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Comparative politics

Syllabus for pre-PhD Distance learning course on International Relations


Narek S. Galstyan, PhD, Associate Professor
Yerevan State University, Distance Learning Laboratory

1. Course module description
Comparative politics is the study and practice of comparing different political units and systems, either in whole or in part. Comparative politics is used to address such puzzles as varying degrees of democracy, varying levels of political and social conflict, varying levels of wealth, and to inform debates about creating or designing new political orders. The course module is structured thematically and will, additionally, introduce students important concepts in comparative politics, such as democratization, the state, institutions, political culture, civil society, political economy, and incorporate these into the comparative analysis of various countries around the world.

2. Goals of the course module
In this course module we will:

  • survey contemporary politics and political trends in selected countries and regions around the world;
  • compare and contrast the variety of ways that different countries have chosen to shape their political institutions and processes, and assess the costs and benefits of these choices;
  • analyze the variety of public policies different countries have adopted to address common problems, including the challenges of globalization, with an eye toward identifying processes, practices, and policies which might be “exportable” ideas for countries to borrow from one another;
  • gain exposure to some of the most important perspectives and theories which inform our understanding of comparative politics;
  • develop a basic understanding of the methods which political scientists use to understand politics. You will learn the use of the comparative approach, and its limits, as one of our most important methods for deriving generalizations about politics and lessons about public policy. And you will be introduced to basic critical analytic skills, to enable you to critically assess comparative data.

Since this is a distance-learning course, assessment will be based only on students’ written work.

  • Weekly written essays – 60%
  • Final essay - 40%

Course module program

Class 1 Introduction
- What is Comparative Politics?
- Content, concepts and methods of Comparative Politics. 
- Research traditions and theory in Comparative Politics.


  • Mattei Dogan and Dominique Pelassy (1990). How to Compare Nations. Strategies in Comparative Politics. Second edition. Chatham House Publishers, Inc., Chatham, New Jersey, pp. 24-45.
  • D. Collier (1993). The Comparative Method, in A. Finifter, The state of the discipline II, Washington, American Political Science Association, ch. 5, pp. 106-119.
  • A. Stepan (2001). Introduction: Reflections on “Problem Selection” in Comparative Politics in A. Stepan, Arguing Comparative Politics, Oxford, Oxford University Press, pp. 1-20.
  • C. Lees (2006). We are all comparativists now. Why and how single-country scholarship must adapt and incorporate the comparative politics approach, in Comparative Political Studies”, 39: pp.1084-1108.

Assignment 1:
Please, answer the following questions (up to 5 pages):

  • What is comparative politics?
  • What and why do we compare? Substantiate your answer. 

Class 2  The State
- Study of the state in political science. 
- Historical origins of the sovereign nation-state in Europe.
- State theories.
- Territory, people and sovereignty of state.
- The rise of the modern state (historical origins and development, state formation and nation building).
- Welfare states etc. 


  • Jan-Erik Lane (2008). Comparative Politics. The principal–agent perspective, Routledge, New York, pp. 35-54.
  • T. Mitchell (1991), The Limits of the State: beyond statist approaches and their critics, in “American Political Science Review”, vol. 85: pp. 77-85.
  • G. Gill (2003). The nature and development of the modern state, Houndsmills, Palgrave, 2003, ch. 1: The Modern State, pp. 1-32.

Assignment 2:
Please, answer the following questions (up to 5 pages):

  • What is the state and how can you explain the emergence of this historically distinct form of political organization? 
  • What capacities do states possess and under what conditions can these capacities be fully developed? Substantiate your answer. 
  • Why do some states succeed while others fail? How do states interact with their societies? Substantiate your answer.

Class 3 Political Regimes
- The analysis of political regimes.
- What is democracy and why have one?
- Democratic regimes.
- Typologies of non democratic regimes.
- Totalitarianism and Authoritarianism.
- Grey areas between democracy and non democracy.
- Advanced Democracies and Hybrid Regimes.


  • Gerardo L. Munck and Richard Snyder (2007). Passion, Craft, and Method in Comparative Politics, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, pp. 150-210, 234-273, 305-351, 392-456.
  • Jan-Erik Lane (2008). Comparative Politics. The principal–agent perspective, Routledge, New York, pp. 191-208.
  • Larry Diamond (April 2002). Thinking about Hybrid Regimes, Journal of Democracy: pp. 21-35.
  • L. Diamond, Defining and Developing Democracy (1999). ch. 1 in L. Diamond, Developing Democracy, Johns Hopkins, pp.1-23.
  • C. Tilly (2007), What is Democracy? in C. Tilly, Democracy, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-24.
  • Lijphart (1999), Introduction and chapters. 1-2 in A. Lijphart, Patterns of democracy, New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 1-47.
  • J. Linz (2000), Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes, ch. 4 Authoritarian Regimes, pp.159-184.
  • S. Levitsky and W. Lucan (2002), The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism in “Journal of Democracy”13, pp. 51-65.

Assignment 3:
Please, answer the following questions (up to 5 pages):

  • What’s the Impact of Democracy?
  • Why Do Democracies Look Different? Substantiate your answer.
  • What are “Hybrid Regimes”?

Class 4 Democratization and Europeanization
- Regime of democratization and reversals from democracy.
- Regime transformations of relatively new democracies and quasi-democracies.
- Role of international factors and the increasing frequency of hybrid or semi-authoritarian regimes. 


