POLS 260-5: Introduction to Comparative Politics


Fall Semester 2008

Tues/Thurs 3.30-4.45pm; DuSable 459

Asst. Professor Michael Clark

Office: Zulauf 416

Office Hours: Tues/Thurs 1.30-3.00pm or by appt.

Office phone: (815) 753-7058

E-Mail: mclarkl2@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 concepts from class. More details at the end of the syllabus. 

5.      There will be two mid-term exams and one comprehensive final exam.  Exams will consist of some combination of multiple-choice, concept/ID explanation, and essay-style questions. 


Course Grading:


The breakdown of grading for each piece of work will be as follows:

Midterm 1 – 25%

Midterm 2 – 25%

Final Exam – 35%

Paper – 15%

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 will be asked to support requests for makeup exams with official documentation. A missed examination without prior notification and an approved reason will result in a zero.  


2.      Late papers: Late papers will not be accepted.  Papers are due in class on the day that the paper is due. If you fail to turn in the paper on the appropriate day, you will receive no score 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.      Classroom Etiquette: Attendance at all class sessions is expected, and the instructor will check the attendance regularly. Active and informed participation in class discussion will significantly help students in borderline grade situations. Students are expected to arrive at class on time. Late arrivals disrupt the class and will be treated as class absences.  Too many class absences may result in being dropped from the class.  Students are to remain for the entire session unless excused by the professor beforehand or confronted with a serious personal emergency. 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 absolutely unacceptable 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.


5.      Note taking: Although PowerPoint will be used for the purposes of presenting class material it is imperative that students take their own detailed notes during lectures.  The PowerPoint slides provide a broad outline of discussion topics but they do not cover everything.  If you miss class for whatever reason, be sure to obtain the notes from someone else in class (making a friend in class is always a good idea).


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 strongly advised to do their own work and learn the rules for proper quoting, paraphrasing, and footnoting.  There are many online and campus resources to help students with this.


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:            Tuesday 8/26 – Course Overview

                        Reading: No reading assigned


            Thursday 8/28 – Introducing Comparative Politics

Readings: ICP Chapter 1; RCP Introduction (pages 1-9)


** Advanced Industrialized Democracies **


Week 2:           Tuesday 9/2: Great Britain

                        Reading: ICP Chapter 2 pgs. 38-61


                        Thursday 9/4: Great Britain

                        Reading: ICP Chapter 2 pgs. 61-87


Week 3:           Tuesday 9/9: Great Britain

                        Reading: Anthony King, “The Outsider as Political Leader: The Case of Margaret Thatcher”, British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 32 (2002); “The Great Performer Leaves The Stage”, The Economist, May 10th 2007

                        Thursday 9/11: France

                        Reading: ICP Chapter 3 pgs. 92-117


Week 4:           Tuesday 9/16: France

                        Reading: ICP Chapter 3 pgs. 117-143; RCP 5.2 (The Claims of Culture by Seyla Benhabib); “The Gaullist Revolutionary”, The Economist, May 10th 2007; “The French Connection”, The Economist, July 3rd 2008


                        Thursday 9/18: Japan

                        Reading: ICP Chapter 5 pgs. 202-223


Week 5:           Tuesday 9/23: Japan

                        Reading: ICP Chapter 5 pgs. 223-249; “Is A Reshaping of the Political Landscape Coming?” The Economist, June 12th 2008; “Japan’s Regions: The Puzzle of Power”, The Economist, March 6th 2008; “Japain”, The Economist, February 21st 2008; “Why Japan Keeps Failing”, The Economist, February 21st 2008


                        Thursday 9/25: Comparing Great Britain, France, and Japan

                        Reading: To Be Announced


Week 6:           Tuesday 9/30: Midterm 1 (all material so far)

                        Reading: None assigned


                        Thursday 10/2: India

                        Reading: ICP Chapter 6 pgs. 253-274


Week 7:           Tuesday 10/7: India

                        Reading: ICP Chapter 6 pgs. 274-299; “Building Blocks”, The Economist, June 1st 2006; “Now For The Hard Part”, The Economist, June 1st 2006; “The Long Journey”, The Economist, June 1st 2006; “Virtual Champions”, The Economist, June 1st 2006; “A Tarnished Triumph”, The Economist, July 24th 2008


** Communist and Post-Communist States **


                        Thursday 10/9: Russia

                        Reading: ICP Chapter 8 pgs. 355-380


Week 8:           Tuesday 10/14: Russia

                        Reading: ICP Chapter 8 pgs. 380-412; “Special Report: Richer, Bolder, And Sliding Back – Russia” from The Economist, July 15th, 2006; “Special Report: Murder Most Opaque – The Litvinenko Affair” from The Economist, December 16th, 2006; “Dangerous Times” from The Economist, March 10th, 2007; “A Strange Kremlin Wedding”, The Economist, May 8th 2008; “A Parade of Power in Russia”, The Economist, May 9th 2008; “After Georgia”, The Economist, August 21st, 2008


