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Module Code: POU44061

Module Name: Autocracy 2019-20

  • ECTS Weighting: 5
  • Semester/Term Taught: Semester 1
  • Contact Hours: One 90-minute seminar per week
  • Module Personnel: Lecturer - Dr. Roman-Gabriel Olar
  • Module Co-Requisite: POU44062 Human Rights
  • Office hours: Monday, 15:30-17:30

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

  • Understand different conceptualizations and operationalizations of authoritarian regimes
  • Explore the strengths and weakness of different authoritarian governing styles and strategies
  • Examine the connection between co-optation and coercion
  • Discuss the conditions under which autocracies are more likely to experience conflict
  • Assess the role of mobilization in regime change and how it impacts democratization

Module learning aims

The module aims to introduce students to the fundamental concepts and prominent approaches in the study of autocracy. Students will gain a thorough understanding of the main theoretical and empirical debates in the discipline, and be able to discuss and evaluate theoretically and empirically the underlying dynamics of authoritarian politics.

Module content

This course examines the politics of authoritarian regimes in a comparative perspective. Students will be exposed to different conceptualizations and operationalizations of authoritarianism, understand the main problems faced by autocrats, and their governing strategies. Further, this course explores how authoritarian governing strategies affect economic performance, the conditions under which autocracies are more susceptible to challenges, and when autocracies are more likely to collapse and democratize.  By the end of this class, students should be able to provide logical and well-informed opinions on questions such as: What types of autocracies exist and how do they differ from each other? What problems autocrats face and how do they solve? Which autocracies are more stable and when do they collapse?

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Recommended reading list

Michaelmas Term

Required Readings:

  1. The reading list is divided between three different types of readings:

    1. Required readings – these readings are mandatory to all students participating in class. They will form the starting point for the class discussion, it will build on the main arguments from the reading(s) and all exam questions will find their logic in these reading(s).
    2. Selected readings – these readings will add more nuance and substance to the class discussion. Every week, 2-3 students, will do one of these readings and they will be responsible for summarizing and explaining to their peers how the selected reading complements the required reading. Students will be assigned the required readings at least a week in advance so that they can prepare accordingly.
    3. Additional readings – these readings will be an extension of the required and selected readings. These reading are all within the topic of the week and will provide further avenues for students looking to gain a more in-depth understanding of the subject.

    Key readings:

    1. Gandhi, Jennifer. 2008. Political Institutions under Dictatorship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    2. Svolik, Milan. 2010. The Politics of Authoritarian Rule. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    3. Clark, William, Matt Golder, & Sona Golder. 2012. Principles of Comparative Politics. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.
    4. Bueno de Mesquita, B., Smith, A., Siverson, R. M., and Morrow, J. D. (2005). The Logic of Political Survival. Cambridge: MIT Press.

    Week 1. Comparative Research
    Required reading:
    Clark, William, Matt Golder, & Sona Golder. 2012. Principles of Comparative Politics. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press. Chapter 2.
    Kellstedt, Paul, and Whitten, Guy. 2013. The Fundamentals of Political Science Research. 2nd Edition. Cambridge University Press Chapter 1.

    Selected readings:
    Kellstedt, and Whitten. 2013 – Chapter 3.
    Gandhi. 2008. Chapter 1, pp. 1-12.
    Svolik. 2010. Chapter 1, pp. 13-17.

    Additional readings:
    Acemoglu, D. and Robinson, J. A. (2006). Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. Cambridge University Press, New York (Chapter 3 and 5).
    Olson, M. (1993). Dictatorship, democracy, and development. American Political Science Review, 87(3): 567–576.
    Dahl, R. A. (1973). Polyarchy: Participation and opposition. Yale University Press (Chapter 2 and 3).

    Week 2: Democracy and Autocracy
    Required reading:
    Clark, Golder, & Golder. 2012 – Chapter 5.
    Gandhi. 2008. Chapter 1, pp. 12-34.

    Selected readings:
    Geddes, B., Wright, J., and Frantz, E. (2014b). Autocratic breakdown and regime transitions: A new data set. Perspectives on Politics, 12(2):313–331.
    Cheibub, J. A., Jennifer, G., and Vreeland, J. R. (2010). Democracy and dictatorship revisited. Public Choice, 143:67–101.
    Teorell, J., & Lindberg, S. (2019). Beyond Democracy-Dictatorship Measures: A New Framework Capturing Executive Bases of Power, 1789–2016. Perspectives on Politics, 17(1), 66-84.

