Teaching

In all of my courses, I design the material and its presentation so that my students are exposed to themes related to the study of comparative politics, while helping them develop skills to support their success in my classroom, in other classrooms, and beyond. For both of these reasons, I generally eschew textbooks in favor of designing my courses around a set of article- or chapter- length readings, similar to the ones I would include in a graduate-level seminar on a given topic. By asking my students to read "real" social science, my intent is, at once: to expose them to the most relevant research in contemporary comparative politics; to teach them to engage with complex reading material and extract its main ideas; and to encourage a better understanding of social scientific inference by seeing how it is applied.

In addition, I am increasingly engaged with supporting undergraduate research. What began as overseeing one or two senior honors theses per year has become a series of courses (PS 292A, PS 292B, PS 492), designed to introduce students to data analytics in the social sciences. Over one or more semesters, I meet with my group of "research interns" to talk to them about the role of data in social scientific research. Meanwhile, they develop first-hand experience with the data-generation process by working on one of my ongoing projects. Our discussions initially focus on what data is, how it can be used to identify research questions, as well as to answer them, and how datasets are constructed. Over time, the interns learn some basic R skills, allowing them to merge existing datasets, manipulate individual variables, and explore variation over one or two dimensions. In later stages, they develop their own research projects, working over one or two semesters to write a paper that can become their senior honors thesis.

Students looking to sign up for office hours are encouraged to do so via Calendly.

PS 152 - The New Middle East

This course offers an introduction to the comparative politics of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). It focuses on identifying and explaining differences among and across MENA countries and how they compare to other countries around the world. In particular, we explore how MENA countries compare to one another and to the rest of the world across a number of key political-economic outcomes that we call our dependent variables – (i) the state, whether strong or weak; (ii) the regime, whether democratic or autocratic; (iii) the economy, whether developed or underdeveloped; (iv) religious and ethnic identity, whether politically mobilized and whether extremist in orientation; (v) political behavior, including variation in the favorability of democracy, levels of trust, political participation, and participation in violent conflict. For each of these dependent variables, we discuss how it might be observed and measured cross- nationally and how we might be able to explain the variation we see. Factors that help to explain this variation in the dependent variables – including colonialism, natural resources, Islamic institutions, economic underdevelopment, autocracy – are called independent variables, and they too need to be defined, observed, and measured.

While, at times, we discuss a particular country or time period in greater depth, the majority of the course focuses on broad themes. Together, we develop a set of analytic skills that can be used to infer the relationship between a dependent variable and any number of independent variables, in order to better understand contemporary politics and economics in MENA. While mention is made of some statistical concepts, no prior knowledge of or experience with statistical methods is required or expected. The focus is on building a set of analytic skills that can be used to evaluate any empirical pattern, skills that are applied, in this case, to the political realities of the contemporary Middle East.

See sample syllabus here.

PS 199 - Ethnicity, Religion, and the Nation State (Freshman Seminar)

This seminar offers an introduction to the concept of group identity in political science. The course focuses on defining the costs and benefits associated with identity in the practice of politics, as well as mechanisms through which those costs and benefits are realized. Specifically, we discuss three different identities – ethnicity, religion, and nationality. A common theme throughout the course is the tradeoff between intra-group cooperation and inter-group conflict, and students are asked to consider the relationship between the two as they relate to a number of different political economic outcomes – the provision of public goods, trade, violence, and voting – that we call our dependent variables. We also consider how identities themselves are created and how they are best measured.

Together, we develop a set of tools that can be used to infer the relationship between group identity and any number of dependent variables. While mention is made of some statistical concepts, no prior knowledge of or experience with statistical methods is required or expected. The focus is on building a set of analytic skills that can be used to evaluate any empirical pattern, skills that are applied, in this case, to the political impact of group-identity. While, at times, we discuss a particular identity in a particular country, the majority of the course explores broad themes in comparative perspective.

See sample syllabus here.

PS 241 - Comparative Politics in Developing Nations

This course offers an introduction to a key sub-field of political science – comparative politics – with particular emphasis on the politics and economics of the developing world. The course, like comparative politics, focuses on identifying and explaining differences among and across countries. In particular, we explore four key political-economic outcomes that we call our dependent variables – (i) the state, whether orderly or collapsed; (ii) the regime, whether democratic or autocratic; (iii) the nation, whether unified or diverse; and (iv) development, whether rich or poor. In addition to defining these dependent variables and considering how they might be observed and measured cross-nationally, we discuss and evaluate competing explanations for each. Factors that help explain variation in the dependent variables – including prior levels of development, natural and human resources, cultural norms, and institutional factors – are called independent variables, and they too need to be defined, observed, and measured.

