POL S 204 A: Introduction To Comparative Politics

Summer Term: 
Meeting Time: 
TTh 12:00pm - 2:10pm
DEN 110
David Lopez

Syllabus Description:

NOTE: Preview syllabus only. Actual syllabus uploaded under "Files."

Why do some countries achieve political stability, free and fair elections, and rule of law while others struggle with corruption, electoral fraud, and political violence? While democracies now form the most common type of "political order" around the world, the spread of representative government has not come without significant challenges. As a result, the trend toward greater democracy in the world is far from a foregone conclusion. The variation in political order across countries raises a number of important questions:

  • What explains the persistence of authoritarian forms of government, or even the collapse of previously democratic governments into authoritarian regimes?
  • Why are some countries more prone to civil conflict and political violence than others?
  • Why are some countries rich while others remain poor?
  • What explains political and economic inequality among citizens within both rich and poor countries?

To answer these questions and more, this course will introduce students to a broad range of concepts and theoretical approaches that will provide them with the tools to systematically analyze politics. This course is organized around core themes in comparative politics, and the major theories therein. This includes the development of states and nations, democratization, the consequences of different electoral systems, authoritarianism and hybrid regimes, development, redistribution and inequality, and the role of ethnicity in politics. This course will emphasize social scientific approaches to better understand political systems in "case studies" such as Afghanistan, Chile, Denmark, El Salvador, Mexico, South Africa, United States, and Russia. In addition, we will use scholarly insights to shed light on current issues influencing public debate.

Readings: All required readings will be provided by the instructor and available on Canvas.

Course Evaluation:

Participation: 30%

Midterm: 25%

Final Exam: 45%

Course Expectations:

Lecture and discussion: In lecture we will cover the broad themes for the week's topics, in addition to various theories, hypotheses, data, and case studies from around the world that speak to these topics. To a lesser degree we will cover the week's readings. We will also occasionally view clips from film and documentary sources to help illustrate the practical and real world importance of the core concepts that we cover in this course. These media selections will serve to further reinforce and/or challenge key theories and help inform discussion since some time will be allotted for seminar-style discussion during our meetings. The instructor will post lecture slides after the day's lecture, but keep in mind that the content of lecture slides is but one component of the course material students are responsible for to be successful.

Readings: Students are expected to have carefully done the day's readings before meeting for lecture unless noted otherwise. Some of the readings have sections consisting of advanced mathematical and statistical modeling. However, students are not responsible for deciphering these methods beyond the general conclusions from the research findings. Students should instead focus on the logic of arguments and whether the theory and evidence convincingly connect. The reading schedule is designed to be manageable and is paced accordingly. Therefore, it would behoove students to come prepared having read all readings, as the 9-week summer term does not provide time to review in great detail any material covered earlier in the course. We will hit the ground running.

Podcasts and videos: Thanks to the magic of the internet, there is no shortage of informative open access multimedia content relevant to the study of comparative politics. While these selections are no replacement for lecture or careful reading of assigned texts (in economics terms, these are complements rather than substitutes), the instructor will occasionally assign video clips or podcasts that supplement the week's material to reinforce or review concepts, or provide the basis for parts of discussion during the next lecture. Further, some of the podcast episodes exposes students to how important scholars in social science fields challenge or defend intellectual viewpoints, which in turn should be seen as models for scholarly debate in this course and elsewhere.

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