The New School for Social Research

Degree Programs

  • Fields of Study in Politics

    The Politics curriculum represents four major fields of political science in the United States: political theory, American politics, comparative politics, and global politics. Graduate students are trained in these fields, especially at the PhD level, through departmental field seminars and field examinations. Research and teaching in politics at The New School for Social Research are informed by historical, comparative, and theoretical frameworks that bring people together across these fields. Historical knowledge and understanding provide an indispensable base for judgments about contemporary issues and problems. That big political questions have important comparative referents is taken for granted. As political life entails concerns about cultural horizons and forms of inequality, students are encouraged to learn and use a wide range of theoretical approaches, including feminist thought, critical theory, and cultural studies.

    Most members of the faculty and many of our students pursue projects that cross fields within political science. Important topics such as immigration and citizenship, gender and politics in democratic regimes, and the nature and prospects of international justice (and the courses that result from such research projects) often cannot be placed in one of the four conventional fields defined above. For this reason, courses offered by the Department of Politics are organized by topics that describe the main areas of the faculty's research:

    • Democracies in theory and practice
    • Political thought and its history
    • International politics
    • Politics in economic and social context
    • Political development in historical perspective
    • Institutions, policy, and governance

    A final group consists of courses that the department requires of all students.

    Democracies in Theory and Practice
    Studies of democracy aim to understand the basic claims made on behalf of democratic actors and the main problems that such claims must attempt to resolve. Analyses of democracy are now framed in part by the broad expansion of democratic institutions in many parts of the world. We seek to compare democratic practices and institutions in newly emerging democracies with those in countries where democratic political life is more established. Some faculty and students have analyzed recent transitions to democracy, as in Latin America and South Africa. Others have focused on limits to democracy (such as those arising from severe social inequities) in countries where democratic institutions have long been in place. Yet other members of the department focus on basic theoretical problems about democracy in light of dramatic recent changes.

    Political Thought and Its History
    As political thought is part of history, rigorous historical knowledge is required to analyze the history of political thought critically and imaginatively. Such knowledge is also important for understanding the main themes and arguments of contemporary political theory. Students are encouraged to address questions that have been the subject of significant empirical research and to make use of that research in their inquiries. They are also encouraged to gain familiarity with basic theoretical themes in other social science disciplines and to explore the social and cultural dimensions in the tradition of political thought.

    Identities, Culture, and Politics
    Courses focused on identities and culture in politics take several forms. We examine the nature of social identities and consider how these identities become politically important. We analyze the claims of different groups for recognition and justice. And we consider how conflicts between groups can be managed in more and less democratic ways. Courses in this area include both empirical and theoretical inquiries, and the latter are both explanatory and normative.

    Institutions, Policy, and Governance
    Courses in this area aim to understand the origins and dynamics of different kinds of political institutions. The study of institutions concerns their practical effects, in large part via explicit policies. It is linked with the study of how governance occurs and power is exercised. Thus, courses in this area link studies of institutional form, policies, and modes of decision-making to normative debates about fair and democratic procedures. To address these issues means paying special attention to states in their historical and contemporary forms.

    International Politics
    The courses in this group link the study of comparative politics with international relations and international political economy and include the United States within a comparative and international framework. The study of international relations has undergone major changes in the last two decades. New theoretical debates have emerged and empirical subjects have become more diverse, due to the end of the Cold War and the upsurge in new forms of internationalization. Several members of the Department of Politics are now engaging with the international dimension of problems that they initially studied within the boundaries of other fields. Several have examined the political dimension of international movements of people through immigration, labor migration, and the creation of refugee populations. Others have studied relations between states amid increased levels of political and economic transactions. A key question is how commitments to democracy and social welfare within countries can be reformulated and fulfilled in a new international setting.

    Politics in Economic and Social Context
    To define politics as a field means that political relations have their own distinctive dynamics, irreducible to other social relations. Yet relations between politics and social and economic life remain important for theoretical and practical reasons. Courses in this group draw on and develop several traditions of inquiry that combine different disciplines, especially political economy and political sociology. Courses address contemporary issues that arise where political life intersects with other areas of society — for example,  the relationship between social and economic inequality and politics, the proper range of democracy in institutions outside the polity per se, the nature and effects of civil society in different countries, and the relationship between economic growth, social development, and democratization.

    Political Development in Historical Perspective
    These courses provide an analysis of politics that is historically grounded and broadly comparative. Within this area, the study of the political development of the United States has a large role. Courses examine such topics as the historical origins of the nation-state as a form of political organization, the transformations of political life that occurred during and after the rise of representative forms of government, and the emergence and reshaping of dominant conceptions of citizenship.

    Required Courses

    All MA students must take one course in either quantitative or qualitative methods. At the PhD level, all students are required to take a course in quantitative methods along with one other relevant methods course. This requirement can be met by courses in qualitative methods, advanced quantitative methods, historical methods, or fieldwork. Courses offered by other departments can be used to meet this requirement.

    MA Seminar
    Required for all MA candidates, the seminar is designed to introduce students to basic concepts and approaches in analyzing politics. The substantive focus will vary according to the choices of the instructors. Students who enter the department at the PhD level on the basis of prior graduate work are not required to take this course.

