GV922-7-SU-CO:
Concepts and Measurements in Comparative Political Research

The details
2020/21
Government
Colchester Campus
Summer
Postgraduate: Level 7
Current
Sunday 25 April 2021
Friday 02 July 2021
15
05 June 2020

 

Requisites for this module
(none)
(none)
(none)
(none)

 

(none)

Key module for

MRESL25024 International Relations,
MRESL20024 Political Science

Module description

On what ground can we conclude that government A performs better than government B? Are elections more competitive in country B than country A? Are citizens in country A more knowledgeable about politics than citizens in country B? How do we know the relative importance and salience of a specific policy issue or policy dimension in country A compared to that in country B?

Most political science research addresses questions that require some form of comparison to give an answer. The questions often direct us to compare political attitudes and behaviors of citizens, characteristics of electoral processes and party competitions, or the performance of politicians, parliaments, and governments across time and space.

As stated by Almond et al., "comparison is the methodological core of the scientific study of politics (Almond, Powell, Strøm and Dalton, 2001)." Therefore, understanding the measurements for key concepts in political science must be one of the most fundamental and essential part for students of political science in order to conduct systematic and scientific research, especially in comparative politics.

This seminar offers an in-depth and thorough understanding of (conventional and alternative) measurements for the core concepts in comparative political research. The seminar focuses on core theoretical concepts in three broad research areas: 1) citizen competence, 2) institutional contexts related to elections, party competition, and legislative behavior, and 3) the quality of democracy and government performances. This seminar also facilitates discussions on the substantive importance of key concepts and critical assessment of the correspondence between the measurements and the theoretical and conceptual ideas. Lastly, the seminar aims to deal with issues related to measurement comparability. As Guy Peters stated, the measurement and the problems of comparability of measures are perhaps the most fundamental barriers to good comparative research (Peters 1998, p.80). Therefore, understanding the issue of comparability and equivalence of the measurements will be invaluable to improve the current practice in political science research.

Module aims

The seminar aims to cover a range of topics and questions, including:
- What are the concepts that are important for understanding behaviors and performances of political actors (e.g., citizens, parties, politicians) and the working of contemporary representative democracies? How are they defined and operationalized?
- How are these key concepts measured in political science research? To what extent are the measurements corresponding to the theoretical ideas?
- What is measurement equivalence, comparability, reliability, and validity? How can we apply these standards to measurements used in inter-personal or cross-national comparisons?
- What are the issues and challenges in existing measurements based on mass opinion surveys, expert surveys, composite indices, and/or various indicators for political and social contexts?
- (With regard to the issues and challenges above) how to improve the measurements to enhance their validity, equivalence, comparability, and the correspondence with theoretical concepts?
- What are the important theoretical concepts in comparative political research that we are missing a valid measurement for? If any, how can we develop and construct better measurements?

Module learning outcomes

This seminar offers an extensive and in-depth understanding of how to conduct good empirical research in comparative politics, focusing on one of the most fundamental issues in the field -- measurements. The course module provides an overview of key concepts in comparative politics (including citizen competence, electoral and party competition, democracy and government performances) and in-depth discussions and thorough analyses of conventional and alternative ways of measuring the key concepts in comparative political research.

At the end of the seminar, students should be able to:
a. Understand key concepts in measurement theories.
b. Identify core concepts in comparative political research and their theoretical implications.
c. Explain different types of data sources and detailed processes to build up conventional and alternative ways to operationalize and measure the core concepts in comparative politics.
d. Assess the extent to which the measurements correspond to the theoretical idea.
e. Identify various issues regarding inter-personal and/or cross-national comparability of the measurements.
f. Apply theoretical and practical foundations to critically evaluate the comparability and validity of the measurements and identify limitations and challenges in them.
g. Suggest better ways to measure the key concepts to enhance the measurements’ validity, comparability, and the correspondence with the original concepts.

Module information

Module Description

On what ground can we conclude that government A performs better than government B? Are elections more competitive in country B than country A? Are citizens in country A more knowledgeable about politics than citizens in country B? How do we know the relative importance and salience of a specific policy issue or policy dimension in country A compared to that in country B?

Most political science research addresses questions that require some form of comparison to give an answer. The questions often direct us to compare political attitudes and behaviors of citizens, characteristics of electoral processes and party competitions, or the performance of politicians, parliaments, and governments across time and space.

