SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

Comparative political sociology of Asia and Africa

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2020/2021
FHEQ Level:
Taught in:
Full Year

The big concepts in politics; ‘revolution’, ‘state formation’ or ‘democratisation’ for example, are used to describe events that happen in different times and different places. We label them alike because it is assumed that they contain similar features. Comparative political sociology is a way of trying to better understand what exactly has happened in particular cases, why, and with what effects, by means of comparing cases. Through that process we also aim to better specify concepts, categorise types, and understand typical political processes that lead to these similarities and differences in experience. This module looks first at the intellectual underpinnings of different approaches to the analysis of political sociology: institutionalist, materialist and idealist, and at different approaches to the art of making useful comparisons. These tools of analysis are designed to enable students to effectively explore in depth a small range of cases drawn from South and South-East Asia (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan) and Southern Africa (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Botswana, Angola and Mozambique). The module considers the ways in which these places have or have not conformed to dominant (Western?) models of state formation and sociological and political processes, and seeks to explain why.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

The module encourages students to develop in-depth knowledge of five or six countries, to use these cases to think through the topics covered week by week, and to bring to the wider group ideas and information informed not just from the core readings, but from keeping up to date by reading a range of sources both from the reading lists and beyond. Both lectures and tutorials are taught by a small group of two or three lecturers who specialise in and carry out research in these regions. 

The lectures, readings and tutorials have the same topical focus for each region, but we look at a different region in each term. For each, we look first at how pre-colonial history, colonial conquest and rule, and struggles for decolonisation gave these countries the borders and political institutions that they have. The module then looks at the dynamic relationship between state and society in the post-colonial period, considering why, when and where classic sociological cleavages along lines of class, religion and ethnicity have or have not become salient. The module then considers: why some countries have become more democratic while others have not; where and why we have seen deepening popular participation, effective mass social movements and more elitist forms of civil society; how political parties have chosen to organise themselves and to communicate with and mobilise voters, including as electronic mass media and social media have spread around the world. Finally, it looks at the persistence of or reversion to a variety of forms of non-democratic rule and tries to explain why some dictators fall while others appear more popular and effective than many of us care to admit. 

By the end of the module, students should have an excellent overview of the history, sociology and politics of their chosen case countries, and should have developed the tools to think about what is typical and/or unusual about these places, and to explain the main similarities and differences between them. 


  • 1 hour lecture per week
  • 1 hour tutorial per week

Method of assessment

Assessment is 40% coursework, 40% unseen examination, and 20% in-class presentation.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules