POLS 110B Main Concepts
What is comparative politics?
Comparative Politics is a subfield of political science, it is used to understand political
phenomena through a comparison across regions, countries, or even time periods. These
comparisons help to reveal similarities and differences that allow us not only to understand the
individual cases better but to also help build theories.
Regular patterns of behaviour that give stability and predictability to social life. There are both
informal and formal institutions.
Informal - no clear written rules - include the family, social classes, or ethnic groups. This is
because individuals internalize codes of behavior as a result of socialization as members of the
Formal - codified rules and organization - include governments, political parties, bureaucracies,
legislatures, constitutions and law courts. We tend to focus much more on formal institutions as
they are the basis of political systems.
It is also very important when discussing political institutions to understand the relationship
between them and environmental forces - the political, social, and economic forces that surround
them. Anthony Giddens distinguishes between system, structure, and structurartion.
System - means political system - the large arena within which institutions such as parties or
bureaucracies compete or cooperate for influence.
Structure - is the political institutions.
Structuration - The factors that both hold back and also provide resources for changes in the
operation of institutions and the system as a whole. The can be levels of economic development,
regional or class group activity, or even individual political actors. When there is a big event the
change is a result of a number of causes, many that overlap that must be examined. Can’t just
point to one specific cause.
Structure and Agency
Structure - refers to the impact of a particular group of institutions. What extent did the structure
help to determine the outcome. Outcomes can also be path determined, so once a decision is
made, other decisions along the same path become easier to follow. (George bush announcing the
war and congress approval.) Agency - refers to the impact of actions taken by one or more agents, which is individuals or
groups of individuals. Political outcomes are almost never determined by structure alone, but
agents do not always have complete freedom as their choices are constrained by the structures
that they live. Most events will have both structure and agency.
Peace of Westphalia
As we learned last semester the European state system itself arose out of the Peace of
Westphalia, which established three main principles
1) the sovereignty of states and their fundamental right to self-determination
2) legal equality betweens states
3) non-interventional of one state in the affairs of others.
The Modern State
The modern state has two main functions, internal and external. The internal role of the state has
three main roles that can be examined.
The first role is that of partisan - every state is seen as pursuing its own institutional interests or
those of the officials who work within it.
The second role is that of guardian. The state is seen as working in the interests of the society as
a whole. Maintaining a healthy balance between conflicting interests in society.
The third is that the state is seen as a tool, a pliable instrument that is lacking autonomy, in the
hands of one or more group in society. Can be seen as genuine liberal democracy where the
people control the actions of the state. But this could also be a state controlled by one distinct
section of society such as big business.
Modern states tend to perform all three roles at the same time
Strong vs Weak States
What makes a state strong or weak?
Generally a state is classified as strong or weak if it has the ability to its citizens with specific
political goods or functions. The most important of which are:
1) Human security
2) Predictable and recognizable methods of adjudicating disputes
3) Freedom to participate in politics and compete for office, respect, and support for national and
regional political institutions, such as legislatures and courts, tolerance and dissent and
difference, and fundamental civil and human rights. The Functions of Legislatures
Having a legislature is pretty much absolutely vital to having a thriving democratic state. They
serve as checks on the power of the executive branch of the state, without them power would be
highly concentrated and could lead to it being used oppressively.
The best way to study legislatures from a comparative perspective is to look at the functions they
perform in their particular political systems.
The functions of parliaments are divided into three groups, representational, governmental, and
Represent both citizens and particular groups in society. There are two main ways electoral
systems function, one is plurality and the other is proportional representation. Plurality is the
system that we have in Canada, it’s also known as first past the post, in that all you require is a
majority of the votes to win. The other major electoral system is proportional representation,
which is designed to achieve a close approximation between the number of votes received by
each party and the number of seats that turns into.
Functions in include forming governments, developing policy, holding the government
accountable for its actions, and enhancing government communication with citizens. Here we
can distinguish between Parliamentarianism and Presidentialism.
