Comparative politics and development

A.Y. 2019/2020
Overall hours
Learning objectives
The "Comparative politics and development" course looks at the politics of developing areas through the lenses of comparative political analysis.
Political science aims at investigating contemporary polities, politics and policies in a scientific way. For this purpose, the comparative method represents a key and well-established strategy in the field, enabling researchers and students to elaborate, test and assess the soundness of hypotheses that explicitly connect specific political phenomena to their plausible explanations. The comparative politics literature has focused, and produced relevant evidence, on such classic issues as forms of states, political regimes and regime changes, electoral and party systems, types and formation of governments, legislative politics, policy-making processes, voting behaviour, and many others. The predominant (if certainly not the exclusive) focus of mainstream political science has been on the political systems of advanced economies in the West. Much of what has been learnt has also been of use for understanding politics in emerging and developing countries, partly also due to the transformations gradually undergone by the latter (such as economic and social advances) and the adoption of formally similar politico-institutional frameworks (such as democratic procedures).
Politics in developing areas, however, also displays features that are less commonly seen in advanced economies, such as a much more limited state capacity, the enduring presence of autocratic rule, the frequency of civil wars and other forms of armed violence, a higher prevalence of ethnic politics, neopatrimonial practices and corruption. These phenomena are not always properly captured or accounted for by mainstream political science, but they have been and are being examined by a growing body of literature.
Understanding politics in developing areas first requires framing and addressing some basic contextual, including, for example, key notions about processes of economic and social development and trajectories of transformation.
The course will specifically, if not exclusively, focus on politics in sub-Saharan Africa by looking at issues such as state formation and fragility, domestic armed conflicts, regime types and democratization/autocratization, political institutionalisation processes, neopatrimonial practices.
The first part of the course will help students gain a basic knowledge of notions, theories and processes of development, while also specifically relating this to the experience and paths of African countries since independence in the 1960s. The second part will address more specific political themes, including state building processes and state collapses, the evolution of political regimes, the political consequences of mineral resource wealth, the social and economic impact of democracy, the role of individual national leaders and of external players in a country's development.
Expected learning outcomes
At the end of the course, the student will have acquired both methodological skills and substantive knowledge.
From a methodological perspective, learning concerns a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of what the comparative approach is, as well as of its various possible applications of the comparative method in the study of political institutions and processes. These tools will be useful so as to fully grasp the investigative strategies, the meaning and implications of various types of political inquiry that the student will be faced with, as well as in starting to use them directly to carry out analysis work or own research, in the political sphere but not only.
The possibility of making oral presentations in the classroom, in addition, will allow students to become familiar with the digital tools typically used for these purposes and to directly experience a situation in which they are required to prepare and communicate specific contents in front of an audience.
From the perspective of substantive knowledge, the student will have acquired knowledge and understanding of some key development notions and issues as well as some of the main institutional structures and political processes in contemporary developing countries (i.e. state building, political regimes, electoral practices, civil wars, etc.), both in broad and comparative terms as well as, for those cases that examined and discussed in more depth, in terms of individual national systems and paths.
The level of learning - that is, if and what has been learned by the student, with respect to the expected learning outcomes - will be verified and evaluated by means of one or more written tests, class presentations, attendance and participation, all aimed at assessing the student's acquired knowledge and tools as well as analytical skills.
Course syllabus and organization

