POLS 260-2: Introduction to Comparative Politics


Fall Semester 2008

Monday, 3:30 pm-6:10 pm; Room MC 202

Dr. April Clark

Office: Zulauf 416

Office Hours: Monday 1:00-3:00 p.m. and Tues 5:00-6:00 pm or by appt.

Office phone: (815) 753-7058

E-Mail: aclarkl@niu.edu



“Without comparisons to make, the mind does not know how to proceed.”

Alexis de Tocqueville, 1830.


“A man who has tasted only his mother’s soup has no basis to claim that hers is the best.”

African proverb.



Course Description:


            This course is designed to introduce students to the comparative study of government and politics.  Comparativists focus on trying to account for the similarities and differences between whatever it is they are comparing.  In this class we will focus on comparing a number of different countries around the world by identifying and analysing the common problems the governments of these countries have faced, comparing the governing institutions that these countries have adopted, and evaluating the impact of various institutions and differing economic approaches on the lives and well-being of the citizens of those countries.  By taking such an approach students will become familiar with the similarities and differences between the countries covered during the course, and moreover, be able to offer explanations for why these similarities and differences exist.  Throughout the course, we will touch on a number of concepts comparativists focus upon in order to examine the similarities and differences between countries including electoral systems, political culture, and public opinion.  The countries examined will represent a variety of political systems at different stages of development.  The main theme of the course will be to examine factors which help account for varying levels of democratic development in the countries under study.


Course Reading:


1.      Textbook: Mark Kesselman, Joel Krieger, and William A. Joseph, Introduction to Comparative Politics 4th Edition (Houghton Mifflin Publishing 2007) aka ICP on the reading schedule below.

2.      Supplemental: Mark Kesselman and Joel Krieger, Readings in Comparative Politics: Political Challenges and Changing Agendas (Houghton Mifflin Publishing 2006) aka RCP on the reading schedule below.

3.      The New York Times, The Washington Post, or The Economist. Following along with current events will help you understand those events we discuss in class and also provide a link between the concepts we cover and current affairs.  It will also prepare you for the paper assignment.

4.      Additional course readings - all of which should be available through NIU’s Library ‘Search our ejournals’ search engine.  All articles can then be read online or printed out.  To find readings assigned from The Economist and other journals click on the library webpage’s located at http://www.ulib.niu.edu:3515/information/alphadb.cfm and scroll down to   “Academic Search Premier” for The Economist (and “JSTOR” for access to journals such as the British Journal of Political Science) and type in the title of the article in the first window and scroll down to publication and type “The Economist”. The titles of the articles are given in the reading schedule below.

5.      Atlas of International Politics (Houghton Mifflin Publishing 2006).


Course Requirements:


1.      Students are required to attend all classes.

2.      Students are expected to have read the assigned readings prior to class and to be prepared for class discussion.

3.      There may be surprise quizzes throughout the course of the semester.

4.      Students will be required to submit an 8-page paper relating a news article to two concepts from class. More details at the end of the syllabus.  There will be two mid-term exams and one comprehensive final exam.  Exams will have multiple-choice and short answer questions. 


Course Grading:


The number of points available for each piece of graded work will be as follows:

Midterm 1 – 100 points

Midterm 2 – 100 points

Final Exam – 120 points

Paper – 80 points

Participation – considered in borderline cases


Course Grades will be distributed as follows:


            Final Average                                      Final Grade

            90-100 %                                                         A

            80-89 %                                                           B

            70-79%                                                            C

            60-69%                                                            D

            Below 60%                                                     F


Course Policies:


1.      Makeup Exams: Makeup exams will only be given in extraordinary circumstances.  If such circumstances arise, please contact the instructor as soon as possible and before the scheduled exam. To keep the process fair for everyone in the course, students may be asked to support requests for makeup exams with documentation. A missed examination without prior notification and a documented excuse will result in a zero and a course grade of “F” as opposed to an incomplete.     


2.      Late papers: I do not accept late papers.  Papers are due at the beginning of class on the day that it is due. If you fail to do so at the beginning of class on the day that the paper is due, you will receive a 0 for the paper. 


3.      Handouts: Handouts are a privilege for those students who attend class on a regular basis. No student is entitled to supplemental materials simply because they are registered for the course.


4.      Exams and grading: Regrades on assignments are possible if you believe there was an error in grading. In order to have a reconsideration of your grade, you must provide a 1-page typewritten memo explaining where you feel the mistake in grading occurred, and I will take a look at it.


