What is Comparative Politics?

Article by Peter Morales

Article by Peter Morales

Of the five different sub-groups that make up the field of Political Science, Comparative Politics is perhaps the most misunderstood. This particular area of Political Science is one of the oldest fields of analysis and has provided the foundation for the works of countless political writers over the centuries.   Many Political Science students tend to think that Comparative Politics is simply the study of governments and political systems that exist outside the United States; this is a gross over-simplification of what Comparative Politics is all about.  There is actually a good deal of debate as to how one defines Comparative Politics. Some Political Scientists argue over whether the field requires an inductive or deductive approach, or whether to focus on qualitative or quantitative data. Comparative Politics is unique in that it isn’t characterized solely by the subjects or issues it focuses on, but rather by the methods that are used to study those subjects and issues. It is through the method of comparison that we can attempt to answer any number of questions about politics across the globe.

Why are wealthy nations wealthy and poor ones poor? Why are birthrates higher in some areas and lower in others? Why do some countries have stable, functioning democracies while others are ruled by brutal dictators? Which countries are doing the most to combat pollution and climate change and which are only making things worse? Which nations have high rates of political corruption and what are the underlying reasons for those situations? Which countries have records of severe human rights violations and is there any way to change that? When we compare economies, governments, systems, policies and outcomes, we can amass the data required to answer these questions. We can determine what problems need to be addressed, and which countries’ laws and policies are the most effective at dealing with those problems.

As Comparative Politics is defined by the method of study (comparison, in this case), the bulk of college courses offered in this area will deal with comparing and contrasting the governments and policies that are currently at work on the global stage. In addition to studying the political systems of other nations (for which there are just as many classes as there are countries) and regions of the world (e.g. Latin America, Middle East, the countries that comprise the European Union, etc.), you’ll also have the option of taking courses that explore other topics, such as:

  • Politics in Developing Nations
  • Political & Economic Inequality
  • Judicial & Legal Processes
  • Comparative Political Institutions
  • Politics of Indigenous Peoples
  • The Role of Women in Comparative Politics
  • Comparative Environmental Politics
  • Ethnic & Sectarian Conflict
  • The Influence of Religion on Law & Politics
  • Comparative Foreign Policy
  • Politics of the World Economy

This list is merely scratching the surface of what one can learn about in Comparative Politics, and the topics can be even more specific and specialized than what’s already been mentioned.  One could chose to take a class on of the role of religion on Israeli policy, or compose a report on women’s rights movements in the Middle East, or study the migration patterns of Caribbean and Latin American individuals to the United States, or investigate who controls the levels of power in authoritarian governments in Asia, or conduct research on the growing tension in Europe between native Europeans and Muslim immigrants as a result of the rise of Islam in what is considered to be a very secular part of the world. Suffice to say, Comparative Politics is a rich and expansive field that has a lot to offer to prospective students.

There are a respectable number of career options for those students who wish to specialize in the realm of Comparative Politics. Given that a student in this field will have already spent a great deal of time studying foreign governments and analyzing the policies that those governments have enacted, it’s not so farfetched to assume that the student in question will have at least entertained the notion of seeking employment abroad. International businesses and banking communities would naturally be interested in building a talent pool that understands the political, economic and regulatory climate that those companies operate in. Students interested public sector work, have the option of seeking positions with the Peace Corps and the American Foreign Service Association as a means of gaining vital hands-on experience. For students opting for a Master’s degree or higher, there is the potential for employment in college-level education. Graduate students can find work as an academic tutor or as a part-time adjunct instructor. Upon obtaining a Master’s degree, full-time teaching jobs may become available and professorial positions are possible for those with a PhD or an equivalent degree or certification.

2 comments on “What is Comparative Politics?
  1. BALAZA IVAN says:

    enjoy the study

  2. Anna Ge says:

    Thank you so much for your explanation of this concept. I am looking for some specific major that I could study. I was thinking of that I may apply for some kind of social science subjects, but not sure what exactly they are. Then I found Political Science, and Comparative Politics. To make sure what it is, I searched online, and found your article.
    The reason I explained how I get here is that I want to tell you that you really helped me a lot!
    I wonder why there is no comment under this page.
    Best wishes!

    Anna from China

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