    Additional readings:
    Weeks, J. L. (2012). Strongmen and straw men: Authoritarian regimes and the initiation of international conflict. American Political Science Review, 106(2):326–347.
    Geddes, B., Frantz, E., and Wright, J. G. (2014a). Military rule. Annual Review of Political Science, 17:147–162.
    Levitsky, S. and Way, L. (2002). The rise of competitive authoritarianism. Journal of Democracy, 13(2):51–65.

    Week 3 – (Other) Varieties of autocracy
    Required readings:
    Svolik. 2010. Chapter 2, pp. 19-39.

    Selected readings:
    Lendvai, Paul (2019) - The Transformer: Orban's Evolution and Hungary's Demise. Foreign Affairs, 98(5): 44-54.
    Coronel, S. S. (2019) ‘The Vigilante President: How Duterte’s Brutal Populism Conquered the Philippines’, Foreign Affairs, 98(5): 36–43.
    McGregor, R. (2019) ‘Party Man: Xi Jinping’s Quest to Dominate China’, Foreign Affairs, 98(5):18–25.
    Glasser, S. B. (2019) ‘Putin the Great: Russia’s Imperial Impostor’, Foreign Affairs, 98(5): 10–16.
    Gene, K. (2019) ‘Erdogans Way: The Rise and Rule of Turkey’s Islamist Shapeshifter’, Foreign Affairs, 98(5): 26–34.
    Wilson, M. C. (2013). A discreet critique of discrete regime type data. Comparative Political Studies, 47(5): 689–714.

    Additional readings:
    Bueno de Mesquita, B., Smith, A., Siverson, R. M., and Morrow, J. D. (2005). The Logic of Political Survival. Cambridge: MIT Press chapter 2.
    Wintrobe, R. (2000). The Political Economy of Dictatorship. New York: Cambridge University Press (Chapter 1).
    Diamond, Larry. 2002. “Thinking about Hybrid regimes”. Journal of Democracy 13: 21-35.

    Week 4: Problems of authoritarian rule
    Required reading:
    Svolik. 2010. Chapter 3

    Selected readings:
    Magaloni, B. (2006). Voting for autocracy: Hegemonic party survival and its demise in Mexico. (Introduction: pp 1-42).
    Gandhi 2008. Chapter 2: pp. 44-52 (Kuwait)
    Gandhi 2008. Chapter 2: pp. 52-61 (Morocco)
    Gandhi 2008. Chapter 2: pp. 61-71 (Ecuador)

    Additional readings:
    Bell, C., & Sudduth, J. K. (2017). The Causes and Outcomes of Coup during Civil War. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 61(7), 1432–1455.
    Brett Allen Casper and Scott A. Tyson, "Popular Protest and Elite Coordination in a Coup d’état," The Journal of Politics 76, no. 2 (April 2014): 548-564.
    Magaloni, B. (2008). Credible power-sharing and the longevity of authoritarian rule. Comparative Political Studies41(4-5): 715-741.
    Magaloni, B. (2010). The game of electoral fraud and the ousting of authoritarian rule. American Journal of Political Science54(3): 751-765.
    Jennifer Gandhi and Adam Przeworski (2007). Authoritarian Institutions and the Survival of Autocrats. Comparative Political Studies, 40(11):  1279-1301.


    Week 5: Institutional and economic co-optation
    Required readings:
    Gandhi. 2008. Chapter 3.

    Selected reading:
    Svolik. 2010. Chapter 6.
    Ross, M. (2001). Does oil hinder democracy? World Politics, 53:325–361.
    Jensen, N. and Wantchekon, L. (2004). Resource wealth and political regimes in Africa. Comparative Political Studies, 37(7):816–841.

    Additional readings:
    Haber, S. and Menaldo, V. (2011). Do natural resources fuel authoritarianism? A reappraisal of the resource curse. American Political Science Review, 105(1):1–26.
    Ulfelder, J. (2007). Natural resource wealth and the survival of autocracies. Comparative Political Studies, 40(8):995–1018.
    Truex, R. (2014). The returns to office in a “rubber stamp” parliament. American Political Science Review, 108(2):235–251.


    Week 6: Coercion
    Required readings:
    Escribà-Folch, A. (2013). Repression, political threats, and survival under autocracy. International Political Science Review34(5): 543-560.

