Feature Stories Campus Events All Stories

W&L Professors Combine on Comparative Politics Textbook

Collaboration between a professor of politics and a professor of sociology at Washington and Lee University has produced an innovative new textbook: “Comparative Politics: Integrating Theories, Methods, and Cases” (Oxford University Press, Dec. 2012).

The book focuses on teaching theory and methods at the college level, rather than just imparting basic factual information, which the authors said students can access very efficiently from their mobile phones, tablets and laptops. “We wanted to work on a textbook that helps students learn how to ask the ‘big questions’ and how to answer those questions by using the information they have already accumulated,” said J. Tyler Dickovick, associate professor of politics at W&L.

Dickovick and co-author Jonathan Eastwood, associate professor of sociology at W&L, introduce students to methods early in the book and then integrate them throughout to develop a systematic way of thinking about comparative politics.

Comparative politics, explained Dickovick, is defined not by the object of its study but by its method of making comparisons. For example, the questions that comparative politics address are why some states are strong and others are weak or why some areas have national conflict while others do not.

But comparative politics is not solely housed within political science, according to Eastwood. “I’m a sociologist and the disciplinary boundaries between sociology and comparative politics are pretty permeable because the fields share many of the same methodological and theoretical approaches to questions,” he said

The authors worked together on the introduction to methodology, as well as on questions about how states operate and how democracy, economic and political development work. In other parts of the book, Eastwood took the lead on areas that were more sociological while Dickovick concentrated on the institutions of government. “One of the really satisfying aspects of this project is that we both worked on all aspects of the book, critiquing each other’s work,” said Dickovick.

“I think Washington and Lee is conducive to these kinds of collaborations,” said Eastwood. “First of all, it’s a place that encourages exchange across departmental boundaries. You meet a lot of colleagues you can share ideas with, so we’re all talking to each other about questions of mutual concern to begin with. In many ways, this textbook grew organically out of my conversations with Tyler, and it’s an example of a pattern you see with great frequency here.”

The collaboration on the book extended across campus with 12 colleagues who were specialists in a region or country reviewing case studies that appear in the back section of the book. “They were extraordinarily generous in giving their time, and we were really thankful to be able to draw on the camaraderie and sense of community of our fellow scholars in Romance languages, history, religion, German, politics and sociology,” said Eastwood.

Washington and Lee students also got involved. Several students worked on the book as R.E. Lee Scholars over the summers, updating aspects of the text, seeking out information and critiquing the work from the perspective of an informed reader. Dickovick and Eastwood singled out two students who worked extensively on the book: Miranda Galvin ’12, a sociology and politics double major who is now in graduate school at the University of Maryland, and senior Ali Greenberg, a double major in global politics and Spanish, with minors in Latin American and Caribbean studies and poverty studies.

“Besides gathering new information on selected readings for an accompanying reader that Oxford University Press (OUP) will publish alongside the book, Ali took a major role in helping write our instructor’s manual,” said Dickovick. “She went through the text and actually constructed many of the multiple choice tests that other instructors will be using. I think she did a better job than we could have done.”

As a result of her efforts, Greenberg is listed as a co-author of the instructor’s manual. “I learned a lot about comparative politics and the sociology and politics behind it,” said Greenberg, “and it was a great opportunity to learn more about the publishing industry and what goes into making a textbook. It’s a lot more layered than I thought it was initially.”

In addition to the textbook, OUP is publishing a support package that includes an instructor’s resource manual, an instructor’s resource CD, a test item file that includes more than 800 test questions, a computerized test bank and Power Point-based slides on each chapter. A companion website offers all of the instructor’s resources available for download along with student resources including learning objectives, flash cards, self quizzes and related links.

Dickovick and Eastwood estimated that about 36 people reviewed and commented on chapters and about 150 potential adopters of the book were surveyed for comments. “The publisher wanted a textbook that works for large numbers of people and that is useful in classes in a range of different universities with different class sizes,” explained Dickovick. “So they had to approach their market very differently than the publisher of a strictly academic monograph would approach their market.”

Dickovick taught the manuscript version of the book and described it as “building from the course up to a book, as opposed to just writing the book and then using it in a course. Working on this book was the kind of scholarship that is about teaching and education targeted at undergraduates and was an opportunity to realize the teacher-scholar model that W&L strives for.”

Dickovick received his B.Sc. in economics and B.A. in international relations from the University of Pennsylvania, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in public affairs from Princeton University. He is the author of “Decentralization and Recentralization in Developing Countries: Comparative Studies from Africa and Latin America” (2011) and has published articles in many journals.

Eastwood earned his B.A. in philosophy and sociology of science and his Ph.D. in history and sociology from Boston University and is the author of several articles and book chapters and “The Rise of Nationalism in Venezuela” (2006).  He is also the co-editor of “The Revolution in Venezuela: Social and Political Change under Chávez” (2011).

“Comparative Politics: Integrating Theories, Methods, and Cases” is available at bookstores and online, as well as at W&L’s University Store (http://bookstore.wlu.edu).

Sarah Tschiggfrie
News Director