SEMINAR IN COMPARATIVE POLITICS
POLITICAL SCIENCE 820
Fall Quarter 1997
Thursday 5:30-10:10, 715 General Classroom Building
Dr. William M. Downs
Department of Political Science
Georgia State University
Office Hours: M, W 2:00-3:30
This graduate seminar is designed to give participants a professional introduction to the issues,
theories, and methodological approaches associated with the systematic and comparative study of
nation-states and their political systems. Now in its fourth "boom" decade as a major field of
political science, comparative politics encompasses a wide range of topics--including
state-building, development, mass political behavior, public policy, party systems, interest
representation and political participation, institutional design and political economy. We will
take time to recognize the academic sociology of comparative politics, think seriously about the
logic of comparative analysis, and critique some of the classics in the field as well as some more
The seminar's primary goal is to focus on the major substantive, theoretical, and empirical
research questions concerning comparative politics. The course is not an "introduction to politics
in [insert country x here]." Nor is it slanted excessively to the professor's particular region of
interest and expertise (e.g., Europe). We look at the important questions and apply them
geographically where they prove most relevant. That said, the literature to be read and discussed
should only be considered a sampling of a richly diverse field. The seminar meetings themselves
will aim at constructive criticism and analysis of these works. More broadly, students will be
encouraged to relate these discussions and questioning to their own research and professional
TEXTS AND COURSE MATERIALS
The following texts are available for purchase at the Park Place Bookstore:
Ronald H. Chilcote. 1994. Theories of Comparative Politics: The Search for a Paradigm Reconsidered, 2nd edition. Boulder: Westview Press.
Mattei Dogan and Dominique Pelassy. 1990. How to Compare Nations: Strategies in Comparative Politics, 2nd edition. Chatham, NJ: Chatham House.
Sven Steinmo, Kathleen Thelen and Frank Longstreth, eds. 1992. Structuring Politics:
Historical Institutionalism in Comparative Analysis. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Tsebelis, George. 1990. Nested Games: Rational Choice in Comparative Politics. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Paul R. Abramson and Ronald Inglehart. 1995. Value Change in Global Perspective. Ann
Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Note on Texts: Both Structuring Politics and Value Change in Global Perspective have been
placed on reserve at Library South for your use if you choose not to purchase them.
Notes on Articles and Chapters: Additional readings will come from select journal articles and
book chapters, which will be made available to you. Unless otherwise indicated, all required
journal articles and book chapters are on reserve at Library South. Moreover, we may decide to
distribute a copy of the following week's reading at each seminar session--allowing those who
wish to then arrive at their own system for copying and circulation. Those for whom neither of
the above systems works may be able to check materials out for 2 hour periods from the file
holder on my office door.
Please note below that I provide you with a set of required readings as well as a suggested list of
supplementary readings. You will not be held responsible for the supplementary readings;
however, if you find a theme particularly engaging or perhaps particularly difficult to grasp, you
may want to pursue the supplementary readings to gain a fuller understanding of the material. In
most cases, I have given you the Pullen Library call numbers of books listed as supplementary.
Please note also for your reference that new work in comparative politics appears regularly in the
American Political Science Review and, to a lesser extent in the American Journal of Political
Science and the official journals of the other regional political science associations. Of the
journals specializing in comparative politics, Comparative Political Studies, now published
bi-monthly and containing book reviews, is the most important. Among journals published
outside the United States, the British Journal of Political Science publishes work that is most
comparable to that which appears in U.S. journals. Electoral Studies publishes interesting
research on electoral systems and useful factual reports on recent elections.
COURSE REQUIREMENTS AND GRADING SYSTEM
"Review" Papers: Students will write two critical discussion papers (each approximately 1250
words in length) during the course of the quarter. Likewise, students will serve twice as a
"discussant" for a paper presented by a fellow seminar participant. The review essays will raise a
single or a series of theoretical or methodological questions or criticisms on the work being
discussed for that particular week. Assignments will be staggered so that several essays will be
prepared each week. Each essay is due by 3:30 Wednesday, the day before each seminar session.
Copies are to be given at that time to me and to the student designated as discussant. Copies for
distribution to all remaining seminar members should then either be left in the file holder on my
office door or sent via e-mail. At the seminar session itself, all essay writers will be allocated
15-20 minutes to present their argument. Each discussant will then have 5-10 minutes to critique
and counter this argument, generally supporting the original author's point of view. This
structured "point-counterpoint" format is intended to then instigate a more free flowing
Research Design: An original research design for a comparative study is required and due at the
end of the quarter (December 1). You will select a research question, justify it on substantive and
theoretical grounds, place it within the comparative literature, and detail a methodological
blueprint for answering the question in at least two countries. We will discuss the specifics of
this project early in the Quarter, but the rationale is one part "demonstrate you know the
literature" and one part "use this as the initial basis for a future seminar paper, conference paper
proposal, Masters thesis, or dissertation project."
FYI: You should periodically check my web page http://www.gsu.edu/~polwmd/page.html for
assignment updates, useful resources, and class materials.
Grade: The final seminar grade will be determined on the basis of the following weights:
Essay 1 15%
Essay 2 20%
Presentations & Discussion 25%
Research Design 40%
Week 1 (September 25) Introduction to the Comparative Analysis of Political Systems and Comparative Politics as a Sub-Field in the Discipline
Introductory comments and discussion of seminar format. Framing of issues and academic
evolution of comparative politics
Week 2 (October 2) Logic and Methods of Comparison
Week 3 (October 9) Theories of System and State; Approaches to State-Society Relations
Week 4 (October 16) Development and Underdevelopment
Week 5 (October 23) Comparing Democratic Polities
Week 6 (October 30) Comparative Political Economy
Week 7 (TBA) Historical Institutionalism and Comparative Public Policy
Week 8 (November 13) Rational Choice in Comparative Politics
Week 9 (November 20) Value Change on Five Continents
Note: Students are responsible for the information contained in the Academic Honesty policy found in On Campus.