The Department of Government
The Department of Government

Comparative Politics

COMPARATIVE POLITICS is the largest field in the Department in terms of the number of regular faculty, courses, and graduate students. Although the field can trace its origins to Aristotle, in the United States it grew up mostly after World War II as the study of "foreign" political systems. Our own course structure still pays obeisance to this distinction by separating American Political Institutions and Processes from Comparative Politics. Nonetheless, the United States is a perfectly legitimate focus for contemporary students of Comparative Politics and given the direction of modern political science, students of American Politics would do well to explore comparative studies. The field of comparative politics is devoted to explicating similarities and differences in the practice of politics and in the characteristics of political institutions, economic structures and processes, and values across temporal and geographical space. It seeks to develop the most general statements possible about political life, applying them to the understanding of particular political phenomena in specific places and times. We are a large and diverse group of scholars who employ a wide range of methods (quantitative and qualitative) and theoretical perspectives to study the political systems of almost every part of the globe. This permits students a broad range of choices in their subjects of study and methods of analysis. No single approach or theoretical perspective can pretend to hegemony in comparative politics today.


Graduate-level courses are sometimes organized by region and sometimes by analytical or theoretical issues. The core course, GOV 390K - Comparative Study of Political Systems, is taught at least once a year (normally during the Fall semester) and is required of all students wishing to present Comparative Politics as a qualifying field. No other specific courses are required, though students are expected to take four comparative offerings, including the core. The core course covers the principal theoretical and methodological issues in the study of comparative politics, usually by a very wide-ranging survey of the major kinds of political systems in the world. Beyond the core course there are numerous more specialized offerings (see listing below) including Political Economy, Development and Dependency, Ethnicity and Nationalism, Authoritarianism, Comparative Public Policy, Elite Theory, and area-focused seminars on Western Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, South Asia, China, Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and on more particular clusters of countries. We are especially strong in Latin American course offerings.

Students wishing to specialize in Comparative Politics are encouraged to develop strong research interests in particular political topics at an early stage in their training. This should normally be accompanied by a well-developed expertise in the politics of specific regional areas. It is usually also necessary to acquire foreign language skills and area knowledge available in courses outside the department. When combined with the need for fieldwork abroad, these requirements can make the path to a Ph.D. in Comparative Politics somewhat longer than that in other fields. Furthermore, students often need to compete for outside funding to support their dissertation research and this can be done only by advance planning. Taking all this into consideration, it is difficult to map out a typical student's progress through the program. Every student will begin with different preparation and require a distinctive course trajectory.

Preparation for Preliminary Examinations

We encourage those students who can to plan to take their preliminary examinations at the end of the second year. Students are allowed to specify several sub-fields of particular interest within comparative politics, although there is no guarantee that the exam questions will closely reflect these designations. Sub-fields typically mirror the topics taught over the last several years in graduate seminars. Normally, exams should be taken after the student has completed at least four courses in comparative politics, including the core course. Preliminary exams cover the field broadly. The exam normally includes a general question or set of questions every student must answer. These typically deal with the shape of the field as a whole, how it fits into political science, where it is going, and so forth. Sometimes these questions deal with some especially critical debate or literature that has attracted recent attention. The idea is to get students to think about the enterprise of doing comparative politics and the goals to which it should be devoted. The other questions on the exam deal with more specific matters: democratic transitions and consolidations, ethno-national conflicts, political economy, parties, mass political behavior, political development, political culture, the theory of the state, revolution, authoritarianism, comparative public policy, and others. Students often are asked to address questions on these issues within the context of the politics of particular regions of the world.

Progress toward a first-rate education in Comparative Politics is facilitated by the presence of a number of distinguished research centers on campus, including the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, and the Middle East, Asian, Russian-East European-Eurasian, Australian and New Zealand, and African and African American Studies Centers. These provide resources, cognate courses, and intellectual activities that contribute to the richness of our own program.


Sample Listing of Graduate Courses

  • Analytical Issues in Latin American Politics
  • Authoritarianism
  • Comparative Immigration Policy
  • Comparative Study of Political Systems
  • Complex Emergencies
  • Democratization in Comparative Perspective
  • Democratic Consolidation
  • Latin American Urban Politics
  • Law in Latin America
  • Military in Politics
  • Political Economy of the Middle East
  • Political Parties and Party Systems
  • Political Systems of Western Europe
  • Research Seminar on Terrorism
  • War, Technology and Strategy

Out-of-Department Courses

We recommend that students take graduate courses in related fields such as history, economics, and anthropology that focus on a particular region of the world. Some area expertise or multi-disciplinary knowledge of a particular set of countries is strongly recommended for in-depth comparative political analysis.

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