Penn State University

Department of Political Science

PLSC 497: Protests, Social Movements, and Public Policy

Profs. Frank R. Baumgartner and John McCarthy

Spring 2009

Mondays, 3:35-6:35PM, 268 Willard Bldg.

This course will be team-taught with Profs. Frank Baumgartner of Political Science and John McCarthy, Head of the Sociology Department. McCarthy is a well known scholar of social movements and protests. Baumgartner works on public policy and agenda setting. Together, they work together to try to understand how social movements may affect public policy.

The course will be unlike others in that there is a large amount of individual research. Each student will write a substantial individual research paper and participate in a group project as well. This means that if you are not comfortable with research, quantitative analysis, or working in a group, you should not take this class. Further, if you expect to sit back and hear a lecture, this is not the class for you. Rather, the class will meet just once a week, as graduate seminars do, and we will engage in discussions about how to do research on social and political trends. Students will engage in original research using the Policy Agendas Project ( and quantitative data relating to the growth of the associational universe in US politics, through information to be provided drawn from the annual volumes of the Encyclopedia of Associations. Readings will include histories of particular social movements, political science and sociological studies of protest and public policy, and works on agenda-setting in US politics. There is no text, and the readings come from a range of professional journals, so they can be slightly more difficult than you may sometimes encounter.  The major focus of the course will be the development of substantial individual research projects by each student on a social movement or protest sequence of their choice. Further, group projects will be jointly presented in class throughout the semester and students will help critique and propose improvements to the other groups. There will be assignments and homework just about every week designed to get you familiar with research methods and measurement problems. Term paper and group presentation research projects will be the object of work throughout the term, with regular progress reports, some done orally in class.

In previous years we have taught similar courses. If you are not sure if this course is for you, take a look at the syllabus and work related to when this course was taught in Spring 2008.

The course requires permission of the instructor. This is to ensure that students enrolled understand that this is a class that requires active engagement and willingness to work hard and regularly throughout the semester. Previous exposure to research methods is a plus, though we will not make it a firm requirement. Similarly, ability to manipulate quantitative data in Excel and to present results in tables and graphs is a major goal of the course. We will, of course, provide instruction and encouragement, but the course will require that you develop substantial skills during the term.

Students who should not take the course: if you are just generally interested in the topic but not looking for a challenge, or if you just like the time.

Students who should take the course: those who are potentially interested in graduate school, who want to learn what quantitative analysis and data collection is all about, and those who want to write a substantial original piece of research of their own before they graduate from college, including learning how to present quantitative data in an essay that integrates history and statistical analysis of trends attempting to test a model of causation.

For permission to enroll or if you have questions, email Baumgartner at and explain your interests and background.