Challenges to Comparative Politics – new topics, concepts and methods

When: October 4th, 2021

Where: Online (Zoom)

Comparative Politics currently faces numerous challenges, as it has been emphasized by one
important figure of the discipline recently. As Philippe Schmitter states, “Comparative Politics
“should not and will not be the same as in the past”. He further underlines that "comparison
is an analytical method that is probably the best available to promote valid and cumulative
knowledge about policy, [but] [...] comparison has always had a practical objective, namely to
provide useful descriptive information on how policies are conducted in countries other than
one's own” (Schmitter 2016: 398). And it is precisely at this point that the current challenges
are situated: the classical research subjects and fields of Comparative Politics are currently
undergoing fundamental changes.


Political Science faces phenomena such as the breakdown of classical political systems and
Western Party systems, a worldwide rise of populism, new social movements fighting against
democracy, a renationalization, and an increasing role of diversity both in politics and
societies. This also means that the classical research topics of Comparative Politics, but also
established tools and approaches of analysis are put to a test. Approaches that are based on
the idea of separated nation states have difficulties grasping global transnational
interdependencies. Eastonian political systems models and concepts of modern mass parties
reach their limits when confronted with new social movements that use social media and
refrain from classical ways of activism and partisanship. The need to take into account these
changes in comparative analyses has significant implications for the research process. As a
consequence, the methodological and theoretical challenges involved and possible solutions
must be discussed (Simonis et al. 2010, Schmitter 2016).


This state of the art is the basis for the conference. Comparative Politics currently faces a
number of new theoretical, conceptual and methodological challenges the new task is to
include the changes and new developments in politics and society sketched above into the
research subjects, methods and research designs. At the same time, due to technical
developments and more interdisciplinary openness, Comparative Politics has new data and
methods at its


All this also puts established standards and traditions in Comparative Politics to a test, raising
questions such as the following: Which (new) theories, concepts, methods and approaches
are needed in order to tackle the new challenges? Do we want to explain the new phenomena,
or is it first necessary to understand them? In what way do we need to broaden the
established toolbox in Comparative Politics? To what extent and in which fields can we
continue to largely rely on quantitative methods and research designs that focus on largen
studies and/or variable testing? What are the potentials and limits of using the broad variety
of qualitative and interpretative methods, starting with expert interviews and ending with
ethnography and participant observation? To what extent and in which direction do we need
to take into account new and (recently) available data and methods? In what way will they
influence the development of Comparative Politics and research question we will ask in the
future? And to what extent is Comparative Politics influenced by a Northern and
tradition of theorising and thinking? In what respect do we need to integrate NonWestern
approaches more thoroughly?

This conference of the Section for Comparative Political Science will provide the
opportunity to discuss these questions, as well as the concrete challenges to Comparative
Politics. We would like to discuss the themes and topics that are currently relevant for
Comparative Politics, asking to what extent these are new and in what respect they differ from
previous ones. Furthermore we aim at discussing the theoretical and conceptual implications
as well as the methodological challenges that follow from the new constellation. To discuss
these and related themes, we welcome submissions for closed or open panels on topics such
What are the current challenges to Comparative Politics regarding topics, fields,
approaches and new developments in politics?
What are the related conceptual challenges?
Which theoretical and methodological consequences follow from them?
Which new approaches and new topics are to be taken into account?


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