Parliamentarianism - the system we have in Canada, the choice of head of government is decided
by the parliament. The head of state is also a member of the parliament.
Presidential - the legislative and executive branches are separate and the legislature has no say in
the choice of president. The person is instead decided by the nation as a whole.
Functions include ritualizing conflict and ensuring transparency.
Ritualizing conflict - basically the provide a safe forum for the expression of differing views.
Ensuring transparency - publicize issues and policies. Being open to the general public.
Ware defines a political party as an institution that (a) seeks influence in a state, often by
attempting to occupy positions in government, and (b) usually consists of more than a single
interest in the society and to some degree attempts to aggregate interests.
There are seven specific functions of political parties, though not all parties perform all seven
and their priority can be different depending on whether the state is democratic or authoritarian.
But the seven identified are:
1) Legitimation of the political system;
2) Integration and mobilization of citizens;
4) Structuring of the popular vote; 5) Aggregation of diverse interests;
6) Recruitment of leaders for public office;
7) Formulation of public policy, facilitating choice between policy options.
Rule of Law
Fuller laid down 8 conditions that must prevail in order for laws to be just
1) general in scope
3) prospective rather than retroactive
6) relatively constant
7) capable of being obeyed
8) enforced as written
Anthony King defines a constitution as - “The set of the most important rules and common
understandings in any given country that regulate the relations among that country’s governing
institutions and also the relations between that country’s governing institutions and the people of
Aspecific document that lays down the basic institutions of state and the procedures for
changing them, as well as the basic rights and obligations of the state’s citizens. Serves as the
basic source of national law, individual laws and legal codes are all expected to conform to it.
Only 3 Western states - the UK, New Zealand, and Israel do not have written constitutions.
With the patriation of the Canadian constitution in 1982 Canada gained the rights to make its
own laws without having to get approval of the Queen. Written constitutions are on the rise, with
81 states having adopted new constitutions, with 33 also carrying out major constitutional
reforms. Because constitutions are the supreme law of the land, and because many of our rights
as citizens are enshrined in them, they are very difficult to actually change.
Amain feature of constitutions is the fundamental rights of citizens that they uphold. The firsts
documents listing rights such as the US constitution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man
and the Citizen in revolutionary France focused much more on the legal basis between the state
and citizen. So issues of due process, as well as political rights such as freedom of expression,
etc. It was in the 20th century that some constitutions had citizen’s rights that extended beyond
just the political to include more broader social rights. The Universal Declaration of Human
Rights was one of the first documents to establish social rights. Such as the right to social
security, to equal pay for equal work, education, etc.
Federalism, Consociational Democracy, andAsymmetrical Decentralization Federalism is a territorial decentralization of power designed to act as another check against
government oppression. Like the US, Canada is also a federal system with power being shared
between the federal and provincial governments, each having their own jurisdictions.
According to Robertson “Federalism is a form of government in which power is constitutionally
divided between different authorities in such a way that each exercises responsibility for a
particular set of functions and maintains its own institutions to discharge those functions.”
This was based on the experience of a few small states with deep multiethnic and
multiconfessional cleavages, mainly in Europe, that had achieved intercommunal harmony and
cooperation without a formal federal system. It relies not on formal constitutional arrangements,
but on cooperation between elites.
According to Lijphart there are four main characteristics of consociational democracies:
1) Government by grand coalition, government includes deputies from the parties representing
all the main communities, which usually meant government held far more than a bare majority of
seats in parliament.
2) Segmental or subcultural autonomy: each ethnic or confessional community is responsible for
administering policies in specific areas affecting them.
3) Proportional representation: simple majoritarian rule very unlikely, and proportional
representation in the distribution of posts in government bureaucracies, the distribution of funds,
4) Agreement on minority vetoes for certain types of legislation.
