POL 521: Introduction to Comparative Politics


This survey of major topics in comparative politics is intended for Ph.D. students.  Its purpose is to introduce some of the major theoretical and conceptual building blocks in the sub-field, along with the basics of the comparative method.  The course proceeds thematically.  Each week participants discuss a subset of the pertinent scholarly literature, usually focusing on a major theoretical controversy.  Key methodological issues are addressed in context. 

Normative concerns inform the questions to which we seek answers.  The major challenge of the twentieth century was to improve the representation of popular interests in policy.  This theme is still high on the list of priorities.  Many of the topics in this course relate to one another through this nexus.  A second concern, also important for many decades but especially urgent now, is accountability and performance.  It is one thing to respond to people’s preferences in policy. It is another to ensure that governments respond effectively. Because of time constraints, this syllabus does not treat these issues explicitly, but the concern is at play in many of the works you read.  A third normative issue is order.  Although we usually privilege democratic participation over order, in many parts of the world it is impossible to improve life and expand choice because of the lack of personal security.  We do not engage in normative debate in this class, but the imprint of these “political theory” conversations is clear.