OSS9105 – Democratization and Autocratization in a Comparative Perspective

Schedule, syllabus and examination date

Course content

The predominant discourse today says that democracy is in crisis. But the world is much more democratic than 200 years ago, and there is obviously much variation in how rulers get access to political power and how they use it. A better understanding of these differences is arguably one of the most interesting and important topics for social scientists. Against this backdrop, this course explores the who, what, when, where, and why of political regimes based on an explicit comparative perspective. It provides an advanced introduction to different ways of conceptualizing and measuring political regimes. Moreover, the course offers an overview of variations in democracy and autocracy across time and countries and a discussion of the potential determinants of this variation. Finally, the course explores the consequences of different regime types for human desires and miseries, such as economic growth, human development, state repression, and conflict. During the week, the participants will get the chance to discuss how these issues relate to their own projects.

Learning outcome

After completing the course the students will:

  • Be familiar with key conceptual distinctions, empirical measures, and trends related to political regime types and their changes
  • Be familiar with key theories about the causes and consequences of political regimes
  • Be able to identify and critically evaluate theoretical arguments and empirical strategies of comparative assessment used in this research field
  • Be able to articulate and pursue novel research questions related to these issues


Lecture 1: Defining Democracy


This lecture provides an overview of how political philosophers and social scientists have defined democracy. It focuses on the variety of principles characterizing the field, such as electoral, liberal, egalitarian, deliberative, and participatory models of democracy. Moreover, it discusses how the different conceptions relate to each other and the advantages and disadvantages of using the different understandings as a basis for theorizing and empirical analysis.  

Lecture 2: Autocratic Regime Types

This lecture investigates the large variation among autocratic regimes. It, for instance, distinguishes between modern and traditional autocracies, between totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, and between characteristics of the institutions, rulers, and their legitimation strategies. One issue that will be explored extensively, is the usefulness of distinguishing between autocracies based on their claims of legitimacy. Another issue to be discussed is whether it makes better sense to apply categorical distinctions and how broad the categories should be in order to both reduce complexity and capture relevant differences.

Lecture 3: Measuring Democracy and Autocracy

This lecture sheds critical light on the different ways scholars have attempted to measure political regimes. The measures differ significantly in terms of scope and approaches. Some cover only a few years and/or countries, while others cover virtually all modern polities. Moreover, some make categorical distinctions, while are based on gradations, and some rely on expert judgment, whereas others reject other sources than directly observable indicators. A comparison and contrast of extant measures reveals a number of advantages and disadvantages related to the different approaches to operationalizing political regime traits.

Lecture 4: Patterns of Political Regime Developments

In this lecture, the different measures are put to work in order to track patterns in regime development. Descriptive overviews are supplemented with reflections and findings on the sequencing of regime features. In addition to regime types, we will also look at different frequency and regional distribution of modes of transitions, such as coups, self-coups, and revolutions. The lecture will end with a discussion about we are currently facing a third wave of autocratization and what characterizes regime changes today compared to previous periods.

Lecture 5: Causes – Social Class Interests and Coalitions

This lecture addresses the link between social classes and political regimes. This topic has generally been analyzed through the use of a macro-historical perspective with a structuralist leaning, where collective actors pursue their class interests by fighting for particular regime outcomes. One of the key issues is under what conditions regime change is a mass or elite project; another is whether the findings from macro-historical analysis has relevance for more recent cases of regime change.

Lecture 6: Causes – Socioeconomic Development and Inequality

This lecture explores the relationship between socioeconomic development and inequality and regime change. It presents an overview of the proposed theoretical mechanism, such as changes in political attitudes, changes in the relative distribution of power resources, and elite calculations based on the risks of expropriation and persecution. Moreover, we will discuss the link between inequality and regime change, where we distinguish between horizontal (group-based) and vertical (individual) inequality. Finally, the conflicting findings in the literate will be critically scrutinized, paying particular attention to the opportunity that different aspects of democracy follow asymmetrical patterns.

