POLS 316: Political Participation

POLS 316:  Political Participation

TTh 9:10-11:00am

Location: 186-C101

Michael Latner

Office: 47-11L


Office Hours:

MW 10am-12pm


Course description and objectives:

This is an advanced course in the study of political participation, broadly defined as behavior with the intent of shaping public policy.  The course is broken into three modules: 1) Theories on the nature of political participation; 2) Analysis of the social determinants (causes) of political participation; and 3) Exploration of changing patterns and new forms of political participation.  The overall goal of the course is to enable students to understand why and how citizens shape their own society through political participation, and to provide a set of guidelines for effective political participation.


Specific objectives that will be assessed:

  1. Knowledge of the political science discipline; its principal theoretical frameworks and applications, conceptual vocabulary, and methods of inquiry; its major subfields of study; and its interrelationships with the other social science fields.
  2. Knowledge of the history of classical and modern political thought; of the fundamental values and ethical issues contested in politics over time; and of alternative moral and ethical frameworks for interpreting and evaluating contemporary political discourses.
  3. Recognition of the major problems, the leading policies, and the legal issues confronting contemporary political systems, particularly in the U.S.
  4. Citizenship skills, ethical values, and the ability to understand and appreciate human diversity; and to engage in community life as active citizens.
  5. Understanding of political science research and analytical skills, including the ability to think critically; to construct logical arguments; to collect, analyze, and interpret evidence and data; and to formulate reasoned conclusions.
  6. Development of communication skills through research papers and presentations on political science topics, and collaborative research/writing opportunities.


Achievement of these objectives will be assessed through the following:


Class Participation (10%)

This class is interactive and will involve short writing exercises, question-answer sessions, and require you to make a contribution to class discussion beyond simply showing up.  Be prepared to contribute!


Study Circles (10%)

In small groups of 3-5 people you will digest, interpret and prepare to explore course materials during class.  You will prepare small (500 word) reflection pieces that answer questions for class.  These can contribute to your participation plan and paper.


Participation Plan (10%)

This course requires that you take part in a form of political participation (see below), and you will prepare for that experience by writing a paper that will lay out a theoretical account of the participatory form you choose, and a concrete set of actions with timetable to accomplish your participatory goal.


PSA Mock-Up (20%)

The project for this course is a 3-minute public service announcement (PSA) video that will provide 1) a theoretical account of the form of participation, 2) documentation of the experience/success of activity, and 3) a set of “best practices” to maximize the effectiveness of this form of participation.  You will complete this project with your group and receive a grade as a group.


Final Participation Paper (20%)

Your final paper due in week 10 that includes your analysis of participation: 1) a theoretical account of your participatory form, 2) documentation of your own experience, 3) analysis of and reflection on the impact of this type of participation on you, and its relevance for democratic governance.


Final PSA Video (30%)

1) a theoretical account of the form of participation, 2) documentation of the experience/successful activity, and 3) a set of “best practices” to maximize the effectiveness of this form of participation.  You will complete this project with your group and receive a grade as a group.


Types of participation to be completed for projects

  1. Voting and Vote Choice: How do you become an informed and effective voter?
  2. Campaigning: How do you become part of an election campaign?
  3. Contacting Government: How do you contact public officials about public policy?
  4. Community Activism: How do you effectively speak at a public assembly?
  5. Online Activism: How can you facilitate social change through social media?
  6. Demonstration: How do you help organize a local demonstration/event/protest?
  7. Expression: How do you use art to make a political statement?


Course materials:

Russell J. Dalton (2016). The Good Citizen: How a younger generation is reshaping American politics

Online readings (linked through syllabus)


Course schedule: 9/21-27 Thanksgiving, Dec 12 Finals


  1. 9/22 Introduction: What is participation?
    1. Before Class:
      1. TGC Ch 1,2
    2. In-Class:
      1. Welcome, course overview
      2. What does it mean to be a good citizen?
      3. What are the defining features of democratic citizenship?
      4. What are your obligations as a democratic citizen?
    3. After Class:
      1. Revise your notes and prepare an electronic portfolio for your work
      2. Prepare for next class


