The themes of the course
- The nature of political system;
- The components of a political system;
- The relationship between the element of a political system;
- The dynamics of political system.
All this can be done through a specific research method: the comparative approach.
To know how a political system works, we must know how other political systems work.
The comparative method allows the acquisition of such a knowledge and the elaboration of falsifiable conjectures.
A comparative method for a comparative politics
The goals of comparative politics:
- Providing knowledge on all political systems in a comparative perspective;
- Explaining how political systems work, change, consolidate and decay;
- Understanding the ongoing transformations of the main political institutions.
Comparison is not juxtaposition
Comparative politics is not just the juxtaposition of cases, events or countries. Only a comparative method allows a fruitful accumulation of knowledge and the possibility to control hypotheses.
Comparative politics is important because it leads to the formulation of testable generalizations and, in specific circumstances, to the formulation of theories.
Deviant cases within a theoretical framework are crucial because they can bring about a revision of the theory in some of its marginal or core components.
What do we compare?
- The process by which people compete and/or coordinate for power, influence, and resources;
- The offices through which communities are governed;
- the form of system of rule;
- the nature and direction of the administration of a community.
- Political parties and party systems:
- the major actors in a political system.
The scope of comparative politics
- Comparative politics covers, in principle, all countries in the world.
- The more countries we know, the better our knowledge and more reliable our generalizations.
- Comparative politics is not just a mere description of a specific phenomenon, but it provides a theoretical interpretation of it in a larger context.
- Knowledge for what? Comparative politics is a knowledge that political actors, as well as citizens, can use to change and improve the performance of their political system.
- Through comparisons we can illuminate individual cases.
- Case studies and thick descriptions are useful, but not even the accumulation of many case studies and many thick descriptions will satisfy the need for comparative analyses.
Main approaches to political research
- Experimental method: Uses experimental and control groups to isolate the effects of different stimuli.
- Non-experimental method:
- Case study method: Focuses on individual cases rather than large samples,
- Comparative method.
Case studies imply in-depth analyses of a single event, episode or political system. They highlight and focus on all the elements, components, specificities of a specific case.
Case studies can lead, in some circumstances, to the creation of a theory (or an embryo of it).
According to the anthropologist Clifford Geertz, case studies should be understood as "thick descriptions".
However, thick descriptions cannot provide neither a comparative framework nor a comparative knowledge.
- Comparison as a method dates back to Aristotle.
- Categorized Greek city-states according to their form of political rule.
- Single individual, few, all citizens.
- Distinguished good from corrupt.
- Whether those with power ruled in their own interest or for the common welfare.
- Modern comparative politics deals with:
- Similarities and differences between political regimes;
- Causes, consequences and transformation of electoral systems;
- Links between party systems and electoral systems;
- Process of democratization and democratic consolidation.
The comparative method
- Whenever we look at a political behavior, a political event, a political system, in order to make sense of it, implicitly we compare it with what we think is already known.
- In a more technical way, usually we resort to comparison in order to test and falsify our generalizations and theories.
- Comparative method as a method of control of our hypotheses and theories.
The comparative method
The comparative method focuses on drawing conclusions from the study of a small number of samples:
- Different cases are compared to better understand their qualities, and to develop hypotheses, theories, and concepts;
- There is no statistical method but a statistical technique. Accordingly, comparative method can also be used by scholars who resort to statistical techniques for their studies.
The comparative method
The comparative logic presupposes a theory, that is a set of logically connected hypotheses.
- Comparative approach focuses on selected institutions and processes for the analysis of similarities and differences among countries:
- Must look at more than one case to make reliable generalizations;
- Look at two or more cases selected to isolate common and contrasting features;
- Can analyze broad issues or institutions, policies, process through time.
Lipset’s use of the comparative method
Only wealthy countries are/become democracies?
- Seymour Lipset (1959): "economic development, involving industrialization, high educational standards, and a steady increase in the overall wealth of the society, is a basic condition sustaining democracy";
- The deviant case of Singapore:
- Singapore (and other oil-exporting countries) are rich but not democratic. Why?
- Processes of democratization and modernization theories.
- Comparative method as a method to control hypotheses and theories.
- If our hypotheses are falsified or not confirmed by the comparative analysis, we are left with deviant cases, outliers, exceptions that we must be able to explain.
- Comparative method is also a method for explaining exceptional or deviant cases.
An example of comparative study
One of the most important example of comparative study has been carried out by S.M.Lipset originally in 1959.
- Lipset’s main research question: Only wealthy countries are/become democracies?
- Relationship between some socio-economic requisite and the existence/emergence of a democratic regime
- Is this just a correlation between distinct factors or is there a causal mechanism behind?
- at least one countries with those socio-economic prerequisites suggested by Lipset does not become a democracy?
A deviant case: India
All democracies are wealthy countries?
- India as a case of "deviant democracy": India is the largest democracy in the world and has long been a puzzle for students of comparative politics.
The low level of political development made it unlikely, following the main generalizations in the comparative politics literature, both that India would democratize and than consolidate its democracy.
Przeworski, Alvarez, Cheibub and Limongi (2000): 'the incidence of democracy is undoubtedly related to the level of economic development'. 'Wealthy countries tend to be democratic not because democracies emerge as a consequence of economic development under dictatorship but because, however they emerge, democracies are much more likely to survive in affluent societies'.
The puzzle of Indian democracy
According to Lijphart, democracy in India is an exception because it was a product of the coalescent behavior of the political elites.
In India elites promoted and protected democracy, despite the level of socio-economic development.
Other factors explaining the exception:
- The heritage of the British Empire;
- The acquisition of a British political culture by the Indian elites.
The exception of Singapore: a wealth but not democratic country. Why?
Singapore is a very wealthy country, with a high level of education and urbanization. However, it is still a non-democratic (authoritarian) regime.
Nevertheless, it is very likely that the Singaporean elites will introduce, in the future, some political changes in order to allow the emergence of an opposition front.
The crucial role of political leadership:
«Economic development makes democracy possible; political leadership makes it real» (Huntington 1993: 316).
A political system is made up of 3 major components:
- Political community: all those persons who are subject to the authoritative allocation of values;
- Authorities: those persons who have the power to imperatively allocate values for their societies;
- Regime: the set of rules that contribute to the formation and the maintaining of the system.
- Comparative politics and comparative method
- Quiz: Quiz Lesson 1 - Comparative politcs and comparative method
- Political system and political community
- Quiz: Quiz Lesson 2 - Political system and political community
- The authorities, recruitment, selection, circulation
- Quiz: Quiz Lesson 3 - The authorities, recruitment, selection, circulation
- Political regimes. Parliamentary democracies
- Quiz: Quiz Lesson 4 - Political regimes. Parliamentary democracies
- Presidential democracies
- Quiz: Quiz Lesson 5 - Presidential democracies
- Semi-presidential democracies
- Quiz: Quiz Lesson 6 - Semi-presidential democracies
- Party Systems
- Quiz: Quiz Lesson 7 - Party systems
- Electoral Systems
- Quiz: Quiz Lesson 8 - Electoral system
- Authoritarian regimes
- Quiz: Quiz Lesson 9 - Authoritarian regimes
- Democracy and poliarchy
- Quiz: Quiz Lesson 10 - Democracy and poliarchy