Topic 6: Government and Federalism

Topic 6: Government and Federalism


Marshall (Montague)


IntroductionThis week we have have two large subjects, which can be addressed equally in a cursory manner, or we can focus more on one or the other.

The comparative functions of government (executive, legislative, administrative, and judicial) are a subject for an entire field of study. A cursory treatment would provide a model for comparing the operation of these functions in context, including political parties, civil society, public space within which political communication occurs, and infrastructure permitting political communication. A comparative exercise would then examine several cases using the common model previously presented (Topic 1)

Comparative federalism could also be treated in a cursory way by describing degrees of centralization and decentralization in federal systems, residual powers, and separation of key powers. The Canadian case is illustrated here. How did Jackson and Jackson deduce the swings? What would a similar chart look like for other federal states? Are the examples of unitary states moving towards federalism or confederations consolidating? What political processes are involved those movements?

We might also focus on specific functions of government: legislative, executive, administrative, or judicial. One common theme in modern democracies seems to be the concentration of power in the executive.

Learning objectives

recognize the universal functions of government and variety in their manifestations


To be confirmed by instructor after consultation with class coordinators

Activities before class

Consider the following questions for discussion

  1. What are the essential elements or functions of any government? How do we collect and compare data about what they do?
  2. Thinking broadly about the relationship of government to society, how might you model key interactions in public space? What data would you collect?
  3. How does federalism evolve? What causes swings of centralization or decentralization? Do these occur in all federations, or only some? Why?
  4. Digital era governance is an evolution of traditional public administration and new public management. What does it imply about comparing public-government interactions in public space? What does it imply about the requirement for political infrastructure? How have different governments responded to the changing digital information environment?

Activities during class

Coordinator-led activities may include the following:

  • A table-top exercise in government design for post-conflict reconstruction. How will key functions be defined and what is the relationship between them? What assistance should be provided to each component, what data should be collected to ensure progress?
  • A mapping exercise on comparative federalism: are there general trends in centralization or decentralization of federations over time? How would we assess this?
  • Table-top exercise: plan for continuity of government based on best practices in other parliamentary democracies.

Activities after class

  • Review learning objectives.
  • Post questions and notes to Moodle.
  • Suggest exam questions
  • Complete Quiz 3 on Moodle (development and change, government and federalism)

Caramani, Ch. 7 (Moodle)
Caramani, Ch. 8 (Moodle)
Caramani, Ch. 9 (Moodle)
Caramani, Ch. 11 (Moodle)
Boix and Stokes, Ch. 31 Federalism
Dickovick and Eastwood, Ch. 9 Federalism

European Consortium of Political Research Standing Group on Regionalism

Hueglin and Fenna (2015) Comparative Federalism, Ch.2 Federal principles and federal organization (Moodle)

Political Database of the Americas: constitutions, parties, government, electoral systems

Queen’s University, Forum of Federations

Rodden, J. (2004) Comparative Federalism and Decentralization. Comparative Politics.