The subfield of comparative politics, the study of places other than the United States, yields extraordinary diversity of questions and approaches as well as unusual ways of defining research communities. The field includes scholars with expertise in area studies (considerable knowledge of specific geographic locales) and scholars who emphasize cross-national comparisons. Comparative politics at Columbia combines the excellence of its area studies centers and a commitment to excellence in other dimensions of the subfield. Columbia comparativists employ current theoretical debates, cutting-edge methodological techniques, and deep area knowledge to answer important substantive questions in the world today. Our approach is to use rigorous studies of political processes around the world to contribute to general debates at the heard of the subdiscipline: Why are politicians responsive to the needs of citizens in some countries but not in others? Why do people vote on ethnic lines in some places but not others? Why do some states guarnatee social protection for their citizens whereas others leave it in the hands of the market? How do political institutions and social factors shape the provision of public goods? What role to property rights play in transitions to democracy and to market economies? Why does the extent of policy redistribution vary across countries and across policy areas?
Graduate students in comparative politics take the two-semester field seminar (POLS GR6411-POLS GR6412) in their first year to become acquainted with the literature in the subfield across a range of topics. They then take two to four substantive courses in comparative politics (focusing on the politics of major geographical areas or on major themes in comparative politics) and other courses that fulfill department requirements. They participate and serve as discussants in the Comparative Politics Seminar, where guest speakers and Columbia graduate students and faculty present work in progress. Developing a research paper for one of their courses is usually the first step toward completing their second-year paper, which is presented in a department conference and discussed by a faculty member following the format of American Political Science Association (APSA) annual meetings. Most students also take the methods sequence and game theory in their first two years, and they apply their training to their papers and research. Many take additional courses in anthropology, economics, history, or statistics. In August of their second year, students take their comprehensive exams, and in their third year they dradt and defend their dissertation proposals.
Click here to view the Comparative Politics Comprehensive Exam Handbook, which has been prepared by the subfield faculty to help students prepare for the field exam.
In recent years comparative politics students have joined faculty to work on several major projects. They have undertaken research in Argentina, Brazil, China, Congo, Europe, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkey, Uganda, and Ukraine. They have conducted their own surveys, often under difficult circumstances, such as those involving rioters in Nigeria or rebels in Burundi. They have devised laboratory and field experiments, including efforts to understand elite persuasian in Zambia and voting behavior in Argentina. They have been among the first to develop and study major new datasets on patterns of voting, on ethnic cleavages, on political institutions, on social protection and redistribution, and on peacebuilding. They have developed game theoretic political economy models of clientelism, press freedom, and redistribution, and have employed cutting-edge statistical techniques to analyze data on citizen voting, district-level election returns, and newspaper coverage of corruption. They have labored in archives, interviewed political actors, and devised maps to study the regional distribution of resources. In short, Columbia students can be found all over the world using the best techniques to answer the most significant and difficult questions in comparative politics. They draw on support not only from the department but also from Columbia's extraordinary collection of area institutes (including those focused on Africa, East Asia, East-Central Europe, the Former Soviet Union, and Latin America).
Graduate students typically work closely with two or three advisors and usually collaborate in their research projects. Often, collaboration moves beyond research assistance, and graduate students co-author papers with faculty members. In recent years collaborative faculty-student work has included studies of post-conflict development projects in Indonesia; research on the distributional consequences of social programs; surveys of employers and labor unions; studies on the effects of electoral competition, partisanship, and crisis on policymaking; studies of religion and voting; analyses of cabinet turnover; analyses of inequality across ethnic groups; and analyses of presidential power in the postcommunist world. Students are also active in the Comparative Politics Seminar, where outside speakers present their work in progress (with a graduate student discussant) and where graduate students present new work (with faculty discussants). These workshops focus on the substance of the projects and also train students for professional presentations and job talks. Students and faculty also attend several other seminars related to comparative politics, which center on regional interests (such as the Political Economy of Latin American Seminar), approaches to the discipline (such as the Political Economy Workshop), or topics (such as the NYU-Columbia Seminar on Ethnic Politics).
Comparative politics Ph.D. recipients have accepted positions in leading universities in the United States and around the world. Recent graduates have accepted appointments at Barnard College, Brown University, University of California at Santa Cruz, University of Chicago, Florida State University, University of Michigan, New York University, Northwestern University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Notre Dame University, Ohio State University, Princeton University, Rice University, Washington University, Williams College in the United States. Recent comparative politics graduates have also accepted positions at international universities, including Bogazici University, University of Canterbury (New Zealand), University Liverpool, University of London, London School of Economics, and National Autonomous University of Mexico, and Peking University. Still other graduates have taken positions at organizations such as the Brookings Institution, the National Elections Institute (Mexico), the Democratic National Committee, and the International Monetary Fund.