What books should I read that will appeal to my interests and look impressive on an honours political science application?
December 2, 2011 8:14 PM   Subscribe

I am applying for my school’s undergraduate honours political science program next semester. The application requires a description of specific interests in and outside of the field, including readings. What should I read that will appeal to my interests and impress the admissions folk?

I think I am looking for titles that are either significant/important works in the field on the following topics, or that deal with any combination or intersection of the following in an interesting way:
– Women’s and gender studies or sexuality (e.g. queer theory)
– Law, (feminist or critical race) legal theory, restorative justice
– Democratic institutions (electoral systems, justice system)
– Political science and government (Canadian)
– Political theory/philosophy
– Activism

I loved The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde by Merlin Holland, for example, because it was a complete and engaging court case transcript with an equally engaging introduction that situated the text in issues of sexuality, and the application and interpretation of a specific law.
posted by Kingsk to Law & Government (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
This could vary widely from college to college - Could you ask the profs in the programme? Email them or ask if you can drop by for 15 minutes. They would be happy to recommend books to you. You could also see if there are advanced undergrad courses in these topics, and ask for the syllabi.
posted by carter at 8:35 PM on December 2, 2011


Google syllabi on these topics. Browse the assigned readings in the syllabi, especially for upper level or graduate courses.

Another way to identify key texts is to look at the biographies of readings that you admire.

A third way is to stay current with journals in your field, and to pay attention to the footnotes in the articles about these issues

Asking Metafilter to do this isn't necessarily cheating. However, if I knew that a student applying for a Honors program had taken a shortcut like this, I would not look favorably upon the application. You've been asked to do this exercise because the program expects an Honors student to have the skills to find the readings and articulate a plan of study without the kind of help you're looking for here.

Rather than Metafilter, this is one instance when you'd get the most useful feedback from faculty in your program. Talk to faculty you like about your favorite readings and see what they recommend in a general way. If faculty are not approachable, talk to the graduate students. They will give you a feel for the state of the field and for the interests of the faculty in your institution, both of which will help you with your application. The more specific to your institution and department and faculty, the better your chances of piquing the interest of someone reading your application and finding someone to work with.

I'm in the US, and I see you're in Canada, but this advice should help you all the same.
posted by vincele at 8:45 PM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (painful but necessary)
Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince (short)
John Locke, Two Treatises on Government
Edmond Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
Johnathan Harr, A Civil Action (the book is better than the movie)
Plato, The Republic

That's all stuff I was assigned to read as an honors political science major in a US university, that matches with what you said your interests are.
posted by SMPA at 8:49 PM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


You're a polisci undergrad. I was once a polisci undergrad. Putting random feelers out there for literature suggestions isn't what you want to do. You run the risk of applying to the program claiming you're inspired by authors with totally different epistemologies and professors can smell that kind of bs from a mile away.

The advice to talk to your professors is good. Professors love to talk about their own research and to recommend readings in those veins. If that's not possible, find some recent issues of a polisci journal and read the articles on topics that interest you. At least read the abstracts. If you like what the author has to say, check out what references they use (Scopus does this- see if your school offers it). If a reference is used by at least a couple articles that fit your thoughts, that's the kind of significant work you're looking for.
posted by thewestinggame at 9:01 PM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


There are about a billion Trudeau biographies out there. Read one. He is the most important politician Canada has ever had. It doesn't matter whether you support or oppose one or all of his decisions. He is The Man.
posted by Yowser at 10:43 PM on December 2, 2011


Thank you for all of your comments! I was not expecting so much help so quickly on my first MeFi question.

You've been asked to do this exercise because the program expects an Honors student to have the skills to find the readings and articulate a plan of study without the kind of help you're looking for here.

This was great feedback. I hadn't considered this a shortcut, and the way I framed this pursuit revealed some slimy intentions.

While I am aware of all of the methods you have all suggested (I have used biographies and journals and footnotes as starting points, am being put in touch with the graduate student in charge of "knowing things about the honours program" through my political theory TA, and have appointments with a few professors following exams), I have found myself paralyzed by the vastness of the literature, and a fear that I will miss an important canon of authors. What you have pushed me to embrace is that I have to start somewhere, and that the narrowing down of my interests within the field will come with time.
posted by Kingsk at 12:43 AM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Gender and Sexuality:

Judith Butler, Gender Trouble
Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Feminism Without Borders
Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference

There are many more, meMail me if you would like some more critical political theory readings on either gender or identity.
posted by hepta at 5:08 AM on December 3, 2011


Don't list books you haven't read unless you have a specific reason for wanting to read them. Does the application ask you to put together a course of study or ask more what you've already know and done? Otherwise I will think you have done exactly this - googled a bunch of stuff and just slapped it on the application.
posted by quodlibet at 5:39 AM on December 3, 2011


I have found myself paralyzed by the vastness of the literature, and a fear that I will miss an important canon of authors. What you have pushed me to embrace is that I have to start somewhere, and that the narrowing down of my interests within the field will come with time.

This is absolutely the way you should be feeling right now, and your response is the way out of it. You shouldn't be able to pull an ideal bibliography with only the best readings out of the ether fully formed. But once you dive in and start comparing books to each other and paying attention to citations then you'll get a better idea about what's going on in the field. Trust the process; it'll come to you if you do the work.

Another thing that might be helpful is to look up scholarly reviews of books you're not sure about. JSTOR lets you search just for reviews, and if you scan 2-5 you'll get a good idea of how well the book has been received.
posted by lilac girl at 7:56 AM on December 3, 2011


Everything above is good, both in terms of specific recommendations (SMPA's recommendations highly overlapped with what I read in my undergrad political theory classes. Rawls never stops blowing my mind, and Mill remains dear to me as well) and also just the general notion that you can't fake this. Also, that is an extremely broad array of topics you've got going there. All that said...specifically in the area of Canadian politics, I literally just finished reading a chapter of Michael Ignatieff's The Rights Revolution (I'm a grad student, it was assigned reading for a human rights course) - basically, it was about the role minority rights play in an essentially individualist liberal democracy (but one clearly a little more tolerant of the idea of group rights than the US is). Everything in it may be a total "duh" to Canadians, but as a non-Canadian, I thought it was really fascinating.
posted by naoko at 11:33 PM on December 3, 2011


« Older How do you spell "hunsit&...   |  Off the top of your head, what... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.