POL S 548 A: Comparative Political Parties

Meeting Time: 
Th 1:30pm - 4:20pm
SMI 111
Joint Sections: 
JSIS 578 C
Prof. Niko Switek
Niko Switek

Syllabus Description:

JSIS 578C / PolS 548 (TH 1:30-4:20)

Comparative Political Parties: Party Systems and Party Organizations in Old and New Democracies

ATTENTION: Because I attend the MPSA conference in Chicago the class starts in the second week (April 11).

Course Description:

Political Parties are building blocks and crucial elements of democratic systems. As organizations they act as a link or intermediary between citizens and the state, through party competition the electorate can chose between candidates and policies. Research on parties is correspondingly either focused on their interactions (e.g. characteristics of party systems) or focusing on their organizational character as democratic, fragmented, multi-level entities. This class looks at both strands: Definitions and typologies of party systems are discussed and criteria to describe and compare systems evaluated. We inspect different methods and techniques to determine party positions in a policy space and established data sources containing this information.

Regarding the organizational character of parties, different approaches to capture the unique shape of a formal bottom-up democratic structure and an accountable leadership are discussed (e.g. typologies, theoretical frameworks and micropolitical perspectives). The class also covers more recent institutionalist approaches, which try to incorporate a process dimension and ask about origins and genesis of parties (especially relevant for younger democracies). Concerning the parliamentary arena, legislative behavior of parties is scrutinized and logics and mechanism of government formation are examined. We analyze the more recent phenomenon of populist parties and if and how they differ from their established competitors. Finally, overlapping with research on European integration we assess the role of party organizations on European level (so called 'Europarties') with their special character as 'parties of parties'.

Assignments and Grading:

  • Class participation means regular attendance and active involvement in class discussions, which is important for the success of the class (20 % of your grade).
  • Students will write four short response papers over the course of the quarter. Response papers should develop an argument or explore a theme based on the readings for that week on the syllabus and should be 1 to 2 pages in length. Students should e-mail their papers to the class mailing list by 5 pm on Wednesday evening before class. Students are required to read all response papers before class and be prepared to discuss them in the context of the readings. (adds up to 40 % of your grade).
  • Students will write a final paper of approximately 15 pages. The paper is due Wednesday, June 12 and has to be uploaded to the Canvas course site. The final paper accounts for 40 % of your grade and may take one of the following forms:
    • Review essay: This type of essay takes a selection of important works on a single theme and uses them as a starting point to lay out a fresh agenda for further research.
    • Research design: This type of paper treats the literature as a starting point to sketch a research project. It should contain a literature review that motivates the proposed research, a research design, a plan for relevant data, and a clear indication of how you will know whether your hypotheses find support in the data.
  • All papers should be font size 12, double spaced and have page numbers as well as course number and student's name and e-mail-address in the page header.

Please note that late assignments will NOT be accepted and make-up assignments will NOT be given except in cases of documented emergencies or with advance permission of the instructor. In the absence of these provisions late or missing assignments will receive a grad of “0”.

Required Readings:

The required readings are available as PDFs on the course’s website (UW canvas).

Grading Summary:

  • Active participation:             20 %
  • 4 response papers:             40 %
  • Final paper :                       40 %


A: These papers have a clearly articulated thesis statement, developed through paragraphs, and supported with a variety of relevant (primarily textual) evidence. The arguments demonstrate high dexterity. The writer’s understanding of the writing practices, the methodology, and the materials used as evidence is evident. All the parts are connected and ordered logically, so that reader is never left to figure out relationships. Finally, there are virtually no mechanical errors: spelling, punctuation, and grammar are all standard and evidence is properly cited.

B: These papers have fulfilled the assignment. They demonstrate solid thinking about the issues, and clear investment in argumentation, use of a thesis, evidence, and reasoning. However, some aspects of the paper can still be improved: these papers are likely to contain less evidence that papers with outstanding grades, they could benefit from stronger argumentation through the paper or could have clearer relationships among paragraphs. These are carefully written papers that could use more of something: evidence, connection, critical thought, or accuracy/fluency of expression.

C: These papers demonstrate clear elements of argument, but are weak on evidence, arguing by assertion, for example. The progression of the argument is not logical or is not made apparent, so that sometimes it is difficult to discern the argument. There are disjunctures between sentences within paragraphs and the purpose of many of the paragraphs is not made clear by the writer. Sometimes these papers contain distracting mechanical errors.

D: These papers have elements of argument in them, but they are more summary than argument. However, they are reasonably good summary—clear, well-organized, and competent. Writing is generally grammatically comprehensible, but falls short of standard expectations.

F: These papers are not argumentative and the writing suffers from serious problems of expression or there was no paper turned in.

Academic Integrity:

Plagiarism and cheating are serious offenses. If you have questions regarding your work or what might constitute plagiarism on any of your written assignments, speak to me first. Any work turned in for this class must be original work (i.e. not used for any other class).

Students with Disabilities:

Your experience in this class is important to me. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or uwdrs@uw.edu or disability.uw.edu. DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions.  Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.

Catalog Description: 
Role of political parties in the modern state. Similarities and differences in origins and development of political parties and functions they perform, both in established democracies and in developing countries.
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:08pm