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Alex Braithwaite and Sangmi Jeong
Diffusion with respect to international politics is commonly defined as the tendency for events or behaviors occurring in one spatial unit to influence the likelihood of similar events or behaviors occurring in another spatial unit. General definitions and mechanisms of diffusion that can be thought of as somewhat ubiquitous to the broader literature of diffusion in international politics tend to focus on processes of spillover or learning/emulation. These processes are common to the adoption and diffusion of policy innovations, the spread of democracy and democratic revolutions, and the contagion of civil and international conflicts. While the nomenclatures of these literatures often differ quite significantly, considerable overlap exists in terms of the primary conceptualizations of diffusion mechanisms. Most literatures appear to identify some combination of the following mechanisms: coercion and external pressure; constructivist norm cycles; social networks and linkages; geographic proximity and demonstration effects; learning and emulation. While the study of these phenomena and mechanisms has advanced significantly in recent years, some notable areas of future growth remain. First, differentiating between learning/emulation and spillover processes still presents considerable difficulty. Second, the role of “firewalls” in limiting diffusion processes is not well understood in either general or specific cases. Third, while understanding of social and geographic spaces is now rather nuanced, it remains unclear how best to theorize and model timing in diffusion processes.
Mark A. Boyer and Michael J. Butler
One of the long-standing debates between diplomatic historians and social scientists focusing on diplomacy and negotiation turns on what we know and how we know it. While diplomatic history points to the necessity of micro-level approaches rooted in the details of discrete and idiosyncratic negotiations and interactions, social science strives to identify broad aggregate patterns gleaned from a cross section of such activities. The primary benefit of the latter approach is the same as this volume: namely, the advancing of empirically grounded theory. This disjuncture in the study of diplomacy and negotiation helps explain why international relations as a field has spent so little time studying diplomacy—and, as a result, why negotiation and diplomacy remains undertheorized.
The overarching objective of this entry is to draw attention to contributions to the negotiation theorizing gleaned from the macro-level social scientific analysis of diplomacy and negotiation. Undoubtedly the range, depth, and quality of this work exceeds its visibility within the mainstream study of negotiation. By necessity, we have elected to draw connections between some of the more prominent examples of the quantitative empirical study of negotiation processes and outcomes and prevailing theoretical arguments in the field of international negotiation and cooperation. In doing so, we hope to draw attention to if not help close the gap between theory and practice in the study of negotiation and diplomacy.
Diplomacy’s role in foreign policy is hampered by multiple understandings of what diplomacy is and does. A broad definition of diplomacy holds that it encompasses more than the promotion of peaceful international relations. Instead, it applies to the sum of those relations—peaceful, hostile, and everything in between. Thus, foreign relations—so long as they involve the interests, direction, and actions of a sovereign power—may be regarded as being synonymous with diplomatic relations, whereby foreign policy relates to the theory and practice of setting diplomatic priorities; planning for contingencies; advancing strategic, operational, and tactical diplomatic aims; and adjusting those aims to domestic and foreign constraints. This conception of diplomacy is functional: it emphasizes the roles of diplomats and recognizes that many other people perform these roles besides official envoys; and it illustrates that diplomatic settings—and the means, methods, and tools of diplomacy—undergo continuous change. The basic mediating purpose of diplomacy, however, has endured, as has much of its institutional apparatus—embassies, ambassadors, treaties, and so on. This is likely to remain the case so long as there are multiple polities in the world, all having to relate to one another.
Daniel C. Lewis
While many landmark policies affecting LGBT rights have been determined by legislatures and courts, voters have also often played a more direct role in LGBT politics through direct democracy institutions, such as the initiative and referendum. For example, in 2008 California voters approved Proposition 8, barring same-sex marriage in the state and setting the stage for a key federal court decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry (2013). This followed on the heels of 31 ballot measures to ban same-sex marriage in the previous decade. Direct democracy has also been employed frequently to consider a range of other important issues relevant to the LGBT community, including bans on same-sex couple adoptions, nondiscrimination policies, education policies, and employment benefits. Further, as issues addressing transgender right have emerged on the political landscape, local referendums have addressed public accommodation discrimination, including so-called “bathroom bills,” like the high-profile Houston referendum in 2014.
