Political inquiry and approaches

Week 2

Class coordinators

Simon Park and Jonathan Rescoskie


We have two key tasks in the second week. We have to understand the basic ideas of political study applied to civics and society (the first group of key terms) and we have to get ready to apply approaches and methods to the three assignments.

Bring your laptops, smartphones, or textbook (Critical Approaches) to class.

Learning objectives

After this week you should be confident that you understand the essential vocabulary to discuss political systems, and basic approaches and methods for political study. The language is rudimentary and sometimes contested, but will start you off for Assignment 1. You need to understand approaches and methods for Assignments 2 and 3.

Develop a mnemonic for understanding the parts in a political-social-economic-security structure.

Explain key terms in two groups: foundation concepts for political studies, and foundation concepts for social science methods.

First group: Politics, Power, Influence, Coercion, Authority, Ideology, Government vs governance, Party, Executive, Legislative, Administrative, Judiciary, Levels of government (Federal / Provincial – Territorial / Municipal), Interest Groups, political socialization, Agents of socialization, Effects of socialization, Political spectrum

Second group: Political phenomena, Independent variable, Dependent variable, Hypothesis, Approaches (Normative / Empirical-Qualitative/Quantitative) Methods of study (Case Study / Statistical / Comparative), Schools of study (Pluralism / Public choice / Class Analysis / State-centered)

Required reading

  • Dyck, Critical Approaches, Chapter 1, “Approaching the study of politics”


Class coordinators will discuss with the professor how to prune and focus the potential list of activities, no later than the preceding week. Here they are presented as a list of topics, with associated activities. Normally, they will be introduced by the class coordinator.

Week 2 checklist of material (critical approaches)

[1] Confirm web site and Moodle access [Q&A]
[2] Confirm class coordinator roles and terms of reference (organization) [60s]
[3] Look at final exam – prior knowledge shapes learning
What are you familiar with?
What have you learned elsewhere that is relevant?
What stirs your curiosity?
What are your values, attitudes and beliefs that are likely
Group assignment – priority learning for the real world- what do you want to get out of the course [5D, 60s] (course coordinators take note)

[4] What is a systems approach, and what are political systems? [5D, 60s]
Power, government, political actors
Empirical and normative beliefs
Public, private and voluntary sectors

[5] Describe and give examples of the following approaches [GLI, 5D, 60s, 60c]

  • Institutional (rules, laws, and constitutions),
  • State-based (state actors, political economy),
  • Political sociology (social cleavages, pluralism, Marxism),
  • Political psychology/behaviour (individual actor; behavioralism),
  • Rational choice (rational actors, utility maximization, tragedy of the commons)


[6] What are approaches to politics (paths towards research and understanding…) for the following questions (or invent your own): [GLI, 5D, 60s]

  • When is an infrastructure project in the public interest?
  • How does OP HONOUR affect public perceptions of the CAF?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of proportional representation as an electoral system?
  • How should provincial interests be balanced in a federation?
  • Should Canada be more or less decentralized as a Federation?
  • Did his personality play a role in Stephen Harper’s defeat, and if so, what does this tell us about political parties?

[7] Preparing for the course:

  • How will you use the course coordinators?
  • How much do you want to get out?
  • Who do you want to bring in?
  • How much is enough?

[8] Draft exam questions [5D]

Suggested resources

Definitions of politics
Dyck, Studying Politics, Chapter 1 slideshow
How we know what isn’t so – the psychology of errors in critical thinking

Next up

Social cleavages result both from socialization and from material differences, including phenotype, and access to resources. The list of chapter headings from Dyck gives you a menu of areas on which to focus. This should be group or class decision, led by the week 3 class coordinator.