Political Economy and Society Curriculum Working Group


With approximately 450 students per year, the field of Political Economy (POLECON) is the largest of the interdisciplinary majors within UC Berkeley’s International and Area Studies Teaching Program (IASTP). This major has served several generations of Cal students exceptionally well, and has grown accordingly, while helping fill in some of the campus’s unsatisfied student (and parental) demand for economics training.

Today, the POLECON major is facing more growth than it can handle, as the realities of today’s employment market concern parents and students alike. While the curriculum of the major is generally strong, it allows students to choose their own concentrations within it, which has led to some interesting patterns. Increasingly students want to use their concentrations to study inequality, poverty, new technologies, and the relationship between national wealth and economic development (or the lack thereof).

Social Science Matrix is sponsoring a prospecting research team that will bring together faculty and graduate students from a range of departments and professional schools to address the intellectual and pedagogical challenges of bringing the Political Economy program into a new era. After conducting an analysis of Political Economy curricula at UC Berkeley and peer institutions, the team—led by Alan Karras, a Professor in the International and Area Studies program—will draft recommendations for improvements to the existing major and related programs.

Among the challenges facing this program: courses for undergraduates are taken across the College of Letters and Sciences, especially in the Social Sciences Division, as well as the professional schools (e.g the Goldman School of Public Policy, the School of Public Health, the College of Natural Resources, and the Haas School of Business).

"The faculty from these programs are not in regular conversation with each other," the researchers explained in their proposal. "As a result, there has been no coordinated curriculum planning, or even discussions about what the matrix between the relevant departments, schools, and programs ought actually to look like. This prospecting seminar thus aims to convene an interdisciplinary group of faculty, scholars and graduate students to consider the opportunities and challenges that would be involved in coordinating a possibly significantly expanded major in Political Economy."

Using Social Science Matrix as a hub, leaders from across campus will re-shape the Political Economy program to ensure it can accommodate the next generation of students. "It will not necessarily be a curriculum planning effort; rather, it will focus on ways to more closely coordinate and align courses from across the campus so that they work for multiple purposes," the researchers explained. "More generally, we will seek to foster dialogue across all the disciplines and campus units that have (and/or ought to have) a stake in Political Economy."

Image Credit: Political Economy Undergraduate Program