Single session

Lesson period
Second trimester
Course syllabus
Development: notions, theories and measures
Development in Africa
Development in Africa - The case of Ghana
The state - origins of the modern state
The state in Africa
The state in Africa - The case of the Congo-DRC
Conflicts and wars - Civil wars
Conflicts and wars - Ethnicity
Conflicts and wars - The case of Nigeria
Political regimes - Authoritarian rule
Oil and political regimes
Leadership in Africa
Leadership in Africa - The case of Ethiopia
Democratic reforms - The case of South Africa
Democracy and development - Economic growth
Democracy and development - Social welfare in Ghana and Cameroon
Prerequisites for admission
Not applicable
Teaching methods
Lectures will be supported by powerpoint presentations.
Students taking classes are invited to take part to discussions on each topics as well as required to prepare class presentations.
Teaching Resources
1. Sen, Amartya, "What is development about?", in Meier, Gerald - Stiglitz, Joseph (eds), Frontiers of Development economics. The future in perspective, Oxford University Press, 2001, pp. 506-513
2. Whitfield, Lindsay, "An introduction to the political economy of development", in Cheeseman, Nic - Whitfield, Lindsay - Death, Carl (eds), The African Affairs Reader. Key Texts in Politics, Development, and International Relations, Oxford University Press, 2017, pp. 115-127
3. Acemoglu, Daron - Robinson, James, "Rents and economic development: The Perspective of Why Nations Fail", Public Choice, 2019, 181, pp. 13-28
4. Booth, David, "Aid, institutions and governance: what have we learned?", Development Policy Review, 29 (s1), 2011, pp. s5-s26
5. Moore, Mick, "Taxation and development", in Carol Lancaster and Nicolas van de Walle (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Politics of Development, Oxford University Press, 2015
6. Moss, Todd et al., An Aid-Institutions Paradox? A Review Essay on Aid Dependency and State Building in Sub-Saharan Africa, Working Paper 74. Washington, DC: Center for Global Development, 2006
7. Fortin, Jessica, "A tool to evaluate state capacity in post-communist countries, 1989-2006", European Journal of Political Research, 49, 2010, pp. 654-686
8. Herbst, Jeffrey, "The Challenge of State-Building in Africa", in Herbst, Jeffrey, States and Power in Africa: Comparative Lessons in Authority and Control, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2000, pp. 11-31
9. Jackson, Robert - Rosberg, Carl, "Why Africa's Weak States Persist: The Empirical and the Juridical in Statehood", World Politics, 35(1), 1982, pp. 1-24
10. Reid, Stuart A., "Congo's slide into chaos. How a state fails", Foreign Affairs, January-February 2018, pp. 97-117
11. Alesina, Alberto - Devleeschauwer, Arnaud - Easterly, William - Kurlat, Sergio - Wacziarg, Romain, "Fractionalization", Journal of Economic Growth, 8, 2003, pp.155-194
12. Cederman, Lars-Erik - Wimmer, Andreas - Min, Brian "Why do ethnic groups rebel? New data and analysis", World Politics, 62 (1), 2010, pp. 87-119
13. Cederman, Lars-Erik - Skrede Gleditsch, Kristian - Wucherpfennig, Julian, "Predicting the decline of ethnic civil war: Was Gurr right and for the right reasons?", Journal of Peace Research, 2017, 54(2), pp. 262-274
14. Roessler, Philip, "The enemy within: Personal Rule, Coups, and Civil War in Africa", World Politics, 63 (2), 2011, pp. 300-346
15. Svolik, Milan, "The anatomy of dictatorship", in Svolik, Milan, The politics of authoritarian rule, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2012, pp.1-18
16. Bermeo, Nancy, "On democratic backsliding", Journal of Democracy, 27 (1), 2016, pp. 5-19
17. Lührmann, Anna - Mechkova, Valeriya - Dahlum, Sirianne - Maxwell, Laura - Olin, Moa - Sanhueza Petrarca, Constanza - Sigman, Rachel - Wilson, Matthew C. - Lindberg, and Staffan I., "State of the world 2017: autocratization and exclusion?", Democratization, 25 (8), 2018, pp. 1321-1340
18. Brownlee, Jason, "Hereditary succession in modern autocracies", World Politics, 59, 2007, pp. 595-628
19. Derpanopoulos, George - Frantz, Erica - Geddes, Barbara - Wright, "Are coups good for democracy?", Research and Politics, 3 (1), 2016, pp.1-7
20. Ross, Michael, "The paradoxical wealth of nations", in Ross, Michael, The oil curse. How petroleum wealth shapes the development of nations, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2012, pp.1-25
21. Bäck, Hanna, and Axel Hadenius, "Democracy and State Capacity: Exploring a J-Shaped Relationship", Governance, 21, 2008, pp. 1-24
22. Slater, Dan, "Can Leviathan Be Democratic? Competitive Elections, Robust Mass Politics and State Infrastructural Power", Studies in Comparative International Development, 2008, 43, pp. 252-272.
23. Acemoglu, Daron - Naidu, Suresh - Restrepo, Pascual - Robinson, James A., "Democracy does cause growth", Journal of Political Economy, 127 (1), 2019, pp.47-100
24. Carbone, Giovanni, "Democratic demands and social policies: the politics of health reform in Ghana", Journal of Modern African Studies, 49 (3), 2011, pp. 381-408
25. Kjær, Anne - Therkildsen, Ole, "Elections and landmark policies in Tanzania and Uganda", Democratization 20, no. 4, 2013, pp. 592-614
26. Posner, Daniel - Young, Daniel, "The institutionalization of political power in Africa", Journal of Democracy, 18(3), 2007, pp.126-140
27. Goldsmith, Arthur A., "Risk, rule and reason. Leadership in Africa", Public Administration and Development, 21, 2001, pp. 77-87
28. Jones, Benjamin - Olken, Benjamin, "Do leaders matter? National leadership and growth since World War II", Quarterly Journal of Economics, 120 (3), 2005, pp. 835-864
29. Weghorst, Keith - Lindberg, Staffan, "What drives the swing voter in Africa?", American Journal of Political Science, 57 (3), 2013, pp. 717-734
30. Long, James - Gibson, Clark, "Evaluating the roles of ethnicity and performance in African elections: evidence from an exit poll in Kenya", Political Research Quarterly, 68 (4), 2015, pp. 830-842
31. Hoffman, Barak D. - Long, James D., "Parties, Ethnicity, and Voting in African Elections", Comparative Politics, 2013, pp.127-146
Assessment methods and Criteria
Students are assessed through a written exam based on questions aimed at verifying their knowledge and understading of the topics in the programme as well as their capaicty for critical thinking. The written exam may include multiple choice questions, open questions and/or the completion or interpretation of tables or figures.
SPS/04 - POLITICAL SCIENCE - University credits: 9
Lessons: 60 hours