Lecture 7: Causes – Actors, Institutions, and International Environment

In this lecture, the center of attention is on more proximate drivers of regime change in the form of actors, institutions, and the influence of external powers. It discusses the main mechanisms associated with the related approaches and considers their respective theoretical and empirical plausibility. Some of the important issues in this regard are the so-called state-democracy nexus, the relative importance of domestic versus external variables, and to what extent actors and institutions have independent explanatory leverage vis-à-vis deeper conditions.

Lecture 8: Consequences – Violent Conflict and Repression

This lecture takes a closer look at the consequences of political regime type for war, civil conflict, and state repression. It will first outline a number of the mechanisms linking democracy to peace, freedom, and security. These will then be supplemented by some theoretical counterarguments before we discuss the empirical regularities. One issue that will received special attention is how much the lack of robust findings hinges upon disagreements concerning the definition of political regimes and regime changes.

Lecture 9: Consequences – Economic Growth, Redistribution, and Well-being

In this lecture, we are going to debate the consequences of political regime types for social and economic outcomes. Besides looking at the performances of democracies and autocracies, respectively, we will also investigate internal differences among these categories. One aspect of this agenda is to specify the theoretical mechanisms; another is to dig into whether and how results depend on the concepts and measures used.

Lecture 10: Democracy in Crisis? Democratic Citizens?

In the final lecture, we evaluate some recent arguments saying that we are currently living in an age of democratic crisis. We first do so by a detailed examination of what story extant democracy measures tell us. We thereafter move our focus to measures of public opinions. We will uncover trends in support for – and satisfaction with – democracy. Moreover, we will discuss whether and in what ways support for democracy is superficial and conditioned by democratic experience and partisan biases. The demand and supply of populism is another topic to be addressed. A debate about the prospects for democracy around the world concludes the lecture.

Syllabus/reading list

Lecture 1

• Beetham, David (1999). Democracy and Human Rights. Cambridge: Polity Press. Pp. 89-114. 25pp
• Christiano, Tom (2018). “Democracy.” In Edward N. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 23pp
• Schumpeter, Joseph A. (1974[1942]). Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. Pp. 250-283. 33pp
• Dahl, Robert A. (1971). Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition. pp 1-16. 15pp


Lecture 2

• Brooker, Paul (2013). Non-democratic Regimes. Houndmills: Palgrave. Pp. 1-40. 39pp
• Kailitz, Steffen (2013). Classifying Political Regimes Revisited: Legitimation and Durability. Democratization 20(1): 38–59. 21pp
• Gerschewski, Johannes. 2016. “Do Ideocracies Constitute a Distinct Subtype of Autocratic Regimes?” Pp. 88-105 in Uwe Backes & Steffen Kailitz (eds.), Ideocracies in Comparison. London: Routledge. 17pp


Lecture 3

• Munck, Gerardo & Jay Verkuilen (2002). “Conceptualizing and Measuring Democracy: Evaluating Alternative Indices” Comparative Political Studies 35(1): 5-34. 29pp
• Coppedge, Michael; John Gerring; Carl Henrik Knutsen; Josjua Krusell; Staffan Lindberg; Kyle L. Marquardt; Juraj Medzihorsky; Josefine Pernes; Natalia Stepanova; Svend-Erik Skaaning; Jan Teorell; Daniel Pemstein; Eitan Tzelgov; Yi-ting Wang & Steven L. Wilson (2019). "The Methodology of "Varieties of Democracy" (V-Dem)." Bulletin de Méthodologie de Sociologique 143(1): 107-133. 26pp
• Cheibub, José; Jennifer Gandhi & Jay Vreeland (2010). ”Democracy and Dictatorship Revisited.” Public Choice 143(1/2): 67–101. 34pp


Lecture 4

• Djuve, Vilde; Carl Henrik Knutsen & Tore Wig (online first). ”Patterns of Regime Breakdown since the French Revolution.” Comparative Political Studies 36
• Gunitsky, Seva (2018). “Democratic Waves in Historical Perspective.” Perspectives on Politics 16(3): 634-651. 17pp
• Lührmann, Anna & Staffan Lindberg (2019). “A Third Wave of Autocratization Is Here: What Is New about It? Democratization 26(7): 1095-1113. 18pp


