Comparative Politics


Comparative Politics

The following courses will enable regular or visiting faculty members to examine topics in Comparative Government not treated in the established curriculum. Subjects may therefore vary each time the course is offered.

GOVT 40.01 - Comparative Politics - Topics Course

Democracy, European Style

All democracies share important features (e.g., elections), but they also differ in significant ways (e.g., party systems, constitutional arrangements, power).  Many of the patterns typical of European democracies are unfamiliar to Americans.  In this course, we will explore how the major European countries "do" democracy.   How did they get there?  How does parliamentary government work?  How do citizens participate in the political process?  What issues do European elites and electorates view as central and what sorts of policy options have been proposed in response?  How "European" are Europeans? Dist:  INT or SOC WCult: EU, W.

GOVT 40.02 - Comparative Politics Topics Course

Politics of India

India, soon the most populous nation in the world, became independent in 1947 and has since surprised observers by its capacity to remain a democracy. Although the achievement is remarkable – free and relatively fair elections have happened almost continuously since Independence, a unique case among countries with similar socio-economic characteristics – the degree to which democratic India has been able to effectively respond to the enormous political, social and economic challenges it was left with in 1947 remains an open question. Accordingly, the class will focus on contrasting arguments suggesting that democracy was successful and beneficial to basic Indian citizens, with arguments emphasizing its limitations and its persistent inability to tackle some of the country’s gravest issues. The first part of the class, spanning over 2-3 weeks, will be historical in nature. In order to provide students with necessary contextual information for the rest of the class, we will read about and discuss the main political changes in India from the end of the colonial era to the current period. Drawing from a very diverse set of readings, the rest of the class will then be structured around the following questions: To what extent are the state institutions that were developed after independence really responsive to citizens' needs? To what extent are they fair and independent from the various forces that threaten democracy and stability? Were sixty years of democracy able to challenge the power monopoly of old elites? If so, what were the new political forces that emerged? How did politicians handle the country’s potential for open conflict between “communities” and between rich and poor? Has democracy managed to reduce poverty? Dist: SOC; WCult: NW.

GOVT 40.03 - Comparative Politics - Topics Course

Politics of Japan: A Unique Democracy? (Identical to AMES 43.04)

This course offers a survey of Japanese politics with a focus on understanding the electoral and policy-making processes in Japan from theoretical and comparative perspectives. No prior knowledge of Japanese politics is required. The course will explore political culture, electoral systems and voting behavior, candidate selection and electoral campaign, dynamics of party competition, government-business relationships, local politics and central-local relationships, the roles of the mass media and civil society, Japan’s international relations, etc. Dist: INT or SOC; WCult: NW.


GOVT 40.05 - Politics of Ethnicity - Topics Course

Politics of Ethnicity (formerly Comparative Ethnic Politics)

This course examines the intersection of ethnicity and politics by drawing on a combination of theoretical works and case studies to answer questions such as: What are ethnic groups and why might they matter for political behavior? How do political institutions shape ethnic identities? When does ethnicity serve as the basis for conflict and violence? Our focus will be comparative, and we will explore many parts of the world, particularly Africa, India, and Latin America. Dist:  INT or SOC WCult: CI.

GOVT 40.06 - Comparative Politics - Topics Course

Elections in Emerging Democracies (formerly Democracy in Developing Countries)

Although modern democracy is a western invention, it is now the dominant form of government in the world, and most democracies do not resemble their western counterparts. What are the implications of these differences in the daily practice of democracy? How does democracy concretely work in countries with high levels of poverty, conflict, inequality, ethnic diversity and/or illiteracy? How does democracy in "developing countries" diverge from western ideals and western realities? Drawing on the experience of countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, the class will compare and discuss the way democracy is practiced in developing countries. We will explore a number of themes, including how citizens understand democracy, political culture, clientelism/patronage, corruption, electoral violence, accountability, and ethnic voting.

GOVT 40.07 - Comparative Politics - Topics Course

Comparative Political Economy

This course is an introduction to comparative political economy, the comparative politics of domestic economic policies. Topics include:  market reforms in developed, developing, and postsocialist countries, varieties of welfare capitalism, income inequality and political stability, (de)regulation and privatization, federalism, the effects of political institutions on economic development, interest groups, property rights, the rule of law, and corruption. We will look in depth at both developed and developing countries, with an emphasis on understanding why they choose (or end up with) the policies and institutions that they have, even when in some cases these policies and institutions might hamper development or increase poverty. The central goal of this course is to develop students' ability to reason through political explanations of economic policies.

