Actors, Factors and Choices: An Introduction to Comparative Politics

Authors: Neal Carter, Bridgham Young University - Idaho

Context: POLSC 150: Introduction to Comparative Politics

This is the first substantive module used in POLSC 150: Introduction to Comparative Politics. This class is geared primarily toward Political Science, Public Policy and Administration, and International Studies majors in their first or second year of undergraduate studies. Sections typically have between 20 and 45 students. This module is designed for students to learn about three main theoretic approaches (culturalism, institutionalism, and rational choice) and start applying scientific reasoning and methods with special attention given to case selection. Sections are taught MWF for 1 hour each class period.

Required Reading

Preparation includes Chapter 1 of Gregory S Mahler Comparative Politics: Exploring Concepts and Institutions Across Nations 6th ed. (2019 Lynne Rienner), a brief explanation of methods and diagrams I wrote (Methods and Diagrams and Comparative Methods as well as videos I have made (Introduction to Rational Approach; Prisoners' Dilemma; Chicken).

Learning objectives: after completing the preparation assignments, students should be able to:
  1. Distinguish among the Institutional, Cultural, and Rationalist approaches in explaining comparative politics.
  2. Select best Most Similar System and Most Different System cases from a list of options based on the similarity or differences of the values of variables.
  3. Demonstrate how complex causality poses challenges for causal claims in political analysis.
  4. Explain how Prisoners' Dilemma and Chicken can be used to depict political decisions.


This early module of the course provides an introduction to the main course objectives. While they will not be able to perform these objectives at a high level, they will develop at least a rudimentary familiarity with them.

By the end of the module, students will be able to: Material Collection