As stated by Almond et al., "comparison is the methodological core of the scientific study of politics (Almond, Powell, Strøm and Dalton, 2001)." Therefore, understanding the measurements for key concepts in political science must be one of the most fundamental and essential part for students of political science in order to conduct systematic and scientific research, especially in comparative politics.

This seminar offers an in-depth understanding of (conventional and alternative) measurements for the core concepts in comparative political research. The seminar focuses on core theoretical concepts in three broad research areas: 1) citizen competence, 2) institutional contexts related to elections, party competition, and legislative behavior, and 3) the quality of democracy and government performances. This seminar also facilitates discussions on the substantive importance of key concepts and critical assessment of the correspondence between the measurements and the theoretical and conceptual ideas. Lastly, the seminar aims to deal with issues related to measurement comparability. As Guy Peters (1998) stated, the measurement and the problems of comparability of measures are perhaps the most fundamental barriers to good comparative research. Therefore, understanding the issue of comparability and equivalence of the measurements will be invaluable to improve the current practice in political science research.

Module Aims

The seminar aims to cover a range of topics and questions, including:
- What are the concepts that are important for understanding behaviors and performances of political actors (e.g., citizens, parties, politicians) and the working of contemporary representative democracies? How are they defined and operationalized?
- How are these key concepts measured in political science research? To what extent are the measurements corresponding to the theoretical ideas?
- What is measurement equivalence, comparability, reliability, and validity? How can we apply these standards to measurements used in inter-personal or cross-national comparisons?
- What are the issues and challenges in existing measurements based on mass opinion surveys, expert surveys, composite indices, and/or various indicators for political and social contexts?
- How to improve the measurements to enhance their validity, equivalence, comparability, and the correspondence with theoretical concepts?
- What are the important theoretical concepts in comparative political research that we are missing a valid measurement for? If any, how can we develop and construct better measurements?

Module Outcomes

This seminar offers an extensive and in-depth understanding of how to conduct good empirical research in comparative politics, focusing on one of the most fundamental issues in the field -- measurements. The course module provides an overview of key concepts in comparative politics (including citizen competence, electoral and party competition, democracy and government performances) and in-depth discussions and thorough analyses of conventional and alternative ways of measuring the key concepts in comparative political research.

By the end of the seminar, students should be able to:
a. Understand key concepts in measurement theories.
b. Identify core concepts in comparative political research and their theoretical implications.
c. Explain different types of data sources and detailed processes to build up conventional and alternative ways to operationalize and measure the core concepts in comparative politics.
d. Assess the extent to which the measurements correspond to the theoretical idea.
e. Identify various issues regarding inter-personal and/or cross-national comparability of the measurements.
f. Apply theoretical and practical foundations to critically evaluate the comparability and validity of the measurements and identify limitations and challenges in them.
g. Suggest better ways to measure the key concepts to enhance the measurements' validity, comparability, and the correspondence with the original concepts.


Module Structure and Teaching

This module will have two key parts: 1) Seminar meetings will take place via five two-hour seminars over three weeks (2 x 5) that will be live streamed to students off-campus; 2) Students will work on their own project toward the second assignment (Analytical report and presentation). Students are required to have one or two (virtual) individual meeting session(s) with the instructor in order to properly plan and execute the assignment.

The seminar sessions (live streamed to students off-campus) will cover the following topics:

Week Topic
Seminar 1 (Week 30) Measurement issues in political science research

Seminar 2 (Week 30) Measuring individual behaviour (Anchoring vignettes, Political knowledge and citizen competence)


Seminar 3 (Week 31) Measuring system level features I (Electoral systems, Party systems, Legislative behaviour)


Seminar 4 (Week 31) Measuring system level features II (Party competition and policy positions)

Seminar 5 (Week 32) Quality of democracy and government performance (Democarcy, Corruption, Human development)

Seminar 6 (Week 37) Student project outputs – Presentation and feedback

There are three learning goals for each substantive topic. The assigned reading materials are organized to serve them. First, grasp a general theoretical and research context in which the specific measurement is used. Second, scrutinize the measurement itself to understand the way the measurement is constructed. Third, critically assess the measurement in terms of (in-)congruence with the concept in the theory, validity, and comparability. Each assigned reading material serves to one of these learning purposes.

A. Concepts: Substantive and theoretical Importance – Why is the concept important? What do political science studies find the concept being related to other important concepts?
B. Measurements (conventional and alternative): Going detail with the conventional and alternative measurements for the concept – What data and information they are based on and what aggregation methods are used to build the measurements, if any?
C. Critical assessments – Do the measurements correspond to the theoretical ideas? Are they functionally equivalent and comparable inter-personally or cross-nationally? If there exist multiple measurements for a single concept, what are the pros and cons and which one do you think the best/better measurement and why?

