Paul Schumaker
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Early in my career, my teaching and research interests focused on empirical theory, and my publications provided quantitative assessments of the conditions under which American cities performed well (and poorly) in terms of achieving various democratic goals. Overtime, my interests turned toward more normative issues, as did my teaching role.

Currently I am responsible for teaching POLS301, Introduction to Political Theory, which is required of all majors. It focuses on the great or “perennial” issues of politics: people’s identities with various political communities; the rights and responsibilities of citizenship; how communities should be structured; the distribution of power within communities; the autonomy of individuals and the authority of governments; the just distribution of benefits and burdens; and the means of bringing about political change. Also addressed are the philosophical foundations that influence people’s receptivity to alternative principles on these big issues: ontological and epistemological beliefs and assumptions about human nature and society. A wide variety of ideological perspectives are used when considering these questions, in order to get students to “step outside of their own shoes” and understand diverse political understandings. While I ask students to develop and defend their own political philosophy, I also ask them to think about a more general public philosophy – the areas of agreement among all “friends of pluralism” – that can serve to moderate ideological polarization.

These concerns have animated my research agenda recently, as I have written a textbook and developed a reader addressing them. My current research focuses on developing a “principled pluralism” that identifies the “overlapping consensus” among the friends of pluralism and shows its role in both disciplinary political science and in public discourse.

For our undergraduate major, I also now regularly teach courses on democratic theory (POLS603) and theories of justice (POLS501). These courses explore questions about the best (democratic) processes of politics and the best (most just) outcomes of politics. In POLS603, we focus on the principles of liberal democracy, both in America and around the world, but continuously debate whether the “thin” Schumpeterian conception of liberal democracy that dominates the discipline (having fair competitive elections) is sufficient, or whether “thicker” conceptions involving such matters as extensive citizen participation, greater inclusion of marginalized populations, and more deliberative processes employing “public reason” are also essential to effective democracy. In POLS501, we begin by considering John Rawls’ seminal Theory of Justice, but then move toward a more multifaceted and pluralistic conception of justice that incorporates concerns of libertarians, communitarians, feminists, and others.

These concerns about democracy and justice animate other aspects of my research agenda. For example, I have been concerned with the democratic deficiencies in our Electoral College system and how alternatives can better correspond to democratic ideals. And my urban research now focuses on how various justice (and other ethical) principles held by city officials influence their policymaking.

I also teach a variety of graduate courses in political theory. Some seminars have provided broad overviews of “political theory as a profession, “ considering the diverse types of work that engage theorists (ranging from providing interpretations of canonical texts to developing post-structural criticisms of grand and universal theories). Other seminars focus on more specific topics (such as the development and revision of pluralist theory, or considering alternative conceptions of American public philosophy). During the next several years, I envision focusing on the course in American public philosophy, so that it serves the needs of graduate students preparing for comprehensive examinations in the American politics subfield.


flag The Electoral College Experts Audience Dialogue (Part 5)
as author at  To Keep or Not to Keep the Electoral College: MIT World Series: New Approaches to Electoral Reform,
together with: Arnold I. Barnett (moderator), Judith Best, Robert Hardaway, Robert Bennett, Akhil Amar, John Fortier, Alan Natapoff, Alexander S. Belenky, Vikram Amar, Alexander Keyssar,
flag The Electoral College Experts Debate and Audience Dialogue (Part 4)
as author at  To Keep or Not to Keep the Electoral College: MIT World Series: New Approaches to Electoral Reform,
together with: Alexander S. Belenky (moderator), Judith Best, Robert Bennett, Alexander Keyssar, Robert Hardaway, John Fortier, Akhil Amar, Vikram Amar, Arnold I. Barnett, Alan Natapoff, David Hawking,
flag What (if Anything) Should Be Done About Improving the System of Electing a President? (Part 2)
as author at  To Keep or Not to Keep the Electoral College: MIT World Series: New Approaches to Electoral Reform,
together with: Akhil Amar, Vikram Amar, Robert Bennett, Alexander Keyssar,