Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 1997

The Comparative Politics of Contemporary Democratisation

Main Discipline: Political Science/Comparative Politics
Lecturer: Dr. Lawrence Whitehead
Institution: Nuffield College, Oxford, UK
Dates: 4 August - 8 August, 1997

The disintegration of authoritarian regimes (including most communist ruled polities in the former Soviet bloc) and their replacement by liberal constitutional regimes in which public office is allocated through competitive elections, has been one of the most systematic and recurrent experiences in contemporary world politics. Within the discipline of Political Science attempts to classify, compare, model, and in other ways theorise about these processes has become a major growth industry. This has breathed new life into the sub-field of comparative politics, and has extended the geographical coverage of mainstream political science. But the pace of development in this academic field continues to lag behind the course of events in many new democracies.

This course will survey the major academic developments and evaluate alternative perspectives not only from the standpoint of internal coherence and disciplinary rigour, but also by the test of relevance in the light of contemporary experience. It will consider methodological issues that arise particularly sharply in this field, but that are also of concern in other areas of comparative politics and political science. What standards of concept formation, theory building and empirical verification are appropriate for this type of enquiry? What borrowings from adjacent sub-disciplines (international relations, normative political theory, area studies political sociology, applied economics) are justified by this subject matter, and how are they best handled? The goal of the course is to give research students an array of partially overlapping perspectives on this rapidly developing field of enquiry. It will depend upon the precise research question being addressed which of these approaches is most appropriate to each problem, but in any case the students should be sensitised to the strength and limitations of the various alternatives. It is not necessary to have a research topic in this field in order to be admitted to the course.

Basic readings

The lecturer
Dr. Lawrence Whitehead is a Fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford, U.K. Originally a Latin Americanist, he has extended his research on democratization to cover also Eastern Europe. He has published numerous scholarly articles on these matters. He was one of the editors and contributors to the four-volume Transitions from Authoritarian Rule (with G. O'Donnell and Ph. Schmitter), and recently, he edited and wrote the main contributions to International Dimensions of Democratization: Europe and the Americas, Oxford 1996.