POL S 204 A: Introduction to Comparative Politics

Summer Term: 
Meeting Time: 
MTWThF 12:00pm - 2:10pm
ART 004
Tan Zhao

Syllabus Description:

Course Description

The purpose of this course is to introduce you to the fundamental concepts, theories and methods used to study comparative politics, a subfield of discipline of political science that focus on analyzing domestic politics. By the end of the course, you will be able to apply some comparative political methods and concepts to different types of political issues, behaviors, and outcomes. Hopefully, for some of you, comparative politics will become one of your favorite things too.

The course addresses a wide range of important issues in the field: what is the state and where do states come from? What are institutions and why do they matter? What are the key features of democracies and autocracies? Why do some countries become democratic, while others remain authoritarian? Why do some countries breakdown, while others remain stable and resilient? Why do some countries achieve wealth, while others remain mired in poverty? Why do ethnic or national conflicts emerge in some countries at certain periods of time but not in others? What are the causes of political violence?

We will use examples from a wide range of countries including China, Russia, Mexico, Afghanistan, Italy, and the United States (just to name a few). The lessons drawn from these countries will prepare you to explore and analyze other countries of your own interest in the future. Of course, it should be recalled that this is an introductory course, so it is likely that you will not become an expert on comparative politics. Yet, the set of analytical knowledges and skills you learn from this course can help you to prepare for more advance courses in social science, as well as some other disciplines. It may not give you all the answers, but it can lead you to raise and consider many interesting and insightful questions.


Course Objectives:

  1. To develop interests in comparative politics!
  2. To learn major theories and concepts in comparative politics;
  3. To learn about the domestic politics of different countries across different regions;
  4. To apply the theoretical theories and analytical tools acquired from the course into the contemporary world;
  5. To practice critical thinking;
  6. To help you to prepare for more advanced courses in social science (especially political science!).



  1. Short Response Papers (20%)
    As part of this course, students will watch two documentaries and one film in class. Students should select and submit TWObrief response paper after having viewed them. Each write-up should be in 12-point font, double-spaced, two pages long at most. In their response papers students should focus on what they have learned from the documentary (or film) and how the documentary (or film) is relevant to any concepts and themes we have covered in this course. Submissions must only be in print/hard copy, and no online copy submissions are allowed. The due dates are listed in the “course schedule” section of this syllabus.
  1. Midterm Examination (30%)
    Closed-book examination. Students will be tested on the materials in the lecture slides and readings. As we are operating on a rather tight schedule, no review sessions before the examination will be held. I will prepare a brief study guide for the midterm examination.
  1. Final Examination (30%)
    Closed-book examination. Students will be tested on the materials in the lecture slides and readings, with a much greater emphasis on the substantive material that we will cover after the midterm examination. As we are operating on a rather tight schedule, no review sessions before the examination will be held. I will prepare a brief study guide for the final examination.
  1. Participation (20%)
    Students are expected to come to class daily and make sure they are well-prepared (i.e., having completed the scheduled readings) and participate actively and meaningfully in class discussions. Please refer to the “course schedule” section and take note of the respective days and dates for each topic and prepare accordingly.


 Course Materials

Required Readings: Textbook (available at UW bookstore and online): Patrick H. O’Neil, Essentials of Comparative Politics, 6th edition, Norton, 2017.
Journal articles marked “full text online” are available in the UW Library E-Journals collection. Other readings will be made available for download on Canvas.

Note that the instructor reserves the right to change assignments as deemed appropriate, with announcement.


Important Dates:


Midterm examination: July 8th

Final examination: July 24th


Response Papers:

First paper due: July 2nd

Second paper due: July 15th

Third paper due: July 23rd


Reading List (Subject to Changes)

Introduction to the course

  • No readings.

Comparative politics and methods:  

  • O’Neil, Chapter 1, “Introduction”.

The modern state and its formation

  • O’Neil, Chapter 2, “States”, pp.31-46.
  • Herbst, Jeffrey. “War and the State in Africa,” International Security14, No 4 (April 1990): pp. 118–139. Full-text online, UW Library Catalogue.

Authoritarian regimes

  • O’Neil, Chapter 6, “Nondemocratic regimes”, pp.173-178, 184-202.
  • Andrew, Nathan, “Authoritarian Resilience.” Journal of Democracy 14, No. 1 (January 2003): pp. 6-17. Full-text online, UW Library Catalogue.

Democratic regimes

  • O’Neil, Chapter 5, “Democratic regimes”, pp.141-156.
  • Schmitter, Philippe and Terry Lynn Karl, “What Democracy Is... and Is Not,” Journal of Democracy2, No. 3 (November 1991): pp. 75-88. Full-text online, UW Library Catalogue.
  • Seymour Martin Lipset, “Somes Social Requisites of Democracy,” American Political Science Review 53, No.1 (March 1959), pp. 75-84 only. Full-text online, UW Library Catalogue.

Hybrid regimes

  • Steven Levitsky and Lucan A. Way, “The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism” Journal of Democracy 13, No. 2 (April 2002): pp. 51-64. Full-text online, UW Library Catalogue.

Political Parties and Electoral Systems

  • O’Neil, Chapter 5, “Democratic regimes’, pp.156-165.
  • Aldrich, John H. Why Parties? A Second Look. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2011. [Chapter 1, “Politics and Parties in America”].

Economic Development

  • Acemoglu, Daron, and James A. Robinson. 2012. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty. New York: Crown Publishers. [Chapter 3, “The Making of Prosperity and Poverty”].
  • Paul Collier. The Bottom Billion, New York: Oxford University Press. 2007. [Chapter 4, “Landlocked with Bad Neighbors”].

 Inequality and Social Responsibility

  • Pun Ngai, “Global Production, Company codes of Conduct, and Labor Conditions in China: A Case Study of Two Factories,” The China Journal 54 (July 2005), pp. 101-113. Full text online, UW Library Catalogue.

 Ethnicity and Identity

  • O’Neil, Chapter 3, “Nations and Society”, pp.63-77.
  • Yinan He, “History, Chinese Nationalism, and the Emerging Sino-Japanese Conflict,” Journal of Contemporary China 16, No. 50 (February 2007), pp. 1-24. Full text online, UW Library Catalogue.
  • Ashutosh Varshney, “Ethnic Conflict and Civil Society,” World Politics, Vol. 53, No. 3 (April 2001), pp. 362-398. Full text online, UW Library Catalogue.

Political Violence

  • O’Neil, Chapter 7, “Political Violence”.
  • Skocpol, Theda, “France, Russia, China: A Structural Analysis of Social Revolutions,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 18, No. 2 (April 1976): pp. 175-210. Full text online, UW Library Catalogue.



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: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:08pm