17.588 | Fall 2013 | Graduate

Field Seminar in Comparative Politics


Response Papers

Six “response papers” are due over the course of the semester. In some cases, the paper is framed as the sort of question you might get on a comprehensive exam; in other cases, it is presented as a consulting project you might be invited to do; in still others, you are asked to peer-review an article; and in the rest you are asked to design a study that tests a certain question. Regardless, the goal is to get you to identify the central issues that the assigned readings for the week address, to describe the authors’ positions vis-à-vis those issues, to comment critically on the state of the debate, to assess individual contributions to it, and to extrapolate from the literature. In short, your paper should not be a summary of the readings but rather a critical discussion of the issues that they address.

Each paper should be around 1,200 words, though I will read more if the paper is of high quality. A list of Stylistic and Substantive Hints for Writing Papers (PDF) is included here. Please do go through these hints before you submit your papers.

I would recommend you allow yourself 6 hours or so to write each paper, after you have completed all the readings for the week.

Paper Topics

The table below contains suggested response paper topics, and the week in which they were given.

Note: there were no paper topics given during Week 1.

2 Does democracy depend upon a particular class structure? If so, which one?
3 Assume that, as an empirical matter, Islamic countries are less likely to be democracies than other countries that appear to share similar characteristics. (I.e., assume that the sign on “percentage of the population that is Muslim” or “majority Muslim country” is statistically significant and non-trivial in magnitude in an OLS regression, in which the dependent variable is Polity IV score and the control variables include level of economic development, economic inequality, education, geography, etc.) Is Islamic culture responsible for this difference? Which aspects of Islam?
4 What would happen if the United States adopted a proportional representation electoral system tomorrow? [If you are not from the U.S. and want to write on some equally significant change in your home country, that is fine too.]
5 Under what circumstances do rulers “matter”?
6 Pick a country. Does this country have a weak or a strong state? Which of the arguments you encountered in the readings best explains why the state is strong or weak?
7 The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy is a brilliant but in some respects frustrating work; since it was published forty years ago, scholars have repeatedly attempted to reinterpret and tinker with Moore’s basic analytical framework or rethink his method. What do you see as his fundamental argument? What is he trying to explain – i.e., what is (or are) his dependent variable (or variables)? If you could reformulate Moore’s argument to make it as compelling as possible, how would you do so?
8 What sort of political institutions are most likely to promote economic growth?
9 Option 1 (PDF)

Option 2 (PDF)

10 Over the last four decades, there have been many critiques of (Donald) Stokes’s spatial model of voting but no one framework has supplanted it. What alternatives can you think of to the spatial model? How could you tell if any one particular alternative was superior?
11 Option 1 (PDF)

Option 2 (PDF)

12 The World Bank has hired you to recommend ways to reduce corruption in rural health clinics in the Kyrgyz Republic. Assuming that you find what you would expect to find after arriving in Bishkek (empty shelves where pharmaceuticals and bandages should be, hospital workers charging patients for clean syringes, rampant absenteeism, ghost employees, etc.), what would you recommend be done?
13 Was the political system of classical Athens more or less democratic than that of the United States of America? In what ways? During which periods? What would be the modern critique of Athenian democracy? The Athenian critique of modern democracy?

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2013
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments
Instructor Insights