This course is an introduction to the comparative analysis of different political systems, and to the use of the comparative method in the field of political science. We pursue both implicit comparison, by contrasting various countries' differing political institutions and political dynamics, and explicit comparison, by systematically testing hypotheses, primarily with the quantitative approach. These aims are coherent with the learning objectives of the bachelor's programme for the area of political studies in that it familiarizes students with the most important theories in this field, and with the way in which they should use them to interpret relevant political phenomena.
Expected learning outcomes
Knowledge and understanding: The course provides an introductory comprehension of the most important political institutions and dynamics in modern democracies. It focuses mainly on electoral systems, party systems, executives, parliaments and other elements of the institutional setup of different countries, as well as the performance of diverse political systems. Applying knowledge and understanding: Students learn how to apply concepts and methods to the analysis of everyday political problems, in order to critically read articles in leading newspapers, blogs, and weekly journals. They will also use statistical tools to perform simple quantitative analyses. Making judgements: Students learn how to use their newly acquired skills to formulate informed judgements and to apply these to the normative problems of contemporary societies. Communication and learning skills: Students develop communication skills by preparing and presenting short essays that illustrate the results their individual or collective work has yielded, thus improving their capacity to identify a research question, find and independently verify different sources of information, transform them into datasets, propose a feasible research strategy, and uncover (positive or negative) evidence to support or refute the original hypothesis.
The course for attending students analyses the construction and performance of two opposite models: Consensus and Westminster democracy. We will start scrutinizing the ten variables used by A. Lijphart to represent the differences between those two models: electoral systems, party systems, cabinets, executive-legislative relationships, interest groups, territorial division of power, parliaments, constitutions, judicial review, and central banks. For each of them we will review several indicators, and learn how to apply them even beyond the 36 democracies or the time-period analyzed by the author. We will then syntyhesize them in two cumulative indices of consensualism, and, with the help of econometric models, we will test if institutional setups matter for the performance of political systems. Performance will be measured in terms of governance capacity, macroeconomic control and quality of democracy. Eventually, we will extend the original research taking into account some of the critiques raised by other scholars, and further testing autonomously other hypotheses. Non-attending students will compare the empirical research of Lijphart to some more skeptical positions regarding the actual functioning of democracies proposed by Achen and Bartels.
Prerequisites for admission
Besides the mandatory first-year course in Political science, having already taken and succeeded in the second-year classes in Statistics, Social research methodology, and Polimetrics is highly recommended.
Frontal instruction (mostly based on the handbook and on some scientific articles), together with exercises in retrieving data and elaborating them using Excel and Stata, and group work simulating a short empirical research (from retrieving the relevant literature and constructing a dataset, to formulating and testing hypotheses).
For attending students: A. Lijphart, Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries, 2nd ed. Yale UP 2012; Other readings that will be assigned in class during the course. Dataset construction and analysis Please note that students have to follow at least 80% of the classes in order to be considered attending. Attending students are expected to take the mid-term and the final exam during the course, and they will have a limited number of opportunities to take it with the same program after the end of the course.
For non-attending students: A. Lijphart, Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries, 2nd ed., Yale UP 2012 C. Achen and L. Bartels, Democracy for Realists: Why elections do not produce responsive government, Princeton UP 2016
Assessment methods and Criteria
Attending students will be assessed on the basis of a mid-term and a final written exam, and taking in account their participation in class, individual and group work. Written exams will take different forms, including open questions in order to check their knowledge and understanding, together with exercises, replication of statistical models, and information retrieval in order to verify the capacity to apply that knowledge and understanding. Non-attending students will have to pass a written exam mostly based on open questions, to check their knowledge and understandings of the books they have prepared. Their answers will be evaluated according to their logic, clarity and completeness.