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2010 Political Science Honors Presentations

Thursday, May 13, 2010

3:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Joukowsky Forum

2010 Political Science Honors Presentations
May 13, 2010
Joukowsky Forum, Watson Institute for International Studies

2010 Political Science Honors Abstracts

Elana Goldstein

A Door Ajar: Public Participation Mechanisms in Rhode Island Municipalities 

What is the role of public participation within the official decision-making process? Existing literature responds to this question, but does not provide any conclusive findings or explanations. This absence is due to the lack of a comprehensive methodological approach for examining the participant – official relationship. This research attempts to provide a analytical framework by examining the relationship between public participation and official decision-making through an assessment of both participatory mechanisms and political culture in two Rhode Island municipalities: Newport and Warwick. This study utilizes a combination of methodological approaches in its analysis of participation within the open meeting process and offers a model for assessing influence within the decision-making process. Each municipality is analyzed in terms of its compliance with the law, as well as with the factors that shape each community’s participatory practice.

Christopher Havasy

Towards the Creation of a Common Framework of Argumentation for Moral Discourse within Jürgen Habermas’s Deliberative Theory of Democratic Legitimation 

The goal of this thesis is to resuscitate Jürgen Habermas’s Deliberative Theory of Democratic Legitimation, as articulated within Between Facts and Norms while remaining sympathetic to Thomas McCarthy’s critiques regarding the permeation and importance of ethical considerations within moral discourse. This was attempted through the creation of a common framework of argumentation for moral discourse, which includes 1) rights-based preconditions to discourse, 2) basic moral principles, and 3) an interpretive tradition. I argue that these three features of the common framework reduce, but do not eliminate, both the importance and permeation of ethical considerations within moral discourse.

Leslie Lipsick

Over the Hill:The Effects of Aging on Congress as an Institution and Its Members as Legislators 

This work explores aging and its effects on the power distribution and dynamics of the United States Congress and on the behavior of its individual members. In exploring the latter question, the research assessed the extent to which age can explain variation among individuals’ levels of legislative effectiveness. The United States Congress has never been older; the average House member is 57 and the average Senator is 63. Thus, this work proves timely and relevant to larger debates about age, both within Congress and beyond it in society and the workplace.

Nungari Mwangi

A Comparative Analysis on the Role and Legacy of East African Political Intellectuals in Leadership: Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Mzee Jommo Kenyatta in Kenya 

The study asks: What is the role of the political intellectual, and more specifically what is his/her function and responsibility in leadership in the immediate post-colonial context in East Africa during the formation of independent African states? A critical comparison of Kenyatta and Nyerere’s intellectual backgrounds, local interests and the different developmental strategies they espoused enlighten the present-day complex socio-political realities in East Africa. Lessons about the contemporary role of political intellectuals drawn from this study include the need for a regional approach in sharing knowledge and resources in order to tackle the challenges of freedom for post-colonial states in a globalizing world economy.

Billy O’Neil

Popular Justice: Electoral Influences on Judicial Decision-Making in State Supreme Courts 

Legal academicians have long posited a link between methods of judicial recruitment and the behavior of individual justices. Yet institutional theories of judicial choice have been predicated almost exclusively on philosophic grounds. This study broaches the topic in a more scientific fashion. Analyzing state supreme court decisions on two contentious issues – the parental rights of same-sex partners and state education funding systems – this work suggests that elected judges rule more conservatively in controversial cases than their appointed peers. Recognizing the threat unpopular decisions pose to their reelection chances, elected judges refrain from extending new rights to political minorities. In addition, methods of judicial selection condition the effects of other categories of variables. Specifically, elected justices’ willingness to vote in favor of minority litigants is predicated on the political climate in which they reside. Judges elected in liberal states vote liberally, while judges elected in conservative states vote conservatively. The decisions of appointed justices bear no relationship to public opinion. Thus, the institutional arrangements of state adjudicative bodies condition the content and character of the decisions they hand down.

Alexandra Wilpon

Which Women Win?
A Study of Female Congressional Candidates from 1990 to 2008 

The goal of this thesis is to understand what constitutes a successful female congressional candidate and the implications of these results for women’s political representation in contemporary American politics. Using the literature on congressional elections and women in congressional elections as a practical and theoretical foundation, I analyze how candidate characteristics, district/state characteristics, competitiveness, campaign finance, and funding from women’s political action committees affect a female candidate’s electoral success and margin of victory or defeat. Though a woman’s sex no longer puts her at an automatic electoral disadvantage, women still face an uphill battle against incumbency, partisanship, and political culture that prevents true gender parity from being achieved.