What we expect of you during lecture and classes:
* To attend all lectures and classes after having done the required reading.
* To pay attention and take notes as necessary.
* To think about the readings and lectures notes before the class, and be ready to discuss them: try to identify the key assumptions in the texts; map the structure of the argument; underline the conclusions. Highlight to yourself points you don't understand. (If you don't understand it, there's great likelihood others have not understood it either, so don't be shy to ask.) Ask yourself whether you agree with the text, whether you can identify weaknesses or gaps in the argument, and what could someone who disagrees with it argue against it.
* To offer your participation as required (answering questions, asking questions etc.). Learning about and discussing these texts is a communal endeavour and it is a matter of good citizenship to contribute. Further, part of what we want you to achieve, and what we mark you for, is clear and confident oral presentation. You are expected to answer questions, raise new points, and contribute to the progression of discussion in class.

ASSESSMENT: This module is assessed by 100% coursework.

INSTANT DEADLINE CHECKER

Must be submitted by 09:45am on the day of the deadline.

Assignment Title Due Date Coursework Weighting* Feedback Due
Assignment 1 (Essay) Week 34 40% Week 37
Assignment 2 Week 37 60% (50% report & 10% presentation) Week 40
(Analytical report and presentation)

Assignment 1 (ca. 2000 words): In the assignment, students will write short essay-type answers for the given questions (40% of coursework). Essay questions will be released in Week 32, covering the topics dicussed in the five seminar sessions.

Assignment 2 (ca. 3000 words): Students will choose a substantive concept in comparative political research (e.g., fractionalization, corruption, transparency, party unity, etc.) either from the list of subtopics introduced in the outline or one that is of students' own interest. Students need to communicate with the instructor on their choice of the substantive concept (topic) by *Week 32*.
Students will write an analytical report on their chosen topic (50% of coursework), in which students will address 1) theoretical/substantive importance of the concept, 2) an in-depth review of existing measurements, 3) potential problems in the existing measures and the review of alternative measures, and 4) practical suggestion for a real application of the concept in hypothetical research (which instructure will provide a specific question for each topic). Students are strongly encouraged to have one-on-one meeting(s) with the instructor for the preparation of the analytical report.
Along with the completion of the report, students will present their outputs, students will present their output. The quality of the presentation and enagement in other students' presentation will compose of 10% of the coursework. Presentation material should be uploaded on Moodle page before Seminar 6. The presentation will either have to be delivered live or as an audio-recorded ppt depending on the circumstances – Further details will be provided as the module proceeds.

STUDY ABROAD ASSESSMENT – ZA/ZU/ZF variant: Same as above.

Learning and teaching methods

There are three learning goals for each weekly topic. The assigned reading materials are organized to serve them over the course of the term. First, grasp a general theoretical and research context in which the specific measurement is used. Second, scrutinize the measurement itself to understand the way the measurement is constructed. Third, critically assess the measurement in terms of (in-)congruence with the concept in the theory, validity, and comparability. Each assigned reading material serves to one of these learning purposes. A. Concepts: Substantive and theoretical Importance – Why is the concept important? What do political science studies find the concept being related to other important concepts? B. Measurements (conventional and alternative): Going detail with the conventional and alternative measurements for the concept – What data and information they are based on and what aggregation methods are used to build the measurements, if any? C. Critical assessments – Do the measurements correspond to the theoretical ideas? Are they functionally equivalent and comparable inter-personally or cross-nationally? If there exist multiple measurements for a single concept, what are the pros and cons and which one do you think the best/better measurement and why?

