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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .

Comparative Politics
Edited by Mark Irving Lichbach & Alan S Zuckerman

(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997)
321pp. Index. Bibl. £40.00; ISBN 0-521-58369-1. Pb.: £14.95; ISBN 0-521-58668-2.

The discipline of comparative politics has been in a state of crisis for some time, despite efforts at regenerating interest in the field. Partly the reason is that too many studies are ideographic offering little to systematic development of powerful explanatory arguments and, correlatively, too few studies are nomothetic, searching for a dialogue between theory and evidence which produces general propositions. This is the opening remark of the book edited by Mark Irving Lichbach and Alan S. Zuckerman, Comparative Politics. Rationality, Culture and Structure. The editors lament the unwarranted decline of comparative politics and resolve to do something about it by bringing together an impressive collection of essays written by prominent political scientists.

Centred on the development of theory in comparative politics the book explores three research traditions, namely rational choice theory, cultural analyses and structuralist approaches, considered to be the most powerful and competing theoretical schools that characterize the field. Analysts in the three camps take strong positions on methodological and ontological issues. On the one hand the dispute centres on the desirability or feasibility of developing generalizations from the particular to other cases; on the other hand, the debate revolves around whether it is individuals, rules or structures which chiefly affect social outcomes.

The book, however, is not only about methods. An entire section is devoted to the interplay between theory and the three schools in four distinctive topics: mass politics, especially electoral behaviour, social movements, political economy and state-society relations. Although one book probably cannot cover all the topics comparativists have been engaged in, it is unclear why important themes such as comparative public policy have been discarded.

Perhaps the answer is that the greatest strength of the book is, unfortunately, not to be found in the editors' purported aim of resurrecting comparative politics, but in the brilliant dissection of three mainstream theories in political science. For the comparativist, however, the book is somewhat disappointing, providing little new material and even less guidance for the way ahead. Yet, its systematic analysis of the core propositions of rational choice theory, cultural and structural approaches, with their application to a few selected topics, makes this a wonderful volume for research and teaching purposes. As the editors note, the book offers 'the first set of case studies of the rationalist-culturalist-structuralist debate to appear' (p.14), and in this sense, it is a welcome addition to the literature.

Rosa Mulé, University of Warwick

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