A New Handbook of Political Science

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

Chapter 14
Comparative Politics:
Democratization Studies

Laurence Whitehead


I Introduction

THIS chapter is about the comparison of national political processes, structures and systems. In particular, it draws on the work comparing the dynamics of authoritarian regimes, the processes by which such regimes may lose control, transitions from authoritarian rule, and the possible establishment and even consolidation of "democratic" regimes. There is a lengthy history of comparative political analysis on these themes as they concern Latin America, but of course these issues are of more than regional interest. They are of central importance for the study of contemporary politics in southern and east-central Europe and have also attracted growing interest in sub-Saharan Africa, in various parts of Asia and in all ex-communist countries. Synthetically, we can say that the comparative analysis of such "regime transitions" has been one of the major growth industries within the field of political science over the past decade. It has offered a way of organizing analysis of political processes in a wide variety of countries, sometimes new, usually poor and often somewhat unstable--countries which would not otherwise figure at the center of a political science discipline that is largely based in, and concerned with, the politics of old, rich and stable countries.

Given the prominence and extensiveness of democratization processes in the real world, a political science discipline which offered no systematic or well-grounded approaches to the interpretation of this reality would be abdicating from an essential task. But our chances of producing a strong predictive theory are slight. Despite a decade of work on transitions from authoritarian capitalist rule, our discipline was not well-placed to predict

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