State Formation and Political Development

This seminar will examine whether and to what extent historical trajectories shape contemporary political and policy outcomes around the world. Some questions motivating this course include (but are not limited to): What is “the State,” really? And where do states come from? What sort of institutional features characterize states? Why are some states better at collecting taxes and providing public goods and social protection than others? Why does nationalism and ethnic identity emerge as a more potent feature of politics in some countries than in others? The course will consider these questions from a range of theoretical and disciplinary perspectives on political transformation over the long-run in Europe, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa, with attention to the United States as a “comparative” case study. The course is organized around three interconnected phenomena: 1) the rise of the modern nation-state, 2) the historical development of domestic institutions and state capacity, and 3) how state institutions and capacities shape politics to this day.

Capitalism and the Modern Welfare State

The COVID-19 pandemic quickly emerged as a historic “stress test” for political economies and societies around the world, all while bringing existing social, political, and economic inequalities into sharp relief. This seminar takes the long-view on our current moment by examining the relationship between capitalist development and systems of social protection, e.g., the welfare state. The course will survey range of disciplines and theoretical perspectives to better understand the evolution and politics of the welfare state, with a regional focus on the Americas. From settler colonialism and transitions from agrarian to industrial capitalism to the U.S. New Deal and rise of developmental welfare states in Latin America, the course explores the historical tension between market society, democracy, and popular demands for social protection. Major approaches considered include classical and institutional political economy, critical political economy and sociology (i.e. racial capitalism, historical materialism, power resources theory), and the role of political institutions and behavior in the politics of redistribution. Students will have the opportunity to draw on course readings to 1) examine why some welfare states mitigate inequality and safeguard the population from economic dislocation and crises better than others, and 2) consider the potentialities and limits of market society to meet the needs of the majority of the population. 

Introduction to Comparative Politics

Why do some countries achieve governments based on free and fair elections and the rule of law while others struggle with fraudulent elections, corruption, and even political violence? While electoral democracy currently represents the most common type of “political order” around the world, the legitimacy of democratic institutions is far from a foregone conclusion in many countries. The spread of representative forms of government has not come without significant challenges both old and new. Throughout modern history, there continues to be variation in the types of political economic systems, or “rules of the game,” that govern society—rules that have real consequences for those they govern. This course is organized around core themes in comparative politics, and the major theories therein. Topics surveyed include the development of states and nations, democratization, the consequences of different electoral systems, authoritarian and hybrid regimes, economic development, redistribution, and inequality, and the role of nationalism, ideology, and ethnicity in politics.

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