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POL S 204 A: Introduction to Comparative Politics

Meeting Time: 
TTh 11:30am - 12:50pm
SAV 260
Susan Whiting
Susan H. Whiting

Syllabus Description:

The full syllabus is here

Course Description

   This course introduces students to Comparative Politics by focusing on three of the most important issues in the field: economic growth, democratization, and ethnic & nationalist conflict. The course is organized into three main parts, in which we will address each of these issues in turn.

First, why do some countries achieve wealth, while others remain mired in poverty?  Social scientists and policy makers continually struggle with this question, which determines the life chances of billions of people around the world.  Today, policy makers debate two distinct explanations of economic growth around the world since World War II, and different explanations are tied to two different policy prescriptions: the so-called “Washington Consensus” and what some observers have inaccurately termed the “Beijing Consensus.”  These competing ideas actually reflect different emphases on the role of market forces versus the role of the state in promoting economic growth.  We will examine the debates as well as the evidence and reasoning behind them. 

Second, why do some countries become democratic, while others remain stubbornly authoritarian?  Near the end of the twentieth century, Francis Fukuyama foresaw the “End of History,” suggesting that most countries around the world would naturally become liberal democracies.  In the decades since his prediction, vibrant new democracies have indeed replaced authoritarian regimes in some countries; yet, elsewhere in the world one authoritarian regime replaced another, and in still other countries existing authoritarian regimes have survived and even thrived.  We will examine the factors shaping democratization as well as resilience of authoritarian regimes.

Third, why do ethnic or nationalist conflicts emerge in some countries at certain periods of time but not in others?  Ethnic and nationalist conflict is frequently in the news—clashes between the government and armed ethnic groups in Myanmar is only one recent example.  Traditionally, scholars have regarded ethnic or national identity as something immutable and ethnic or nationalist conflict as inevitable, but social scientists increasingly regard these identities as constructed or mobilized—often for the political purposes of elites.  We will examine the political causes of ethnic and nationalist conflict as well as some policy prescriptions for ending conflict. 

Learning Goals

   Through this course, you will gain both substantive knowledge and academic skills.  You will encounter real-world puzzles or problems and learn some of the Comparative Politics theories that explain them.  Along the way, you will master key concepts that are the building blocks of these theories. 

   You will hone your skills reading scholarly articles for both the author’s theoretical argument and the empirical evidence he/she relies upon.  You will also practice writing your own argument supported by evidence.  You will learn how quickly to access scholarly resources, and by the end of the quarter you will construct a scholarly bibliography.  These skills prepare you for more advanced courses in the social sciences; they also translate readily into other disciplines and the professional world.

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: 
Social Sciences (SSc)
Last updated: 
May 4, 2022 - 10:04pm