POL S 333 A: Topics In International Relations

Summer Term: 
Meeting Time: 
TTh 12:00pm - 2:10pm
DEN 258
Xiao Ma
Topic: Politics of Dictatorships

Syllabus Description:

POLS 333 The Politics of Authoritarian Rule (Dictatorships)


Instructor: Xiao Ma

Email: maxiao@uw.edu

T&TH 12-2:10 (DEN 258)


Course Description

What is a dictatorship like? How do dictatorships differ systematically from democracies? What are the varieties of dictatorships? What factors drive the transition from dictatorship from democracy? Although for most of its history humankind has lived under dictatorships, our understanding of dictatorships is often not as systematic and comprehensive as our understanding of democracy. This course examines various aspects of the politics in authoritarian regimes: their emergence and breakdown, the policy choices and institutions they adopt, leadership change, and the theories that explain these outcomes. We will use contemporary events and historical case studies to learn theories regarding authoritarian politics. The goal of this class is to offer students a systematic overview of authoritarian politics and thus help them understand and evaluate the public policy discourse on the politics of authoritarian regimes as well as the potential for their transition to democracy.


Course Requirements

The final grade will be composed as follows: class participation 50%, take-home midterm 20%, and final research paper 30%.


Class participation: You are required to attend classes, read the assigned material, and discuss assigned research articles. The 50% class participation is allocated as follow:


  1. a) reading summary (30%): You will be asked to submit a paragraph-per-reading summary/discussion of the readings assigned for each meeting via emails on the day of the class. The purpose of these summaries is to facilitate your preparation for the class and encourage you to participate in class discussion. You can also use these summaries as an opportunity to provide feedback on the assigned readings. I understand sometimes students cannot submit summaries or attend class according to schedule. Therefore, each student is given 2 free passes for the reading summary.


  1. b) In-class presentation (10%): An important part of your participation will be to present a mini-case study of an authoritarian country of your choice. The presentation will take place in the latter half of the class. The content of the presentation should summarize the characteristics of a dictatorship of your choice. It can also provide a starting point for your final paper. Using what we covered in class, you need to identity what types of dictatorship your country is, who oversees the regime, how is the relationship between the political elites and the masses, and provide a brief summary on the state of economic development in this dictatorship. You can make group presentation with other students. We will make group assignment during the class.


  1. c) discussion (10%): You are also encouraged to actively participate and engaged in class discussions. I will take note of your participation in discussion during the class.


Take-home Midterm (20%): The midterm exam will be take-home, open book, via Canvas. The format of the exam will be three essay questions. All the questions will be based on readings and class discussion.


Final Paper (30%): The culmination of this course is a final paper on a research question chosen by the instructor (maximum of 10 pages). Students can choose from among three formats: an original data collection and analysis, an original analytical argument, and a critical synthesis of a literature. We will also hold several (usually three) meetings dedicated to developing your ideas on the final paper and answering any questions. You are also encouraged to schedule individual meetings with me to discuss your particular project. I will also distribute a handout with the criteria that I plan to use when grading the final paper.


Course Materials

You can gain access to journal articles using E-Journal service by the college library. I will

distribute the electronic copy of the book chapters prior to the class.


Office Hours

By appointment (SMI 31)


Course Schedule

Meeting 1: Introduction of the Class

Tuesday (June 20)

Content: Class organization, logistics, and overview of the topics



Meeting 2: Dictatorship and Democracy compared

Thursday (June 22)

Content: Dictatorship and Democracy compared


Chapter 1, “Democracies and Dictatorships” in Przeworski, Adam, Alvarez, Michael E., Cheibub, Jose Antonio, and Limongi, Fernando. 2000. Democracy and Development: Political Institutions and Well-Being in the World, 1950-1990. New York: Cambridge University Press.


Meeting 3: What is a dictatorship?

Tuesday (June 27)

Content: Defining and measuring dictatorships


Chapter 5, “Conceptualizing and Measuring Democracy” in Clark,William R., Golder, Matt, and Golder, Sona N. 2008. Principles Of Comparative Politics. Washington, DC: CQ Press.

Diamond, Larry. 2002. Thinking about hybrid regimes. Journal of Democracy, 13(2):21–35.


Meeting 4: Origins of dictatorships

Tuesday (June 29)

Content: Historical, cultural, economic, and institutional origins of dictatorships


Przeworski, Adam and Limongi, Fernando. 1997. Modernization: Theories and facts. World Politics, 49(3):155–83.

Chapters 1 and 2 in Acemoglu, Daron and Robinson, James A. 2005. Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press.