5.      Classroom Etiquette: Attendance at all class sessions is expected, and the instructor will check the attendance regularly.  Students are allowed to miss a total of six hours or two class meetings during the semester.  An additional absence may result in being dropped from the course.  Active and informed participation in class discussion will significantly help students in borderline grade situations. Students are expected to arrive at class on time. Two tardy arrivals are equivalent to one class absence.  Students are to remain for the entire session unless excused by the professor beforehand or confronted with a serious personal emergency. For instance, it is not acceptable for students to walk in and out of class to answer cell phones, take casual bathroom and smoking breaks, or attend to other personal matters. Please silence your cell phone prior to the start of each lecture.  It is not acceptable to use an iPod, read a newspaper, use a laptop for anything other than taking class notes, or engage in other behavior that distracts one from the class proceedings once the session has begun. No one should talk while someone else is talking; this includes comments meant for a classmate rather than the entire group. Overall, classroom dialogue and behavior should always be courteous, respectful of others, and consistent with the expectations set forth by the university.


6.      Incomplete Requests: Such petitions will be granted only in extraordinary circumstances. The instructor reserves the right to ask for documentation to verify the problem preventing completion of the course by the normal deadlines. If the student does not present documentation from a university office or official, the matter will be left to the instructor’s discretion.


7.      Honor Code: Any written work for this class will be checked electronically through on-line databases to assess the originality of the work. 


Regarding plagiarism, the NIU Undergraduate Catalog states: “students are guilty of plagiarism, intentional or not, if they copy material from books, magazines, or other sources without identifying and acknowledging them. Students guilty of, or assisting others in, either cheating or plagiarism on an assignment, quiz, or examination may receive a grade of F for the course involved and may be suspended or dismissed from the university.” The above statement encompasses the purchase or use of papers that were written by others.  Please note that the instructor retains copies of papers written in previous years. In short, students are advised to do their own work and learn the rules for proper quoting, paraphrasing, and footnoting.


8.      Students with Disabilities: Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, NIU is committed to making reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Those students with disabilities that may have some impact on their coursework for which they may require accommodations should notify the University's Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR). CAAR will assist students in making appropriate accommodations with course instructors. It is important that CAAR and instructors be informed of any disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester.



Reading Schedule (additional readings may be added)


Week 1:           Monday 8/25– Course Overview AND Introducing Comparative Politics

Reading – ICP Chapter 1; RCP Introduction (pages 1-9); Highly [Recommended: Five brief essays by Charles King: “How To Think”, “How To Write”, “How To Write a Research Paper”, “Writing a Political Science Essay”, “The Six Evil Geniuses of Essay Writing.”] 

Essays available online at: www.georgetown.edu/faculty/kingch/Teaching_and_Learning.htm


Week 2:           Monday 9/1 - No class due to Labor Day Holiday.

Readings –Some Big Ideas About The World Today

Reading –RCP 1.1 (Fukuyama - The End of History?); RCP 1.2 (Huntington – The Clash of Civilizations); RCP 1.3 (Barber – Jihad versus McWorld)


** Advanced Industrialized Democracies **


Week 3:           Monday 9/8 – United States

                        Reading –ICP Chapter 7; RCP 4.1 (Polyarchy – Robert Dahl); RCP 7.4 (Bowling Alone – Robert Putnam); “Degrees of Separation”, “Centrifugal Forces”, “The Americano Dream”, “Middle of the Class”, “The Glue of Society”, “Motion Dismissed”, “Motion Sustained” all from The Economist, July 15th 2006. Available through NIU’s library ‘ejournals’ search engine.

Week 4:           Monday 9/15 – Britain

                        Reading – ICP Chapter 2; Anthony King, “The Outsider as Political Leader: The Case of Margaret Thatcher”, British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 32 (2002).  Available through NIU’s library ‘ejournals’ search engine.


Week 5:           Monday 9/22 – France AND U.S., Britain and France compared

                        Reading – ICP Chapter 3; RCP 5.2 (The Claims of Culture - Seyla Benhabib)


Week 6:          Monday 9/29 – Midterm 1



                        Reading – ICP Chapter 6


Week 7:           Monday 10/6 – India continued

                        Reading – Peter Heller, “Degrees of Democracy: Some Comparative Lessons From India”, World Politics, Vol. 52 (2000). Available through NIU’s library ‘ejournals’ search engine.


