• Course Introduction

        Politics, a term best defined as the distribution, exercise, and consequences of power, exists at multiple levels of our society and in our daily lives. We experience politics in action, for example, during international negotiations, government policy choices, in the workplace, and in our own families. This course focuses on the formal, public sphere of politics and power relations through a systematic study and comparison of types of government and political systems.

        Comparativists (practitioners of comparative politics) seek to identify and understand the similarities and differences among political systems by breaking broad topics down—such as democracy or freedom—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?

        • Unit 1 introduces basic concepts in social science, comparative political theory, and methodology.
        • Unit 2 examines the state and compares authoritarian, totalitarian, and democratic state forms.
        • Unit 3 focuses on the concept of democracy and democratization.
        • Unit 4 explores institutional features of government and governance.
        • Unit 5 moves outside the realm of government structure to explore how variables including culture, interest groups, pressure groups, lobbying, the press, media campaigns, nongovernmental and quasi-nongovernmental organizations shape outcomes in politics.
        • Unit 6 compares different ideologies and government policy processes.
        • Unit 7 applies comparative methods to examine variations of government structure and economic development across four different regions of the world: the Americas, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

        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.

      • Unit 1: Social Science and Comparative Politics

        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.

        Upon successful completion of this unit, you will be able to:

        • describe the scientific method;
        • differentiate between scientific laws and theories;
        • differentiate between inductive and deductive thinking;
        • define explanatory, exploratory, and descriptive research;
        • differentiate between positivist, antipositivist and postpositivist methods;
        • differentiate between Mill's "Method of Agreement” and "Direct Method of Difference";
        • define comparative politics; and
        • identify and explain various comparative methodologies used to compare various political systems.

      • Unit 2: The Nation-State

        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.

        Upon successful completion of this unit, you will be able to:

        • identify the origins of the modern nation state system;
        • define the chief characteristics of a nation state;
        • differentiate between nations and nation-states;
        • define sovereignty and identify and explain trends in sovereignty;
        • identify characteristics of a strong and weak state;
        • explain how Hobbes and Weber conceptualize the state; and
        • differentiate between authoritarian and totalitarian states.
      • Unit 3: Democratic States and Democratization

        Unit 3 focuses exclusively on the concept of democracy. After defining the concept, this unit focuses on various attributes that characterize democratic states and differentiate them from authoritarian regimes. We then examine processes of democratization and the breakdown of democracy followed by the debate regarding the relationship between democracy and economic development. The unit concludes with a focus on the contemporary case of the Arab Spring.

        As you work through unit 3, reflect on the following questions. What differentiates democracies from authoritative regimes? What conditions facilitate democratization and do contemporary trends in the early 21st century support or undermine democratic states?  Finally, are those who argue that democracy improves economic outcomes correct in their analysis?

        Completing this unit should take you approximately 6 hours.

        Upon successful completion of this unit, you will be able to:

        • define democracy;
        • differentiate between representative (indirect) and participatory (direct) democracy;
        • identify prominent characteristics of democratic states;
        • identify trends in democratization;
        • list the six major explanations for democratization; and
        • explain and assess if democracy improves economic outcomes.

      • Unit 4: Comparing Political Structures and Institutions

        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.

        Upon successful completion of this unit, you will be able to:

        • identify the role of constitutions in government systems;
        • distinguish between presidential, semi-presidential, and parliamentary systems;
        • distinguish between unitary, federal, and confederal governmental models;
        • compare and contrast the role of the executive in selected countries;
        • compare and contrast the role of the judicial branch in selected countries; and
        • compare and contrast the role of the bureaucracy and the policy process in selected countries.
      • Unit 5: Political Behavior

        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.

        Upon successful completion of this unit, you will be able to:

        • define political culture, political socialization, and political participation;
        • compare and contrast political cultures in selected countries;
        • compare and contrast political socialization in selected countries;
        • describe and explain patterns of representation and participation in selected countries;
        • compare and contrast the roles and functions of political parties in selected countries; and
        • compare and contrast the role of interest groups in selected countries.
      • Unit 6: Comparing Ideology, Policy, and Decision Making

        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.

        Upon successful completion of this unit, you will be able to:

        • identify the basic belief systems of various mainstream ideologies found in contemporary democratic societies and political parties;
        • identify and explain governance and policy-making in selected countries; and
        • identify informal influences on governance and policy making.
      • Unit 7: Comparative Case Studies

        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.

        Upon successful completion of this unit, you will be able to:

        • describe and explain the political economy and development in selected regions and countries; and
        • identify and explain political challenges and changing agendas in selected regions and countries.