Time: 75 hours
College Credit Recommended($25 Proctor Fee)
Comparativists (practitioners of comparative politics) seek to identify and understand the similarities and differences among political systems by breaking broad topics such as democracy or freedom down into the factors we find in individual systems. We call this general approach the comparative method, whose goal is to identify the factors and/or categories of analysis to compare and contrast different political phenomena.
We can use the comparative method to tackle broader, more complicated questions such as: Are certain forms of representative democracy more effective than others? Why are some countries extremely prosperous, and others extremely poor? How does authoritarian control drive economic development? Does culture impact quality of governance? After completing this course, you will have the methodological background to understand and explain variations in political behavior and political institutions. You will also have a general understanding of the issues facing political systems in each of the regions covered.
After familiarizing yourself with the following course syllabus, enroll in this course using the "Enroll me in this course” button. Once enrolled, navigate to Unit 1 of the course to read the Unit Introduction and Unit 1 Learning Outcomes. Links and instructions for all unit specific course resources will follow the introductory materials.
Effective comparative study of political systems is rooted in the scientific method. In this unit, we offer an overview and brief history of scientific inquiry and research methods. We build on these themes as we focus on the comparative method and outline several positivist models of comparison employed by political scientists.
As you review the material, think about how the comparative scientific study of politics differs from scientific inquiry in the natural world. Should we use the same research methods to study politics, as a scientist studying microbes or global climate change? Can we study the world of comparative politics objectively, as it exists, or try to derive better political models and outcomes?
Completing this unit should take you approximately 4 hours.
In the discipline of comparative politics, we explore how and why nations change, how and why governments compare to governments in different parts of the world, and patterns and irregularities among political systems. Before we can begin making these comparisons, we need to understand the basic unit of comparative political study: the nation-state.
Why do we need the nation-state? How does the concept of sovereignty tie into the history and characteristics of the state? How has the nation-state evolved since its origin in 1648? Is there an optimum form of state rule? And finally, is the modern nation state static or evolving in its form and function?
In Unit 2, we examine the history and thinking behind the modern nation state through the contributions of the philosophers Thomas Hobbes and Max Weber. We discuss how states developed, challenges to state sovereignty, and compare totalitarian and authoritarian forms of government.
Completing this unit should take you approximately 4 hours.
In Unit 3 we focus on the concept of democracy. We explore various attributes that characterize democratic states and differentiate them from authoritarian regimes. We then examine processes of democratization, the breakdown of democracy, and the debate regarding the relationship between democracy and economic development. We conclude the unit by exploring the contemporary case of the Arab Spring.
Think about how you would respond to these questions. What differentiates democracies from authoritative regimes? What conditions facilitate democratization? Do contemporary trends in the early 21st century support or undermine democratic states? Finally, do you agree with those who argue that democracy improves economic outcomes?
Completing this unit should take you approximately 6 hours.
A constitution provides a road map for a political system. Although constitutions vary from state to state, they are similar in many ways. Constitutions define political leadership, modes of representation, a legal framework, and the limits of a government's power. A constitution expresses the collective values and supports the security and stability of developing institutions.
In this unit, we explore how constitutions serve common needs. We consider how their differences reflect the values and interests of diverse constituencies. For example, legislatures may be divided into different types of houses and have different rules for choosing their members, but they typically have the same lawmaking purpose. We we often can trace these similarities and differences to specific reasons that allow us to better understand the culture or society. For example, the way a government is organized often reflects the social stratification of the political community in question.
We will examine different characteristics of government as factors in our study of comparative politics. We derive these factors from the written constitution, the political leadership, and the bureaucracy that emerged over time. In each case, we discuss political factors with an eye toward comparison. For example, we identify the degree of bureaucratic privatization in each system, how a community's geography influences government interaction, how governments gravitate toward immobilization in their policy-making, and how each of these factors leads to patterns in the political process over time.
Completing this unit should take you approximately 13 hours to complete.
Our political institutions influence how we behave. In this unit we focus on how non-institutional factors affect political prospects in different societies. For example, cultural factors influence the political process in many ways, and lead to different political values, differing degrees of alienation from local process, and different methods of political mobilization and participation. We define culture as the ideas, values, beliefs, and norms that inform the ways we behave, and how we believe others will judge us for our behavior. In this unit we examine how subcultures and shifts in political activism have influenced government. We conclude with an introduction to different voting processes, a look at interest groups, pressure groups, lobbying, the press, media campaigns, and nongovernmental and quasi-nongovernmental organizations, and an examination of how constituents use the Internet in policy and administrative processes
Completing this unit should take you approximately 22 hours.
In this unit we explore ideology and decision-making tactics. First, we compare five ideologies that have shaped mainstream political party platforms and governance in contemporary democratic systems: conservatism, liberalism, Christian democracy, social democracy, and environmentalism. We examine frameworks for understanding the policy process before discussing how policymakers obtain feedback and strategically use indecision. We conclude the unit by focusing on informal influences that shape government policy choices.
Completing this unit should take you approximately 10 hours.
In this unit we introduce methods of comparative analysis used in political science and international studies. Note that the case studies we will explore are hardly geographically or topically exhaustive. We apply factor analysis and comparative methods to examples from four world regions – Africa, the Americas, Asia, and the Middle East – which is the classification of area studies and standard geopolitical organization American political scientist use.
For example, we divide Asian politics into four regions – East, South, Southeast, and Central Asia – and Africa into two regions – the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and sub-Saharan Africa. We will explore how political elites and policy makers hold distinct views on democratization and modernization, and how these views impact political conflict in these regions.
Completing this unit should take you approximately 16 hours.
This study guide will help reinforce key concepts in each unit as you prepare to take the final exam. Each unit study guide aligns with the course learning outcomes and provides a summary of the core competencies and a list of vocabulary terms. Our study guides are not meant to replace the readings and videos that make up the course.
The vocabulary lists include terms that may help you answer some of the review items, and terms you should be familiar with to successfully complete the final exam for the course.