Comparative politics
Comparative politics is a subfield of political science
Political science
Political Science is a social science discipline concerned with the study of the state, government and politics. Aristotle defined it as the study of the state. It deals extensively with the theory and practice of politics, and the analysis of political systems and political behavior...

, characterized by an empirical
Empiricism is a theory of knowledge that asserts that knowledge comes only or primarily via sensory experience. One of several views of epistemology, the study of human knowledge, along with rationalism, idealism and historicism, empiricism emphasizes the role of experience and evidence,...

 approach based on the comparative method. Arend Lijphart
Arend Lijphart
Arend d'Angremond Lijphart is a world renowned political scientist specializing in comparative politics, elections and voting systems, democratic institutions, and ethnicity and politics. He received his PhD in Political Science at Yale University in 1963, after studying at the University of...

 argues that comparative politics does not have a substantive focus in itself, but rather a methodological one: it focuses on "the how but does not specify the what of the analysis." In other words, comparative politics is not defined by the object of its study, but rather by the method it applies to study political phenomena. Peter Mair
Peter Mair
Peter Mair was an Irish political scientist. He was professor of Comparative Politics at the European University Institute in Florence.-Career:...

 and Richard Rose
Richard Rose (political scientist)
Richard Rose is an American political scientist who is currently Director of the Centre for the Study of Public Policy and Professor of Politics at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. He studied as an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins University and completed his PhD at the University of Oxford...

 advance a slightly different definition, arguing that comparative politics is defined by a combination of a substantive focus on the study of countries' political systems and a method of identifying and explaining similarities and differences between these countries using common concepts. Rose states that, on his definition: "The focus is explicitly or implicitly upon more than one country, thus following familiar political science usage in excluding within-nation comparison. Methodologically, comparison is distinguished by its use of concepts that are applicable in more than one country."

When applied to specific fields of study, comparative politics may be referred to by other names, such as for example comparative government (the comparative study of forms of government) or comparative foreign policy (comparing the foreign policies
Foreign policy
A country's foreign policy, also called the foreign relations policy, consists of self-interest strategies chosen by the state to safeguard its national interests and to achieve its goals within international relations milieu. The approaches are strategically employed to interact with other countries...

 of different States in order to establish general empirical connections between the characteristics of the State and the characteristics of its foreign policy).

Sometimes, especially in the United States, the term "comparative politics" is used to refer to "the politics of foreign countries." This usage of the term, however, is often considered incorrect.

The comparative method

The comparative method is - together with the experimental method
An experiment is a methodical procedure carried out with the goal of verifying, falsifying, or establishing the validity of a hypothesis. Experiments vary greatly in their goal and scale, but always rely on repeatable procedure and logical analysis of the results...

, the statistical method
Statistics is the study of the collection, organization, analysis, and interpretation of data. It deals with all aspects of this, including the planning of data collection in terms of the design of surveys and experiments....

 and the case study
Case study
A case study is an intensive analysis of an individual unit stressing developmental factors in relation to context. The case study is common in social sciences and life sciences. Case studies may be descriptive or explanatory. The latter type is used to explore causation in order to find...

 approach - one of the four fundamental scientific method
Scientific method
Scientific method refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of...

s which can be used to test the validity of general empirical propositions, i.e. to establish empirical relationships among two or more variables while all other variables are held constant. In particular, the comparative method is generally used when neither the experimental nor the statistical method can be employed: on the one hand, experiments can only rarely be conducted in political science; on the other hand the statistical method implies the mathematical manipulation of quantitative data about a large number of cases, while sometimes political research must be conducted by analyzing the behavior of qualitative variables in a small number of cases. The case study approach cannot be considered a scientific method according to the above definition, however it can be useful to gain knowledge about single cases, which can then be put to comparison according to the comparative method.

Comparative strategies

Several different strategies can be used in comparative research.
  • Most Similar Systems Design/Mill's Method of Difference: it consists in comparing very similar cases which only differ in the dependent variable, on the assumption that this would make it easier to find those independent variables which explain the presence/absence of the dependent variable. Most Similar Systems Design, or MSSD, is very helpful because since it comparing similar objects, it keeps many otherwise confusing and irrelevant variables in the research constant. In a basic sense, MSSD starts out with similar variables between subjects and tries to figure out why the outcome is different between the subjects. The main shortcoming that is said about this method though is that when comparing countries, since there are such a limited number of them that all potential factors of explanation can never be kept constant altogether. This means that with so many possibilities of variables, there are only a limited number of cases to apply them to. There are two methods of applying MSSD, the first being a stricter application and the second being a more loose application. The stricter application implies that a researcher would choose various countries that have a number of similar variables, also called control variables, and would only different from each other by one single independent variable. The looser application uses the same general concept, but the researched chooses countries that have similar characteristics but those characteristics are not strictly matched to a set of control variables. Because of the complications of so many variables but not enough cases, a second method was devolved to be used in conjunction with MSSD.

