's Comparative Politics/Varieties of Methods in Comparative Politics

What do you understand by comparative politics ?


by Anshul Rox

Comparison is one of the oldest forms of the study of politics. The earliest beginning of the comparative method can be traced back to the fourth century B.C when Aristotle made the first recorded attempt at describing in some detail the characteristics of regimes and governments at that time. Thereafter, a number of thinkers and philosophers in different periods have used the comparative methodology. These include Cicero, Plybius and Tacitus among the Romans, Machiavelli, among others, in the Renaissance; Monstequieu in the Enlightenment; and Tocqueville, Marx, Mill, Bagehot, Mosca and others in nineteenth century.

The main logic behind the use of comparative method in Political Science is, as Bertrand Badie, points out, that the rigour and validity of a science often depends upon its scope for comparing and quantifying similarities and differences between objects of the same category so as to distinguish between the universal and the specific. Political Science is no exception to the rule.

To the extent that it has become and established as a science; its founding fathers concentrated upon developing comparative methods as a substitute for experiment. There also is another aspect of logic of comparative method. Degan and Polassy in their study How to Compare Nations start with the statement, "An old idea of philosophers is that knowledge of the self is gained through knowledge of others".

Comparative polities :

In spite of oldness of comparative method and logic behind use of this method, there has been ambiguity about the term 'comparative polities'. In general, the focus of the method, of course, explicitly or implicitly has been upon more than one country. Also implied in this is that comparison uses concepts that are applicable in more than one country. However, there had been disagreements with regard to the choice of countries and concepts as also placing the comparative politics within wider disciplinary areas, like International Relations, or Area Studies, or policy research.

Accordingly there have also been differences with regard to approaches and techniques to be used for the study. Due to these ambiguities and differences and many other reasons, the Comparative Politics, as a sub-discipline of Political Science, also entered a period of decline in the later part of twentieth century.

The period, particularly immediately after the end of Second World War, which also coincided with end of colonialism, in particular witnessed significant debates and changes in the sub-discipline. Till then the Comparative Politics was limited, more or less, to the study of western countries, that too of governments and institutions, using historical, normative, legalistic studies of institutions. With the end of colonialism, this approach had to be abandoned. It was realized that political space could not be artificially confined to the Western World.

Also, as Bertrand Badie, points out, the new international order which the great powers were trying to establish depended upon an assumption that all the world's societies were converging towards a single model of modern industrial society, whether capitalist or socialist, and came to determine Political Research strategies. Moderm political analysis had to become developmentalist in order to take account of both the universality of the western political model and the underdeveloped nature of different models and practices. Comparison came to involve showing their divergence, their backwardness or their failure in relation to a known type of established political order.

Soon, these approaches also came under attack, either for giving too much importance to behavioural factors or neglecting the State which was considered to be the main concern of politics.

Concerns also were expressed for not taking into account various issues being faced by developing countries, as also new developments like neo-colonialism, new social movements etc. There also emerged opinions that political processes cannot be studied without reference to cultural variables, which in turn need to be explained by reference to factors that vary between specific historical cases. Thus came a point where it is no longer possible to make comparisons by highlighting the political effects of a single variable acting on different societies. It is even less acceptable to interpret observed differences by referring to a unitary logic derived from a would be universal or grand explanatory theory.

Scholars of Comparative Politics, though have reached some new consensus upon concepts, methods, and analytical approaches, dissent and disagreement over the priorities and approaches continue. Many distinctive styles of analysis continue simultaneously. At the same time apart form studying within the frame work of nation -state there is also emphasis to undertake comparative analysis of micro situations, such as histories of localized resistance, or of regional cultures and traditions, or workers, caste and gender struggles.

Comparative analysis of the nature of the state, revolutions, development strategies, political systems and processes continue but oversimplified generalisations are being avoided. The study of Comparative Politics now rejects the extremes of universalism and particularism.

The course on Comparative Politics you are studying here, has been framed keeping in view all these developments. The purpose here is to acquaint you with the nature of discipline, changes that have come through in terms of scope and use of approaches and to make you understand various processes, phenomena, developments, emerging concerns and trends in politics.

The objective is to provide you a genuinely cross-national study of state, institutions of governments, interactions between socio-economic institutions, political processes, emerging issues, phenomena, trends and developments, in the larger socio-economic matrix. Attention has been paid to encompass all regimes and areas and emphasis is on relating state to society. The course accordingly contains both theoretical and empirical contents on a wide range of existing and emerging issues in a comparative perspective.

In Comparative Politics the study of State got neglected. However, there now has emerged realization that State remains the most important aspect of politics. It is, therefore, important to understand various aspects of state, its origin, nature, functions and role in different situations. State has been theorized in the context of developing world of Asia, Africa and Latin America. What is the nature of State in these societies in terms of class-state relations and what is the role of State in the era of globalization, privatization and localization. The basic assumption in this is that there can be no theory of State without a theory of Civil Society.

