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Sharath Srinivasan and Stephanie Diepeveen
From global amplifications of local protests on social media to disinformation campaigns and transformative state surveillance capabilities, digital communications are changing the ways in which politics works in Africa and how and with whom power accrues. Yet while digital information technology and media are relatively new, the role of communication in state power and resistance on the continent is not. The “digital revolution” provokes us to better account for this past to understand a rapidly changing present. From language and script, to print and broadcast, to mobile applications and digital databases, how information is circulated, processed, and stored is central to political power on the African continent. The story of political change in Africa cannot be told without attention to how power manifests with and through changes in the technologies that enable these communication practices. A communication technology perspective on the study of politics in Africa provides a more sober analysis of how power relations circumscribe the possibilities of political change than more normative approaches would. Even so, a communication approach allows for social and ideational factors to mix with material ones in explaining the possibilities of such change.
Communication technologies have been central to what political actors in Africa from the precolonial past to the early 21st century can and cannot do, and to how political change comes about. Explorations across time, political era, and technological development in Africa allow us to unpack this relationship. In the precolonial period, across forms of centralized and decentralized political organization, oral communication modalities reflected and enabled fluid and radial logics of authority and power relations. Changes in moral and practical ideas for political organization occurred amid early encounters with traders and Islamic scholars and texts and the movement of people to, from, and within the continent. Colonialism, which heavily focused on narrow extractive aims, required alien central authorities to overcome the vulnerability of their rule through knowledge production and information control. Equally, the same communication technologies valued by colonial authority—intermediaries, print, radio—became means through which resistance ideas circulated and movements were mobilized. In independent Africa, political aims may have changed, but communication infrastructures and their vulnerabilities were inherited. The predicament facing postcolonial governments had a communications dimension. Later, their ability to forge rule through control and allegiance had to contend with a globalizing information economy and demands for media pluralism.
A communications perspective on the history of power on the African continent therefore guides a fuller understanding of change and continuity in politics in a digital age by drawing attention to the means and meanings by which legitimacy, authority, and belonging have continued to be produced and negotiated. Transnational configurations of information flows, global political economy logics of accumulation and security, and communicative terrains for contesting authority and mobilizing alternatives have been shown to possess both distinctly new characteristics and enduring logics.
Comparison in the social sciences is a principal tool for sharpening our ability to describe reality. It is helpful in understanding the politics of African countries. Different comparative methods help to trace the origin and links to what has transpired in the field of comparative politics at large and with respect to the African continent. Recognizing that the politics–development nexus has served as the dominant context for comparison, scholars have addressed and created knowledge as it pertains to an account of the contemporary state of comparative analysis in the study of African politics.
The 2008 Global Financial Crisis (GFC) and subsequent European Debt Crisis had wide-sweeping consequences for global economic and political stability. Yet while these twin crises have prompted soul searching within the economics profession, international political economy (IPE) has been relatively ineffective in accounting for variation in crisis exposure across the developed world. The GFC and European Debt Crisis present the opportunity to link IPE and comparative political economy (CPE) together in the study of international economic and financial turmoil. While the GFC was prompted by the inter-connectedness of global financial markets, its instigators were largely domestic in nature and were reflective of negative externalities that stemmed from unsustainable national policies, especially those related to financial regulation and household debt accumulation. Many in IPE take an “outward looking in” approach to the examination of international economic developments and domestic politics; analysis rests on how the former impacts the latter. The GFC and European Debt Crisis, however, demonstrate the importance of a (CPE-based) “inward looking out” approach, analyzing how unique policy and political features (and failures) of individual nation states can unleash economic and financial instability at the global level amidst deepened economic and financial integration. IPE not only needs to grant greater attention to variation in domestic politics and policies in a time of closely integrated financial markets, but also should acknowledge the impact of a wider array of actors beyond banks and financial institutions (specifically more domestically rooted actors like households) on cross-national variation in the consumption of foreign credit.
