Carnegie Mellon University

Meet the Faculty

Ignacio AranaSocial Sciences
84-275: Comparative Politics

Featured Faculty: Ignacio Arana

What do you love about teaching Comparative Politics?

I enjoy teaching Comparative Politics for two main reasons. First, the subfield is fascinating and relevant. Comparativists like me use methods to study and compare domestic politics across countries. The knowledge we produce should be of interest to everyone because domestic politics affect our everyday life, and this course examines how political institutions and political behavior shape domestic politics. In class, we also discuss how the theories and concepts in the subfield apply to current events such as democratic erosion, nationalism, populism, protests, civil wars, terrorism, and globalization.

Second, it is always a pleasure to interact with CMU students. You get many excellent questions and thoughtful comments, and in turn that has an impact on my thoughts and my research. For example, I wrote a paper about the response of political leaders to the pandemic, and the idea emerged after a class discussion in which we connected the content of the course to the pandemic.

How does what you do in the classroom reflect the impact on the world that your field has?

What we do in this course is akin to opening a window to the world and attempting to rigorously analyze the domestic politics of other countries. Much of the discussion in American politics is done without serious consideration of the comparative experience. In any topic that you may think of, there are important lessons to learn from abroad, and we will address several of them in class. This, in turn, should help students to have a better understanding of the place and time they live in.

What are your current research interests?

As a comparativist, I focus on two lines of inquiry. I examine how the personality traits and other individual differences of heads of government around the world impact executive governance. Second, I study the consequences of variation in political institutions across countries, with an emphasis on Latin America. I examine executive-legislative relations, informal institutions, gender and politics, and judicial politics.

I am currently working on a book tentatively called The Personality of Autocratizers and Constitutional Change in Latin America. In this manuscript, I argue that the individual differences of presidents are behind their attempts to change the constitution to consolidate their power. I test the argument by examining the 79 attempts of presidents from 18 countries to increase their constitutional powers or extend their terms from 1945-2021. These attempts have allowed leaders to retain power for decades and to lead authoritarian regressions but have not been systematically studied.