  1. 9/27 Social norms and democratic citizenship
    1. Before Class:
      1. TGC Ch 3
      2. Verba, Schlozman and Burns, “Family Ties” http://content-calpoly-edu.s3.amazonaws.com/politicalscience/1/documents/faculty/mike-latner/POLS-112/POLS-112-Verba-et-al-Family-Ties.pdf
    2. In Class:
      1. Why do we tend to vote like our parents?
      2. Why are more people not voting like their parents?
      3. Do you think of yourself as more duty- or engagement-oriented?
      4. Why are citizenship values changing in the U.S. (and across the world)?
    3. After Class: revise questions and put them in an electronic portfolio


  1. 9/29 Varieties of participation
    1. Before Class:
      1. TGC Ch 4
    2. In Class: Assessing the Toolbox
      1. Bring to class two news articles that analyze different forms of political participation within the last six months (be creative)
      2. How do environmental conditions shape the fequency of various types of participation?
      3. How/Why do the benefits of participation vary across different types?
      4. How/Why do the costs of participation vary across different types?
    3. After Class: Revise and classify your questions for your portfolio; Prepare your participation plan


  1. 10/4 The roots of participation: biology, conflict, and cooperation. Participation Plan Due
    1. Before Class:
      1. Gregory Berns, Scot Atran “The Biology of Cultural Conflict” http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/367/1589/633.short
      2. Michael Price and Dominic Johnson “The Adaptationist Theory of Cooperation in Groups” http://people.brunel.ac.uk/~systmep/Price_&_Johnson_2011.pdf
    2. In Class:
      1. Peer review participation plan
      2. What is the link between competition in biology and political competition?
      3. Why is political participation a puzzle for evolutionary theory?
      4. What does cooperation theory teach us about political participation?
    3. After Class: Revise participation plan for portfolio; prepare for next class
  2. 10/6 The roots of participation: cooperation and cognition
    1. Before Class:
      1. TGC Ch 5
      2. Darren Schreiber, “Political Cognition as Social Cognition: Are we all political sophisticates?”  http://politicsemerging.com/Publications/PoliticalCognition.pdf
    2. In Class:
      1. Is the U.S. becoming more or less politically tolerant?
      2. How does political tolerance relate to participation?
      3. What is the link between cognitive ability, political tolerance and participation?
    3. After Class: Revise your writings for portfolio


  1. 10/11 Citizenship and government
    1. Before Class:
      1. TGC Ch 6,7
    2. In-Class: 
      1. Guest Speaker: TBA
      2. How does citizenship shape policy preferences?
      3. What is the relationship between political citizenship and partisanship?
      4. What is the link between citizenship, trust and democratic ideals?
    3. After Class: Revise and repost



  1. 10/13 Citizenship and reform
    1. Before Class:
      1. TGC Ch 8,9
    2. In Class: 
      1. How do Americans compare to other countries in terms of participation?
      2. What distinguishes American political tolerance from other countries, and why?
      3. How should the democratic process adapt to changing citizenship norms?
    3. After Class: 
      1. Revise and Repost


  1. 10/18 Political participation and democratic government
    1. Before Class:
      1. Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels, “Democratic Ideals and Realities” http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s10671.pdf
      2. Thomas Mann, “Too Much or Too Little Democracy?” https://www.brookings.edu/research/too-much-or-too-little-democracy-some-reflections-on-democracy-for-realists/
    2. In Class:
      1. Summarize the differences between the three models of democracy discussed.
      2. How does the analysis of Achen/Bartels change your analysis from the 13th?
      3. Can the group theory of democracy be reconciled with engaged citizenship?
    3. After Class: Integreate a literature review and assessment of the quality of contenporary democracy and the role of political participation based on the above readings, for your participation paper.