Most of these prominent direct democracy contests have resulted in negative outcomes for the LGBT community, spurring concerns about subjecting the rights of marginalized groups to a popular vote. However, some ballot measures, such as Washington’s 2012 vote to legalize same-sex marriage, have expanded or protected LGBT rights. Yet the effects of direct democracy institutions extend beyond the direct policy outcomes of elections and have been shown to shape the decision-making of elected officials as well. Still, studies of both the direct and indirect effects of direct democracy on LGBT rights reveal mixed results that are contingent upon public attitudes and how the issues are framed. When the public is supportive of LGBT rights and views them through a civil right frame, direct democracy has been used to expand and protect these rights. However, when the public views the LGBT community more negatively and views the issues through a morality or safety lens, LGBT rights are put at risk by direct democracy. As such, direct democracy institutions function as a double-edged sword for the LGBT community, simultaneously offering an opportunity to elevate LGBT rights issues onto the public agenda with a civil rights frame and posing a threat to the community when these issues are viewed in a more hostile manner.
Charles G. Ripley
Critical discourse analysis continues to remain a valuable method for understanding foreign policy. Situated in the broader interpretive methodological approach to the social sciences, it challenges the ontological and epistemological assumptions of more positivist methodologies by observing that the world is not pregiven, but socially constructed. In essence, we live in an intersubjective world where discourse serves as a powerful tool to set agendas, produce meaning, legitimize interests, and enforce power structures. Scholars devoted to discourse analysis enrich our understanding of foreign policy by highlighting the powerful role that discourse ultimately plays.
One useful way of understanding its value is through representational practices. Relying upon the study of discourse from a wide range of sources (politicians, policymakers, scholars, journalists, and film), this research program emphasizes discursive representations. Far from being neutral representations, the United States constructs a U.S.-centric view of the world based on its own images, identities, and interests, while marginalizing the voices and experiences of others. U.S. foreign policies are described as positive. Those of other countries, particularly U.S. so-called enemies, are negative.
Our knowledge of the world comes from these representational practices, which in turn has serious implications for foreign policy. Ultimately, discursive activities are used not only to frame and define foreign policy initiatives, but also sell such policies to the broader public. U.S. military interventions help illustrate this point. Interventions in Panama and Iraq become “Just Cause” and “Iraqi Freedom,” whereas interventions by, say, Russia are “acts of aggression.” Discourse often develops into binary oppositions that inform policy and create and sustain a dominant world position. Compared to the Global South, the United States is “developed” and “civilized,” while other nations are “underdeveloped” and “uncivilized.”
Discourse analysis is not limited to military intervention. Scholars have applied the approach to a broad array of foreign policy initiatives, ranging from foreign aid and diplomacy to international economics. Nor is the approach limited to the United States; it has evolved into a far-reaching research program that offers insight into the foreign policy of any state.
Discourse analysis stands in stark contrast to the more rationalist approaches, such as neorealism and neoliberal institutionalism. These approaches, related to scientific positivism, emphasize self-interest, rational actors, material factors, objectivity, and causal hypotheses. Academics related to this scholarly community have expressed dissatisfaction with discourse analysis. Most important, critics point out that there is an objective reality, and therefore, research has little relevancy for the real world. But scholars who focus on discourse concede that there is a reality; however, reality has no value until we attach meaning to it. The deadly attacks of September 11, 2001, happened, but they remain neutral until discursive activities (enemy, terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism, and so on) frame them and inform foreign policy. Consequently, such representations have real-world relevancies, justifying war and surveillance, among other courses of action. Critical discourse analysis, as a result, has significant value for understanding foreign policy in the past, present, and future.