    Selected readings:
    Frantz, E., & Kendall-Taylor, A. (2014). A dictator’s toolkit: Understanding how co-optation affects repression in autocracies. Journal of Peace Research51(3): 332-346.
    King, G., Pan, J., and Roberts, M. E. (2013). How censorship in China allows government criticism but silences collective expression. American Political Science Review, 107(2):2.
    Crabtree, Charles D., Chris J. Fariss, and Holger L. Kern. 2018. "What Russian private media censor: New evidence from an audit study." – Working paper.
    Rivera, M. (2017). Authoritarian Institutions and State Repression: The Divergent Effects of Legislatures and Opposition Parties on Personal Integrity Rights. Journal of Conflict Resolution61(10): 2183-2207.

    Additional readings:
    Svolik 2010. Chapter 5
    Whitten-Woodring, J. (2009). Watchdog or lapdog? media freedom, regime type and government respect for human rights. International Studies Quarterly Journal of Economics, 53:595–625.
    Davenport, C. (2007). State repression and the tyrannical peace. Journal of Peace Research44(4): 485-504.
    Conrad, C. (2011). Constrained concessions: Dictatorial responses to domestic political opposition. International Studies Quarterly, 55(4):1167–1187.

    (Reading Week 21-27 October 2019)

    Week 7. Government performance under dictatorship.
    Required readings:
    Clark, Golder and Golder. 2012. Chapter 10, pp. 384-402.

    Selected readings:
    Gandhi. 2008. Chapter 4.
    Knutsen, C. H., & Rasmussen, M. (2018). The Autocratic Welfare State: Old-Age Pensions, Credible Commitments, and Regime Survival. Comparative Political Studies, 51(5), 659–695.
    Wright, J. (2008). Do authoritarian institutions constrain? How legislatures affect economic growth and investment. American Journal of Political Science, 52(2): 322–343.

    Additional readings:
    Carl Henrik Knutsen & Hanne Fjelde (2013) Property rights in dictatorships: kings protect property better than generals or party bosses, Contemporary Politics, 19:1, 94-114
    Helmke, G. and Rosenbluth, F. (2009). Regimes and rule of law: Judicial independence in comparative perspective. Annual Reviews in Political Science, 12: 345–366.
    Georgy Egorov, Sergei Guriev, and Konstantin Sonin (2009). “Why Resource-Poor Dictators Allow Freer Media: A Theory and Evidence from Panel Data,” American Political Science Review, 103(4): 645-668.
    Peter H. Solomon, Jr. (2007). Courts and Judges in Authoritarian Regimes, World Politics, 60: 122-145.

    Week 8 – Authoritarianism and conflict
    Required readings:
    Ae sil Woo and Courtenay R. Conrad (2019). The Differential Effect of "Democratic" Institutions on Dissent in DictatorshipsJournal of Politics 81(2):456-470.

    Selected readings:
    Fjelde, H. (2010). Generals, dictators, and kings: Authoritarian regimes and civil conflict, 1973-2004. Conflict Management and Peace Science, 27(3): 195–218.
    Wilson, M. and Piazza, J. (2013). Autocracies and terrorism: Conditioning effects of authoritarian regime-type on terrorist attacks. American Journal of Political Science, 57(4):941–955.
    Conrad, C. R., Conrad, J., & Young, J. K. (2014). Tyrants and terrorism: Why some autocrats are terrorized while others are not. International Studies Quarterly58(3): 539-549.

    Additional readings:
    Debs, A. and Goemans, H. (2010). Regime type, the fate of leaders, and war. American Political Science Review, 104(3):430–445.
    Weeks, J. L. (2008). Autocratic audience costs: Regime type and signalling resolve. International Organization, 62: 35–64
    Hegre, H et al. (2001). Toward a democratic civil peace? Democracy, political change, and civil war, 1816–1992. American political science review95(1), 33-48.
    Vreeland, J. R. (2008). The effect of political regime on civil war: Unpacking anocracy. Journal of conflict Resolution52(3), 401-425.

    Week 9: Survival of dictators and regime change
    Required reading:
    Svolik. 2010. Chapter 2, pp. 39-43; Chapter 4.

    Selected reading:
    Olar, R.-G. (2019). Fait accompli, or live to fight another day? Deterring and surviving coups in authoritarian regimes. Research & Politics, 6(1).
    Gandhi. 2008. Chapter 6.
    Celestino, M. R., & Gleditsch, K. S. (2013). Fresh carnations or all thorn, no rose? Nonviolent campaigns and transitions in autocracies. Journal of Peace Research50(3): 385-400.
    United States Institute of Peace. 2001. “Whither the Bulldozer? Nonviolent Revolution and the Transition to Democracy in Serbia.” USIP Special Report, August.

