Course Exam – Introduction to Comparative Politics (POLI 342)

With the completion of Introduction to Comparative Politics (POLI 342), AU’s political science undergraduate major is now and accepting new students! This course is a “staple in any political science degree,” commented course professor Jay Smith in a recent online interview, since POLI 342 enables students to learn and “compare how other societies are governed.” In the course, students are introduced to the political systems and history of eight societies, including Great Britain, France, the European Union, the Soviet Union and post-Communist Russia, India, China, Nigeria, South Africa, and Mexico.

What exactly is comparative politics? Smith answers this question expertly by putting it simply: “comparative politics exposes students to the diversity of the world they live in and broadens their intellectual horizons.” POLI 342 students will realize the many differences involved in how individual societies govern themselves, and will also explore the history behind what shaped the current political system. “In studying Mexico, students examine the evolution of Mexican politics from the colonial era, to independence, to the period of revolution, to contemporary Mexico,” says Smith. From this historical standpoint, students will also explore why India and Mexico, for example, have different political systems than other countries.

POLI 342 also introduces students to the political culture of each country, and “how political culture affects political participation and the engagement with politics whether that be through political parties, interest groups, and political protest.” Students also explore the current government system for each country, including “the executive branch, bureaucracy, legislatures, judiciary, and how decisions and public policy are made within each country,” adds Smith. Throughout the course, students are encouraged to think laterally and explain “real world” political scenarios, such as why revolutions occur in some countries (Russia, China, and Mexico, for example) and not others.

“It is becoming almost impossible to ignore what other countries do,” says Smith, adding that the “world is becoming increasingly interconnected.” Smith illustrates that “what happens in India and China [both of which are studied in the course] in coming decades is going to have a big impact on Canada as these countries become more powerful economically and politically.” In addition to delving into the differences between various countries’ political systems, POLI 342 will also allow students to assess the impact of globalization on each country studied. “Globalization,” says Smith, “has shrunk the world and brought us all in closer contact; hence the importance of learning about other cultures and political systems.” Students will not only have the opportunity to examine this globalization impact from a political standpoint, but they will also examine globalization impact on the social, technological, economical, and cultural levels.

So how do POLI 342 students synthesize all this information? The course focuses on several key theoretical approaches to comparative politics. One, the case study, “focuses on one state and one system,” says Smith, adding that this “permits in-depth study.” Another approach for analyzing the course material is the binary comparison or the “study of similarities and differences between two compared cases” comments Smith, giving an example of how students might determine why India has taken largely to the democratic system, while Nigeria has not. Another method is the multi-country comparison with the object of country comparison in “many dimensions.” Students use this method when studying factors common in several countries.

Student evaluation in POLI 342 is derived from three assignments, worth 15%, 20%, and 30%, respectively, and one final exam worth 35%. The assignments focus on areas in comparative politics requiring the above-mentioned analysis methods, providing students with practice in these areas.

Course professor Jay Smith has part of AU’s political science team for 25 years. His current political science interests include how and why social movements are organizing beyond borders to contest neoliberal globalization, which consists of the belief that markets, not governments, are the best allocators of values and resources in a society.” For instance, Smith is studying how “the Dalit (formerly the Untouchables) Movement took their struggles against casteism and neoliberal globalization beyond the borders of India to the United Nations, and many other countries.”

Smith is also active in the political science research field, focusing on the ways in which information technologies can impact social movements through network formation, with the end goal of transnational organization.

For more information on POLI 342, students are welcome to contact course author Jay Smith at: jays@athabascau.ca or view the POLI 342 course syllabus at: http://www.athabascau.ca/html/poli/poli342.htm

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