Frej Klem Thomsen
The conceptualization and moral analysis of discrimination constitutes a burgeoning theoretical field, with a number of open problems and a rapidly developing literature. A central problem is how to define discrimination, both in its most basic direct sense and in the most prominent variations. A plausible definition of the basic sense of the word understands discrimination as disadvantageous differential treatment of two groups that is in some respect caused by the properties that distinguish the groups, but open questions remain on whether discrimination should be restricted to concern only particular groups, as well as on whether it is best conceived as a descriptive or a moralized concept. Furthermore, since this understanding limits direct discrimination to cases of differential treatment, it requires that we be able to draw a clear distinction between equal and differential treatment, a task that is less simple than it may appear, but that is helpful in clarifying indirect discrimination and statistical discrimination. The second major problem in theorizing discrimination is explaining what makes discrimination morally wrong. On this issue, there are four dominant contemporary answers: the valuational and expressive disrespect accounts, which hold that discrimination is wrong when and if the discriminator misestimates or expresses a misestimate of the moral status of the discriminatee; the unfairness account, which holds that discrimination is wrong when and if the discriminator unfairly increases inequality of opportunity; and the harm account, which holds that discrimination is wrong when and if the discriminator harms the discriminatee. Each of these accounts, however, faces important challenges in simultaneously providing a persuasive theoretical account and matching our intuitions about cases of impermissible discrimination.
Disproportionate policy response is understood to be a lack of ‘fit’ or balance between the costs of a public policy and the benefits derived from this policy, and between policy ends and means. The study of this phenomenon and its two anchor concepts, namely, policy over- and underreaction, has been inspired by the insight that inefficiencies in the allocation of attention in policymaking leads policymakers to react disproportionately to information. This theory of information processing appears to be broadly accepted and has generated a large body of research on agenda setting. However, little attention has been devoted to actual policy over- and underreaction and how it affects the public. The latest developments are conceptual in nature and include a conceptualization and dimensionalization of policy over- and underreaction, as well as an early-stage development of a preference-driven approach to disproportionate policy response. These issues are fundamental to developing understanding of the formulation, implementation, and evaluation of disproportionate policy response. They are also valuable to those who want to better understand the processes through which policy over- and underreaction occur and are of considerable interest to practitioners who want to understand how to manage disproportionate policy responses more effectively.
Although disproportionate policy response poses methodological challenges because it is time-bound, context-sensitive and has a problematic counterfactual (i.e., proportionate policy response), it deserves academic attention. This is because the insight of the punctuated equilibrium theory—that policy responses oscillate between periods of underreaction to the flow of information coming from the environment into the system and overreaction due to disproportionate information processing—implies that policy oscillation is the norm rather than the rarity. To probe research questions related to the topic at hand, disproportionate policy response can be measured as individuals’ perceptions of what they think about the proportionality of policy. Alternatively, scholars may employ vignette survey experiments, sophisticated cost-benefit analysis and a comparison of policy outcomes with (national or international) standards developed by experts. Scholars may also undertake experimental manipulation using risk unfolding over time, combined with varying types of warnings.
The study of disproportionate policy response is a gateway to some of the most significant aspects of public policy. Global and domestic threats coupled with relatively skeptical publics about politicians and political institutions and rising negativity and populism in democratic politics imply that policy overshooting is increasingly required for the public to perceive policy action as sufficient and politicians as competent, at least in the short term. Not only has disproportionate policy response been a focal point for political actors seeking decisive and swift policy change in times of real or manufactured crisis or no change at all, but such action has time and time again also made a dramatic impact upon the direction and the character of policy and politics. Classic examples are the U.S. response to 9/11 and the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. So far the literature on policy change has not responded to the emergence of the stream of research aimed at fully understanding the complex phenomenon of disproportionate policy response, but a robust research agenda awaits those answering this article’s call for action.
Existing theories of international law are largely state-centric. While international cooperation can benefit all, states are often tempted to violate their promises in order to manage economic and political crises. States must accordingly balance enforcement against flexibility: legal institutions must provide enough enforcement that states comply most of the time yet also provide enough flexibility that states can violate during crises. Such a balance is possible when laws are crafted and enforced by unitary actors that will tolerate occasional violations by others in order to preserve their own right to occasionally violate.
