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Comparative Politics

COMPARATIVE POLITICS at UMass Amherst embodies an exciting and distinctive approach to understanding and explaining the organization, exercise, and contestation of power across time and space. Whether studying activism and protest in Latin America, the meaning of the word “democracy” in the Philippines, the history of electoral systems in Western Europe, the creation of order in Central Asian bazaars, dependency and clientelism in the Caribbean, or the division of labor and space on the kill floor of an industrialized slaughterhouse in the Great Plains of the United States, our faculty showcase the theoretical and analytical promise of bringing enduring political questions into conversation with rigorous, close-to-the ground empirical research.

SUBFIELD STRENGTHS: Some of the questions we ask:

  • Democracy. Does democracy mean the same thing everywhere?
  • Elections. Why do countries adopt different kinds of electoral systems? Are clean electoral reforms always good? What are voters, really?
  • Development. How do everyday people and elites understand, shape, contest, and legitimate their roles in market economies?
  • Social movements. How are activism, participation, and protest being reconfigured in the 21st century?
  • Mass violence. How is mass violence made acceptable to those who engage in or benefit from it?

We answer such questions by conducting empirical investigations in a number of African, Caribbean, Latin American, European, and Asian countries as well as in the United States. In conducting our research, we draw upon a variety of field methods including participant observation, interviewing, conceptual analysis, archival work, and the administration of surveys. We are methodologically pluralist with particular strengths in interpretive methodology, political ethnography, ordinary language interviewing, and historical institutional research.

Our graduate curriculum rests on a set of intellectually challenging courses that cover a range of substantive, theoretical, and methodological topics; an individualized comprehensive examination system that gives students both a broad overview of the subfield and also launches them into their specific dissertation topics; and a mentoring network that keeps students on track. We designed this curriculum with an aim to help students develop creative and important research questions, craft solid research designs, acquire the methodological skills necessary to do their research, secure external funding, publish their research, and find good jobs.

CROSS-FIELD STREAMS. Our faculty engage in dynamic collaborative, cross-field and interdisciplinary research, sparking thematic connections and organized collaborations.

  • Protest Movements. Faculty from the Comparative Politics and Political Theory fields initiated an “On Protest” Working Group, which spans multiple universities and varied disciplines. The group has organized two international conferences and drawn significant external funding.
  • Political Economy.  Faculty from Comparative Politics and International Relations have collaborated to found the Political Economy Working Group, which convenes regularly as a forum in which faculty and graduate students critically and constructively critique draft papers. Members of this group also have the opportunity to meet and network with other scholars in the University and in the country working on exciting political economy research projects.
  • Conflict and Violence. Comparative Politics faculty regularly participate in the Conflict, Violence and Security workshop, which aims to bring together those working in the areas of conflict and conflict processes, violence (and efforts to counter it, including non-violent approaches to conflict), and security - broadly defined to include human security initiatives as well as the security-seeking practices of political actors from the local to the global.  

Some Recent graduate seminars taught by comparative politics faculty

  • Comparative Politics Proseminar
  • Collective Action and Political Change
  • Distance, Deceit, and Denial
  • Democratization
  • Language of Politics
  • Latin American Politics
  • Political Economy of Development
  • Political Ethnography
  • Qualitative Research Methods

Recent Job Placements

  • Alyssa Maraj Grahame - Bowdoin College (Visiting Assistant Professor)
  • Kevin Pallister - Bridgewater College (Tenure Track)
  • Khorapin Phuaphansawat - Mahasarakham University, Thailand (Tenure Track)
  • Alper Yagci - Ozyegin University, Turkey (Tenure Track)
  • Gizem Zencirci - Providence College (Tenure Track)


Some Recent and forthcoming books in Comparative Politics

- Amel Ahmed, Democracy and the Politics of Electoral System Choice (Cambridge, 2013). Winner of the APSA best book award for European Politics and Society

- Sonia Alvarez (co-editor), ​Translocalities/Translocalidades: Feminist Politics of Translation in the Latin/a Américas (Duke, 2014)

- Sonia Alvarez (co-editor), Beyond Civil Society: Activism, Participation and Protest in Latin America (Duke 2017)

- Timothy Pachirat, ​Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight (Yale, 2011)

- Timothy Pachirat, Among Wolves: Ethnography and the Immersive Study of Power (Routledge, 2017)

- Frederic Schaffer, ​Elucidating Social Science Concepts: An Interpretivist Guide (Routledge, 2016)

- Regine Spector, ​Order at the Bazaar: Power and Trade in Central Asia (Cornell, 2017)