The Main Models of Comparative Politics Essay

The Main Models of Comparative Politics Essay

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Currently in the field of comparative politics, there are three main models that researchers tend to adhere to. These three are termed “rationalist”, “structuralist”, and “culturalist.” Each model has a quite distinct approach toward analysis of political phenomena. Simplified, they are as follows: the structuralist model examines the behavior of people based on the groups they belong to; the culturalist model takes careful note of the details surrounding particular events with respect to the distinguishing characteristics of the environment (or culture) that contained them; the rationalist model is based on logical explanations and predictions of behavior from the fundamental assumption of rational, self-interested individuals. Each model has benefits and drawbacks, however the rationalist model comes closest to what many would term “science” in the field that is somewhat controversially labeled “Political Science”.

The rationalist model is a serious attempt by political scientists to apply a much more logical and mathematical approach to comparative politics than other models can offer. The ultimate goal with a rationalist model is to find laws that can be universally applied to identifiable situations, with a predictable outcome. In order to achieve this lofty goal, concise mathematical formulas are made to represent issues. A fundamental assumption in these formulas is the rational individual who acts to maximize their interests. It is hoped that analyzing the aggregate behavior of these individuals will yield the laws and predictions expected by those utilizing this model.

The rationalist school of modeling has a common ancestry with economics. Adam Smith, the prominent economic theorist and advocate of the free market is c...


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... likely be assumed to maximize the desire with the most overall value. However, it can be seen in many cases that short-term, often trivial desires can trump longer-term, more meaningful ones. This behavior would be deemed irrational, but it nevertheless occurs and therefore degrades the predictions based on a rationalist model.

Despite these problems, I believe this model can be a quite useful way of analyzing behavior. It is easy to identify with the fundamental units, since we are all individuals and we like to believe we are ourselves “rational” (usually). From this starting point it is natural to extend and treat in aggregate, so it can be used as compelling evidence when forming public policy decisions. If there is to be any scientific component in the field of political science, it is surely going to require at least partial adoption of the rationalist model.

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