Welcome to Introduction to Comparative Politics!

This video is going to introduce the overall topic to you, essentially answering the question: What is comparative politics?

Bottom line up front: Comparative politics is the study and comparison of the domestic politics of other countries.  It traditionally focuses on three questions: 

  • Why are some countries rich and some countries poor,
  • Why are some countries democracies and some countries dictatorships, and
  • Why do some countries fall into civil war, while others remain politically stable?

In sum, what explains the differences we see between countries and what explains political change within countries?

In this class, we will focus on three things:

The first is the domestic politics of countries around the world.  We will focus on a couple of things:

  • First, domestic politics.  As important as international influence is on every country, we are going to focus much more on what goes on inside a country’s borders – how politicians make choices within their own political systems.
  • Second, we will study countries around the world.  This isn’t a class where will we compare the historical political development of the UK, France, and Germany, as interesting as that actually is.  We will be reading and working with examples from around the world, and I work to keep the cases current for you all, so that you can see how the theories we are learning apply to current events and apply to policies you may soon develop.

The second big thing we are focusing on is both the causes and the effects of political institutions.

You’ll notice that in the three big questions I laid out, sometimes political institutions — democracy, dictatorship, presidentialism, electoral systems – sometimes institutions are the effect we are looking at.  What causes a country to become a democracy – or to slide back into dictatorship? In other circumstances, political institutions are causes.  How do political institutions shape a country’s economic development.

We are going to focus on the relationship between these two issues.  How can we separate cause and effect and how do they interact with each other.

The last thing I hope you get out of this class is essentially a set of life skills.  Even if you forget everything we discuss about a country or region of the world, I am hoping you will:

  • Remember how to make effective comparisons,
  • Improve your ability to write concisely, and
  • Improve your ability to process information quickly.

On comparisons, I’d like to help you distinguish when it’s okay to compare apples and oranges, because hey they are all fruit, and when you want to dig deeper and talk about the differences between red and green apples.

And on literacy and writing skills, I will help you learn how to read statistics and academic articles effectively.  On writing, I will focus on help you write really clear and really concise arguments.  The essays required for this class are all short (2 pages single spaced), which sounds great but is actually pretty hard.

This does mean that we leave some things out.  We will talk about civil war in the context of state failure, but we don’t have the time to cover it extensively.  The second big gap is that we aren’t going to a lot talk about historical political development, and particular the legacies of colonialism.  This again is mostly due to a lack of time, but it’s also partly because I am trying to keep the focus on contemporary issues – how do politicians make decisions about the challenges they face today.  So the focus is more on how some countries are able to break out of cycles of poverty and violence than on how international powers got them there. 

With those caveats, I wanted to say thank you for signing up for this class and I look forward to teaching you this year!