STV4550 – Topics in autocratic politics

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Course content

Historically, most political systems have been some form of autocracy, and even today a large (and increasing) share of the world’s population live in autocratic systems. Despite the importance of understanding how autocracies such as China or Russia work, political scientists have overwhelmingly focused on politics in democratic systems. Yet, over the last two decades, research on autocratic politics has developed rapidly, providing us with a wealth of data, empirical studies, and fascinating theories of the behavior of dictators and their supporters and opponents. This course will address key topics in this burgeoning area of research.

More specifically, the course is structured around six topics in autocratic politics, spanning different subfields of political science. The first three topics introduce you to the core building blocks of autocratic politics research. We will discuss I) how to conceptualize and measure different types of autocracies and who the key players are in these systems; II) how autocracies emerge and break down; III) practical and ethical considerations concerning how to do research on and in autocracies. The three final topics are more focused, with active researchers focusing on topics on which they have particular expertise. Examples of such topics are bureaucracies and violence; autocratic elections; information control and autocracies in the digital age.

Learning outcome


After having completed the course, students will:

  • Know of different ways to define, categorize, and measure various types of autocracies, and how to obtain data that measure these autocracy types.
  • Be familiar with several core theories of how autocratic politics work and different empirical studies that assess these theories.
  • Be familiar with theories and empirical studies of different causes and processes through which autocracies emerge or break down, and know of different types of data that can be used to study these phenomena.
  • Grasp different practical challenges and constraints to doing research in autocratic contexts.
  • Understand ethical considerations and dilemmas in doing research in autocratic contexts
  • Have in-depth knowledge about the state of art in three more focused topics within the autocratic politics literature.


Having completed the course, students will:

  • have practical skills in reviewing and synthesizing studies and writing literature summaries
  • be able to understand and assess theoretical arguments and different types of evidence
  • have practical skills in conducting systematic searches for literature and data, and in handling different types of data
  • have practical skills in designing and implementing independent empirical studies
  • have skills in analyzing how different research conclusions depend on different data sources and measurement, design, and other methodological choices

General competences

The students will be able to:

  • be able to develop coherent theoretical arguments
  • analyze and critically evaluate arguments empirically and theoretically
  • investigate complex social science question using scientific methods


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.

Students enrolled in other Master's Degree Programmes can, on application, be admitted to the course if this is cleared by their own study programme.

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

Apply for guest student status if you are admitted to another Master's programme (deadline 1 August / 5 January).

For incoming students

All Master's courses in Political Science must be registered manually by the Department, they will not appear in Studentweb. Contact your international coordinator at UiO.


Lectures and seminars.

Compulsory activities:

3 short response papers (1-2 pages)


Term paper: Max. 5000 word essay. 

Students must have passed the compulsory activities in the same semester in order to be eligible for the exam.

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

Withdrawal from an examination

It is possible to take the exam up to 3 times. If you withdraw from the exam after the deadline or during the exam, this will be counted as an examination attempt.

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






Spring 2022


Spring 2022

Teaching language