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Chapter 1: Introduction to Comparative Politics

Introduction

  • This chapter lays out some of the most basic vocabulary and structures of political science and comparative politics.

  • These will fall under three basic categories:

    • Analytical concepts - assumptions and theories that guide our research

      • Helps us ask questions about cause and effect

    • Methods - ways to study and test those theories

      • Provide tools to seek out explanations

    • Ideals - beliefs and values about preferred outcomes

      • Help us compare existing politics with what we might prefer.

I. What is Comparative Politics and How Is It Studied?

Core Comparative Concepts

  • Politics: the struggle in any group for power that will give one or more persons the ability to make decisions for the larger group

  • Power: the ability to influence others or impose one’s will on them

  • Institutions: organizations or activities that are self-perpetuating and valued for their own sake

Prominent Questions in Comparative Politics

  • Why are some countries democratic and others not?

  • Why are some countries rich and others not?

  • Why do countries have different institutions and forms of government?

  • Why do countries have different policies in a variety of areas?

  • Why do some social revolutions succeed and endure while others fall?

  • Why do some countries develop strong senses of statehood and nationhood and others not?

  • Why do countries go to war or establish peace?

  • Why are some societies subjected to terrorism and others not?

The Comparative Method

  • Comparative method: the means by which social scientists make comparisons across cases in search of cause and effect

  • In comparative politics, we analyze politics comparatively.

“Why” Things Happen: Variables and Hypotheses

  • Independent variable: the variable that doesn’t depend on changes in other variables (the cause)

  • Dependent variable: the variable that is affected by (“dependent on”) the presence of the independent variable (the effect)

  • Hypothesis: an educated guess about how these variables relate (If X, then Y; More of X increases/decreases Y)

  • Control variables: additional factors that could affect the dependent variable

Using Reasoning to Solve Puzzles

  • Inductive reasoning: research that works from case studies in order to generate hypotheses (Case → General Hypotheses)

  • Deductive reasoning: research that works from a hypothesis that is then tested against data (Hypothesis → Tested with Cases)

Differences in Research Methodology

  • Qualitative method: study through in-depth investigation of a limited number of cases

    • Examples: historical case analysis

    • Excels in detail-oriented theory development

    • Very good at inductive reasoning

  • Quantitative method: study through statistical data from many cases

    • Examples: surveyed data, large-N statistical

    • Excels in testing whether patterns are generalizable

    • Very good at deductive reasoning

Also two more…

  • “Experimental”

  • “Interpretive”

Testing Hypothesis

  • Correlation: an apparent relationship between two or more variables

    • Used to test for a casual relationship

  • Casual relationship: cause and effect; when a change in one variable causes a change in another variable

Seven Major Challenges in Establishing Causation

  • Difficulty controlling variables in the cases they study

  • Multicasuality: when variables are interconnected and interact to produce particular outcomes

  • A limited number of cases available to research

  • Limited information available in the cases we study

  • Research tends to focus on a specific geographic area.

    • Many comparativists specialize in area studies.

      • Area studies: a regional focus when studying political science, rather than studying parts of the world where similar variables are clustered

    • The risk: some regions are overrepresented in research; may bias conclusions

  • Selecting causes in a way that leads to selection bias

    • Selection bias: a focus on effects rather than causes, which can lead to inaccurate conclusions about correlation or causation

  • Endogeneity: the issue that cause and effect are not often clear, in that variables may be both cause and effect in relationship to one another

Possible problems with Causal arguments about correlated variables (X and Y)

  1. Definitional problems and falsifiability problem

  2. Reverse quality problem

  3. Endogeneity problem

  4. Intervening variable problem

  5. Omitted variable problem

  6. Spurious correlation problem

II. Can We Make a Science of Comparative Politics?

What is a science?

  • Science is based on a process of learning, not a topic studied.

  • Emphasizes empirical, not normative knowledge.

