We understand by comparison. If you know that something is on sale for a price, you don’t know much about the value until you compare it. If you know how tall you are, how old you are, how wealthy you are, how fit you are, or how much you have read, all these measures are more meaningful if they are compared to similar measures for other other people. Comparison gives meaning. Comparative politics is both a field of study, in which we compare aspects of the political world to improve our understanding, and a set of methods and tools that allow us to infer or deduce the relationships between phenomena: correlations and causes. This is important in the social sciences, because experimentation is usually denied to us, for practical and ethical reasons. Practically, researchers can’t usually manipulate significant political conditions, and it would be ethically questionably if they could.
The major fields of political science are: political theory and philosophy, often concerned with normative questions of public and private good; international relations, concerned with relations between states and in the international system; and comparative political science, which includes national studies (e.g. Canadian politics) and specific aspects of government (e.g. public administration). The traditions within comparative political science include focus on a single country (Canadian politics), comparative methods (designing ways to answer questions, often about causality), analysis of cases (often linked to deductive reasoning), and generalization from cases (following inductive logic).
The contents of the Oxford Handbook of Comparative Politics provides an overview of the big issues in comparative politics: methods and theory; states, state formation, and consent; regimes and regime change (especially the problem of democratic and authoritarian transitions, because they are of normative concern); instability and political conflict (of particular professional interest to us); mass mobilization; the processing of political demands; and governance (or how the state is steered or directed).
Comparative politics has evolved from a traditional descriptive mode through a more quantitative behaviorist turn in the late 20th Century, towards a more nuanced methodological pluralism (Skocpol, 2003) today. Harre (1998) argues that the social sciences never really adopted behaviorism fully, but were pushed towards positivism and an experimental approach, including a focus on determining causality.
Comparative politics (CP) overlaps with international relations (IR) as a discipline in several important subjects of study. IR is concerned with international (and increasingly domestic) conflict, foreign policy, international organizations and the behaviour of organizations and individuals transcending state boundaries. The last, as well as the study of revolutions, interstate and civil wars, political economy, and the environment, are heavily represented as subjects of comparative political analysis. CP is more focused on the internal dynamics of states, elections, interests, the mechanisms of government (executive, legislative, administrative, and judicial functions), and governance. Each of these, however, also has implications for studies of international relations.
The overall learning objectives for the course are specified mainly in terms of skills, and these are dispersed throughout the course. Each week, there are learning objectives for specific content: institutions (ways of organizing social behaviour), processes (ways in which action is taken), outcomes (results of actions), and analytical tools, concepts, and methods for understanding all of the foregoing. Today, the learning objectives are:
Caramani, Introduction to Comparative Politics (Moodle)
Caramani, 01 Evolution of Comparative Politics (Moodle)
Skocpol, T. “Doubly Engaged Social Science: The Promise of Comparative Historical Analysis,” in Mahoney, J., & Rueschemeyer, D., Eds (2003). Comparative historical analysis in the social sciences. Cambridge University Press (Moodle)
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Definition of politics (Oxford English Dictionary)
Caramani – Introduction to Comparative Politics (Moodle)
Caramani – Evolution of Comparative Politics (Moodle)
Box-Steffensmeier, J. Brady, H. and Collier, D. Eds (2008) Oxford Handbook of Political Methodology. OUP.
Harre, Rom. Behaviourism in the social sciences, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-R002-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis.