17.50 | Fall 2022 | Undergraduate

Introduction to Comparative Politics



Papers focus on the topic of the week and are designed to ensure that you have grappled with that particular issue, including the material covered in lecture and associated readings. You will generally be using this material as a launching point, so I would assume that you will cite the readings and the lecture. It will be hard to do well on the papers without having done the readings, listened to lecture, and thought about how to synthesize the material. Avoid drawing on any readings that were not assigned in class or bringing in material from other classes; those things will almost always be a distraction. Focus on what you have read for this subject only, the material I have presented, and the conversations we have had in class.

The biggest mistakes I commonly see on papers are (in descending order of frequency):

  1. Lack of engagement with the readings and lecture, as they apply to the paper topic.
  2. Drawing on random or tangential material and ideas from outside of the class.
  3. Lack of clarity in argumentation, typically manifested in the absence of a cogent argument at the beginning and disorganized presentation of supporting statements, rather than a clear logic flow.
  4. Not addressing potential counterarguments or tradeoffs.

Paper 1

3 pages.

Are states necessary? Desirable? What things should they do? What things should they be precluded from doing? Are there ways to make the state less intrusive or abusive, without losing the supposed benefits it provides?

This paper is due during session 5.

Paper 2

3 pages.

You live in the fictitious country of Compostela, which has approximately six million citizens (the median population of a modern nation-state, or about the number of people in Denmark, Nicaragua, Congo, Turkmenistan, or Singapore). Design the best system to select rulers for your country. This system should be premised on the notions of equality under the law and equal consideration – that is, each citizen is equally deserving of having their fundamental interests considered and would be treated the same by the justice system. However, you do not have to give everyone an equal say in the actual selection process (or at each stage in the selection process), nor do you have to give each person equal opportunity to become a leader. Be sure to articulate the issues at stake in each decision and the tradeoffs involved in different choices, rather than simply state your answer. How confident are you that your system will produce good rulers?

This paper is due during session 7.

Paper 3

2 pages.

Think of a country with which you are familiar. Now imagine that the legislature (or lower house of the legislature if there are two houses) will be elected under different rules. For instance, if they are currently chosen through plurality-winner elections, change the electoral formula to either preference voting, open-list proportional representation, or closed-list proportional representation. (If “your” country is not a democracy, assume it will magically become a democracy tomorrow.) Be sure to specify the details of your proposal (open list versus closed list, district magnitude, minimum threshold for representation in Parliament/Congress, etc.) Be sure also to consider potential perverse consequences of your reform. All told, do you recommend this reform? How much of a difference do you think it will make for governance?

P.S.  If you want to write about a different institutional choice, you can. But you should make sure to clear that first with the TA or me.

This paper is due during session 9.

Paper 4

2 or 3 pages.

Compostela is a country with a typical per capita income (about 1/7th as rich as the United States), population size (about 6 million people), land mass (about the size of Arizona), and ethnic divisions (about three quarters of the population is from one ethnolinguistic group but there are minority groups). How unitary should the state be?

This paper is due during session 10.

Note: A rewrite of this paper is due during session 12.

Paper 5

3 pages.

Is endorsement of political institutions (that is, everyone accepts the country’s constitution and the boundaries of the political community) and equality under the law sufficient to create the sort of national identity that you believe is desirable?

This paper is due during session 16.

Paper 6

2 pages.

How many refugees should be admitted each year as a percentage of Compostela’s current population (from 0% to 100%)? What conditions, if any, do you wish to set regarding the types of refugees the colony should accept? What mechanisms of integration for refugees should be created?

This paper is due during session 18.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2022
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Written Assignments