Course Guidelines

Course Description

If, as contributions to a recent book [Larry Diamond and Marc Platter, eds (2008), How People View Democracy] suggest, demand for democracy across the globe is quite high, why do so many countries fail to become democratic, and why do so many “democracies” fail? How can we explain, for example, why one country becomes a stable democracy, a second remains mired in authoritarian rule, and a third exists in a shadowy realm of “hybrid” or “semi” democracy? The difficulties of getting to “real” (inclusive) democracy from any starting point—be it the American Revolution, the end of colonialism, or the aftermath of an invasion—are poorly understood by citizens and decision-makers alike. Democracy is a long-term project that is rarely, if ever, complete.

This course will challenge what you know and have heard about democracy in three ways:

  1. We will focus on the difficulty (and the importance) of defining democracy in practice, and address the stakes attached to what kinds of regimes we are willing to name as “democratic.”
  2. We will look at the existing theories and frameworks social scientists have developed to explain movement towards and away from democracy, with an emphasis on understanding their consequences for the world’s remaining autocratic states and its unstable democracies.
  3. We will delve into specific cases where the long, uncertain, and indirect process of democratization can be observed and demonstrated in detail.

This course’s ultimate goal is to encourage you all to consider what the ramifications of the challenges of democratization will be for your own lives and careers, whatever they may be. Few of you (if any) will become professional political scientists, but many of you will live abroad in uncertain democracies or authoritarian states, serve in the Peace Corps, work with NGOs and non-profits with an international focus, join the foreign service, or work in government. Understanding the complexities involved in determining the timing and success of creating democracy, and the advantages and limitations of (internal and external) intervention in “crafting democracy” will hopefully help you to make better choices as you labor to effect change in the world.

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.

POLS 4495 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 elevenwith 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

In all cases, my policies on these issues follow Ohio University directives. 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.

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.