The Nature and Scope of Comparative Politics


Comparative politics is the study and appraisal of domestic politics across countries. Comparative politics has a long and very eminent history dating back just before the origin of systematic political studies in ancient Greece and Rome. Even ancient people compared their situations with those of other people with whom they came in contact. The ancient Greeks performed the earliest systematic comparisons of a more modern and secular. 

Comparative politics is a key area in political science, pigeonholed by an empirical approach based on the comparative method. To put it in another way, comparative politics is the study of the domestic politics, political institutions, and conflicts of countries. It often encompasses comparisons among countries and through time within single countries, emphasizing major patterns of similarity and difference. Many political theorists like Arend Lijphart argued that comparative politics does not have a functional focus in itself, instead of a methodological one (Lijphart, Arend,1971). In simple form, comparative politics is not defined by the object of its study, but by the method, it applies to study political phenomena. Peter Mair and Richard Rose gave a modern definition of comparative politics and stated that comparative politics is elaborated by a combination of a substantive focus on the study of countries' political systems and a method of recognizing and explaining similarities and differences between these countries using common models (Peter, 1996). 

In the field of Comparative politics, the term politics has three connotations such as political activities, the political process, and political power. The political activity consists of the efforts by which the conditions of conflicts are created and resolved in a way pertaining to the interest of people as far as possible who play their part in the struggle for power.  

The political process is an extension of political activity. Political power is the major topic in comparative politics. The term power has been defined by different writers. Friedrich described power as a certain kind of human relationship. Whereas Tawney explained power as a capacity of an individual or group of individuals to modify the conduct of other individuals in a manner which he desires. 

When applied to particular fields of study, comparative politics denotes by other names, such as comparative government (the comparative study of forms of government) or comparative foreign policy (comparing the foreign policies of different States in order to establish general empirical connections between the characteristics of the State and the characteristics of its foreign policy). Many theorists articulated that "Comparative political science" as a general term for an area of study, as opposed to a methodology of the study, can be seen as redundant. The political only shows as political when either an overt or tacit comparison is being made.


The nature and scope of comparative politics are fathomable only when one understands the main characteristics and significance of comparative government. Although the two terms 'Comparative Politics' and 'Comparative Governments' are used lightly and interchangeably, there is a distinction between them. Conventionally, the comparative study of politics stands entitled as 'comparative government'. Comparative government includes the study of features and legal powers of political institutions existing in various states. It is the study of state and other political institutions in terms of their legal powers, functions, and positions on a comparative basis.

Key characteristics of comparative government are mentioned below

  1. Stress upon the study of political institutions of various countries.
  2. Focus on the study of major constitutions of the world.
  3. Emphasis upon the study of powers and functions of various political institutions working in different countries.
  4. The formal study of the organization and powers, description of the features of the constitutions and political institutions, and legal powers of political institutions form the basic contents of a comparative government study.
  5. To devise a theory of ideal political institutions has been the objective.

These traits make comparative government a popular area of study during the beginning of the 20th century. Subsequently, the Majority of political scientists were greatly displeased with its narrow scope, intuitive methodology, and formal legalistic-institutional and normative approach. These researchers then adopt comprehensiveness, realism, precision, and scientific study of the processes of politics as their new goal. Their efforts came to be labeled as comparative politics. 

Basically, the study of comparative politics involves mindful comparisons in studying political experiences, institutions, behavior, and processes of major systems of government. It comprises the study of even extra-constitutional agencies along with the study of formal governmental organs. It is concerned with important regularities,  similarities, and differences in the working of political behavior. Consequently,  comparative Politics can be defined as the subject that compares the political systems in various parts of the globe, with a view to comprehend and define the nature of politics and to devise a scientific theory of politics.

Some popular definitions of comparative politics are given below:

  1. According to John Blondel, comparative politics is "the study of patterns of national governments in the contemporary world". 
  2. M.G. Smith described that "Comparative Politics is the study of the forms of political organizations, their properties, correlations, variations and modes of change".
  3. E.A Freeman stated that "Comparative Politics is a comparative analysis of the various forms of govt. and diverse political institutions". 

It can be established that comparative politics encompasses a comparative study of not only the institutional and mechanistic arrangements but also an empirical and scientific investigation of non-institutionalized and non-political determinants of political behavior. An empirical study of political processes, structures, and functions shapes a major part of comparative political studies. 

It is demonstrated in the literature that comparative analyses and compares the political systems operating in various societies. To do this, it takes into account all the three implications of politics that include political activity, political process, and political power.

Comparative Politics is pigeonholed by numerous features. These are mentioned below:

Analytical and empirical research

An objective study of politics: A value-free empirical study-It rejects normative descriptive methods of comparative government.

Study of the infra-structure of politics: Comparative Politics, now analyses the actual behavior of individuals; groups structures, subsystems, and systems in relation to the environment. It studies the actual behavior of all institutions. 

