role in amplifying them. We will cover practical and scholarly debates surrounding content moderation on social platforms, especially as they relate to pathologies such as health- and election-related misinformation, hate speech, and incivility.

Topics will include the role of algorithms and curation in ranking content; the promise of labeling, fact-checking, and other interventions designed to reduce hate speech and misinformation; and the tradeoffs associated with commonly proposed policy solutions. In the course of exploring these issues, students will learn about the challenges of studying social media through reading, discussing, and critically evaluating research on these topics. Students will develop research designs to answer specific questions related to online harms and content moderation strategies.

In this course, students will make use of experiments, quantitative and/or qualitative analysis, surveys, and other relevant approaches in order to test their hypotheses.

Andy Guess is Assistant Professor of Politics and Public Affairs, Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.

Monday, 1:30-4:00 PM — Anastasia Mann

This seminar will explore the context, content, and significance of reparations. States deploy reparations to acknowledge and sometimes make restitution for institutionalized violence. Typically, reparations are won by activist-let movements. Conflicts may arise over who can speak for harmed groups and what constitutes justice. For their part, state actors may approach reparations strategically, e.g., to reframe a historical narrative. After studying various precedents, we will turn to recent developments in the long struggle for restorative justice for African Americans and other African diasporic communities worldwide.

Anastasia Mann is Lecturer in Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs

Tuesday, 7:30-10:00 PM — Markus Prior

The speed of news and political communication has dramatically accelerated. Information technology allows instantaneous political communication; news media have found a business model in offering incessant “breaking news”; social media platforms invite contributions at all hours. Yet, many policy challenges, including climate change and retirement security, require long-term solutions.

This seminar will examine the time horizons of ordinary people’s reasoning and judgments about matters of public policy. Students will encounter research from political science, psychology, and behavioral economics that demonstrates often short time horizons: People tend to exhibit impatience when making choices relevant to their own future well-being. They typically focus mostly on the recent past when assessing societal conditions and the performance of office-holders in improving those conditions. The seminar will then ask how impatient and myopic citizens reason about long-term policy challenges. Addressing important policy challenges requires sacrifices (paying higher taxes; reducing carbon emissions) long before the benefits of the policy (solvent social security; avoidance of disruptive climate change) manifest themselves. Are people willing to make such sacrifices? Are they going to support politicians who propose them?

This seminar will involve hands-on explorations of survey datasets by students. Students will be required to use quantitative analysis methods in their JP. They will need basic knowledge of a statistical software (opening a dataset, producing a cross-tab, etc.), which can be acquired in the methods lab. Examples in the seminar will use STATA, but students will be welcome to use a statistical package of their choice for their individual research.

Markus Prior is Professor of Politics and Public Affairs, Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.

Monday, 1:30-4:00 PM — Corrine McConnaughy

Do women want something different than men from the state? Do they need the state to provide for them in different ways? Has their formal incorporation into institutional politics changed how politics and the policy process work? Can and have they made any particular demands upon the state more effectively than men because of gendered processes or influence? Does gender construct particular challenges to seeking policy change? These are the central questions of this course. Our purpose this semester is to consider how gender enters and shapes politics and policies. We will focus primarily on the American context, but the ideas should inform broader consideration. As we discuss policy topics, we’ll consider the range of ways that gender enters—how it forms our normative notions of what the state should provide, how gendered life experiences can create differences in men’s and women’s policy needs and values, whether and how policies have disparate impacts due to gender, and how gender is strategically used to create political support or opposition for policies.

Corrine McConnaughy holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Michigan and is Lecturer and Research Scholar in the Department of Politics. Her research is focused political identities and how organized groups around them are formed and function in American politics. Her work has appeared in journals such as the American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Politics, Public Opinion Quarterly, Public Choice, Studies in American Political Development and American Politics Research and she is author of the book The Woman Suffrage Movement in America: A Reassessment (Cambridge, 2013).

Monday, 1:30-4:00 PM — Sophie Meunier

European integration is much more than the common currency shared by 19 of the 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 fallout from Brexit to the COVID-19 pandemic, 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, 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 all 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, 1:30-4:00 PM — Shoshana Goldstein

Over the past year, a national conversation has emerged about whether, as HUD Director Marcia Fudge put it “Housing is infrastructure”. Infrastructure is generally thought of as a public good--a system or technology of the built environment that invisibly guides the flow of resources, and supports social welfare. This policy research seminar asks: what does a conceptualization of “Housing as infrastructure” offer policymakers, planners, activists, and members of the public? Specifically, this seminar explores the origins and major debates in housing as a form of social infrastructure, looking at its legacies as a public good, a private asset to be regulated for specific outcomes, and as a human right. How is research on the efficacy of housing policy conducted? What kinds of data are used? What are the strengths and weaknesses of various methodologies, and how do they shape potential research questions? Weekly subtopics will include housing (and economic) insecurity, scarcity, and homelessness, the disinvestment in public housing in the US and its history, housing segregation, indigenous property rights, the role housing played during the pandemic, and access to safe, adequate housing as an international development goal.

This seminar will be of particular relevance to students interested in pursuing research questions on urban policy, broadly conceived, or those interested in investigating topics related to the history of public and affordable housing policy in the US, internationally, or with a Global South/International Development perspective.

Shoshana Goldstein is a Postdoctoral Research Associate and Lecturer, Princeton’s School of Architecture.