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POLITICAL THEORY is the study of politics, concepts, and the historical record of political thought. Our Theory program is distinguished by the strengths of faculty and students in grounding critical and interpretive studies of present day politics in the history of political thought.

In addition to the Ph.D. program, students may apply to be fellows in the Amherst Program in Critical Theory, conducted by faculty from UMass and Amherst College. Many graduate students in political theory also apply for the Ph.D. certificate program in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

SUBFIELD STRENGTHS: At UMass, we emphasize interpretive and critical approaches to politics in:

  • Contemporary Social & Political Thought
  • History of Political Thought

Graduate students may take Ph.D. comprehensive examinations in one or both subfields.

CROSS-FIELD STREAMS: Major areas of research bring political theory faculty and students together in clusters with other fields in the discipline.

  • Language and Politics. The study of Language and Politics connects Political Theory faculty to those in Comparative Politics and American Politics who study how language constructs our political and legal reality, as well as how it occasionally disrupts it. Faculty in this cluster study the use of framing in political communication, as well the politics of framing. We study the role of protests in the Middle East, as well as the impact of new media for the American democratic process. We bring insights from ordinary language philosophy to empirical social science, and we read classics of social science for new insights in the philosophy of language.
  • Feminist Politics. The Feminist Politics research cluster explores issues related to gender and politics – from theories of gender and sexuality, to US policy toward women in sports, women’s movements in the US or Latin America, or gender justice in international criminal law and the global human rights movement. Faculty in this cluster use multiple methods and perspectives to analyze gender as a form of social power and a force for change. 
  • Protest and Change. Political Theory faculty have been actively involved in the “On Protest” working group, connecting Comparative Politics and Theory faculty to those working across the university on the contentious politics and social change.
  • Nongovernmental Actors in Politics and Policy. Faculty in this cluster share an interest in the influence of non-state actors of all types on all levels of domestic and global policy processes: issue construction, policy framing and implementation, effectiveness, and legitimacy. Whether studying the impact of lobbying and political finance on policymakers, the input of experts on environmental and urban planning debates, or the role of advocacy networks in shaping or constraining global policy options, we take seriously the role of the "sovereignty-free" layer in local, national and global politics.
  • Politics of Race, Ethnicity and Immigration. The influx of new immigrants to and from areas such as Latin America, Western Europe, the Caribbean, Africa, and the United States and the corresponding change in the racial demography in these regions poses important questions for political science and public policy. The Race, Ethnicity and Immigration research cluster connects faculty from Political Theory, American Politics, Public Law, International Relations and Comparative Politics, and Public Policy. The interests of the faculty at UMass include scholars who study the racial dynamics in Latin America, Western Europe, the Caribbean, Africa, and the United States.  
  • Political Organizations and Social Movements. Interdisciplinary research at UMass explores the ways in which institutions and organizations influence, guide, advance, or hinder politics. Political Theory faculty in this cluster join faculty from Comparative and American politics to explore the vast array of collective action and social movement activities taking place at the local, state, national and international levels.
  • Research Methods. At UMass we study and teach a variety of qualitative and quantitative approaches to conducting political science research. The strength of Political Theory faculty in interpretive methodologies connects them to wider conversations in the department about how we construct knowledge; and to faculty across the department whose areas of methodological expertise include field research, political ethnography, the analysis of political text, public opinion polling, elite interviews, comparative case studies, and the philosophy of social science.