  1. 10/20 Gender and participation
    1. Before Class:
      1. Schlozman, et. al., “Gender and the Pathways to Participation: The Role of Resources” http://tm.ermarian.net/Academic%20Junk/Politics/Civil%20Rights/Women's%20Rights/Domestic/1994-%20Schlozman,%20K.L.,%20Burns,%20N.,%20Verba,%20S.%20(J%20of%20Pol)%20-%20Gender%20and%20the%20Pathways%20to%20Participation-%20The%20Role%20of%20Resources.pdf
      2. Enhancing Women’s Political Participation: http://www.idea.int/publications/wip2/upload/3._Enhancing_Women's_Political_Participation.pdf
    2. In Class:
      1. Why is gender an important factor in understanding participation?
      2. Why has it taken so long for the U.S. to have a woman as a major party candidate?
      3. Should gender matter in understanding political participation?
    3. After Class: Revise and Repost


  1. 10/25 Race and participation
    1. Before Class:
      1. Verba, et. al., “Race, Ethnicity and Resources: Political Participation in the United States” http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=3278756&fileId=S0007123400006694
    2. In Class:
      1. Why is race an important factor in understanding participation?
      2. Why has it taken so long for the U.S. to have a non-white president?
      3. Should race matter in understanding political participation?
    3. After Class: Revise and Repost


    1. Before Class:
      1. Robert Putnam “Tuning In, Tuning Out: The Strange Disappearance of Social Capital in America” http://www.uvm.edu/~dguber/POLS293/articles/putnam1.pdf
      2. Eric Uslaner “Democracy and Social Capital” http://gvptsites.umd.edu/uslaner/USLANER5.pdf
    2. In Class
      1. How are the works of the social capitalists reconciled with Russ Dalton’s research?
      2. Is social capital a good thing or a bad thing?  Explain.
      3. How does Putnam’s research help us understand the desire to “Make America Great Again.”
    3. After Class:
      1. Revise and repost


  1. 11/1 Social Movements
    1. Before Class:
      1. David S. Meyer “Building Social Movements,
    2. In Class
      1. Identify a social movement linked to your participatory project and evaluate it using the effectiveness criteria development in the Meyer essay
    3. After Class: Revise and Post


  1. 11/3 Civic Associations
    1. Before Class:
      1. Skocpol,  Ganz and Munson “A Nation of Organizers: The Institutional Origins of Civic Voluntarism in the United States” http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.lib.calpoly.edu/stable/2585829?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
      2. Dietland Stolle and Thomas Rochan, “Are All Associations Alike?” https://is.cuni.cz/studium/predmety/index.php?do=download&did=28669&kod=JSB146
    2. In Class
      1. How does a focus on political institutions shape the way you understand the social capital debate (Putnam, etc.)? Explain.
      2. Why does membership in certain associations have different political consequences?
    3. After Class: Revise and Post


  1. 11/8 Networked Citizens
    1. Before Class:
      1. Araba Sey and Manuel Castells “From Media Politics to Networked Politics” http://www.uvm.edu/~tstreete/deanbook/files/Araba_Sey_corrected.pdf
      2. Schlozman, Verba and Brady, “Weapon of the Strong?” http://journals.cambridge.org.ezproxy.lib.calpoly.edu/download.php?file=%2FPPS%2FPPS8_02%2FS1537592710001210a.pdf&code=1a61ff283f3f1aa0bb451e4f5abcf862
    2. In Class
      1. What is the difference between media and networked politics according to Sey and Castells?
      2. How might a shift to networked politics interact with the sort of cultural shifts that Dalton focuses on?
      3. How does research on online activism mesh with the models of democracy analysis?
    3. After Class:  Revise and Post


  1. 11/10 Everyday Makers
    1. Before Class:
      1. Yaojun Li and David Marsh, “Searching for Expert Citizens and Everyday Makers” https://openresearch-repository.anu.edu.au/bitstream/10440/672/1/Li_New2008.pdf
      2. Stolle, Hooghe and Micheletti, “Politics in the Supermarket” https://www.cpp.edu/~smemerson/business318/supermarket.pdf
    2. In Class
      1. What are points of difference between “everyday making” and the social capital research?
      2. How does political consumption fit in with other varieties of participation and models of democracy?
      3. How do these research findings fit with the analysis of Achen/Bartels?
    3. After Class: Revise and Post


