top of page

UNIT-1 Understanding Comparative Politics Notes | DU BA HONS Methods and Approaches in Comparative Political Analysis DSC 5

Updated: Apr 9

What are we going to learn into this unit?

  1. The chapter aims to provide an overview of comparative politics and its nature and scope.

  2. It explains the rationale for comparing political systems and the methods of comparison.

  3. It highlights the problem of Eurocentrism in comparative politics.

  4. Comparative politics is one of the three main subfields of political science, alongside political theory and international relations.

  5. Comparison goes beyond identifying similarities and differences and helps to study political phenomena in a larger framework of relationships, ultimately deepening our understanding and explanation of political phenomena.

Nature and Scope of Comparative Politics

Here we are going to talk about the idea of "functional equivalence" in comparative politics. This means that instead of just looking at how things are similar or different, we should also think about what they do and how they work. For example, the military might do more than just protect a country's borders, or the president might have different jobs in different countries. This helps us understand things better and compare them more effectively.

1. Nature of Comparative Politics

  • Comparative politics mainly compares national political systems, but also sub-national, supranational, and individual components.

  • It analyzes political systems in various societies and units within and beyond states.

  • It has three traditions: oriented towards the study of single countries, methodological, and analytical.

  • The first tradition focuses on studying countries in isolation without engaging in comparison.

  • The second tradition seeks to establish rules and standards for comparison.

  • The third tradition is analytical and combines empirical description with method, identifying and explaining differences and similarities between countries and their institutions, actors, and processes.

2. Comparative Politics Scope

  • Comparative politics has been criticized for being Eurocentric, implying that the "western model" is superior.

  • The traditional approach of comparative politics has limitations, including being noncomparative, parochial, static, and monographic.

  • Neera Chandoke builds on these critiques and identifies a crisis in comparative politics due to a general attack on grand theorization, an ethnocentric focus on studying the "other," and challenges to the nation-state as a category of comparison.

  • Methodological problems include selection bias and an overemphasis on the behavioral approach, which tries to explain social phenomenon using scientific methods.

  • The seminal work by Gabriel Almond and Sydney Verba, The Civic Culture, was criticized for being ethnocentric and an attempt to quantify political orientations and categorize countries without considering dynamic and contextual specificities.


What's the need to compare?

Comparing things is a natural part of human behavior, and it's important in politics too. Todd Landman identified four reasons for comparison: contextual description, classification, hypothesis-testing, and prediction. Let's understand these comparison method in detail-

1. Contextual description

  • Comparative politics helps political scientists understand other countries.

  • Its primary objective is to describe political phenomena and events in specific countries or groups of countries.

  • Comparative politics provides an outside observer with a better understanding of a political system.

  • Critics argue that single-country studies are not truly comparative, but studying a particular country or group of countries has benefits.

  • For example, analyzing the political system of the United Kingdom can help us understand the benefits and limitations of a parliamentary system and assess similar or opposite systems in other countries.

2. Classification

  • Comparative politics involves simplifying and categorizing information to make it easier to observe.

  • Classification allows for grouping categories that are not identical but have some level of similarity.

  • The classification system helps to make the world of politics less complex.

  • Aristotle used a similar logic to classify city-states into six categories based on the forms of rule.

  • Theda Skocpol's States and Social Revolutions uses classification to analyze the role of state structures, international forces, and class relations in the French, Russian, and Chinese revolutions.

3. Hypothesis-testing

  • After classifying information, the next step is to understand factors that explain what has been described and classified.

  • This is called "hypothesis testing" and involves searching for factors to build better theories.

  • This step is focused on analysis and seeks to establish relationships among variables.

  • Comparative research allows for testing of "hypothesized empirical relationships among variables."

  • Comparing countries and testing hypotheses leads to accumulation of more information and improves knowledge about the world.

4. Prediction

  • Comparing countries and making generalizations can help predict likely outcomes in other countries.

  • A robust theory can be developed based on the comparison of countries and their outcomes.

  • Predictions about future outcomes can also be made based on certain factors and conditions.

  • A good theory should be able to predict outcomes with better accuracy.

Comparison provides a perspective to understand less-known political systems and differences in outcomes in different socio-political settings. Hague, Harrop and McComrick identify two major purposes of comparative politics: broadening one's understanding of the political world and predicting political outcomes.

  1. Newton and Van Deth provide three important reasons for studying comparative politics: understanding one's own country, understanding other countries, and arriving at valid generalizations about government and politics.

