Comparison of political systems helps us to understand some of the imperatives that all political systems confront, as well as the ways in which they can vary. Such comparisons enhance our understanding of our own system, of course, but for students on Semester at Sea voyages they also illuminate the observations made and experiences accumulated in the countries we visit. The course introduces students to basic concepts used in analyzing political systems. These, in turn, will be the orientation points to which we will constantly refer as we compare and contrast politics and government in five selected countries: Italy, Spain, Brazil, Peru, and Costa Rica. The comparative field of political science is both wide and deep, with vast amounts of data and analysis to examine. The course is intended simply to open the door to the field, providing an introductory glimpse. By the end of the voyage students should have acquired a reasonable general understanding of all five countries and made some empirical observations about life there that may shed further light on issues raised in class. Moreover, the concepts students assimilate from readings and class discussions should help them understand other countries as well, especially those we visit that we will not have time to describe formally in class.
As we have noted already, political systems today exhibit some broad similarities that invite comparison. How and when did the nation-states we will be studying emerge from the great empires and patchwork of principalities that preceded them? In what different ways have their governments coped with pressures to become more democratic and inclusive, and to improve their citizens’ standard of living? In what ways have they influenced one another in their institutions, political culture, and foreign policy? Have the emergence of regional and global institutions begun to limit nation-states’ sovereignty and their ability to determine their own policies for themselves? These and other questions will recur as we move through the syllabus and from continent to continent.
Fortunately, the countries we have chosen to study have much in common (we will not be comparing apples and oranges!). Therefore, we should be able to highlight the ways in which their political trajectories have diverged and explain why this has been so. For example, all have been predominately Catholic; indeed, their political evolution has been profoundly influenced by Church policies and parties/leaders claiming to defend or oppose those policies. Second, all have endured episodes of authoritarian rule by the military, fascist parties, or both and have thus needed to construct democratic societies and polities while putting undemocratic pasts behind them. Third—and perhaps for that reason– all have had to deal with powerful socialist, anarchist or communist movements and parties at various times in their history. Fourth, one of these countries, Spain, was the imperial power that founded two of the others: Peru and Costa Rica, so we should expect to find important continuities that link the mother country to its former colonies. Finally, most of the countries we will study contain significant ethnic, religious, linguistic, and cultural minorities, many of whose members have felt that their interests have not been fully respected by the national government. We will identify such groups and try to ascertain how the central government has sought to integrate them into the political life of the country, and whether those efforts have succeeded.
Field WorkCountry: Spain
Day: 1 - Monday, 3 October
During the Spanish Civil War in 1930s, the English author George Orwell wrote Homage to Catalonia celebrating the province’s resistance to Spain’s military-fascist coup d’etat. Now the region of Catalonia (which is known as Catalunya in Catalan, the local language) is on the verge of secession and perhaps complete independence from Spain. In this field class students will learn to distinguish the culture and political ambitions of Catalonia from those of Spain itself, and find out why the province—or at least many of its inhabitants—want to separate or gain far greater autonomy than they now possess. Why would complete independence work better than autonomy within Spain in enabling the Catalan people to preserve their language and culture? How would Catalonia fare as an independent country? Would it join the EU? Would its economy be harmed or helped by secession? Would the Spanish military allow secession by Catalonia? Would Spain survive economically and politically if it lost one of its most important provinces and its economic engine? We will first do a tour of sites in Barcelona that display Catalan culture and history: perhaps the Joan Miro and Picasso museums, Gaudi’s architectural monuments, important Spanish Civil War sites, etc.. Then we will visit the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona and have a colloquium with a professor there (Marc Guinjoan) who is best positioned to defend—and/or criticize—the proposed separation and respond to our questions. In Comparative Politics the topic of the modern territorial state and its troubles has become an urgent problem. We’ll encounter conflicts between regions and centralized states in many of the countries we will visit: Italy (North vs. South), Spain (Catalonia, the Basque provinces and Galicia vs. Madrid), Morocco (Berbers vs. Arabs), Peru and Ecuador (highland Indigenous peoples vs. urban, Hispanicized citizens--people who are culturally and linguistically in the Spanish-speaking mainstream). These conflicts are also present in England, Canada, and elsewhere. So the Catalonia project should give us a much deeper insight into a key cultural/political fault line that pervades the entire course. Students will be expected to formulate specific questions for our academic liaison and guides, and distill the responses into field class reports focused on the question: Should Catalonia become an independent country and—generally speaking—should secessionist movements such as this be encouraged in other countries as well. Learning objectives:
- Learn to distinguish Catalan culture, history, and political traditions from those of Spain
- See how the Spanish government has tried to accommodate Catalan wishes for greater autonomy and why those efforts have fallen short of the region’s aspirations
- Discuss and debate Catalonia/Catalunya’s prospects for secession and independence