Comparative Authoritarianism and Political Violence

Course content

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 use of quantitative data, 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 be able to work with and have access to Stata or R to successfully participate in the course.



  1. Studying authoritarian regimes and political violence
  2. Research designs and quantitative data
  3. Authoritarian regime types
  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, repression, and violence
  12. Rebellions, terrorism, and insurgencies
  13. Foreign operations and interstate wars
  14. Own data collection

Full-degree students enrolled at the Department of Political Science, UCPH

  • MSc in Political Science
  • MSc in Social Science
  • MSc in Security Risk Management
  • Bachelor in Political Science


Full-degree students enrolled at the Faculty of Social Science, UCPH 

  • Master Programme in Social Data Science
  • Bachelor and Master Programmes in Psychology
  • Master programme in Global Development


The course is open to:

  • Exchange and Guest students from abroad
  • Credit students from Danish Universities
  • Open University students
Learning outcome


After successfully completing the course, students will have knowledge of:

  • core arguments and empirical findings on authoritarian politics and political violence.
  • different ways to define, categorize, measure, and analyze authoritarian institutions and types of political violence.
  • quantitative datasets used in the study of autocratic politics and political violence.
  • challenges and constraints to doing empirical research in autocratic contexts.
  • ethical considerations and dilemmas in doing research on political violence.



After successfully completing the course, students will have the skills to:

  • classify theoretical arguments and different types of scientific evidence.
  • identify different data sources, measurements, and research designs.
  • analyze different research conclusions, data sources, measurements, research designs, and other methodological choices.
  • work with quantitative data.
  • visualize quantitative data.
  • produce scientific arguments.
  • produce structured, scientific text.



After successfully completing the course, students will have the competencies to:

  • assess real-world problems through different theoretical perspectives;
  • critically evaluate scientific arguments, evidence, empirical data, and methodological choices;
  • develop and communicate own scientific arguments and empirical findings to academic audiences;
  • conduct independent analytical thinking and empirical analyses;
  • manage, process, and present quantitative information.

Lectures, in-class discussions, and group work with short student presentations

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.


Balcells, Laia, and Christopher M. Sullivan. 2018. “New Findings from Conflict Archives: An Introduction and Methodological Framework.” Journal of Peace Research, 55(2): 137-146.


Carter, Erin B., and Brett L. Carter. 2020. “Focal Moments and Protests in Autocracies: How Pro-Democracy Anniversaries Shape Dissent in China.” Journal of Conflict Resolution, 64(10): 1796-1827.


Chin, John J., David B. Carter, and Joseph G. Wright. 2021. “The Varieties of Coups D’état: Introducing the Colpus Dataset.” International Studies Quarterly, 65(4): 1040-1051.


Coppedge, Michael, et al. 2023. “V-Dem Codebook V.13.” Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Project.


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

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.


De Bruin, Erica. 2021. “Mapping Coercive Institutions: The State Security Forces Dataset, 1960–2010.” Journal of Peace Research, 58(2): 315-325.


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


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


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


Lan, Xiaohuan, and Wei Li. 2018. “Swiss Watch Cycles: Evidence of Corruption during Leadership Transition in China.” Journal of Comparative Economics, 46(4): 1234-1252.


Reuter, Ore J., and David Szakony. 2019. “Elite Defection under Autocracy: Evidence from Russia.” American Political Science Review, 113(2): 552-568.


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 Christian Gläßel. 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.


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


Valentino, Benjamin, Paul Huth, and Dylan Balch-Lindsay. 2004. “‘Draining the Sea’: Mass Killing and Guerrilla Warfare.” International Organization, 58(2): 375–407.


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

Bachelor degree in political science or related discipline (e.g., economics, sociology).

Students must have a solid working knowledge of applying quantitative methods and using a script-based statistical software package (Stata or R).

Students have to bring their laptop to class in order to work with data.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
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 assessment
  • 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

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 56
  • English
  • 56


Course number
Programme level
Full Degree Master

1 semester


Department of Political Science, Study Council
Contracting department
  • Department of Political Science
  • Department of Anthropology
  • Department of Psychology
  • Social Data Science
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Social Sciences
Course Coordinator
  • Adam Scharpf   (12-6d706d793a7f6f746d7e7c724c75727f3a77813a7077)
Saved on the 01-05-2024

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