Saylor.org's Comparative Politics/Comparing Political Structures and Institutions

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Constitutions are road maps for political systems. They are an expression of collective values, and they enable developing institutions to begin to maintain security and stability. Constitutions define political leadership, modes of representation, a legal framework, and the limits of a government's power. Though constitutions vary from state to state, they also have many similarities. In this unit, we will look at how those similarities have emerged to serve common needs. We will also consider the ways in which differences between constitutions reflect the varying values and interests of diverse constituencies. For instance, legislatures may be divided into different types of houses and may have different rules for selecting their members, but they typically have the same lawmaking purpose. We will see that these similarities and differences can be traced to specific reasons that enable us to better understand a given culture or society. For example, the way in which a government is organized often reflects the social stratification of the political community in question.

This unit looks at each characteristic of government as a factor to be used in a comparative study of different governments. These factors are derived from not only the written constitution, but the types of political leadership and bureaucracy that have emerged in a society over time. In each case, we will discuss political factors with an eye toward comparison. We will identify the degree of bureaucratic privatization in a given system, discuss how the geography of a society determines the ways in which different levels of government interact, ask why certain governments tend towards immobilization in their policy-making, and explore how each of these factors leads to patterns in the political process over time.