Advanced Interdisciplinary Courses


PPE's advanced interdisciplinary courses (PPE 470-490) are the highest level classes offered by the program for our majors. They offer advanced students a quasi-graduate environment inviting students to the frontiers of research. Classes are taught by interdisciplinary instructors, on interdisciplinary topics, reserved for PPE majors, and capped at 20 students. All PPE majors must take one to complete the major.

Note that you can take several of these courses counting them towards your theme so long as one fulfills the major's capstone requirement. You cannot double count courses in major.

Course Goals

  1. Students should be able to accurately and clearly summarize a scholarly article. This requires basic understanding of the article's field, as well as the ability to write or speak clearly.

  2. Students should be able to raise and evaluate arguments on both sides of issues that an author has raised.

  3. Students should be able to criticize, without being unfair, without setting up straw men, and without neglecting possible counter-arguments to the criticism.

  4. Students should be able to give a presentation, effectively using visual aids as appropriate.

  5. Students should be able to synthesize readings into a position and defend that position against possible objections. They should know how to search efficiently for relevant literature.



Advanced Interdisciplinary Courses, Fall 2020

PPE 402-301: Research in PPE: Social Mobility and Inequality (Berger)

SEM: TR 4:30 - 6 PM 

This research seminar looks to select between four and five motivated and hard-working students to contribute original research on the topic of inequality in America. Inequality is one of the most pressing political topics of the moment, with every aspiring presidential candidate discussing this seminal issue. Building off a grant, we will look at original survey data to generate conjectures about inequality in political life and its relevance to the extant literature in Political Science. Students are expected to be willing to commit to a Fall and Spring sequence, as the ultimate ambition will be to publish our findings in a peer-reviewed publication.

This two semester course offers a wonderful opportunity to conduct collaborative research in a low-stakes setting, with the end-goal of securing a publication. This course also counts towards any PPE Thematic Concentration, fulfilling a Capstone requirement.


PPE 402-302: Research in PPE: Norm Building in Exceptional Environments (Tasch)

SEM: F 2 - 5 PM 

In this course, we will explore the opportunities, risks, and tensions associated with facilitating a healthy Arctic, as global climate change alters its environment and consequent political-economic processes respond. Facilitating the Arctic’s healthy future is not limited to understanding the competitive and cooperative interactions among the five coastal nations located within the Arctic Circle. The Arctic’s natural resources, for example, could be conceptualized as public goods by nations located beyond the Arctic Circle, including China, India, Japan, Italy, and South Korea. Strategies involving prosocial signaling by contribution (counting on others’ information seeking behavior), and inducing reciprocity (exchanging aid for access to resources) can all be used to “normalize” the Arctic’s future in favor of a particular stakeholder. In empirical studies and laboratory experiments we will investigate key questions that inform how the “exceptional Arctic” is being “tamed” to fit into an overarching and already existing legal, economic, and environmental system. 


PPE 402-303: Research in PPE: The Gift (Danese)

SEM: W 2 - 5 PM

The exchanging of gifts constitutes an ideal ground for testing different theories of human motivation -- the rational, social, cultural and political "ideal types" discussed by sociologists and anthropologists. We will start reading two key books on gift exchange, Malinowski's Argonauts and Mauss's The Gift. We will then proceed to the copious secondary literature on Mauss and Malinowski, and to some modern application of the gift paradigm. Questions we will ask include: Are gifts as free and disinterested as we think? Can gifts build and structure economies? How do gifts differ from ordinary commodities we acquire in the marketplace? Why do we believe that intimacy, organs, blood, children should be given as a gift but not purchased as an ordinary commodity? Why do we rarely give cash gifts? 

In the Fall semester, classes will be seminar-style discussions on the readings. Attendance is mandatory at all meetings unless other arrangements have been made with the instructor. The objective of the Fall semester is to formulate an interesting research question and gather the supporting literature. In the Spring semester, students will concentrate on writing and gathering data for their final paper.


