Victor A. Menaldo
POL S 204
Political systems in a comparative framework. Traditional and contemporary approaches to the study of governments and societies in different countries. Offered: WSp.
Why are most contemporary human societies sedentary, and what effect did the transition from nomadism have on politics and development?
Why are today’s polities organized as nation-states with clearly defined borders, rather than empires and city-states?
Why do individuals organize themselves politically around ethnicity, language, religion, and ideology, and not around their hair color, their height, or their hobbies?
Why has violence been so common in some countries and rare in others? For example, while Russia has been beset by several bloody civil wars since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States has only experienced one civil war over its 235 year history.
In this course, we will explore these and similar puzzles. What they share in common is that they’re centered on variation in important social outcomes across both time and place. These include differences in constitutions, property rights systems, culture, political identity, the likelihood of political violence, political parties, regime types, bureaucratic politics, taxation policy, spending on social programs, and economic development. Therefore, addressing these puzzles will help us gain purchase on why political systems vary so much. Yet this exercise will also allow us to recognize the DNA of politics: how power is universally exercised to shape and control political, cultural, and economic institutions and, in turn, how these institutions generate policies that affect what we learn, what we earn, how long we live, and even who we are.
Student learning goals
Gain greater familiarity with the underlying structure of politics that is common across political systems.
Understand how power and the ability to use government to redistribute privilege and income shape economic and social events and make the control of the state so valuable
Be able to grasp why, despite sharing common features regarding the exercise of power and the control of policy, political systems vary so greatly across both place and time.
General method of instruction
Lecture. Sections led by TAs.
An open mind and the an interest in understanding how the political, social and economic world actually works.
Class assignments and grading
Journal articles and book chapters will be assigned. Midterm and Final Exam.