Political Theory

The study of political theory at Pitt focuses on ethico-political problems in domestic and international politics.  Using historical and problem-based approaches, we seek to understand challenges relating to concepts such as justice, authority, liberty, and equality and to contemporary phenomena such as democracy, human rights, empire and globalization. 

Our research and teaching emphasize the centrality of normative questions to politics and the importance of political theory to the study of politics.

Political Theory: the Undergraduate Level

Undergraduate majors must take at least one upper-level course in this area from among our regular offerings, including courses covering modern and contemporary political theory, liberal and democratic theory, feminist theory, American political thought, and topical courses on human rights, inequality, identity politics, and so on.  A capstone seminar is offered each spring for students who make theory their primary area of focus, and undergraduates may also enroll in substantive theory graduate courses in the fall term as a way of satisfying the capstone requirement.

Political Theory: the Graduate Level

The department encourages all graduate students to recognize that normative questions and concerns are central to the study of politics.  We encourage all students to engage with normative work related to their fields of study, to think carefully about the normative and conceptual elements of their own work, and to reflect on the intellectual linkages between theory and the other subfields of the discipline. To this end, all graduate students are required to take a core course in political theory (PS 2040) in the spring of the first year.

Beyond this, political theory is offered as both an MA and a PhD secondary field. It focuses on problem-based research in areas related to democratic theory, justice and injustice, human rights, feminist and gender politics, and related conceptual and methodological issues.  Students interested in pursuing theory as a second field will need to complete coursework in cognate departments (Philosophy, GSWS, Sociology) with the approval of the Theory faculty.  They will also need to undertake independent study related to their own areas of interest.