Robert J. Franzese
The basic economics of international trade imply that globalization will have driven in the developed democracies of the Western world an increasing divergence between the material advancement of human, physical, and financial capitalists—a minority of the population—and the material stagnation or even decline of labor—a majority. This article reviews that theory and the strong comparative-historical empirical record substantiating those effects, and explains how the rise of xenophobic, nationalistic, anti-elite populism has its complementary roots in these economic developments.
Jeffrey S. Lantis and Ryan Beasley
Comparative foreign policy analysis (CFP) is a vibrant and dynamic subfield of international relations. It examines foreign policy decision making processes related to momentous events as well as patterns in day-to-day foreign interactions of nearly 200 different states (along with thousands of international and nongovernmental organizations). Scholars explore the causes of these behaviors as well as their implications by constructing, testing, and refining theories of foreign policy decision making in comparative perspective. In turn, CFP also offers valuable lessons to government leaders.
This article surveys the evolution of CFP as a subfield over time, with special attention to its contributions to academic understanding and policymaking. It begins with a review of the characteristics and contributions of CFP, followed by acknowledgment of early works that helped establish this area of study. The next section of the article reviews major thematic focuses of CFP, including theories of international pressures and factors that may drive state foreign policy as well as strong foundations in studies of domestic politics. Key internal actors and conditions that can influence state foreign policies include individual leaders, institutions and legislatures, bureaucratic organizations and government agencies, and public opinion and nongovernmental organizations. Following this survey of actors and contemporary theories of their role in foreign policy decision-making, the article develops two illustrations of new directions in CFP studies focused on political party factions and role theory in comparative perspective.
Ever since Aristotle, the comparative study of political regimes and their performance has relied on classifications and typologies. The study of democracy today has been influenced heavily by Arend Lijphart’s typology of consensus versus majoritarian democracy. Scholars have applied it to more than 100 countries and sought to demonstrate its impact on no less than 70 dependent variables. This paper summarizes our knowledge about the origins, functioning, and consequences of two basic types of democracy: those that concentrate power and those that share and divide power. In doing so, it will review the experience of established democracies and question the applicability of received wisdom to new democracies.
Comparative public policy (CPP) is a multidisciplinary enterprise aimed at policy learning through lesson drawing and theory building or testing. We argue that CPP faces the challenge of conceptual and analytical standardization if it is to make a significant contribution to the explanation of policy decision-making. This argument is developed in three sections based on the following questions: What is CPP? What is it for? How should it be done? We begin with a presentation of the historical evolution of the field, its conceptual heterogeneity, and the persistence of two distinct bodies of literature made of basic and applied studies. We proceed with a discussion of the logics operating in CPP, their approaches to causality and causation, and their contribution to middle-range theory. Next, we explain the fundamental problems of the comparative method, starting with a synthesis of the main methodological pitfalls and the problems of case selection and then revising the main protocols in use. We conclude with a reflection on the contribution of CPP to policy design and policy analysis.
Framing effects are produced by political communications that emphasize certain characteristics or consequences of an issue or policy to the exclusion of other features. By increasing the accessibility of those characteristics in people’s judgments, individuals can be swayed between supporting and opposing a policy depending on the valence of the highlighted feature. The preference inconsistencies that define framing effects were generated initially in environments in which individuals responded to a singular framing of an issue (i.e., a one-sided frame) at the expense of alternative conceptualizations of the problem. An important question is whether framing effects can be diminished by the competition among ideas that is characteristic of democratic politics.
The analysis of competitive framing has focused on the interaction between individual predispositions and processing styles and the combination of messages that individuals receive. The effectiveness of any particular communication strategy will depend on the characteristics of the target audience (specifically its values, knowledge, and processing style), the availability and applicability of the frames employed (i.e., whether they are strong or weak), and the degree to which there is competition and debate over the issues.
Research has been based on increasingly realistic experimental designs that attempt to reproduce how people encounter and process communications about politics in natural environments. The competitive context affects how much information people receive as well as how they process that information. In noncompetitive political environments, individuals, especially those who are unmotivated, tend to apply whatever considerations are made accessible by the one-sided messages they receive. In contrast, competing frames tend to stimulate individuals to deliberate on the merits of alternative interpretations.