Lecture 5

• Mahoney, James (2003). “Knowledge Accumulation in Comparative Historical Research: The Case of Democracy and Authoritarianism.” Pp. 131-174 in James Mahoney & Dietrich Rueschemeyer (eds.), Comparative Historical Analysis in the Social Sciences. New York: Cambridge University Press. 43pp
• Bellin, Eva (2000). “Contingent Democrat: Industrialist, Labor and Democratization in Late-developing Countries.” World Politics 52(2): 175-205. 30pp
• Dahlum, Sirianne; Carl Henrik Knutsen & Tore Wig (2019). “Who Revolts? Empirically Revisiting the Social Origins of Democracy.” Journal of Politics 81(4): 1494-1499. 5pp


Lecture 6

• Wucherpfennig, Julian & Franziska Deutsch (2009). “Modernization and Democracy: Theories and Evidence Revisited.” Living Reviews in Democracy 1: 1-9. 8pp
• Haggard, Stephan & Robert Kaufman (2012). “Inequality and Regime Change: Democratic Transitions and the Stability of Democratic Rule.” American Political Science Review 106(3): 495-516. 21pp
• Scheve, Kenneth & David Stasavage (2017). “Wealth Inequality and Democracy.” Annual Review of Political Science 20: 451-468. 17pp


Lecture 7

• Svolik, Milan (2012). The Politics of Authoritarian Rule. New York: Cambridge University Press. Pp. 1-52. 51pp
• Weyland, Kurt (2010). “The Diffusion of Regime Contention in European Democratization, 1830-1940.” Comparative Political Studies 43(8): 1148-1176. 28pp
• Levitsky, Steven & Lucan Way (2006). “Linkage versus Leverage: Rethinking the International Dimension of Regime Change.” Comparative Politics 38(4): 379-400. 21pp
• Mazzuca, Sebastián L. & Gerardo L. Munck (2014). “State or Democracy First? Alternative Perspectives on the State-Democracy Nexus.” Democratization 21(7): 1221-1243. 22pp


Lecture 8

• Hegre, Håvard (2014). “Democracy and Armed Conflict.” Journal of Peace Research 51(2): 159–172. 13pp
• Davenport, Christian (2007). State Repression and the Domestic Democratic Peace. New York: Cambridge University Press. Pp. 1-32. 31pp
• Fjelde, Hanne (2010). “Generals, Dictators, and Kings: Authoritarian Regimes and Civil Conflict, 1973-2004.” Conflict Management and Peace Science, 27(3): 195-218. 23pp


Lecture 9

• Przeworski, Adam (2007). “Democracy, Equality, and Redistribution.” Pp. 659-695 in Richard Bourke & Raymond Gauss (eds.), Political Judgment: Essays for John Dunn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 36pp
• Besley, Timothy & Masayuki Kudamatsu (2008). “Making Autocracy Work” Pp. 452–510 in Elhanan Helpman (ed.), Institutions and Economic Performance. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 58pp
• Miller, Michael (2015). “Electoral Authoritarianism and Human Development.” Comparative Political Studies 48(12): 1526–1562. 36pp


Lecture 10

• V-Dem Institute (2019). Democracy Facing Global Challenges. V-Dem Institute: University of Gothenburg. Pp. 10-26. 16pp
• Krause, Werner & Wolfgang Merkel (2018). “Crisis of Democracy? Views of Experts and Citizens.” Pp. 31-47 in Wolfgang Merkel & Sascha Kneip (eds.): Crisis and Democracy: Challenges in Turbulent Times. Cham: Springer International. 16pp
• Svolik, Milan (2019). “Polarization versus Democracy.” Journal of Democracy 30(3): 20-32. 12pp
• Merkel, Wolfgang (2018). “Conclusion: Is the Crisis of Democracy an Invention?” Pp. 349-367 in Wolfgang Merkel & Sascha Kneip (eds.), Crisis and Democracy: Challenges in Turbulent Times. Cham: Springer International. 18pp