The basic scientific process

  • Focus on developing hypotheses

  • Use evidence (data) to test hypotheses

  • Use the hypotheses that hold up to data to build theory

    • Theory: an integrated set of hypotheses, assumptions, and facts

Explaining Political Behavior

  • Interests

    • Rational choice: approach that asusmes that individuals weigh the costs and benefits and make choices to maximize their benefits

      • Self-defined preferences

      • Individual level

    • Criticism

      • They can’t predict preferences

      • It’s hard to recognize preferences

      • They are not well-equipped to explain different preferences in different contexts

  • Beliefs

    • Political Culture

      • A set of widely held attitudes, values, beliefs, and symbols about politics

      • Political socialization

    • Modernists

      • Criticism: Cultural values change, and they can be affected by political establishments

      • Subcultures

      • Ethnocentric

    • Postmodernists

      • Criticism: Too much reliance on interpretation

    • Political Ideologies

      • Critcism: What about underlying motives of ideology?

  • Structures

    • Structuralism:

      • Structures in a society such as socioeconomic structures or enduring political institutions are influential

    • Institutionalism

More “Modern” Comparative Theories (Twentieth-Century)

  • Modernization theory: a theory asserting that as societies developed, they would take on a set of common characteristics, including democracy and capitalism

  • Behavioral revolution: a movement within political science during the 1950s and 1960s to develop general theories about individual political behavior that could be applied across all countries

    • Empirical evidence challenged modernization theories.

Differences in Theory

III. A Guiding Concept: Political Institutions

Defining Institutions

  • Institutions: organizations or activities that are self-perpetuating and valued for their own sake

  • Embody norms or values that are considered central to people’s lives and thus are not easily dislodged or changed

  • Set the stage for political behavior by influencing how politics is conducted

  • Vary from country to country

  • Exemplified by the army, taxation, elections, and the state

Norms

  • “Rules or expectations that are socially informed”

  • Constitutive Norms

    • Describes what things are

    • These things are x

      • The idea of states in the international system is a constitutive norm

      • Citizenship is a constitutive norm

  • Regulative Norms

    • “Regulate already existing activities” or ‘how’ existing activities can occur ‘acceptably’

      • It is acceptable for x to do y

      • Rules

Formal vs. Informal Institutions

  • Examples of informal institutions

    • Legislative norms

      • U.S. Senate’s filibuster

    • Societal rules and culture

      • Neopatrimonialism

      • Gender relations

  • Examples of formal institutions

    • Citizenship

    • Electoral systems

    • Federal vs. unitary systems

IV. A Guiding Ideal: Reconciling Freedom and Equality

Two Values

  • Freedom

    • An individual’s ability to act independently, without fear of restriction or punishment by the state or other individuals or groups in society

  • Equality

    • A material standard of living shared by individuals within a community, society, or country

Freedom and Equality: Is There a Trade-Off?

  • Greater personal freedoms may lead to a smaller role for the state.

    • Less state intervention politically and economically may allow inequalities to persist and grow.

  • Demands for greater material equality may lead to a more interventionist state.

    • As states take control over private property or redistribute wealth, personal (economic) freedoms may erode.

Freedom and Equality: Can One Exist without the Other?

  • If freedom is pursued without equality, political responsiveness breaks.

    • Government responds to the wealthy; people feel as though the political system no longer cares about their material needs.

    • Injustice rises.

  • If equality is pursued without freedom, political accountability breaks.

    • Economic and political power becomes concentrated in the government; individuals have few resources to challenge the state.

V. In Sum: Looking Ahead and Thinking Carefully

  • Comparative politics is the study and comparison of domestic politics across countries.

  • Comparative politics is a social science, but one that is faced with considerable research challenges.

    • Looks at the politics inside countries (such as elections, political parties, revolutions, and judicial systems)

  • Comparative researchers use many methods and theoretical approaches to try to explain how the world works.

  • As a field of study, comparative politics has a long tradition, but it is also constantly changing in response to real-world issues.

  • Comparativists examine the impact of political institutions, where they come from, and how they shape politics.

  • A core debate in politics around the world is the conflict between freedom and equality.

