Curriculum Guide

The Political Science curriculum is sequenced so that what you learn in one year prepares you to learn more sophisticated material and skills in subsequent years.

This sequencing allows instructors to prepare materials that are appropriate for learning at a particular stage in a four-year learning process. It is recommended that you take courses from each level at the corresponding year of your studies.

Fields of Political Science

Political Science is a very diverse discipline — the subjects of our scholarship include all parts of the world geographically, the full sweep of the history of politics and political thought, and many themes and topics that cross the boundaries of place and time. The predominant fields in our study of politics include:

  • Canadian Politics: The domestic politics of the country
  • Comparative Politics: The politics of other countries, studied on their own and in a comparative manner
  • Political Theory: The history of political thought (philosophy) and contemporary theories of politics
  • International Relations: The politics of the relations between countries
  • Public Policy: the institutions and process of policymaking, implementation and evaluation

Each of these fields has an introductory course at the first or second year level. These courses provide a foundation to do specialized learning in that field in the third and fourth years of the program.

First Year Courses (100s)

Our first year courses provide an introduction to the study of politics, the many ways you can study it, and the basic language of political analysis.

Students interested in politics, government, political ideas, political economy, and international affairs should begin their studies with the broad introductions to Political Science in our three introductory courses. Ideally, students take POLI 100 in the first term, and POLI 110 in second term of their first year. Students majoring in political science also take POLI 101 and those interested in Canadian politics should take this course in their first two years.

Students develop skills to synthesize political facts, express arguments using evidence from research, write those arguments into essays, work on problems in groups, and present arguments and information orally.

These courses combine lectures in large classes with instruction and discussion in small group tutorials.

This course introduces key concepts and ideas underpinning modern western politics, as well as contemporary challenges. It provides students with the conceptual vocabulary of our discipline. It is meant to be an introduction to four areas of study within Political Science at UBC: Canadian Politics, Comparative Politics, Political Theory, and International Relations.

POLI 100 examines the two foundational concepts of modern politics: the state and citizen. Under this general rubric, students explore ideas such as ideologies, sovereignty, authority, democracy, power, rights, and international relations.

POLI 100 also introduces students to studying and discussing the challenges of modern politics, such as globalization and identity politics. In order to examine how these concepts make a difference in our daily political life, tutorial discussion groups use contemporary case studies to make the discussion specific, concrete and relevant. Students develop and extend their skills in conceptual analysis, argument, and writing.

This introductory course on Canadian government and politics is particularly relevant for students who are interested in Canadian politics and government, but who are unlikely to major in Political Science. It presumes no background in Political Science, and teaches both government (the core institutions that determine how Canadians are governed) and politics (the issues, controversies, debates that animate Canadian political life).

This course prepares students to engage with research in political science by introducing the basic logic and tools political scientists use to understand and explain the political world.

The course teaches students to ask answerable questions as Political Scientists; how we — students and professors — define key political concepts; how we formulate hypotheses and theories about political dynamics; how we measure the phenomena we want to study; how we think about and assess relationships of cause-and-effect; and how we report our findings to the world.

We consider these issues by examining how Political Scientists have investigated major questions in domestic and international affairs, such as why ethnic diversity sometimes leads to civil war, whether international intervention can bring about democracy, and how we can determine which country has the best healthcare policies.

POLI 100 is a prerequisite for all second-year (200 level) Political Science courses. Students considering the Major or Honours programs are advised to take POLI 100 (Introduction to Politics), POLI 101 (The Government of Canada), and POLI 110 (Investigating Politics) in their first year and preferably no later than the end of their second year. POLI 110 is a prerequisite for POLI 380.

Second Year Courses (200s)

Our second year courses enable students to focus their exploration of Political Science within four areas of the discipline: Comparative Politics (POLI 220), Political Theory (POLI 240), and International Relations (POLI 260). POLI 101, a companion to these courses, introduces students to the field of Canadian Politics.

Second year courses both solidify and enrich skills learned in first year courses, provide an introduction to the Political Science subfields, and prepare students for upper level coursework in Political Science. Students intending to major in Political Science should take at least three and ideally all four of these courses in second year.

Our second year courses involve both lectures and small tutorial discussion sessions. 

Students interested in studying abroad in their third year should consult with UBC’s Go Global program during their second year.

Comparative Politics

There is a fascinating diversity of political systems and institutions across the globe. Learning how these systems and institutions differ across places and time periods gives us an opportunity to answer important questions about how the political world works. By comparing different political systems or institutions we can learn, for example, about which political systems best channel their citizens’ preferences or produce good policies, or about which conditions give rise to democracies and strong states. By studying individual countries or regions in depth, we can learn about how political processes unfold over time and how they shape important social, policy, and economic outcomes.

