Ph.D. Program Description

*Applications for 2024-2025 open on October 1, 2023.

**Application DEADLINE--->Click Here

You can find the Politics Ph.D. Prospective Student Guide HERE


Why choose the UC Santa Cruz Politics Department for doctoral study?

We offer a distinctive approach to the study of politics and the building of bridges among politics and other disciplines and topics.

Our department is the "Politics Department" for a reason:

  • We study politics through historical, philosophical, cultural, conceptual, and other perspectives — in addition to the scientific approaches customary in the U.S. discipline of political science.
  • We emphasize the study of politics in context. We tend to be skeptical of grand or formalistic theorizing that lies far removed from empirical realities or textual support.
  • We put the substance of politics front and center. Methodological training, while important, is in the service of research, not an end in itself.
  • We encourage interdisciplinary approaches to the study of politics. Our students often take seminars from and work with faculty in other departments and programs, including but not limited to those who are formally Affiliated Graduate Faculty.  Graduate students also have the opportunity to develop research topics and work with advisors not only in the Social Sciences but also Arts, Humanities, Physical and Biological Sciences, and even Engineering.
  • And we have built a strong record of placing Ph.D. graduates in jobs.

The Faculty

The UC Santa Cruz Politics Department Faculty provides a distinctive mix of senior scholars whose work has led the field toward interdisciplinary and engaged research, and junior scholars whose work represents the diverse cutting-edge of U.S. and international political research. The small size of the program encourages close interaction among faculty and students.

Affiliated Graduate Faculty have been chosen on the basis of research and teaching that fit the distinctive intellectual profile and research strengths of the department, and for holding a Ph.D. in the discipline most closely related to our field (i.e., political science). This combination indicates an orientation towards political questions and problems and an interdisciplinary outlook and practice in their research. The Affiliated Graduate Faculty program began in the Fall of 2013.

     Affiliated Graduate Faculty means:

     1. AGF graduate courses, and any independent studies that AGF chooses to conduct with Politics students, count as "Politics" courses for Politics program requirements.

     2. AGF can be considered "Politics" members of a QE or thesis committee (but cannot serve as chair of these committees).

Areas of Special Strength

The department features several areas of special strength. These include:

  • American political development;
  • The social and institutional foundations of democratic politics;
  • Varieties of capitalism and post-communist politics and economy;
  • The politics of Asia and Latin America;
  • Race, ethnicity, and politics;
  • The politics of language;
  • Post-colonial theory and nationalist discourse;
  • early modern political thought;
  • and informal and trans-local political organizations.

Interdisciplinary problematics

Graduate students also have the opportunity to develop and pursue interdisciplinary "problematics," that is, topics of historical and current interest and importance, by working with both Politics faculty and faculty members in other departments and fields. 

For example, a student who wishes to research and write on an aspect of urban affairs could work with Eleonora Pasotti, David Gordon, and Ben Read (each of whom works on aspects of urban politics) as well as Miriam Greenberg or Hillary Angelo (Sociology), or Jennifer Maytorena Taylor (Film & Digital Media). 

Other problematics include:

  • Political theory & religion,
  • The economy & the crisis of democracy,
  • Human security,
    and the environment (see this page).

*Applicants who wish to pursue such topics should consult with the appropriate member of the Politics faculty.

The Curriculum

The Politics Department is impressed by the fact that many of the best studies of politics today disregard the conventional boundaries of 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.
1. 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.

2. Political Institutions

Emphasize the comparative and international study of political institutions as instruments of collective decision-making and action.

It 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.

3. Political Economy

Focuses on the relationship between states, markets, and societies.

It addresses the history of the liberal state in the context of the origins and development of markets and capitalism and the historical evolution of national and supranational economies.

It considers the relationships among:

  • Labor,
  • Capital,
  • Production and consumption;
  • Political contexts for economic regulation and management;
  • and the global and national problems of social welfare, resources, and the environment.

4. Political and Social Forces

Concern the interaction of social forces and political ones, drawing upon the work of scholars focused on social mobilizations and histories.

Accordingly, it focuses on articulating and organizing political interests and identities. It studies the mutual interaction of these interests and identities with structures (states, discourses, public policy, and the law) uniting substantive and theoretical concerns across regional, national, and global politics.

The department also recognizes the importance of informed and critically engaged methodology.

Another required course, Logics of Inquiry-(POLI 201), investigates approaches to the study of politics and social science enterprise in general. The course works from positivist, interpretive, historical, and critical approaches to provide examples held up to critical and epistemological logic.

(POLI 201) focuses on three related issues:

  1. How do authors in politics and in related fields convince their readers of the validity of their theories?
  2. How can the reader distinguish between convincing and unconvincing research?
  3. How can one design one's own research so that it is as convincing as possible?

In addition to working critically upon and within conventional social science research, the Politics graduate curriculum 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: 

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.


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.

Advanced graduate students are also eligible to design and teach their own lower-division Politics courses in the summer session. The Politics Department's faculty is committed to "the teaching of teaching;" it's training of college educators emphasizes the importance of civic education in undergraduate instruction.