Methodological and Substantive Expansion Benefits Students in Applied Politics Programme
Navid Hassanpour, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences (School of Political Science) at the Higher School of Economics, is the author of ‘Leading from the Periphery and Network Collective Action’ published by Cambridge University Press in December 2016. The winner of the International Communications Association, Political Communication Division’s Best Political Communication Article of the Year Award in 2015, Professor Hassanpour focuses on comparative politics, with a particular interest in hybrid regimes. He recently spoke with the HSE News Service about his current course at HSE, expansion of the Master’s programme in Applied Political Science, and his plans for upcoming research.
— Congratulations on the publication of your latest book. What are you hoping to accomplish with its publication?
— Thanks for the note on the book – it was a project more than six years in the making. Debates on the dynamics of mass opinion in the past year, particularly during the Brexit elections and the U.S. presidential race, have made the topic of the book more relevant and timely. I hope the book helps to elucidate some questions that have gained traction during the political surprises of the last year: the role of rumours, marginal leadership, and network effects in collective action and mass opinion reversals.
— You are currently teaching a course called 'Theory and Methodology of Political Research' in the Master’s programme in Applied Political Science. What is the core message of this course?
— Theory and Methodology of Political Research covers four main components of contemporary political science research methods. The first is econometric analysis of quantitative data, which mainly includes regression analysis, as well as time series data methods. The second is fundamentals of game theory in games of complete and incomplete information. The third is research design methods in political science for putting econometric tools into use. Finally, there is a module on Big Data methods in the social sciences that I teach based on my own prior work with novel modes of data.
The core message of the course is its emphasis on empirics. I have noticed that there is room for improvement there in the programme, and I am focusing on introducing data methods in the course. Substantively speaking, this approach puts students in touch with the ‘reality’ of their subject of study, and that exposure, in my opinion, is a rewarding experience.
— How would you describe your students? Where are they from? Is there any major difference between HSE students and others you've worked with before in your professional career?
— The students in the program are mostly from the Russian Federation and post-Soviet states. They tend to be proficient in English and conversant in the English canon of modern political science. In that sense, my teaching technicalities here at HSE are not very different from what I had in the Bay Area, or the New York vicinity, where the student body is fairly international.
— What's your vision for the development of the programme and students' future?
— The Applied Politics Master's programme can greatly benefit from expansion on two fronts, both methodological and substantive. We have had multiple discussions among the instructors in the program on how to do this.
The Applied Politics programme comprises three main components: comparative politics, research methods, and Russian politics. The main focus of the program is on the micro-level analysis. The IR-type of analysis we leave to the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs. What binds the three main components of our programme, and differentiates them from similar programmes, is an emphasis on empirical analysis and quantitative inference.
Along the same lines, we are augmenting the empirical and applied part of the programme by introducing new courses that emphasize the ‘applied’ dimension of comparative politics we deal with, and these courses are going to be increasingly taught in English. That is on the methods level. On the substantive front, we are starting to pay more attention to topics such as nationalism, ethnic politics, conflict, and political economy of electoral dynamics in the comparative context. A micro level, comparative and quantitative analysis of these topics fills a vacuum between existing programmes such as PEP and IRE. For example, studying the rise of nationalism in Eastern Europe is of great interest to Russian and non-Russian students. Such thematic coverage attracts students from a diverse pool of candidates, and provides them with a unique prospect that is going to be an asset in their future academic and professional lives.
— How have you found teaching in English in Russia? Any particular challenges?
— In terms of interactions in the classroom, I have not seen much difference here in Moscow, compared to the classes I had at Columbia. However, problems exist in terms of access to English sources, particularly academic books. I understand that HSE's focus is on online access, nevertheless, accumulating a core of academic printed material, particularly the classics of each social scientific field, is central to the success of the students.
— One of your research interests is politics in hybrid regimes. What are your plans for this topic in 2017?
— Since I started at HSE, I put together a research group on ‘modernization and mobilization in Eurasia’. The group meets weekly, and we organize presentations and discussions on data collection projects. In the coming year, I will work with the group on a number of paper projects based on the data we have collected. The topics include the relation between natural resource economy and electoral dynamics in the post-Soviet political space, ethnic divisions and electoral politics in contemporary Turkey, and privatization and electoral legacies in Russia, among other topics. Hopefully we will start a new project on anti-corruption strategies in China; I am on the lookout for graduate students with an interest and expertise in Chinese politics. The overarching aim of these projects is to understand the reasons for the success or failure of political modernization.
Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News service