However, the changing doctrine of sovereign immunity has dramatically transformed the actual practice of international law. Non-state actors and domestic courts play an increasingly important role in challenging state legal violations, generating a divergence between the theory and practice of contemporary international law. This divergence is apparent in many issue areas, including terrorism, human rights, sovereign debt, and foreign investment. This divergence suggests that political scientists and legal scholars must reconsider the limits of state-centric theories and examine the role of non-state actors and domestic courts.
Shannon Carcelli and Erik A. Gartzke
Deterrence theory is slowly beginning to emerge from a long sleep after the Cold War, and from its theoretical origins over half a century ago. New realities have led to a diversification of deterrence in practice, as well as to new avenues for its study and empirical analysis. Three major categories of changes in the international system—new actors, new means of warfare, and new contexts—have led to corresponding changes in the way that deterrence is theorized and studied. First, the field of deterrence has broadened to include nonstate and nonnuclear actors, which has challenged scholars with new types of theories and tests. Second, cyberthreats, terrorism, and diverse nuclear force structures have led scholars to consider means in new ways. Third, the likelihood of an international crisis has shifted as a result of physical, economic, and normative changes in the costs of crisis, which had led scholars to more closely address the crisis context itself. The assumptions of classical deterrence are breaking down, in research as well as in reality. However, more work needs to be done in understanding these international changes and building successful deterrence policy. A better understanding of new modes of deterrence will aid policymakers in managing today’s threats and in preventing future deterrence failures, even as it prompts the so-called virtuous cycle of new theory and additional empirical testing.
Joe D. Hagan
Diversionary explanations are a key FPA approach to understanding how domestic politics shape foreign policy and, in particular, the resort to force and risk of war, arguing that increasingly vulnerable leaders manipulate foreign policy in order to enhance their domestic political position. This literature has emerged in major ways since Levy’s early critique in which he noted wide disparity between the lack of theoretical rigor and empirical findings in political science research and the richness of qualitative research by historians offering compelling cases of diversionary wars such as the First World War. Nearly three decades later, however, this situation has significantly changed. A vibrant political science literature has emerged that provides significant empirical evidence based on, first, longitudinal studies of mostly the U.S. case and the presidential use of force since World War II (WWII); and, second, cross-national studies that capture variance in the diversionary resort to force across regime types (and subtypes) and different international contexts. In contrast, historical literature on the origins of World War I (WWI) has come to view the German case as more complex and has placed it into comparative perspective with the other four great powers. Historical research suggests that leaders in all five powers faced rising domestic opposition in the prewar decades; that they subsequently adopted new (yet varied) political strategies for containing opposition; and, at the brink of war, that diversionary and other political motivations played out in indirect and different ways. This article reviews these literatures and suggests that there has been some convergence of themes in the research of political scientists and historians. Consistent with FPA approaches, these literatures point to complex patterns of domestic oppositions across different institutional arenas, contingencies affecting the willingness and ability of leaders to resort to diversionary force, the role of agency stemming from leader beliefs about political stability and the consequences of risking war, and the importance of decision making dynamics in the ultimate resort to war.
The study of political campaigns is very varied in the political science literature. On the one hand, campaigns can involve groups of citizens working together on a local issue of concern to them, such as preventing an airport expansion from threatening their community. Only a relatively few people are likely to be actively involved and the goals of such a campaign are fairly clearly defined and limited. At the other end of the scale a campaign can consist of a broad social movement that is trying to influence public opinion and bring about changes in public policies on really big issues like climate change and global warming. Large numbers of people are likely to be involved and the goals are broad and ambitious. In between these two extremes, a whole range of campaigns with different objectives and strategies are to be found in contemporary democracies. This article focuses on election campaigns which are in an intermediate position between these two. Early research suggested that such campaigns were not very important but subsequent research shows that they are influential both in increasing turnout and changing the party choices that individual electors make.
