What is the relevance  of studying comparative politics?

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To complement some of the answers that other educators have provided, I would like to consider the importance of studying comparative politics from a historical perspective. If we want to understand the rationale behind the socioeconomic systems and political dynamics that human societies embrace today, we cannot do so without...

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To complement some of the answers that other educators have provided, I would like to consider the importance of studying comparative politics from a historical perspective. If we want to understand the rationale behind the socioeconomic systems and political dynamics that human societies embrace today, we cannot do so without considering the historical circumstances that led to their emergence in the first place.

Why does the United States so strongly embrace the principles of free-market capitalism? Why, in the twenty-first century, has the world become hyper globalized? Why is it that people, both in the advanced, capitalist countries and in the Global South, acknowledge the existence of something they collectively label the “Third World?” Answers to these kinds of questions can only be discovered via a deep and critical evaluation of history. This is because the ways in which we conceptualize politics today is nothing like how we did whenever these issues first presented themselves to the world. Finally, “comparative” politics is critical in this regard, because no political decision is ever made in a vacuum.

To take a current-day example, we might interrogate Russia’s decision to become violently engaged in various international conflicts. Why did the Russian Federation invade Georgia in 2008? Why does Putin support the Assad government? What benefits does Russia obtain by helping perpetuate partisan conflict in the Donbass region of Ukraine? We might be tempted to argue that all of this is simply the result of an inveterate Russian expansionist mentality coupled with a series of immoral leadership decisions. This point of view is palatable to most Westerners, but it does not employ a comparative approach to understanding Russian politics. For that reason, it is not critical.

We may, then, decide to compare Western political values with those of the Russian Federation today—an exceedingly difficult task. Oil interests aside, Syria possesses Tartus, the only Russian port that opens up onto the Mediterranean. EU and US energy sanctions on the Russian Federation over the past decade have put a stranglehold on much of its domestic economy, forcing Russia’s leadership to look for alternative sources of revenue. The valuable oil pipelines that run through Georgia are tempting. Georgia is close to Russia and contains a Russian ethnic minority. Assuming control of the flow of oil and natural gas through the region could supply Russia with a much-needed source of income. Although one may still not agree with Russia’s methods, a comparative analysis of the political situation (or crisis) in the country can more clearly elucidate Putin’s decision-making process.

Finally, a historically comparative approach to Russian politics will provide us with the clearest picture that we can make.

Why does Russia care about Ukraine, anyway? In the first place, Russia’s largest natural-gas pipeline has run straight through the heart of the country since the Soviet era. Since the collapse of communism in Russia and the formation of Ukraine, Russia lost nominal control over the pipeline. Ukraine deprived it of much-needed oil and gas revenue. This is a comparative approach, if one was only aware of US reservations against Russian-Ukrainian interventionism.

In the second place, Ukraine is the historical heartland of the Slavic peoples. The territory of the Donbass region has been disputed between the Russian Empire, Soviet Union, and Russian Federation and the Ukrainian people on and off for centuries. Russia has an enormous cultural and economic investment in the region, and a large percentage of the people living in the East are actually ethnically Russian and speak that language. Thus, the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine, and Russia and everywhere else, for that matter, is not as simple as good versus evil. One can only reach this sophisticated conclusion by engaging both in contemporary and historical comparative political analysis.

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Comparative politics involves the comparison of political structures, organizations, and methods to draw conclusions and make generalizations about certain features seen worldwide.

Politics generally relies on real-world examples for study and it is, for obvious reasons, not really possible to conduct laboratory experiments on most aspects of the political environment in the same way it is done in other fields of the social/behavioral and natural sciences.

However, comparison offers an important way to test assumptions. Comparative politics, therefore, is a way to compare cases and examples of political organization and structure and draw conclusions from those. The comparison of states and sub-national polities allows scholars to form hypotheses and develop conclusions that could be valid in other cases. Its ultimate relevance is in its uniqueness within political science as a way to both craft theory and observe it in practice.

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First things first: what is comparative politics? This area of study compares various political systems, political institutions, and systems of government. By comparing the political systems adopted in various countries around the world, we can learn a lot about how systems (like democracy and socialism) work.

These comparisons broaden our perspective on politics and allow us to understand more about the field of politics as a whole, rather than focusing on how one country is run.

Studying comparative politics gives us a greater understanding of why the world is in the shape that it is in today as well as the context for current events. For example, examining China's transition from communism to a market economy helps us to understand why the nation has become so influential. Comparing traditional democracy to the political systems in which religious fundamentalism is rife helps us to understand things like mass migration and the refugee crisis currently occurring in many parts of the world.

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There are at least two main reasons for studying comparative politics.  One has to do with gaining a better understanding of the world outside your own country. The other has to do with learning more about how politics works in general.

One reason to study comparative politics is to learn things about countries that are not your own.  Most of us know very little about the political systems of foreign countries.  We know something about our own system but we do not think that other countries’ systems are important.  This type of ethnocentrism limits us and makes it harder for us to understand other countries.  If we study comparative politics, we learn about other countries and come to understand them better.  This is important since we live in a world that is globalizing rapidly and where other countries’ politics can affect our own lives fairly easily.

A second reason to study comparative politics is to understand more about politics in general (which can also help us learn about our own political system.  When we study comparative politics, we learn something about how different political systems work.  From this, we can extrapolate rules about how well various aspects of various political systems work.  We can compare different systems and think about them sort of as if they were experiments that tell us what types of political institutions are good in what situations.  This can be of interest to us if we are just interested in politics in general.  It can also be of interest if we want to think about how to improve our own political system.

Thus, the study of comparative politics is useful if we want to learn more about foreign countries, more about politics in general, or more about our own country’s political system.

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