Questions on PS Chapters entitled “Theoretical Approaches” and “Comparative
A. “Theoretical Approaches”
1. Describe three of the five theoretical approaches described in this chapter. (I’d like
you to be able to recognize all the approaches, if you were given examples, but
describing three will be enough.) What does each approach focus on? Make sure to
explain terms that need to be explained (e.g. do not write that the institutional approach
focuses on institutions without also making clear what institutions are). Try to take your
points from the discussion in the text rather that the definition in boxes. To understand,
you need to draw from the more detailed discussion.
2. Give an example of what a study following each of the approaches would be like.
Either mention one of the examples given by Hague and Harrop or invent one of your
3. Discuss the limits or problems associated with each approach.
The Institutional Approach
1. The institutional approach to studying politics is a research method that focuses
on political institutions. Political institutions are political organizations whose rules have
been established in writing (often in constitutions) or through long practice. When
political scientists talk about institutions they usually mean “the major organizations of
national government, particularly those specifi1d in the constitution such as the
legislature, the judiciary, and the executive.” The Canadian Houses of Commons and
Senate (the legislative branch of government), the Canadian Supreme Court (the top
tier of the judicial branch of government), and the Prime Minister and his Cabinet (the
executive branch) are all institutions. Organizations that have grown through political
practice, without being outlined in a written constitution, like the federal bureaucracy or
political parties, can also be called institutions.
One of the key assumptions made in the institutional approach is that “positions
within organizations matter more than the people who occupy them.” What this means
is that the institutional approach has us look at the roles or positions people fill rather
than at the particular people with their particular quirks and ambitions; for e.g. if we
follow an institutional approach we might study the office of the Prime Minister but we
would not say anything about Stephen Harper as a person. We might learn the powers
claimed by the office, and the limits faced by any PM trying to pursue his or her agenda,
1Rod Hague and Martin Harrop, Political Science: A Comparative Introduction, 7th Edition (New York :
Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) 77.
2 Ibid., 78. but we would not look to discover particular personal traits of the person in office.
Institutionalists argue that it is appropriate to focus on institutions rather than people
because institutions matter, or make a difference. Institutions matter because they
shape the behaviour of people within them, because they offer them a particular set of
benefits and opportunities and create norms and rules that push p