  1. 11/15 Culture Jamming
    1. Before Class:
      1. Culture Jamming: A Postive and NegativLand https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJ5B3O4HZgE
      2. Antwaun Sargent “Pure Murder” http://thecreatorsproject.vice.com/blog/minerva-cuevas-del-monte-culture-jamming
    2. In Class
      1. Where does culture jamming fit into the repetoire of political participation?
      2. Are some political issues more susceptible to culture jamming than others?  Be prepared to think about alternative culture jamming practices across a variety of policy stands.
    3. After Class: Revise and Post


  1. 11/17 Hacktivism
    1. Before Class:
      1. We Are Legion! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SsLGPaYjvM
      2. Debates of the Century: Snowden v Zakaria https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-yoyX6sNEqs
    2. In Class
      1. Is hacktivism a democratic form of participation? Explain.
      2. Is Edward Snowden a hero or a terrorist?
      3. How is online activism shaping political participation more broadly?  Is this a good things or a bad thing?
    3. After Class: Revise and Post


  1. 11/22-24 Thanksgiving Break


  1. 11/29 PSA Mock-Up
    1. Before Class: Finalize PSA Mock-Ups
    2. In Class: Peer review and discussion
    3. After Class: Revise


  1. 12/1 Discussion: When, if ever, is political violence justified?
    1. Before Class:
      1. Nelson Mandela, “Statement from the dock at Rivonia Trial” https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Nelson_Mandela%27s_statement_from_the_dock_at_the_Rivonia_Trial
      2. Black Panthers Revisited https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGZpDt6OYnI
      3. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Nonviolence is the most Powerful Weapon” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74XJJ3Tq5ew
    2. In Class
      1. The politics of non-violence
      2. Revolutionary justice and violence
    3. After Class: Revise and Post


  1. 12/6 Discussion: What is the future of democratic citizenship?
    1. Before Class: Prepare an argument to advance regarding the role of participation in democracy
    2. In Class: Advance your arguments
    3. After Class: Complete your papers


  1. 12/8 Final Participation Papers
    1. Before Class: Complete your papers
    2. In Class: Present your papers, (2 minute summary)
    3. After Class: Finish video presentations


  1. Finals Week: Final PSA Video presentations





Plagiarism & Cheating

Please remember that Cal Poly does not tolerate academic cheating or plagiarism in any form. Please review the formal policy on cheating and plagiarism (including definitions, sanctions, and appeal procedures) found in the Campus Administrative Manual, Section 684, available at:  


According to Cal Poly policies, “Examples of plagiarism include, but are not limited to, the following: the submission of a work, either in part or in whole, completed by another; failure to give credit for ideas, statements, facts or conclusions which rightfully belong to another; failure to use quotation marks when quoting directly from another, whether it be a paragraph, a sentence, or even a part thereof; close and lengthy paraphrasing of another’s writing without credit or originality; use of another’s project or program or part thereof without giving credit.”

The instructor takes any evidence of academic dishonesty very seriously. You must document all outside sources, including web sites, using MLA or APA guidelines. Failure to do so constitutes a violation of Cal Poly policy. Please   note that cases of plagiarism will be dealt with as 'cheating' and that, according to Cal Poly policies, “Cheating requires, at a minimum, an F assigned to the assignment, exam, or task, and this F must be reflected in the course grade. The instructor may assign an F course grade for an incidence of cheating. Irrespective of whether the student appeals the finding of cheating, the instructor is obligated to submit to the OSRR director a Confidential Faculty Report of Academic Dishonesty.”

Please also note that submitting work for which you have already received credit in another course also counts as cheating, according to the Cal Poly Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities.

     Writing Center


For assistance with your writing, you may wish to use the free services offered by Cal Poly’s University Writing Center. They can provide help as you review and revise your work, such as by offering writing tips, grammar rules, stylistic suggestions, etc. Since your grade in this course is significantly based on writing, the Writing Center can be a valuable resource. Please see http://www.calpoly.edu/~wrtskils/writlab/ for current hours and locations.

Disability   Accommodations

Reasonable accommodations are available for students who have a documented disability. Please notify the instructor during the first week of class if accommodations are needed. To receive accommodation, you must show the instructor a visa from the Disability Resource Center. For more information, see: https://drc.calpoly.edu/ If you will need special assistance in the event of an on-­‐campus emergency, please also alert the instructor.



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