Etel Solingen and Peter Gourevitch
The centrality of domestic coalitions serves as transmission belts between the domestic and international realms. Despite its long lineage in international and comparative political economy and its relevance to the understanding of contemporary responses to globalization, coalitional analysis has been typically neglected when explaining outcomes in international relations. The analytical framework adopted here builds on two “ideal-typical” coalitions—an “inward-nationalist” and an “outward-internationalist” model—each advancing competing models across industrialized and industrializing contexts alike. Several applications illustrate the breadth and scope of this framework, spacious enough to explain economic responses in Europe from the repeal of the Corn Laws to the 20th century; the security implications of economic responses leading to World War I; the impact of internationalization on regional orders in the industrializing world since 1945; the relationship between coalitional approaches to the global economy and nuclear weapons proliferation since 1970; and the relevance of coalitional divides to outcomes regarding Brexit, Donald Trump’s election, and beyond.
Coalitional analysis thus (a) offers important insights on wide-ranging empirical phenomena in comparative and international politics that institutional approaches alone fail to explain; (b) provides a unifying framework addressing trans-historical responses to globalization, nationalism, ethno-confessionalism, and their effects on interstate relations; (c) attends to political cleavages in political economy that intersect with security; (d) transcends dated level-of-analysis categories by linking subnational and global processes; (e) is flexible enough to accommodate wide variation in state–society relations and political institutionalization; (f) grounds politics in a dynamic framework able to explain both continuity and change; and (g) clarifies contradictory findings regarding interdependence and war by providing a mechanism explaining why, when, and how economic exchange with the world may or may not inhibit war.
Jessica L. P. Weeks and Cody Crunkilton
The question of how domestic institutions influence foreign policy decisions has a long history in the study of international relations. However, until recently most of this research has compared the foreign policies of democracies and autocracies, with little attention to the differences within autocracies. In recent years, a small but growing body of literature has examined constraints within autocracies, taking issue with the widespread image of authoritarian leaders as unconstrained and unaccountable. Although existing research on this topic is limited, it focuses on two general sources of constraint on authoritarian leaders: constraints imposed by regime insiders and constraints at the hands of the public.
In regimes with a powerful domestic audience, insiders often have both the will and the means to punish their leader for foreign policy failures. Consequently, such regimes sometimes behave quite similarly to democracies. In general, regimes with powerful selectorates or domestic audiences appear more likely to pursue peaceful security policies, to win the military conflicts they do enter, to lose office in the aftermath of defeat in war, to sign trade agreements, to adopt floating exchange rates, and to cooperate internationally, compared to regimes lacking such elite constraints. Scholars remain divided, however, about the extent to which the backgrounds of members of the domestic audience (e.g., whether they stem from a military or civilian ranks) matter.
Less research studies whether the public can constrain authoritarian leaders. However, research indicates that the public can sometimes exert constraints through elections or the threat of revolt, if to a lesser extent than regime insiders. For example, the threat of revolution can make leaders who fear violent removal less likely to make concessions to end a conflict. Furthermore, antiforeign protest can tie a regime’s hands, with both peaceful and violent consequences. In the economic realm, some research suggests that the threat of inequality-driven revolutions spurs autocrats to pursue free-trade agreements. Overall, the study of domestic constraints on foreign policy in authoritarian regimes is an emerging area of research, with numerous areas for future study.
Countries differ in size, socioeconomic development, and political regime. They also vary in their political institutionalization and societal structures, military and economic capabilities, and strategic cultures. In addition, public opinion, national role conceptions, decision making rules and belief systems, and personality traits of political leaders vary from one state to another. These differences directly affect both foreign policymaking process and foreign policy decisions. Whereas the extant literature on foreign policy analysis (FPA) lacks a grand theory as to how domestic factors influence foreign policy and under what conditions these factors become more important, a large body of work shows that a state’s foreign policy relies heavily on unit-level characteristics, and it is not completely shaped by systemic-structural constraints and opportunities based on distribution of power and military capabilities.
Christina J. Schneider
How does domestic politics affect international cooperation? Even though classic work on international relations already acknowledges the central role of domestic politics in international relations, the first generation of scholarly work on international cooperation focused almost exclusively on the international sources of cooperation. Theories that explicitly link domestic politics and international cooperation did not take a more prominent place in the scholarly work on international cooperation until the late 1980s.
