The purpose of comparative politics is to provide an array of conceptual and analytical tools that we can use to address and answer a wide range of questions about the social world. In this comparative politics course, students learned and applied these tools to compare issues taking place in the United States with solutions undertaken by other countries addressing similar problems.
We first learned the basics of comparative politics. We asked ourselves, “What makes good research?” We addressed how to think critically and analytically, and how to best apply these comparative tools to solve real issues. We learned different methods and systems of comparative logic and analysis, and how best to apply those systems to particular discourse. Thinking theoretically is an important aspect of comparative politics, as there is no single or dominant theoretical approach in the field. We learned how to apply comparativist strategies when examining both individual actions, as well as cultural and structural systems. Theory provided the tools for the students to frame and explain a variety of problems faced over the course of the semester.
In our class of about thirty students, each student resolved to bring to attention a particular issue facing the world. Some students addressed immigration reform, some addressed healthcare, and others climate change. As a class, we voted to address the War on Drugs in both the United States and abroad.
Split into eight groups, students researched drug policies from countries around the world, including the Netherlands, Norway, Jamaica, Brazil, Iran, Portugal, Colombia, and Mexico, and contrasted that with what they learned of the drug war taking place here in the United States.
Each group produced a case study outlining their respective countries’ approach to the drug war, and each group was able to provide a unique perspective. We were fortunate to be visited by Special Agent Gary Tuggle of the Drug Enforcement Agency, who engaged the class in their policy proposals and provided a different point of view for the students. Some of the ideas proposed by the students over the course of the semester included prison and sentencing reform, decriminalization of drugs, education reform, and emphasis on rehabilitative programs. All of these proposals were supported by quality research undertaken over the course of the entire semester.
By the end of the semester, students were able to collaboratively apply comparativist strategies and tools to produce a single policy proposal that the class felt best addressed the issues at hand concerning the war on drugs.