Syllabus/ reading list: 838 pages + key book for course preparation (These books may not necessarily be part of the 700-900 pages of readings, as they should be considered as general overview/background for the topic for your course) 376 pp

Additional, non-compulsory readings

  • Lecture 1:
    • Collier, David & Steven Levitsky (1997). “Democracy with Adjectives: Conceptual Innovation in Comparative Research.” World Politics 49(3): 430-451.
    • Cunningham, Frank (2001). Theories of Democracy: A Critical Discussion. London: Routledge.
    • Dahl, Robert A. (1989). Democracy and Its Critics. New Haven: Yale University Press.
    • David Held (2006). Models of Democracy. Cambridge: Polity.
    • Naess, Arne; Jens Christophersen & Kjell Kvalo (1956). Democracy, Ideology and Objectivity: Studies in the Semantics and Cognitive Analysis of an Ideological Controversy. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

    Lecture 2:
    • Chehabi, H.E. (2001). ”The Political Regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Comparative Perspective.” Government and Opposition 36(1): 48-70.
    • Gerschewski, Johannes (2018). “Legitimacy in Autocracies: Oxymoron or Essential Feature?” Perspectives on Politics 16(3): 652-665.
    • Janos, Andrew (1996). “What Was Communism?” Communist and Post-Communist Studies 29(1): 1-24.
    • Linz, Juan (2000). Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes. Lynne Rienner Publishers.
    • Weber, Max (2017). Politics as Vocation. London: Macat.

    Lecture 3:
    • Bowman, K., Lehoucq, F., & Mahoney, J. (2005). Measuring political democracy: Case expertise, data adequacy, and Central America. Comparative Political Studies 38(8),939–970.
    • Coppedge, Michael (2013). Democratization and Research Methods. New York: Cambridge University Press. Ch. 2.
    • Geddes, Barbara; Joseph Wright & Erica Frantz (2014). "Autocratic Breakdown and Regime Transitions: A New Data Set." Perspectives on Politics 12(2): 313-331.
    • Giannone, D. (2010). Political and ideological aspects in the measurement of democracy: The Freedom House Case.” Democratization,17(1),68–97.
    • Schedler,Andreas (2012). Judgment and measurement in political science. Perspectives on Politics10(1): 21–36.
    • Seawright, J., & Collier, D. (2014). “Rival Strategies of Validation: Tools for Evaluating Measures of Democracy.” Comparative Political Studies 47(1): 111–138.

    Lecture 4:
    • Berg-Schlosser, Dirk (2009). “Long Waves and Conjunctures of Democratization”, pp. 41-54 in Christian W. Haerpfer; Patrick Bernhagen; Ronald F. Inglehart & Christian Welzel (eds.), Democratization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    • Bermeo, Nancy (2016). “On Democratic Backsliding.” Journal of Democracy 27(1): 5-19.
    • Dix, Robert (1994). “History and Democracy Revisited.” Comparative Politics 27(1): 91-105.
    • Mechkova, Valeriya; Anna Lührmann & Staffan I. Lindberg (2019). “The Accountability Sequence: from De-Jure to De-Facto Constraints on Governments.” Studies in Comparative International Development 54(1): 40–70.

    Lecture 5:
    • Collier, Ruth (1999). Paths toward Democracy: The Working Class and Elites in Western Europe and South America. New York: Cambridge University Press.
    • Luebbert, Gregory (1991). Liberalism, Fascism, or Social Democracy: Social Classes and the Political Origins of Regimes in Interwar Europe. New York: Oxford University Press.
    • Moore, Barrington (1991[1966]). Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World. London: Penguin.
    • Rueschemeyer, Dietrich; Evelyne Huber Stephens & John Stephens (1992). Capitalist Development and Democracy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Lecture 6:
    • Przeworski, Adam; Michael Alvarez; José Cheibb & Fernando Limongi (2000). Democracy and Development. New York: Cambridge University Press. Ch. 2.
    • Michael Coppedge (2013). Democratization and Research Methods. New York: Cambridge University Press. Ch. 9.
    • Robinson, James (2006). “Economic Development and Democracy.” Annual Review of Political Science 9: 503-527.
    • Ansell, Ben & David Samuels (2014). Inequality and Democratization: An Elite-Competition Approach. New York: Cambridge University Press.
    • Inglehart, Ronald & Christian Welzel (2005). Modernization, Cultural Change, and Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press.
    • Boix, Carles (2011). “Democracy, Development, and the International System.” American Political Science Review 105(4): 809-828.