GOVT 40.08 - Comparative Politics - Topics Course

Politics of China

This course examines the major institutions, processes, and issues in Chinese politics since 1978. The first half of the course begins by delineating the basic structure of China's "party-state," at both the national and local levels, and traces its evolution over the past three decades. The course then analyzes the distinctive characteristics of the Chinese authoritarian political system and assesses its strengths and weaknesses. It examines political dilemmas arising from CCP legitimacy, popular protests, and the rule of law. In particular, the course assesses recent experimentation with democratization, such as village elections, local "consultative democracy," institutionalized political succession, and "intra-Party democracy." The second half of the course focuses more specifically on China's post-Mao reforms and their consequences. It begins with an analysis of the politics and contents of China's economic reforms and development. The course then undertakes a comparative analysis of selected aspects of China's capitalist transformation. The social, economic and ecological consequences of these reforms are then examined. Finally, the course concludes by examining China's current transition to a new model of development and the ongoing melding/contestation of alternative Chinese self-conceptualizations stemming from the Confucian tradition, socialist legacy and neoliberal thought.

GOVT 40.09 - Comparative Politics Topics Course

Politics of Israel and Palestine (Identical to JWST 40.01)

This course explores the century-old conflict as seen from the competing, and changing, narratives of Israelis and Palestinians. We shall begin by looking at the history of Zionism and the response of the Palestinian Arab community to the British mandate. We'll then consider the founding of the state of Israel and the formation of the post-1948 Palestinian national movement. We shall especially focus on the aftermath of the 1967 war, the start of the Israeli occupation, and look at its impact on Israeli institutions, the economy, and political parties; and look correspondingly at the formation and strategies of the Palestine Liberation Organization (then, to the founding of Hamas). We shall look, finally, at contemporary economic developments in light of the global forces operating on the region, and consider the plausibility of a two-state solution as compared with others. Dist: INT or SOC; WCult: NW.


GOVT 40.10 - Comparative Politics - Topics Course

Nation-and-State-Building in the Middle East

This course examines the politics of modern Lebanon, a small country in a difficult neighborhood, in order to understand more fully why states matter, how states are made and unmade, and the conditions under which weak states can be strengthened.

GOVT 40.11 - Comparative Politics - Topics Course

The Arab Uprising

The political transitions that were set in motion in the Middle East and North Africa in December 2010--collectively described as the Arab Spring or the Arab Uprising--are but the beginning of a long process of adjustments local regimes and societies will need to make to account for greater, and more viable, demands for accountability and transparency of local rulers.

It is virtually impossible, however, to understand both the emergence of this latest wave of contestation in the Arab world and its likely future without comprehending first the emergence of the highly authoritarian regimes in the Middle East since the region's independence roughly half a century ago. The first part of this course covers this historical emergence of middle eastern regimes since the early 1950s.

In each country--Libya, Tunisia,Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Morocco, Algeria--elites have responded differently to the uprising, depending in part on the institutional repertoire each country possessed. As yet, it is unclear what the different trajectories of each country's period of upheaval will be, but they all share important common political elements and developments: transitional arrangements as the first phase of contestation comes to an end, proposed elections leading to constitution-making processes and to referendums that are meant to introduce--or re-introduce--forms of constitutional government.

In order to understand this protracted process, we will study the mechanics of transition through a comparative case-study approach in particularly Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and Bahrain. Peripherally we also study the question of why the Arab Gulf states have been relatively immune from popular uprisings, and we incorporate in our discussion as well the role international actors (the United Nations, the Arab League, the African Union, the European Union) have played in the unfolding of the uprisings and beyond. Dist:  INT or SOC WCult: NW.

GOVT 40.13 - Comparative Politics - Topics Course

Modern Islamic Politics: from the Muslim Brotherhood to the Islamic State

The most dynamic political forces today in countries across the Middle East are Islamic parties and movements.  From the Muslim Brotherhood to the Salafists to ISIS, we will study the origins and development of modern Islamic political movements throughout the Middle East and broader Islamic world, paying close attention to the ideological and material factors that unite them, and those that set them apart from one another.  We will devote time to considering how Middle Eastern governments have negotiated challenges from Islamic movements, and look closely at the varied influences of the Arab Spring uprisings on local and state-level politics in the region.  The aim of this course is to provide students with a broad context for making sense of the rapid and revolutionary changes taking place across the Middle East and broader Islamic world today. Dist: INT or SOC.