  • Most Different Systems Design/Mill's Method of Similarity: it consists in comparing very different cases, all of which however have in common the same dependent variable, so that any other circumstance which is present in all the cases can be regarded as the independent variable. Most Different Systems Design, or MDSD, differs from MSSD with focus and the fact that it does not take a strict variable application. MDSD uses differences between countries instead of similarities between countries as variables because social scientists have found that differences between countries do not explain their possible similarities if they have any. A more basic idea of MDSD is it takes subjects with different variables within them and tries to figure out why the outcomes between them are similar in the end. When using MDSD as a comparative research method, scientists look at changing interactions between systems in countries and then after all data is collected, the results are compared between the different systems. If the results obtained from this research differ between each other, the researcher must move up to the system level and switch to the MSSD method. When using MSSD as a comparative research approach, there is the independent and depend variable that get introduced, specifically the dependent variable being something that is common in all the research subjects and the independent variable which would be the differing characteristic between the research subjects. MSSD is more precise and strict at finding the differing point along with similarities, but MDSD does not have so many variables and only focuses on finding one similarity or difference between a wide selection of systems.

Some major works in comparative politics

  • Aristotle
    Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

    : In his work The Politics
    Politics (Aristotle)
    Aristotle's Politics is a work of political philosophy. The end of the Nicomachean Ethics declared that the inquiry into ethics necessarily follows into politics, and the two works are frequently considered to be parts of a larger treatise, or perhaps connected lectures, dealing with the...

    , Aristotle compares different "constitutions", by introducing a famous typology based on two criteria: the number of rulers (one, few, many) and the nature of the political regime (good or corrupt). Thus he distinguishes six different kinds of "constitutions": monarchy, aristocracy, and polity (good types), versus tyranny, oligarchy and democracy (corrupt types).
  • Montesquieu: The Spirit of the Laws
  • Alexis de Tocqueville
    Alexis de Tocqueville
    Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville was a French political thinker and historian best known for his Democracy in America and The Old Regime and the Revolution . In both of these works, he explored the effects of the rising equality of social conditions on the individual and the state in...

    : Democracy in America and The Old Regime and the French Revolution
  • Seymour Martin Lipset
    Seymour Martin Lipset
    Seymour Martin Lipset was an American political sociologist, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, and the Hazel Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University. His major work was in the fields of political sociology, trade union organization, social stratification, public opinion, and...

    : Political Man: The Social Basis of Politics
  • Barrington Moore: In Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World (1966) Moore compares revolutions in countries like England, Russia and Japan (among others). His thesis is that mass-led revolutions dispossess the landed elite and result in Communism, and that revolutions by the elite result in Fascism. It is thus only revolutions by the bourgeoisie that result in democratic governance. For the outlier case of India, practices of the Mogul Empire, British Imperial rule and the Caste System are cited.
  • Gabriel Almond
    Gabriel Almond
    Gabriel A. Almond was an American political scientist best known for his pioneering work on comparative politics, political development, and political culture.-Biography:...

     and Sidney Verba
    Sidney Verba
    Sidney Verba is an American political scientist, librarian and library administrator. His academic interests are mainly American and comparative politics. He was the Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor at Harvard University. He also served Harvard as the director of the Harvard University...

    : In their work, The Civic Culture, Almond and Verba embark on the first major cross-national survey of attitudes to determine the role of political culture in maintaining the stability of democratic regimes.
  • Samuel P. Huntington
    Samuel P. Huntington
    Samuel Phillips Huntington was an influential American political scientist who wrote highly-regarded books in a half-dozen sub-fields of political science, starting in 1957...

    : The Third Wave and Political Order in Changing Societies
  • Robert A. Dahl
    Robert A. Dahl
    Robert Alan Dahl , is the Sterling Professor emeritus of political science at Yale University, where he earned his Ph.D. in political science in 1940. He is past president of the American Political Science Association...

    : Polyarchy
  • Arend Lijphart
    Arend Lijphart
    Arend d'Angremond Lijphart is a world renowned political scientist specializing in comparative politics, elections and voting systems, democratic institutions, and ethnicity and politics. He received his PhD in Political Science at Yale University in 1963, after studying at the University of...

    : Patterns of Democracy (1999), a comprehensive study of democracies around the world.
  • Seymour M. Lipset: Political man (1960)
  • Giovanni Sartori
    Giovanni Sartori
    Giovanni Sartori is an Italian political scientist specialized in the study of democracy and comparative politics.-Biography:Born in Florence in 1924. Sartori began his academic career as a lecturer in the History of Modern Philosophy...

    : Parties and party systems
  • Joel Migdal. Strong Societies and Weak States.
  • Theda Skocpol
    Theda Skocpol
    Theda Skocpol is an American sociologist and political scientist at Harvard University. She served from 2005 to 2007 as Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. She is influential in sociology as an advocate of the historical-institutional and comparative approaches, and well-known in...

    : In States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia, and China Theda Skocpol compares the major revolutions of France, Russia and China: three basically similar events which took place in three very different contexts. Skopcol's purpose is to find possible similarities which might help explain the phenomenon of political revolution. From this point of view, this work represents a good example of a research conducted according to the Most Different Systems Design.
  • Robert D. Putnam: Making Democracy Work (1993), a major work assessing why some democratic governments work and other fail, based on the study of the Italian regional governments.

External links

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