POLS 260-4: Introduction to Comparative Politics
Spring Semester 2010
Instructor: Asst. Professor Michael Clark
Class Time: Mon & Weds 2.00-3.15
Class Location: DuSable 459
Office Location: Zulauf 416
Office Hours: Mon & Weds 10.00-11.30 and by appointment
Office phone: (815) 753-7058
“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.”
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, and whether those similarities and differences result in similar or differing outcomes. 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, public opinion, and the role of the state. 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.
1. Textbook: Mark Kesselman, Joel Krieger, and William A. Joseph, Introduction to Comparative Politics 5th Edition (Wadsworth Publishing 2010) aka ICP on the reading schedule below.
Supplemental: Mark Kesselman ed.,
The New York Times, The
4. Articles from The Economist and other sources, which will be posted to the class’s Blackboard website
Attending lecture is not compulsory, but is essential since we cover a lot of material relatively quickly during the semester, and also because lecture will include discussion of material not found in the readings. Lecture is an opportunity to expand on, and apply ideas from the readings, as well as for students to discuss their thoughts and observations, and to ask any questions. Attendance will be taken, and used in determining final grades.
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 an 8-page paper relating a news article to concepts from class. More details are provided at the end of the syllabus.
5. There will be three exams – two midterms taking place during weeks 6 and 11 respectively, as well as a final exam. Exams will consist of some combination of multiple-choice, short answer, and essay-style questions.
The breakdown of grading for each piece of work will be as follows:
Midterm 1 – 20%
Midterm 2 – 20%
Final Exam – 25%
Paper – 15%
Class Participation (and attendance) – 20%
Course Grades will be distributed as follows:
Final Overall Percentage Final Letter Grade
90-100 % A
80-89 % B
Below 60% F
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, and also via SafeAssign submission on Blackboard. 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, not withstanding absolutely exceptional circumstances.
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 20% 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)
Intro Week (January 11th)
Monday: Course Overview and Introductions
Wednesday: Introducing Comparative Politics – Concepts and Definitions
** Advanced Industrialized Democracies **
Week 2 (January 18th)
Monday: MLK Day – No classes held
Week 3 (January 25th)
Week 4 (February 1st)
Week 5 (February 8th)
Week 6 (February 15th)
Wednesday: Midterm 1 (all material so far)
Week 7 (February 22nd)
** Communist and
Week 8 (March 1st)
Week 9 (March 9th)
*** SPRING BREAK: MARCH 7TH – MARCH 14TH. NO CLASSES ***
Week 10 (March 15th)
Week 11 (March 22nd)
Wednesday: Midterm 2 (all material since the 1st midterm)
** States in the Developing World **
Week 12 (March 29th)
Week 13 (April 5th)
Week 14 (April 12th)
Week 15 (April 19th)
Monday: Finishing up Brasil
Week 16 (April 26th)
Monday: Tying up loose ends
Wednesday: Final class – summing up
PAPERS ARE DUE IN CLASS ON THE LAST DAY OF CLASS (April 28th). A STAPLED, HARD COPY OF THE PAPER IS TO BE TURNED IN AT THE BEGINNING OF CLASS WHILE A SECOND COPY IS TO BE SUBMITTED TO BLACKBOARD VIA SAFEASSIGN. PAPERS WILL NOT BE CONSIDERED TURNED IN UNTIL THEY ARE UPLOADED VIA SAFEASSIGN. TURNING IN PAPERS EARLIER IS ABSOLUTELY ENCOURAGED.
The final exam for this class will be held on Monday May 3rd, 2.00 – 3.50pm.
Final exams will NOT be given earlier than the scheduled time under any circumstances, so make summer break/travel plans accordingly.
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 28th. Papers are to be turned in at the beginning of class but can be turned in earlier. E-mailed papers and late papers will not be accepted.
Your paper should include the following:
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: