POL S 204 A: Introduction To Comparative Politics

Summer Term: 
Meeting Time: 
TTh 2:20pm - 4:30pm
CMU 228

Syllabus Description:

Course Description

This is a survey course on comparative politics. It introduces you to not only traditional themes, such as state-building, regime type, and nationalism, but also hotly-debated subjects in recent years, such as ethnicity and economic development. This course stresses two points. First, it is theme-oriented. Unlike a typical, country-oriented comparative politics class, where the class would explore one country each week in terms of history, institutions, and politics, this class will broadly discuss major theories in each of those topics mentioned above and test them against empirical evidence across countries. In this course, we will address these major puzzles:


  • Why do some countries have well-enforced, orderly systems while others do not?

  • Why are some countries democratic, while others remain nondemocratic despite regular elections or make successful transitions yet revert back to authoritarianism?

  • Why are some ethnic identities political salient, leading to political party mobilization and violence, while others are not?

  • Why are some countries rich while others remain impoverished?

As the course is topic-oriented, its intellectual inquiry culminates in the political economy of development, an increasingly popular and highly contested debate not just in social science but also in public discourse.


The second point is that the course emphasizes political economy approaches. Political economy rests on a simple assumption that actors are goal-oriented and want to maximize benefits while reducing costs to the minimum and that actors choose or create an option to achieve their goal. We adopt this analytical approach, because it allows us to engage material from other fields in social sciences and is compatible with many UW faculty in comparative politics, sociology, and other cognate departments.


While the main focus is certainly on politics, we define comparative politics fairly broadly and flexibly, as it can cover practically any scientific material with implications for politics. The readings reflect this conceptual flexibility and come from not only political science but also evolutionary and social anthropology, economics, and history.


Course Objectives

This course will enable you to achieve, inter alia, the following intellectual goals:

  • to learn major theories and issues in the field of comparative politics;

  • to be acquainted with scientific inquiry in social sciences;

  • to understand the variation of political outcomes in our interest, even though everyone may want to live in a wealthy, orderly, and well-functioning society;

  • to understand how and why poverty persists in Africa and why poverty alleviation is hard; and

  • to help you prepare for upper-division classes in political science and related cognate departments, such as Pol S 249 Introduction to Labor Studies, Pol S 270 Introduction to Political Economy, Pol S 307 Religion and World Politics, etc.



Grades are based on three in-class examinations and class participation.

  • Midterm 1 (15%)

  • Midterm 2 (20%)

  • Final exam (30%)

  • Participation (35%)


Catalog Description: 
Political systems in a comparative framework. Traditional and contemporary approaches to the study of governments and societies in different countries. Offered: AWSpS.
Department Requirements: 
Introductory Courses
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 9:36pm