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POLS 373 Foundations of Comparative Politics Topic: Introduction to Comparative Politics and Comparative Analysis Lecture Date: April 3 and 5, 2007 Professor Timothy Lim California State University, Los Angeles Studying Comparative Politics An Introduction

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POLS 373 Foundations of Comparative Politics

Topic: Introduction to Comparative Politics and Comparative Analysis

Lecture Date: April 3 and 5, 2007

Professor Timothy Lim

California State University, Los Angeles


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Studying Comparative PoliticsAn Introduction

Bowling for Columbine and Comparative Politics

  • Bowling for Columbine helps illustrate thepoint that comparative politics, as a field ofstudy, has relevance in unexpected places

  • Comparative politics provides us with a ready array of conceptual and analytical tools that we can use to address and answer a wide range of questions--from the mundane tothe sublime--about the world


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Studying Comparative PoliticsAn Introduction

Comparative Politics is More Than Method

  • The comparative method is an integral part of comparative politics, but comparative politics is not merely a method of study, it is also a subject of study

  • As a subject of study, comparative politics may be said to focus on the many different societies, types of institutions, political systems, and countries that make up the world

    • Traditionally, the United States was excluded, but, in principle, no good reason for doing so

?


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Studying Comparative PoliticsAn Introduction

Comparative Politics is More Than Method

  • Saying that comparative politics is both a subject of study and a method of study, however, is still not enough: comparative politics is more than just studying different countries comparatively

  • As a field of study, comparative politics also focuses on the politics of a given country, state or society, which raises one more question …

What is politics?

Discuss


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Studying Comparative PoliticsAn Introduction

What is Politics?

  • Here’s a traditional or formal definition from the Merriam-Webster dictionary …

    (1) Politics is the art or science of government; (2) it is the art or science concerned with guiding or influencing governmental policy; or (3) it is the art or science concerned with winning and holding control over a government

In this (three-fold) definition, where is politics “located”; that is, where does it occur? Who are the political “actors”? What is the “objective” of politics?


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Studying Comparative PoliticsAn Introduction

What is Politics?

  • An alternative, process-oriented, definition of politics …

    “Politics is about more than what governments chose to do or not do; it is about the uneven distribution of power in society, how the struggle over power is conducted, and its impact on the creation and distribution of resources, life chances and well-being”

~ Adrian Leftwich

How does this definition differ from the traditional definition? Is the difference significant? How so?


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Studying Comparative PoliticsAn Introduction

What is Significant about the Process-Oriented Definition of Politics?

  • First, it clearly takes politics out the governmental arena and puts it into almost all domains of life

    These other domains include virtually all social and civil institutions and actors, such as churches, factories, corporations, trade unions, political parties, think tanks, ethnic groups and organizations, women’s groups, organized crime, etc.

  • Second, it tells us that politics is an ongoing and open-ended process involving multiple actors, multiple forces, multiple struggles, etc.

  • Third, it tells us that politics--as a struggle for power over the creation and distribution of resources, life chances and well-being--cannot be confined to a single place or territory: politics, short, transcends borders

Process: a set or course of actions and events that lead to a particular outcome; process implies movement; and open-ended process suggests that outcomes are uncertain


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Studying Comparative PoliticsAn Introduction

Comparative Politics and a Process-Oriented Definition of Politics

  • In our course, the “politics” in comparative politics will be considered from processual perspective: in practice, this is how most (albeit not all) comparativists define politics

  • This leads to an amended definition of comparative politics …

Comparative politics, as a subject of study, examines the interplay of domestic and external forces on the politics of a given country, nation-state or society.


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Back to the Comparative Method

What is the Comparative Method?


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The Basics of ComparingThe First Lesson

“Thinking without comparison is unthinkable. And, in the absence of comparison, so is all scientific thought and scientific research.”

This quote tells us that we cannot escape the process of comparing. It’s part and parcel of thinking in general, and it’s integral to the scientific enterprise.


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The Basics of ComparingThe First Lesson

Is Comparative Politics a Distinct Field?

  • If we all compare, if all science is based on comparison, then what separates comparative politics from other fields of study?

In principle, comparative politics (CP) is no different from other fields; in practice, however, one thing that sets CP apart from other fields is the explicit and direct focus on the comparative method--as opposed to simply “comparing” (more on this later)


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The Basics of ComparingAnother Basic Question

Why Compare? What is/are the Purpose(s) of Comparing?

  • In the book …

3

general purposes of comparing are

discussed

Comparing to _______________

Comparing to _______________

Comparing to _______________

control

understand

explain


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The Basics of ComparingWhy Compare: To Control

Consider these arguments or claims:

  • Ineffective and corrupt governments are the main obstacle to economic growth

  • Authoritarian political systems are more conducive to high levels of economic growth than democracies

  • Islamic culture is fundamentally incompatible with democracy

  • The relatively poor math and science skills of American students are due to overcrowded and poorly-funded schools

How do we know or how can we know if any of these claims is right, wrong, or something else?