  • Gerardo L. Munck and Richard Snyder (2007). Passion, Craft, and Method in Comparative Politics, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, pp. 273-305.
  • Larry Diamond, “Defining and Developing Democracy,” in Robert Dahl et al, eds., The Democracy Sourcebook (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2003), 29-39.
  • Michael Emerson and Gergana Noutcheva (2005), Europeanisation as a Gravity Model of Democratisation, Herald of Europe – 2, pp. 1-33.
  • Michael Emerson (Ed. 2005). Democratisation in European neighbourhood, Centre for European Policy Studies, Brussels, pp. 15-38, 169-231.
  • Michael Emerson (2004). European Neighbourhood Policy: Strategy or Placebo? CEPS Working Document No. 215/November 2004, pp. 2-7.

Assignment 4:
Please, answer the following questions (up to 5 pages):

  • What internal preconditions are necessary for democratisation?
  • What similarities do you see between democratisation and Europeanization? Substantiate your answer.

Class 5 Forms of government
- Democratic Executives and forms of government.
- Executives in parliamentary governments and in presidential governments.
- Institutional and functional varieties.
- Parliamentary institutions: institutional varieties.
- Parliamentary institutions: members, parties and legislative production.
- Semipresidentialism.


  • Arend Lijphart (1992), ed., Parliamentary versus Presidential Government (Oxford: Oxford University Press), Introduction and Chapters 1, 2, 6-8, 14, 29-32.
  • Arend Lijphart (1999), Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries, New Haven, Yale University Press, Chapter 8 and 10.
  • J. J. Linz (1994), Presidential or parliamentary democracy does it make a difference? in J.J. Linz and A. Valenzuela (eds.). The failure of presidential democracy, Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins University Press, vol. 1, pp. 3-87.
  • W. C. Müller and K. Strom (2000), Conclusion: coalition governance in Western Europe, in W. C. Müller and K. Strom (eds.) Coalition governments in Western Europe, Oxford, Oxford University Press, pp. 559-592.
  • K. Strom (2000), Delegation and accountability in parliamentary governments, in “European Journal of Political Research” 37: pp. 261-289.
  • C. Figuereido and F. Limongi (2000). Presidential power, legislative organization and party behavior in Brazil. in “Comparative Politics” 32: pp. 151-170.
  • Fish, M. S (2006). Stronger Legislatures, Stronger Democracies in “Journal of Democracy” 17: pp. 5-20.

Assignment 5:
Please, answer the following questions (up to 5 pages):

  • What characteristics distinguish presidential and parliamentary forms of government? 
  • What features have semi-presidential forms of the government?

Class 6 Parties and party systems: typologies
- Interest Aggregation.
- Articulation and Political Parties.
- Social structure and party choice.
- Party identification.
- Ideological and value orientations.
- The individualization of politics, political parties and party families.
- Party Systems.


  • Jacques Thomassen (2005). The European Voter. A Comparative Study of Modern Democracies, Oxford University Press, pp. 9-17, 84-192.
  • G. Sartori. Competitive systems (2005) in G. Sartori, Parties and party systems. A Framework for analysis. Colchester: ECPR, pp. 116-191.
  • Almond Gabriel A., Russell J. Dalton, G. Bingham Powell, Jr., and Kaare Strom (2006). Comparative Politics Today: A World View, Update Edition, 8/E. Longman. New York, USA. Chapter 4 and 5.
  • R.J. Dalton (2008). The quality and quantity of party systems: party system polarisation, its measurement and its consequences, in Comparative political studies, 41: pp. 899-920.
  • L. Bardi and P. Mair (2008). The parameters of party systems, in “Party politics” 14: pp. 147-166.

Assignment 6:
Please, answer the following questions (up to 5 pages):

  • How can you conceptualize political parties?
  • What role can play parties in aggregation, articulations of interests and state policy formation?
  • Are governments more responsive to citizens when parties are strong or when they are weak? Substantiate your answer.

Class 7 Case studies: UK, France, Germany, USA, RF, China. European Union
- Political Systems of United Kingdom, France, Germany, USA, Russia and China.
- Political System and features of European Union.


  • John McCormick (2004). Comparative Politics in Transition. 4th edition. Belmont CA: Wadsworth, ch. 2 (pp. 80-125).
  • Almond Gabriel A., Russell J. Dalton, G. Bingham Powell, Jr., and Kaare Strom (2006). Comparative Politics Today: A World View, Update Edition, 8/E. Longman. New York, USA. Chapter 9 and 10.
  • Simon Bulmer, David Dolowitz, Peter Humphreys, Stephen Padgett (2007). Policy Transfer in European Union Governance: Regulating the Utilities. Regulating the utilities. Routletge, New York, pp. 11-32.
  • Beate Kohler-Koch, Rainer Eising (2002). The transformation of governance in the European Union. Routletge, New York, pp. 1-14.
  • Joseph Rudolph (2006). Politics and Ethnicity. A Comparative Study. New York, pp. 19-101.
  • Simon Hix (2005). The political system of the European Union, Second Edition, New York, pp. 1-111, 175-208.
  • Simon Bromley (2001). Governing the European Union, The Open University, London, pp. 1-27, 53-81.

Assignment 7:
Please, answer the following questions (up to 5 pages):

  • How would you describe political regime, government form and party system of your country?
  • What is the EU – Empire, super-state or post-national state? Substantate your answer.
  • What value do historical and political factors have in formation of political system of the country? Substantiate your answer.

Class 8  Closing exam 
Based on your interest, choose any topic discussed withing this course module and write an analytic essay (13-15 pages).

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