Robertson defines civil society as : the framework within which those without political authority
live their lives - economic relationships, family and kinship structures, religious institutions and
so on. It is a purely analytical concept because civil society does not exist independently of
political authority, nor vice versa, and it is generally believed, neither could long continue
without the other; therefor, no very clear boundary can be drawn between the two.
One of those groups that are a component of civil society are interest groups. They are also an
essential element of democracy. Interest groups have attracted an enormous amount of comment
and analysis, some see them as a negative influence on democracy since some interest groups
have more influence at the expense of others. However some argue that they are a positive since
they facilitate the input of new ideas into the political process. According to Robertson interest groups are “associations formed to promote a sectional interest
in the political system”. Unlike political parties their focus tends to be very narrow and on
specific issues. There are both insider and outsider interest groups.
Insider - concentrate on winning support through lobbying and personal contacts.
Outsider - rely mainly on winning over public opinion through campaigning, the media, etc.
There are 8 different types of interest groups:
1) professional associations
2) groups of business, commerce, and industry
3) trade unions
4) agriculture organizations
5) single-interest groups, such as the National RifleAssociation
6) ideological interest groups
7) public interest groups, such asAmnesty International
8) welfare associations, such as the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.
As we’ve seen governments don’t treat all interest groups equally, they tend to listen to the
insider groups as opposed to the outsiders. Modern corporatism is a term that refers to a model in
which the state formalizes its relations with the insider groups that is considers important.
Usually groups representing sections of society that are politically or economically strategic.
These groups are usually known as peak associations.
There are two forms of corporatism
Societal corporatism - the relationship is formed in response to social or economic pressures
originating outside of the government, so thee nature of the pressure will help to determine
which groups the government works with.
State corporatism - the state takes the lead and decides who it will work with.
New communications technologies have revolutionized the role of the media in politics. They
provide civil society with new arenas for activity and offer ordinary citizens as new public space
in which they can make an impact on politics. There are three reasons for this.
1) The internet and mobile phones have transformed the ability of ordinary citizens to organize
themselves in groups even in repressive regimes.
2) They have widened the opportunities for people outside the media world to report news and
offer influential commentary.
3) They have the potential to transform decision-making institutions as well, through direct
voting and referendums.
Political Culture For a state to function it requires legitimacy, this is not only for how we select our leaders, but is
is equally important that the state’s policies and processes are deemed appropriate by the
particular national community in question. So legitimacy also depends on the political culture of
the people concerned. Political culture is the totality of ideas and attitudes towards authority,
discipline, governmental responsibilities and entitlements, and associated patterns of cultural
transmission such as the education system and family life.
In their work The Civic Culture, Almond and Verba hypothesized that there were three possible
collective attitudes towards politics. : parochial, subject, and participant.
Parochial - groups would take little interest in politics, especially at the national level. If they had
any interest in politics it would be events specifically affecting their lives.
Subjects - would be interested in national politics, but only as observers. They might cast votes
in elections but not feel capable of making any greater contribution to political life: thus they
would leave it to established elites to make decisions.
Participants - feel that they could and should contribute to national decision making, and not just
by voting. They would feel they are entitled to ensure that their views were taken into account
when decisions were made, they would join interest groups, contact the media, etc.
All three types are present in almost all societies, but in differing proportions. They proportion of
participant attitudes would be present in a mature democracy, however no democracy could be
viable if everyone was participant. So it is essential that more people would have to have the
subject role or attitude towards democracy for the system to be stable.
There are five ways political culture has been challenged:
1) Identifying a Homogenous National Political Culture
2) Identifying Causal Linkages betweenAttitudes and Political Outcomes
3) The state May shape Political Culture to its own End
4) The Impact of Globalization
5) Political Culture is Used to Explain why change cannot happen
Despite the problems mentioned, political culture still exists today and has a number of factors
that favour it.
1) Citizens of different states do have different attitudes towards similar institutions and issues.