This course introduces students to the field of Comparative Politics, and concentrates on several broad themes: comparative analysis, the state, nations and society, political regimes, markets and development.

Within these themes, students learn about state development, state failure, nationalism, ethnic conflict and civil war, democracy and its alternatives, political institutions, political culture, welfare states and inequality, globalization and development. These themes are explored through a set of case studies that include both advanced democracies and developing countries.

POLI 220 prepares students for upper-level courses in Comparative Politics.

Learning Objectives

By the end of the course, students will know:

  • the diversity of key aspects of political systems around the world and how they affect important outcomes
  • other differences across countries such as social movements, political culture, political parties, party systems, regimes, states and policy-making processes
  • the meaning of fundamental concepts in comparative political analysis, including: the state, nations and society, regimes, markets, development, multi-level governance
  • the meaning of fundamental institutions of democratic regimes: legislatures,the executive and its bureaucracy, law and judicial systems, elections, interest groups

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • recognize the stakes involved in contentious global issues
  • recast normative arguments about global issues as questions that require both empirical and normative answers
  • appreciate the value of Comparative Political Science for understanding current events and global socio-economic realities
  • recognize and articulate a comparative empirical political theory*
  • suggest how existing theory should be altered in light of empirical evidence
  • analyze real world events by applying empirical political science theory to new contexts
  • critically engage with primary texts of Comparative Political Science research
  • understand the logic of the comparative method and the trade-offs involved with comparative research designs

By the end of the course, students will have acquired and refined the following skills:

  • recognize and generate a causal argument to explain variation in politically-relevant outcomes*
  • summarize and synthesize scholarly literature in domestic and comparative politics
  • operationalize key concepts in political science*
  • evaluate the adequacy of empirical evidence for questions about political outcomes*
  • structure an analytic paper in political science
  • Effectively communicate comparative political analysis in written and oral forms

Political Theory

How do we live together on the earth? How should we organize ourselves? What are the implications — for justice, freedom, equality, happiness — of different approaches to living together? In political theory we assess actually existing practices, their value, and possible alternatives.

We gain reflective insight into key political concepts such as freedom, power, equality, oppression, domination and justice, and we use such concepts to think about real-world practices and structures including democracy, capitalism, colonialism, empire, gender, race, and rights.

Studying political theory will develop you as a person, helping you examine yourself, and it will cultivate your critical capacities as a citizen.

In this course students acquire the skills needed to conduct detailed analysis of political ideas. The course familiarizes students with some of the key thinkers in the history of political thought, and explores how their ideas contributed to the evolution of western political practice. 

POLI 240 prepares students for advanced coursework in various themes of political philosophy.

Learning Objectives

By the end of the course, students will know:

  • the range of concerns dealt with in modern and contemporary political theory
  • that political theory is a diverse field of critical inquiry
  • the importance of historical, social, and political contexts for the generation and justification of political ideas
  • the difference between the tradition of western political thought and the political thought of other cultures
  • the meaning and origin of key political concepts in the field of political theory
    • e.g. power, freedom, equality, gender, race, etc.
  • the fact that these concepts are contested and that contestation is part of the history of political thought and contemporary political debate

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • use core theoretical concepts to explain and analyze real world political issues and problems
  • distinguish analytic use of these concepts from descriptive and anecdotal use
  • apply these concepts through effective argumentation in written and oral presentation
  • read primary works of political theory effectively and critically

By the end of the course, students will have acquired and refined the following skills:

  • recognize and generate sound argument to explain or justify political theories
  • structure an analytic paper in political theory
  • effectively communicate political analysis in written and oral forms

International Relations

The international system encompasses all the various relationships and actions between states and non-state actors. Understanding events, norms, and trends in international politics requires a distinct set of theoretical, analytic, and empirical tools.

Grounded in the history of the international system, the study of international relations points us toward predictions of the big patterns of peace, conflict, and trade in our world.

This course introduces students to the tools used to understand the international system and global politics. Students learn the major concepts and approaches in the academic study of International Politics (or Global Politics or International Relations). The course covers the basic history of the international system and the features of the major institutions through which global politics is played out.

Major questions addressed in the course involve the causes of war and peace, security and insecurity, the patterns of global trade, the power of the institutions of global governance, development, and the diffusion of international norms.

