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POL 101: Introduction to American Politics

The University of Mississippi - Section 4 - Fall 2001

New location: Farley Auditorium (Room 302)

Please Note: This section is listed in the Schedule of Classes as being taught by Dr. Orey. Also, the section listed as being taught by me will be taught by someone else.

This class both serves as an introduction to the field of political science and as a gateway to an understanding of how the American political system works. Political science is the study of politics through the use of the scientific method, while Harold Laswell said, "politics has been defined as the art of deciding who gets what, when and how." Many political scientists study government, since it does most of the deciding in postindustrial societies; others study public opinion, the media, non-governmental elites, corporations, interest groups, political parties, or particular segments of society (racial, linguistic, or ethnic groups, women, etc.).

Political scientists generally talk about two main things: institutions and behavior. Institutions are simply rules; they are the arrangements that decide what is legal or permitted, and what is not. Institutions include constitutions, laws, and regulations, as well as informal rules like societal norms. Behavior is what people or groups do. Campaigning, voting, and picketing are examples of political behavior. While the last 50 years have seen conflict between these two schools of thought in political science, both institutions and behavior are important: we cannot understand voting (a behavior) without understanding the laws governing elections (institutions); nor can we truly understand the Supreme Court (an institution established by the Constitution) without understanding the actions of its members. As we go through the course, sometimes we will focus on behavior, while other times we will pay more attention to institutions. Both perspectives are equally important, so keep them in mind as we discuss our system of government.

Course information


Chris Lawrence <> ( 3 Sep 2001 at 23:51 CDT)