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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

Zachary Elkins

Associate Professor Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley

Zachary Elkins

Contact

Biography

website | Professor Elkins’ research focuses on issues of democracy, institutional reform, research methods, and national identity, with an emphasis on cases in Latin America. He is currently completing a book manuscript, Designed by Diffusion: Constitutional Reform in Developing Democracies, which examines the design and diffusion of democratic institutions, and recently completed The Endurance of National Constitutions, which explores the factors that lead to the survival of national constitutions. With Tom Ginsburg (University of Chicago), Professor Elkins co-directs both the Comparative Constitutions Project, a NSF-funded initiative to understand the causes and consequences of constitutional choices, and the website constituteproject.org, which provides resources and analysis for constitutional drafters in new democracies. Elkins earned his B.A. from Yale University, an M.A. from the University of Texas at Austin, and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

T C 357 • Constitutional Design

42395 • Spring 2015
Meets TTH 930am-1100am MEZ 2.118
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Constitutional Design and the Art and Science of Contracting with Others

The process for drafting legislation - whether in the form of constitution law or ordinary statutes -- shares many of the challenges of any collaborative writing project.  Drafters struggle to maximize the coherence, clarity, and parsimony of the document against the competing challenges of reaching consensus among multiple actors across multiple dimensions and integrating and sequencing a vast amount of information (including expert policy evaluations, public input, and editorial and substantive suggestions from fellow drafters).  More often than not, legislative processes appear to produce a strikingly suboptimal document, at least with respect to the goals enumeraged above.  The Brazillian constitution of 1988 is illustrative.  In that case, over 500 delegates worked for almost two years to synthesize the views of fellow delegates, interest groups, the general public (who themselves had submitted over 60,000 proposals). The resulting document, while an inspirational symbol of participatory democracy, is one of the most verbose and least coherent national charters in force today.  For a U.S. audience, the 2,000 page health care bill, read and understood by few, might be a more resonant example.The rather pragmatic issues involved in writing collectively - whether the text is national law, international treaties, legal contracts, business plans, or analytic reports - demands more scholarly attention, experimentation, and workable perscriptions.  Fortunately, there exists relevant theory for how to approach the pathologies of collective writing and decision making as well as some promising practical tools for mediating the actors' writing, negotiating, and editing.  This course will be dedicated to exploring these challenges and their solutions.

Text/Readings:

Elkins, Zachary, Tom Ginsburg, and Justin Blout. 2009. "Does the Process of Constitution-Making Matter."  Annual Review of Law and Social ScienceElster, Jon. 1995. "Forces and Mechanisms in the Constitution-Making Process." Duke Law Journal 364Mark Warschauer. 1997. "Computer-Mediated Collaborative Learning: Theory and Practice." The Modern Language Journal 81(4).

Assignments:

Six to eight short papers reacting to reading assignments - 20%

Two to four short exercises or problem sets - 10%

Mid-term exam - 30%

Participation in collaborative written project - 30%

Oral Report - 10%

About the Professor:

Professor Elkins focuses on issues of democracy, institutional reform, research methods, and national identity, with an emphasis on cases in Latin America. He is currently completing a book manuscript, Designed by Diffusion: Constitutional Reform in Developing Democracies, which examines the design and diffusion of democratic institutions, and recently completed The Endurance of National Constitutions, which explores the factors that lead to the survival of national constitutions. With Tom Ginsburg (University of Chicago), Professor Elkins co-directs both the Comparative Constitutions Project, a NSF-funded initiative to understand the causes and consequences of constitutional choices, and the website constitutionmaking.org, which provides resources and analysis for constitutional drafters in new democracies. He loves teaching and has been the recipient of a number of teaching awards. Elkins earned his B.A. from Yale University, an M.A. from the University of Texas at Austin, and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

T C 357 • Constitution Design/Art/Sci

43475 • Fall 2013
Meets TTH 1230pm-200pm MEZ 1.120
show description

Constitutional Design and the Art and Science of Contracting with Others

The process for drafing legislation - whether in the form of constitution law or ordinary statutes -- shares many of the challenges of any collaborative writing project.  Drafters struggle to maximize the coherence, clarity, and parsimony of the document against the competing challenges of reaching consensus among multiple actors across multiple dimensions and integrating and sequencing a vast amount of information (including expert policy evaluations, public input, and editorial and substantive suggestions from fellow drafters).  More often than not, legislative processes appear to produce a strikingly suboptimal document, at least with respect to the goals enumeraged above.  The Brazillian constitution of 1988 is illustrative.  In that case, over 500 delegates worked for almost two years to synthesize the views of fellow delegates, interest groups, the general public (who themselves had submitted over 60,000 proposals). The resulting document, while an inspirational symbol of participatory democracy, is one of the most verbose and least coherent national charters in force today.  For a U.S. audience, the 2,000 page health care bill, read and understood by few, might be a more resonant example.

The rahter pragmatic issues involved in writing collectively - whether the text is national law, international treaties, legal contracts, business plans, or analytic reports - demands more scholarly attention, experimentation, and workable perscriptions.  Fortunately, there exists relevant theory for how to approach the pathologies of collective writing and decision making as well as some promising practical tools for mediating the actors' writing, negotiating, and editing.  This course will be dedicated to exploring these challenges and their solutions.

 

Text/Readings:Elkins, Zachary, Tom Ginsburg, and Justin Blout. 2009. "Does the Process of Constitution-Making Matter."  Annual Review of Law and Social Science

Elster, Jon. 1995. "Forces and Mechanisms in the Constitution-Making Process." Duke Law Journal 364

Mark Warschauer. 1997. "Computer-Mediated Collaborative Learning: Theory and Practice." The Modern Language Journal 81(4).

 

Assignments:

  1. Six to eight short papers reacting to reading assignments - 20%
  2. Two to four short exercises or problem sets - 10%
  3. Mid-term exam - 30%
  4. Participation in collaborative written project - 30%
  5. Oral Report - 10%

About the Professor:

Professor Elkins focuses on issues of democracy, institutional reform, research methods, and national identity, with an emphasis on cases in Latin America. He is currently completing a book manuscript, Designed by Diffusion: Constitutional Reform in Developing Democracies, which examines the design and diffusion of democratic institutions, and recently completed The Endurance of National Constitutions, which explores the factors that lead to the survival of national constitutions. With Tom Ginsburg (University of Chicago), Professor Elkins co-directs both the Comparative Constitutions Project, a NSF-funded initiative to understand the causes and consequences of constitutional choices, and the website constitutionmaking.org, which provides resources and analysis for constitutional drafters in new democracies. He loves teaching and has been the recipient of a number of teaching awards. Elkins earned his B.A. from Yale University, an M.A. from the University of Texas at Austin, and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

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