  2. Comparative politics is an important aspect of broader political analysis that involves describing, analyzing, predicting, and generalizing.

Comparison Methods

By studying variables in different countries, we can gain insights into how politics works in those countries and make comparisons between them. Kopstein and Lichbach suggest that there are three main factors that affect how political systems operate: interests, identities, and institutions.

1. Focus on Interest

  • Some comparativists focus on interests, believing that people act based on rational calculations to maximize their material interests.

  • Others focus on identities, arguing that people's beliefs and values shape their political behavior and decisions.

  • The third group of comparativists focus on institutions, suggesting that the rules and norms of a society shape people's actions and decisions.

  • All three variables - interests, identities, and institutions - have an impact on how political systems operate.

2. Focus on Identities

  • Some comparativists focus on identity as the most important factor.

  • They argue that one's interest is defined by one's identity, rather than objective interests.

  • The two most common forms of identities are religion and ethnicity.

  • People define their interests in terms of their identity, leading to examples such as religious support for a theocratic regime or support for a political party based on caste or religion.

  • Newer identities, such as those based on gender and the environment, are also emerging in modern societies.

  • Recent US elections have shown how historical and newer identities interact to shape people's choices.

3. Focus on Institutions

  • Comparativists focus on interests, identities, and institutions to understand how political systems operate in different countries.

  • Some comparativists believe that people's material interests drive their political choices, while others argue that identity plays a more significant role.

  • Institutions, such as electoral systems and other rules and procedures, also shape political outcomes in different countries.

  • Combining these approaches can lead to a broader understanding of political issues.

  • James Stuart Mill proposed five strategies for undertaking comparison, including the method of agreement, difference, and residues, as well as the joint method of agreement and difference and the method of concomitant variations.

Comparative politics is the study of differences and similarities between different political systems, and there are different ways to approach it. Scholars have focused on material interests, identities, and institutions as determinants of how politics works. Political philosopher James Stuart Mill provides five strategies for undertaking comparison, with the joint method of agreement and difference being relevant to comparative politics.

However, one should be careful about what and how to compare, and different research methods could be employed based on the question asked. The comparison can be spatial, longitudinal, or functional. Therefore, a single method will not be useful for comparative politics.

Going beyond Eurocentrism

  • The discipline of political science has been criticized for its Eurocentrism and limited focus on Great Britain, France, Germany, and the Soviet Union.

  • Efforts to expand the scope of the discipline have been based on the same worldview that ignores the worldviews of others.

  • A "third world perspective" began to emerge during the 1940s and 1950s, mostly limited to the Latin American experience.

  • Dependency theory emerged as a critique of modernization theory from a Neo-Marxist perspective.

  • Paul Baran used Marxist theory of surplus and identified four classes that had no interest in promoting industrialization and appropriated the surplus.

  • Andre Gunder Frank provided the idea of "Development of Underdevelopment", arguing that the backwardness of the Third World was an outcome of the colonial experience and foreign domination.

  • A.G. Frank formulated a "metropolis-satellite model" to explain the underdevelopment of the Third World, emphasizing unequal trade relations.

  • Samir Amin provided the concept of "Centre and Periphery", with the Centre able to extract resources and cheap Labor from the Periphery.

  • Dos Santos discussed three historical forms of dependency: colonial dependence, financial-industrial dependence, and technological-industrial dependence.

  • Underdeveloped countries rely on foreign capital, leading to political dependence and a high rate of exploitation or super exploitation of labor power.

  • Monopolistic control over foreign capital, foreign finance, and foreign technology perpetuates the asymmetric relationship between the Centre and Periphery.


  • Comparative politics is a sub-discipline of political science that involves description, analysis, prediction, and generalization of political activity.

  • It has been criticized for being Eurocentric, parochial, formalistic, and excessively descriptive.

  • Scholars have sought to address these issues by situating political processes in historical, cultural, and geographic contexts, and by advocating for a shift towards a middle-level grounded theory approach.

  • There has been a renewed focus on case-oriented studies, as opposed to universalizing concepts.

  • However, this approach has also been criticized as not being testable when there are multiple factors at play.

  • Despite its limitations, comparative politics remains an important sub-discipline that provides insight into contemporary national, regional, and international politics through descriptive, analytical, and methodological frames of reference.

7,693 views1 comment

1 Comment

Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
Sep 12, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.


bottom of page