July 4th NO CLASS


Meeting 5: Varieties of dictatorships

Thursday (July 6)

Content: Different types of dictatorships and their institutional characteristics


Chapter 1, “The World of Dictatorial Institutions”, in Gandhi, Jennifer. 2008. Political

Institutions under Dictatorship. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Geddes, Barbara. 1999. What do we know about democratization after twenty years?

Annual Review of Political Science, 2:115–144.


Meeting 6: How dictators stay in office?

Tuesday (July 11)

Content: The threats facing the dictators and the strategies they use to deal with these threats


Chapter 1, “The Anatomy of Dictatorship”, in Svolik, Milan W. 2012. The Politics of Authoritarian Rule. New York: Cambridge University Press.



July 13th NO CLASS


Meeting 7: The elites in authoritarian regimes

Tuesday (July 18)

Content: Exploring the role of elites in dictatorships, and their strategies of survival


Chapters 1 and 2 in Bueno de Mesquita, Bruce, Smith, Alastair, Siverson, Randolph M., and Morrow, James D. 2003. The Logic of Political Survival. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Meeting 8: Take-home Midterm

Thursday (July 20)


Meeting 9: The masses in authoritarian regimes

Tuesday (July 25)

Content: How the masses are repressed and how they react to state repression in dictatorships


Kuran, Timur. 1991. Now Out of Never: The Element of Surprise in the East European Revolution of 1989. World Politics, 44:7–48.


Preparation for in-class presentation

Tuesday (July 25)

After 10 meetings, you will be asked to choose a dictatorship that you want to explore in further details. In this section, we will prepare for the presentation. Instead of sending in a regular reading summary, you will be asked to submit a brief 1-page report on one dictatorship that you find most interesting. In addition to academic journals and newspapers, you are also encouraged to utilize online information sources such as CIA World Report or Wikipedia. We will discuss in class how authoritarian countries in today’s world (and in the past) fall into different categories. We will circulate these report among the students, and have discussions on what commonalities these dictatorships share and how they differ from one and another.


Meeting 10: In-class presentation

Thursday (July 27)


Meeting 11: Authoritarian party

Tuesday (August 1)

Content: The role of political parties in dictatorships


Chapter 1 and 2 in Magaloni, Beatriz. Voting for autocracy: Hegemonic party survival and its demise in Mexico. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.


Meeting 12: Authoritarian breakdown

Thursday (August 3)

Content: Using the “Arab Spring” in 2011 as a case to study authoritarian breakdown


Goldstone, Jack A., “Understanding the Revolutions of 2011,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2011, Vol. 90, Issue 3, p. 8-16.

Goldberg, Jeffrey, “Danger Falling Tyrants,” Atlantic Monthly, June 2011, Vol. 307, Issue 5, p. 46-54.

Steavenson, Wendell, “Who Owns the Revolution? The Army or the people?” New Yorker, 8/1/2011, Vol. 87, Issue 22, p. 38-57.


Meeting 13: Economic development in dictatorships

Tuesday (August 8)

Content: Examining why stable economic growth is a rare phenomenon in dictatorships


North, Douglass C. and Weingast, Barry R. 1989. Constitutions and commitment: The evolution of institutions governing public choice in seventeenth-century England. Journal of Economic History, 49(4):803–832. ISSN 0022-0507

Friedman, Thomas L. 2006. The first law of petropolitics. Foreign Policy, (154):28–36.


Meeting 14: Brainstorming your final paper ideas

Thursday (August 10)

In this meeting, we will discuss your possible final paper options. You are welcome to continue the discussion from the in-class presentation, and incorporate what we have learnt in-between. For the regime of your choice, what does the elite-mass relationship look like? How is the level of repression in your country of study, and how do you evaluate the chances of revolution in that country? Before the class, you will need to think about specific questions you want to address in your paper, and potential information/evidence that you can use to support your claims. Submit a one-page summary of your thoughts prior to the class and we will circulate among the students.


Meeting 15: Civil society in dictatorships

Tuesday (August 15)

Content: Examining how civil society in dictatorships are confined and managed


Chapter 1 in Hildebrandt, Timothy (2013) Social organizations and the authoritarian state in China, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.


Meeting 16: Second meeting for research paper

Thursday (August 17)

You are expected to finalize your final research paper topic. We will discuss each other’s final topic and offer suggestions on how you can improve it and from where you can get additional information. You are encouraged to schedule individual meeting with me before the class.



Department Requirements: 
International Relations Field
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 9:36pm