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Welcome to the Department of Political Science

Message from the Chair

Everyone has an opinion on politics! This has never been more true than in today’s turbulent political landscape. This is why you see many op-ed pieces, as well as academics from across all disciplines writing on political issues. But having an opinion is different from having an informed opinion. Our BA programs in Political Science and Public Law & Judicial Studies, and our MA degrees in Political Science and International Relations provide students with the knowledge needed to navigate, understand and critically analyze events in Canada and around our fast changing global world. Our degree programs build analytical, communication, and real-world problem solving skills. And they give students the skills and knowledge to operate in a range of fascinating careers – including law, political advocacy and analysis, journalism, international governance, among many others. At the PhD level, we are training a future generation of political scientists and policy makers, who can provide informed interpretations of world events, educate the next generation of students, and make important contributions to public and private governance

Cutting-edge research that informs teaching

Across all of our degree programs, our curriculum engages with challenging contemporary issues including social and health policy, Indigenous self-governance and redressing past wrongs, the contemporary refugee crisis, border politics, climate change, Trump’s America, international conflict and security, rising authoritarianism, and much more. Our instructors are passionate about their subject matter. They are engaged in cutting-edge research that informs their teaching, and several have been recognized with university and national-level awards. On behalf of all the Department's members, I welcome you to explore our website, and learn more about our programs of study, and what our faculty and students are up to.

Karen Bird,
Department of Political Science Chair & Professor

More about the Chair

Undergraduate Program

Undergraduate Program

Whether you are a current or future student at McMaster considering Political Science as an undergraduate degree or taking only one course for interest, you will find that our Department offers an undergraduate curriculum that is both diverse in scope and high in quality.

Learn more about our Undergraduate offerings

Graduate Program

Graduate Programs

Our Department is the ideal place to do Master's and Doctoral work. We offer the range of specialized seminars needed for strong graduate-level training, but are a small and collegial department so that students and faculty experience the type of intellectual interaction, supervision, and research collaboration that makes graduate work exciting!

Learn more about our Graduate Programs


Our Research

While the department covers all the main fields in Political Science, we also have research expertise and knowledge in the following research clusters. Visit the following research clusters for more information on the faculty members who teach and conduct research in these specific areas, and the types of projects currently being conducted in the department.

Climate & Sustainability
Explore climate change, the global water crisis and a range of environmental and natural resource policy challenges in connection with broader debates about development, political economy, property rights, labour and global governance.
Critical International Relations
Focus internationally with critical approaches to security, theoretical debates about citizenship, sovereignty, globalization, borders, political space-time, feminist, postcolonial and decolonial approaches. 
Faculty members in our department are actively exploring the implications of digital technology for both democratic and authoritarian regimes, as well as its transformative role in global governance.

Gender & Politics 
Key questions and debates on the political leadership and representation of women in parties and electoral politics; the role of gender in shaping social, pension, health policies; issues of identity and community; understanding of globalization, transnational social movement and knowledge production in political science.
Explore a wide range of subjects including areas of social economy, nationalism and political theory, liberalism, imperialism and global relations, Cosmopolitanism, Indigenous peoples' diplomacies, refugees, citizenship, global civil society, labour and globalization.
Labour Issues
Focus on topics like the emergence of a Global Labour Movement and Labour Interaction with Global Governance Institutions or austerity response to the economic crisis , and continuing work on employment policy in the OECD area.
Global Political Economy
McMaster's Department of Political Science has an exceptionally strong concentration of expertise in Global Political Economy (GPE) and are known for their long standing contributions to International Political Economy (IPE). Study the institutional characteristics of the governance of the contemporary global political economy from internationally renowned scholars and award winning teachers.
Politics of Representation
In today’s world, it is more critical than ever that we understand the roles of identity, policy, geography, global relations and culture in shaping citizenship and political representation in Canada and beyond.
Social & Health Policy
Social Policy spans the fields of health, education, pensions, social assistance, and labour policies. Study policy in both the developing and developed world, taking a comparative approach to understanding why jurisdictions choose different solutions to the same social policy problems.

Accomplished Alumni

Accomplished Alumni

Highlighting the accomplishments and careers of former McMaster Political Science graduates.

Accomplished Alumni Page

Department History

A Historical Profile of our Department

Although the Department of Political Science at McMaster was not established until 1965, instruction in Political Science began in 1931 with the appointment of Gwendolen Margaret Carter, a native of Hamilton. Ms. Carter was most interested in the governments of Western Europe but her interest in African politics began at McMaster. Radio station CKOC asked the University to provide someone who would analyze political events in Africa. Her friend, historian Edward Togo Salmon, encouraged Ms. Carter to do this as part of McMaster's outreach to the Hamilton community. This first step would lead to Dr. Carter becoming arguably the most important specialist in African government and politics in North America by the mid-1960s.