Inter-disciplinary focus: Comparative Politics focuses upon an interdisciplinary approach. It studies politics with the help of other social science like psychology, sociology, anthropology, and economics. It studies political processes in both developed and developing countries. The biased and parochial nature of traditional studies stands replaced and the study of political systems of Asia, Africa, and Latin America enjoys equal importance with the study of African and European political systems.

Theory building as the objective: The objective of Comparative politics study is scientific theory building. Adoption of 'Political Systems With the above features, Comparative politics emerges as a new science of politics. It has prohibited the non-comprehensive scope, formal character, legal and institutionalized framework, normative approach, and parochial nature of the traditional comparative government studies.


Political investigators use different approaches tools to arrive at greater political understanding. Approaches support in defining the kinds of facts that are relevant. The diversity of approaches is used by political scientists to attack the complexity of political systems and behavior. Conventionally, the study of comparative politics is termed as 'comparative government'. It includes the study of political institutions existing in various states. The features, advantages, demerits, similarities, and dissimilarities of political institutions were compared. It was an attempt to ascertain the best of political institutions. The focus (Traditional view), continued to remain popular up to the end of the 19th century. 

In the 20th century, the study of political government underwent revolutionary changes. The traditional focus of the study of politics got substituted by new scope, methodology, concepts, techniques which were known as the contemporary view of the study of politics. Political researchers made great attempts to develop a new science of 'comparative politics'. They espoused comprehensiveness, realism, precision, and the use of scientific methods as the new goals for the study of comparative politics. This new endeavor is nowadays promoted as 'modern' comparative politics. In the modern assessment, the scope of comparative politics is much wider. It includes the analysis and comparison of the actual behavior of political structures, formal as well as informal.  

Researchers believe that these political structures, governmental or non-governmental, directly or indirectly affect the process of politics in all political systems. Both traditional and modern comparative politics adopt different approaches to its study. Traditional scientists follow a narrow and normative approach. It involves descriptive studies with a legal institutional framework and normative prescriptive focus. Whereas modern political scientists follow empirical, analytical studies with a process-orientated or behavioral focus and adopt the scientific methodology. It seeks to analyze and compare empirically the actual behavior of political structures.


The traditional approach to Political Science was broadly predominant till the occurrence of the Second World War. These approaches were mainly associated with the traditional outlook of politics which underlined the study of the state and government. Consequently, traditional approaches are principally concerned with the study of the organization and activities of the state and principles and the ideas which motivate political organizations and activities.

Characteristics of Traditional approaches:

  1. Traditional approaches are mostly normative and stress the values of politics.
  2. Prominence is on the study of different formal political structures.
  3. Traditional approaches made very little attempt to relate theory and research.
  4. These approaches consider that since facts and values are closely interlinked, studies in Political Science can never be scientific.


The political philosophers, later on, realized the need to study politics from a new viewpoint. Thus, to overcome the paucities of the traditional approaches, various new approaches have been promoted by the new political intellectuals. These new approaches are considered as the "modern approaches" to the study of Political Science. Many theorists regard these approaches as a reaction against the traditional approaches. These approaches are mainly concerned with the scientific study of politics. The first innovation in this regard comes with the advent of the behavioral revolution in Political Science. 

Characteristics of Modern Approaches:

  • These approaches draw conclusions from empirical data.
  • These approaches go beyond the study of political structures and their historical analysis.
  • Modern Approaches believe in interdisciplinary study.
  • They stress scientific methods of study and attempt to draw scientific conclusions in Political Science.

Structural functional approach:

According to this approach, society is a single inter-related system where each part of the system has a definite and distinct role to play. The structural-functional approach may be considered as an offshoot of the system analysis. These approaches accentuate the structures and functions. Gabriel Almond was an advocate of this approach. He described political systems as a special system of interaction that exists in all societies performing certain functions. According to him, the main attributes of a political system are comprehensiveness, inter-dependence, and the existence of boundaries. Like Easton,  Almond also believes that all political systems perform input and output functions. The Input functions of political systems are political socialization and recruitment, interest-articulation, interest-aggression, and political communication. Almond makes three-fold classifications of governmental output functions relating to policymaking and implementation. These output functions are rulemaking, rule application, and rule adjudication. Therefore, Almond believes that a stable and efficient political system converts inputs into outputs. 

To summarize, the comparative study of politics and government scans political institutions from constitutions to executives to parliaments to parties to electoral laws and the processes and relationships that account for constancy and change in political economy, culture, conflict, government, rights, and public policy. Comparative Politics encompasses the systematic study and comparison of the world's political systems. It describes differences between as well as similarities among countries. In contrast to journalistic reporting on a single country, comparative politics is mainly interested in discovering patterns, processes, and regularities among political systems. It looks for trends, for changes in patterns and it tries to develop the general hypothesis that defines these trends. It seeks to do such comparisons thoroughly and systematically, without personal, biased, or philosophical axes to grind. It involves hard work, clear thinking, careful and thorough scholarship, and (hopefully) clear, consistent, and balanced writing.

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