ASTK18411U Comparative Authoritarianism and Political Violence

Volume 2022/2023

MSc in Political Science

MSc in Social Science

MSc in Security Risk Management

Bachelor in Political Science


More than two-thirds of the world’s population currently live under some form of authoritarian rule. While most autocrats and dictators protect their power with an iron fist, their regimes are often plagued by instability. Coups, revolutions, rebellions, and wars are common features of authoritarian politics. This course paves the way to understand how authoritarian regimes work and what phenomena they produce.


The course examines the correlates of authoritarian rule. It offers an in-depth look at the actors, institutions, and outcomes of non-democratic politics, thereby guiding students through today’s authoritarian wave. The course pays special attention to the techniques that autocrats and dictators employ to stay in power, and the consequences this has for dissidents, journalists, politicians, and citizens.


To uncover the patterns of authoritarian power politics, the course introduces students to quantitative research on autocracies and political violence. A significant part of the course will focus on the processing, visualization, and presentation of data used in the comparative study of authoritarian politics and political violence. Through the critical discussion of theories and the hands-on application of quantitative analyses, the course guides students towards formulating and testing their own arguments.


The course is structured around six thematic blocks: I) how to conceptualize and measure authoritarian regimes; II) the fundamental threats to authoritarian rule; III) how authoritarian leaders co-opt elites with pseudo-democratic institutions; IV) legitimize their rule through the control of information; V) repress opposition with the help of the state apparatus; VI) and how this shapes domestic and international conflict.


Note: Students must know and have access to a statistical program like Stata or R to successfully participate in the course.



  1. Studying authoritarian regimes and political violence
  2. Research designs and quantitative data
  3. Authoritarian regimes
  4. Coups
  5. Protests and revolutions
  6. Elections, parties, and parliaments
  7. Cronyism, nepotism, and bribery
  8. State bureaucracy
  9. Ideology, propaganda, and censorship
  10. Security apparatus
  11. Coercion and regime violence
  12. Rebellions, terrorism, and insurgencies
  13. Foreign operations and interstate wars
  14. Own data collection


Learning Outcome


After having completed the course, students will:

  • be familiar with core arguments and empirical findings on authoritarian politics and political violence;
  • know of different ways to define, categorize, measure, and analyze authoritarian institutions and types of political violence;
  • have in-depth knowledge about quantitative datasets used in the study of autocratic politics and political violence;
  • grasp practical challenges and constraints to doing empirical research in autocratic contexts;
  • know about the complexity and dilemmas in devising policy responses to authoritarian politics;
  • understand ethical considerations and dilemmas in doing research on political violence.



Having completed the course, students will:

  • be able to analytically evaluate theoretical arguments and different types of scientific evidence;
  • have practical skills in working with empirical data;
  • be able to evaluate different research conclusions, data sources, measurements, research designs, and other methodological choices;
  • have practical skills in visualizing quantitative data;
  • have practice in scientific writing.



The students will be able to:

  • apply different theoretical perspectives to real-world problems;
  • analyze and critically evaluate scientific arguments and empirical data;
  • develop and communicate own scientific arguments and empirical findings;
  • conduct independent analytical thinking and empirical analyses;
  • process and present quantitative information;
  • evaluate policies.

Reading list (selection only):


Aaskoven, Lasse, and Jacob Nyrup. 2021. “Performance and Promotions in an Autocracy: Evidence from Nazi Germany.” Comparative Politics, 54(1): 51-85


Coppedge, Michael, et al. 2022. “V-Dem Codebook V.12.” Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Project. https:/​/​​data.html.


Dahlum, Sirianne, and Tore Wig. 2021. “Chaos on Campus: Universities and Mass Political Protest.” Comparative Political Studies, 54(1): 3-32.


Danneman, Nathan, and Emily H. Ritter. 2014. “Contagious Rebellion and Preemptive Repression.” Journal of Conflict Resolution, 58(2): 254-279.


Davenport, Christian and Patrick Ball. 2002. “Views to a Kill: Exploring the Implications of Source Selection in the Case of Guatemalan State Terror, 1977-1996.” Journal of Conflict Resolution, 46(3): 427-450.


Esberg, Jane. 2020. “Censorship as Reward: Evidence from Pop Culture Censorship in Chile.” American Political Science Review, 114(3): 821-836.

Frantz, Erica. 2018. Authoritarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Gandhi, Jennifer, and Adam Przeworski. 2007. “Authoritarian Institutions and the Survival of Autocrats.” Comparative Political Studies, 40(11): 1279-1301.


Geddes, Barbara, Joseph Wright, and Erica Frantz. 2014. “Autocratic Breakdown and Regime Transitions: A New Data Set.” Perspectives on Politics, 12(2): 313-331.


Gerschewski, Johannes. 2013. “The Three Pillars of Stability: Legitimation, Repression, and Co-Optation in Autocratic Regimes.” Democratization, 20(1): 13-38.


Kalyvas, Stathis N. 2019. “The Landscape of Political Violence” In Erica Chenoweth, Richard English, Andreas Gofas, and Stathis N. Kalyvas, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Terrorism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Kocher, Matthew, and Monteiro, Nuno. 2016. “Lines of Demarcation: Causation, Design-Based Inference, and Historical Research.” Perspectives on Politics, 14(4): 952-975.


Marinov, Nikolay, and Hein Goemans. 2014. “Coups and Democracy.” British Journal of Political Science, 44(4): 799-825.


Rozenas, Arturas, and Yuri Zhukov. 2019. “Mass Repression and Political Loyalty: Evidence from Stalin’s ‘Terror by Hunger’.” American Political Science Review, 113(2): 569-583.


Scharpf, Adam, and Gläßel, Christian. 2020. “Why Underachievers Dominate Secret Police Organizations: Evidence from Autocratic Argentina.” American Journal of Political Science, 64(4): 791-806


Svolik, Milan W. 2012. The Politics of Authoritarian Rule. New York: Cambridge University Press.


Truex, Rory. 2014. “The Returns to Office in a ‘Rubber Stamp’ Parliament.” American Political Science Review, 108(2): 235-251.


Tsourapas, Gerasimos. 2021. “Global Autocracies: Strategies of Transnational Repression, Legitimation, and Co-Optation in World Politics.” International Studies Review, 23(3): 616-644.


Weeks, Jessica. 2012. “Strongmen and Straw Men: Authoritarian Regimes and the Initiation of International Conflict.” American Political Science Review, 106(2): 326-347.


Weidmann, Nils B., and Espen Geelmuyden Rød. 2019. The Internet and Political Protest in Autocracies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


A BA in social science with successful attendance of an introductory course in comparative politics as well as quantitative methods. Students must have a solid working knowledge of applying quantitative methods and using a statistical software package (Stata or R). Students have to bring their laptop to class in order to work with data.
Lectures, in-class discussions, and group work with short student presentations
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 56
  • Total
  • 56
Continuous feedback during the course
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Type of assessment details
Free written assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship

- In the semester where the course takes place: Free written assignment

- In subsequent semesters: Free written assignment

Criteria for exam assesment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner