Introduction to Comparative Political Analysis

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Optional for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students of the PhD Programme in "Political Science and Sociology"

Optional for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students of the PhD Programme in "Transnational Governance"

Recommended for the 4th and 5th year students of the MA Programme in "Political and Social Sciences"


The course sets out to: a) offer an introduction to empirical political research; and b) help developing skills in research design as well as in analysing, interpreting, and presenting research findings, hereby including writing standards for social-scientific papers.
The course is run as a series of seminars and attendance is mandatory. Each session will be student-centred and primarily consist of peer discussion. For each meeting, students are required to participate actively based on the readings reported in the syllabus. At each meeting, students will present and discuss the readings, describing their contents, methods, and findings in a critical manner. Then, a general discussion will follow. Core readings are mandatory for all. The working language of the course is English. Neither online nor blended teaching is envisaged at this stage.
Please note that all SNS and visiting students are welcome to join the course as auditors but they are required to participate actively to in-class sessions – including presentations and discussions – on the basis of the same core readings as enrolled students.
The students will be evaluated on the basis of their class participation (25%), presentation and discussion of the readings (25%), and a critical book review (50%) to be delivered by – and no later than – 21 April 2022. The book review will be maximum 1,500 words in length and will provide a critical examination – i.e., an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses – of the comparative design, methodology, and data deployed by the study at hand. The specific title reviewed shall be comparative in nature and must be agreed upon with the instructor by the second week of the course. MA students may submit their final assignment in Italian, if so wished. Final grades are expressed on a 30-point scale for MA students (following the Italian grading system) and in terms of ‘pass/fail’ for PhD students.

Session 1.

Types of research and research questions

Wednesday, 19 January 2022

14:00-17:00 hrs


In the first session, we will outline the major strands and debates in empirical political research, presenting shared standards to tackle real-world problems through a comparative logic. Our discussion will centre on some key epistemological questions and explain the rationale of comparison in a broader perspective.

Core readings:

  •       King, G., R.O. Keohane & S. Verba (1994) Designing Social Inquiry. Princeton University Press, pp. 3-33 (Chapter 1)
  •       Brady, H.E., D. Collier & J. Seawright (2010) ‘Refocusing the discussion of methodology’. In: H.E. Brady, D. Collier & J. Seawright (eds.) Rethinking Social Inquiry (Second Edition). Rowman & Littlefield, pp. 15-31 (Chapter 1)
  •       Lijphart, A. (1971) ‘Comparative politics and the comparative method’. American Political Science Review, 65(3): 682-693
  •       Reif, K., & H. Schmitt (1980) ‘Nine second-order national elections: A conceptual framework for the analysis of European election results’. European Journal of Political Research, 8(1): 3-44

Additional readings:

  •       H.E. Brady, J. Seawright & G.L. Munck (2010) ‘The quest for standards: King, Keohane, and Verba’s Designing Social Inquiry’. In: H.E. Brady, D. Collier & J. Seawright (eds.) Rethinking Social Inquiry (Second Edition). Rowman & Littlefield, pp. 33-63 (Chapter 2)
  •       Brannen, J. (2005) ‘Mixing methods: The entry of qualitative and quantitative approaches into the research process’. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 8(3): 173-184.


 Session 2.

Theory, concepts, and operationalisation

Wednesday, 26 January 2022

14:00-17:30 hrs



In the second session, we will discuss the significance of a sound theoretical foundation for our enquiry as well as the process leading up to the translation of our concepts into empirical indicators.


Core readings:

  •       Sartori, G. (1970) ‘Concept misformation in comparative politics’. American Political Science Review, 64(4), 1033-1053
  •       Collier, D., & J.E. Mahon Jr (1993) ‘Conceptual “stretching” revisited: Adapting categories in comparative analysis’. American Political Science Review, 87(4): 845-855
  •       Collier, D., & S. Levitsky (1997) ‘Democracy with adjectives: Conceptual innovation in comparative research’. World Politics, 49(3): 430-451
  •       Harmel, R., & K. Janda (1994) ‘An integrated theory of party goals and party change’. Journal of Theoretical Politics, 6(3): 259-287


Additional readings:

  •       Goertz, G. (2006) Social Science Concepts: A User’s Guide. Princeton University Press, pp. 27-67 (Chapter 2)
  •       Inglehart, R. (1971) ‘The silent revolution in Europe: Intergenerational change in post-industrial societies’. American Political Science Review, 65(4): 991-1017


Subsection on populism (as a ‘thin-centred ideology’):

o   Freeden, M. (1998) ‘Is nationalism a distinct ideology?’. Political Studies, 46(4): 748-765

o   Mudde, C. (2004) ‘The populist zeitgeist’. Government and Opposition, 39(4): 541-563

o   Stanley, B. (2008) ‘The thin ideology of populism’. Journal of Political Ideologies, 13(1): 95-110

o   van Kessel, S. (2014) ‘The populist cat-dog: Applying the concept of populism to contemporary European party systems’. Journal of Political Ideologies, 19(1): 99-118

o   Aslanidis, P. (2016) ‘Is populism an ideology? A refutation and a new perspective’. Political Studies, 64(S1): 88-104

o   Rooduijn, M. (2019) ‘State of the field: How to study populism and adjacent topics? A plea for both more and less focus’. European Journal of Political Research, 58(1): 362-372


Session 3.

Measurement, description, and causal inference

Wednesday, 2 February 2022

14:00-17:30 hrs



In the third session, we will focus our attention on practical issues related to the measurement of our variables and the types of conclusions – and inferences – we can derive from our data.


Core readings:

  •        Gerring, J. (2012) ‘Mere description’. British Journal of Political Science, 42(4): 721-746
  •        Mahoney, J. (2000) ‘Strategies of causal inference in small-N analysis’. Sociological Methods & Research, 28(4): 387-424
  •        Wagner, M. (2012) ‘Defining and measuring niche parties’. Party Politics, 18(6): 845-864
  •        van Mierlo T. (2021) ‘Attrition as a bottom-up pathway to subnational democratization’. International Political Science Review, 1-15.


Additional readings (optional):

  •        Adcock, R., & D. Collier (2001) ‘Measurement validity: A shared standard for qualitative and quantitative research’. American Political Science Review, 95(3): 529-546
  •        Fearon, J.D. (1991) ‘Counterfactuals and hypothesis testing in political science’. World Politics, 43(2): 169-195
  •        Lewis, D. (1973) ‘Causation’. The Journal of Philosophy, 70(17): 556-567
  •        Collier, D. (2011) ‘Understanding process tracing’. PS: Political Science and Politics, 44(4): 823-830
  •        Ragin, C.C. (1997) ‘Turning the tables: How case-oriented research challenges variable-oriented research’. Comparative Social Research, 16(1): 27-42


 Session 4.

Single-case study, small-N, and large-N designs

Wednesday, 9 February 2022

14:00-17:30 hrs



In the fourth session, we will address the question of case selection and try to answer some of the key questions underlying the comparative research design.


Core readings:

  •        Sartori, G. (1991) ‘Comparing and miscomparing’. Journal of Theoretical Politics, 3(3): 243-257
  •        Geddes, B. (1990) ‘How the cases you choose affect the answers you get: Selection bias in comparative politics’. Political Analysis, 2(1): 131-150
  •        de Jonge L. (2019) ‘The populist radical right and the media in the Benelux: Friend or foe?’. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 24(2): 189-209
  •        Bos, A., J. Greenlee, M. Holman, Z. Oxley, & J. Lay (2021) ‘This one’s for the boys: How gendered political socialization limits girls’ political ambition and interest’. American Political Science Review, 1-18.


Additional readings:

  •        Poguntke, T. (1987) ‘The organization of a participatory party–the German Greens’. European Journal of Political Research, 15(6): 609-633
  •        Tavits, M. (2012) ‘Organizing for success: Party organizational strength and electoral performance in postcommunist Europe’. The Journal of Politics, 74(1): 83-97
  •        McDonnell, D., & S. Ondelli (2020) ‘The language of right-wing populist leaders: Not so simple’. Perspectives on Politics, 1-14.
  •        Castelli Gattinara, P., C. Froio, & A.L.P. Pirro (forthcoming) ‘Far-right protest mobilisation: Grievances, opportunities, and resources’. European Journal of Political Research


 Session 5.

Empirical data: questionnaires and surveys

Wednesday, 16 February 2022

14:00-17:30 hrs



In the fifth session, we will delve deeper into the art of crafting and gathering survey data. While discussing rather different sources (experts vs. mass), surveys – and the questions at the heart of them – subscribe to the same logic. We will pay attention to how tailoring the right questions has broader implications for empirical research.


Core readings:

  •        Converse, J.M., and S. Presser (1986) Survey Questions: Handcrafting the Standardized Questionnaire. Sage


Additional readings:

  •        Bakker, R., L. Hooghe, S. Jolly, G. Marks, J. Polk, J. Rovny, M. Steenbergen & M.A. Vachudova (2020) ‘1999-2019 Chapel Hill Expert Survey Trend File (Version 1.0)’.
  •        European Social Survey (2018) ‘ESS Round 9 Source Questionnaire’.
  •        Castles, F.G., & P. Mair (1984) ‘Left–right political scales: Some ‘expert’ judgments’. European Journal of Political Research, 12(1): 73-88
  •        Hooghe, L., et al. (2010) ‘Reliability and validity of measuring party positions: The Chapel Hill expert surveys of 2002 and 2006’. European Journal of Political Research, 49(5): 687-703
  •        Pirro, A.L.P. (2015) ‘The populist radical right in the political process: Assessing party impact in Central and Eastern Europe’. In: M. Minkenberg (ed.) Transforming the Transformation? The East European Radical Right in the Political Process. Routledge, pp. 80-104


 Session 6.

Communicating the results

Wednesday, 23 February 2022

14:00-17:00 hrs



The final session will be devoted to various writing tips – from structuring and writing a scientific paper to dealing with criticism.


Core readings:

  •       S. van Evera(1997) Guide to Methods for Students of Political Science. Cornell University Press, pp. 123-128 (Appendix: ‘How to write a paper’)
  •       Clark, A.M., & D.R. Thompson (2016) ‘Five tips for writing qualitative research in high-impact journals: Moving from #BMJnoQual’. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 1-3.
  •       Ruggeri, A. (2020) ‘Submitting & publishing articles’. Unpublished manuscript


Additional readings:

  •        Toshkov, D. (2016) Research Design in Political Science. Palgrave, pp. 328-344 (Chapter 12)
  •        Johnson, J.B., H.T. Reynolds, J.D. Mycoff (1995) Political Science Research Methods (Eighth Edition). CQ Press, pp. 584-684 (Chapter 15)

Obiettivi formativi

Il corso copre una serie di temi e autori, fornendo consigli dettagliati sulla conduzione della ricerca empirica, dalla formazione di concetti all’analisi di dati. Il corso copre i diversi passaggi di un progetto di ricerca, dalla definizione del problema alla definizione del disegno della ricerca, passando per questioni come raccolta dei dati e il loro impiego pratico. Per ultimo, il corso definirà un problema empirico di natura politologica, cercando di esaminarlo dall’inizio alla fine. Attenzione particolare verrà dedicata allo studio dei partiti politici e agli elettori in prospettiva comparata.