University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Frederic C. Schaffer

Professional Title: 

Professor of Political Science


Thompson 438


Office Hours: 

Spring 2024. Zoom office hours only: Tuesdays 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm and by appointment. Please email me for the Zoom link


Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley


My subfield of specialization is comparative politics and my methodological areas of expertise are interviewing, working with concepts, and interpretivism. Substantively, I study the meaning of democracy, the practice of voting, and the administration of elections. What sets much of my work apart from other empirical research on democracy is my methodological focus on language. By carefully examining the differing ways in which ordinary people around the world use terms such as "democracy," "politics," and "vote buying"—or their rough equivalents in other languages—I aim to arrive at a fuller appreciation of how they understand and make use of electoral institutions. At UMass I offer undergraduate courses on the meaning of “politics,” the language of politics, and whether democracy is possible or desirable everywhere. At the graduate level I offer the comparative politics proseminar and a seminar on studying politics through language.

Beyond UMass, I am a board member and past chair of the Committee on Concepts and Methods of the International Political Science Association, founding member of the Methods Excellence Network, and past chair of the Interpretive Methodologies and Methods related group of the American Political Science Association. I teach ethnographic interviewing at the yearly Institute for Qualitative and Multi-Method Research hosted by Syracuse University. I also offer workshops on working with concepts organized by the European Consortium for Political Research as well as by the KiND Institute in collaboration with the Southern Political Science Association. I have taught similar workshops at institutions such as Pompeu Fabra University (Spain), Concordia University (Canada), the University of Innsbruck (Austria), and and the German Institute for Global and Area Studies (Germany).  I also recently offered an intensive Doing Interpretive Research workshop organized by the Methods Excellence Network and hosted by Department of Political Science at the University of Aarhus, Denmark. In addition, I have frequently served as a “concepts expert” at the Methods Café held during the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association.

Among my publications are Democracy in Translation: Understanding Politics in an Unfamiliar Culture (1998), Elections for Sale: The Causes and Consequences of Vote Buying (2007), The Hidden Costs of Clean Election Reform (2008), and Elucidating Social Science Concepts: An Interpretivist Guide (2016). My most recent work includes "Two Ways to Compare" in Rethinking Comparison: Innovative Methods for Qualitative Political Inquiry (2021) and a chapter on "Interpretivist Interviewing" in The Oxford Handbook of Engaged Methodological Pluralism in Political Science (forthcoming). I am currently writing a conceptual history of “the voter.”

Drawing on my research into democracy and electoral administration, I have delivered lectures and keynote addresses around the world on democratizing democracy, the meaning of democracy, democracy in translation, and the hidden costs of clean election reform. I have also served as an election observer in Senegal, worked as an election specialist in Iraq and Haiti, and advised civic organizations in the Philippines.


Area of Study: 

  • Comparative politics


  • Political Science