Recent research analyzes how interests and institutions at the domestic level affect the cooperation of governments at the international level. The analysis is structured along a political economy model, which emphasizes the decision making calculus of office-motivated political leaders who find themselves under pressure by different societal groups interested in promoting or hindering international cooperation. These pressures are conveyed, constrained, and calibrated by domestic institutions, which provide an important context for policy making, and in particular for the choice to cooperate at the international level. This standard political economy model of domestic politics is embedded within models of international cooperation, which entail decisions by governments about (a) whether to cooperate (and to comply with international agreements), (b) how to distribute the gains and costs from cooperation, (c) and how to design cooperation as to maximize the likelihood that the public good will be provided.
Domestic politics is significant to explain all aspects of international cooperation. The likelihood that governments engage in international cooperation does not only depend on international factors, but is also and sometimes predominantly driven by the demands of societal groups and variations in institutional structures across countries. Domestic factors can explain how governments behave in distributive negotiations, whether they can achieve advantageous deals, and if negotiations succeed to produce an international collective action. They also contribute to our understanding about whether and how governments comply with international agreements, and consequently, how the design of international institutions affects government compliance. More recently, scholars have become interested in the democratic responsiveness of governments when they cooperate at the international level. Whereas research is still sparse, emerging evidence points to responsive conduct of governments particularly when international cooperation is politicized at the national level.
Juliet Kaarbo and Cristian Cantir
Scholarship on domestic role contestation arose out of critiques of two frequent assumptions about the impact of national role conceptions (NRCs) on a state’s foreign policy: the assumption of elite consensus and the assumption of elite–public agreement on one or several NRCs. These critiques have been occasionally articulated since the entry of role theory into international relations literature, but they were systematized during a new wave of research on roles that started in the 2010s.
The domestic role contestation approach identifies the key domestic actors that hold NRCs and hypothesizes that roles connect to foreign policy behavior via the domestic political process. The degree of consensus along two dimensions—commonly defined as “horizontal” and “vertical” for the intra-elite and the elite–public nexus, respectively—can explain what roles are enacted or blocked. Empirical findings, though tentative, have corroborated the relevance of these arguments. Elites with significant institutional power—particularly in the executive–can often overcome impediments to enact preferred roles, although this ability often hinges on the lack of divisions in ruling institutions. Although less robust due to the absence of significant empirical research, role theory scholarship has also revealed that the public can, at times, constrain elites from enacting unpopular roles.
The literature on domestic role contestation has a number of limitations that can inform future research directions. First, there is still no comprehensive list of domestic actors that hold (and argue about) NRCs. Such a list can outline the diversity of social environments in which countries find themselves, generate insights into how they navigate their presence in each one, and lead to more detailed accounts of how the contestation process unfolds. Second, the literature is yet to provide a framework for incorporating the involvement of relevant external actors (commonly known as “alters”) in the domestic contestation process. The impediments here are partly practical—an eye to detailed domestic processes and external involvement can create an unwieldy narrative—but the effort to conceptualize this dimension is important in light of role theory’s major focus on the interaction between ego and alter. Third, role contestation scholarship needs stronger and clearer connections to traditional and critical international relations theories, as well as the study of contentious politics. Finally, methodological rigor and diversity should be a priority for the future development of this strand of role theory.
Gaurav Sood and Yphtach Lelkes
The news media have been disrupted. Broadcasting has given way to narrowcasting, editorial control to control by “friends” and personalization algorithms, and a few reputable producers to millions with shallower reputations. Today, not only is there a much broader variety of news, but there is also more of it. The news is also always on. And it is available almost everywhere. The search costs have come crashing down, so much so that much of the world’s information is at our fingertips. Google anything and the chances are that there will be multiple pages of relevant results.
Such a dramatic expansion of choice and access is generally considered a Pareto improvement. But the worry is that we have fashioned defeat from the bounty by choosing badly. The expansion in choice is blamed for both, increasing the “knowledge gap,” the gap between how much the politically interested and politically disinterested know about politics, and increasing partisan polarization. We reconsider the evidence for the claims. The claim about media’s role in rising knowledge gaps does not need explaining because knowledge gaps are not increasing. For polarization, the story is nuanced. Whatever evidence exists suggests that the effect is modest, but measuring long-term effects of a rapidly changing media landscape is hard and may explain the results.
