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 recent contributions.

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 interests.


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.


"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 class-wide discussion.

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 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: This course syllabus provides a general plan for the course; deviations may be necessary.

Note: Students are responsible for the information contained in the Academic Honesty policy found in On Campus.