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Good Playlist: Intro to comparative politics ▶️

A soundtrack to encourage students to apply course concepts in a different context.

- February 26, 2024

About ten years ago, I noticed that kids at a daycare center magically gathered around their teachers after they stopped playing music from a boombox. Inspired by the experience, I started playing music before the beginning of each class session for my undergraduate course, “Introduction to comparative politics.” Attendance for the lecture is usually around 250 students. Everybody pretty quickly learns that when the music stops, comparative politics begins. 

The next year, I integrated the music in the course content. The goal of the playlist is not to educate students about great music or instill my musical tastes in the next generation. Instead, I try to pick pieces that convey central ideas of a particular lecture. And I like to encourage students to relate and apply course concepts in a different context. Although punk rock does ask all the right questions all the time, I try to cater to different musical tastes in this exercise. 

“Nothing compares 2 u”

The lecture mostly uses David Samuels’ Comparative Politics as the course textbook. For the first substantive session, we discuss the comparative method. The week’s song is “Nothing compares 2 u,” written by Prince and performed by Sinéad O’Connor. The song lends itself to raising the obvious question: Did Prince use a most similar or a most different research design for his comparison? For me, other highlights are ChocQuibTown’s “De Donde Vengo Yo” for thinking about the reach of and belonging to a state. And, of course, Fela Kuti’s “Zombie” to contemplate obedience in autocratic regimes. 

Student feedback has been very positive on the playlist, and I occasionally receive great suggestions that make it into the rotation. Last year, our student newspaper summarized my musical taste as “as challenging as the intro lecture.” I take this as an endorsement for both the lecture and the playlist. 

Christian Breunig is a professor of comparative politics in the department of politics and public administration at the University of Konstanz in Germany. 

Do you have a good playlist with a political science theme? Want someone to make one? Know someone who has one? Send us your suggestions using this form! Please note that we will review all proposals but not all will be published.