The key difference between competitive framing in a single period versus over time is that when people receive competing messages about political issues over the course of a campaign or debate, their attitudes are affected not only by the content of the messages but also the sequence and timing of communications. The same set of messages will have a different impact depending on the order and combinations in which those messages were received. The most significant implication of these dynamics is that democratic competition—even when the opposing frames are balanced and of equal strength—may reduce or eliminate framing effects only when people receive the opposing frames simultaneously.
The magnitude of framing effects at different junctures of a campaign depends on the extent of exposure to frames and the degree to which citizens learn and retain information derived from those frames. Individuals who more efficiently process and store information—the online processors and those with a strong need to evaluate—are less likely to be moved by the latest frame because they are stabilized by the attitudes they have developed in prior phases of the campaign. There are promising hints in over-time studies that longer-term exposure to debate (beyond the short-term campaigns simulated in experiments) could gradually familiarize motivated individuals with both sides of the issue and diminish the subsequent influence of one-sided frames.
Carmela Lutmar and Cristiane L. Carneiro
States’ compliance with international law is a multicausal event, with variables operating at various levels of analysis, such as states’ incentives, regime type, issue area, strategic considerations, psychological perceptions, and level of enforcement. Recent scholarship on compliance with international law in general, and with international agreements in particular, has made great progress in uncovering some of the links between these factors, and in determining under what conditions we are more likely to see greater compliance, in what issue areas, and in explaining these variations.
Patrick M. Morgan
Deterrence is an old practice, readily defined and described, widely employed but unevenly effective and of questionable reliability. Elevated to prominence after World War II and the arrival of nuclear weapons, deterrence became the central recourse for sustaining international and internal security and stability among and within states in an era of serious conflict. With regard to the presence of nuclear weapons in particular but also to deal with non-nuclear violent conflict, deterrence has been employed to prevent (or at least limit) the destruction of states, societies, and ultimately humanity. The greatest success has been that no nuclear weapons have been used for destructive purposes since the end of World War II in 1945. Deterrence has been widely used below the nuclear level but with very uneven results.
Deterrence has been intensively studied and tested as to its use in terms of strategy in international relations, the maintenance of stability in international relations, the conduct of violence and warfare in both international and domestic contexts, and in political affairs. Since deterrence is the use of threats to block or reduce the inflicting of serious harm, the existence of capacities for inflicting harm are readily maintained and periodically applied, so available deterrence capabilities provide a degree of continuing concern and a regular desire to at least do away with nuclear weapons and threats. A brief period in the ending of the Cold War saw a serious effort to reduce the reliance on deterrence, particularly nuclear deterrence, in international politics but it was soon replaced by serious movement in the opposite direction. Yet efforts to reduce the need for and use of deterrence continue.
Extensive efforts have been applied in the development of theories of deterrence, particularly to generate empirical theory in order to better understand and apply deterrence but without arriving at widely accepted results. This is the result of the considerable complexity of the subject, the activity involved, and the behavior of the practitioners.
The conduct of deterrence is now broader and deeper than before. It is under greater pressure due to technological, political, and cultural developments, and operates in a much more elaborate overall environment including space, cyberspace, and oceanic environs. Thus the goal of developing effective empirical theory on deterrence remains, at various levels, still incompletely attained. The same is true of mastering deterrence in practice. Nevertheless, deterrence remains important and fascinating.
