International & Comparative Policy Studies

Thesis, ICPS 470

Because the ICPS thesis is an interdisciplinary thesis, students should consider carefully why they are writing an interdisciplinary thesis and how it might be done. This is a different sort of question from simply comparing two countries or applying policies of one country to another. A typical political science or history thesis may also be comparative in this sense without necessarily being interdisciplinary, that is, borrowing perspectives, techniques or methods from different disciplines.

ICPS theses are normally held to the same standards as those of the Division of History and Social Sciences. We organize thesis committees in the same manner, and we hold our students to the same Divisional thesis deadlines. ICPS thesis orals are scheduled under the umbrella of the HSS Divisional thesis orals.

It might be helpful to outline some typical approaches ICPS students have adopted in the past to the study of international and comparative policy issues. These are not meant to exhaust the possibilities, but to stimulate your imagination.

A list of past ICPS theses is available in the Reed College Library Catalog.

Model A

This model takes a well-studied phenomenon from one discipline and examines it through the optic of another. Suppose, for example, a student is interested in terrorism. Now most analyses of terrorism are done in political science. Political scientists tend to study terrorism as violence that has certain practical ends. Nevertheless, one could argue, a lot of terrorist violence is done to make a point; that is, it is symbolic rather than instrumental violence. As it happens, anthropologists spend a great deal of time studying symbolic violence and have a number of interesting theories that may complement the political scientists approach to the topic. An ICPS student may thus want to examine political terrorism, using the theories and methods of symbolic anthropology, arguing that by using these methods one can give a better account and achieve a richer understanding.

Model B

This model takes a policy issue and examines it in the terms of two distinct disciplines, examining the perspectives each affords on the costs and benefits of a particular policy and arriving at a final recommendation. Suppose, for example, you are interested in the benefits of distributing a particular kind of technology in the Indian countryside. One question is whether there is a market for this technology, whether it is economically viable for people to buy it and use it. You might spend a chapter analyzing this from the standpoint of an economist. Another question is whether and to what extent the Indian bureaucracy can impede or promote the distribution of this technology. You might want to spend a chapter considering this from the standpoint of a political scientist. Other questions arise as to how this technology might change the daily lives of individuals in non-economic ways and the positive and negative effects on different groups of individuals, perhaps analyzed from the standpoint of an anthropologist or a sociologist. Each of these perspectives might suggest a rather different policy recommendation. An ICPS student might want to assume these different points of view and then carefully weigh the results of his or her research, recommending a final policy.

Model C

This model takes an understudied phenomenon and asks in what ways and to what extent it can put into question some central assumptions in different disciplines. For example, for many years, the nature and character of women’s lives in developing societies were not studied. Researchers in this area began to point out that by examining the ways women work, puts into question a variety of basic assumptions, by economists about what constitutes work and how work is performed, by political scientists about women’s political participation, and by policy-makers about certain kinds of government development policies which, in light of new evidence, were probably much more ineffective than was acknowledged.