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(Alternate title: PS2234 – Introduction to Case Studies, Qualitative Comparisons and Unique Quirks)
As I planned to take some modules within the sphere of Comparative Politics, taking an introductory module seemed appropriate. I thought it would give me a good foundation that would help in future modules that were within the same field of study, and managed to snag this module at a relatively low price (in terms of points). Also took it with a friend but she dropped it before the midterms due to being unable to cope with the additional workload (was overloading).
What I expected
I didn’t know much about comparative politics prior to taking this module as I had only done a single IR (international relations) module in my first semester, so I was just going by what the description mentioned. Comparing the different political systems between countries, maybe?
What I got
Comparing the different political systems it was. That’s essentially the core of comparative politics, and this introductory module focuses on four main countries that one learns in depth from a textbook (purchasable, but quite expensive at around S$70). These four countries are China, the United States, India and Japan. One learns in depth what the political landscape is and how various factors are more relevant to one country’s situation than it is for others. The textbook also covers how each country’s parliament works (in the case of China, how the Chinese Communist Party functions), which is quite interesting if one takes it to be a machine and studies each part as a cog in the bigger machine. A bit of history is also covered, but only major events are explained in depth.
The approach taken is that of the Structural-Functional approach, such that each structure is studied based on its functions. Said functions include interest articulation, aggregation and how these are used to devise policies for each country (making, implementation and adjustments). The module was done under Dr. Ray with Melvin as my tutor, and although Dr. Ray has slides replete with examples (and very, very good points), it often leads to him running overtime. Do take note of that if you’re planning to schedule classes back to back with this module. Melvin was an excellent TA, so if you’re in his class, that’s great!
As far as I can remember, no webcasting was practised for this module.
[Course Materials?] Slides and PDF readings. Textbook (Comparative Politics Today – A World View, 11th Edition by G. Bingham Powell, Jr., Russel J. Dalton and Kaare W. Strom) used.
Assessment & Workload
One is assessed as follows:
- Tutorial participation, as usual.
- Take-home midterm exams. It’s more of an essay broken up into several parts, and one has about a week to answer the entire exam (during their recess week) from the relative comfort of their homes. Quite manageable and covers topics taught within the module, as expected. The only problem is that there’s a word limit, so deciding which question to allocate more words to might be needed.
- A pre-finals quiz, only makes up 5% of the grade. More of a way to check one’s knowledge than anything else.
- Semester finals. 15 MCQs of one mark each, 9 choose 6 (9C6, choose 6 options out of a possible of 9) ID terms (including significance) and 2C1 essay questions (argumentative in nature). Manageable within two hours, but one has to really know their stuff to speed through the MCQs and ID terms in order to have sufficient time to draft a good essay.
The workload of the module is slightly light, with minor readings coming from given journal articles that one can quickly scan through and heavier readings coming from the textbook. Going through a chapter of the textbook (which covers the country) takes about…4 hours if done properly. Split between a couple of weeks though, that averages out to 2 hours (maybe up to 2.5 including extra readings) per week spent preparing for this. Tutorial preparation is surprisingly low at about 30 minutes per session since not that much is required to answer set questions if one has done the textbook readings and paid attention in lectures.
The mid-terms came back with… A-, which was surprising. I got penalized for writing too short for some questions (mainly because I was trying to stick within the word limit), and so I expected to either hold the same grade or drop by one (B+) at the end of the semester.
I dropped to a B+, probably because I only performed decently during the semester finals and didn’t do that well for the 5% quiz. Oh well, gotta do better in the future~
Conclusion & Tips
A solid introductory module that gives one a good grasp of concepts used within comparative politics. The workload is about par, maybe a bit light for a 2k module, but don’t expect to skip multiple readings of the four countries taught and get a good grade for the module overall. Smoking one’s way through is a bit hard if one doesn’t get the key words down in their paper and is unable to explain how it works or what its significance is.
- Focus on the four countries instead of the general theories used in the earlier chapters of the textbook. Comparison, not description, is required and rewarded throughout the module, since it’s about comparative politics after all.
- As long as one keeps up on the readings (which shouldn’t be too hard, they’re not very heavy imo), they should be able to get a passable grade (B- to B) without too much work.