As we also find, even describing trends in basic explanatory variables is hard. Current measures are beset with five broad problems. The first is conceptual errors. For instance, people frequently equate preference for information from partisan sources with a preference for congenial information. Second, survey measures of news consumption are heavily biased. Third, behavioral survey experimental measures are unreliable and inapt for learning how much information of a particular kind people consume in their real lives. Fourth, measures based on passive observation of behavior only capture a small (likely biased) set of the total information consumed by people. Fifth, content is often coded crudely—broad judgments are made about coarse units, eliding over important variation.
These measurement issues impede our ability to answer the extent to which people choose badly and the attendant consequences of such. Improving measures will do much to advance our ability to answer important questions.
Do We Have Too Much Theory in International Relations or Do We Need Less? Waltz Was Wrong, Tetlock Was Right
Michael D. Ward
The field of international relations has developed the notion that world politics is made up of dyads, a thing that no one has actually ever seen. This notion is referred to as a theory by many scholars. Both the notion that world politics is dyadic as well as the idea that this is a theory need to be jettisoned from our scholarship. They have deleterious effects on what we can learn about the world.
Understanding how individuals make political decisions in a complex and ever-changing world requires recognition of the dynamic nature of the environment, as well as theoretical and methodological strategies to address these complications. As the scholarly understanding of the limits of human cognition expands, researchers can no longer rely on decision-making models that assume unlimited time, resources, and/or abilities of voters. Fortunately, dynamic process tracing models demonstrate the information processing component of decision-making, turning the focus away (slightly) from the decision outcome and toward the ways that people come to these decisions. These models derive from weaker, but more accurate, assumptions about the cognitive abilities of humans and provide critical insight into both the factors that voters consider when making decisions and the ways voters incorporate those factors into their decisions. In addition, thanks to the work of Lau and Redlawsk, these processes are directly observable with their Dynamic Process Tracing Environment (DPTE).
Researchers relying on dynamic process tracing models are now able to assess the influence of political and demographic factors on the pattern, content, and amount of information voters access and rely on when making political decisions. These models offer a more realistic view of voter abilities than rational choice models, as well as providing greater insight into the process of decision-making (rather than the outcome of the process) than much of the work deriving from the Michigan model of public opinion. Additionally, the DPTE offers advantages over earlier static information board studies.
Rather than seeing one’s self in conflict with decades of public opinion research, however, scholars in the dynamic process tracing tradition would be wise to consider their work as complementary. A focus on political variables as outcomes misses a crucial cognitive step: the evaluation of environmental stimuli through the lenses of short- and long-term predispositions. As scholars seek to understand why voters possess certain attitudes, they should ask how those attitudes were formed in the first place. Dynamic process tracing models allow for theorizing about and empirically testing components of the decision-making process previously left uninvestigated.
Karen A. Rasler
There is an argument that nonviolent civil resistance or protest campaigns should be studied as dynamic and complex phenomenon, rather than a single case comprised of various attributes, such as size, scale, and scope, which are then compared with other cases. As protest campaigns have increased all over the world during the last few years, international relations scholars have begun to devote more time and resources to studying them systematically with new data projects and analytical tools and methods. In light of this emerging research program, one needs to understand that protest campaigns contain large-scale processes of political contention that evolve across time and space. Such evolutionary processes are the result of the interactive relationships among multiple governmental and nongovernmental actors. These interactions reflect “highly interdependent sets of actions and reactions” that generate causal mechanisms and intersect with other large-scale processes which can produce similar and dissimilar outcomes across different political contexts. An argument will be advanced that a “relational mechanisms-process” approach articulated by McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly provides analytical leverage over such complexity. Most, international relations scholars, unlike social movement scholars, are not familiar with this approach. So, the effort herein is to not only make the case for a relational mechanisms-process approach but also to illustrate it with a partial analysis of the Egyptian uprising on January 25, 2011, which led to Mubarak’s resignation. The end result is a call for theoretical and empirical research that bridges two communities of scholars, one that is dominated by sociologists (social movement scholars) and the other that is dominated by political science (international relations political violence scholars).