Introduction to Comparative Politics and Conflict Studies

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Sarah Brierley


This course is compulsory on the MSc in Political Science (Conflict Studies and Comparative Politics). This course is not available as an outside option.

Course content

The course introduces students to the broad fields of comparative politics and conflict studies. Students examine theoretical and methodological underpinnings and diverse examples of 'best practice' in research and writing in comparative politics of the broad discipline of political science.

Lectures and seminar discussions focus on important areas of research in comparative politics and the methodological challenges involved. At the end of the course students will have –

  • Gained knowledge on substantive topics in the field of comparative politics and conflict studies; be able to define key concepts and understand how scholars measure important political and social outcomes.
  • Understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of different methodological approaches to the study of comparative politics, and why scholars use different methods.
  • Developed the ability to ask relevant research questions in the field of comparative politics.
  • Been able to design a research project to answer their research questions.
  • Evaluated and critiqued existing literature and discussed ways to move a research area forward.

This course exposes students to core topics and debates in the field of comparative politics. Topics include, for example, the state and state-building, electoral and party systems, democratisation, civil conflict, electoral violence, and crime. In discussing substantive issues, the course will expose students to a range of methodological approaches used in the study of comparative politics.

Readings treat such variegated topics of inquiry and debate in comparative politics as democracy, the state, political parties, ethnic and civil conflict. In discussing substantive issues, the course will expose students to a range of methodological approaches used in the study of comparative politics.

The course treats examples of real existing comparative politics as practiced by leading scholars in the field in recent years. These examples are chosen to cover diverse forms of comparison, diverse modes of analysis, diverse topic areas, and diverse countries and regions of the world. Cutting across these forms of diversity and sets of questions that will be addressed throughout the course concerning the practicalities and limitations of various methods of comparative analysis for explaining observable patterns in politics.


15 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the AT. 15 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the WT.

There will be a reading week in Week 6 of the Autumn and Winter Terms.

Formative coursework

Two short literature response papers to be submitted in the AT and WT. 

Indicative reading

  • Stokes, S. C., Dunning, T., Nazareno, M., & Brusco, V. (2013). Brokers, voters, and clientelism: The puzzle of distributive politics. Cambridge University Press.
  • Geddes, B. (1994). Politician's dilemma: building state capacity in Latin America (No. 25). Univ of California Press.
  • Wilkinson, S. (2006). Votes and violence: Electoral competition and ethnic riots in India. Cambridge University Press.
  • De Vries, C.E. and Hobolt, S.B. (2020). Political Entrepreneurs. Princeton University Press.
  • Thachil, T. (2014). Elite parties, poor voters. Cambridge University Press.
  • Weinstein, J. M. (2006). Inside rebellion: The politics of insurgent violence. Cambridge University Press.
  • Fearon, James D., and David D. Laitin. "Ethnicity, insurgency, and civil war." American political science review 97.1 (2003): 75-90.


Exam (60%, duration: 2 hours) in the spring exam period.
Project (40%, 1500 words) in January.

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2022/23: Unavailable

Average class size 2022/23: Unavailable

Controlled access 2022/23: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving