Introduction to political science

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An integrated international approach

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Aims and scope: 

This course provides an introduction to political science for students completely new to the subject. It features an integrated approach that combines the fields of comparative and international politics, by making extensive use of international comparisons and by analysing the domestic bases of foreign policies. The course aims to be global in scope, by acknowledging that democracy is a rare phenomenon on a global scale, and accounting for the impact of different regime types on policy outcomes, both domestically and internationally. The course is structured in four parts. The first part includes two introductory topics about what politics is and the kinds of issues it deals with, what science is, the kinds of questions it aims to answer, and an introduction to the scientific method used to answer those questions. The second part introduces the concept of the state, which is key for understanding politics both in the domestic and international arenas, and analyses regime types with different democratic standards, the causes of those differences and the effects they produce on their relative performance. The next part of the course deals with political conflicts and the intrinsecally unstable nature of democratic politics, as well as the role of different democratic institutions of government on the resolution of those conflicts and the formation of a so-called "national interest". The final part of the course focuses on international politics, introducing a strategic approach that highlights how the domestic bases of foreign policy can help us understand important instances of international conflict and co-operation, from war and sanctions to international organisations and trade agreements.

This course will be based on a combination of lectures, seminars, and online written discussions.

INTRODUCTION: 1. What is politics? The Exit, Voice and Loyalty game. Solving the Exit, Voice and Loyalty game. Evaluating the Exit, Voice and Loyalty game. Comparative politics vs. international politics. 2. What is political science? What is science? The scientific method. An introduction to logic. Myths about science. Why is political science more developed in the field of comparative politics than in the field of international politics? THE STATE, DEMOCRACY AND DICTATORSHIP: 3. The origins of the modern state. What is a state? Somalia and Syria: two failed states. The contractarian view of the state. The predatory view of the state. 4. Democracy and dictatorship: conceptualisation and measurement. Democracy and dictatorship in historical perspective. Classifying democracies and dictatorships. A common typology of authoritarian regimes. The two fundamental problems of authoritarian rule. Selectorate theory. 5. Democracy or dictatorship: does it make a difference? The effect of regime type on economic growth. The effect of regime type on government performance. Varieties of dictatorship. 6. The determinants of democracy and dictatorship. Economic explanations. Cultural explanations. Democratic transitions. DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS AND POLITICS: 7. Problems with group decision making. Arrow’s Theorem. 8. Parliamentary, presidential and semi-presidential democracies. Making and breaking governments in parliamentary democracies. Making and breaking governments in presidential democracies. Making and breaking governments in semi-presidential democracies. A unifying framework: principal-agent and delegation problems. 9. Elections and electoral systems. Elections and electoral integrity. Electoral systems. Legislative electoral system choice. Social cleavages and party systems. Political parties: what are they, and what do they do? Party systems. Where do parties come from? Types of parties: social cleavages and political identity formation. Number of parties: Duverger’s theory. 10. Institutional veto players. Federalism. Bicameralism. Constitutionalism. Veto players. Consequences of democratic institutions. Majoritarian or consensus democracy? The effect of political institutions on fiscal policy. Electoral laws, federalism, and ethnic conflict. Presidentialism and democratic survival. INTERNATIONAL POLITICS: 11. The strategic perspective to international relations: when foreign policy collides with domestic politics. 12. Tools for analyzing international affairs. An introduction to game theory. 13. Understanding international conflict. Why war: the big picture. Domestic theories of war. 14. Understanding international co-operation. How international organizations work, or don’t work. Global warming: designing a solution. Human rights, international law and norms. Free trade or fair: the domestic politics of tariffs.

Indicative reading: 

Clark, W. R., Golder, M., & Golder, S. N. (2017). Principles of Comparative Politics, 3rd ed. CQ Press; Bueno de Mesquita, B. (2013). Principles of international politics (5th edition). CQ Press.

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