Course Guidelines

Course Description

There are lots of reasons to be interested in African politics.  For many students, those reasons have to do with travel, with wanting to be exposed to different cultures, and the desire to understand the wide range of important issues of public policy issues facing African countries (often for future employment in journalism, public service, the non-profit sector, or in government).  For political scientists, African politics presents some of the most intractable theoretical and practical problems faced by scholars in our discipline.  This course is organized around a series of themes (roughly one a week), each of which represents both an important area of debate in the study of African politics and a scholarly literature addressing this issue.  We will have the opportunity to look at cutting-edge research by academics, and to see how the study of African politics contributes to our general, global knowledge of politics.

This class assumes you have some (very) basic knowledge of African geography and history, but requires mainly your enthusiasm for learning about contemporary Africa.  This is not a course on current events (and some of you may be occasionally frustrated by my academic approach to “real world” problems), but you will gain substantial exposure to the ordinary, daily politics of contemporary Africa.  I will endeavor to show you how to go about becoming informed about African current events, and I will encourage you to do so.  But most importantly to me, we will try to see how “academic” research speaks to real world problems, and how it can be of use to journalists, policymakers, and ordinary people trying to be good global citizens.

Finally, it is a particular goal of your professor’s to encourage students to think about African politics not in terms of what is exceptional about Africa, but in terms of what is universal about politics.  Sub-Saharan Africa’s unique history of colonization and external interference is an important part of the African political experience.  But this background does not make African politics immune to many of the same sorts of analytic techniques and theories that guide students of politics in other parts of the world.  Thus, we’ll be talking about political participation in Africa both in terms of ethnic and political party identification, about both witchcraft and formal political institutions.  While there’s plenty about African politics that might be productively thought of as the product of a (relatively) unique set of historical circumstances, I’ll be making the case that much of what seems at first glance to be odd or exotic about African political life has clear parallels in the politics of Western democracies.

Process and Schedule Outline

The second set of goals for this course involve learning to think and write for multiple audiences. Too much college writing teaches students to think only about how to please their “audience of one”–the professor who will be the only person who reads your text. The writing political science majors do outside of college will look nothing like this–you’ll need to be able to think critically not only about your topic, but about who’ll be reading your work, and what their rhetorical, stylistic, and analytic needs will be. By making most of what you write in this class public, my goal is to help you learn to think about the difference between writing for professors and writing for the rest of the world.

This class will challenge you to think about research as a process, and to think of your final paper as a project you’ll be working on with every piece of writing you do for this class, actively soliciting and receiving feedback from your professor and fellow students as you go. As such, you’ll be graded not only on your own work, but on the comments and feedback you provide your classmates. I believe this process will help you to engage more with the texts we’ll be reading, to understand current events in the field of democratization, and ultimately, to get more out of this course.


During the second week of class, every student will meet with me individually or in small groups to discuss topics of potential interest for your research project. I expect that you’ll have a topic pinned down no later than the end of week three, when you’ll submit a one page research proposal. Your proposal should lay out your research question in the context of one or more specific countries or contexts, and provide a tentative list of sources that engage both with your theoretical and empirical topic. Lest this sound intimidating, we’ll be taking time in class to discuss how to frame theoretical questions in academic research, and your blogging and commenting on the class website will help you to begin to work out these questions in the context of our course readings. During this period, you’ll also begin keeping a research journal (also on the course website) that will help you to organize your sources and your thoughts. Having this material up on the website will allow you to benefit from the research other students are working on (and will facilitate collaboration in finding sources and thinking through tough questions), and I’ll be able to post questions and comments to help you along.


During this time, you’ll be continuing to post and comment on the blog and to write research journal reports. You’ll also be writing the first draft of your paper in earnest, drawing freely on the text you’ve already prepared (in your blog posts and research reports). By the end of week 10, you’ll have a complete draft for us to discuss.


In the last part of the course, you’ll be working on creating a final polished draft of your research paper. We’ll begin week eleven with a peer feedback session, in which you’ll both provide and receive feedback from your classmates (and me!) about how to proceed with your revisions. You’ll continue to write research journal posts, but their focus will now be on finding those last few sources, trying to resolve confusion or uncertainty in your theoretical framework, or finalizing your empirical analysis. You’ll also be meting with me again, to make sure that you’ve got a good sense of direction, and of how to best use the feedback you’ve received.

Class Policies

Attendance and participation in class will not be officially graded. However, it is my expectation that you attend class regularly, keep on top of the readings, and arrive prepared to discuss the material.

Per the official OU language for faculty on Academic misconduct:

Academic integrity and honesty are basic values of Ohio University. Students are expected to follow standards of academic integrity and honesty. Academic misconduct is a violation of the Ohio University Student Code of Conduct subject to a maximum sanction of disciplinary suspension or expulsion as well as a grade penalty in the course.

I take plagiarism and academic honesty quite seriously. Papers found to contain plagiarism will automatically receive a failing grade. Please see the Student Code of Conduct for more information.[1]

Students who require disability accommodations are welcome to meet with me privately, so that you may provide me with your Letter of Notification (specifying the accommodations for which you are eligible), and so we may discuss how we will implement them. If you are not yet registered as a student with a disability, please contact the Office of Disability Services at 740-593-2620 or visit the office in 348 Baker University Center. Many accommodations require advance scheduling on my part, and cannot be organized with only a few days’ notice.  It is your responsibility to contact me early in the semester so that I may make the necessary arrangements.


[1] Students are hereby notified that they are entitled to appeal any academic sanctions as a result of academic misconduct through the official grade appeals process.  Students are also hereby informed that University Judiciaries may impose additional sanctions above and beyond those applied by your instructor, and that, in particularly egregious cases, your professor also retains the right to impose additional grade penalties beyond those outlined above, or to modify these policies at any time.