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School of Social Sciences

Student in the Alan Gilbert Learning Commons
BSocSc Politics and International Relations
Gain the skills to critical examine international and comparative politics.

BSocSc Politics and International Relations

Year of entry: 2018

Course unit details:
Comparative West European Politics

Unit code POLI21002
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Politics
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This second year course, Comparative West European Politics, introduces some of the most important comparative politics theories and analytical models from the 1960s to the 2000s. For example, Lijphart, Ingelhart, and Sartori, amongst several others, are pioneers of this discipline and learning about them will be useful for many other modules you study too.

‘Comparative West European Politics’ is a potentially vast subject. The scope of the knowledge that we want you to acquire in this module will be indicated by the models, themes and problems outlined in the lectures and elaborated in related tutorials which you must explore further in the guided reading. We do not require your knowledge to be absolutely up-to-date (because of the time-lag in journal and book publication), but we do expect our students to take a lively interest in contemporary European politics: you should try to read the European pages of the ‘quality’ newspapers and weeklies regularly like the Economist and the Guardian.

There are no requirements for having taken previous modules, on comparative politics or European politics, as everything will be explained from a first principles perspective. The choice of themes is explicitly comparative, but for the sake of manageability, the course focuses on just three countries: the ‘Latin’ case of France, the ‘Germanic’ case of Germany, and the ‘Nordic’ case of Sweden. There is no need to speak French, German or Swedish in any way!


This course unit aims to:

Analyse and understand the differing approaches to governance exhibited in Western Europe, particularly in France, Germany and Sweden. This analysis will be structured around a comparative perspective that is primarily based upon several key theories of democracy. As a result of taking this course, students will be well positioned to conduct further comparative and specialised area courses in the Third Year. 

Learning outcomes

This module enjoys three main learning outcomes:

1) to extend the study of comparative politics, looking comparatively at three large democracies in Europe, namely France, Germany and Sweden, all of which reveal distinctive institutional patterns;

2) to introduce students to some key political science theories and models. The selected theories and models have been chosen precisely because they are excellent vehicles for introducing second year students to the study of comparative politics; and

3) to provide students with the conceptual equipment for more advanced comparative politics and specialised area courses in the third year. 

Teaching and learning methods

20 hours of lectures over 10 weeks and 10 hours of tutorials over 10 weeks will be given, resulting in 30 hours in total. The aim will be to promote enquiry-based learning through the use of lectures, workshop formats, and open discussions. Blackboard will be used as a repository for the introductory lecture slides, presentation materials, and course information. 

Knowledge and understanding

  • Develop an in-depth knowledge of the political and policy-making processes of contemporary France, Germany and Sweden.
  • Build a good understanding of the historical traits that have shaped the political culture in France, Germany and Sweden; 
  • Enhance their understanding of the political economy of Western Europe and of the impact of European Union membership on the political and economic landscape in the region;
  • Develop an understanding of several key theories of democracy and policy-making.

Intellectual skills

  • Develop their skills on the use of the comparative method in the study of political phenomena;
  • Enhance their ability to think critically about key developments in Western Europe affecting the entirety of the European continent, including the integration of the European Union.

Practical skills

  • Strengthen debating and public speaking skills through participation in tutorials.

Employability skills

See additional notes at the bottom of the page

Assessment methods

Essay: worth 40% 2,600 words

Exam: 2 hour exam worth 60%

Feedback methods

Politics staff will provide feedback on written work within 15 working days of submission.

Students should be aware that all marks are provisional until confirmed by the external examiner and the final examinations boards in June.

For modules that do not have examination components the marks and feedback for the final assessed component are not subject to the 15 working day rule and will be released with the examination results.

You will receive feedback on assessed essays in a standard format. This will rate your essay in terms of various aspects of the argument that you have presented your use of sources and the quality of the style and presentation of the essay. If you have any queries about the feedback that you have received you should make an appointment to see your tutor.

On assessments submitted through Turnitin you will receive feedback via Blackboard. This will include suggestions about ways in which you could improve your work in future. You will also receive feedback on non-assessed coursework, whether this is individual or group work. This may be of a more informal kind and may include feedback from peers as well as academic staff

Recommended reading

Hancock, M. D. et al Politics in Europe 6th ed (Macmillan: 2014). 

This book has very good sections on France (by Safran), Germany (by Conradt) and Sweden (by Hancock). There are multiple copies in the library. The previous two versions (5th ed from 2011 and 4th ed from 2006) would also suffice and can be bought cheaply, second-hand. There are multiple copies of the 2006 edition in the library. The pre-2006 versions are too out-of-date to be especially helpful, but if you can find them very cheaply, they may still come in handy.


Additionally, the following two textbooks are strong, but are not in any way expected purchases, and are instead useful additional sources to complement your reading:


Colomer, J. M., Comparative European Politics. Third Edition (Routledge, 2008).

Chapters 3, 4 and 8 relate to Germany, France and the Nordic Countries (rather than Sweden specifically), respectively. A digitised copy of Chapter 3 is available from the University library.


Bale, T. European Politics: A Comparative Introduction (Palgrave: 2017).

This book is divided by themes, rather than states, and contains relevant chapters on parties and governance models in particular.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Tutorials 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Paul Tobin Unit coordinator

Additional notes

This is a great module for students wishing to develop and demonstrate skills that can be applied in a wide range of different jobs, voluntary roles, internships and work placements. It could be particularly useful for people considering careers in the civil service, journalism, think tanks, research and policy, and charitable organisations.  Although the cases are France, Germany and Sweden, the ideas we examine are applicable the world over. For example, you will learn about foreign policy, welfare policies, economic policies, party politics and much more, making this module an ideal grounding for a wide range of jobs.

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