Bibliography*

  • Molinar, Juan. (1991-12) 'Counting the Number of Parties: An Alternative Index', in American Political Science Review. vol. 85 (4) , pp.1383-1391
  • Taagepera, Rein; Grofman, Bernard. (1985) 'Rethinking Duverger's Law: Predicting the Effective Number of Parties in Plurality and PR Systems - Parties Minus Issues Equals One', in European Journal of Political Research. vol. 13 (4) , pp.341-352
  • Deth, Jan W. van. (1998) Comparative politics: the problem of equivalence, London: Routledge. vol. 6
  • Iyengar, Shanto; Curran, James; Lund, Anker Brink; Salovaara-Moring, Inka; Hahn, Kyu S.; Coen, Sharon. (2010-08) 'Cross-National versus Individual-Level Differences in Political Information: A Media Systems Perspective', in Journal of Elections, Public Opinion & Parties. vol. 20 (3) , pp.291-309
  • Lee, Seonghui; Lin, Nick C.N.; Stevenson, Randolph T. (2015-09) 'Evaluating the cross-national comparability of survey measures of political interest using anchoring vignettes', in Electoral Studies. vol. 39, pp.205-218
  • Mainwaring, Scott; Zoco, Edurne. (2007-03) 'Political Sequences and the Stabilization of Interparty Competition', in Party Politics. vol. 13 (2) , pp.155-178
  • Dalton, Russell J. (2008-07) 'The Quantity and the Quality of Party Systems', in Comparative Political Studies. vol. 41 (7) , pp.899-920
  • Alberto Alesina, Arnaud Devleeschauwer, William Easterly, Sergio Kurlat and Romain Wacziarg. (no date) 'Fractionalization', in Journal of Economic Growth.
  • Elff, Martin. (2009) Political Knowledge in Comparative Perspective: The Problem of Cross-National Equivalence of Measurement., pp.1-27
  • Hollyer, James R.; Rosendorff, B. Peter; Vreeland, James Raymond. (2014) 'Measuring Transparency', in Political Analysis. vol. 22 (4) , pp.413-434
  • (2011) The Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) Module 4 Theoretical Statement., pp.18-20
  • (2015) Ranking the world: grading states as a tool of global governance, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Gschwend, Thomas; Schimmelfennig, Frank. (2007) Research design in political science: how to practice what they preach, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Benoit, Kenneth; Laver, Michael. (2006) Party policy in modern democracies, London: Routledge. vol. 19
  • Noam Lupu. (2015) 'Party Polarization and Mass Partisanship: A Comparative Perspective', in Political Behavior. vol. 37 (2) , pp.331-356
  • O'Brien, Diana; Shomer, Yael. (no date) 'A Cross-National Analysis of Party Switching.', in Legislative Studies Quarterly.
  • (2015) Routledge handbook of political corruption, Abingon: Routledge.
  • Taagepera, Rein; Grofman, Bernard. (2003-11) 'Mapping the Indices of Seats–Votes Disproportionality and Inter-Election Volatility', in Party Politics. vol. 9 (6) , pp.659-677
  • Rice, Nigel; Robone, Silvana; Smith, Peter C. (2010) 'International comparison of public sector performance: The use of anchoring vignettes to adjust self-reported data', in Evaluation: The International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice. vol. 16 (1) , pp.81-101
  • Carey, John M. (2007-01) 'Competing Principals, Political Institutions, and Party Unity in Legislative Voting', in American Journal of Political Science. vol. 51 (1) , pp.92-107
  • Lambsdorff, Johann Graf. (c2006-c2011) 'Consequences and Causes of Corruption: What Do We Know From a Cross-Section of Countries?', in International handbook on the economics of corruption, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar., pp.3-52
  • Laver, Michael. (2001) Estimating the policy positions of political actors, London: Routledge.
  • Gallagher, Michael; Mitchell, Paul. (2005) The politics of electoral systems, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Pedersen, Mogens. (1979) 'The Dynamics of European Party Systems', in European Journal of Political Research. vol. 7, pp.1-26
  • Posner, Daniel N. (2004-10) 'Measuring Ethnic Fractionalization in Africa', in American Journal of Political Science. vol. 48 (4) , pp.849-863
  • Rice, Stuart A. (1925-03) 'The Behavior of Legislative Groups: A Method of Measurement', in Political Science Quarterly. vol. 40 (1) , pp.60-
  • Laver, Michael; Garry, John. (2000-07) 'Estimating Policy Positions from Political Texts', in American Journal of Political Science. vol. 44 (3) , pp.619-
  • King, Gary; Murray, Christopher J. L.; Salomon, Joshua A.; Tandon, Ajay. (2003) 'Enhancing the Validity and Cross-Cultural Comparability of Measurement in Survey Research', in The American Political Science Review. vol. 97 (4) , pp.567-583

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Assignment 1    40% 
Coursework   Assignment 2 (Analytical Report & Presentation)    60% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%

Reassessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Seonghui Lee, email: s.lee@essex.ac.uk.
Dr Seonghui Lee
Module Supervisor Dr Seonghui Lee s.lee@essex.ac.uk Module Administrator: Jamie Seakens govpgquery@essex.ac.uk

 

Availability
No
Yes
No

External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Resources
Available via Moodle
No lecture recording information available for this module.

 

Further information
Government

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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