    Additional readings:
    Albertus, M. and Menaldo, V. (2012). If you’re against them you’re with us: the effect of expropriation on autocratic survival. Comparative Political Studies, 45(8):973–1003.
    Brownlee, J. (2007b). Hereditary succession in modern autocracies. World Politics, 59(4):595–628.
    Miller, M. K. (2012). Economic development, violent leader removal, and democratization. American Journal of Political Science, 56(4): 1002–1020.
    Roberts, T. L. (2015). The durability of presidential and parliament-based dictatorships. Comparative Political Studies48(7): 915-948.
    Kim, N. K., & Kroeger, A. M. (2018). Regime and leader instability under two forms of military rule. Comparative Political Studies51(1): 3-37.

    Week 10 – Mobilization and democratization
    Required reading:
    Bayer, M., Bethke, F. S., & Lambach, D. (2016). The democratic dividend of nonviolent resistance. Journal of Peace Research53(6): 758-771.

    Selected readings:
    Kadivar, M. A. (2018). Mass Mobilization and the Durability of New Democracies. American Sociological Review83(2): 390-417.
    Dapiran, A (2019). Be Water!: seven tactics that are winning Hong Kong’s democracy revolution. New Statesman, 1 August 2019.
    Stephan, M. J., & Chenoweth, E. (2008). Why civil resistance works: The strategic logic of nonviolent conflict. International security33(1): 7-44.


    Additional readings:
    Beatriz Magaloni and Jeremy Wallace, “Citizen Loyalty, Mass Protest and Authoritarian Survival.” Draft paper.
    Hellman, J. S. (1998). Winners take all: The politics of partial reform in postcommunist transitions. World Politics, 50(2):203–234.
    Frantz, E. (2019). The legacy of military dictatorship: Explaining violent crime in democracies. International Political Science Review, 40(3), 404–418.
    Cook, S. J., & Savun, B. (2016). New democracies and the risk of civil conflict: The lasting legacy of military rule. Journal of Peace Research, 53(6), 745–757.

    Week 11: Elections in autocracies
    Required readings:
    Knutsen, C. H., Nygård, H. M., & Wig, T. (2017). Autocratic elections: Stabilizing tool or force for change? World Politics, 69(1), 98–143.

    Selected readings:
    Schedler, Andreas. 2002. “Elections without Democracy: The Menu of Manipulation”. Journal of Democracy 13(2).
    Bunce, V. J., & Wolchik, S. L. (2010a). Defeating dictators: Electoral change and stability in
    competitive authoritarian regimes. World Politics, 62(1), 43–86.
    Kim, N. K., & Kroeger, A. (2017). Rewarding the introduction of multiparty elections. European Journal of Political Economy, 49, 164–181.

    Additional readings:
    Cox, G. W. (2009). Authoritarian elections and leadership succession. Unpublished Manuscript
    Gandhi, J., & Lust-Okar, E. (2009). Elections Under Authoritarianism. Annual Review of Political Science, 12(1), 403–422.
    Lust-Okar, E. (2005). Structuring conflict in the Arab world: Incumbents, opponents, and institutions. Cambridge University Press
    Lindberg, S. I. (2009). Democratization by elections: a new mode of transition. Johns Hopkins University Press Baltimore, MD

Assessment details (TBC):

The grade for this course will be calculated as follows:

  1. Analytical/Critical review essay (40%): Students will be provided with several subjects on authoritarian politics. Each student will select one topic and will engage in a critical and analysis review of the empirical literature on the topic. Students need to summarize the main arguments and findings in the literature, and engage in a critical analysis of the literature. The essay are NOT a mere summary of the literature, but rather the student needs to offer a critique of the literature and (ideally) a way forward/solution to the problems identified in the literature. Examples of such would be e critical evaluation of research design and suggestions to overcoming limitations, discussion of the assumptions of a theoretical approach and possible extensions of a theory, and/or critical evaluation of an empirical analysis.


Important note: The word count of the essay is 2,000 words (including title, footnotes and references). The essay is due on 20th October 2019 at 6 PM. The 10% +/- rule on word count does NOT apply. Essays exceeding the word count will be penalized.

  1. Final exam (60%): Students will sit a 90 minutes examination during which they will need to answer two essay style questions.

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