Although militias have received increasing scholarly attention, the concept itself remains contested by those who study it. Why? And how does this impact contemporary scholarship on political violence? To answer these questions, we can focus on the field of militia studies in post–Cold War sub-Saharan Africa, an area where militia studies have flourished in the past several decades. Virtually all scholars of militias in post–Cold War Africa describe militias as fluid and changing such that they defy easy definition. As a result, scholars offer complex descriptors that incorporate both descriptive and analytic elements, thereby offering nuanced explanations for the role of militias in violent conflict. Yet the ongoing tension between accurate description and analytic definition has also produced a body of literature that is diffuse and internally inconsistent, in which scholars employ conflicting definitions of militias, different data sources, and often incompatible methods of analysis. As a result, militia studies yield few externally valid comparative insights and have limited analytic power. The cumulative effect is a schizophrenic field in which one scholar’s militia is another’s rebel group, local police force, or common criminal. The resulting incoherence fragments scholarship on political violence and can have real-world policy implications. This is particularly true in high-stakes environments of armed conflict, where being labeled a “militia” can lead to financial support and backing in some circumstances or make one a target to be eliminated in others. To understand how militia studies has been sustained as a fragmented field, this article offers a new typology of definitional approaches. The typology shows that scholars use two main tools: offering a substantive claim as to what militias are or a negative claim based on what militias are not and piggy-backing on other concepts to either claim that militias are derivative of or distinct from them. These approaches illustrate how scholars combine descriptive and analytic approaches to produce definitions that sustain the field as fragmented and internally contradictory. Yet despite the contradictions that characterize the field, scholarship reveals a common commitment to using militias to understand the organization of (legitimate) violence. This article sketches a possible approach to organize the field of militia studies around the institutionalization of violence, such that militias would be understood as a product of the arrangement of violence. Such an approach would both allow studies of militias to place their ambiguity and fluidity at the center of analyses while offering a pathway forward for comparative studies.
Krista E. Wiegand
Despite the decline in interstate wars, there remain dozens of interstate disputes that could erupt into diplomatic crises and evolve into military escalation. By far the most difficult interstate dispute that exists are territorial disputes, followed by maritime and river boundary disputes. These disputes are not only costly for the states involved, but also potentially dangerous for states in the region and allies of disputant states who could become entrapped in armed conflicts. Fortunately, though many disputes remain unresolved and some disputes endure for decades or more than a century, many other disputes are peacefully resolved through conflict management tools.
Understanding the factors that influence conflict management—the means by which governments decide their foreign policy strategies relating to interstate disputes and civil conflicts—is critical to policy makers and scholars interested in the peaceful resolution of such disputes. Though conflict management of territorial and maritime disputes can include a spectrum of management tools, including use of force, most conflict management tools are peaceful, involving direct bilateral negotiations between the disputant states, non-binding third party mediation, or binding legal dispute resolution. Governments most often attempt the most direct dispute resolution method, which is bilateral negotiations, but often, such negotiations break down due to uncompromising positions of the disputing states, leading governments to turn to other resolution methods. There are pros and cons of each of the dispute resolution methods and certain factors will influence the decisions that governments make about the management of their territorial and maritime disputes. Overall, the peaceful resolution of territorial and maritime disputes is an important but complicated issue for states both directly involved and indirectly affected by the persistence of such disputes.
Thomas J. Volgy, Kelly Marie Gordell, Paul Bezerra, and Jon Patrick Rhamey, Jr.
Despite decades of scholarly attention to conflict and cooperation processes in international politics, rigorous, comparative, large-N analyses of these questions at the region level are difficult to find in the literature. Although this relative absence may stem in part from the difficulties related to the theoretical conceptualization or methodological operationalization of regions, it certainly is not for lack of interesting variation in terms of conflict and cooperation processes across regions. Between this variation and recent contributions toward a dynamic identification of regions, comparative analysis of conflict and cooperation outcomes at the region level are primed for exploration and increasingly salient as recent political elections in the United States (Trump election) and the United Kingdom (Brexit) have demonstrated a willingness on the part of policymakers to scale back efforts toward global interdependence.
Turning attention to a region level unit of analysis, however, does not require abandoning decades of scholarship at the state or dyad levels. Indeed, much of this work may be viewed as informing or complementary to comparative regional analyses. In particular, regional propensity for cooperation or conflict is likely to be conditioned by a number of prominent explanations of these phenomena at state and dyad levels, which may usefully be conceived in their regional aggregates as so-called regional fault lines or baseline conditions. These include the presence of major and/or regional powers, interstate rivalries, unresolved territorial claims, civil wars, regime similarity, trade relationships, and common membership in intergovernmental organizations.
