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Comparative Politics

The Department of Political Science at UCL has extensive expertise in comparative politics, which involves the study of the similarities and differences of domestic political institutions and behaviour. Whilst much of this work engages in comparison across states, the study of comparative politics also includes the examination of political institutions in a domestic context at national, regional and local levels. Such domestic topics include the study of electoral systems, federalism, societal features such as social networks and public mobilisation, and the social and political behaviour of organisations, groups and individuals. Comparative research also examines how political institutions, societal features, and individuals interact to produce political outcomes at the domestic level.

We offer world -class research in the following areas of comparative politics:

  • Comparative political behaviour, institutions and politics
  • Performance of European political institutions
  • Comparative political theory
  • Normative examinations of democracy
  • Democracy in divided societies and contentious politics

We have particular expertise in American, British, African, West and East European politics and our research and teaching agendas extend some of these themes and approaches to other areas of the globe, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

We bring a broad range of theoretical and methodological perspectives to our examination of comparative politics. Our work encompasses positive, interpretive and normative approaches to understanding political institutions and behaviour, and our research is characterised by a commitment to inter-disciplinarity.

Research Team Expertise and Expertise

  • Dr M. Rodwan Abouharb:  (BSc Brunel University, MA University at Buffalo, PhD Binghamton University) directs the MSc in Global Governance and Ethics and teaches Globalisation and Global Governance, International Political Economy, and Civil Conflict. His research examines how domestic economic and political change, international economic integration and the types of international governance regimes, affect the likelihood of civil war, repression, or the promotion of economic development. He examines these issues through statistical analyses.
  • Dr Kristin M. Bakke (BA Indiana University, Bloomington; MA and PhD University of Washington, Seattle) teaches courses on intrastate conflicts, political violence, and international relations in the Department of Political Science and the program in European Social and Political Studies.
    The questions and topics that motivate her research include why some states are better able to avoid intrastate conflicts than others, how decentralization can (or cannot) promote peace, the dynamics within self-determination movements, and the societal effects of violent conflicts.
    She studies self-determination struggles and conflicts in Russia and the Caucasus, India, and Canada.
  • Professor Richard Bellamy (MA, PhD Cambridge) is Director of the School of Public Policy and Professor of Political Science. His research encompasses normative and empirical theories of democracy, constitutions and citizenship, including such issues as designing institutions for multicultural and pluralist societies. Much of his research has explored these questions in the context of the EU, Britain, Italy and North America.
  • Professor Robert Hazell (BA, Oxford) is the director of the Constitution Unit, and of the Affiliate undergraduate programme, and lectures on British politics and the constitution.  His research interests include comparative constitutional studies, federalism and devolution, freedom of information, and parliamentary studies, with a special interest in Australia, Canada and New Zealand. 
  • Dr Jennifer van Heerde (BA University of California Los Angeles, PhD University of California Riverside) directs the MPhil/PhD programme and teaches Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods, Voters, Public Opinion and Participation, and co-convenes the PhD Seminar. Her research interests include campaigns and elections with particular interest in questions of party finance, political communication, negative advertising and public perceptions and attitudes of poverty.
  • Dr Cecile Laborde (PhD Oxford) is director of the MA in Legal and Political Theory and teaches the following courses: Applied Methods in Political Theory, Equality, Justice and Difference and Liberalism and Republicanism, as well as convening the PhD workshop in political theory. Her research interests include comparative political theory, theories of the state, religion and politics, and the philosophy of citizenship.
  • Dr Colin Provost (BA Occidental College, MA, PhD SUNY Stony Brook) is director of the MSc in Public Policy. He teaches Law and Regulation, Public Management: Theories and Innovations and co-teaches Theories and Actors of the Policy Process. His research interests are American state politics, judicial politics, organizational behavior and government regulation, specifically environmental policy and consumer protection.
  • Dr Christine Reh (MA College of Europe, PhD European University Institute) is the director of the MSc in European Public Policy and teaches the following courses: European Union: Institutions and Politics, Europeanisation, Globalisation and the Nation State and External Relations of the European Union. Her research interests include the constitutionalisation of Europe, informal politics in EU decision-making as well as the theory and practice of international negotiation.
  • Dr Meg Russell (BSc London School of Economics, MA/PhD Middlesex University) is Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit.  She is responsible for the courses on British Government and Politics, Gender and Politics and Parliaments, Political Parties and Policy-Making. Her main research interests are parliaments and political parties, including candidate selection, party organisation, bicameralism and the policy impact of parliaments.  She has previously worked as an adviser to the British government, and advised parliamentary committees, members and officials in the UK and overseas. 
  • Dr Sherrill Stroschein (BA Amherst College, PhD Columbia University) directs the MSc in Democracy and Democratisation. She teaches on democracy, institutional design, and institutions to govern divided societies. Her research interests include ethno-religious mobilisation and ethno-religious parties, as well as democracy and democratic transitions -- particularly in states with mixed ethnic or religious populations. Much of her research has examined these questions in an East European context, and she speaks a number of European languages.