Gwendolen Carter left McMaster in 1935 to do her graduate work in Britain and the United States. From then until 1953, government and politics were taught by economists in the Department of Political Economy or by historians. Beginning in 1953 a number of political scientists who were Second World War veterans came to McMaster. Derry Novak, a specialist in the history of political ideas, was the first to be followed by Peter Potichnyj (politics in the Soviet Union), Klaus Pringsheim (Chinese and Japanese politics) and Gordon Means (South Asian politics).

By the 1960s Political Science in Canada was becoming more removed from the disciplines of Economics and History. The Department of Political Science began in 1965 and at that time young political scientists emphasized systematic analysis of contemporary politics. In 1967 five new political scientists arrived. Gordon Means was transitional figure with a foot in the two streams, historical and systematic approaches, with four young American educated political scientists, Gil Winham (international relations), Bob Cunningham (public administration and politics in Arab countries), George Breckenridge (American, British and Canadian politics) and Henry Jacek (political behaviour, political parties and American politics).

In 1968 Dr. Howard Lentner (International Relations) arrived to take over the Chair's position and under his leadership the Ph.D. Programme was begun in four areas, Canadian Politics, Comparative Politics, Political Theory and International Politics. The new programme had a robust beginning but by the mid-1970s the Ontario Government had become worried about the cost of the University expansion that began in the 1960s. Accordingly the government decided to suspend financial support for any new Ph.D. students in Political Science at McMaster. Nonetheless the Department had expanded to 24 full-time permanent faculty. Also there were a number of distinguished Ph.D. graduates including Stephen McBride, later McMaster/Canada Research Chair in Public Policy and Globalization, and Graham White, Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto and past President of the Canadian Political Science Association.

By the late 1980s the Ph.D. was revived but limited in financial support to two fields, Comparative Public Policy and International Relations. The initial reinstatement was led by Professor Michael Atkinson and supported by a strong core of public policy and public administration specialists including William Chandler (Western European politics), Barbara Carroll (housing policy and Canadian public administration), William Coleman (Quebec politics and interest associations in advanced market economies), Mark Sproule-Jones (politics and administration of resource policies and Victor Kennedy Copps Chair in Urban Studies), and Kim Richard Nossal (defense and foreign policy). Also part of this group was Professor Michael Stein, Department Chair from 1980 to 1983, a specialist in federalism who started a M.A. programme in Public Policy and Administration in 1980 in collaboration with the Department of Political Science at the University of Guelph. Today, the CPP core is known for its strong focus on social policy, led by a faculty contingent that includes Stephen McBride, Shafiqul Huque, Peter Graefe, Michelle Dion and Katherine Boothe.

By the beginning of the 21st century the International Relations component of the Department was growing in numbers and quality of both faculty and students under three senior leaders who also served as Department chairs: Tony Porter, Richard Stubbs and Robert O'Brien. Under O’Brien’s leadership, the International Relations group also established an M.A. in International Relations that attracts large numbers of very high quality students. Today, along with Porter (business regulation and global governance), O’Brien (global civil society, labour, and the political economy of climate change), and McBride (political economy and globalization), the department has a strong cohort of scholars working in critical international relations. This includes Marshall Beier, Peter Nyers, Alina Sajed and Lana Wylie. Drawing on our combined expertise in the field of international and comparative public policy, the department has hosted since 2010 an innovative Graduate Conference on the Internationalization of Public Policy: Mapping the Global Dimensions of Policy

In the contemporary Political Science Department we have kept and rejuvenated our solid three person political theory core of Catherine Frost, James Ingram and Inder Marwah, who contribute to the department’s exceptional research strength in radical political theories. The Department also has a strong group of academics with knowledge of developing societies. These include Michelle Dion, Nibaldo Galleguillos, and Netina Tan. Also a new development is the appointment of two outstanding teaching professors, Todd Alway (research methods) and Greg Flynn (public law, leadership and Canadian politics). Also of note is that while we no longer have the extensive strength in public administration we once had, we do have one, Professor Ahmed Shafiqul Huque, who also contributes to our developing societies expertise. One other area which has a smaller contingent than in the past is Canadian Politics, led by Peter Graefe, who has a wide knowledge of Federal and provincial politics.

Finally there is one important development we should note. Despite the path breaking example of Gwendolen Carter, Political Science instruction at McMaster was done by only males from 1935, with very few exceptions, into the 1970s when Stefania Miller joined the Department. Now we have an outstanding cohort of seven strong female political scientists led by our Chair, Karen Bird. Like Gwendolen Carter, Karen Bird is a native of Hamilton and a specialist in comparative politics, focusing on gender and ethnic politics. So now Political Science at McMaster has strong female leaders, who are excellent scholars and who use the comparative method to understand the wide variety of political life in this complex political world.

By: Dr. Henry J. Jacek, Professor