Fields of Study
MIT Political Science offers graduate study in these core fields:
This field emphasizes the role of the public, institutions, and other mechanisms of the American political process. Although faculty members have interests in a variety of areas, we share a normative concern with representation in practice, and we pursue research agendas aimed at improving democratic representation and in turn the policymaking process. Students encounter a core set of issues and methodologies through a two-semester field seminar in American Politics as well as a second-year set of advanced topics courses. We also encourage students to complete the department's outstanding sequence in quantitative methodology. The department offers unique opportunities for students to gather their own data through the Public Opinion Research Training Lab (PORTL), a course in which students design and field an original survey, and the Political Experiments Research Lab (PERL), for which students can work as research assistants and devise proprietary experiments. Major areas of emphasis in the department include public opinion, political psychology, political participation, political inequality, congressional reform, congressional parties, elections, and survey research methodology.
The core of comparative politics is an understanding of the theories, concepts, and methods of comparative political and political economic analysis. The goal of training in this area is to develop mastery of social science research methods, to learn how to utilize the methods of comparative analysis, and to acquire political and cultural understanding of particular countries. Students in this field focus on the comparative study of political systems, political processes, and political behavior. Within comparative politics, MIT has a longstanding and thriving focus on comparative political economy, the study of state-economy relationships across both advanced industrial and developing nations. Generally, study in comparative politics and comparative political economy leads to overseas research and the opportunity to become familiar with a foreign society, political system, and economy. MIT Political Science provides a field research methods seminar to assist students in preparing their dissertation proposal for overseas research.
Studies in this field provide an understanding of international politics through assessment of theories and analysis of special problems, such as the causes of war, the changing nature of international security problems, arms races and their control, the management of international trade and finance problems, the impact of limited resource availability on technological development and transfer, global issues and world order problems, and international implications of science and technology. Studies in international relations also focus on the causes and consequences of United States foreign policy.
Models and methods is intended for those students who wish to pursue advanced work in the areas of formal modeling and research methodology, including social statistics. Many opportunities exist for advanced work using mathematical, statistical, and computerized representation. Students are encouraged to explore the differing research philosophies and strategies visible in the fields of history, sociology, economics, linguistics, cognitive science, management, and computer science. Students may supplement their training in political science with courses taken in other MIT departments and at Harvard. A description of the methods sequence can be found here.
The field of political economy is one of the MIT’s longstanding strengths; indeed MIT is one of the few departments in the country to offer it as a separate subfield. The core political economy faculty span other subfields, including American, Comparative, International Relations and Methods. The curriculum covers political economy in both its broad meanings – the substantive impact of politics on economic processes and outcomes (and conversely, the influence of economic context and conditions on political dynamics) as well as the application of analytic tools of economics to the analysis of political behavior and outcomes. A common core within the Political Economy field is a deep understanding and mastery of various theoretical and empirical literatures and paradigms for analyzing state-economy relations. A core proseminar covers major bodies of economic thought and considers a range of economic, sociological, and institutional approaches to political economy. Beyond this, the department offers a wide range of more specialized courses in political economy. These include courses on comparative political economy of the rich democracies, comparative political economy of the developing countries, and advanced topics in international political economy including among others trade, migration, and technology. A description of the political economy sequence can be found here.
The field of Security Studies addresses the causes, prevention, conduct, termination, and consequences of war. It also focuses on preparation for war. The field is particularly concerned with the Foreign and Defense policies of the United States, and other great and middle powers, past and present. The field is appropriate for those interested in U.S. defense policy and those interested in the role that force plays and has played in International Politics. Students are expected to develop competence in methods of military analysis, technology assessment, and strategic reasoning that help shape the size and composition of U.S. military forces. These same methods prove useful in understanding the military behavior of other great and middle powers. International military competitions, global and regional, past and present, receive focused attention in several courses. Special issues of current interest include terrorism, insurgency, civil wars, and humanitarian military intervention.