Of these baseline conditions, the impact of major and regional powers on regional patterns of cooperation and conflict is notable for both its theoretical and practical implications. Power transition theory, hegemonic stability theory, hierarchical theory, and long cycle theory all suggest major—and to a lesser extent regional—powers will seek to establish order within areas under their influence; alternatively, the overwhelming capabilities these states bring to a region arguably act as a deterrent inhibiting conflict. Empirical analysis reveals—irrespective of the causal mechanism at hand—regions characterized by the presence of a major or regional power experience less conflict. Moving forward, future research should work to test the two plausible causal mechanisms for this finding—order building versus deterrence—to determine the true nature of hierarchy’s pacifying influence.
Youngmin Kim, Ha-Kyoung Lee, and Seongun Park
Confucianism is a principal category and term of analysis in most discourses on Chinese culture. However, when it is defined in very stylized terms, it turns out to be of little use for understanding long-term historical changes, as its meaning varied greatly over more than a millennium. The Confucian tradition has fluctuated primarily because rulers and elites made use of inherited Confucianism for their ideological ends. In this light, Confucianism, Chinese elite, and politics are closely interconnected. Confucius, who has often been regarded as the founder of Confucianism, did not entertain a chance to materialize his political vision through a powerful government office, even if he had wished to do so. However, after his death, the early imperial rulers of China actively appropriated the textual tradition of what would later become Confucianism and used it to legitimize their political powers. Throughout the late imperial periods, Neo-Confucianism gained wide currency among those who did not hold governmental office and yet sought to engage in public matters at a local level. At the same time, donning the ideological garb of a Confucian sage-king, late imperial rulers instituted the civil service examinations and adopted Neo-Confucian commentaries on classical texts as the official curriculum. As there was almost no other access to office except through these examinations, Neo-Confucianism had become required knowledge for anyone who aspired to become a member of the elite until the early decades of the 20th century. In the late 19th century, China found itself in a disadvantageous position in the new world order, where aggressive European imperialism advanced across Asia. At that time, Chinese reformers regarded Confucianism as a cause of China’s failure to industrialize as adeptly as Western countries had. During the Mao Zedong era, Confucianism continued to be held responsible for the static nature of Chinese society, which robbed it of the possibility of progress. As Communism ceases to be a satisfactory model for China, the country’s politicians and intellectuals have sought a new identity and model whereby they can fashion their future. As a consequence, although discarded at the beginning of the last century as the cause of China’s demise, Confucianism has been gaining new currency as the model for modern China.
Bryan W. Marshall
The U.S. Congress has broad constitutional powers to shape foreign policy. However, Congress rarely shapes foreign policy as an equal partner with the president. Politics has the potential to enhance or lessen Congress’s role. What explains changes over time in congressional power in foreign policy? Why does Congress assert itself on some issues but less so on others in U.S. foreign policy? What strategies or tools does Congress employ to shape the nation’s foreign policy? The lens of New Institutionalism, two presidencies, and presidential unilateralism connect in useful ways to help explain these kinds of key questions in foreign policy. They offer scholars a future framework to continue to enhance theories explaining variation in congressional assertiveness in foreign policy.
The study of constitutionalism often begins with the question of what a constitution is. Sometimes the term refers to a single legal document with that name, but the term “constitution” may also refer to something unwritten, such as important political traditions or established customs. As a result, scholars sometimes distinguish between the “Big-C” constitution, that is, the constitutional document, and the “small-c” constitution, the set of unwritten practices and understandings that structure political life.
Constitutionalism is typically associated with documents and practices that restrict the arbitrary exercise of power. Most constitutions contain guarantees of rights and outline the structures of government. Constitutions are often enforced in court, but nonjudicial actors, like legislatures or popular movements, may also enforce constitutional provisions.
The relationship between democracy and constitutionalism is not at all straightforward, and it has received an enormous amount of scholarly attention. Constitutionalism seems to both undergird and restrain democracy. On the one hand, constitutions establish the institutions that allow for self-government. On the other, they are often said to restrict majoritarian decision-making.
Related to this question of the relationship between constitutionalism and democracy are questions about how constitutions change and how they ought to change. Can written constitutions change without changes to the text, and can judges bring about these changes? Do extratextual changes threaten or promote democracy?
Finally, not only do individual constitutions change, but the practice of writing constitutions and governing with them has also changed over time. In general, constitutions have grown more specific and flexible over time, arguably, allowing for a different kind of constitutional politics.
