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Political Science 494/WGS 475: Gender, Race and Political Representation in the U.S.: Assignment


The primary question each Research Project should address is:

How well represented are X in the state of Y?

          where X = women, or women of color, or African Americans, or Latinos, etc.

          and Y = a state of your choice


Although this question is posed in the present tense, directing students to analyze the current state of representation, some historical perspective will no doubt be helpful and informative. Students are encouraged to focus on the legislative branch of state government, but may—with permission from the instructor – examine representation in the executive or judicial branch. (Keep in mind, however, the course materials focus almost exclusively on legislative politics. Projects on the executive or judicial branch will be much more “independent” as a result.)


Ideally, each student will study a different state. To ensure broad coverage, students should submit their top three choices to the instructor, Prof. Reingold (via e-mail, no later than 4 p.m.). The instructor will try to accommodate everyone’s first or second choice, if possible, and will notify students of their assignments. (Students interested in either Arizona or California should consult with Prof. Reingold as soon as possible.)


Students will address this research question in three progressive stages, each of which will be manifested in a formal paper (typed, double-spaced, properly written and documented, and proofread).



Components of the Assignment


Part/Paper 1: Descriptive Representation – A Single-Axis Approach

(approx. 5-10 pages)

How well are X descriptively (or numerically) represented in Y politics? How does this compare to other states? Why is Y (above average, average, below average) in this respect?

In addressing this last “Why” question, students should consider the state’s history of racial, ethnic, gender, and/or sexual politics, as well as other significant aspects of the state’s political system and culture, such as: the role of political parties, interest groups, and social movements; the ideological climate; the degree of partisan/electoral competition; sources or positions of political power; and the professionalization or power of the legislature.


Part/Paper 2: Descriptive Representation – An Intersectional Approach

(approx. 10-15 pages)

How well are subgroups of X (delineated in terms of intersecting gender, racial/ethnic, sexual, or partisan identities) descriptively represented in Y politics? What about Y might explain the level(s) of descriptive representation these subgroups receive? To what extent are the electoral fortunes of the subgroups similar or different? Compare and contrast the results of your ‘single-axis’ and ‘intersectional’ approaches to studying descriptive representation in Y. Is one more useful than the other?

            NOTE: Paper 2 should include a revised version of Paper 1.




Part/Paper 3: Substantive Representation

(approx. 20-25 pages)

To what degree are these descriptive representatives making a difference for or on behalf of X in Y? What institutional and contextual factors might be facilitating or inhibiting their ability to do so? How/why? What individual characteristics of these descriptive representatives might be facilitating or inhibiting either their desire or ability to act for X in Y? How/why?

            As you will see in the course readings, there are many different ways in which representatives could “make a difference” for a particular constituency. Students may choose one of two approaches. A qualitative approach would examine in-depth the careers and activities of a small number of representatives (one to four), focusing on many of the different ways in which they do or do not act for X. A quantitative approach would examine the behavior of many, if not all of the representatives (in Y), focusing on only one or two of the activities presumably undertaken on behalf of X.

            In addressing the question of what institutional and contextual factors are facilitating or inhibiting the substantive representation of X in Y, students should consider the characteristics and history of Y-state politics, as well as the overall level of descriptive representation of X in Y (as discussed in Parts/Papers 1 and 2).

            In addressing the question of which individual characteristics might enhance or weaken a representative’s willingness and ability to act for X, students should consider how representatives’ intersecting identities might affect their behavior in office, with reference to the subgroups discussed in Part/Paper 2.

            NOTE: Paper 3 should include a revised version of Paper 2.





Subject Guide

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Chris Palazzolo
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Emory University

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