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The University of Southampton

PAIR2041 Comparative Political Institutions

Module Overview

This course introduces students to the systematic study of political institutions and adopts a comparative analytical perspective. The course examines core concepts and theories of institutional design and change and explains why institutions matter, in what ways and how they impact policy outcomes and the quality of democracy across different political systems. The course discusses formal and informal institutions and distinguishes between political, economic and social institutions. It adopts a rational choice theoretical perspective and the readings have a strong empirical focus covering a wide variety of countries and political systems.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

The module aims: * To introduce students to core concepts and theories of institutional design and change * To enhance students’ understanding of the main methodological approaches used in the empirical study and comparative analysis of political institutions * To develop and consolidate students’ knowledge and understanding of the role played by formal and informal political institutions in determining the quality of democracy and the economic performance across political systems * To enhance and perfect students’ analytical skills and critical assessment of contemporary political events and phenomena.

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Explain the substantive and empirical difference between political, economic and social institutions.
  • Explain the role of formal and informal institutions in the functioning of modern democracies in a comparative perspective.
  • Critically evaluate the usefulness of different theories of institutional design and change to the study of modern states and contemporary politics.
  • Explain the effects of political institutions on the economic performance, political culture and democratic performance of modern states.
  • Develop a critical understanding of the effects of political institutions on individual political behaviour and civic participation.


Topic titles for each teaching week: Week 1: Conceptualising political institutions Week 2: Theories of institutional design and change Week 3: Constitutions Week 4: Executive institutions Week 5: Legislative institutions and electoral systems Week 6: Executive-Legislative relations Week 7: Judicial institutions Week 8: Institutions and Political Culture Week 9: Institutions and Development Week 10: Institutions and Political Behaviour Week 11: International Political Institutions Week 12: Thinking institutionally

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

The course is delivered by a combination of weekly lectures of 2 hours and fortnightly 1-hour seminars. Each student will have 2 weekly contact hours.

Independent Study121
Total study time150


Assessment Strategy

Written assignments. Assignment 1: Essay. Worth 40% of final grade. 1500 words. Assignment 2: Policy brief. Worth 60% of final grade. 3000 words.


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (1500 words) 40%
Policy brief  (3000 words) 60%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  ( words) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

Linked modules

Pre-requisites: PAIR1001 OR PAIR1002 OR PAIR1004 OR PAIR1005

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