Politics Ph.D.


The Faculty

The work of the UCSC Politics Department’s faculty has led the field toward interdisciplinary and engaged research, and represents the diverse cutting edge of U.S. and international political research. A group of affiliated graduate faculty extends the program’s intellectual breadth and the range of the course offerings.

The department enjoys several areas of special strength, including American political development, the social foundations of democratic politics and democratization; political economy; politics of the developing world; the politics of language; sub-national politics; post-colonial theory and nationalist discourse; early modern political thought; and informal and translocal political organization.

The Curriculum

The Politics Department is impressed by the fact that many of the best studies of politics today disregard the conventional boundaries of the political science’s disciplinary subfields. Therefore, the core graduate curriculum and qualifying examination process are structured around four interrelated themes central to political inquiry. Each of these areas of emphasis focuses, in a different way, on the relations among material life, institutional authority, collective mobilization, and political vision at all levels of politics.

Political and Social Thought. Brings together the history of political thought; contemporary social and critical theory; and the contributions of legal and institutional analysis of various kinds. This area of inquiry emphasizes the critical study of political practices that are experienced or understood as in some way limiting, oppressive, or wrong. The work of political and social theory as we see it is to transform our understanding of these practices; to see their contingent conditions; and to articulate the possibilities of governing ourselves differently.

Political and Social Forces. Concerns the interaction of social forces and political forces, drawing upon the work of scholars focused on social mobilizations and histories. Accordingly, this area of inquiry focuses on the articulation and organization of political interest and identities. This area studies the mutual interaction of these interests and identities with structure (states, discourses, public policy, and the law) uniting substantive and theoretical concerns across regional, national, and global politics.

States and Political Institutions. Emphasizes the international study of political institutions as instruments of collective decision-making and action. This area of inquiry focuses on the state and on transnational, subnational, and regional political institutions. In this area, we emphasize historical patterns of institutional development in relation to domestic political conflict and the changing contours of international political economy and patterns of conflict and cooperation among states.

Political Economy. Focuses on the relationship between states, markets, and societies. This area of inquiry explores the various understandings of political economy that have emerged within a number of different theoretical perspectives, including Marxism, realism, and liberalism. At subnational, national, and supranational levels, this area seeks to understand political economy outcomes as the result of the mutual interactions between political institutions, societal interests, and ideas and norms.

The politics graduate curriculum works critically upon and within conventional social science research and also ranges beyond its methods, drawing upon cultural studies, historical sociology, and history as they inform the study of politics. Students in the politics graduate program also work with faculty in other distinguished departments at UCSC, including literature, history of consciousness, history, Latin American and Latino studies, environmental studies, sociology, philosophy, international economics, and feminist studies.

Scholars and students in the program emphasize the articulation of important questions prior to the development of methods for grappling with them, while recognizing the importance of appropriate methodological tools for doing meaningful political research.

To support the growth of students as scholars, the department also offers a series of professional development sessions to introduce and help develop the skills of successful academic work. All graduate students are also expected to attend department events with notable visitors brought to campus for public lectures, presentation, and/or graduate colloquia.

Advancement to Candidacy

Course Requirements

All curricular requirements are aimed at preparing students for timely and successful completion of a doctoral dissertation. The graduate curriculum in politics includes seven stages: 1) three core seminars plus POLI 201, Logics of Inquiry seminar; 2) five other graduate-level Politics Department courses; 3) three additional graduate-level courses that may be from Politics or other departments, along with further training as appropriate in language and methodology; 4) teaching assistant seminar training; 5) a qualifying examination consisting of written and oral parts; 6) the research and writing of the dissertation; and 7) its oral defense.

Core Seminars and Methods Training

Required Core Seminars:

During the first two years in residence, students are required to take three of the four core seminars that correspond to the areas of emphasis:

POLI200APolitical and Social Thought Core Seminar


POLI200BSocial Forces and Political Change Core Seminar


POLI200CStates and Political Institutions Core Seminar


POLI200DPolitical Economy Core Seminar


The core seminars provide a broad foundation for research in politics and offer structured opportunities to foster a community of scholarship within the program.

Logics of Inquiry:

The department also recognizes the importance of informed and critically engaged methodology. Logics of Inquiry, POLI 201, is a required course that investigates approaches to the study of politics and to the enterprise of social science in general. We also regularly offer POLI 202, Political Research, a seminar providing a foundation in qualitative methods, and occasionally offer other methods courses as well. Students sometimes pursue further coursework in other UC Santa Cruz departments, and the department has sent many students to summer training programs such as the Institute for Qualitative and Multi-Method Research (IQMR).

POLI201Logics of Inquiry


POLI202Fundamentals of Political Research


Additional Courses

Prior to the qualifying examination, a minimum of five additional politics graduate courses taught by Politics Department faculty or affiliated graduate faculty must be completed. Three additional graduate-level courses are also required, which may be taken from any UCSC department (including Politics).

Each candidate shall develop with his or her adviser language and method requirements appropriate to the student's project, graduate education, and career goals.

Teaching Requirement

Throughout its history, the department has been strongly committed to undergraduate teaching. The graduate program offers graduate students the opportunity to work closely with faculty and undergraduates as teaching assistants. The Politics Department’s faculty is committed to “the teaching of teaching”: its training of college educators emphasizes the importance of civic education in undergraduate instruction. All students who are teaching assistants will be required to attend a TA training program in which pedagogic and substantive issues will be considered.

See our website for details about the policies for admission to graduate standing as well as the application, and information about financial-support opportunities. For more information, refer to the Graduate Division website.

Qualifying Examination

The Qualifying Examination (QE) process is intended to demonstrate a student’s mastery of and engagement with a range of literatures, including a) core literatures in two of the program’s four areas of emphasis and b) specialized literatures relevant to her/his research trajectory. It is also intended to provide a forum for the student to specify and develop her/his research question and plan for the dissertation.

A student’s preparation for the QE process begins with the first core seminar and continues throughout the required coursework. The QE process itself is completed during a student's third year. It has three components: 1) two written examinations (take-home examinations or field statements); 2) the dissertation prospectus; and 3) an oral examination. The specific deadlines for each component are available from the graduate adviser.

We encourage students to consult with their politics faculty advisers regarding the two written examination options. Students must complete the QE process to advance to Ph.D. candidacy by the end of their third year in the program. If the student fails any component of the QE process twice, she/he will not be permitted to continue in the program. On this schedule, students are expected to complete the degree in five to six years.