Political Science’s Subfields

  • International Relations: the relations between nations and countries

  • Comparative Politics: involves the comparisons and contrast of different political systems and governments around the world

    • Politics inside other countries

  • Domestic Politics: the plans and actions taken by a national government to deal with issues and needs present within the country itself

  • Political Theory: studies the theories that explain the reasons for the struggle for power among groups and individuals, political values, the purpose of the state

Key Terms

  1. Area studies - a regional focus when studying political science, rather than studying parts of the world where similar variables are clustered

  2. Behavioral revolution - a movement within political science during the 1950s and 1960s to develop general theories about individual political behavior that could be applied across all countries

  3. Casual relationship - Cause and effect: when a change in one variable causes a change in another variable

  4. Comparative method - the means by which social scientists make comparisons across cases

  5. Comparative politics - the study and comparison of domestic across politics across countries

  6. Correlation - an apparent relationship between two or more variables

  7. Deductive reasoning - research that works from a hypothesis that is then tested against data

  8. Dependent variable - a variable whose value changes based on that of another

  9. Endogeneity - the issue that cause and effect are not often clear, in that variables may be both cause and effect in relationship to one another

  10. Equality - a material standard of living shared by individuals within a community, society, or country

  11. Formal institutions - institutions usually based on officially sanctioned rules that are relatively clear

  12. Freedom - the ability of an individual to act independently, without fear of restriction or punishment by the state or other individuals or groups in society

  13. Game theory - an approach that emphasizes how actors or organizations behave in their goal to influence others: built upon assumptions of rational choice

  14. Independent variable - a variable whose value does not depend on that of another

  15. Inductive reasoning - research that works from case studies in order to generate hypotheses

  16. Informal institutions - institutions with unwritten and unofficial rules

  17. Institutions - an organization or activity that is self-perpetuating and valued for its own sake

  18. International relations - a field in political science that concentrates on relations between countries, such as foreign policy, war, trade, and foreign aid

  19. Modernization theory - a theory asserting that as societies developed, they would take on a set of common characteristics, including democracy and capitalism

  20. Multicausality - when variables are interconnected and interact to produce particular outcomes

  21. Politics - the struggle in any group for power that will give one or more persons the ability to make decisions for the larger group

  22. Power - the ability to influence others or impose one’s will on them

  23. Qualitative method - study through an in-depth investigation of a limited number of cases

  24. Quantitative method - study through statistical data from many cases

  25. Rational choice - approach that assumes that individuals weigh the costs and benefits and make choices to maximize their benefits

  26. Selection bias - a focus on effects rather than causes, which can lead to inaccurate conclusions about correlation or causation

  27. Theory - an integrated set of hypotheses, assumptions, and facts

KP

Chapter 1: Introduction to Comparative Politics

Introduction

  • This chapter lays out some of the most basic vocabulary and structures of political science and comparative politics.

  • These will fall under three basic categories:

    • Analytical concepts - assumptions and theories that guide our research

      • Helps us ask questions about cause and effect

    • Methods - ways to study and test those theories

      • Provide tools to seek out explanations

    • Ideals - beliefs and values about preferred outcomes

      • Help us compare existing politics with what we might prefer.

I. What is Comparative Politics and How Is It Studied?

Core Comparative Concepts

  • Politics: the struggle in any group for power that will give one or more persons the ability to make decisions for the larger group

  • Power: the ability to influence others or impose one’s will on them

  • Institutions: organizations or activities that are self-perpetuating and valued for their own sake

Prominent Questions in Comparative Politics

  • Why are some countries democratic and others not?

  • Why are some countries rich and others not?

  • Why do countries have different institutions and forms of government?

  • Why do countries have different policies in a variety of areas?

  • Why do some social revolutions succeed and endure while others fall?

  • Why do some countries develop strong senses of statehood and nationhood and others not?

  • Why do countries go to war or establish peace?

  • Why are some societies subjected to terrorism and others not?

The Comparative Method

  • Comparative method: the means by which social scientists make comparisons across cases in search of cause and effect

  • In comparative politics, we analyze politics comparatively.

“Why” Things Happen: Variables and Hypotheses

  • Independent variable: the variable that doesn’t depend on changes in other variables (the cause)

  • Dependent variable: the variable that is affected by (“dependent on”) the presence of the independent variable (the effect)

  • Hypothesis: an educated guess about how these variables relate (If X, then Y; More of X increases/decreases Y)

  • Control variables: additional factors that could affect the dependent variable

Using Reasoning to Solve Puzzles

  • Inductive reasoning: research that works from case studies in order to generate hypotheses (Case → General Hypotheses)

  • Deductive reasoning: research that works from a hypothesis that is then tested against data (Hypothesis → Tested with Cases)

Differences in Research Methodology

  • Qualitative method: study through in-depth investigation of a limited number of cases