Thursday 10/16: Russia

                        Reading: “A Parade of Power in Russia”, The Economist, May 9th 2008; “After Georgia”, The Economist, August 21st, 2008; “The War in Georgia: A Caucasian Journey”, The Economist, August 21st 2008


Week 9:           Tuesday 10/21: China

                        Reading: Reading – ICP Chapter 13 pgs. 627-651


                        Thursday 10/23: China

                        Reading: ICP Chapter 13 pgs. 651-680; “Populist Politics in China: Why Grandpa Wen Has To Care” from The Economist, June 14th, 2008; “Briefing: Governing China – Caught Between Right and Left, Town and Country” from The Economist, March 10th, 2007; “Welcome To A (Rather Dour) Party”, The Economist, July 31st 2008


Week 10:         Tuesday 10/28: Comparing Russia and China

                        Reading: “Democracy in Reforming Collapsed Communist Economies: Blessing or Curse?”, Michael Intriligator, Contemporary Economic Policy, Vol. 16, No. 2 (1998); RCP 4.5 (Rethinking Democratisation – Valerie Bunce)


                        Thursday 10/30: Midterm 2 (all material since the 1st midterm)



** States in the Developing World **


Week 11:         Tuesday 11/4: Mexico

                        Reading: ICP Chapter 10 pgs. 473-492


                        Thursday 11/6: Mexico

                        Reading: ICP Chapter 10 pgs. 492-516; RCP 4.6 (Illusions About Consolidation – Guillermo O’Donnell); “Survey: Mexico – Time To Wake Up” from The Economist, November 18th, 2006; “Survey: Mexico – Pregnant Pause” from The Economist, November 18th, 2006; “Survey: Mexico – The Joy of Informality” from The Economist, November 18th, 2006; “Survey: Mexico – Policing The Police” from The Economist, November 18th, 2006


Week 12:         Tuesday 11/11: Nigeria

                        Reading: ICP Chapter 11 pgs. 521-547; “Nigerian Oil Pipeline Attacked” from BBC Website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/7467331.stm


Thursday 11/13: Nigeria

                        Reading: ICP Chapter 11 pgs. 547-573; RCP 2.5 (Failed States in a World of Terror – Robert Rotberg); “Nigeria: Blood and Oil” from The Economist, March 17th, 2007; “Nigeria: A Blacklist To Bolster Democracy” from The Economist, February 17th, 2007; “Nigeria: Sharia Lite” from The Economist, February 3rd, 2007


Week 13:         Tuesday 11/18: Brasil

                        Reading: ICP Chapter 8 pgs. 417-440


                        Thursday 11/20: Brasil

                        Reading: ICP Chapter pgs. 440-467; RCP 4.4 (Towards Consolidated Democracies – Linz and Stepan); “Brazil: Parliament or Pigsty?” from The Economist, February 10th, 2007; “Brazil’s Economy: Stirred But Not Shaken Up” from The Economist, January 27th, 2007; “Brazil: Blame It On Rio” from The Economist, January 20th, 2007


Week 14:         Tuesday 11/25: Comparing Mexico, Nigeria, and Brasil

                        Reading: RCP 4.2 (What Democracy Is…And Is Not – Schmitter and Karl)


                        Thursday 11/27: Thanksgiving

                        Reading: No reading assigned


Week 15:         Tuesday 12/2: Tying up loose ends

                        Reading: To Be Announced


                        Thursday 12/4: Final class – summing up

                        Reading: To Be Announced



Final Exam: December 9th – 4:00 pm-5:50 pm

The Paper Assignment:


You are required to write an 8-page paper for this class. The paper should be double-spaced with standard Microsoft 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 15% of your grade.  Writing concisely is a skill worth practicing. Your first task is to find a news article covering a country of your choosing – you’re free to choose those covered in class, but others are fine too.  The Washington Post or New York Times are good places for finding an article, but well-known news websites (MSNBC, BBC etc) also work.  Your second task is to write a paper, which summarizes the article, and then moves onto a discussion of how you think the events covered in your chosen article relate to, and are, examples of two concepts, themes, or terms from the semester’s lectures/readings.  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.  The paper is due in-class, last day of class, December 4th.


Your paper should include the following:

  1. A brief introduction (no more than a page), which outlines your thesis i.e. what two concepts, themes, or ideas from class you feel your article demonstrates.
  2. A summary of the article (be 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.  Defining your chosen concepts, themes, or terms should help.
  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 cite (using whatever format you’re comfortable with) all quotes and/or discussions drawn from your article and readings/lecture.  If you’re unsure how to do this properly, go online or make use of NIU’s Writing Centre.


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 (please take pride in your work).
  3. How well written and organised the paper is.