Research on constitutional law has come in different waves mirroring the development of states in recent decades. While the decolonization period of the 1960s still kept the old ties of constitutional “families,” comparison based on such ties has become ever less persuasive since the 1980s wave of constitution making following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Research about de facto and de jure constitutional law now tends to embrace institutional details like judicial review powers and procedures of direct democracy. The field of comparative constitutional law is controversial both in methods and substance. It still lacks a consistent framework of comparative tools and is criticized as illegitimate by scholars who insist on the interpretive autonomy within each constitutional system.
Research in the area of fundamental rights has to deal with long-lasting controversies like the constitutionality of the death penalty. Bioethical regulation is another new field where constitutional positions tend to diverge rather than converge. Embryonic stem cell research, therapeutic cloning, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, and surrogate motherhood are examples from biotechnology and reproductive medicine where constitutional scholars disagree about what, if anything, constitutional law can contribute to provide a basis or limit for regulation. With the worldwide rise of constitutional courts and judicial review, the standards for the interpretation of fundamental rights become more important. Legal scholarship has worked out the differences between the rule-oriented approach associated with Anglo-American legal systems versus the principle-based approach common to continental Europe.
The Constitutional Treaty, which attempted to establish a constitution for Europe, never went into force because of “no” votes in referendums in France and the Netherlands. It did not involve far-reaching changes in what the European Union does, nor did it revolutionize how the institutions work. The pillar structure of the existing treaties was replaced with a single Union, but without fundamentally changing how foreign, security and defense policies were decided. A “foreign minister” was created that merged the roles of High Representative in the Council and Commissioner for External Affairs, and the European Council was established as a separate, treaty-based institution. A simple double majority qualified majority voting (QMV) procedure was introduced in the Council, and the use of QMV was extended to many more policy areas.
Given these modest reforms, what was particularly remarkable about the Constitutional Treaty was how it was negotiated. In contrast to previous major treaty reforms, the Constitutional Treaty was prepared by a more inclusive, parliament-like convention that was composed of representatives from national parliaments, the European Parliament, the European Commission, and member state governments. Although the European Convention was followed by a more traditional intergovernmental conference (IGC), the draft produced by the Convention surprisingly formed the status quo during the IGC. Therefore, the use of the Convention method to prepare treaty reforms sparked considerable interest among scholars who have explored how the change impacted who won and lost in the negotiations, and what types of bargaining strategies were most effective.
Gabriel L. Negretto
Constitution-making has been a central political activity in the modern era. Enacting a new constitution was an essential ingredient in the foundation of republics, the creation of new states, the inauguration of democratic regimes, and the reequilibration of democracies during or after a political crisis. Constitution writing has also become a crucial part of the process of overcoming a legacy of violent internal conflict and a component of authoritarian regimes that seek to gain legitimacy by emulating the formalities of representative democracies. This article surveys the most important concepts and issues related to the comparative analysis of constitution-making. Although it draws examples from constitutions made in a wide variety of settings, special attention is paid to constitutional texts adopted or implemented under competitive conditions.
Several African countries are currently engaged in the constitution-making process. In Africa, constitution-making usually takes three phases. The first phase took place at independence in the 1960s and was typically led by the colonial power. Constitution-making during this phase was part of the decolonization process. In the case of former British colonies, the independence constitution was British legislation which constituted the independent state. The second phase was from independence to 1989. During this phase, constitution amendments were made to the independence constitutions designed to concentrate power in the presidency. This was the era of authoritarian governments in Africa which culminated into one-party state systems of governance. The third phase, which runs from 1989 to the present, is associated with the worldwide wave of democratization. During this period, constitution-making has centered on rebuilding the political community as well as structures that had been distorted by political manipulation and violence during the era of authoritarian rule. This third phase is also marked by promoting the participation of citizens in the affairs of their own countries and the accountability of governments. A well-designed constitution can promote these objectives. In addition, inclusiveness and peaceful settlement of conflicts can be seen as a vehicle for national dialogue, good governance, and the consolidation of peace.