    Lecture 7:
    • Capoccia, Giovanni (2005). Defending Democracy: Reactions to Extremism in Interwar Europe. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
    • Geddes, Barbara; Joseph Wright & Erica Frantz (2018). How Dictatorships Work: Power, Personalization, and Collapse. New York: Cambridge University Press.
    • Pevehouse, Jon (2009). Democracy from Above: Regional Organizations and Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press.
    • Tansey, Oisin (2016). The International Politics of Authoritarian Rule. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    • O’Donnell, Guillermo & Philippe Schmitter (1986). Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Tentative Conclusions about Uncertain Democracies. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
    • Mahoney, James & Richard Snyder (1999). “Rethinking Agency and Structure in the Study of Regime Change.” Studies in Comparative International Development 34(2): 3-32.

    Lecture 8:
    • Russet, Bruce (1993). Grasping the Democratic Peace. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
    • Snyder, Jack L. (2000). From Voting to Violence: Democratization and Nationalist Conflict. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
    • Mann, Michael (2004). The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing. New York: Cambridge University Press.
    • Rummel, Rudolph (1997). Death by Government. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.

    Lecture 9:
    • Knutsen, Carl Henrik (2012). “Democracy and Economic Growth: A Review of Arguments and Results.” International Area Studies Review 15(4): 393-415.
    • Gerring, John; Strom C. Thacker & Rodrigo Alfaro (2012). “Democracy and Human Development.” Journal of Politics 74(1): pp. 1-17.
    • Albertus, Michael (2015). Autocracy and Redistribution: The Politics of Land Reform. New York: Cambridge University Press.
    • Bastiaens, Ida & Nita Rudra (2018). Democracies in Peril: Taxation and Redistribution in Globalizing Economies. New York: Cambridge University Press.
    • Rahman, Abdur & Ruut Venhoven (2018). “Freedom and Happiness in Nations: A Research Synthesis.” Applied Research on Quality of Life 13(2): 435-456.

    Lecture 10:
    • Foa, Roberto & Yascha Mounk (2016). “The Democratic Disconnect.” Journal of Democracy 27(3): 5-17.
    • Ronald Inglehart (2016). “How Much Should We Worry?” Journal of Democracy 27(3): 18-23.
    • Przeworski, Adam (2019). Crisis of Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press.
    • Diamond, Larry (2019). Ill Winds: Saving Democracy from Russian Rage, Chinese Ambition, and American Complacency. New York: Penguin Press.
    • Norris, Pippa (2016). “Is Western Democracy Backsliding? Diagnosing the Risk.” Journal of Democracy web exchange.

Key books for course preparations

  • Coppedge, Michael (2013). Democratization and Research Methods. New York: Cambridge University Press. 376pp

The Lecturer

Svend-Erik Skaaning is professor of political science at Aarhus University. He has been co-principal investigator of V-Dem (currently project manager). Skaaning has written extensively about the conceptualization, measurement, causes, and consequences of democracy and other features of good governance. His publications include Requisites of Democracy (Routledge, 2011), Democracy and Democratization in Comparative Perspective (Routledge, 2013), The Rule of Law (2014, Palgrave), Democratic Stability in an Age of Crisis (Oxford University Press, 2020), and Varieties of Democracy: Measuring Two Centuries of Political Change (Cambridge University Press, 2020). He currently works on a book on myths about democracy and democratic development and a report on popular support for free speech based on original survey data from 33 countries from all parts of the world.

Facts about this course


5 July - 9 July 2021

Teaching language
Course fee
4000 NOK