** Communist and Post-Communist States **


Week 8:           Monday 10/13 – Russia

                        Reading – ICP Chapter 8; RCP 4.5 (Rethinking Democratization – Valerie Bunce); “Russia “Richer, Bolder – and Sliding Back”, from The Economist, July 15th 2006.  Available through NIU’s library ‘ejournals’ search engine.


Week 9:           Monday 10/20 – China

                        Reading – ICP Chapter 13; Reading – “A Dragon Out of Puff”, “Colour Me Grey”, “Money Worries”, “No Rural Idyll”, “Drastic Medicine”, “Urban Discontent” from The Economist, June 15th 2002.  Available through NIU’s library ‘ejournals’ search engine.


Russia and China compared

                        Reading – “Democracy in Reforming Collapsed Communist Economies: Blessing or Curse?”, Michael Intriligator, Contemporary Economic Policy, Vol. 16, No. 2 (1998). Available through NIU’s library ‘ejournals’ search engine.


Week 10:        Thursday 10/27 – Midterm 2


** States in the Developing World **



                        Reading – ICP Chapter 10


Week 11          Monday 11/3 – Mexico continued

                        Reading – RCP 4.6 (Illusions About Consolidation – Guillermo O’Donnell); Reading from The Economist to be assigned



                        Reading – ICP Chapter 11; RCP 2.5 (Failed States in a World of Terror – Robert Rotberg)


Week 12:         Monday 11/10 – Nigeria continued AND Democratization in Mexico and Nigeria compared

                        Reading – No reading currently assigned

                        Research paper due at beginning of class


Week 13:         Monday 11/17 – Brazil

                        Reading – ICP Chapter 9; RCP 4.4 (Towards Consolidated Democracies – Linz and Stepan); “The New Middle Ages” by John Rapley, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 85, No. 6 (2006).  Available through NIU’s library ‘ejournals’ search engine.


Week 14:         Monday 11/24 – Comparing Brazil to Mexico and Nigeria.

                        Reading – None currently assigned.


Week 15:         Monday – 12/1 - Review

                        Reading – None currently assigned.


Final Exam: 12/8 – 4:00 pm-5:50 pm

The Paper Assignment:

You are required to write a brief 8-page paper for this class. The paper should be double-spaced with standard Word margins and in 12-point font.  Although the assignment is relatively short, you’re nonetheless advised to give this paper some serious thought given that it’s worth 80 points.  Writing concisely is a skill worth practicing. Your first task is to find a news article covering one of the countries we have covered in class. The Washington Post or New York Times should suffice for locating an article.  Your second task is to write a paper, which briefly summarizes the article, and then moves onto a discussion of how you think the events covered in the article relate to/are examples of two concepts, themes, or terms from lecture or reading.  Try not to regurgitate an argument or discussion regarding events in a particular country from class! Suitable concepts, themes, or terms you might want to examine include (but are not limited to): the government’s role in the economy, the role of the state, political culture, representation, participation, governing institutions, parties and the party system, electoral laws, immigration, citizenship, national identity, democratization, consolidation of democracy, globalization, corruption, state failure, inequality, civil liberties, political and economic development, civil society.


Your paper should include the following:

  1. A very brief introduction (no more than half a page), which outlines your thesis i.e. what two concepts, themes, or ideas from class you feel your article demonstrates.
  2. A brief summary of the article (I emphasise brief – keep to the point).
  3. A discussion of the connection between the events covered by your article and the two concepts, themes, or terms you think the article illustrates (the most important and most challenging part of the paper). Here, you need to not only make a convincing connection but also show an understanding of the concepts, themes, or terms you’re applying.
  4. A bibliography on a seventh page.
  5. An eighth page, which should be a printout or photocopy of the article you chose to discuss.


Be sure to footnote all quotes and/or discussions drawn from your article and readings/lecture.  If you’re unsure how to do this properly, look at the endnotes of any of the chapters in ICP.


Your paper will be graded based on the following criteria:

  1. How well you complete points 1-5 above, and in particular points 2 and 3. How well you argue that the events in the article are evidence of the two concepts, themes, or terms you discuss is paramount, along with how well you show understanding of those concepts, themes, or terms.
  2. Presentation - in terms of grammar and spelling.
  3. How well written and organised the paper is.