POLS 260-2: Introduction to Comparative Politics


Spring Semester 2008

Monday, 6:30 pm-9:10 pm; Room DU 461

Dr. April Clark

Office: Zulauf 416

Office Hours: Monday 5:00-6:30 p.m. and Wed 2:00-3:30 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.      Articles from The Economist and other sources, which will be posted to the class’s Blackboard website

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



Course Requirements:


1.      Students are required 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 an 8-page paper relating a news article to two 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 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 will be required to support requests for makeup exams with documentation. A signed note from your mother does not suffice. 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. NO EXCEPTIONS.   


2.      Late papers: I do not accept late.  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, NO EXCEPTIONS. 


In addition to handing in a hard copy of your paper, you must submit a copy of your paper through SafeAssign via Blackboard.  I will not consider a paper to be turned in if it has not been submitted to SafeAssign.


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.


Other Issues


1.   Finally, I will make use of Blackboard to convey information and class discussion topics – make sure that your email is current with university administration or you may miss out on important course communications. I have also posted the syllabus there, and I encourage you to check the course page frequently.



Reading Schedule (additional readings may be added)

Students will submit assignments in hard copy only


Week 1:           Monday 1/12– 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 1/19 - No class due to Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday.



** Advanced Industrialized Democracies **


Week 3:           Monday 1/26 – 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.



Week 4:           Monday 2/2 – Britain

                        Reading – ICP Chapter 2; “Britannia Redux” from The Economist, February 1st, 2007; “Something For Something” from The Economist, December 11th 2008; 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.



Week 5:           Monday 2/9 – France AND U.S., Britain and France compared

                        Reading – ICP Chapter 3; “The Art Of The Impossible” from The Economist, October 26th 2006; RCP 5.2 (The Claims of Culture - 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.



Week 6:          Monday 2/16 – Midterm 1 (all material so far)

Week 7:           Monday 2/23 – India

                        Reading – ICP Chapter 6; “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 **


Week 8:           Monday 3/2 – Russia

                        Reading – ICP Chapter 8; “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; “Swaggering On”, The Economist, November 19th, 2008; “Courageous Protestors”, The Economist, December 4th, 2008, “Uncle Volodya’s Flagging Christmas Spirit”, The Economist, December 30th, 2008; “After Georgia” from The Economist, August 21st, 2008; “The War in Georgia: A Caucasian Journey” from The Economist, August 21st 2008.



Week 9:          ** SPRING BREAK: MARCH 7TH – MARCH 15TH NO CLASSES **



Week 10:         Monday 3/16 – China

                        Reading – ICP Chapter 13; Reading – “The Year of the Ox”, The Economist, December 22nd 2008; “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”, The Economist, December 11th 2008.


Russia and China compared

                        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).



Week 11:        Monday 3/23 – Midterm 2 (all material since the 1st midterm)


** States in the Developing World **


Week 12          Monday 3/30 – Mexico

                        Reading – ICP Chapter 10; 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 13:         Monday 4/6 – ****Research paper due at beginning of class****


Reading – ICP Chapter 11; RCP 2.5 (Failed States in a World of Terror – Robert Rotberg); “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; “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 14:         Monday 4/13 – Brazil

                        Reading – ICP Chapter 9; RCP 4.4 (Towards Consolidated Democracies – Linz and Stepan); “Half The Nation, A Hundred Million Citizens Strong” from The Economist, September 11th, 2008; “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 15:         Monday 4/20 – Comparing Brazil to Mexico and Nigeria.

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


Week 16:         Monday – 4/27 – Wrap up and review

                        Reading – None currently assigned.


Final Exam: Monday, May 4th – 6:00 pm-7:50 pm

The Paper Assignment:

You are required to write a brief 8-page paper for this class. The paper should be printed single-sided and 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.


In addition to handing in a hard copy of your paper, you must submit a copy of your paper through SafeAssign via Blackboard.  I will not consider a paper to be turned in if it has not been submitted to SafeAssign.


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 organized the paper is.