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Comparative Government in International Perspective



The purpose of this lecture series is to provide students a theoretical perspective on state-society relations, and the role of public administration in shaping those relations. We deal with issues such as the formation of national states, the rise of bureaucratic government, government and cultural diversity, colonial rule, modernization, and “good governance” and corruption. All these issues crucially involve public administration, but, as this series will show, can best be understood in a broad historical and international comparative perspective.

The course is built around two classic studies—Jim Scott’s Seeing Like a State and Joel Migdal’s Strong Societies Weak States. These books are not “handbooks” in the sense of overviews of other work. Instead these studies present explicit, outspoken, and to some extent opposing theoretical perspectives. Both are based on a rich collection of comparative examples, cases, and illustrations, and thus provide a way of explaining and thinking about pressing issues in contemporary states around the world.

The aim of this course, then, is to present and discuss administrative issues in their social, economic, political, and cultural contexts, and to acquaint students with the study of countries outside Europe and the USA. It is not a regionally specific course, however. The theoretical perspectives that we discuss apply to all countries and administrative systems, hence the lectures shall illustrate issues with comparative examples from around the world.

Course objectives

  • Acquiring a basic understanding of theories and concepts in the field of international comparitive government.

  • Understanding and applying theoretical perspectives on state formation, development, and the role of government.



Mode of instruction


Assessment method

Reaction Paper (25%) and final written exam (75%). No compensation and both assessments > 5,5

You can find more information about assessments and the timetable exams on the website.
Details for submitting papers (deadlines) are posted on Blackboard.
On the Public Administration front page of the E-guide you will find links to the website, uSis and Blackboard.

Students will be permitted to resit an examination if they have taken the first sit and earned a mark between 3 and 5.5 or with permission of the Board of Examiners.

Resit written exam
Students that want to take part in a resit for a written exam, are required to register via uSis. Use the activity number that can be found on the ‘timetable exams’.


Gebruik van Blackboardcourse.

Reading list

  • Migdal, Joel S. 1988. Strong Societies and Weak States: State-Society Relations and State Capabilities in the Third World. Princeton New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

  • Scott, James C. 1998. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human condition Have Failed. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Use both uSis and Blackboard to register for every course.
Register for every course and workgroup via uSis. Some courses and workgroups have a limited number of participants, so register on time (before the course starts). In uSis you can access your personal schedule and view your results. Registration in uSis is possible from four weeks before the start of the course.
Also register for every course in Blackboard. Important information about the course is posted here.


Dr. F. de Zwart
Instituut voor Politieke Wetenschap, Universiteit Leiden.


Een hand-out en kalender met wekelijkse thema’s en literatuur wordt in het begin van de cursus verstrekt.