Residents in North America and the Islamic World have very different perspectives on their
2) PoliticalActors believe there are differences in political culture.
3) Political culture can be extremely important when we look at the imposition of democracy in
other countries. The successful establishment of democracy in Germany and Japan after the Second World War shows that it can be transplanted. However the experiences in Iraq also shows
that foreign models of democracy cannot simply be grafted onto indigenous social structures.
4) Political culture may indeed help explain different policy outcomes.Attitudes towards the
welfare state differ considerably between Europeans andAmericans.
5) Anation’s political culture is part of the national identity without which nationalism could not
exist, so ways of analyzing it have paralleled those applied to the study of nationalism.
Ethnicity and Nationalism
The main thing to note when studying nationalism or ethnicity is that there are two dominant
schools of thought. The first is constructivism which is the main paradigm in nationalism studies
which basically means nations are historically and socially constructed. This is what we will see
inAnderson’s definitions. The other school of thought is primordialism which is the opposite of
constructivism, basically it argues that nations have always existed, they are a naturally occurring
BenedictAnderson - Imagined Communities
Nation - It is an imagined political community, and imagined as both inherently limited and
sovereign. It is imagined because members of even the smallest nation will never know most of
their fellow members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image
of their communion. It is imagined as limited because even the largest of them, encompassing
perhaps a billion living beings, has finite, if elastic, boundaries, beyond which lie other nations.
It is imagined as sovereign because the concept was born in an age in which enlightenment and
revolution were destroying the legitimacy of the divinely ordained, hierarchical dynastic realm.
It is imagined as a community, because regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that
may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep horizontal comradeship.
Nationalism - My point of departure is that nationality, or, as one might prefer to put it in view of
that words multiple significations, nation-ness, as well as nationalism, are cultural artefacts of a
particular kind. To understand them properly we need to consider carefully how they came into
historical being, in what ways their meanings have changed over time, and why, today , they
command such profound emotional legitimacy.
Eman - Intro to Ethnic Conflict
Ethnic conflict is the result of ethnic pluralism, and ethnic pluralism occurs when two or more
ethnic communities occupy the same political space. Political space refers of the area under the
jurisdiction of the same political authority.
Most states are multiethnic, only a few such as Korea and Portugal are ethnically homogenous. The great majority contain one or more ethnic minorities of significant size. Using 1990 census
figures, Gurr identified 223 politically salient minorities. Minorities that are large enough to be
politically significant are found in all countries, in rich countries (France and Canada), and poor
countries (India and Ethiopia); large countries, small countries, old states and new states.
Ethnic awareness is a form of collective identity or membership in a group that shares certain
common attributes. Most individuals share a number of collective identities.
Ethnic identity does not imply ethnic conflict, and ethnic conflicts are not necessarily violent.
Most relations among ethnic communities and between them and governments have been
historically and are at present conducted peacefully.
Tensions between Catalans, and the Spanish government have been adjusted peacefully, while
those involving Basque separatists in the same country have been punctured by sporadic
episodes of deadly violence.
When political scientists discuss conflict they refer to competition among groups for power,
resources, opportunities, status, or respect. Competition that is usually pursued through peaceful
means but can at times turn violent.
While ethnic nationalism has become the dominant political ideology in the modern era, Eman
argues that ethnic awareness and solidarity has deep roots in human history. Which can be seen
to be more of a primordial argument.
Finally ethnicity can be related to class. Throughout eastern and central Europe the Roma people
occupy the lowest rungs of the social and economic hierarchy. They are politically powerless,
undereducated, confined to marginal and menial occupations, widely believed to be engaged in
petty crime, socially despised, and their culture is treated with contempt. In situations like this
ethnicity becomes coterminous with class.
At the other end of the spectrum Dutch-speaking Flemings in Belgium are distributed in more or
less similar proportions among owners and managers of enterprises, the professions, and skilled
workers. They are equally acti