GOVT 40.14 - Comparative Politics - Topics Course

Latin America’s Search for Democracy and Development (Identical to LACS 50.07)

This course examines the political, economic and social development of the five countries of the Andean region of South America (Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia).  It contrasts the current governance and economic policy approaches taken by the five countries as a means of analyzing variables linked to the consolidation of democracy and sustained economic development.  Dist: INT; WCult: NW.

GOVT 40.15 - Comparative Politics - Topics Course

Beef to Oil Coffee to Rubber: Commodities, Globalization and Development in Latin America (Identical to LACS 50.08)

The course will provide students with the opportunity to think critically about the social, political and economic variables that speed or hinder economic development, using Latin America as a point of focus.   They will acquire in-depth knowledge of the cycles of export-led and inward-focused economic policies in Latin America and the role of specific commodities in national, regional and global development.   The course will underscore the value of historical analysis in the process of formulating both macro-economic policy and business-related decisions.  Dist:  INT; WC: NW.

GOVT 40.16 - Comparative Politics - Topics Course

Israel and Palestine: The Media as Battlefield (Identical to JWST 40.02)

The role of the media in violent conflict situations has become and increasing critical area of study and research over the past generation.  The Israeli-Palestine conflict and the role of the media within the conflict will serve as the central focus of the course.  Comparing current conflicts to previous wars- including wars such as Korea and Vietnam, Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Chechnya - we find that they relatively limited in scope.  Yet, while violent conflicts in almost every part of the world, including Asia, Africa, Europe (the Ukraine and Russia), most of the world's attention focuses on the Middle East

GOVT 40.19 - Comparative Politics - Topics Course

State-building in the Middle East and North Africa

Trying to explain the differential outcomes of the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, this course analyzes the legacy of state-building in the Middle East and North Africa.  It  argues that the impact of colonialism, of the type of financial resources at the disposal of local governments, and of the emergence (or lack thereof) of durable state institutions proved instrumental in whether or not local governments were able to construct modern states. . Dist:  INT or SOC.

GOVT 40.20 - Comparative Politics - Topics Course

Immigration Politics

This course examines how countries in Europe and North America are responding to (and being transformed by) international migration.  In the first half, we will focus on the determinants of migration, as well as governments’ attempts to manage and control population flows. In the second half, we will examine the increasingly contentious politics surrounding immigrant settlement, and will investigate the consequences of policies that seek to promote the exclusion or inclusion of immigrants after arrival.

GOVT 40 - Comparative Politics - Topics Course


The course will review the emergence of nationalism from the late 18th century to the present as a potent intellectual and political if force in European and later in international politics. The course will focus on the three main versions of nationalism: Civic, Romantic, and theocratic. The course will begin with the rise of civic nationalism in Western Europe and North America, proceed to an examination of ethno-romantic nationalism typical of Central Europe and parts of East Asia, and will end with a study of theocratic nationalisms as exemplified by 19th century Russia and modern Iran.

GOVT 40 - Comparative Politics - Topics Course

Political Economy of the Arab Gulf States

For decades the Arab Gulf states--Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait--were viewed both economically and politically as anomalies, utterly dependent on world oil markets for their development, conservative if not backward, and marked by highly authoritarian regimes. However, the creation within the region of the Gulf Cooperation Council as an economic bloc, and the emergence of Dubai as a post-oil financial and commercial center for the region, are clear indicators of the changing economic (and perhaps political) fortunes of the local countries.

In several ways the economic growth patterns within the region, and the active state intervention within the local economies, hint at the possibility of the emergence of some form of developmental states in the Arab Gulf, sustained by enormous inflows of oil revenues, that stands in stark contrast to how they have traditionally been treated in the development literature. In this course we analyze the growth of the Arab Gulf economies since the discovery of oil, the particular problems they faced as so-called "rentier states", and the interlinked challenges of political and economic development they encountered. We also investigate how the six countries have dealt, both economically and culturally, with the long-term and unavoidable effects of globalization that have irrevocably altered local societies. Dist: INT or SOC; WCult: NW.

GOVT 40 - Comparative Politics - Topics Course

Politics of Iraq

This course examines the modern politics of Iraq and the historical forces which have shaped contemporary Iraqi politics.  It covers Iraq’s formation in the aftermath of World War One, the British mandatory experience, Arab nationalism, Ba’thism and Saddam’s rule, as well as the 2003 invasion and its aftermath.  It examines the roles of sectarianism, ethnicity and tribalism, the impact of oil, and Iraq’s regional context. DIST: INT OR SOC

GOVT 40 - Comparative Politics - Topics Course

Politics of Russia and the Newly Independent States

In this course, we will attempt to answer one question: why has it been so difficult for democracy to take hold in most of the Soviet successor states? We will focus primarily on Russia. We will examine some of the problems of the Yeltsin era: asymmetric federalism, corrupt privatization, and the rise of the oligarchs. We will then analyze Putin's attempts to promote a 'dictatorship of the law' without encouraging the development of a Western-style democracy. Towards the end of the course, we will put Russia's experience in perspective by examining the persistence of authoritarianism in most of Central Asia, the Caucasus, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova, as well as the emergence of democratic regimes in the Baltic states. DIST: SOC.