    PhD Field Seminars
    Students in the PhD program must take two of four field seminars: Field Seminar in Political Theory, Field Seminar in Comparative Politics, Field Seminar in Global Politics, and Field Seminar in American Politics. These courses assess the most important research in these fields. One of their purposes is to prepare students for the field examinations. (It must not be assumed, however, that the field seminars constitute sufficient preparation.) Students not in the PhD program may take a field seminar only with the instructor’s permission.

    PhD Seminar
    This course is designed to focus the work of PhD students, primarily research papers and dissertation proposals, in order to prepare them to write a dissertation. The specific direction of the course is always shaped by the work and interests of the students along with relevant work that the instructor introduces. Normally the PhD seminar is offered as a year-long course for three credits, meeting every other week.

    Directed PhD Research
    In addition to the PhD seminar, doctoral students are required to take at least one course directly connected to their PhD research. This course may be a preparation for the dissertation prospectus under a faculty member’s supervision. Alternatively, a student may take one or two courses of directed dissertation research for credit under the supervision of the chair of the dissertation committee.

    Degrees in Politics

    The New School awards the Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees in Politics.

    • To earn the MA in Politics, a students must complete 30 credits, which must include the MA seminar and one course in research methods, and submit a portfolio of two substantial papers for approval by the department.
    • To earn the PhD in Politics, a student must complete 30 credits beyond the MA, including two courses in research methods (one of which must be in quantitative methods), two field seminars, the PhD seminar, and one course in dissertation preparation. The PhD candidate must also pass written examinations in two of four fields (political theory, comparative politics, global politics, and American politics). The candidate must finally pass an oral defense on a proposal for a PhD dissertation and write the dissertation.

    A full account of degree requirements and procedures is contained in the Politics departmental handbook, found in the sidebar.

    Master of Arts in Politics

    Entering students work with an individual faculty advisor. This advisor, together with the departmental student advisor, introduces them to the curriculum as a whole and helps them to formulate the program that best suits their interests and needs.

    All students are required to concentrate in one of the three departmental fields described above.

    Master's Degree Requirements

    To earn the master's degree, a student must complete a total of 30 credits with a minimum grade point average of 3.0 . At least 18 credits must be taken in course offered by the Politics department.

    Courses offered by other departments of The New School for Social Research that are cross-listed in Politics may be used to meet the 18 required Politics credits. Many cross-listed courses have prerequisites. Students should consult the primary listings of these courses in the relevant section of the catalog. The instructor of the course and the chair of the department or committee offering a course will determine whether the prerequisites have been met and whether a student in the Politics program will be admitted to the course in question. Courses that are not cross-listed in Politics may be taken as electives (see below) but not as part of the 18 required Politics credits unless by special permission of the Department of Politics.

    All MA students must take the MA seminar and must also demonstrate competence in appropriate research skills by completing one course in quantitative or qualitative methods. (Students who have completed an equivalent course elsewhere can petition for a waiver of the latter requirement.)

    The remaining 9 credits are electives that may be taken within or outside the Politics department. The department encourages students to avail themselves of the rich course offerings of the other departments of The New School for Social Research, but this should be done with appropriate guidance from advisors so as to maximize the coherence of the overall program of study.

    In addition to the 30 credits of coursework, MA candidates must provide evidence of ability to carry out a significant intellectual research project in the field. This ability is established by the submission of the MA portfolio of two papers, which may originate as papers submitted for courses. Students must consult with a faculty advisor when planning their portfolio submission. The MA portfolio will be evaluated by a full-time member of the faculty of Politics.

    PhD in Politics

    The doctoral program is designed to provide maximum flexibility consistent with development of the highest level of competence in a chosen field of scholarly specialization. With limited course distribution requirements, faculty consultation is essential to prepare the for the PhD qualifying exams and dissertation writing.

    Students in the Politics MA program can apply to enter the PhD program after completing 18 credits at The New School for Social Research and should definitely apply by the time they have completed 27 credits. (By careful selection of courses, students who are completing the requirements for the MA degree in Historical Studies may also qualify for entry into doctoral study in Politics.) For more information on these procedures, consult the Politics departmental handbook, found in the sidebar.

    Credit Requirements

    PhD candidates must earn 30 credits in addition to the 30 credits taken in the MA program, for a total of 60 credits. The 60 credits must include the MA seminar, the PhD seminar, two department field seminars, two courses in research methodology (one of which must focus on quantitative methods), and one course in dissertation research (normally independent study with a member of the Politics faculty). Students may take up to two additional courses (a maximum of six credits) in dissertation study. Transfer students may be assigned credit for all or part of their previous graduate studies up to a maximum of 30 credits.

    PhD Qualifying Examinations

    Students must take written PhD qualifying examinations in their major field (Political Theory, American Politics, or Comparative Politics) and one other field. An oral examination, consisting of an oral defense of the student's dissertation proposal, is also required. Complete information about PhD examinations is contained in the department handbook; see the link above.

    Foreign Language Requirement

    All PhD candidates must demonstrate reading knowledge in a foreign language appropriate to their dissertation topic by passing a language examination administered by the department.