A New Handbook of Political Science

By Robert E. Goodin; Hans-Dieter Klingemann | Go to book overview

Chapter 12
Comparative Politics:
An Overview

Peter Mair


I Introduction: the discipline of comparative politics

EVER since Aristotle set out to examine differences in the structures of states and constitutions and sought to develop a classification of regime types, the notion of comparing political systems has lain at the heart of political science.1 At the same time, however, while perennially concerned with such classic themes as the analysis of regimes, regime change, and democracy and its alternatives, comparative politics is not a discipline which can be defined strictly in terms of a single substantive field of study. Rather it is the emphasis on comparison itself, and on how and why political phenomena might be compared, which marks it out as a special area within political science. Indeed, precisely because there is no single substantive field of study in comparative politics, the relevance and value of treating it as a separate sub-discipline has often been disputed (see the discussion in Verba 1985; Dalton 1991; Keman 1993a).

The discipline of comparative politics is usually seen as being constituted by three related elements. The first, and most simple element is the study of foreign countries, often in isolation from one another. This is usually how comparative politics is defined for teaching purposes, especially in Anglo-American cultures, with different courses being offered on different countries, and with numerous textbooks being published about the individual countries which are incorporated in these courses. In practice, of course, however useful this approach may be in pedagogical terms, there is

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1
See Books II.b and IV.b of Aristotle The Politics.

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