GOVT 40 - Comparative Politics - Topics Course

Post-Communist Politics

This course will examine the diverse political trajectories across Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, and consider the historical, political economic and social factors that affected the course of transitions away from communist rule. After the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent demise of communism and the Soviet Union, many political leaders and observers were hopeful that the former communist nations would quickly embrace Western-style liberal democratic values while forging free market economies. In many respects, the former Soviet countries – in contrast to many Central and Eastern European countries – did not live up to these expectations. The course will investigate the reasons why the hopes for democracy, prosperity and the rule of law have not been fully realized in the former Soviet republics, and why their neighbors to the West were able to make the great leap from the Warsaw Pact to the European Union. What are the features of the diverse political regimes that have succeeded communism, and what accounts for their evolution? How does a country's past influence the course of political and economic development? What is the relationship between democratization and economic liberalization? Does natural resource wealth undermine democracy and breed corrupt governments? Guided by these overarching questions, we will explore the major topics related to the post-communist political transformations. Throughout the semester political science scholarship will be supplemented by journalistic accounts of key events and developments in the region to give students an idea of how the events that we've studying are perceived "on the ground."


European Politics

An intensive study of the political development, institutions, and behavior of selected West European countries. Special attention will be paid to the problems of political change and to present trends in the study of comparative politics. Prerequisite: Government 4, or permission of the instructor. Dist: SOC or INT; WCult: W.

GOVT 42 (Identical to AAAS 87.05)

Politics of Africa

This course is designed to introduce students to basic concepts and debates in the study of contemporary African politics. Throughout the course, we will focus on four broad questions: 1) Why are African states weaker than in other parts of the world? 2) Why have some countries made more progress toward democracy than others? 3) Why does Africa remain less developed than other region's? 4) Why are so many African countries burdened by violence? In examining these questions, we will draw a wide range of material from particular countries, as well as more general politics science and economics literature.  Dist: SOC or INT; WCult: NW.


Globalization and Global Development

The latest wave of economic globalization has differently affected various regions of the world. One of the most often repeated (and disputed) assertions is that the economic power of the United States is fading and that the fortunes of the so-called BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) as well as other selected Emerging Economies ("the Second World") will mark the dawn of a more equal and, economically speaking, a more balanced global economy. The most recent financial crisis has put into question many of the assertions on both sides of this debate, in ways that question the very basic assumptions analysts of the global economy have been making since the creation of the Bretton Woods system in the aftermath of World War II. In this course we investigate the impact of the economic boom of the last two decades, the current crisis, and their impact on the economic fate and standing of particularly the United States, India, China, and Russia. We focus in part on efforts to create a new financial architecture for the global economy, and investigate how the debate between markets and state intervention has been affected by the ongoing financial crisis--and what this may mean for both countries that rely extensively on markets, and for those that strategically promote state intervention. Dist: INT or SOC; WCult: NW.


Politics of the Middle East and North Africa

This course will introduce students to the politics of the Middle East and North Africa. It will systematically compare the process of state formation of different types of regimes in selected countries of the region following the break-up of the Ottoman Empire. Prerequisite: Government 4 or permission of the instructor. Dist: SOC or INT; WCult: NW.


The Arab-Israeli Conflict (Comparative Politics or International Relations)

For the better part of a century, the conflict over Palestine has defied resolution.  The tensions and instability it has generated have profoundly affected--and been affected by--both international relations and the domestic politics of a wide range of countries.  This course examines the changing external and local forces that have shaped the confrontation.  Using primary as well as secondary sources, we will try to understand how the various parties to the conflict have defined its stakes, understood their interests, viewed their adversaries,  mobilized support, and formulated policy.   We will consider grassroots politics as well as elite calculations.  We will look at the role played by ideas, institutions, material interests, and leadership, at both the regional and the broader international levels.  We will end by assessing the current prospects for a settlement. Dist: INT; WCult: NW.