Current Research Themes

1. Democracy and Divided Societies

The global trend of increasing democratisation has brought democracy to a number of states with particularly heterogeneous populations. The majoritarian premises of democracy can disadvantage minority groups, particularly where ethnic or religious groups are mobilised as ethno-religious political parties. Democratisation projects thus require an understanding of the institutional options that might mitigate tensions in divided societies. In addition, the normative understanding of citizenship and membership must keep pace with a growing trend of migration and transnational cultural ties. Dr. Stroschein’s work on the areas of institutions and mobilisation has been published in a number of academic journals, including Nations and Nationalism, Ethnopolitics, Voluntas, and Political Science Quarterly, as well as in a volume she has edited on Governance in Ethnically Mixed Cities (Routledge 2007). Dr Laborde has published a number of articles and three books on the relationship between pluralism and democracy: one (in French) on Islam and ethnic politics in Senegal (1995), Pluralist Thought and the State in Britain and France (2000) and Critical Republicanism. The Hijab Controversy in Political Philosophy (2008). Professor Bellamy has explored the more general issue of governing pluralist societies in his Liberalism and Pluralism (Routledge, 1999) and articles in Parliamentary Affairs, Constellations, and the British Journal of Political Science. Kristin M. Bakke's research focuses on the conditions under which domestic institutions such as decentralization or federalism can (or cannot) help preserve intrastate peace in divided societies. In two collaborative projects, Dr. Bakke's research further explores the effects of violent conflicts on inter-ethnic attitudes, as well as how divisions within armed groups affect conflict dynamics between these groups and the governments they are fighting. Her work has appeared in World Politics, Nations and Nationalism, and Regional and Federal Studies, and is forthcoming in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers.

2. Constitutional Change

The Constitution Unit within the School of Public Policy is an international leader in research on constitutional reform and devolution in the UK. The Unit has expertise in freedom of information and data protection; devolution and territorial politics; and parliament and parliamentary reform. Richard Bellamy has explored the normative legitimacy of constitutions and compared the relative effectiveness and justification of legal and political mechanisms for securing the constitutional goods of rights protection and the rule of law, both in articles in Political Studies and British Journal of Political Science and a number of books, including his Political Constitutionalism (Cambridge University Press, 2007). Robert Hazell’s research has addressed comparative constitutional studies, federalism and devolution, freedom of information, and parliamentary studies, with a special interest in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.  Comparative work which he has authored or supervised includes a study of the implementation of freedom of information in Australia, Canada and New Zealand (1987); a comparative study of nine single chamber parliaments to inform the design of the new Scottish Parliament (1998); drawing on overseas experience to forecast the impact of constitutional reform in the UK (1999); auditing the performance of the devolved assemblies in the UK (2003); drawing on overseas experience to forecast the caseload of the UK Information Commissioner (2004). Jennifer van Heerde’s work on electoral and party systems highlights the political implications of differences in institutional design and has been published in the Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties. She has also published work in the British Journal of Political Science that examines how party funding and differences in state composition affect resource allocation decisions. Dr Meg Russell is a leading expert on House of Lords reform. She has most recently directed two projects: the first, funded by the ESRC, a major study of the impact of the 1999 reform on the House of Lords; the other, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, is looking at possible new options for the way the House of Commons governs itself.

Kristin M. Bakke's research on decentralization in divided societies comparatively examines the very diverse capacity of federal states to contain the often violent struggles between ethnic minority groups and the states in which they live, combining a cross-national statistical study of intrastate conflicts with in-depth case studies of self-determination struggles in three federations: Chechnya's relationship to Moscow, Punjab's relationship to Delhi, and Québec's relationship to Ottawa. Her work on decentralization has appeared in World Politics and Regional and Federal Studies.

3. European Politics

The Department engages in high quality research, addressing key empirical puzzles and normative questions faced by the European Union and its Member States. Drawing on various disciplinary, theoretical and methodological approaches, our research focuses on the European polity and its normative foundations; European governance and institutions; and the European Union in international relations. Please see for more information about our expertise and possibilities of co-supervision with the School of Slavonic and East European Studies and Centre for European Studies.

4. Principles of Democracy

Political philosophy examines the normative principles on which democratic institutions should be based. Liberals, communitarians and republicans, nationalists and cosmopolitans, tend to have different views of the nature, purpose and scope of democracy, its justification and authority. These differences lead to different understandings of how democratic institutions should be designed, what they might be employed for and when they need to be limited and in which ways. Prof. Richard Bellamy’s work in this area examines from a republican point of view the constitutional role played by the standard mechanisms of actually existing democracy, such as the competitive party system, the preconditions for citizenship, issues of public ethics, particularly the morality of politicians, and the dynamics of democratic deliberation and good decision-making. He has addressed these topics in his books on Liberalism and Pluralism (Routledge, 1999), Rethinking Liberalism (Continuum 2000), Political Constitutionalism (Cambridge University Press, 2007) and Citizenship: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford university Press, 2008), as well as articles in Government and Opposition, European Journal of Political Research, Law and Philosophy among other outlets. Dr Laborde has explored the normative foundations of citizenship, patriotism, toleration and republican democracy in a range of articles published in British Journal of Political Science, Journal of Political Philosophy,, Political Theory, Political Studies, European Journal of Political Theory, Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, Constellations.

5. Parties, Politics & Policy

Since the 1970s scholars have witnessed the steady decline of party membership, the number of partisan identifiers in the electorate and trust in traditional political institutions. At the same time, the traditional function of political parties—the key linkage between citizens and the start—has been challenged by organised interests who compete with parties to provide information, set the agenda and shape policy options. Dr van Heerde’s work on political advertising has examined the extent to which British political parties have become Americanised in terms of negative appeals to voters and the extent to which parties are taking advantage of sophisticated and technologically advanced means of voter contact. At the American federal level, Dr Provost has examined the effects on policy making of President Bush’s strong attempts to control the bureaucracy, while at the state level, he has analyzed the regulatory decision making of state attorneys general. Dr Russell’s work on parliament and devolution, internal organisational reform in the Labour Party, and legal mechanisms for promoting women's representation has resulted in a number of leading publications including Building New Labour: The Politics of Party Organisation, Palgrave and ‘Positive Action to Promote Women in Politics: Some European Comparisons’ in International and Comparative Law Quarterly with Colm O'Cinneide.

6. Domestic Political, Economic & Social Consequences of International Regimes

Cutting across traditional comparative and international relations boundaries some of our department's research examines the domestic consequences of international regimes.  M. Rodwan Abouharb publishes on the impact of the International Financial Regime and International Human Rights Regime on human rights repression, rebellion, democratic rights and economic development. His book Human Rights and Structural Adjustment co-authored with David Cingranelli published by Cambridge University Press examines the impact of World Bank and IMF structural adjustment agreements on government respect for a variety of human rights. His current research also co-authored with David Cingranelli examines the competing effects of the international financial and international human rights regimes on economic and social human rights in the developing world. Other research co-authored with Susan Aaronson examines the impact of the World Trade Organisation on democratic rights in member countries. He is also co-authoring a project with Caroline Payne which examines how the international human rights regime (inadvertently) encourages governments to shift from overt to covert forms of human rights abuse.

Research Themes and Groups

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Page last modified on 26 oct 09 11:23

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