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The Basics of ComparingWhy Compare: To Control

Another Example: Possible causes of America’s high rate of gun violence

  • Violent video games and entertainment

  • Anti-social rock music and/or Marilyn Manson

  • Too many guns

  • Too much poverty

  • Too much ethnic/racial diversity

  • History of violence in the United States


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The Basics of ComparingWhy Compare: To Control

Comparing to Control and Comparative Checking

Through comparative checking, many possible causes of gun violence can be eliminated or problematized

  • Violent video games and entertainment:Plenty of violent games and entertainment in Japan, Germany, Canada, and so on

  • Anti-social rock music and/or Marilyn Manson:Germany is home to “Goth Rock,” yet has low rate of gun violence

  • Too many guns: Several countries have very high rates of gun ownership, but low rates of gun violence

X

X

X


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The Basics of ComparingWhy Compare: To Control

(Continued) Through comparative checking, many possible causes of gun violence can be eliminated or problematized

  • Too much poverty:Plenty of poor countries that have much less gun violence than US

  • Too much ethnic/racial diversity:Plenty of ethnically diverse countries with low rates of gun violence

  • History of Violence:Many societies have far more violent pasts than the U.S.

X

X

X


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The Basics of Comparing:Why Compare: To Understand and Explain

Click on links for fuller definition

Comparing to Understand

Focus on a specific place and time; idiographic (definition: “of or relating to the study or discovery of particular scientific facts and processes, as distinct from general law”): researchers interested in understanding, use comparisons to better understand a single case

Comparing to Explain

Focus on theory or general principles; nomothetic (definition: “of or relating to the study or discovery of general scientific laws”): researchers interested in explanation, use comparisons to build general explanations or theories that apply across a range of specific cases

Be sure to remember the distinction between comparing to control, to understand and to explain


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Basics of Comparing: A Summary of the Three Purposes

Comparing to Control

Comparing to Understand

Comparing to Explain

This table is on p. 23 of the textbook


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The Basics of Comparing:More Questions

What is Comparable? What Can We Compare?

Can apples and oranges be compare?


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The Basics of ComparingSome Questions

What is Comparable? What Can We Compare?

  • If apples and oranges can be compared, can Haiti and the United also be compared?

  • Is such a comparison reasonable? Why or why not?


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The Basics of ComparingSome Questions

What is Comparable? What Can We Compare?

  • Key point: The question--“What is comparable?”-- does not have a fixed answer

  • The answer always depends on the purposes of the researcher and the research question


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The Basics of ComparingSome Questions

  • What is Comparable? Another Answer

    Scientifically speaking, we can compare “entities whose attributes are in part shared (similar) and in part non-shared”

Translation: Subjects of comparison must have something (significant) in common, but they cannot be exactly the same


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The Basics of Comparing

What is Comparable?

In principle, then …

  • The United States and Haiti can be compared because they have something (significant) in common, but they are not exactly alike

  • Apples and oranges can be compared because they have something (significant) common--they’re both fruits--but they are not exactly alike

    But what about the following …

• Identical twins?

• The US in 1940 and the US in 2007?

Short answer is “yes.” Identical twins may be biologically identical, but they cannot have the exact same experiences growing up; a country changes over time, so the US in 1940 is different from the US in 2007


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The Basics of Comparing

One Last Point on “What is Comparable?”

Comparisons need not be limited to countries or societies:

  • Events (like a war or revolution) are comparable

  • Political or social institutions are comparable (e.g. the executive branch, the military, economic agencies)

  • Policies are comparable (e.g. health care, aid to the poor, official development assistance)


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The Basics of ComparingAdvantages of Comparing

Two General Advantages of Comparative Analysis

  • Ability to deal with complex causality

  • Ability to get inside the “black box” of explanation


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The Basics of ComparingAdvantages of Comparing

Complex causality--An Example:

  • To say that a “culture of fear” is the reason for the high rate of gun homicides in the United States is simplistic

  • The statement fails, for example, to recognize complex causality

  • Moore’s argument, however, can be refined to show a greater appreciation for complex causality, as indicated in the figure


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The Basics of ComparingAdvantages of Comparing

Statistical or quantitative analysis does a very good job of showing a correlation between X and Y, but typically does not explain why this correlation exists in the first place. Getting inside the black box of explanation may be possible with statistical analysis, but qualitative analysis is usually much better suited for this task.


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The Basics of Comparing

The Logic of Comparative Analysis

  • To do comparative analysis properly, one absolutely, positively must have a grasp of the general logic of comparing


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The Basics of Comparing

The Logic of Comparative Analysis

  • In the dictionary, logic is defined in the following ways:

    • Reasoning conducted or assessed according to strict principles of validity; a particular system or codification of the principles of proof and inference; the systematic use of symbolic and mathematical techniques to determine the forms of valid deductive argument

    • A system or set of principles underlying the arrangements of elements in a computer or electronic device so as to perform a specified task logical operations collectively


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The Basics of Comparing

The Logic of Comparative Analysis

  • In the context of comparative analysis, logic refers

    … to the basic principles upon which most (and most types of) comparisons are based

  • These principles have to do with the justification or rationale underlying all comparisons in the most general sense

  • For our purposes, the two “logics” we need to know are the most ______________ systems and the most _______________ systems designs

similar

different


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Logic of Comparative AnalysisThe Most Similar Systems Design

The MSS Design

  • The MSS design is based on comparing two or more very similar social systems

  • More importantly, it’s based on matching up and then comparing two more systems that share a whole range of similarities, but also __________ in at least a couple of important respects

differ


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Logic of Comparative AnalysisThe Most Similar Systems Design

The MSS Design

  • To Repeat: In the MSS design, differences are key!


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Logic of Comparative AnalysisThe Most Similar Systems Design

The MSS Design

  • If differences are key, what needs to differ?

    A: _____________________

    B: _____________________

Independent Variable

Dependent Variable


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Logic of Comparative AnalysisDependent and Independent Variables

Definitions

  • Independent variables can be defined simply as those which act on or affect something

  • Dependent variables are those that are being affected or acted on

  • Put more simply: independent variables are the cause of a certain outcome, while the dependent variable is the outcome or effect itself

Click on links for fuller definition


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Logic of Comparative AnalysisDependent and Independent Variables

Consider the Following Example …

  • American students do relatively poorly in math and science because schools in the United States are overcrowded and poorly funded.

    The dependent variable is ___________________________

    The independent variable(s) is/are ________________________________________________

poor math and science scores

overcrowded and poorly funded schools


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Logic of Comparative AnalysisDependent and Independent Variables

Other Important Points about Variables

First, all social science arguments require an independent and dependent variable

Second, in a social science argument, both variables need to be defined as precisely as possible

Third, you need to be able to specify the relationship between the independent and dependent variables


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Logic of Comparative AnalysisMost Similar Systems Design

MSS in BFC (Bowling for Columbine)

  • To better understand the basic logic of MSS, let’s consider the case of gun violence in the US and Canada

    • Did Michael Moore use an MSS design?

    • What were his(unstated)comparative assumptions?

Yeah, I did use an MSS design*

See the next slide …

* But maybe I didn’t know I did


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Logic of Comparative AnalysisMost Similar Systems Design

MSS in BFC (Bowling for Columbine)

Key Assumptions

  • First, Moore assumed that the “units” or cases shared an extremely wide range of similarities

  • Second, he assumed that, once he controlled for all of the similarities, that there would be at least a few significant differences between his two cases

  • Third, he assumed that, for the comparison to make sense, the dependent variable between the cases had to “vary”(called variance on the dependent variable)


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Logic of Comparative Analysis

The “Rubber Ducky” Example

The task when comparing two very similar systems is to find the key differences in a sea of similarities.

Each “plain” rubber ducky represents a similarity between two systems, A and B.


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Logic of Comparative Analysis

The “Rubber Ducky” Example

Once the similarities are identified, the researcher can “eliminate”(or control for) for these; this is represented by the “x.” This done, the researcher can then focus on finding the key differences between the two systems


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Logic of Comparative AnalysisMost Similar Systems Design: A Bad Example

A Flawed MSS Design

This (hypothetical) design is based on the argument that both Taiwan and Korea have a “developmental state” (independent variable, x), and both cases experienced a “very high rate of economic growth” (dependent variable, y). Therefore, x is the cause of y

But, how do we know that x is the key independent variable, or even a significant independent variable? What about:

Culture-----> y or

Skilled workforce -----> y?

KEY: in this “MSS” design, there are simply no differences between the two cases. This ain’t good!

This table is on p. 40 of the text


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Logic of Comparative AnalysisMost Different Systems Design

Contrasting the MSS and the MDS designs

MSS:In a vast sea of similarities, find the _____________ between two very similar systems

MDS:In a vast sea of differences, find _____________ between very dissimilar systems

differences

similarities


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Logic of Comparative AnalysisMost Different Systems Design

Implications of MDS logic

  • Unlike the MSS design, you don’t need, nor do you want variance on the dependent variable

  • In other words, the dependent variable should be the same for all the units in an MDS design, and so should the independent variable

How does it make sense to compare two things with a whole bunch of differences? What’s the point?


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Logic of Comparative AnalysisMost Different Systems Design

MDS logic: An an MDS design, the researcher considers differences largely irrelevant if, among the “most different systems” there are significant similarities. Consider a (hypothetical) comparison of suicide rates in Soviet Russia, Sweden and the Zuni …


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Logic of Comparative AnalysisMost Different Systems Design

MDS Logic: Basic Explanation

Soviet Russia, Sweden, and the Zuni differed in almost everyrespect …

  • different economic systems, different political systems, different climates, different levels of economic wealth, different social structures, different ethnic makeup, different cultures, etc.

    … (hypothetically) they had one significant thing in common, namely, a high rate of suicide

BUT

To comparativists, the similar rate of suicide raises the question: despite all their differences, is there a common element (independent variable) in each “case” that could explain the high rate of suicide? The task in an MDS design is to find the common independent variable.


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Logic of Comparative AnalysisMost Different Systems Design

In Theda Skocpol’s research, she used three “most different systems” (Russia, France, and China) to find the cause of social revolution

The logic is based on finding key similarities among all three units

Differences can be eliminated


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