Theories of Comparative Political Economy

Theories of Comparative Political Economy

Theories of Comparative Political Economy

Theories of Comparative Political Economy

Synopsis

Addressing the problem of searching for mainstream and alternative paradigms as a guide for comparative political enquiry, this work in particular introduces developments that have taken place since the 1990s.

Excerpt

Nearly two decades ago, I began assembling a critical overview of the field of comparative politics. I hoped to bring order to a diverse field and to overcome my dissatisfaction with the literature, which at the introductory level tended to emphasize configurative and formal-legal studies of dominant European countries such as England, France, Germany, and the Soviet Union, whereas the advanced level offered general and often poorly informed understandings of the historical experience, often devoid of any theoretical considerations. This effort resulted in the publication in 1981 of a book, Theories of Comparative Politics: The Search for a Paradigm, in which I argued that political science and political economy are deeply influenced by ideology. No matter what our concern for science and objectivity, politics has an impact on the profession, and any pretense of value-free inquiry is imbued with conservative and antipolitical biases. Additionally, I argued that comparative politics embraces all levels of politics: The study of politics everywhere is comparative. I set forth the proposition that the study of politics has been largely shaped by the reproduction of traditional ideas and approaches, the result being the prevalence of an orthodox mainstream and a reluctance to seek radical alternatives. I traced this notion to inquiry emanating from the nineteenth century in order to reveal at least two patterns of thought, one around the ideas of Max Weber, which today influence the mainstream, and the other around the ideas of Karl Marx, which have influenced the pursuit of alternative explanations.

Theories of the political system were contrasted with those of the state; both conservative and progressive ideas were associated with a politics of culture; distinctions were drawn between theories of development and theories of underdevelopment; and theories of class were assessed in light of pluralism, instrumentalism, and structuralism. Recognition of differences in thought stimulates critical thinking, opens up dialogue to more than a prevailing mode of explanation, and provides choice in the formulation and reinforcement of individual perspectives. In short, in comparative inquiry the reader is challenged to weigh arguments, find positions, and defend ideas.

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