Learning Objectives

By the end of the course, students will know:

  • The scope and characteristics of the international system and the actors within it (i.e. States, Nations, International Organizations, Non-governmental Organizations, Social Movements, Corporations)
  • The major transformative events and developments in the history of recent/contemporary global politics and their implications (i.e, the World Wars, Cold War, decolonization, economic/financial crises, globalization, rise of China, etc.)
  • The main theoretical frameworks and models commonly used by scholars and practitioners in global politics (i.e., Realism, Liberalism, (neo)Marxism, Feminism, Constructivism)
  • The key concepts, terms, structures, and actors in the study of global politics (i.e., anarchy, balance of power, interdependence, self-determination, international law, terrorism, global governance, the United Nations, NATO, EU, G8/G20, World Bank, IMF, MNCs, NGOs)

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • Describe and evaluate the utility of the theoretical frameworks and models commonly used by scholars and practitioners in global politics;
  • Describe and analyze the core subject matter and the key issues in global politics (i.e., security, conflict management, international political economy, development, sustainability, international law, international organizations, global environmental politics)
  • Compose an analytic research paper on a major conceptual or policy problem in global politics
  • Debate and discuss core subject matter and controversies in a manner informed by research and scholarship
  • Critically challenge and question established policies and dissenting perspectives using research-informed reasoned argument

By the end of the course, students will have acquired and refined the following skills:

  • Use primary data sources, peer-reviewed research literature and other sources of credible information and dialogue on global issues for the purposes of analysis of global politics
  • Recognize and generate sound argument to conduct political analysis
  • Effectively communicate political analysis in written and oral forms

Third Year Courses (300s)

Once students are admitted to the Major, Honours, or Combined Major programs in their third year, they begin to take more specialized courses on particular topics within each of the subfields of the discipline.

Our third year courses offer a diverse set of learning experiences, including traditional reading, lecture, and research paper courses; simulations of political and policy negotiations; writing policy memos; placement with non-governmental organizations; intensive writing work; community service learning, and more.

Taking the 200 level course in a particular subfield is strongly advised as preparation for 300 level and 400 level courses in that subfield. For example, POLI260 (Introduction to Global Politics) prepares you for the 20 specialized courses offered in International Relations topics in third and fourth year. Most 300 level courses have between 60-100 students per class.

We also offer a number of Public Policy courses in the third year that build on prior courses in our other fields. Examples of our Public Policy course offerings in recent years include:

  • POLI 302: Public Administration
  • POLI 303: Federalism in Canada
  • POLI 328C: Comparative Politics of Immigration
  • POLI 350: Public Policy
  • POLI 351: Environmental Politics and Policy
  • POLI 363: Canadian Foreign Policy
  • POLI 348A: Political Theory and Public Policy

Note: POLI 380 (Quantitative Methods in Political Science) is required for Majors; POLI 110 (Investigating Politics) is the prerequisite for POL 380. We recommend that students take POLI 380 as soon as possible so that they can engage with and conduct quantitative research in Political Science.

Fourth Year Courses (400s)

Our fourth year courses provide deep explorations of specific research topics in Political Science. Our fourth year courses are small, specialized learning experiences and are conducted as seminars with a maximum of 20 students. Some are more academic, while some involve applied research and learning. All fourth year courses are designated as research-intensive, fulfilling the Faculty of Arts requirement.

The seminar course format facilitates the development of skills in:

  • deep analytic reading and writing
  • independent formulation of original research topics
  • oral expression of arguments in class
  • sophisticated dialogue with other experts (students and the instructor)
  • presentation of literature review and of research findings

We offer a number of Public Policy seminars in the fourth year that build on prior courses in our other fields. Examples of our Public Policy seminars offerings in recent years include:

  • POLI 405A: Public Opinion and Public Policy
  • POLI 405C: Urban Governance and Public Policy
  • POLI 405E: Behavioural Public Policy in Canada
  • POLI 405G: Natural Resources, Climate Change, Colonial Project of Canada
  • POLI 422C: Politics of Economic Inequality
  • POLI 449A: Intersectionality
  • POLI 450: Policy Analysis

Often, students choose to pursue topics that they have explored in these seminars when they develop a plan for further education (MA, PhD, MPP, MPH, LLB, etc.). These 400 level courses give a preview of the format and expectations of seminars and research-based learning central to many graduate programs.

Political Science Rich Transcripts

UBC Political Science is now providing major and honours program graduates with a more robust representation of what they learned and did in their Political Science courses by issuing what we call “Rich Transcripts”. 

These two-page documents aim to help graduates recall and articulate the various aspects of their learning experience and the skills they developed throughout their Political Science program. 

The Rich Transcript shows:

  • A list of the student’s courses with full course titles
  • A word cloud drawn from the instructors’ course descriptions
  • Aggregated statistics for each student covering the number of writing assignments, pages written, peer reviews, oral presentations, hours of group work, research designs, primary research, internships, and service learning
  • A list of 23 skills showing in how many of the student’s courses each skill was a key learning outcome

View examples:


Rich Transcript Page 1

Rich Transcript Page 1

Rich Transcript Page 2

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