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Comparative politics PS2082

This course encompasses how we form or develop concepts of democratic political institutions and some of the different ways in which democracies can be organised.


Prerequisite: A course that you must have ordinarily attempted all elements of before you are permitted to register for another particular course.

If taken as part of a BSc degree, courses which must be attempted before this course may be taken:

PS1172 Introduction to political science or PS1114 Democratic politics and the state or PS1130 Introduction to modern political thought.

Topics covered

  • Presidential and parliamentary systems
  • Legitimacy and political culture
  • The nature and role of the state; bureaucracy; the judicial power, the role of the military
  • Forms of political organisation; parties and interest groups
  • Electoral systems and party competition
  • Federal and unitary states.

Learning outcomes

If you complete the course successfully, you should be able to:

  • Why institutional analysis is a key aspect of comparative politics
  • How institutional stability and political legitimation interact
  • What is meant by political culture and how it influences institutional behaviour
  • How presidential systems differ in key respects from parliamentary ones
  • The relationship between elective and non-elective dimensions of the democratic state
  • The concept of federalism and how it differs from local government.


Unseen written exam (3 hrs).

Essential reading

  • Ackerman, B. ‘The Rise of World Constitutionalism’ Virginia Law Review, 83/4 (May 1997), pp.771-797
  • Booth J and Seligson M. The Legitimacy Puzzle in Latin America; Political Support and Democracy in Eight Nations. New York, Cambridge University Press, 2009.
  • Bowen, J. Why the French Don't like Headscarves; Islam, the State and the Public Sphere. Princeton NJ, Princeton University Press, 2006.
  • Connolly, W. (ed.) Legitimacy and the State. Oxford: Blackwell, 1984. Especially the chapter by Weber, ‘Politics as a Vocation’ and the chapter by Lipset entitled ‘Social Conflict, Legitimacy and Democracy’ in the same volume
  • Dahl, R.A. Democracy and its Critics. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.
  • Dahl R.A. On Democracy. New Haven; Yale U.P 1998.
  • R. Elgie, ‘The perils of semi-presidentialism: Are they exaggerated?’ Democratization 15/1 (2008), pp.49-66)
  • P Lassman and R Speers. Weber’s Political Writings (Cambridge texts in the History of Political thought, 1994) (to be used as an alternative to Connolly 1984)
  • Linz, J. ‘The Perils of Presidentialism’, Journal of Democracy 1: 51–69 (1990).
  • March, J.G. and J.P. Olson ‘The New Institutionalism’, American Political Science Review (September 1984) 73(3): 734–50
  • Roberts A. The Quality of Democracy in Eastern Europe; Public Preference and Policy Reforms. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Course information sheets

Download the course information sheets from the LSE website.