    • Examples: historical case analysis

    • Excels in detail-oriented theory development

    • Very good at inductive reasoning

  • Quantitative method: study through statistical data from many cases

    • Examples: surveyed data, large-N statistical

    • Excels in testing whether patterns are generalizable

    • Very good at deductive reasoning

Also two more…

  • “Experimental”

  • “Interpretive”

Testing Hypothesis

  • Correlation: an apparent relationship between two or more variables

    • Used to test for a casual relationship

  • Casual relationship: cause and effect; when a change in one variable causes a change in another variable

Seven Major Challenges in Establishing Causation

  • Difficulty controlling variables in the cases they study

  • Multicasuality: when variables are interconnected and interact to produce particular outcomes

  • A limited number of cases available to research

  • Limited information available in the cases we study

  • Research tends to focus on a specific geographic area.

    • Many comparativists specialize in area studies.

      • Area studies: a regional focus when studying political science, rather than studying parts of the world where similar variables are clustered

    • The risk: some regions are overrepresented in research; may bias conclusions

  • Selecting causes in a way that leads to selection bias

    • Selection bias: a focus on effects rather than causes, which can lead to inaccurate conclusions about correlation or causation

  • Endogeneity: the issue that cause and effect are not often clear, in that variables may be both cause and effect in relationship to one another

Possible problems with Causal arguments about correlated variables (X and Y)

  1. Definitional problems and falsifiability problem

  2. Reverse quality problem

  3. Endogeneity problem

  4. Intervening variable problem

  5. Omitted variable problem

  6. Spurious correlation problem

II. Can We Make a Science of Comparative Politics?

What is a science?

  • Science is based on a process of learning, not a topic studied.

  • Emphasizes empirical, not normative knowledge.

The basic scientific process

  • Focus on developing hypotheses

  • Use evidence (data) to test hypotheses

  • Use the hypotheses that hold up to data to build theory

    • Theory: an integrated set of hypotheses, assumptions, and facts

Explaining Political Behavior

  • Interests

    • Rational choice: approach that asusmes that individuals weigh the costs and benefits and make choices to maximize their benefits

      • Self-defined preferences

      • Individual level

    • Criticism

      • They can’t predict preferences

      • It’s hard to recognize preferences

      • They are not well-equipped to explain different preferences in different contexts

  • Beliefs

    • Political Culture

      • A set of widely held attitudes, values, beliefs, and symbols about politics

      • Political socialization

    • Modernists

      • Criticism: Cultural values change, and they can be affected by political establishments

      • Subcultures

      • Ethnocentric

    • Postmodernists

      • Criticism: Too much reliance on interpretation

    • Political Ideologies

      • Critcism: What about underlying motives of ideology?

  • Structures

    • Structuralism:

      • Structures in a society such as socioeconomic structures or enduring political institutions are influential

    • Institutionalism

More “Modern” Comparative Theories (Twentieth-Century)

  • Modernization theory: a theory asserting that as societies developed, they would take on a set of common characteristics, including democracy and capitalism

  • Behavioral revolution: a movement within political science during the 1950s and 1960s to develop general theories about individual political behavior that could be applied across all countries

    • Empirical evidence challenged modernization theories.

Differences in Theory

III. A Guiding Concept: Political Institutions

Defining Institutions

  • Institutions: organizations or activities that are self-perpetuating and valued for their own sake

  • Embody norms or values that are considered central to people’s lives and thus are not easily dislodged or changed

  • Set the stage for political behavior by influencing how politics is conducted

  • Vary from country to country

  • Exemplified by the army, taxation, elections, and the state

Norms

  • “Rules or expectations that are socially informed”

  • Constitutive Norms

    • Describes what things are

    • These things are x

      • The idea of states in the international system is a constitutive norm

      • Citizenship is a constitutive norm

  • Regulative Norms

    • “Regulate already existing activities” or ‘how’ existing activities can occur ‘acceptably’

      • It is acceptable for x to do y

      • Rules

Formal vs. Informal Institutions

  • Examples of informal institutions

    • Legislative norms

      • U.S. Senate’s filibuster

    • Societal rules and culture

      • Neopatrimonialism

      • Gender relations

  • Examples of formal institutions

    • Citizenship

    • Electoral systems

    • Federal vs. unitary systems

IV. A Guiding Ideal: Reconciling Freedom and Equality

Two Values

  • Freedom

    • An individual’s ability to act independently, without fear of restriction or punishment by the state or other individuals or groups in society

  • Equality

    • A material standard of living shared by individuals within a community, society, or country

Freedom and Equality: Is There a Trade-Off?

