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Spring 2014 - 63360 - PA383C - Policy Development

The American Welfare State

Instructor(s): Wong, Pat
Unique Number: 63360
Day & Time: W 9:00 am -12:00 pm
Room: SRH 3.221/212
Waitlist Information:For LBJ Students: UT Waitlist Information
Course Overview

This course acquaints students with how public policy develops and is adopted in the American governmental system. It is normally taken during the first year. The course helps students understand the different settings in which policy develops and the factors that influence its development. Each section of the course uses different substantive policy concerns such as social security, school desegregation, resource and environmental regulation, and national health programs to explore how individuals and institutions initiate and/or give legitimacy to public policy, including the executive and legislative branches, the courts, interest groups, and individual citizens. The course also covers the dynamics of the policy process by focusing on the roles of and relationships among various levels of government and the concepts and models used to describe these aspects of policy development. The role of ideas, concepts, and formal methods of analysis in policy development is discussed. Reading assignments and class discussion focus on case studies, legislative hearings, policy-issue briefs, court decisions, and theoretical works which highlight and explain the development of particular public policies.

Section Description

Course Objective

Policy Development covers how public problems are framed and debated, and how policy solutions are legitimated and implemented in the U.S. political system. The scope of this section is social welfare policy.

Students successfully completing this section can expect to (1) gain a broad overview of the history, programs, ideologies, and politics of the American welfare state; (2) develop in-depth knowledge of a specific social welfare program; and (3) gain perspectives about advocacy coalition formation, legislative tracking, rule-making, and policy communication in the form of policy memos, briefs, and public speaking.

Structure of Content

The content of this course is organized into four segments:

  • The first segment (3 sessions) covers institutions and history in the politics of the U.S. welfare state. Class members will learn the big picture of U.S. social policy.
  • Segment two (4 sessions) focuses on the structure and strategies of contemporary political competition, including budgetary politics, ideological rivalries, advocacy process, and implementation capacity of the welfare state.
  • In the third segment (5 sessions), the instructor will lead discussions on the politics and process of specific policy issues. For each issue, there will be equal attention on program operations and on the underlying political dynamics and idea evolution.
  • The fourth segment (3 sessions) consists of teaching sessions by class members on specific programs. Before the fall semester ends, class members should explore with the instructor potential research topics, which will be finalized by the end of January.

Learning Experiences

The instructor is proposing seven exercises, one every two weeks, subject to approval by class members. These proposed projects include: experiential fieldwork, documenting the history and politics of a program area, analyzing legislative strategies, doing participant observation in a formal meeting, analyzing regulatory rules, writing a policy paper, and teaching the class on a program.

Depending on class size, some of these exercises may be team-based.


There is no formal prerequisite, although basic familiarity with American social history is strongly recommended. Abstention from note-taking in class is proposed by instructor and subject to approval by class members.

Class members are expected to do preparatory work during winter break by (1) deciding on a researchable policy question and develop research strategies for addressing that question, and (2) reading E.J. Dionne’s Our Divided Political Heart (2012) as pre-semester background. Additional reading recommendations on history background will also be available on Blackboard. This course will begin its Blackboard-based learning process in early December. Interested students who fail to register for this class in October should contact the instructor as soon as possible to ensure access to Blackboard.