POLS 260-1: Introduction to Comparative Politics


Spring Semester 2009

Tues/Thurs 12.30-1.45pm; DuSable 459

Asst. Professor Michael Clark

Office: Zulauf 416

Office Hours: Tues/Thurs 10.45-12.15pm or by appointment

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.      Articles from The Economist and other sources, which will be posted to the class’s Blackboard website


Course Requirements:


1.      Students are expected to attend all classes.

2.      Students are required 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 a 6 to 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, short answer, and essay-style questions. 


Course Grading:


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

Midterm 1 – 20%

Midterm 2 – 20%

Final Exam – 30%

Paper – 15%

Pop Quiz/Class Participation – 15%


Course Grades will be distributed as follows:


            Final Overall Percentage                                   Final Letter 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 very special 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 appropriate 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.  E-mailed papers will not be accepted.


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 attendance.  Active and informed participation in class discussion will make for a better class, and can notably boost a student’s final grade since 10% is set aside for class participation and/or pop quizzes.  Participation can also 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 sleep, use an iPod, read a newspaper, use a laptop for anything other than taking class notes, or engage in other behavior that distracts the instructor or other students from class once it 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 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.      Academic Dishonesty: 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 a paper written in whole or in part by another; a paper copied word-for-word or with only minor changes from another source; a paper copied in part from one or more sources without proper identification and acknowledgment of the sources; a paper that is merely a paraphrase of one or more sources, using ideas and/or logic without credit even though the actual words may be changed; and a paper that quotes, summarizes or paraphrases, or cuts and pastes words, phrases, or images from an Internet source without identification and the address of the web site.


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.


9.      Department of Political Science website: Undergraduates are strongly encouraged to consult the Department of Political Science web site on a regular basis.  This up-to-date, central source of information will assist students in contacting faculty and staff, reviewing course requirements and syllabi, exploring graduate study, research career options, tracking department events, and accessing important details related to undergraduate programs and activities.  To reach the site, go to http://polisci.niu.edu



** Reading Schedule (additional readings may be added) **


Week 1:           Tuesday 1/13: Course Overview

                        Reading: No reading assigned


Thursday 1/15: Introducing Comparative Politics – Concepts and Definitions

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


** Advanced Industrialized Democracies **


Week 2:           Tuesday 1/20: Great Britain

                        Reading: ICP Chapter 2 pgs. 38-61; “Britannia Redux” from The Economist, February 1st, 2007


                        Thursday 1/22: Great Britain

                        Reading: ICP Chapter 2 pgs. 61-87; “Something For Something” from The Economist, December 11th 2008


Week 3:           Tuesday 1/27: 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 1/29: France

                        Reading: ICP Chapter 3 pgs. 92-117; “The Art Of The Impossible” from The Economist, October 26th 2006


Week 4:           Tuesday 2/3: 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; “Is Sarkozy A Closet Socialist?” from The Economist, November 13th 2008


                        Thursday 2/5: Japan

                        Reading: ICP Chapter 5 pgs. 202-223


Week 5:           Tuesday 2/10: Japan

                        Reading: ICP Chapter 5 pgs. 223-249; “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, “Don’t Bring Me Your Huddled Masses” from The Economist, December 30th 2008; “Can This Place Be Governed?” from The Economist, December 4th 2008; “Shrinking Giant” from The Economist, December 11th 2008


Thursday 2/12: Comparing Great Britain, France, and Japan

                        Reading: To Be Announced


Week 6:           Tuesday 2/17: Midterm 1 (all material so far)

                        Reading: None assigned


                        Thursday 2/19: India

                        Reading: ICP Chapter 6 pgs. 253-274


Week 7:           Tuesday 2/24: 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 2/26: Russia

                        Reading: ICP Chapter 8 pgs. 355-380; “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;


Week 8:           Tuesday 3/3: Russia

                        Reading: ICP Chapter 8 pgs. 380-412; “A Strange Kremlin Wedding” from The Economist, May 8th 2008; “Swaggering On” from The Economist, November 19th, 2008; “Courageous Protestors” from The Economist, December 4th, 2008, “Uncle Volodya’s Flagging Christmas Spirit” from The Economist, December 30th, 2008; “Boom To Bust And Worse” from The Economist, December 16th, 2008


Thursday 3/5: Russia

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




Week 9:           Tuesday 3/17: China

                        Reading: Reading – ICP Chapter 13 pgs. 627-651; The Year of the Ox”, The Economist from December 22nd 2008



Thursday 3/19: 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; “The Second Long March” from The Economist, December 11th 2008


Week 10:         Tuesday 3/24: 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 3/26: Midterm 2 (all material since the 1st midterm)

                        Reading: No reading assigned


** States in the Developing World **


Week 11:         Tuesday 3/31: Mexico

                        Reading: ICP Chapter 10 pgs. 473-492


                        Thursday 4/2: 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; “Spot The Drug Trafficker” from The Economist, October 30th 2008; “The Rising Cost of Crime” from The Economist, September 12th 2008


Week 12:         Tuesday 4/7: 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; “Please Hurry Up” from The Economist, October 23rd 2008


Thursday 4/9: 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; “Master of his Commanders” from The Economist, August 28th 2008; “Risky Toughness” from The Economist, September 18th 2008; “Cults of Violence” from The Economist, July 31st 2008


Week 13:         Tuesday 4/14: Brasil

                        Reading: ICP Chapter 9 pgs. 417-440; “Half The Nation, A Hundred Million Citizens Strong” from The Economist, September 11th, 2008


Thursday 4/16: Brasil

                        Reading: ICP Chapter 9 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 4/21: Finishing up Brasil

                        Reading: No additional reading assigned


                        Thursday 4/23: Comparing Mexico, Nigeria, and Brasil

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


Week 15:         Tuesday 4/28: Tying up loose ends

                        Reading: To Be Announced


                        Thursday 4/30: Final class – summing up

                        Reading: To Be Announced



Final Exam: Thurs May 7th –12.00pm - 1:50pm



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 – DO NOT use one that was assigned in-class.  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, April 30th.  Papers are to be turned in at the beginning of class.  In addition to handing in a hard copy of the paper, students must submit their papers through SafeAssign via Blackboard.  Papers will not be considered to be turned in if they have not been submitted to SafeAssign.  Late papers will not be accepted, no exceptions.


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 form part of this discussion, and stating how they were discussed in class, before stating how they relate to your article is a “must” here.
  4. A bibliography on the second to last page.
  5. A final page, which should be a printout or photocopy of the article you chose to discuss.  Without this, your paper will not be graded.


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.