Michael C. Pisapia


Assistant Professor

Office: Kirby 326
Phone: 336-758-3380
Email: pisapimc@wfu.edu

Areas of expertise: American Political Development; Gender and Politics; Political Participation; Contemporary Political Theory





Michael Callaghan Pisapia graduated from Amherst College with a B.A. in Political and Social Thought and from the University of Wisconsin, Madison with a Ph.D. in political science.  He teaches courses on American politics and political theory.  His dissertation, Public Education and the Role of Women in American Political Development, 1852-1979, won the American Political Science Association’s 2011 William Anderson Award, and is being revised into a book manuscript.  He won a 2013 Carrie Chapman Catt Prize for scholarship on women and politics, in support of his research. Michael lives in Winston-Salem with his wife Page, and their four children, Sophia, Darian, Amalia and Elliot.






Pol 113: Introduction to American Government and Politics

This course gives students a broad understanding of the historical origins, structure and processes of the American political system.  First, we discuss the foundations of American politics, placing special emphasis on the United States Constitution and the shifting meaning Americans have attached to fundamental constitutional principles such as federalism and the separation of powers.  Next, we examine the political participation of citizens in social movements, political parties and interest groups. Finally, we study the major institutions of the national government – the Congress, the presidency and the executive branch, and the Supreme Court of the United States.  Throughout the course, students engage one another in debates about the health of American democracy, and the extent to which American political institutions supports the engagement of a diverse citizenry.

Pol 115: Introduction to Political Theory

People inevitably find themselves in a political world.   Our experiences of politics – as citizens obliged to others, as subjects anxious about the power of others who govern us, and as people who come to value ideals such as freedom and equality – are complicated, insecure, exhilarating, and sometimes violent.  In this course, through careful readings of philosophical texts and works of fiction that engage the nature of political experience,  we will grapple with different conceptions of how morality, freedom, political power, and justice are linked.  In addition, because much of how we think about justice, freedom and political power depends upon our particular location in the diverse societies and nation-states in which we live, we will read theorists of identity politics, the nation-state and of cosmopolitan ideals.

Pol 219: Political Participation in the United States

Studying political participation in America requires us to examine the political ideals, economic interests and cultural differences that move people to get involved in politics including the religious beliefs, racial, ethnic and gendered identities, and class positions that structure how people become oriented toward the political sphere.  Furthermore, it requires us to examine how people practically organize themselves into political parties, interest groups and social movements to “get things done.”  The courses begins with studies of political rhetoric; of the dynamics between leaders and their supporters; and the political history of voting in United States, including how different social groups have worked to secure that right over time.  With those foundations in place, we then examine features of contemporary American political participation: the role political parties play in organizing voters to participate in elections and to organize policy agendas in government; how people organize themselves into groups that pursue particular and public goals; and how social movements and social identities are created by relatively powerless social groups seeking to elevate their influence over the American political system.  Finally, we will practice being politically engaged citizens during the semester – and record our personal experiences going into the political arena with others.

Pol 229: Women, Gender and Politics

This course explores how gender structures politics, and how people with gendered identities participate in politics.  Complementing a primary focus on women’s political participation in the United States, we also examine philosophical and theoretical texts about gender and the state; empirical concepts that social scientists use to make sense of gendered dimensions to political life; historical scholarship on women’s activity before and after suffrage; studies tracing how public policies have affected people’s lives because of their gendered identities; social science research on how and why women and gendered minorities have been excluded from politics; and the strategies, ideologies, and organizations women have developed in different contexts around the globe as they have sought to secure political equality.  This includes how they have sought greater access to formal channels of political influence in democracies, especially in terms of holding elective public office, or appointive positions in national bureaucracies.  During the course, our discussion of theoretical, historical and social scientific readings will inevitably turn to contemporary debates over public policies that affect our lives.  Students are encouraged to raise connections to current policy debates during the semester.

Pol 275: American Political Thought

In this course we examine texts that reveal how Americans think about power, rights, national identity and citizenship, the role of government, freedom, equality, diversity and justice.  We begin at the American Founding with debates between federalists and anti-federalists about what the scope of governmental power should be, and how to create a large nation that also accommodates the diversity within it.  We then examine the civic and political culture of early American democracy as they appeared to a foreigner visiting the United States – Alexis de Tocqueville.  After that we consider tensions between illiberal and exclusionist patterns of thought, such as white supremacy, and the ideal of equality of opportunity for all citizens, regardless of race, sex and other identity traits.  In the last half of the course we examine the major political ideologies that still shape our political discourses today: freedom of the individual within capitalism, populist opposition to wealth inequality; the progressive thought of John Dewey and the New Dealers; mid-twentieth century conservative thought and the libertarianism of Milton Friedman; the political liberalism of John Rawls; and theorists of identity politics and difference.  By the end of the course, we will have carefully investigated diverse patterns of American political thinking, and students will have the opportunity to contribute their own strands of thought to this tradition that is still unfolding.

Pol 300: Senior Seminar – Citizens, the State and American Political Development

How has American citizenship and the shape of the American state changed over time? This senior seminar explores the key transformations of American politics from the Founding to the present.  The course considers different theories of how state, society, and economy shape one another, and it examines how several kinds of factors – such as enduring political ideals, socially constructed political identities, economic interests, and governing institutions – converged in ways to bring about unanticipated changes to the American polity.  In particular, the course focuses on how constitutional principles such as federalism have been contested over time; how diverse social groups have been incorporated into American citizenship; how dynamics between the major political parties have shifted, as the coalitions that supported them fell apart and new ones emerged; how the capacity of the national bureaucracy, and the authority of the President, the Congress and the Courts has increased over time, and with what effects on citizenship; and, how particular policy fields, such as civil rights, immigration, education, social welfare, and foreign policy have shaped, and been shaped by, the political participation of the people living under American government.

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