Together, we develop a set of tools that can be used to infer the relationship between one of the four key dependent variables and any number of independent variables. While mention will be made of some statistical concepts, no prior knowledge of or experience with statistical methods is required or expected. The focus is on building a set of analytic skills that can be used to evaluate any empirical pattern, skills that are applied, in this case, to the political realities of the developing world. While, at times, we discuss a particular country or region or time period, the majority of the course will explore broad themes. In other words, this course is not an in-depth study of specific countries or historical periods, although it is meant as an introduction to other comparative politics courses that do just that.

See sample syllabus here.

PS 292 - Undergraduate Research Practicum (by invitation only)

This research internship course offers students a hands-on introduction to the data-generation process in the social sciences. In addition to participating first-hand in an on-going research project conducted by Prof. Livny and the Cline Center for Advanced Social Learning, students learn more about the role of data analytics in political science and gain some preliminary experience in the analysis of quantitative data.

Research is inherently about inquiry, not rote learning. By definition, it is about exploring the unknown. Topics, methods, and questions are often selected precisely because the best scholars cannot (yet) provide clear and precise answers and solutions. As a result, students should be prepared to be intellectually challenged and open to improvisation. For their hard work, students gain experience with data analytics in the social sciences as well as the knowledge that they have contributed to a project of public and scholarly interest.

By the end of the first semester, students can expect to have developed the following skills:

    • Understand the purpose and logic of data generation in the social sciences;

    • Experience first-hand the process of data generation, including the steps of conceptualization, operationalization, and measurement; and

    • Produce basic social scientific analyses, including written, tabular and visual representations of data.

By the end of the second semester, students also develop an early-stage research project of their own.

See sample syllabus for first semester internship here, and for second semester internship here.

PS 347 - Government and Politics of the Middle East (also taught as PS 494 - Junior Honors Seminar)

This advanced undergraduate seminar on the comparative politics of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) focuses on identifying and explaining differences among and across MENA countries and how they compare to other countries around the world. In particular, we explore variation across a number of key dependent variables: the state; the regime; economic development; religious and ethnic identity; political behavior; and conflict. For each dependent variable, we consider how it might be observed and measured cross-nationally before exploring which independent variable(s) impact(s) it the most.

While, at times, we discuss a particular country or time period in greater depth, the majority of the course focuses on broad themes in the politics of the MENA region, particularly what makes it unique in cross-regional perspective. We make regular use of the tools of causal inference to gain a better sense of why the region has developed in the ways that it has. While mention is made of some statistical concepts, no prior knowledge of or experience with statistical methods is required or expected, although successful completion of PS 230 is strongly encouraged.

See sample syllabus for PS 347 here and for PS 494 here.

PS 492 - Undergraduate Research Assistance (by invitation only)

This course offers students an opportunity to participate first-hand in an on-going research project while they working to develop an independent research project that applies the skills they learn to a question of their choosing. Through hands-on exposure to research being conducted by Prof. Livny and the Cline Center for Advanced Social Learning, students learn more about the application of data analytics in political science while applying these lessons to their own research interests.

Research is inherently about inquiry, not rote learning; and, by definition, it is about exploring the unknown. Topics and methods are often selected precisely because the best scholars cannot (yet) provide clear and precise answers. As a result, students should be prepared to be intellectually challenged and open to improvisation. For their hard work, students can expect to gain hands-on experience with data analytics in the social sciences as well as the knowledge that they have contributed to a project of public and scholarly interest. They will also have the opportunity to develop their own research project under the supervision of Prof. Livny, with the support of staff from the Cline Center for Advanced Social Learning.

See sample syllabus here.

PS 549 - Conceptualization and Measurement

This graduate seminar focuses on the processes of conceptualization and measurement in the social sciences. While all empirical analysis depends on the meaningful definition of concepts and their appropriate measurement, these critical steps of research are often given surprisingly little attention. Here, we spend time constructing a framework for the development and evaluation of “good” concepts, before turning to a discussion of measurement. After considering the challenges of measurement, in the abstract, we turn our attention to specific measurement challenges implied by different data sources: observation, surveys, experiments, images, and words.

Although technically listed as a seminar in comparative politics, PS 549 is designed to engage students from all subfields of political science as well as those studying other social sciences. Wherever possible, perspectives from different subfields are offered, and students are encouraged to choose which of these appeal to them most. Similarly, efforts have been made to cover many different substantive topics, including research into both behavior and institutions whenever possible.

See sample syllabus for PS 549 here.