PPE 471 Political Economy - Organizations (Danese)

SEM: W 5-8 PM

In this course, we are going to discuss questions such as: In a market economy, why do we observe entities such as business companies, non-profit organizations, cooperatives, etc? What is the purpose of authority and hierarchy in organizations? Is there a hybrid choice of organization between market exchanges and hierarchical organizations? To answer those questions, we will mainly draw from New Institutional Economics, the school of thought on organizations initiated by Ronald Coase and Oliver Williamson. By the end of this course, you will be able to discuss how transaction costs, capabilities, uncertainty, authority, and responsibility shape the choice among discrete governance structures for transactions and the boundaries of such structures. 

Attendance is mandatory at all meetings unless other arrangements have been made with the instructor; students are expected to submit a weekly written reflection on the assigned reading and to present their weekly reflection to the class. 


PPE 473 Modeling: Quantitative Methods Across PPE (Berger)

SEM: M 2 - 5 PM

The social and behavioral sciences cover a vast array of phenomena, the dynamics of which might be understood in any number of ways. Statistical models are the work-horse of the field, offering linear, additive representations of the causal relationship between system inputs and outputs. While powerful, there are many other ways we might conceptualize the dynamics of social systems. This course will provide an overview of foundational mathematical models that come to explore and explain social dynamics. Beyond the methodological exposure, the course seeks to teach "model thinking" where students learn the practice of modeling, growing their ability to think rigorously and critically about the world around them. From questions ranging from forest fires, to racial segregation, to why your friends are better looking than you (on average), the course builds students' mental repertoires, allowing them to formalize real-world problems they encounter.


PPE 474: Judgment and Decision - Demand for Information (Tasch)

SEM: R 3-6 PM

Empirically, we know people avoid information that may reveal undesired outcomes when making medical and financial decisions. Similarly we know people who want to maintain a prosocial self-image avoid information when it allows them to justify selfish behaviors. In this class, we will discuss ways in which individuals depart from the standard economic assumptions that information avoidance occurs only when there is a strategic rationale for it. Further, we will investigate whether and how individuals may justify their avoidance of inequity-revealing information, in order to justify their own selfish or cooperative decisions, and how they can encourage others to do the same in social dilemmas. This course will help you to understand and criticize recent scholarly articles as well as make and evaluate arguments on different sides of issues. Moreover, it will prepare you to develop and design a project to address your research questions around demanding and avoiding information.


PPE 477 Social Psychology: Obedience (Royzman)

SEM: R 1:30-4:30PM

Though almost half a century old, Milgram’s 1961-1962 studies of “destructive obedience” continue to puzzle, fascinate, and alarm. The main reason for their continued grip on the field’s attention (other than the boldness of the idea and elegance of execution) may be simply that they leave us with a portrait of human character that is radically different from the one that we personally wish to endorse or that the wider culture teaches us to accept.
In this seminar, we will take an in-depth look at these famous studies (along with the more recent replications) and explore their various psychological, political and philosophical ramifications. 

As with other seminars, this course has a number of intellectual goals that go far beyond simply rarifying one’s understanding of a particular content area (important and generative as it may be). One such a goal is to enable you to think critically (though not disparagingly) about other people’s research and theoretical claims that ensue from it, all with the hope that you can then apply the self-same critical acumen to your own future work. Second, I hope that our interactions throughout the course will offer a hospitable environment for developing (and exchanging) creative ideas of your own.  Your work on your individual reaction papers and on the term paper in particular will be a key element in achieving this goal. Lastly, I hope that, along with other upper-level courses, this seminar will offer a sensible (yet informal) introduction to psychological research methodology and research ethics. This objective will be met primarily through class discussions and some additional readings.  


PPE 483 Economics: Fairness and Altruism (Dillenberger)

SEM: R 3 - 6 PM

The course is designed to be an integrative experience, drawing on knowledge from economics and psychology to understand the role of fairness in behavior. PPE 311/ECON 013 is a strict pre-requisite for this course.



Previous Advanced Interdisciplinary Courses