Globalization here has not been taken in its narrow economic aspect, but in its comprehensive economic, political and security dimensions. The purpose here is to understand the recent trend of States entering into regional groupings or associations. Here again there are different approaches to integration. This analyses in detail the effect of such regional associations on the nature, functioning and sovereignty of State, providing various examples. It takes into account of the impact of International organisations and their types, delineates various impacts these organisations have on the sovereignty and functioning of States.

Lastly in the context of globalization, it provides information on the impact of Transnational or Multinational Corporations having on the State.It describes the changes that have come in the nature of MNCs in the process of globalization, the increasing clout of these corporations and impacts these are having on sovereignty and functioning of the State. In Nationalism, the concern here is primarily the emergence of nationalism in the context of colonialism and the process of nation building.

What do you understand by comparative method of research?


by Ajay Rathore

A Method is a useful, helpful and instructive way of accomplishing something with relative ease. While studying a phenomenon, method would similarly point to ways and means of doing things. Or it may be said, that the organisation of ways of application of specific concepts to data is 'method'. Of course the manner of collection of data itself will have to be worked out.

The concepts which are to be applied or studied will have to be thought out. All this will eventually have to be organised so that the nature of the data and the manner in which it is collected and the application of the concept is done in a way that we are able to study with a degree of precision what we want to study.

In a scientific inquiry much emphasis is placed on precision and exactness of the method. Social sciences, however, owing to the nature of their subject matter, have had to think of methods which come close to the accuracy of scientific experiments in laboratories or other controlled conditions.

A number of scholars, however, do not feel that there should be much preoccupation with the so called 'scientific research'. Whatever the beliefs of scholars in this regard, there is nonetheless a 'method' in thinking, exploring and research in all studies. Several methods, comparative historical, experimental, statistical etc. are used by scholars for their studies. It may be pointed out that all these methods may use comparisons to varying degrees.

The comparative method also uses tools of the historical, experimental and statistical methods. It is also important to bear in mind that comparative method is not the monopoly of comparative politics.

It is used in all domains of knowledge to study physical, human and social phenomenon. Sociology, history, anthropology, psychology etc., use it with similar confidence.

These disciplines have used the comparative method to produce studies which are referred variously as 'cross-cultural' (as in anthropology and psychology) and 'cross-national' (as in political science and sociology) seeming thereby to emphasize different fields. The comparative method has been seen as studying similarities and differences as the basis for developing a 'grounded theory', testing hypotheses, inferring causality, and producing reliable generalizations.

Many social scientists believe that research should be scientifically organized. The comparative method, they believe, offers them the best means to conduct 'scientific' research i.e, research characterised by precision, validity, reliability and verifiability and some amount of predictability.

The American political scientist James Coleman, for example, often reminded his students, 'You can't be scientific if you're not comparing'. Swanson similarly emphasized that it was 'unthinkable' to think of 'scientific thought and all scientific research' without comparisons.

Whereas in physical sciences comparison can be done in laboratories under carefully controlled conditions, precise experimentation in social sciences under conditions which replicate laboratory conditions is not possible.

If, for example, a social scientist wishes to study the relationship between electoral systems and the number of political parties, s/he cannot instruct a government to change its electoral system nor order people to behave in a particular v. ay to test his/ her hypothesis. Nor can s/he replicate a social or political phenomenon in a laboratory where tests can be conducted.

Thus, while a social scientist may feel compelled to work in a scientific way, societal phenomena may not actually permit what is accepted as 'scientific' inquiry. S/he can, however, study 'cases' i.e., actually existing political systems and compare them i.e., chalk out a way to study their relationship as worked out in the hypothesis, draw conclusions and offer generalizations.

Thus the comparative method, though scientifically weaker than the experimental method, is considered closest to a scientific method, offering the best possible opportunity to seek explanations of social phenomena and offer theoretical propositions and generalizations.

The question you might ask now is what makes comparative method, scientific. Sartori tells us that the 'control function' or the system of checks, which is integral to scientific research and a necessary part of laboratory experimentation, can be achieved in social sciences only through comparisons.

He goes further to propose that because the control function can be exercised only through the comparative method, comparisons are indispensable in social sciences. Because of their function of controlling/checking the validity of theoretical propositions, comparisons have the scientific value of making generalized propositions or theoretical statements explaining particular phenomena making predictions, and also what he terms 'learning from others' experiences'. In this context it is important to point out that the natures of predictions in comparative method have only a probabilistic causality.

This means that it can state its results only in terms of likelihoods or probabilities i.e., a given set of conditions are likely to give an anticipated outcome. This is different from deterministic causality in scientific research which emphasizes certainty i.e., a given set of conditions will produce the anticipated outcome/result.