Comparative Politics (PPE)


Course Objective

This course has the following learning objectives:

• Providing students with an overview of the key debates within the
field of comparative politics.

• Teaching students to critically evaluate the premises of theories and
approaches in comparative politics.

• Teaching students how causal and descriptive inference is derived in
qualitative and quantitative research and to think about the advantages
and disadvantages
of both research traditions.

• Training students to develop their own research project and to think
critically about key methodological issues such as conceptualization,
operationalization and case-selection.

• Teaching students how to apply their theoretical knowledge about
comparative politics to a set of practical constitutional design

• Teaching students how to communicate effectively about key topics in
the study of the comparative politics through a set of individual and
group assignments.

Course Content

This course introduces PPE students to the field of Comparative Politics
by presenting and discussing a series of topical issues in the field as
well as methodological issues. The focus of this course is the origins
and effects of democratic institutions. Using the comparative method,
our goal is to understand the differences between forms of government
and what effects they have within the polity. Specifically, we will
cover three sets of questions:

• Why do some countries democratize while others do not? What
distinguishes democratic from non-democratic regimes? What is the
relationship between economic growth and democracy? What makes
democracies endure, and how do democracies die?
➢ When aiming to answer these questions, we will face a myriad of
methodological issues. For example, how do we classify countries as
democratic or not, and how do we deal with countries that fall somewhere
in between democratic and autocratic rule? Do we approach these
questions from a historical perspective, and if so, how does this help
or hamper the causal inferences we can make?

• Why do some democracies have different institutions than others? Where
do different institutions come from? What determines the initial choice
of institutions, such as the electoral system or welfare state for
example? And what determines their subsequent development?
➢ We again have to deal with methodological challenges. How can we study
the origins of institutions while we know that they might be largely
endogenous to cultural norms and economic circumstances?

• What are the effects of different institutions? What impact do
institutional choices have on social and economic equality, on
corruption, on representation or the quality of democracy?
➢ These questions are also difficult to assess empirically. For example,
how do we study the effects of institutional rules when we know that
they don’t often change?

As might be expected for questions as broad and complex as these, while
there is much we currently know, many debates are still open. The
objective of this course is to weigh the available evidence – both
descriptive and causal – to arrive at the fullest possible understanding
of key themes within comparative politics.

We will address the questions both theoretically and empirically.
Specifically, based on theory we will generate hypotheses and then test
them against empirical evidence. This means we need to decide what
evidence we should use to generate and test our hypotheses. Should we
focus on a small number of cases and study these in depth? Or should we
focus on many cases as possible and perhaps use statistical techniques
to analyse them?

These issues will be touched upon in the lectures, but dealt with more
in depth in the accompanying seminars. In the seminars, students work on
practical assignments and applications of the lecture content.

Teaching Methods

Lectures and seminars (active learning groups).
Seminar attendance is mandatory: students must attend at least 75% of
the seminar sessions of a course.

Method of Assessment

Two individual assignments: One essay on a set topic (30 %) and a paper
(50 %)
One group assignment: the development of a constitution for a
hypothetical country (20 %)
Seminar assignment (pass/fail).


Roberts Clark, W., Golder, M. and Golder, S. (2017) Principles of
Comparative Politics. Third Edition. Sage Publications.
Reader (available online)

Target Audience

First year PPE students

Custom Course Registration

There is a slightly different enrollment procedure for this module. The standard procedure of the Faculty of Humanities has students sign up for (i) the module, (ii) the form of tuition (lecture and/or preferred seminar group), and (iii) the exam. However, for this module the instructor will assign the students to the seminar groups. Therefore, students should sign up for (i) the module, (ii) lecture and (iii) the exam, but not for the seminar groups.

Explanation Canvas

All information about the course will be delivered via Canvas and course
announcements, please check the course website frequently.

General Information

Course Code W_JSM_109
Credits 6 EC
Period P5
Course Level 100
Language of Tuition English
Faculty Faculty of Humanities
Course Coordinator dr. P. Overeem
Teaching Staff

Practical Information

You need to register for this course yourself

Last-minute registration is available for this course.

Teaching Methods Lecture, Seminar*

*You cannot select a group yourself for this teaching method, you will be placed in a group.

Target audiences

This course is also available as: