STV2350 – Autocratic politics

Schedule, syllabus and examination date

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Course content

The distinction between democracy and dictatorship (or “autocracy”) is one of the central ones in politics. Yet not all autocracies are alike—relatively open autocracies with elections and other seemingly democratic institutions, such as Singapore, exist alongside brutal and closed autocracies, such as North Korea. What distinguishes autocracies from democracies? And, what characterizes politics under different types of dictatorship? In this course, we address how autocratic regimes emerge, how politics plays out in such regimes once they are in place, and how autocracies die.

In the course, you will become familiar with a wide spectrum of autocratic regimes from across the world, with very different institutions. You will also become familiar with the key players shaping politics and their strategies. In particular, we will focus on how dictators and their support coalitions sometimes repress opposition and sometimes co-opt them and make them allies. We will further discuss how such strategies as well as different autocratic institutions shape not only policy, but also key outcomes such as economic development, income inequality, and war. Finally, we will look into which factors make some autocracies endure for decades, whereas others break down. In extension, we will discuss why the autocracies that do break down are sometimes replaced by new autocracies, whereas others are replaced by democracies.

Learning outcome


After having completed the course, students will:

  • Know how autocracy is defined and measured.
  • Know about different types of autocracies and forms of transitions in- and out of autocracy.
  • Understand central theoretical and empirical discussions in the research on autocracies, and be able to draw on these insights when discussing relevant topics.
  • Be familiar with theories of autocratization, democratization, institutions in dictatorships, and policy formation in dictatorships, and know how to use these theories when analyzing specific cases.
  • Be familiar with central theoretical and empirical contributions to the discussion on the role of individual dictators in policy formation in dictatorships, including the role of dictators in generating economic growth and conducting foreign policy.
  • Understand how different actors in dictatorships (in addition to the dictator) affect policy, including the support coalition, the opposition and the military.
  • Understand prominent theoretical explanations for varieties of institutions in dictatorships, including legislatures, elections and parties.
  • Understand theories of how, when and why, dictators choose to co-opt or repress the opposition, and use these theories to analyze specific cases.
  • Be familiar with empirical findings and theories relating to why and when autocratic regimes go to war, and other aspects of foreign policy.
  • Grasp discussions regarding different causes of how autocracies die, and why some regime-breakdowns end in democratization and some in continued dictatorship.
  • Know about different datasets on democracy and dictatorships and prominent datasets on autocratic breakdown, regimes and institutions in dictatorships.


Having completed the course, students will:

  • be able to understand and synthesize arguments and evidence in a systematic way, and communicate this to different audiences.
  • have practical skills in conducting systematic searches for literature and data.
  • have practical skills in conducting independent empirical studies.
  • have skills in distinguishing between theoretical models, and actual cases, and be able to use theoretical concepts and insights to understand particular cases.
  • have skills in analyzing how different research conclusions depend on different data sources and measurement choices.
  • have skills to distinguish between analysis of dictatorships that is grounded in existing research and those that are not.
  • have practical skills in reviewing studies and performing literature summaries.
  • have practical skills in providing constructive feedback.

General competences

The students will be able to:

  • separate between analyses that are founded on science and those that are not
  • distinguish between theory, general empirical patterns, and empirical information from specific cases
  • analyze and critically evaluate arguments empirically and theoretically
  • distinguish between empirical, conceptual and theoretical statements
  • investigate social science question using the scientific method
  • distinguish between conclusions that are based on specific cases, and those that are based on more general comparisons.


Students who are admitted to study programmes at UiO must each semester register which courses and exams they wish to sign up for in Studentweb.

If you are not already enrolled as a student at UiO, please see our information about admission requirements and procedures.

This course is not available for single course students.


Recommended previous knowledge

STV1300 - Introduction to Comparative Politics or other introductory courses in comparative politics.


Lectures and seminars.

Compulsory activities

  • Attend the first seminar
  • Write one response paper
  • Be a discussant on a response paper by another student

The seminars are taught in English, and the papers handed in must be written in English.

See the seminar guidelines for more information about the seminars.

See the rules for reassignment of seminar groups and the guidelines for compulsory activities

Absence from compulsory activities

If you are ill or have another valid reason for being absent from compulsory activities, your absence may be approved or the compulsory activity may be postponed.


  • Three-hour written exam
  • Term paper
  • You must have passed the compulsory activities in order to sit the exam

The term paper must

  • have a maximum word limit of 3500 words, including notes and reference list.
  • meet the formal requirements for submission of the course paper

Use of sources and citation

You should familiarize yourself with the rules that apply to the use of sources and citations. If you violate the rules, you may be suspected of cheating/attempted cheating.

Language of examination

The examination text is given in English, and you submit your response in English.

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail. Read more about the grading system.

Explanations and appeals

Resit an examination

Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.


The course is subject to continuous evaluation. At regular intervals we also ask students to participate in a more comprehensive evaluation.

Facts about this course






Every spring


Every spring

Teaching language