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Influences of the Rationalist, Structuralist and Culturalist Theoretical Approaches on Comparative Politics

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What influence have the rationalist, structuralist and culturalist theoretical approaches had on the study of comparative politics?

Comparative politics is the empirical comparative study of political systems. It involves the classification and comparison of institutions - ‘a rule that has been institutionalised’ (Lane and Ersson, 1999: 23) - in order to determine the nature of political regimes. The study of comparative politics has come to be guided by three major research schools: rational choice theory, culturalist analysis and structuralist approaches; each of which spearhead a distinctive notion over what about institutions affects the nature of the political process. Rationalists are methodological individualists who assert that
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Cultural theorists therefore focus their studies on ‘group level processes’ (ibid) when conducting research. However, as highlighted by survey researchers Almond and Verba, by identifying cultural variables, it is almost inevitable that analysts will engage in generalised comparative study. Synthesis can be found between cultural analysis and less rigid forms of structural institutionalism. Political theorist Antonio Gramsci pointed out that coherence between these two schools of thought can be found when considering the fact that whilst, according to Marxist teachings, capitalist societies are based on underlying structural conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, the manifestation of such conflict is dependent on the cultural circumstances of the country concerned. Similarly to culturalists, structuralists adopt a form of methodological holism. Structuralists task themselves with identifying the underlying dynamics that govern social systems as a whole, and upon doing so are able to embark on comparison between larger groups of countries governed by similar systems; they are unconcerned by ‘the ‘micro-details’ of the political process’ (Bara and Pennington, 1997: 26). It is therefore said that a structuralist approach appertains to ‘the relationships - both static and dynamic - among individuals, collectivities, institutions, or organisations’ (Lichbach, 1997: 247).

Rationalist theorists stipulate that individuals act to
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