Politics of the Korean Peninsula

The Korean peninsula has had geographic importance for politics in Northeast Asia for thousands of years. Because of Korea's location between Japan and China, its domestic politics and international politics have been thoroughly intertwined. This course will present an analytic overview of the politics of both North and South Korea. Topics to be covered include the historical development of Korean politics, domestic politics in South Korea since 1948, North Korean politics and nuclear threat, and the foreign relations of and between North and South Korea. Prerequisite: Government 4, or permission of the instructor. Dist: SOC or INT; WCult: NW.

GOVT 40.17

Jerusalem: A Political History (Identical to JWST 40.03. AMES, HIST)

Controversy surrounds the future of Jerusalem - and not just in our times.  For more than 3,000 years, ever since Jerusalem first appeared on the stage of history as a Holy City and the City of the Kingdom, it has been enveloped in political and theological struggles.  Countless battles and wars have been associated with Jerusalem, the city that is home to the three monotheistic religions. Dist: SOC.

GOVT 49.01

Politics of Latin America (Identical to LACS 51)

This course is an introduction to the political development and the current context of politics in Latin America.  It combines material on historical and theoretical topics with material on the current politics of specific countries, particularly in the Andean region, which has experienced particularly turbulent politics in recent years.  The central theme of the course is to evaluate the performance and stability of democracy in Latin America.  We consider the impact of political culture, economic development, representative institutions, and the legacies of authoritarian and revolutionary regimes on the contemporary politics of the region. Dist: SOC or INT; WCult: NW.

GOVT 49.02

State and Society in Latin America (Identical to LACS 32)

This class provides an introduction to the political and economic development of Latin America in the latter half of the 20th century. We will focus on only six of the countries in this vast and diverse region: Argentina, Chile, Cuba, El Salvador, Colombia and Mexico. Our analysis will emphasize the following themes: political systems and regime change; economic strategy; U.S. foreign policy; social movements and revolution; democratization; identity politics; and human rights. Dist: SOC; WCult: NW.

GOVT 40.17 - Comparative Politics - Topics Course

Jerusalem: A Political History (Identical to JWST 40.03)

Controversy surrounds the future of Jerusalem - and not just in our times.  For more than 3,000 years, ever since Jerusalem first appeared on the stage of history as a Holy City and the City of the Kingdom, it has been enveloped in political and theological struggles.  Countless battles and wars have been associated with Jerusalem, the city that is home to the three monotheistic religions.

GOVT 49.03

Latin American Politics: Cuba (Identical to LACS 33)

As one of the world's few remaining socialist regimes, Cuba is unique. But Cuba is also subject to many of the forces that have shaped other countries in Latin America and the third world: a heritage of Spanish colonialism and slavery, a geography that contains a limited array of natural resources and a system of government that has evolved under the constant shadow of the United States. This course examines the politics and culture of Cuba in the 20th and early 21st centuries in order to understand Latin American politics-and politics more generally. Dist: SOC or INT.

GOVT 49.04

Sex and the State in Latin America. (Identical to LACS 52 and WGS 31.1)

The basis of their gender identity? What strategies do they choose and why? What is the relation between women's movements and the state? How are international factors relevant? What impact have these movements had in terms of cultural change, policy outcomes and activists' lives? How do right-wing movements compare with left-wing ones? Readings will focus on a range of countries throughout the region. Dist: SOC or INT; WCult: NW.

GOVT 40.18

Jews and Arabs in Palestine-Israel: Past and Present (Identical to JWST 40.04/ AMES 41.11)

The course will cover more than hundred years of struggle between the Jewish national movement, aka the Zionist movement, and the Arab-Palestinian national movement, through exploration of the belief systems, political and military practices, perceptions of justice, and narratives of both movements and of political and religious factions within each of them.  Dist: SOC or INT; WCult: CI.

GOVT 40.23

Energy and Society in the Middle East and North Africa

This course focuses on the economic, political, social and cultural consequences of rapid development in the hydrocarbon states of the Middle East and North Africa: states whose development is highly dependent on access to the global economy for income from oil. The course aims to provide students with an understanding—from both a Social Science and a Humanities perspective—of how hydrocarbon-led development has dramatically changed the economic, political, and cultural life of what were previously tribal societies. Dist: INT. W.

GOVT 49.05

Protest and Parties in Latin America (Identical to LAC 53)

This course will examine the conditions that prompt people organize on behalf of their collective interests, how those movements evolve, and under what conditions efforts to mobilize will succeed. We compare protests, revolutionary movements, social movements, political parties and other forms of political action in various countries throughout the region. Dist: SOC or INT; WCult: NW.