Like it or not, we can't escape politics. Politics, a term best defined as the distribution, exercise, and consequences of power, exists at multiple levels in our society and in our daily lives. We experience politics in action, for example, in international negotiations, government policy choices, our workplace, and even in our own families. This course focuses its efforts on exploring the formal, public sphere of politics and power relations through a systematic study and comparison of types of government and political systems.
Comparativists (practitioners of comparative politics) seek to identify and understand the similarities and differences between these systems by taking broad topics--say, for example, "democracy” or "freedom”--and breaking them down into factors that can be found in individual systems. We call this general approach "the comparative method.” The goal of the comparative method is to identify the factors and/or categories of analysis to effectively compare and contrast different political phenomena. Using the comparative method, we can tackle broader, more complicated questions like: Are certain forms of representative democracy more effective than others? Why are some countries extremely prosperous, while others are extremely poor? How does the degree of authoritarian control by a government drive economic development? Does culture impact quality of governance?
The course proceeds as follows: Unit 1 introduces basic concepts in social science, comparative political theory, and methodology. Unit 2 examines the state and compares authoritarian, totalitarian, and democratic state forms. Unit 3 focuses on the concept of democracy and democratization. Unit 4 explores institutional features of government and governance. Unit 5 moves outside the realm of government structure to explore how variables including culture, interest groups, pressure groups, lobbying, the press, media campaigns, nongovernmental and quasi-nongovernmental organizations shape outcomes in politics. Unit 6 compares different ideologies and government policy processes. In Unit 7, we apply comparative methods to examine variations of government structure and economic development across four different regions of the world: the Americas, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Upon successful completion of the course, you will have the methodological background to understand and explain variations in political behavior and political institutions. You will also have a general understanding of the issues facing political systems in each of the regions covered.