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Seminar Report*

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The study of comparative politics has been primarily concerned thus far with the study of the formal institutions of governments—particularly the governments of Western Europe. It has been in this sense not only parochial but also primarily descriptive and formalistic. Its place in the field of political science, while suffering from all the ambiguities and methodological inadequacies of the field in general, has been ill-defined. Is the student of comparative politics primarily concerned with the meticulous description of the formal institutions of various polities or is it his role to undertake comparison? If the latter, what is the meaning of comparison? Is it confined simply to the description of differences among various institutional arrangements? Does comparison stop when we note that England has had a two-party system whereas France has had a multi-party system? Does a description of the institutional arrangements of the Soviet Union reveal in any sense the most relevant factors that account for the differences between it and Western democracies? If comparison is to be something more than the descriptive portrait of formal institutional differences, what should be its aim, scope, and method? Should the student of comparative politics attempt to compare total configurations? If not, then he has to develop a precise notion of what can be isolated from the total configuration of a system or systems and compared, i.e., understood and explained with reference to similar patterns wrenched from the total configuration of another system.

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* A Summary of the Report appeared in Items, Vol. 6, pp. 45–49 (Dec., 1952)

Seminar Report*

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