  • Greater personal freedoms may lead to a smaller role for the state.

    • Less state intervention politically and economically may allow inequalities to persist and grow.

  • Demands for greater material equality may lead to a more interventionist state.

    • As states take control over private property or redistribute wealth, personal (economic) freedoms may erode.

Freedom and Equality: Can One Exist without the Other?

  • If freedom is pursued without equality, political responsiveness breaks.

    • Government responds to the wealthy; people feel as though the political system no longer cares about their material needs.

    • Injustice rises.

  • If equality is pursued without freedom, political accountability breaks.

    • Economic and political power becomes concentrated in the government; individuals have few resources to challenge the state.

V. In Sum: Looking Ahead and Thinking Carefully

  • Comparative politics is the study and comparison of domestic politics across countries.

  • Comparative politics is a social science, but one that is faced with considerable research challenges.

    • Looks at the politics inside countries (such as elections, political parties, revolutions, and judicial systems)

  • Comparative researchers use many methods and theoretical approaches to try to explain how the world works.

  • As a field of study, comparative politics has a long tradition, but it is also constantly changing in response to real-world issues.

  • Comparativists examine the impact of political institutions, where they come from, and how they shape politics.

  • A core debate in politics around the world is the conflict between freedom and equality.

Political Science’s Subfields

  • International Relations: the relations between nations and countries

  • Comparative Politics: involves the comparisons and contrast of different political systems and governments around the world

    • Politics inside other countries

  • Domestic Politics: the plans and actions taken by a national government to deal with issues and needs present within the country itself

  • Political Theory: studies the theories that explain the reasons for the struggle for power among groups and individuals, political values, the purpose of the state

Key Terms

  1. Area studies - a regional focus when studying political science, rather than studying parts of the world where similar variables are clustered

  2. Behavioral revolution - a movement within political science during the 1950s and 1960s to develop general theories about individual political behavior that could be applied across all countries

  3. Casual relationship - Cause and effect: when a change in one variable causes a change in another variable

  4. Comparative method - the means by which social scientists make comparisons across cases

  5. Comparative politics - the study and comparison of domestic across politics across countries

  6. Correlation - an apparent relationship between two or more variables

  7. Deductive reasoning - research that works from a hypothesis that is then tested against data

  8. Dependent variable - a variable whose value changes based on that of another

  9. Endogeneity - the issue that cause and effect are not often clear, in that variables may be both cause and effect in relationship to one another

  10. Equality - a material standard of living shared by individuals within a community, society, or country

  11. Formal institutions - institutions usually based on officially sanctioned rules that are relatively clear

  12. Freedom - the ability of an individual to act independently, without fear of restriction or punishment by the state or other individuals or groups in society

  13. Game theory - an approach that emphasizes how actors or organizations behave in their goal to influence others: built upon assumptions of rational choice

  14. Independent variable - a variable whose value does not depend on that of another

  15. Inductive reasoning - research that works from case studies in order to generate hypotheses

  16. Informal institutions - institutions with unwritten and unofficial rules

  17. Institutions - an organization or activity that is self-perpetuating and valued for its own sake

  18. International relations - a field in political science that concentrates on relations between countries, such as foreign policy, war, trade, and foreign aid

  19. Modernization theory - a theory asserting that as societies developed, they would take on a set of common characteristics, including democracy and capitalism

  20. Multicausality - when variables are interconnected and interact to produce particular outcomes

  21. Politics - the struggle in any group for power that will give one or more persons the ability to make decisions for the larger group

  22. Power - the ability to influence others or impose one’s will on them

  23. Qualitative method - study through an in-depth investigation of a limited number of cases

  24. Quantitative method - study through statistical data from many cases

  25. Rational choice - approach that assumes that individuals weigh the costs and benefits and make choices to maximize their benefits

  26. Selection bias - a focus on effects rather than causes, which can lead to inaccurate conclusions about correlation or causation

  27. Theory - an integrated set of hypotheses, assumptions, and facts